Monday, 29 January 2007

Worth blogging

I sometimes wonder what's worth blogging and what isn't. I am often cautioned by my friends and acquaintances, and sometimes strangers on the street, that I come perilously close to the 'too much information' line far too often.

On the other hand, it's my blog and no one is forcing you to read this.

So I'm on this Theatah thing right now. Started in December when I attended my first Fringe event of the seasons(the performers' lottery and announcement of the 2006 theme and whatnot), and then a couple of weeks ago I went to "Rocky Horror Show" at MTC (see previous two entries). And last week I garnered my first semi-professional theatrical credit, as videographer for Winnipeg Mennonite Theatre's production of "The Real Inspector Hound", as part of StoppardFest (this year's MTC great playwrights festival, or whatever it's called). Two critics musing about life and reality while watching a murder mystery. Very funny.

Anyway, we're still trying to get the thing transferred to disk, but the point is my name's in the program. Yay me. Not bad for a few hours contribution, and indirect contribution at that. And I got to see the play for free. Next time (assuming there is a next time) I might try to get involved earlier and see some rehearsals, and try to plan something slightly fancier than plopping the camera down on tripod and pressing a couple of buttons. This play in particular I could have made more use of the zoom without too much trouble, had I bothered to worry about it.

The gig came to me by way of my friend and colleague Arden Ogg, who's been friends forever with Cathleen Enns, director of the play, and who's been helping with set dressing and whatnot. I made a point of saying "just look at the fringe on that chaise longue!" as a matter of mutual support. But Arden wasn't available on opening night to do the videoing, and suggested I could. Which I was happy to do. Didn't expect to actually get program credit, but there I was. Borrowed the camera and the tripod from friend and colleague Terry Janzen, who uses both in his research. And as far as I know haven't gotten it back to him yet, but oh well.

So any minute now, Arden and I will figure out how to get the sound *and* the image burned to a disk of some kind, and distribute some to the company. If we/I continue doing this, we might have to learn how to operate an actual video editing program to add titles and such, but that's for next time. Right now I have real work to get back to.

Friday, 19 January 2007

The credit where credit is due department

Just in case they're googling themselves and want to know what I've said about them (?), I thought I'd name names re: the phantoms in the "Rocky Horror Show" production I was raving about. I figure the leads and featureds can conjure their own publicity, but I want to throw a little recognition to these chorus boys-and-girls.

So, in alphabetical order, 'hunch' was Karen Burthwright, 'knock-knees' was Dena Chiarossi, 'twitch' was Caden Douglas, and 'toe-first' was David Lopez. Karen was also dance captain. I'm not sure what a dance captain does. I have a vague idea what choreographers and assistant choreographers do (choreograph and yell at dancers to do what the choreographer wants, respectively), but I know nothing about dance captains. David was also understudying for Frank and Riff, and like I say, talk about tripling your costume budget. I guess you could sew David into some of Frank's gowns, but since it looked like David was a foot taller than Riff-Raff, well, either you make new costumes or you have a very comical looking Riff. Which maybe is how it would work.

So, gang, the other question I have for you (David and Karen in particular) is if/when David has stepped into one of the leads for a perf, what happens to the choreography? There were some gags with heads popping out of holes in the curtain and lots of symmetrical dance figures, and lots of two-people-on-a-piece set hauling in this show. If one of you is missing, what happens? For the face gags, I guess the actor doubling Eddie and Dr Scott could do the face-popping, but since he's busy for a lot of the show, he wouldn't be around to spin ramps and whatnot. And for the dance numbers, does Caden (or whoever is opposite) cheat to center stage when David isn't there to make up the other side of the symmetrical pattern? Or is that something We Just Don't Worry About?

Anyway, that's my attempt at supporting aspiring artists for the moment. And satisfying some curiosity about backstage stuff. I won't ask any specific questions about specific gags or business, just in case I'm Giving Something Away. At least not until the show closes.

Oh, one last props to Stephanie Plaitin, who was the assistant director of the production by virtue of her award from the Jean Murray-Moray Sinclair Apprenticeship program. Yay Steph. Stephanie recruited me to be a Team Leader at the Fringe last year (on recommendation of several previous Team Leader's I'd worked for), so I feel like I owe a lot to her in terms of putting me back in touch with The Theatah. Good On Ya, kiddo!

