Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year 2008: The Dreaded "Clips Show" Blog Post!

Since everyone else is overviewing 2007, and making "Top Ten" lists and things like that, I thought I would present an overview of the... um... "Top Ten Most Awesome Things That Happened On This Blog In The Past Year."

Let's see.

Blue goes to Hyderabad and directs a student-written Telugu adaptation of Shakespeare's Tempest. In this adaptation, Prospero acknowledges his mistake and cedes the island to Caliban. This rocks.

Blue goes to Amritsar and experiences "a sense of connection."

Blue goes to Bangalore and lives it up with some blogging friends.

Blue goes to Delhi and gets completely pwned.

Blue discovers SRK.

Blue learns how to coach her students... by copying SRK.

Blue falls in love (but not with SRK) and writes love poetry.

Blue makes a huge mistake involving t-shirts. Then... other things happen.

Blue becomes "the #1 resource for BBC Ballet Shoes on the internet!" (I'm still getting Ballet Shoes-related site traffic.)

Blue cooks. Repeatedly.

Did I miss anything?

Oh, and I'm turning this into a meme. Tagged are: Abi (even though I know you don't do memes), Ctrlalteredmind, Sirensongs, Manish, and SepiaMutiny. Yes, SepiaMutiny. I dare you.

Editor's Note: SepiaMutiny actually
did the meme, although... unfortunately... I don't think Blue can claim the credit.

What Would *You* Sing For Simon?

So I was doing my yoga today, like I do (almost) every day, and American Idol: Rewind was on in the background.

It made me think, like it does every time I happen to catch it (while doing the dishes or folding clothes): given the chance, what would I sing in front of Simon Cowell?

I'm not a bad singer. I've got a BA in music, so I know a bit about pitch, tone, and rhythm. But the question stymies me, every time. What song could I sing that would be good enough to impress Simon?

Or, rephrased: what song could I sing that would make me sound like an American Idol?

That, after all, seems to be the thing that trips up 50% of the contestants. (The other 45% can't match pitch, and the remaining 5% get picked for the show.)

If I were going to pick something that I could sing well, under pressure, I might choose "Not a Day Goes By" or something from the Cole Porter oeuvre. But one does not become an American Idol by singing showtunes.

So it would have to be a... sigh... popular song.

Madonna? Christina? Britney?

Couldn't I become the first American Idol to win by singing "Jam Tomorrow, Jam Yesterday?"

In the end I'd probably pick something like Jewel's "You Were Meant For Me" or Anna Nalick's "Breathe (2 a.m.)," though neither of those seem like they would inspire American idolatry.

Or I could channel my inner nerd (inner? what inner?) and sing Jason Mraz's "Wordplay." With the combination of sexy glasses and articulate diction, I might be able to garner the xkcd demographic vote.

Sigh. Josh Cohen had it easy.

What would *you* sing for Simon?

Editor's Note: If Blue doesn't ever actually look at the TV, it means she can truthfully say that she doesn't watch American Idol: Rewind. Which, of course, she doesn't.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Juno: A Story of Dreams and Loss (Plus Jokes!)

Before we get started, I have a confession to make. Those of you following the blog know that I am absolutely strapped-for-cash. (It's the last semester of my graduate program and the savings are... run out.)

Thus, I should be following all prudent financial advice and trimming the fat from my budget; no new clothes, no dinners out, no lattes, and no films.

The first three are fine. I've got enough clothes for now, I like cooking, and I've never cared for lattes.

But I have one vice, and that is cinema. Movie-theater cinema. I like seeing things on gigantic screens.

If it makes me seem any more financially prudent, I have "carbon-offset" my cinema habit by cutting back in other areas. (Thank goodness I learned how to use a lota in India.)

But anyway. Now that you know I have in fact been to the movies twice in the past two weeks (the last one was Sweeney Todd), on to the review!

Manish's review was a little ambivalent, as were most of the online ones I read, which all seemed to focus on the oddity of a sixteen-year-old referencing Soupy Sales. (Note to reviewers: It's not that weird. When I was sixteen I was referencing Steve and Eydie and Robot Carnival.)

But what struck me the most about this film was the way each of the characters dealt with the way life tends to threaten individual dreams. Nearly all of the primary characters in Juno have a secret dream; Bren wants a dog, Mark wants to be a rock star, Vanessa wants to be a mother.

The dreams of the adolescent characters are less well-defined (Paulie wants... to get the band back together?), which I thought was strange until I realized that these characters are still too young to need to cling to dreams. Juno, in a very savvy example of understanding that she has her whole life ahead of her, calculates that a pregnancy is only a 40-week physical inconvenience. Once it's done, she can go back to conquering the world in the way that only a sixteen-year-old can.

Then something happens to one of the adult characters' dreams (I won't give it away), and Juno's idealistic world begins to crack a little. We see her do her best to patch up the lives of the people around her, in the hope that things can still turn out well.

The heartbreak comes at the very end, when we find out what Juno's dream was, and the way in which she realizes it may never come true.

And so -- in a theater full of teenagers laughing at "the funniest movie since Superbad," I was the one sitting with the tissues.

Still, I think you should go. It's a good film. And you learn who Soupy Sales is, which I never knew before.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Eat Pray Love: A Journey of Extraordinary Privilege

I got a copy of Eat Pray Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia for Christmas, for obvious reasons. It's a very.... tricky book. On the one hand, it's not at all bad. Sure, it's written in the easy-on-the-eyes, slangy chick-lit style; there are a few awkward, presumptive statements about groups of people (e.g. "The staff is Balinese, which means they automatically start adoring you and complimenting you on your beauty as soon as you walk in"); but it's never boring. For what it's worth, Eat Pray Love is quick-paced and quick-witted.

The trouble comes in what author Elizabeth Gilbert leaves out of her narrative. Most of the leaving-out comes in the early part of the book, in which she describes her life before she jets off on this intense journey of "finding herself."

Gilbert writes, early on, a description of herself as "the primary breadwinner and the housekeeper and the social coordinator and the dog-walker and the wife and the soon-to-be mother, and -- somewhere in my stolen moments -- a writer."

A description of Everywoman, right? How many people do you suppose cooed with identification at that particular paragraph, and then sighed with envy a few pages later when we learn that Gilbert's bright idea to write a book about traveling netted her enough advance money to finance her entire trip?

Except... it's not like that. Elizabeth Gilbert is not an "in my stolen moments" kind of writer. She's a professional one, with a list of magazine publications as long as my arm and four successful previous books.

One publication in particular you might recognize, though you're probably unaware of its source. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the autobiographical piece that later became the film Coyote Ugly.*

So, right from the beginning, we're not dealing with Everywoman. We're dealing with a woman who has already been played on-screen by Piper Perabo, and who will soon be played again by Julia Roberts.

There must be a Guinness World Record for that.

Likewise, when Gilbert makes references to her sister, Catherine, she never mentions she's talking about Catherine Gilbert Murdock, author of Dairy Queen, The Off Season, and Princess Ben. (The two of them recently collaborated on an editorial for the New York Times on how wonderful it is to be sisters, and writers.)

There are little things, little unmentioned things sprinkled throughout the novel that grate against the skin -- things like Gilbert in Italy receiving continual visits from friends who have flown across the Atlantic Ocean for the express purpose of seeing her. A coterie of the well-heeled, as it were, who have the capacity for such travel.

Gilbert even admits, on her website, that she was only able to do what she did because of a past history of accomplishment and privilege. That's straightforward, and I appreciate it. I wish there were a bit more of it in her book. (I'm not putting the link to Elizabeth Gilbert's website because the last thing I want to do is encourage animosity, should she read this. You can find the site on your own. Once you're there, read the FAQ.)

