Oskar Eustis: Theater and Democracy

A long time friend of this blog sent me a link to a TED talk by Oskar Eustis called “Why Theater is Essential to Democracy.” He wrote that he thought I might find Eustis’ thoughts “useful or at least interesting.” Right he was!

It’s a short piece, only 13 minutes instead of the 18 allowed by TED, and, as you’d imagine, it celebrates live stage performance and the outreach efforts by the Public Theater in NYC, which Eustis leads as their Artistic Director. He is an unapologetic missionary for Culture. I admire him for his zeal and concern for the Great Unwashed, if at times I admit I had to grit my teeth at the condescension for the Deplorables in Flyover Country he sees as his mission field.

What I found “useful” and “interesting” in the talk was the distinction made between watching a movie and watching a live performance on stage. For years I have said in talks and written here and in my books that movies are not an imaginative experience but sensation, and, as such, they are incapable of transforming audiences in any meaningful, lasting way. All film can do is scare us or move us to a sentimental moment, not just tears and smiles, granted, but the sentiments of rage and pity as well, none of which, however, last very long.

I have found that this assertion about film, the distinction between active imaginative experience versus passive sensation, really annoys people that prefer screened images to reading books or who “just love movies” (which is to say “almost everyone”). One of the more interesting counters to my thesis I’ve heard through the years is the question, “Well, what about the stage? That’s not imaginative, either; you watch the characters rather than imagining them. Are you saying contra-Aristotle and millenia of experience that audiences at live theater are not experiencing catharsis?”

No, I’m not. With Oskar Eustis, though, I am saying that the experiences of staged drama and screened images are fundamentally different — and the effect of this difference is that one is an individual’s sense experience of little effect on the person watching and the other is at least potentially transformative. We imagine, Eustis says, ourselves as the speakers in dialogue on stage, which imagining in conjunction with our being part of an audience witnessing a live event exercises our empathy, the experience to be had in fiction read in books.

Let me know what you think. Does Oskar Eustis have it right about the difference between film and stage? Does that or does it not confirm my disregard for the movie medium relative to book reading or play watching? Let me know what you think!

Fairies and Wizards? A Midsummer Night’s Dream and What We Might Expect from The Crimes of Grindelwald

In my Muggle professor job, I love teaching some of the greats of literature. One of my favorites, for my own enjoyment and for sharing with my class, is Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream | William Shakespearemodel comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In addition to literary depth, symbolism, themes, and plenty of laughs, the Bard’s romp through the fairy-haunted forest also offers my students some great connections with other texts, including popular ones they enjoy, like J.K. Rowling’s stories of the Wizarding World. With the second film in the Fantastic Beasts series galloping into theaters this November, it’s a good time to check out some of the connections this story already shares with MND and to make some guesses about what we might see in The Crimes of Grindelwald that will echo the adventures of some really bad actors, two pairs of hapless lovers, and a few aristocrats, when the mortal world intersects with some quarrelling fey and their minions. Follow me after the jump for some thoughts and possible predictions! [Read more…]

Attention UK Readers! LondonMoot is coming!

Get ready, dear readers in the United Kingdom, for the erudite nerdiness of Signum University and the Mythgard Institute to finally come to YOU! Later this month, on April 28, Signum U. (digital disseminators of some of the best and most accessible learning and teaching in imaginative fiction studies anywhere) will host its first London “moot” at the Sir David Davies lecture theater, Torrington Place.

A “moot,” of course, is a meeting of Ents (tree-people) in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings; Signum’s version promises to feature few talking trees, allowing proceedings to be held at a slightly hastier pace. Signum/Mythgard has been hosting such moots around the US for a few years now, with their main gathering, Mythmoot, held annually over a weekend in Leesburg, Virginia.  [Read more…]

The Three Fates Meet The Weird Sisters: Cormoran Strike, Harry Potter, and the Question of Fate, Free Will, and Choice

On 7 July, I thought to check J. K. Rowling’s twitter feed to see if she had posted anything about the anniversary of the 7/7 terrorist bombings that hit London in 2005. Though the 52 deaths and 784 injuries caused by four suicide bombers on 7/7 is recalled in the UK something like 9/11 is by Americans, she did not tweet or re-tweet any of the many articles and messages about the event online.

I was struck while at her page, however, by the header, that is, the picture she has placed across the top of her Twitter page. I do not keep up with these things but the header picture had changed from the last time I dropped in. The current Rowling Twitter Header is a marble relief sculpture by Johann Gottfried Schaddow on the tomb of Prince Alexander von Mark in Berlin called ‘The Three Morai’ or just ‘The Three Fates’ (picture above). 

The only reason Rowling readers should care about such things — why I write this blog post — is something she shared in January 2017 about a previous header: “It’s hard to find a header that sums up everything I’m working on at the moment, but this painting comes close! It’s by Harmen Steenwyck.”

The faculty here at HogwartsProfessor spent some time back then discussing that painting, ‘Allegory of the Vanities,’ amongst ourselves about what it might mean in terms of Lethal White, the Cormoran Strike mystery we’re waiting on and the work we assumed The Presence was working on then. We came up with little more than ‘remember death.’ Which given the first word of the Lethal White title and it being a murder mystery, did not seem to warrant a post. I’ll return to that in a moment after noting that Rowling was then working on two novels, one a Strike mystery as Robert Galbraith, the other of unknown subject matter as J. K. Rowling.

The reason to take a moment to reflect on Rowling’s choice of Twitter Headers is if what was true of ‘Allegory of the Vanities’ continues to be true, i.e., that she is showing us a picture of what her current work is about. That conditional clause does not seem a great leap to me.

What makes her choice of the ‘Three Fates’ mortuary relief that much more interesting in this regard is that Rowling has had a Twitter Header with the Three Fates as her Twitter Header at least once before, probably twice. The certain one is a 16th century Flemish tapestry called ‘The Triumph of Death’ or ‘The Three Fates.’

It hangs in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. We’re told at the page dedicated to the tapestry on the museum’s website that:  [Read more…]

Cursed Child Comments From a Theater Junkie.

95875-300x211-Comedy_tragedyLive theater is absolutely my favorite form of entertainment. Most years, I get season tickets to the Mary Baldwin theater and I try to see at least a few shows a year at the American Shakespeare Center or ShenanArts. When my husband asked me how I wanted to celebrate my upcoming 50th birthday, I immediately said, “I want to go to New York City and see some Broadway shows.”  He just texted me that we have tickets for Wicked and Fiddler on the Roof.

I also love reading plays. It was always one of my favorite parts of English class, because we would often read the entire play aloud in class, with different students taking different parts. I remember Romeo and Juliet and The Glass Menagerie in 8th grade, and Julius Caesar and A Doll’s House in 9th:  the teacher particularly liked my interpretation of Krogstad.  As I got older, acting was one of my major extracurriculars.  I played such roles as Ruth in Blithe Spirit, Marilla in Anne of Green Gables and Mrs. Sowerberry in Oliver!

CCSo, am I looking forward to the publication of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? Merlin’s beard, yes!  If I were wealthy enough to hop on a plane to London and see the shows I would already have done so.  I can’t avoid spoilers until the play comes to Broadway (maybe as soon as next season?) so reading is the next best thing.  I don’t care so much about whether the story is the “8th book” or not. I don’t care if there are some changes from the cannon of the book, which there certainly will be.  I confess to being vaguely curious to see if young Scorpius Malfoy has a henchman, and if so, is his last name Goyle (book-cannon) or Crabbe (movie-cannon). What I am most looking forward to see seeing the wizarding world in a different medium. [Read more…]