The Very Spring and Root

An engineer's adventures in education (and other musings).

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Happy birthday to a war hero, former President, and among the last of a dying breed of gunslingers.

Many are fond of quoting him, but take a quick minute to reflect on this day: What would it mean if you took these words personally? How would you change the way you live your life, if at all? What if these exhortations were delivered personally, to you directly and no one else? No answer required, just the thought.

Notable quotes:

Now the trumpet summons us again -not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are-but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation”-a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself. […] The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it-and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

A nation which has forgotten the quality of courage which in the past has been brought to public life is not as likely to insist upon or regard that quality in its chosen leaders today – and in fact we have forgotten.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.

I look forward to a great future for America – a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose.

I’m an idealist without illusions.

Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.

Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.

Modern cynics and skeptics… see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing.

No one has been barred on account of his race from fighting or dying for America, there are no white or colored signs on the foxholes or graveyards of battle.

Too often we… enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.

Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.

— John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

On the crowd dynamics of tragical-comical-historicals.

Theatre by nature is a nebulous beast. It is a living thing, changing and morphing every night. The same actors, the same audience, the same script, but a different night — with different energy, different perspectives, different moods that vary in us humans minute by minute — it can be a totally different show each night.

It’s been a fantastic second weekend of an eight-show run of WITTENBERG, by David Davalos, which I had an exceptionally good time producing and directing.  I expected from the outset a variety of responses to this simultaneously witty, serious, absurd, literary, deeply spiritual, and borderline-blasphemous production… however, the last two shows in particular have been remarkable studies in contrast.

Saturday night: packed house (only one seat left), vigorous energy from the actors, rollicking laughter from the crowd (even at the profoundly nerdy parts), and the general euphoria that pervades everything when you are ON FIRE and know it. The kind of show that everyone remembers was exhilarating but it seems very hard to reconstruct in detail.

This evening: fairly sparse crowd (competing with the California Poppy Festival), excellently acted show, fine sense of rhythm…. but the audience was just DEAD. I mean, set aside the brainy allusions and witty wordplay, even the poop jokes and sex puppets fell on light smirks at best. (Though for the record, if one woman storms out at intermission indignant that I would produce such filth on a Sunday, while another is thanking me for renewing her faith, I think I’ve done my job.) 

I have to confess, despite thirteen years of theatre, I still haven’t figured out why the reaction of whole crowds to some plays just works like that. I have a few theories:

  1. Especially in subtle comedies, where the humor is beneath the surface (or the humor lies in the fact that the characters are being dead serious about something perfectly ridiculous), sometimes people aren’t sure if its OK to laugh? In large crowds, you’re more likely to have that one person who just can’t contain it — the one who lets everyone else know by his or her unabashed giggling that it’s ok to… well, unclench.
  2. With the exception of a few Old Souls out there, maybe we’re so used to media being cleanly packaged for us these days: THIS is a teen comedy, THAT is a high-brow thriller, and OVER THERE is a sappy tearjerker. When ideas come in layers, perhaps we are simply unprepared to respond to a play that juxtaposes a plea for individual spiritual renewal with tongue-in-cheek commentary on Friedrich Nietzsche with mockery of famous Shakespearean actors (in iambic pentameter no less) with Martin Luther’s ecstatic relief after a long bout of constipation is explosively ended? 
  3. Or… Maybe I and my friends are just too nerdy. I realize that its unreasonable to expect that the general population will find a parody of Kant and a dig at Kenneth Branagh hilarious. But it’s not all that level of nerdy, far from it. I mean really, two hours of DEAD SILENCE right after a night in which I was certain half the room was about to PEE THEIR PANTS? 

Perhaps some combination of the above and other things I haven’t thought of. Hmm…

In any case, I’m very pleased with the production and how the run has been on the whole. The actors have been exceptionally captivating to watch in their approach to their characterization and interplay with each other. The technical design is beautiful and clever, and I really have to give the design team props for that. This has been a fantastic production to call my last in the valley.

If you’re local, two more chances to catch it. And if you come and don’t know which way you should react… just pick one and go with it. This is theatre. We laugh, we cry, we scream, we love, which are all choices just like the choices and actor makes on stage moment to moment. But above all we offer a window into the human condition, a window that cannot open unless you open yourself to it. 

In other words, maybe what I’m trying to say is that if you’re ever unsure, in theatre or in general, embrace it… and take a leap of faith.

Review of “The Sparrow”

The SparrowThe Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished this book a couple of weeks ago and LOVED it. The style is very interesting… it starts from both ends of a 50 year ish story and works towards the middle (climax) with alternating perspectives. From the description of the book, one might be tempted to think that it is a “Christian” book… after a few pages in, this is what I was expecting. I continued only due to the strong recommendation from a fellow sci-fi geek whose tastes overlap with mine often.

The themes are surprisingly accessible, as long as one is even mildly spiritually inclined even in a vague way. It is really more about how our understanding of the human condition and faith in general could and would change upon contact with another sentient species. The construct of the Jesuit worldview is used as as convenient vehicle for this theme, and adds a very interesting perspective that I normally would not consider.

The science is on the hard end (near term accessible technology and propulsion for example). The culture of the new Jana’ata and the Runi species is laid out with decent rigor, though not with a whole lot of depth or backstory (not necessarily a bad thing, just noting it).

Thumbs way up, a very thought-provoking read and well-written too.

He was always working or laughing or studying, and his intensity and humor made him seem ageless. She knew something of his life, having worked with him, and recognized him as one of her own kind: an eternal beginner, starting over and over in a new place in new circumstances, with new languages, new people, a new commission. They had this in common: the continual rushed confrontation with change, the feeling of being hothoused, forced to bloom early, the exhausting exhilaration of doing the unreasonable not just adequately but well and with grace.

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