And yet I found myself liking this book. In some sections, really liking it. I know why, though. It's because Gilbert promises hope. Someday, she writes, if you meditate, you too will see the mind of God. Someday, you too may be wooed by a charming man who offers you the world and then delivers. Someday, you too will find this kind of peace.

Can it happen if you aren't already successful and/or privileged? I hope so.

*But wait, you'll say. Wasn't Jersey in Coyote Ugly poor? Non-privileged? That's where the book differed from its source material, and for good reason. Gilbert took the Coyote Ugly job to earn quick cash and bank enough for a trip around the world (it's all explained on her website). Her parents were not working-class; they owned a Christmas tree farm in Connecticut, and Gilbert herself was never in danger of poverty or homelessness.

Other reviews of Eat Pray Love are here, here, here, and of course, Niranjana's.

BBC Ballet Shoes: Exactly Like The Pictures

Thanks to the magic of the internet, I was able to watch the BBC Ballet Shoes movie in its entirety, only one day after the Brits did. (Which is good, because how could I position myself as the #1 Resource for BBC Ballet Shoes Information otherwise?)

The YouTube version was a little fuzzy, and some lines were difficult to distinguish, despite the par-excellent RP.

So I want to watch it again.

But my initial response is that's one of the more faithful adaptations of a book I've ever seen.

There were a few things that were a little off. The Mr. Simpson/Sylvia romance, as mentioned earlier (and though the Kuala Lumpur thing was barely mentioned, it was, as predicted, a "strange native disease" which killed off the other Simpsons).

The choice to make Winifred an even bigger snob than Pauline. This one came out of nowhere. Winifred exists, as a character, to remind us (and the three sisters) that there are people even worse off than the Fossil family. She is supposed to be poorer, shabbier, hungrier, and uglier than Pauline -- not to mention a better dancer and actor, though she is never noticed by producers. I'm not sure why the character was given such a different role in the story, since the change made her just another ambitious child star and no longer set her as a foil for the three sisters.

The absence of the scene where Pauline apologizes to Mr. French (after behaving like an unendurable spoiled child and getting sacked) and is given back the part of Alice. The way the film plays it, there's no apology and we never know what happens after the row in the theatre. Are we supposed to believe that Pauline never plays Alice again?

But aside from these hiccups in the story, it was extremely straightforward, true to the book, and charming. The visuals almost looked as if they had been lifted from the Diane Goode illustrations: Pauline and Petrova rehearsing the flying sequence in Midsummer, Petrova wrapped in a blanket with her hair braided down her back, the sisters sitting on the staircase waiting to hear about their futures.

(Interestingly, the representation of the two doctors seemed to have been inspired by Ruth Jervais' drawings -- yes, I have a labyrinth of information in my head about the various illustrators who have drawn Ballet Shoes and the different styles they used.)

Oh, and Marc Warren is so gorgeous. That fact alone will make me want to watch the film again.

Other thoughts?

Benazir Bhutto, 1953-2007

There's already a great deal that has been written about Ms. Bhutto's life, and death, and odds are you've read it already.

But I guess I would feel remiss without acknowledging it somehow.

She was wearing a blue salwar.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Another Story from Blue's Hometown

Because I'm too lazy to blog today, I'm giving you another story. My mother is always after me to write down more stories from my childhood, so... here's an old one, although -- as of yet -- unpublished.

Preemptive Editor's Note: To my grandparents, should they ever read this -- I love you both and have long gotten over the "Monopoly Jr." disappointment. Your gift, after all, sparked a story.


Lauren had long stopped expecting a birthday present from her grandparents when it arrived. She came home from school to find a box sitting in the middle of the living room as if it were occupying a space of honor. It was a deliciously large box, going up past her knees almost, with the address written in black ink over an old label. Lauren peered at the scratch-out markings, pleased that she could discern her grandparents’ names under the ink. If there were ever a crime that needed to be solved concerning this box, she would have noted an important detail.

Her father took his keys – “honey, use the scissors!” – and tore through the packing tape. There was a layer of marshmallow padding, and then Lauren pulled out a wrapped package; small, flat, and undoubtedly the first of many.

Stubby nails served to tear the paper; it was a flat white box labeled “Nordstroms” – eew, but no matter; Grandma always re-used boxes – and then inside, wrapped in tissue paper, was a dress. A storebought dress, with four rows of tulle under the skirt. Shiny-shiny red polyester that felt like silk, with ruffles on the sleeves and a rose sewn to the waistband.

Lauren could not believe her luck. Imagine the stories one could play while wearing this dress. Imagine how the tulle would fly when she twirled. It was a movie princess dress, an Annie-finds-Mr.-Warbucks dress, the skirt as wide as Cartoon Alice. Lauren wondered if, when she jumped off of the porch or out of a swing, the dress would snap into a taut balloon.

“Lauren?” Her mother was holding a letter. “Lauren, Grandma and Grandpa sent our Christmas presents along with your birthday gift. Honey, that dress is supposed to be a Christmas gift for Jane.”

“This one’s the birthday present,” her father said, holding out a longer, flatter package. Monopoly Jr. – the same gift they had sent for her birthday last year.

And Lauren cried.


But Lauren did get to wear the dress; nearly two years later, after the calf-length hair of the Tropical Skipper she had bought with the store credit from the Monopoly game (a doll with hair that long could be Rapunzel, could be Melisande, could be herself in a few years) had long tangled past combing. It was the second annual “Celebration of Women” dinner at the Methodist church. At the first annual dinner, the good ladies of Kirkland had rustled up as many impromptu and make-haste “national costumes” as they could find, and did a parade of “women around the world.” There had been a kimono in Lauren’s size, and she had managed to disgrace herself during the Japanese portion of the presentation by stepping forward to describe the costume she was wearing and announcing to the entire Fellowship Hall that her obi was called a “boa.” To be fair, the makeshift obi was in fact a boa, and most of the people in the audience were unaware of the mistake, but Lauren flamed red for the rest of the evening.

For the second annual Celebration, the women were a bit more ambitious. They wanted performances, something to smile over; could anyone do a good Carol Burnett? This year’s theme was “women in entertainment.”

And thus Lauren, topping out at three-foot-seven and with seven months of tap under her belt, was asked to play Shirley Temple.

Lauren didn’t know who Shirley was, but by the end of the next week she had seen the two films available at the public library (Curly Top and The Little Colonel) and read Ms. Temple’s biography. She was more than envious that Shirley had gotten to play not only Sara in A Little Princess, but also Heidi and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm; Lauren could care less about the rest of the filmography. The song she had to learn was ridiculously silly, but she got to do a few shuffle-ball-change steps inbetween the verses, which meant that she got to wear her shiny black patent-leather tap shoes. (The only time patent leather ever touched Lauren’s feet was with those tap shoes, and it was only because they didn’t come in regular, more durable leather.) It also meant that she got to wear the red polyester dress.

The dress, by now, was too small for Lauren; it was almost too small for Janey. But the waistband crossed Lauren’s chest at the same place it crossed Shirley Temple’s, and the little skirt rode high on her plump, dimpled legs. The four rows of tulle helped the skirt stand out, though Lauren’s mother could not be convinced to add a fifth or sixth row and Lauren was extremely aware that the ruffles drooped a bit compared to Shirley’s. As did, unfortunately, Lauren’s hair, which was straight as sandpaper and couldn’t even hold a rag curl. Her mother’s answer was to braid Lauren’s hair and pin the braids across the top of Lauren’s head, which would look not necessarily like Ms. Temple, but was cute enough for anyone’s purposes – but Lauren had another idea.

“Can I wear Grandma’s wig?” she asked.

