Thursday, 19 October 2017

It's ba-a-ack...



Prologue

So. Hey there. Been a while. Sorry. Gonna break this one up into sub-plots because a) there are a lot of them and b) this post is going to go on forever. Maybe I should break it into parts.
Lotta stuff happened in the last, ahem, year(?), and went unreported. At least here. If you are a FB friend then you were treated to a more-or-less real time commentary.

So over last school year, once we got back from the strike and back on some kind of sensible schedule, I managed to develop some enthusiasm for work, extra curriculars, and personal stuff. Started a couple necessary projects, making plans for my second bedroom, looking at my finances, etc. All was good.

One project was developing the plan for the next phase of my research and working out the details. Another was starting a textbook for a class that pretty much only I (in the world) teach the way I teach it.

Part 1 (Adventures in Healthcare)

A couple of years ago I was having trouble with my right shoulder and was diagnosed with frozen shoulder syndrome. Basically the joint capsule seizes up and greatly restricts your movement, often painfully. Typical pattern is 6-9 months coming on, 6-9 months with you, and 6-9 months going. At the end of which you have close to the range of motion you had before. Fortunately, it only really hurt when I tried to do something the capsule just wasn’t in a position to let me do. There are those who experience excruciating, debilitating pain, pretty much constantly through the coming and with-you stages. Saw a physiotherapist off and on for a year who gave me a slew of stretching exercises that we knew weren’t likely to do a whole lot—it’s just the nature of the problem—and did my best to compensate.

At some point I developed a problem with my right Achilles tendon, specifically where it inserts into my heel, and probably involving the bursa between the tendon and the calcaneus (the heel bone). Which found me going back to the physio for a few times. Gave me some stretching and strengthening exercises, but basically not much he could do about the actual ‘injury’ until it healed itself. Which typically it does. Like the shoulder it was mostly ‘make sure nothing gets worse and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again’. He looked at me once and said ‘Usually people come to me, I give them some exercises, they feel better, and I look like a genius. Then you come in with these other things.’ Or something like that.

In the meantime, I’ve done something to my other shoulder, so while I have almost 100% movement in my right shoulder almost anything that isn’t just ‘typical’ movement, especially if it involves any rotation, hurts. A lot. Although not often while I’m doing it, more just after I stop. So after a couple years of making sure I pulled on shirts and jackets over my right arm first and twisting my other arm back to get the thing on, I now basically hurt myself every morning. Also every night when I turn on my CPAP machine and turn off my bedside lamp. Or try to lie on my left side, which seems always to either press on the joint or roll my humerus forward in ways that do not feel good. Sometimes quite a lot. Looked it up and basically whatever it is (it isn’t frozen shoulder, could be rotator cuff, remote possibility of the beginnings of arthritis, but shoulder-specific arthritis is relatively rare. But so is retrocalcaneal bursitis, which is probably most of what is going on with my Achilles tendon, and apparently I beat those odds. So there you go.

Anyway, physically it kind of feels like I’m old and falling apart.*

*Side story: Justice Thurgood Marshall retired from the Supreme Court in 1991 at age 83. At a press conference (as I recall with the other Justices) he was asked why he was retiring. His response was “I’m old and falling apart.” Given in an exasperated, cantankerous, ‘what a stupid question’ kind of tone. He became my hero and role-model for cantankerous old man-ness.

Part 2 (Misako Kondo Hagiwara, 1920-2017)

In the spring, my mother (who wasn’t in the best of health) started to decline. She lived with one of my sisters back in the Seattle area, more or less since my father died, and I live 1300 miles away in a foreign country, so there wasn’t much I could do about it and wasn’t really expected to. So the local family experienced more angst preparing for ‘the inevitable’ (which shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone—my mother was 92 and not in the best of health), with trips to doctors and hospitals and convalescent care to hospital to palliative. Which all things considered could have been much worse and gone on a lot longer.

