Sunday, December 20, 2009

Procrastinator or Catching Up?

LL 25

One could say that I'm just trying to get some of the back news delivered or, if one wanted to be  mean (honest) one could say that I'm procrastinating.  I do wonder how to face yet another set of poorly written papers!  Have I been teaching in Sumerian all semester?  But my frustration with my students is rooted in a strong sense that perhaps I have failed them.  Perhaps I really did not state clearly or effectively what it was I expected.  Then, along comes a paper (or rather a digital e-paper) that is beautifully written and satisfies all the expectations I have.  How did they do that when their professor is such a master of obfuscation?

On to the real topic: A concert practice that is driving me crazy!  Alexander Paley, a concert pianist, now from the States, gave a wonderful, all-Chopin two-and-a-half hour concert last night to an almost sold-out house.  He was brilliant, conducting both piano concertos from the piano, separated by a dazzling 45 non-stop minutes of Waltzes.  The KlaipÄ—da Chamber Orchestra (Strings) accompanied the concerti.  They were not as brilliant having both intonation and balance issues from time to time.  But even that is not as crazy-making as the 5-10 minute lecture we receive from the house Artistic Director before every section of every concert.  As this concert had three sections, 2 intermissions, there were 3 lectures.

The topics vary widely and can be about the composer or the artist(s) but the lecture is obligatory.  It is true that they do not spend much on programs, flimsy photocopied programs with scant notes and perhaps this is a little-known, hardly-recognized nod to an ecological saving of paper but expats are not used to it and, in a second language it take a great deal of concentration to get much out of it at all. The program notes, despite being written in Lithuanian, are much easier to understand as with a little time, I can understand the most important facts.  The audience is completely happy with this verbal harangue and expects it, whereas North American artists would be a bit insulted with the apparent necessity of a lengthy preamble before they take the stage. 

I am sad to say, however, that one practice, what I have come to call "The Standard Ovation" is international.  It has become such a meaningless gesture.

Back to marking my friends!


Friday, December 18, 2009

The Crucible and Other Tests

LL 24

The week I returned was tech week for The Crucible. I checked out the school van for every evening through the final performance so I could get all the students and myself home after buses stopped running for the night.  It had been over two weeks since I'd seen any part of the play and I was very pleasantly surprised.  The night of dress rehearsal was almost frightening because it went so well.  By then we knew that the first performance on Friday evening had already sold out. I was in awe of Dr. Becky Briley's direction--she was always focused, attentive, and handled each actor and their problems with an amazing sensitivity to their personality and needs.  Michele Hershberger, here this year on sabbatical was an experienced, organized and detail-oriented crew/stage manager.  She and her assistant, a freshmen from Moldova, were an incredible team. Ticket sales covered our costs and all three nights attendance was very good being another almost sold-out house on Saturday and fairly full at Sunday's matinee.

As the Barbadian slave, Tituba, a powerful but small part, I could see most of the performance from our front row seats in front of the stage, there being no backstage. Of course, onstage there was little time to think about what other people were doing.  Miller's direction is that poor Tituba must weep as she begs for her life.  This was my first dramatic role so I wasn't at all sure I could turn on the waterworks at will but I needn't have worried.  It was more difficult stopping than starting!

Neufeld Hall, where we performed, is a lecture hall, not a theater, so lighting included two powerful desk lamps pointed onstage to take away shadows for actors upstage.  I have some pictures to share, scrolling along the side of the blog here.  There were two floor trees and then the usual onstage overhead floods.

I guess the thing that impressed me most was the way young people from such varied places, backgrounds, histories and accents managed to make a very credible performance, one that evoked great audience response and emotion.  Of course, there were times that the Eastern European English accent made it difficult to understand individual words but that had little importance overall and certainly did nothing much to disturb the powerful effect.  Issues of "witchunting" or demonizing groups of people are no different here than they are anywhere else and, at times, seem more volatile here than in other places.  Long histories of domination, subjugation and totalitarian governments have created a level of suspicion that is still noticeable among even our young people now and no wonder.

I have had more than one student report getting beaten up by one group or another.  Two weeks ago one of my students returned from a Karate competition in Vilnius with a very black eye.  My assumption, that he'd taken a hit during the competition wasn't even close to correct.  The poor guy had been shoved to the ground and beaten up by several guys who were ethnically different.  There is no love lost between Russian Lithuanians and Lithuanians and though our on-campus discussions about multi-culturalism, tolerance, and so on seem to have a lasting impact on our students we have little influence on what goes on off campus.

Classes are over now and I must mark papers--or lose all of my Christmas holiday in guilt.  I will share more pictures and stories.

Love and blessings to all,