Grandma’s wig was one of the better presents Lauren and Janey had ever received; it was secondhand, like the dress and most of Grandma’s other presents (the Monopoly Jrs were odd exceptions), and their mother had screamed, accidentally, when the present was opened and a handful of hair removed from the box. But two little girls needed a wig for their dress-up games, and so the cheap, brown, nylon thing, styled in a 1950s-era permanent wave, held court in the playroom and adorned the head of Snow White, Lucy Pevensie, and, of course, Jo March, after she cut her hair.

It was nowhere near Shirley’s ringlets, but it was unmistakably curly. It was also, in Lauren’s mother’s opinion, unmistakably ugly; but in the end she relented and thus Lauren was allowed to assume the role of Shirley Temple in a dress two sizes too small and a wig three decades too old for her.


“C – O – W,” whispered Lauren into her friend Rachael’s ear at lunch.

“What?” Rachael asked.

“C – O – W,” Lauren said, trying to invoke a secret bond between herself and her pretty friend. They both went to the same church, and Rachael, who had jet-black hair and thick bangs and got to eat hot lunch at school, was performing in the Celebration as the young Elizabeth Taylor, wearing stretch pants under a starched white shirt and talking about National Velvet. Rachael was uninterested in the performance and would read her lines from a notecard, which made Lauren unashamedly happy. Perhaps with her curly wig and her dress she would be prettier than Rachael. Right now she wanted Rachael to be in her club, in her little club of two with their secret password, and perhaps in time they would become friends and solve a mystery like the secret clubs always do in books.

But Rachael failed to understand.

“Lauren, why do you keep whispering cow?”


The day of the Celebration came, and Lauren could hardly keep still. She wanted to wear her wig and tap shoes and dress all afternoon long, to “feel like Shirley;” but her mother put her foot down. Her father made chili for dinner, and Lauren refused to eat it, and was almost sent to her room because she could not explain to her parents (it was too embarrassing) that she was afraid to eat chili before she had to sing and dance, for what to her seemed like obvious reasons. At last she ate enough bites to satisfy her mother, and was freed from the table.

The wig was donned, the shining shoes carried in hand as they walked to the church (the humiliation of wearing scuffed sneakers with a glowing red party dress was barely felt, because Lauren knew her feet would soon be gleaming), and at last the Celebration began.

In the picture that exists, of Lauren’s performance, one sees a tiny girl (tinier than Lauren even realizes), wearing a dress that is, admittedly, too small, and a strange dark bunch of curls with a red bow attached to one side. She does not look very much like Shirley Temple except around her eyes, and a bit of her smile. Her face, the only part that Lauren didn’t think to alter, is the part that looks like Shirley – her eyes glow happiness, and her grin entices the audience to sing and clap along.

After everyone has performed; after the tight band around Lauren’s chest has begun to hurt, a little; there is a trivia contest. Women from the Social Circle hand out roses to anyone who can raise their hand to answer a question about one of the famous female entertainers they’ve just seen. Lauren has been watching carefully, and knows many of the answers, but her hand is slower or smaller than the others and it never catches anyone’s attention.

The wig has begun to slip down over her forehead; it’s making her sweat and she doesn’t like it, but Lauren is listening attentively, eagerly, to all the questions. She knows if she can put her hand up fast enough, she’ll be called upon and she can prove to everyone that she is just as clever as any of them, as any of these grown-up women. Rachael sits nearby, swinging her legs aimlessly in her seat. Janey has fallen asleep against her mother’s arm. But Lauren is eager, her hand tensed in her lap.

And then: “In what Shirley Temple film does she sing the song Good Ship Lollipop?”

Lauren’s hand ricochets towards the ceiling. The announcer finally turns towards her.

“I think we forgot to mention a rule. You can’t answer a question for the person you’ve played.”

There is a bit of gentle laughter, but Lauren’s hand drops, humiliated. It wasn’t fair. She had raised her hand for every question and no one had noticed; it wasn’t as if she was only trying to answer the one about her. And there were so many other hands up – if the announcer thought it would be unfair to call on Lauren, why didn’t she just call on someone else? Why did she have to single her out and make up a special rule?

And as Lauren sat and stared at the floor, she suddenly saw a hand reach into her lap and leave behind a rose. A stupid rose. They didn’t understand at all. She had never wanted the rose; she had wanted to answer a question. She had wanted to play the game. When Janey woke up, Lauren gave the rose to her, which Janey shredded on the way home, leaving behind petals at every step.


After the second annual “Celebration of Women” dinner, it stopped being annual. No one had the strength to create a third, although Lauren dreamed for months of the women she could play. Laura Ingalls Wilder, with her long, straight braids, or young Marie Curie, bravely protecting her Polish classmates by speaking to the school board in Russian. Eventually she played the stories out by herself, with her dolls. And eventually she turned to new stories.

The red dress was never worn, by either sister, ever again.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Child's Christmas in [Blue's Hometown]

In honor of Christmas, I'm giving you a section from a (much longer) performance piece I wrote a few years ago. It's a response, of sorts, to Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales.

It sounds better when read aloud, so you'll have to imagine me reading it. Conversely, you could read it aloud yourself.

Preemptive Editor's Note: When Blue writes "literary non-fiction" about her hometown, she calls it "Kirkland." When spoken aloud, please swallow the last syllable so that it becomes "Kirklnd," because that's how us Midwesterners would say it.


At 5 p.m. Christmas Eve the church bells start to ring. Families park their cars the length of a city block, though few people live far enough away that they actually have to drive. The air smells quiet, sharp, a little cold. There is an enveloping sensation; a strange combination of peaceful and exciting which I still feel, even though I am no longer a child. It is the sudden collision of the holy night with the celebration; the witnessing of the Savior with the parties and gifts and sweets and wine and presents to follow. We all hope that the sermon will not be too long.

Everyone is dressed in their best clothes; little girls running around in red velvet and petticoats, young couples in chinos and turtlenecks, old women in stumpy heels against thick, tan stockings. The narthex is dark, and the sanctuary is dark, and we are each given a candle when we go inside.

Since we are Methodists, the minister changes regularly, and so the service itself varies – the sublime is all too easily interspersed with the ridiculous, as it was the year when a well-meaning minister baked blueberry and chocolate chip muffins for Communion, in an attempt to make it special for the children. There are usually several performances by my mother’s piano students, all tripping to the piano in shiny shoes and curled hair, getting at least three out of every four notes correct. There was a debate, for many years, over including the secular carols alongside the hymns; but our congregation is an open-minded one, and so we now hear “Jingle Bells” in church, along with “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful.” (To be fair, “Jingle Bells” is a lot easier for a six-year-old to play.)

The services all end the same way, though – with Communion in the semi-darkness, and then complete darkness as the first candle is lit from the Christ Candle and the light is allowed to spread throughout the sanctuary. We sing “Silent Night,” a capella, and process with our lit candles until we are outside. Then it is a bustle of coats and saying hello to people we haven’t seen since last Christmas, and then off to our across-the-street neighbors for eggnog and chocolate-covered pretzels and red-and-green Hershey’s kisses stacked on top of marshmallow snowmen.

Then back home for the presents – we open ours Christmas Eve because we are a family of late sleepers, and up until two a.m. admiring (or mocking) the gifts and all are asleep until at least eleven the next morning, although Santa always conspires to leave some kind of trinket (a Pez dispenser or a bag of Vitamin C candy) in our stockings for us to find when we wake.