My mother passed on April 17th. I’d talked to another of my sisters a few days earlier with the change to palliative and what would happen then. I’d been expecting, in the worst case, a ‘come home now’ message, which I was actually kind of prepared for. Fortunately the message wasn’t come home now, so much as ‘what’s going to happen is going to happen, probably sooner rather than later, big arrangement issues were made (seriously) decades ago, so local family would figure out how to deal with the rest, and we’d figure out sometime later to get the family together and do the memorial and the interment’ and so on. Which we did Mothers Day weekend. Which was a week with the mishpucheh*, and actually more fun than it should have been, even with the whole mishpucha and the usually getting-on-each-others-nerves. With somber moments, of course, but always punctuated with in-family eyerolls and good humor.

*Side story: I grew up, sort of, believing mishpucheh meant something bigger than a mishigas. Mishigas is a Yiddish-origin word which used to mean something like ‘riotous mess’ from a basic meaning of ‘craziness’ (I think this is the same root as meshuga). I think I learned mishpucheh in the context of something like “Such a mishigas, the whole mishpucheh”. Mishpucheh (or apparently, having just looked it up, mishpocha) is another Yiddish-origin word that means ‘family’, especially ‘extended family’ construed broadly. A gathering of which in a lot of families inevitably means some kind of mishigas. So there you go.

But the upshot of my mother’s decline is that I spent more psychic and emotional energy on the inevitable toward the end of the delayed (due to the strike) winter term than was good for me, and, well, things went haywire. Regular sleep patterns? Out the window. Anything resembling a considered diet and sensible food choices? Gone. Exercise was also, at best, a marginal priority, since at one time or another I couldn’t move my arms or stand or walk comfortably. So that.


Part 3 (… So I’m working on it)

Emotionally, the enthusiasm and momentum I’d worked up basically went ker-poof. And while it wasn’t much trouble to get up in the morning, or the circa-noon, and go about my day in public as a mostly functional person, there wasn’t a lot of available attention span, and almost no energy, for doing anything that wasn’t really immediately necessary. What there was was a lot of staring into space, or at the TV or internet enabled equivalent, not actually paying attention to anything. Also the spending of a lot of money on I’m not entirely sure what. Well, I am, but nothing exciting.

So that sucked. And I didn’t really start to feel like myself again until July, which I devote primarily to the Fringe Festival. Which having committed to not worrying about money, or diet, or blood sugar, or that kind of thing for the 12 days of the festival, I actually enjoyed a lot more than I expected. Of course it helped that two of the new food vendors had a sausage-dog ‘noriyaki’ thing on an egg bun with nori and some kind of amazing barbecue sauce and a flourish of Japanese mayo, and pulled pork and some really juicy brisket on poutine.

August was taken up trying (and often failing) to prepare for classes and trying to wind up our inaugural Winnipeg Theatre Awards season. And trying to get up at a human hour of the morning consistently, and not making any more of a mess of my state of life than I could help.

Then, just before classes started, the class I had managed to do some prep for (although not enough) got cancelled due to low enrollment. Which sucks. A) I (along with others) was sure this topic would be a big draw for students, so when there was little-to-less interest to speak of by mid August things were bad. B) I ‘owe’ a course now, which means I’ll probably end up doing 3 in each term next year.* University people know that teaching expands to take up all the time it can at the best of times, so any discipline I have to get stuff done that isn’t class stuff, which I don’t have a ton of, will be spent trying to get work done, with limited momentum going into it.

*Side story: Although I did read the proposed workload guidelines (which by the contract we got that ended the strike are negotiated between the Faculties (i.e. deans offices) and the faculty (i.e. the academic staff), and it might rend up reducing our teaching loads by one course every two years, so maybe I’ll catch a break and only have a 3-2 as scheduled.