Thursday, 18 January 2007

A good news/bad news post

First the bad news. Turns out we've all been misinterpreting an extremely unclear clause in the collective agreement. Recall that I was expecting an 'extra' credit towards my sabbatical following the rejection of my current request. Apparently, the relevant clause 'is intended to be understood' that there is no penalty for requesting a leave that is rejected. That is, it is spelled out in the collective agreement, supposedly, that rather than rejecting my leave *and* not crediting me with the full time year that would therefore ensue, I get full credit for the year. Which I would have gotten anyway, had I not requested a leave. Apparently, somewhere out there, there is an intepretation of 'requesting a sabbatical' that constitutes 'signing away a year of work credit should you be required to work the year anyway'.


So the relevant clause in the contract states:

"In the event that a Member applies for a research/study leave but it is not granted because of the application of s. [which provides that a reason to reject a proposed leave is that it cannot be arranged "within the priorities of the department/faculty/school/libraries."], that Member's application shall receive prior consideration on the next application. In such circumstances:

(i) a faculty member/instructor shall also receive a credit in the case of denial of a full leave and a half credit in the case of a half leave. No more than one (1) creidt, or half credit may be received by a faculty member/instructor in respect of applications for leave proposed to be taken during any one (1) academic year.

[sub-clause (ii) provides appropriate credit for librarians, whose credits are calculated differently than faculty]"

Now what, if anything is (i) above there for? If I'm supposed to get a leave, and don't, wouldn't you think the default assumption is that I would receive credit for work I did instead of going on leave, just as I would have had I not asked for a leave in the first place?

The following clause in the contract requires written reasons for denial of a research/study leave. Mine indicates that:

"The leave cannot be arranged within the priorities of the Department/Faculty/School/Library. In accordance with section 21.4.5 of the Collective Agreement [quoted above], your next application shall receive prior consideration, and you will accrue credit pursuant to the denial of your application rather than pursuant to 21.3.1. Accordingly, you are hereby granted ... one credit in the case of a denial of a full leave."

So the critical thing is interpreting clause 21.3.1, which basically lays out the plan for accruing credit, which amounts to a one-half credit for every half-year of full time service, where "service" is usual teaching/research/etc. work, rather than being on leave. That is, if you're on some kind of leave, you don't get credit, even though technically you are a full time employee. Which is how it works unless you fall under the scope of some other clause.

Which, having had a rejected leave, I do. So my clause specifes that I get a full credit for a full year of full time service (or a half-credit for a half-year of service) that I perform following the rejection of my proposal.

So the effect of these two clauses is that my credits are calculated one way, unless they're calculated another. Except the two ways to calculated credits are the same.


So it's not that I get a half-credit for each of my two-half years of service because I will provide two half-years of service rather than go on leave. It's that having had my full-year of leave rejected, I get a full credit for the ensuing full year of service.


The good news is that I'm a happy camper tonight. I'm on the verge of getting two reviews, a dissertation, and some other paperwork off my desk, I've had a great yoga class after almost a month without, and last night I saw the Rocky Horror Show at the Manitoba Theatre Centre.

Rollicking good time. The Narrator bits were done on film and projected onto bits of set. There were a couple of gags involving a digital camera on stage getting projected as well. The cast were belters with amazing voices. But the best part of all were the chorus (or 'phantoms'). There were only four of them, but they sang, danced, hauled set around, and all the great stuff chori (?) do, except they did it with attitude.

By which I mean each stayed in character. My favo(u)rite was the smaller guy, mostly because I got to see his shtick in the house before curtain. The phantoms were sent out as ushers, lurching around the aisles, sneaking up behind oblivious patrons, groaning and shrieking, and generally playing. The smaller guy had this great stiff-armed, hands-clasped posture, a great twitch, and a truly inhuman shriek/gasp noise. When walking, he plodded. When running, he went all ape, legs akimbo, arms waving. The taller guy (who understudied Frank and Riff, and let me just say the first thing I thought you did was find physically similar actors to understudy your leads, but these three were physically very different) had this great drag-queeny, toe-first kind of gait. Which worked great in heels. The two women were scary. One spent the whole night pigeon-toed and knock-kneed. Try standing for a few minutes like that, let alone dancing, singing, and hauling set around for two hours. The other woman did the whole show with her upper back hunched over at a funny angle.