Christmas Day dinner is around three p.m., the first proper meal of the day, and at our house it is lasagna because my sister loves lasagna (and, really, we all do). Then back to naps or playing with the presents or reading the books or writing the letters to the people who are not with us… writing to say my dear one, Merry Christmas, and wouldn’t I love for you to see it with me, here in Kirkland, where you could walk down to the river or sit in the hushed and expectant church or chase the toddlers around a marshmallow-fudge-eggnog dining room table or unwrap the Chia Heads or go up and stand in a room lit by electric candlelight, looking out the window at the dome of Kirkland College’s administrative building, the dome on which perches a giant, glowing, electric star to shine its light over our tiny town, to pierce through Dylan Thomas’ close and holy darkness, as if to say “wise men – kings from more important lands – on your way through your life’s journey, on the way to find your own purpose and salvation – stop here.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

BBC Ballet Shoes: The "Did You Know We're Making A Movie Starring Emma Watson?" Trailer

BBC's released a new trailer; this one's entirely Emma-centered. I suppose fame sells.

I've decided I'm really going to like this movie after all. It's giving every indication that it will be a faithful adaptation.

A few nitpicks:

Are fossils stone, bone, or both? I guess I really don't know. But when Gum called his fossils "stones," it seemed to hit a little wrong.

The quote is "You're nothing but a pack of cards." I don't know why they changed it.

But... love the trailer, love Winifred (I hope we get to see her play Alice), love the fact that the BBC just confirmed that Drs. Smith and Jakes will be played as (lesbian) lovers. 'Cause every time I read the book after I was, say, twelve, I wondered. Y'know?

BBC Ballet Shoes: Pictures of Maeterlinck's Blue Bird

I'm going to bet that the upcoming BBC Ballet Shoes movie will not include Pauline and Petrova performing in Maeterlinck's Blue Bird.

It'll skip over it entirely, and focus on two performances: Alice in Wonderland (plot point: Pauline learns that she is not indispensable) and Midsummer Night's Dream (plot point: everyone discovers that Petrova is a bad fit for the theatre).

If I were adapting Ballet Shoes for the screen, I'd do the same thing. After all, Alice and Shakespeare are both household names, and very few people are familiar with Maeterlinck.

But since I'm still getting so much Ballet Shoes site traffic, and since everyone who's coming to this page through a Ballet Shoes-related Google search is familiar with Maeterlinck, well...

I directed a performance of Blue Bird last year. The same play that Pauline and Petrova did, with nearly as much dancing. Wanna see pictures?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Sweeney Todd: Sondheim With Its Throat Slit

Sweeney Todd is a movie musical which, I fear, will please nobody.

It won't please the nerdcore crowd looking for Tim Burton awesomeness along the lines of The Nightmare Before Christmas or Edward Scissorhands.

It won't please the kajillion tween girls who came just to see Johnny Depp (and there were plenty of them at tonight's showing, in gaggles of twelve with a lone harried mother attached as chaperone).

And it certainly won't please the Sondheim fans.

Strangely enough, it will fail to please each of these groups for exactly the same reason:

They stop the action to sing.

It's "talk talk talk talk action action action STOP LET'S HAVE A SONG."

And that's wrong.

It's wrong-wrong-wrong-wrong-wrong.

Sure, the songs are shot beautifully. Great camera angles. Lush, saturated colors.

And the music sounds lovely. Johnny's a crooner, and Helena's a surprising soprano.

But they stop for the songs. They don't treat the songs as if they had anything to do with advancing the story.

Let's take "A Little Priest." Burton shoots it with Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett staring through a greasy window, musing on the potential tastiness of the people walking around outside. Just to make sure the audience makes the connection, Burton even shows us the individual people; we see a friar, and then we hear Mrs. Lovett sing "try the friar!"

But that's not what the song's about. It's not a song about the people outside. It's a song about Mrs. Lovett trying to make Sweeney fall in love with her by proving she's as clever as he is. And how can she do that? Through idea and wordplay. So she spends the entire song wracking her mind to impress him; to make him pay attention to her.

(This is made most obvious in the bridge section, which Burton cut.)

But this film makes it a song about musing. A song about staring. A song about friggin' boring.

And all of the songs are like that. It's like no one ever considered why these characters are singing. "My Friends" is not a song about how beautiful razors are. It's a song in which Sweeney puts together a plan. We don't see him make that plan; we only see the beautiful razor.

As noted in Slate
, the Johanna/Anthony story is truncated to its barest element. Boy meets girl, and... well, that's about it. All of the action-based songs (like "Kiss Me") are gone, and we get a rendition of "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" which is an almost continual shot of Johanna sitting at a window. But Johanna is trying to get free from Judge Turpin. Even while she sings, she is trying to get free. The song is antic, frantic, distressed. It's not sitting. Burton gave us sitting.

And that's why the audience -- a packed house -- began to squirm in its own seats.

Editor's Note: Please scroll down for video clips featuring the difference between an active performance of "A Little Priest" and Tim Burton's version.

Sweeney Todd: "A Little Priest," Stage Version

Here's a performance of "A Little Priest" that's action-based, rather than... um... "mood"-based.

The thing to watch with this performance is the way Mrs. Lovett reacts to Sweeney. You can see what she wants, when she gets it, when it is taken from her, and what she does to get it back.

Sweeney Todd: "A Little Priest," Burton Version

Here's a clip from Tim Burton's version. Note the window. This window-staring business goes on for the rest of the song.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Final Fantasy Either Degrades Hinduism, Or Makes It Even More Awesome

What could possibly be sexier than depicting Shiva as a female god with a gigantic rack?

Making her two female gods, both with giant racks, who can combine their powers and turn into a motorcycle.

That's what Final Fantasy XIII is all about.

Click here to watch the trailer, which features some hot Shiva-on-Shiva action, and here to learn more about these sexy, sexy avatars.

(Hat tip:

Done with Doxy!

This past Sunday marked an epoch in my India-travel-adventures.

Sunday was the four-week anniversary of my arrival back in the US.

More importantly, it was "the last day I had to take that damn doxycycline!"

Yep, I'm finally free from the possibility of contracting malaria. I'm also free of the perpetual stomach-lining-burning that came every time I took the doxy, for nearly four months straight.

It doesn't seem like only four weeks since Hyderabad. It seems like years and years. It seems like it's been as long as it took man to evolve from dinosaurs.

But, then again, I've returned to my former state of penury and winter darkness, and every day seems that long.

Cheer up, emo Blue. Spring will come soon.

BBC Ballet Shoes: I Can Do RP. Maybe I Should Become A British Child Actor!

In response to Niranjana's comment about the RP in the Ballet Shoes trailer, I thought I would share this article from the Times on how difficult it was to find young actors for Ballet Shoes who spoke RP.

(RP is "received pronunciation," or "an English accent the way Julie Andrews does it." It was, for many years, the required accent at Oxbridge, as well as the BBC. Yes, you read that correctly. If you were on the faculty at Oxbridge, you had to use RP. The accent was taught in schools.)

So the Times wrote an article about how sad it was that most young British actors only spoke Estuary English, or "an English accent the way the characters in Love Actually do it."

And -- sniff, sniff -- that means they weren't able to cast young unknowns in Ballet Shoes, but had to resort to -- sob, sob -- very famous movie stars.

Here's my question. Every American actor in every acting program in the country learns RP. Even I can do a fairly decent RP. Why aren't the British actors learning it?

(The Times article also includes the casting call for two of the three Fossils, if you're interested in reading. I always think casting calls are interesting, because they're rather like job descriptions -- vague and intimidating at the same time.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Your #1 Resource for BBC Ballet Shoes Movie Information!

Hi, team!

I know there have been lots of hits to this blog lately because of the Ballet Shoes posts.

(To read all of the Ballet Shoes posts, please click on the "ballet shoes" tag at the end of this post.)

Drop a comment or two, why dontcha? ^__^ It would make me very happy, and we could argue back and forth about why the trailer has Pauline saying "no, I need to be an actress" (another case of Emma Watson taking lines that belong to other characters?).

I promise to remain your faithful Ballet Shoes news aggregator!

*Pretty Blue Salwar is not necessarily the "#1 Source" for Ballet Shoes information. According to Google rankings, she's actually #3. But that's still pretty cool.