Okay, so the point of this post is to actually publicly promise a few things. I’m more likely to do things if I think other people are watching and waiting for the results, so here goes.
  • I’m actually writing at textbook for that class that only I teach the way I teach it (so if I want a textbook, it’s pretty much up to me to write it). I started that earlier in the year, and kind of lost the thread toward the end of fall term, and my mothers’ decline. Last week I finally opened up a couple of the chapters that I did get some work into before everything blew up. And they were gibberish. I don’t mean poorly organized, full of typos, etc. I mean flat out ‘I can’t imagine a native English speaker with a PhD writing like this, at least not without some kind of brain injury’. I exaggerate. But bad enough that really, I can keep the outline, but I have to throw out the crap I have. But I’m working on it.
  • I’ve also decided to develop a ‘workbook’ of activities relevant to a course in acoustic phonetics (my specialty). I had an idea like this, intending to develop it relative to an existing textbook, but I think I have made peace with the fact that the free, open-source software that ‘everyone’ uses for this kind of thing isn’t the evil, deranged, project I always thought it was. Don’t get me wrong, there are ‘quirks’ galore, and it is far to easy for people to use it without knowing what they’re doing. But that gives me a hook for the workbook. So as with all new projects, I’m excited about this one. But I’m working on it.
  • I’m going to re-start my Mystery Monthly Spectrogram webpage. Maybe as a blog rather than a webpage, but whatever. I haven’t updated it since 2009, when a) I went on leave and b) the computer that ran my preferred software (the one that nobody uses because ‘everybody’ uses the free one) died, and I couldn’t run the software I had on the new computer (there was a DRM ‘dongle’ that plugged into the parallel port to make the program work. Guess what, they don’t make parallel ports anymore.) And replacing it was prohibitive. So maybe not monthly, and I may make more liberal use of the ‘features’ of the free program than I had intended (playing with the format, to make it easier to produce the figures the way I want them—which was one of my objects to the program in the first place, it’s cumbersome graphics system). So maybe not ‘monthly’ (‘quarterly quandary’?), but regular. So I’m playing with the software and the graphics and the presentation, and I’ll try to have something going somewhere by the end of the year. So I’m working on it.
  • I’ve got two things that I need to prepare for the Ethics Board, having to do with my next project. Last year I developed a project for my acoustic phonetics class that a) could end up in the workbook, and b) has some special ethical issues owing to the classroom basis of the data-collection and analysis. And storage. This task is actually a reasonable dry run for a part of the tasks in my next ‘big’ research project, both in terms of general method and as ethics submission. So one and a third birds with one stone. So I’m working on it.

There’s a couple other non-work projects that I’m trying to put into the mix, including this blog, but this is not the time to go into those. But I’m working on them, as well as getting my diet and blood sugar back on track. To that end, I have acquired a new glucometer, because new toys always get me a little more excited to check my blood sugar.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Thoughts on the UMFA Strike 2016

Okay, it’s about money.  What it’s not about is salaries.

It is true that University of Manitoba pay scales are the lowest of the U13 Canadian universities. It’s true that every contact for 30 years before the 2001 strike had salary increases that failed to keep up with inflation. Just FYI..

It’s about protecting the quality of the University of Manitoba. The University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) is there to advocate for full time faculty, librarians, instructors, and head coaches.  It isn’t the Excellence Task Force.  There are limited ways for UMFA to exert its influence on the University. And one of the ways is negotiating salaries. And yes, that is about our ability to make mortgage payments and pay for our children’s schooling and all that.  But that’s not all that’s on the table, and for many, probably most of us, it isn’t the top priority.

The quality of our university is under assault. For the last several years, the Faculty of Arts, as an example, has faced a 5% cut to its budget.  Meanwhile, more Vice Presidents and Assistant Vice Presidents are created, and their offices staffed.  The Faculty of Arts budget covers payroll for all Arts staff, including members of UMFA, members of CUPE (including part time and sessional instructors), AESES (support staff), office supplies, upkeep, overhead, and so on.  Salaries in most positions are collectively bargained.  There aren’t that many budget lines that the Dean can wield discretion over.  

So, librarians (who cannot be protected by tenure) are laid off, classes that could be taught by sessionals (people hired term-by-term to teach single classes--last check about 1/3 of undergraduate hours in Arts) are not offered; remaining class sizes increase. Instructor workloads are increased. Dead computers aren’t replaced.  