So even during Brad's song (Brad has a song in the second act I'd never heard of before), there they were upstage, hunched, knock-kneed, twitching, even while in full-on Pip mode singing backup and dancing. It was hysterical. I couldn't take my eyes off them for most of the night.

Which is saying something when a huge, shaven-headed man in a corset and fishnets is being projected three stories high on the back wall.

"Rose tints my world/keeps me safe from my trouble and pain."

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Same ol' grind

Well, my sabbatical, or 'research study leave' as it is called here, has been denied. "... [C]annot be arranged within the priorites of the Department/Faculty/School/Library.". Which means a) everybody (by which I mean 'a couple of people who are deserving, but aren't me') get to go on leave and I have to cover their teaching responsibilities, and b) presumably I move closer to the front of the line for the following year.

There are only two conditions under which leaves can be denied. Well, three. The first is if you just don't qualify, which I do. Second, your leave proposal can be denied if it fails to meet appropriately scholarly criteria, which are largely unspecified. So I suppose if your proposal says 'I want to lie on a beach and ogle naked bodies for a year', they'll deny you. Unless your research has to do with attitudes to public nudity or something like that. So that's pretty flimsy.

I only half-jokingly suggested once that a friend and I should go to Jamaica to do 'field work'. Her part would consist of hiking through the mountains and interviewing and recording the language of relatively isolated Jamaican Creole mesolect-basilect speakers, while I would concentrate on the acrolect. It isn't my fault that the easiest access to acrolectal speakers I would likely encounter would be bartenders, waiters, cleaning staff, and that sort of thing in a nice hotel somewhere near the beach.

She didn't go for my part of the plan, but the point is just because I ended up lying on the beach ogling naked bodies doesn't mean I wouldn't conceivably be doing some useful research activity. As far as anyone knows, I'm doing real work. The naked bodies are just an environmental hazard of that the research plan. "They" don't have to know anything about it.

Anyway, my plan was not to ogle naked bodies, but actually to go to England and attend some sessions in forensic phonetics run by my colleague Paul Foulkes at York. So it's definitely suitably academic. Which brings us to the third reason leaves can be denied, the one that they used, which is that it cannot be arranged 'within the priorities' of the relevant unit. Which means, in our case, letting everybody go on leave means we don't have anyone left to teach a program, so we/they have to draw the line somewhere. Which I absolutely understand.

But I'm worried about the legal semantics of 'cannot be arranged within the priorities'. It seems to me anyone who teaches a critical course, in our current climate (which is that the Administration is unlikely to approve temporary or sessional appointments to replace anyone on leave--because they believe that we are over-reliant on temporary and sessional appointments, which we are, but their solution is to elimiate the temporary and sessional appointments, rather than to hire real people to cover the courses that we needed the temporary and sessional appointees to cover in the first place) will never be able to take a leave because no one will be around to teach their course.


Which I'm sure would provoke some kind of action from a) the leave requestor him or herself and b) the union. But if you're the only one who teaches Shakespeare, and everyone has to take Intro Shakespeare before they take anything else, and there's little or no hope of getting someone else to teach Shakespeare while you're on leave, then how can they possibly arrange your leave 'within the priorities'?

One of my colleagues is the only one who can teach some of his courses, and they're required in some programs. So he only ever gets to take half-leaves (6 months) because he has to be around at least one term to teach some of his 'onlies'.

My problem is the opposite. While others are on leave, I get to teach things that I never teach. Which can be fun, but is a whole lot of extra work than teaching stuff you teach regularly. And I don't get to teach my favo(u)rite courses, since they're technically expendable being electives (popular electives, supporting the career plans of a large segment of our undergraduate population, but if they disappeared technically no one is prevented from finishing their degree). So everybody else (by which I again mean 'a couple of people who are deserving but aren't me'), gets to go on leave, and I'm looking forward to a very challenging 07-08.

The good news is that technically I'm supposed to get an extra credit for every year I get denied, which means by the end of 07-08 I should have nine credits rather than eight. Presumably this moves me even closer to the front of the line for the following year, but we'll see about what happens to 'the priorities' in the meantime.

I couldn't really afford to go to England anyway.