The other two sites, btw, are The Fossil Cupboard and Emma Watson's website.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Another Ballet Shoes Post: Killing Mrs. Simpson

For those of us following my avid excitement regarding the upcoming BBC Ballet Shoes movie, I made an unfortunate discovery this afternoon.

It was something I had suspected, after seeing the cast list and the trailer.

They took the character of Mr. Simpson and made him a love interest for Sylvia.

(Brief backtrack for the uninitiated: Sylvia Brown is the mother-by-adoption to the three Fossil orphans. Mr. Simpson is Petrova Fossil's mentor, the man who teaches the young girl all about engineering and helps her prepare for a career as a pilot. There is also a Mrs. Simpson, who is equally kind to Petrova and makes her a suit of overalls so that she can work alongside Mr. Simpson when he fixes cars. Later in the story, when the sisters are once again desperate for clothing and have no more jewelry to sell, Mrs. Simpson makes them organdy dresses.)

But it's confirmed here: just like in the 1975 film, they've eliminated the character of Mrs. Simpson so that Mr. Simpson can fall in love with Sylvia.

Only this time, they've killed her. In a horrible accident in Kuala Lumpur. And they've also given her a son, and killed him off as well.

Oh, dear. The literary theorists could have a field day with this one. What are the problems with this scenario?

1. The implication that Sylvia, a single woman raising three children, needs a love interest/husband to make her story complete. (Or that the audience needs Sylvia to have a love interest/husband. Or that the audience needs the three Fossil girls to have a "real father.")

2. The fact that they had to invent some kind of terrible accident to remove an inconvenient character, and add another character and then kill him off as well. In the 1975 movie, Mr. Simpson was an ordinary bachelor. If the 2007 version has to fabricate a love story, why not leave it at that?

3. The creepiness of Petrova now becoming a "second son" for Mr. Simpson (there's bound to be a scene in which he tells someone that she reminds him of the late Simpson Jr.), which takes away the joy of a young girl being able, on her own merits, to walk down to her neighbor's garage and ask him to teach her how to fix cars, and his doing it only because she's clever enough, on her own.

4. The colonialism angle. Mr. S ran a rubber factory in Kuala Lumpur, before getting a transfer back to London. We're in the 1930s, pre-Malaysian independence. I'm suddenly very interested to know how the two other Simpsons died. Strange native disease? Attack by a strange native animal? Murder at the hands of strange natives? Something involving the words "strange" and "native?"

Anyway. You get the idea. Somewhere there's an academic article in this, with a title along the lines of Single Mothers and Substitute Sons: Use of the Male Paradigm to Alter Character Identities in the BBC Adaptation of "Ballet Shoes."

Maybe after I see the movie, I'll write it. ^__^

Researching the Career Fair

So I spent some time today investigating my university's career center.

It was a novelty I skipped in undergrad, primarily because I had already snagged myself an internship with a theatre that would later go on to win the Tony for Best Regional... but before it did so, the person with whom I was supposed to intern left the country, leaving me in a brand-new city with no real idea of what to do next (this is, btw, the story of how I became a telemarketer).

But I went online to see what kind of opportunities were available.

They'll meet with me to discuss my career goals and give me what appears to be a free resume critique, which seems useful enough.

There are a few Myers-Briggs-type tests that I can take. (Bonus points for anyone who can successfully guess my Myers-Briggs identification.)

There's a place for me to submit my resume online and have it be considered for any available jobs that come through, rather like

And then there's the spring career fair.

Great! I thought. Let's see what kind of careers they're showing off!

Of the 71 companies/corporations recruiting at the career fair, twenty are insurance companies. I never knew there were so many insurance companies (and these are just the ones within a 100-mile radius).

The remaining are split between accounting, banking, law enforcement, industrial work, supermarket chains, health care, and the armed forces.

Oh, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which bears the honor of employing the largest number of immediate college graduates nationwide, five years running. (For a sort of post-and-riposte on working at Enterprise, click here -- and read the comments!)

I have to admit I was a little disenhearted by the recruiting pool, which seemed to me very one-sided. Where, for example, was Harpo Productions? Where was Steppenwolf or the Goodman, or the Art Institute? What about McGraw-Hill? These places also have entry-level jobs. We have the cultural and artistic wealth of one of our country's major cities within our backyard, and each of those individual organizations has a staff ranging from copywriters to number-crunchers to publicity assistants. They won't employ as many people as Enterprise, but...

I suppose if I want to meet companies that aren't visiting our career fair, I'll have to do the legwork myself. Maybe that's for the best. I'll be a candidate... with initiative!

Monday, December 17, 2007

I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What Was Holding Me Back

First of all, a disclaimer.

I blog to get free stuff.


So, when -- after reading my recent post on how I felt like I had every single possible career trajectory leering in front of me and I didn't know which one to pursue -- a friend gave me a copy of a book with the very title I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, I was delighted.

And then depressed.

And then still delighted, but a little confused.

The premise behind I Could Do Anything is that people who aren't doing the "anything" that they want to do are stuck where they are because of psychological factors from their past.

For example: a person stuck in a low-level office job who wants to go back to grad school and pursue a career in journalism might be putting off grad school apps because his teacher/father/former girlfriend told him he was stupid, and so he's afraid he's too stupid for grad school and avoids applying.

The book falls victim to the general flaw of "improve your life and finances" books, which is that it states that everyone can achieve their dreams and that no one has to get stuck doing mindless grunt work... and then completely skips over the niggling issue of "but if everyone is following their dream, who's left to do the grunt work?"

Besides that, however, it's fairly provocative and led me to make a significant realization.

As blogged here, there, and everywhere, I grew up in a tiny Midwestern town and attended an underfunded "rural route" school. A school where the high school science teacher taught the food chain, and gave the example "sun, weeds, rat, cow." (When a classmate and I protested that rats don't eat weeds, never mind about the cow, we were told that the individual elements didn't matter; the state tests were only looking for us to understand the "idea" behind a food chain.)

I was bored silly. I sat at a desk all day and didn't have a lot of friends, particularly as I got older and started doing incredibly dorky things like memorizing passages from Shakespeare and writing them down in my notebook instead of copying whatever was on the overhead. (I also wore pink suspenders to class, which probably contributed.)

And there's a chapter in I Could Do Anything specifically for the young job-seeker right about to leave a university program; a chapter which asks "Why are you not applying to all of the fantastic jobs out there? What are you afraid they will be like?"

My mind went "I'm afraid they'll be like the office work I've done thus far. Sitting at a desk all day, doing the same repetitive thing over and over, the only possibility of advancement being moving on to other repetitive things."

Then the book asked "where were you in your life when you first experienced the thing you're afraid of?"

And my mind went "OMGWTF SCHOOL! It's exactly like grade school and high school, and people kept promising that there would be something better for me, and the people in high school said it would come in undergrad, and the people in undergrad said it would come in grad school, and no wonder I'm so afraid of real jobs because all they seem to be are more of this sitting-and-waiting business!"

Then the book tells me to forgive my childhood for not giving the child Blue what she needed. I'm not sure my childhood needs to be "forgiven," because I kind of like the adult Blue, and I know that she was shaped by her childhood.

Most importantly, the book gave me some ideas about where to look for entry-level jobs that weren't all this "sitting-and-waiting business," this office work that does in fact remind me of those long classroom hours of copying notes from the overhead.

But I hate writing about my dreams while they are still so new. So... watch this space, and when things begin to transpire, I'll tell you.

Editor's Note: In case you were curious, free stuff Blue has received via blogging has thus far included grocery money (from this post), an invitation to visit Bangalore (see this post, and then click on the "Bangalore" tag to read the rest), an offer to write travel columns for an Indian magazine (from this post, and yes, she took it up), and a burgeoning social network which has led to dinner invitations, theatre tickets, etc. For which she says, to everyone: THANK YOU.