All of this harms the university, diminishes student experience, devalues the education we can offer.  So yes, it’s about money.

Without competitive salaries, the UofM cannot hope to attract and retain quality staff.  Who in their right mind is going to choose to come to Winnipeg to make less money than they could make elsewhere?

Research is threatened.  The creation of arbitrary ‘performance metrics’ at a central level undermines quality research, because it forces researchers to prove their value in page counts, in ‘impact fators’, in funders’ dollars brought in, in hours spent at a desk or in a lab, or appearances at conferences--in short-term tangible output, rather than long-term quality of scientific and scholarly results.

Collegial governance is threatened. Consolidating decision making in an increasingly bloated central administration means decisions are made by people far from the front lines, many of whom are not scholars, who don’t have to do their own paperwork, who don’t have to budget down to the box of paperclips.  Without buy-in, let alone input or even consultation with academic and support staff on the front lines of their budget dollars.

Academic freedom is threatened.  As we become more and more beholden to arbitrary ‘output’ and securing funding from outside sources, we trade our academic freedom to pursue the issues we think are important, for work that looks good in a press release, that will attract funders’ dollars.  Scholars can be threatened with less funding, less staff support, less money for graduate students, if they don’t do sexy, high-output, highly fundable projects.  

So yes, it’s about money.  But it’s not about salaries.  It’s about building an academic institution of the highest quality possible, and in the end that’s going to cost money.  But it also requires an environment where academics’ opinions and experience are valued, where support staff and graduate students are valued, where undergraduates can receive not only information they need but experiences in critical thinking, judgment, argumentation, even grammar and writing style, supported by academic and support staff who aren’t under constant threat.

Brian Pallister, premier of the province of Manitoba, has imposed a mandatory one-year contract extension on ALL unionized public employees, with a 0% increase in salaries.  If the university doesn’t comply with that order, the province can cut funding even further. Talk about a threat to the academy.  But that also means that salaries are off the table.  So it couldn’t be about salaries, even if we wanted it to be.

As of 1 November 2016, after being without a contract since March, after months of negotiations and a last-ditch attempt at mediation, UMFA has gone on strike.  It’s inconvenient for everyone.  It’s frustrating for everyone.  You’ve paid for a quality university experience, and strike action is impeding that. That’s true. But it’s also the only way we have to fight for the things that go into building that quality university you deserve.  That you want.  That we all need.

So, in the end, it is about money.  But then everything is, just as everything, in the end, is about politics. It's about building and maintaining a quality university: excellence in instruction, in undergraduate experience, in graduate and professorial research.  And in the end, quality costs money. I get that. But there's so much else on the table before we get to salaries.

#WeMakeUofMHappen #ReadyForAFairDeal #UMFAStrike2016

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

The journey toward home ownership

So I’ve left a lot out of the blog, and I’m going to rectify that now. Sit back, cuz it’s gonna go on a while.

Several years ago, a banker talked me into an Registered (Retirement) Savings Program, or R(R)SP (sort of a Canadian IRA) and a Tax-Free Savings Account (TSFA, sort of a Canadian Roth IRA, if I understand what a Roth is). The TSFA was so I’d have an interest bearing savings account that I could have automatic deposits directed to, because obviously without such a scheme I am incapable of ‘putting money away’ on my own. And interest. That’s post-tax dollars, so the only freedom from taxes if on the interest, up to some amount of deposits a year. Something absurd like $5000 which I couldn’t hope to get to even if I worked at it.

The RSP was sold to me not because I should be saving for retirement, which I should, but because there’s a scheme where you can take out money for a first mortgage (or a mortgage of a first home, or a primary home, or something) without penalty (with the proviso that you have to pay it back in some specified amount of time, but if I was able to save it in the first few years, I could certainly pay it back in the next). So I’ve slowly been building a little bit of savings toward a down payment on a first house.

So for a while now, the banker has been pressuring me to buy something, because equity and so on. Never mind that in the meantime my banker went away and was replaced by a random dude I don’t know. Not that my banker wasn’t originally a random dude, but at least she called me asking if I wanted to arrange some investments, as opposed to this random dude who inherited her extension, when I called to find out about a mortgage.