The Aerogarden: WANT

Yes, I know.

At $150, too expensive by half.

And I'm also anti-consumerism.


What is it? An Aerogarden. An indoor herb garden. There are pretty, pretty pictures over at The Machinist. But beware -- you might end up wanting one too.

Blue is the Color of Dreams

Yep. Stole the header image from the Tiffany's ad.

Ballet Shoes "Book Cover" Photo

All the book covers for the various editions of Ballet Shoes are slightly different, but they all look a little something like this:

They got the black velvet dress in the shot. That's fantastic. (For the uninitiated, there's a point in the story where the three girls, desperate for decent clothing, pawn their jewelry -- they own one necklace apiece, given to them when they were babies -- to purchase a black velvet dress that they can share. Yes, Ballet Shoes is one of those books. Jo March sells her hair, and the Fossil girls give up their jewelry.)

(Pictures are from The Fossil Cupboard, and there are even more pictures at Emma Watson's website.)

New Ballet Shoes Trailer

Since this blog is getting a considerable amount of Google Search traffic for "ballet shoes movie," etc., I would be completely remiss if I did not post the newest trailer.

So... here it is!

(P.S. Unfortunate narration, I know.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Won't Be Christmas Without Any Garam Masala Cake!

It's so dreadful to be poor.

Otherwise, I would totally be baking this awesome desi Christmas cake I just read about on a SepiaMutiny comment.

But (alas) I have neither nuts nor dried fruit, neither baking powder nor baking soda, and of course no cocoa powder or red wine.

But maybe one of you can make it and tell me how it tastes.

The Unexamined Life, or: I Should Seriously Get Up Early Enough To Cook Eggs

I've been trying to do an exercise, for the past couple of days, to help me with my... um... "life coaching."

(I'm not an actual life coach, nor do I have one. I just read books written by life coaches and steal their ideas.)

I feel like I am at a point in my life where I could go anywhere, and do anything (albeit at the entry-level), and it's a bit overwhelming.

The one path I steered myself towards, for a number of years -- until right before I left for Hyderabad, in fact -- was becoming a university faculty member. A few things happened last summer, however, that suggested this might not be a workable path for me. (I might write about them in a later post.)

So, to borrow a video game metaphor, I feel kind of like I'm in SMB3, World 7, and I just went down a big green pipe and lost a life, and now I'm at the beginning of the level again, Small Mario with no powerups, and I don't know which pipe to jump into.

And I thought "Okay, I'll borrow an activity from Martha Beck. I'll write down what I would like an ideal "ordinary" day in my future life to be like, and see what adjustments I need to get myself there."

The beginning was easy.

Morning: Feed and pet kitty, do yoga, eat hot breakfast with coffee.

The reason writing down an ideal morning was easy was because it was pretty close to my actual morning. Right now I really do wake up, feed and pet my kitty, and do yoga. (Before I hear anyone snipe at me about how I can't possibly understand yoga, let me mention that due to my theatre training, I have been taking yoga classes off-and-on for the past five years -- and yes, I know my classes are nowhere near how yoga is practiced in India.)

The one part I'm missing is the hot breakfast part, which -- although I love my eggs and toast -- is time-consuming and makes a mess of the kitchen. Usually my breakfast is a granola bar eaten in the car. Still, in an ideal world I'd have eggs or oatmeal (or idlis and chutney, if I had an idli-maker) for breakfast every morning.

Anyway. With my morning written out, I set out to describe the next part of my day.

I drew a blank.

Where would I be? In an office? In a classroom? Writing a novel in a ridiculously chi-chi Manhattan loft?

Certain things pop out at me, in my vision of the "ideal" future. I want to sell my car and switch to biking and public transportation. This means living in a certain type of city. I also want to have a garden and grow my own vegetables, which seems to mean living in a different type of place (or a place which supports community gardens). And I seem to want both of these despite the fact that I've killed every plant I've tried to grow, and I haven't been near a bicycle in fifteen years.

But the job part is blurry.

It may have something to do with the fact that I've always looked at my jobs as things to be gotten through before I can get down to the business of living my life. So perhaps I can't imagine, yet, a career that isn't based on "getting through the day so you'll have enough money to pay rent."

I also made an unnerving discovery while visualizing my "ideal" life. In all my images, cooking or biking or reading or cleaning the kitchen (yes, on an ideal day I would clean my kitchen), I'm always alone. Well, alone plus cat.

I can rationalize it by saying "well, you've never lived with a significant other, or with children, so you don't have the sense of the reality of those images to put into your fantasy." Which is true. I have no idea what it would be like to come home to a family for whom I was responsible, or a husband with whom I was sharing and negotiating our mutual-linked lives.

Another unnerving discovery is that my "ideal" life seems to be just as tightly frugal as my current one, and it seems to take place in a tiny studio apartment. Is this my way of combining fantasy with truth, or a fear of dreaming for anything larger?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

To Thambi

To Thambi, who is also "Name" (of course I track ISPs), and who has now adopted two different identities (with the same hidden Blogger profile) to leave me notes on the blog:

Thanks for the link. I remember reading that article two years ago, but it was nice to be reminded of it again.

I wanted to respond to your comment because I respect where you are coming from, and although I don't think I'm doing what you are accusing me of doing, it's clear that we are misreading each other, which I think is unfortunate.

So. (Enters storytelling mode.)

I have worn a bindi. Twice.

The first was the night Tempest opened, in Hyderabad. My students insisted I wear one.

"I'm not Hindu," I said. "And I'm not married. I don't think it's appropriate for me to borrow a symbol like that."

They disagreed, explaining that "you can't wear a sari without a bindi!"

So I let them put one on my forehead.

The other time I wore a bindi was in Bangalore, and as before it was suggested and offered by my host, before going to visit nearby families and their Kolu.

Although I have received a few colorful, glittery bindi packets as gifts when making clothing purchases, I don't wear them. I certainly wouldn't wear them on my navel. I've always recognized the bindi as a religious signifier, even as its meaning has altered.

But the salwar is different. It isn't a religious symbol, as far as I understand. It's a form of clothing that has, in fact, already passed through the hands of a few different cultural groups before it ended up on a hanger in my closet.

I know that people think I don't have a right to be interested in India, or in Indian culture; that I am "Bollywoodizing" India (to which I respond "no, I'm Bollywoodizing Bollywood, which -- you have to admit -- encourages that kind of behavior"), or that I am operating from a colonial mindset.

The first part I disagree with, the middle part I know isn't true (India isn't all Bollywood and yoga, and I didn't think it was before the trip, either), and the last part is something that I have consciously tried to address and avoid.

What I don't understand is why you tell me I am presenting myself as an "expert" or "ambassador" of Indian culture. This blog was started in a spirit of questioning, which has continued throughout my travelogue.

It was started -- if you go back to my very first posts -- because I didn't feel comfortable cluttering up the SepiaMutiny comment boards with my questions (and... um... whiteness), and so I started a blog of my own where I could try to puzzle through what I didn't understand.

(Now, interestingly, my blog has in fact been cited on SepiaMutiny, as well as Ultrabrown, and no fewer than six times on DesiPundit.)

I never meant to present India to anyone else, or to (re)define it by my standards. All I tried to do with this blog was to tell stories about my experiences, and to ask questions to help me understand what I was experiencing.

Now that I am no longer traveling, I'm not quite sure what to do with the blog. ^__^ Now is the time where writing "about India" seems presumptuous, and although there is a place for a post about Saawariya because it has to do with something that was recently posted on Ultrabrown, I feel like I ought to redefine my writing focus so that this blog becomes... about a job search? about my personal musings? about OMG-they're-adapting-Ballet-Shoes?!