Okay, so the reason I was inquiring about a mortgage was that I decided that this was the year. Actually I decided a couple years ago that next year would be the year, and started looking in earnest. My idea was I could read listings and visit open houses and whatnot at my leisure, which I did, until I found a place that I wanted to do something about, and then I could do something about it.

The change this year was that apparently someone in my building (on my floor) has complained about a ‘smell’ that was determined to be coming from my apartment, and in February I was threatened with eviction if I didn’t do anything about it. Since still have no clear idea what this smell was or where it came from, I have even less clue about whether or not I got rid of it. But in dealing with it, I cleaned up my place enough that they didn’t evict me. But anyway, whether it was in March or the end of July (at the end of my lease), this was Clearly The Time.

So I called a realtor and actually started looking at places with professional assistance. Once I wasn’t getting evicted, I found a mortgage broker. (Banker #1 and Banker #2 both did pre-pre-approvals on me and assured me that they could get something together in something like 24 hours, so if I’d been evicted, I would have just gone with that, but since I didn’t and had a few months to plan, I decided that due diligence would be for me to shop around. And since I have no idea how to shop for a mortgage, I engaged a broker.) And in between the start of this story and the end Banker #2 went away and was replaced by someone else. And she needed somebody else to do something later on in this story. So in case you’re counting, we’re on Banker #3.5.

So Realtor has been feeding me listings, and every couple weeks we went to look at a few. Meanwhile Mortgage Broker has been shopping my specs around, working out interest rates, insurance rates, different down payment schemes. I don’t pretend to understand any of it. At some point she or the lawyer or somebody will tell me to appear somewhere with some kind of money in some specified form, and I will.

So, we looked at a bunch of places, and of course, after dithering for weeks and weeks, we settle on what I call door #2, i.e. literally the second place we looked at. It’s not what I thought I wanted (which was something like a townhouse, rather than something like an apartment, with a private garage in very short list of places in town. It met all my other specs for an apartment though (two bedrooms, two baths, underground parking, in-suite laundry. Second floor, for going up and down stairs to the garage–because I can do two flights easily, three flights sometimes becomes problematic, but four is painful, at least going up). In my price range. Reasonable value per square foot, or however you calculate value. New build, more or less completed and available more or less any time.

So I did it. On Saturday, April 25th, I put down a deposit on an apartment-style condo in the ‘village’ called St Norbert, just south of what I think of as Winnipeg proper. (The current city of Winnipeg was amalgamated from several distinct municipal domains in the 1970’s. So technically St Norbert is a ‘neighbo(u)rhood’ in Winnipeg. But it’s just south of The Perimeter (highway) which in my mind encircles Winnipeg Proper (although Winnipeg Proper in this sense includes stuff that isn’t technically in the city of Winnipeg, and there are places, like St Norbert, which are technically in the city of Winnipeg, but not within The Perimeter). (This sense of Winnipeg Proper may be something I just made up all on my own.)

So deposit deposited, paperwork gone through, Offer to Purchase made, and condo I got the condo documents, which gave me seven days to fulfill the conditions on my end of the offer, which were a) lawyer approval, and b) securing funding. So I get the Realtor to recommend a Lawyer, and the Lawyer(‘s assistant) agrees to take on the Offer to Purchase (it was pretty boilerplate and the Lawyer expressed general concern about whether the unit would be available by the proposed July 7 possession date, which since it’s basically finished it will be) and gives his approval. The Mortgage Broker nails down a deal with a lender I’ve never heard of (but apparently is the largest non-bank mortgager in Canada); we talk about what happens if I or the mortgager defaults, what happens if I sell, what happens if I die and so on, followed by the signing of papers and so on. Lawyer and Mortgage Broker send paperwork to Realtor, who sends it to Seller, and barring unforeseen Acts of &deity;, it’s all gonna happen.

So I went off to a conference in the third week of May, and since then I’ve been purging and packing. At least that was the plan. Mostly I’ve been dithering and worrying. But I have engaged a moving company, who are coming on July 13th to move everything I tell them to move, so I have until then to get packed. And purged.

I’ve also had a meeting with Banker 3.5 (since April, Banker 2 has moved on and Banker 3 needed assistance to do something magical with my RSP), and I think now I wait for the lawyer to call with a dollar amount, and instructions about who to write the check (or get the bank draft made out) to, and when/where to show up with it. I still need to do condo insurance (which Realtor told me I’d need to be able to prove I have before I take possession). I’ve called the cable/internet company to arrange my change of service. I need to call the phone company and cancel my landline, and do something about reserving elevators and informing my current landlord that I’m not renewing my lease. And purge. And pack. Fortunately, I’m sort of taking June and July off, to do all this. So here I go.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Not a train wreck: thoughts on Titus Andronicus (generally and at the Black Hole Theatre)



Okay, this is sort of not a review of Black Hole Theatre’s production of Titus Andronicus. For the record, BHT did a really good job.  I recommend it highly.  This is more about musing on a) problematic plays in general, b) Titus Andronicus as example of same, and c) what I like about small theatre companies with limited resources and other ‘constraints’.

BHT is the University of Manitoba’s Department of English Film and Theatre’s theatrical production department.  Every year they do three full productions a year, contribute to the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s annual Master Playwright festival, and several one-hour lunch-time, in a smallish space deep in the bowls of University College.  So mostly students under the direction of the Theatre Program staff, with limited resources. And an odd play space.

It’s interesting that they’ve chosen Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s first and arguably bloodiest tragedy, for their season.  It’s problematic for a bunch of standard reasons—the principal villain, or at least the one who soliloquizes and monologues most about this motives, is described as a Moor, which as we all know from college Shakespeare is code for ‘black’ and ‘object of mistrust’.  Aaron, in fact, is sort of the archetype that Othello eventually turns upside-down, but with nearly equally tragic results.  

So there’s the potential blackface problem, and if not, you have to find a non-white actor who a) can do it and b) doesn't set anyone's triggers off. (Trigger warning, it's not possible to talk about this play without setting off someone's triggers.)  There’s the blood and gore problem.  There’s what could be a rather comical set of impersonations that are always hard to do with modern audiences.  By modern standards, the cast list is very long.  There’s the language.  There’s the (trigger warnings) the rape and dismemberment (thankfully off stage) of a central character who spends quite a bit of the rest of the play sobbing, shrieking, or bleeding.  There are more dismemberments on and off stage, as well as the the typical murders you get in a Shakespeare tragedy. There’s the limitations of space, the company, the money, and everything. But it’s Shakespeare.

This is apparently the first time anyone has mounted a full production of Titus in Winnipeg. Possibly Manitoba.  So when I first heard they were doing why they didn’t take the hint that no one mounted it. Maybe they were looking for the challenge.

Well, happily, not a train wreck.  Really well done, although (as is typical) some of the decisions were … odd. Like any production in a first run it could use quite a bit of tightening up.  Some of the actors were stronger than others, which is always the case in this kind of company, some of the actors were better able to embody and portray their characters, and get through their language and physicality, better than others.  But no one did badly.  I’d say everyone did pretty well or better.

In terms of stuff they got right, most of the central characters were handled really well.  We can argue about specific choices on specific lines or in specific scenes, and if you want I’d be happy to go one about it, but basically it was an evening well spent.

There are, literally, dozens of speaking parts, and one of the ‘problems’ is that even if you double everybody, you still have a fairly large cast for a small company.  They did it with 27. Which was more bodies than I’ve ever seen in that space at one time.  In many BHT performances it could easily outnumber the audience. Stuff that was sort of odd, but worked in context:  Except for Lavinia and Tamora, and possibly the nurse, the characters in the play, as I recall, are all men, but the cast many of them with women, and played a few of them as women.