Anyway. Thambi, I'm sorry that you are offended by what I am writing. I'm not going to stop blogging, though. I make mistakes sometimes, and make stupid assumptions sometimes, and correct them when they are pointed out to me. But I have never presented myself as an expert or ambassador. This blog is always, and has always been, about promoting understanding through question and discussion -- not only understanding of a semester in India, but also of theatre, education, economics, literature, etc.

And that's all I'm going to write about that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tested: Teaching Teachers to Teach Students to Take Tests

Today I read a book called Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade, by Linda Perlstein.

I read it because of my continuing fascination with all things "educational theory;" I am a person who, after all, reads the Chronicle of Higher Education first thing every morning, even before glancing at the NYT.

It's about a Title I school in Maryland (Title I referring to the act which granted public schools extra funding if over 40% of their students came from low-income households), and its struggle to pass the standardized testing required by No Child Left Behind. Actually, the trouble isn't that the school couldn't pass. It's that NCLB requires successively higher scores every year. (NCLB's plan is that every student in every classroom will achieve "proficient" scores -- the highest possible rating -- by the year 2014. I am not making this up.)

The school, then, spends its entire year trying to cram test-taking skills into its elementary students' heads; skills for tests so subjective that a kindergartener asked "which picture starts with a B?" and points to the picture of a bear will be scored as answering wrong, because the bear picture is actually a "cub" and is reserved for the question about the "C" sound.

Anyway. What struck me about this article was how familiar many of the teaching methods were. I don't think I went to a Title I school when I was growing up, and the standardized testing movement was just beginning to get its feet off the ground in the early 1990s, but I recognized all too well the techniques these teachers were using.

(Interestingly, Perlstein notes that these techniques are not developed by the teachers themselves, but instead sold to the school by a corporation in the name of teaching teachers how to teach kids to take tests. The teachers, in turn, are required by administration to follow the techniques to the letter, even to the point of being given scripts to memorize before the school day begins.)

Let's take, for example, the "how to write a complete sentence" technique. On a standardized writing exam, answers must be in complete sentences to receive full points. Instead of teaching fifth and sixth graders about subjects and verbs and direct objects, the corporate technique is to require a student to rewrite the entire question and then add his/her answer at the end.

As Perlstein notes: If the question is Brer Rabbit is a tricky fellow. Give examples from the play that prove this., then a student must begin his/her answer with "Brer Rabbit is a tricky fellow because...." A student who begins her answer with "Brer Rabbit tricked," even though this too will lead to a complete sentence, is told to rewrite.

That was my sixth grade year. I figured out pretty quickly what was going on, and adjusted my sentences accordingly, but it drove me crazy.

As did the "objectives," another corporate technique, which suggests that teachers write out objectives, business-style, on the chalkboards every morning and the students copy them down into notebooks (copying being a memorization tool, after all). But the objectives can't be any old "to-do list." Perlman cites examples of objective lists which include The student will use the comprehension strategies of monitoring and clarifying, making connections, and visualizing during the first read. This was on the chalkboard in a fifth-grade classroom.

Truth be told, the real reason I hated the objectives was because they took so long to copy down; time that I could have spent free reading at my desk (I think I viewed most of school as an obstacle that kept me from reading). Likewise, I found "the comprehension strategies of monitoring and clarifying" repugnant. I preferred Roald Dahl's advice to let long passages of books "wash over you, like music." There was, after all, always the dictionary, if you really didn't know what was going on.

The last chapter of the book notes that during the final month of classes, after the standardized tests are over and the teachers given permission to teach outside of the corporate box, the students not only seem to learn more, but also stop fighting with one another.

Anyway. Part of the reason I posted this is because I was chatting with a friend about our respective educational experiences, and my friend could not believe the stories I was telling about my underfunded rural school. (For example: in high school "calculus," the math teacher -- who was also the girls' basketball coach -- told us that every time the girls won a game, we wouldn't have to have homework or a lesson that day. We could sit in class and play cards and listen to the radio, which we did nearly every day that semester, since our girls were the strongest team in the district.)

So now I'm curious. Is it just Title I schools and Rural Route schools who use the corporate method of education? Or did we all have objectives on the blackboard every morning, and learning that forming a complete sentence required copying down the question?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ballet Shoes Clip: Because I Am Just That Excited

Here's the "first ever" look at the upcoming BBC Ballet Shoes movie.

The clips are interspersed with shots of exploding houses and Peter Pettigrew looking really creepy, but if you know the book, you know what they are.

They kind of look... like the pictures I had in my head. Emma Watson's still miscast, but Madame Fidolia seems right, and Posy (is it Lucy Boynton? or a dance double?) can really dance.

I'm excited.

And In Case You Wanted To See The 1975 Version...

Here's the original (awful) Ballet Shoes movie.

Well, the first part.

The entire thing's on YouTube, but you'll have to find the rest yourself.

No, You Don't Understand. It's Cheaper. Seriously.

So a few days ago the NYT ran an article called "A High Price For Healthy Food."

The premise was that fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains cost more than their frozen, partially-hydrogenated-soybean-oil-filled equivalents.

The research was a little skewed because they compared cost per calorie, instead of, say, cost per nutrient or vitamin.

Based on [scientist Adam Drewnowski's] findings, a 2,000-calorie diet would cost just $3.52 a day if it consisted of junk food, compared with $36.32 a day for a diet of low-energy dense foods. However, most people eat a mix of foods. The average American spends about $7 a day on food, although low-income people spend about $4, says Dr. Drewnowski.
(And Blue spends even less than that.)

The article, with its grabby headline and disappointing follow-through ("you mean I can spend $3 on a Cinnabon and get all my calories for the day, but I would have to buy $25 worth of broccoli?"), garnered a host of argumentative comments.

They tended to fall into two categories:

A. "It's not that hard to eat healthy, simple food on a limited budget. Buy vegetables in season and eat a lot of beans and rice."


B. "Eew! I'm not going to eat beans and rice like some starving college student!"

One commenter even said she could not in good conscience subject her children to bland "bean paste." (Why does she think there's a paste involved?)

Finally, at comment #102, we get:
Has anyone heard of Indian food?
It’s by far the cheapest thing you can eat, and every meal is packed with veggies. for $5 you can make a meal for 4 people, with just a head of cauliflower and some frozen beans and a cup of rice.
Agreed. And I'll see your $5 and lower you to $2.

Before I taught myself how to cook, I used to buy cheap pre-made crap. Ramen noodles, frozen pizzas, high-sodium Carl Buddig "thin meat."

Even though I shopped for bargains, it was still sixteen times as expensive as my current food budget.

Now I eat a diet that is based on lentils, rice, and cheese, with at least one seasonal vegetable added to each dish. (Emphasis on seasonal, team.)

I don't feel like a starving graduate student. I mean, I am a poor graduate student, but I'm nowhere near starving. In terms of culinary delights, I feel quite rich. I have cardamom and chilis and fenugreek. Every meal is a flavor adventure. (One night, I excitedly explained to my roommate about all the different kinds of lentils I had in my cupboard and the way they all made different tastes. She was thoroughly impressed.)

And I bet that if Dr. Adam Drewnowski analyzed the calories-per-penny in my lunches and dinners, it would rank right up there with the Cinnabon and the Pop-Tart.

But (sigh) that would have spoiled the news story.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I Saw Saawariya!

I saw Saawariya.

Not on YouTube.

Not in blurry ten-minute chunks.

In a for-real movie theater.

In the heart of the rural midwest.

The sign had been up on the marquee for three days by the time my friends and I were able to go. We bought our tickets, went into the theater, and found... no one else was there. Not even the projectionist. Not even those stupid trivia questions they show before the previews.

So we went back and asked the guy behind the popcorn counter why they weren't preparing to start the movie.

"Because no one has bought any tickets for Saawariya this entire week," he said. "Not until you all showed up."

I copped a winking-miffed attitude and said "but how could anyone miss seeing Bollywood's first collaboration with Sony Pictures, featuring Ranbir Kapoor in a towel?"

So my friends and I had the theater to ourselves. This turned out to be beneficial, because we were able to talk back to the movie screen and sing along to the songs (botching all the words, of course).

Best line of the evening? When a friend who had not seen Bollywood before got her first glimpse of Mr. Kapoor and his transluscent towel.

She turned to me and asked what seemed like an obvious question, based on the visual evidence.

"Wait. Do Indian men not have any body hair?"

Ballet Shoes: Who Wants To Get Me A Christmas Present?

Being the poor, cash-strapped grad student I am, the only thing I should legitimately ask for this Christmas is money. (Well... money and a copy of Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking. That thing's worth its weight in gold, and I've re-checked it out of the library so many times that it smells like my spice drawer.)

But the thing that I want for the day *after* Christmas is a burned DVD or VCD of Ballet Shoes.

It airs on BBC 1 on the evening of December 26. Check your local listings for showtimes.

I don't get BBC. My roommate and I have taped a pair of rabbit ears to the top of our 13-inch television (which we bought at a thrift store), and we get a little bit of fuzzy NBC/CBS/FOX and the local Christian station WTJR: "Waiting 'Till Jesus Returns."

So I need to figure out how I can otherwise see this made-for-TV movie which is probably going to be not-that-good, but is based on a book that I have pretty much memorized (and read so much as a child that the cover and many of the inner pages fell out).

Who wants to be my Secret Santa?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Thanks For The Page Views!

I'm still not ready to go back online, but I find myself warmed that the same old crowd (yes, I know it's you) is visiting this blog daily.

New content will come soon. I promise.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Just A Short Break, Team. Doing Some Housecleaning. (Actually, I'm taking a nap, but I'll start the housecleaning when I wake up, I promise!)

Editor's Note: Pretty Blue Salwar needs her blog offline for a few days. She'll be back soon.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Bollywood Comes to Cornfield County

A while back, Manish at Ultrabrown compared the gross of the three worldwide releases Lions for Lambs, Om Shanti Om, and Saawariya, and asked why the latter two films, both backed by big-budget advertising, only earned a little more (combined) than the Hollywood indie flick.

I left a comment arguing that it could be because Lions for Lambs played on every theater in Small Town USA, while Bollywood was limited to only a handful of major US cities. Multiply that by the (falling) US dollar, and... well, that might account for the divergent US gross.

But what did I see today, as I drove in to the office on a freezing Monday morning? A giant advertisement announcing Saawariya at my local theater! I was busy texting away in a flurry of "OMG!"s, and have arranged a party to go see it later this week.

Then -- lo and behold -- I did a little research, and found out that Om Shanti Om had also played in my hometown, during Thanksgiving week.

We' have a very large desi population, where I live (we're the town with its own Bollywood cover band, after all), but this has to be symptomatic of a larger trend.

Hooray for Bollywood!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

I Heart iGoogle

I heart iGoogle.

Here I was, thinking day after day "If there only was a way to put all the things I look at (which take up all the tabs on my Firefox) on a single page, in individual boxes... and top it with a picture of a kitty. That would be nice."

I heart iGoogle.

Also kitties. I heart kitties too.

Editor's Note: Yes, she knows this just means the Google monopoly is getting stronger. Yes, she knows that Google is probably tracking everything she does. But... that kitty is so friggin' cute. I mean, it's so cute.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

More on Theatre and Education

An insight that came while I was brushing and flossing my teeth (and, btw, if you get a piece of floss stuck between your teeth, what then do you use to get it out?):

The myth of theatre is the myth of the broken convention.

The story of our namesake, Thespis, is the story of a broken convention. People were used to hearing actors tell stories as a chorus; suddenly, one actor stepped forward and began telling a story as a character.

And then it's a trail of broken conventions all the way through Corneille, Moliere, Racine; realism, A Doll House and "the door slam heard 'round the world," and then naturalism, with the shock of "recreating a working restaurant onstage;" then Brecht, Joan Littlewood, Robert Wilson, Joanne Akalaitis, etc.

For the musical-theatre dorks, there are the myths of Showboat, Oklahoma, Allegro, Company, and Rent, among others.

And so theatre students believe, fervently, in the necessity of breaking convention. Which means, sometimes, defying (or, more accurately, ignoring) technique, teachers, advice, the audience response ("they just didn't get it!"), and common sense.

I understand this. I've been there. I've... um... done that. But looking backwards, I realize how much time I wasted because I didn't learn the technique first. I didn't understand the purpose of the conventions beyond the most superficial, Wikipedia-esque level.

Art students spend time copying masterworks. Perhaps theatre students should have to learn to copy a particular performance. One that is difficult physically or emotionally; one that requires a lot of focus and specificity. I'd love to design a class around this idea. I wonder if it would... work.

On Mamet and Education

I went last night to see a student performance of David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago. (Which, despite its title, is not particularly "perverse.")

This is part my department's Student-Directed Production Festival; every year, at the end of the semester, the students are given the space (and a tiny, tiny budget) to produce... whatever they want. Tired of studying boring old Chekhov? Tired of being told by your acting teacher to do this, do that? This festival has become, like student evaluations, a way of "getting back" at the faculty.

And so we get Sexual Perversity; or Killer Joe, a play notable only for its gigantic bloodbath at the end, which was performed with enough fake blood to leave the classroom-cum-stage ketchup-red for weeks.

These plays, like high school musicals (and High School Musical), inspire a lot of good feeling in our students. They're fun. Like all plays, they require some work to stage, but they're relatively easy to put on. They're also intensely self-gratifying. They're the students saying "this is what I would do if I could do anything I wanted."

And they're usually awful, just as the Mamet was last night. The performance's lack of knowledge about Mamet rhythms and technique; about staging; about sexual chemistry, for that matter, was oh-so-apparent.

But it made the undergrads laugh because the characters kept saying "f*ck," "c*nt," and "p*ssy." Thus, it fulfilled its purpose and will be remembered fondly.

Now, the education part.

When I was a first-year grad student, I also staged a Mamet piece. My adviser let me pretty much alone because he wanted to see me "explore." So I explored.

My actors and I explored so much that it became the longest, most subtext-laden performance of Speed-the-Plow anyone had ever seen.

Afterwards, another faculty member caught up with me in the student lounge and performed, for me, a short Mamet monologue.

"That's how you do Mamet rhythms," he said.

"Got it," I said. (I'm a quick study.)

He looked a little perturbed. "Why didn't anyone talk to you about that before you staged the play?"

I didn't know, then, why no one had mentioned it; but now I'm beginning to understand. Because theatre education is about exploring impulses rather than reining (or training) them in; about breaking away from the masters rather than trying to copy and understand them; about feeling rather than discipline.

Yes, you need feeling. Of course you do. But the more I study and direct performances the more I understand that discipline and specificity are the two most important things a play needs, more important by far than anything else.

It's like a piece of music. Before you can add your own style, you have to learn how to play the note at the right pitch, with the right duration and intensity. Even the great jazz improvisers are playing within a very specific framework.

When I was in Hyderabad, I asked myself the question "which is more important in theatre? the experience, or the final product? and how does the audience factor into this?"

I wrote that I loved working within a "process" framework (exploring the experience, playing), and my casts responded very well to this kind of direction, but it "always felt a bit like cheating."

Now I understand why. After watching my university's Student-Directed Festival, I 100% understand why.

The point of theatre isn't that you play. The point of theatre is that you produce.

But this is not what our students seem to be learning.