Soldiers, Goths, random Romans, were pretty much equally distributed among the men and women. There’s really no reason for an occasional soldier, herald, tribune, supplicant, to be a woman instead of a man.  One of Tamora’s sons was played by a woman, which was an interesting choice considering (trigger alert) he is one of the rapists.  But Marcus (brother of Titus) was played as Marta, and played as a female.  Bassianus, who (trigger alert) doesn’t survive the first act, was played as Bassiana.

Marta works except that it throws off some of the verse, especially when Titus’s sons have to talk about Aunt Marta.  Bassiana is an interesting choice because she ends up marrying Lavinia (or intending to) early in the play. So there are places where they have to talk about Lavinia’s wife. Which isn’t a problem for a modern Canadian audience, but 10 years ago would have been more difficult.  It also throws off some of the verse. There’s a few substitutions of ‘brother’ with ‘sister’ but without also doing something about ‘brothers’, which bugged me, as someone paying attention to the verse and the language, but I’m probably the only one.

These are minor quibbles, and were interesting choices.  More odd was the choice to play the Goths, or at least Tamora, her sons, and Aaron, her attendant, as goth, complete with leather and fishnets and eye makeup.  The Goth tribals, when they show up in the second act (in this production), are wearing variations on war paint (potentially problematic) in black (potentially problematic) mostly dressed in camo fatigues (huh?). Which given their status a warriors was intresting, but it definitely took the edge off the goth thing.

They cast a tall skinny white guy as Aaron, the Moor/villain, who was having a little too much fun being a psychopath for my taste (several actors must have taken maniacal giggling lessons from the same teacher), but it worked. They did not, thank heavens, put him in blackface, opting to goth him up with tattoos on his face and neck (and elsewhere).  But then a major plot point occurs and they have to give him a baby son. And they used a brown doll.  And a lot of his speeches at that point become about dark skin and thick lips and slave imagery and so on.  This is problematic.

I’d have been happy with just a rolled up blanket and not doll. I’m fine with a white actor playing one of Shakespeare’s Moors.  The doll was … odd.

I’d also have been happy with fake blood. By which I mean symbolic blood, or suspension-of-disbelief-okay-I-accept-there’s-blood-but-there-really-isn’t blood.  But they went with regular stage blood.  Everywhere.  Between Lavinia spurting and spitting up, and the tossing of dismembered body parts around, there was blood everywhere. (Note to directors, using the severed hand to squirt blood at characters was effective, but a human hand doesn’t contain that much blood and not in such a sway as you can make it squirt by squeezing it.)

Stage blood is typically corn syrup and red food coloring.  And it’s sticky.  And for the rest of the play, you can see and HEAR the actors walking through the sticky blood and tracking it around the stage. Eye. Roll. At intermission, I expected somebody to come out and mop it up, but I guess knowing that a lot more was coming in the second act they didn’t bother.  But scrrrp scrrp scrpp with every actor’s every step was kind of obnoxious. As was watching perfectly clean costumes get stained out of context.  (For the record, wasting time mopping up blood between scenes would have been disruptive, so good choice there. But it is for that reason that finding Some Other Solution might have been a good choice. 

Lucius (son of Titus, and presumably father of Lucius, grandson of Titus—another problem intrinsic to  the play is just keeping track of all the Lucii—for those not familiar, they are a subset of the Andronici, but there are Andronici who are family and there are Andronici who are just followers, and keeping them all straight can be difficult, especially when the actors playing them, at any given moment, might be a solder, a retainer of someone else, a Goth, or whatever.  Anyway, Lucius) spent most of his big speech in the last scene stalking around the set (scrrp scrppp) with a napkin stuck to the sole of his boot.  Which so distracted from the gravitas of his speech, considering basically at that point everybody else has died.

So what am I saying? Titus is a rough play. For technical and practical reasons. It’s an early Shakespeare play, so combine the language problem with the not-precisely-well-translated-to-modern-audiences form, complete with the implausible plot elements, and plenty of—well, odd choices.  (One of which included, in this production, clown make up and fright wigs. Eye. Roll.) I mean, the play is difficult, the resources limited. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do.  And what they did was actually put together a really good small-company production of a very hard play.