24 February 2007

How to Survive a College Theatrical Production

As a favor to the many folks who have come to see me in shows over the years, I post this helpful how-to which ran in the Stanford Daily. You're welcome.

Holt's Harangue: How to survive a college theatrical production
February 22, 2007
By Chris Holt

A lot of my friends are theater people, and thus I’ve been invited to go to quite a few theatrical productions on various college campuses. In retrospect, I wish I had more friends who were adult film stars. Subsequently, I’ve observed some easy ways to make the experience better for the audience.

Immediately, college students think that the best way to survive a production is to be drunk. I think that’s only fair at the Friday night show, when you know the cast itself has a higher blood alcohol level than you. Personally, I have difficulty following the plots of productions while sober, so altering my mind is only going to complicate things. I have no idea why that person is gesturing off stage, why every character is now holding hands and bowing to us or why people see anything written by Gilbert and Sullivan.

People often talk of heckling, but that’s never really been my thing. I’ll heckle art that doesn’t feature living people in front of me trying their best. To tell someone who put so many long hours into rehearsing that he sucks is just really cruel. That’s why I prefer the more humane tactic of beating up a capella groups after their concerts. Come on Testimony, quit shirking the challenge; let’s rumble.

My experience in heckling is usually limited to media that demand passive interaction with the audience. This translates into mocking something when I know they can’t hear me. At movies I fancy myself a bit of a wit, I’m brutal at zoos (especially to those no-talent penguins), and I’m terribly clever when I watch filmed lectures alone in my room.

Inevitably, I always know at least a few people in the chorus. Unavoidably, in these big ensemble musicals, there are lots of huge stumbling numbers. When the entire chorus comes on for one of the big opening numbers which may have a reprise in the closing number, I don’t try to make out the words. This will only bring you pain and misinterpretation: Did they just say they wanted to go back to “Smoklohama?” Most choruses comprise of everyone involved in the production. The leads, the set people and even the janitor can usually be spotted mimicking the motions of the chorus as they all belt out lyrics as articulately as Joe Biden rapping. Foreign films have subtitles, so why can’t large college musical numbers?

My best advice is to just let the sweet off-key song pass over you like a warm blanket. Don’t interpret the words; the song isn’t there to further the plot. I know I won’t have this many smiling people in front of me somewhat rhythmically dancing until I form that B-52s cover band.

I have a reputation as a harsh critic of culture, which is a reputation this column seems to reinforce. But really, my own behavior is much more mild-mannered. I usually am really personable and even overly laudatory in real life. I’m so willing to please I have difficulty saying no to people; this is why I ended up on yearbook my freshman year or voted in any election.

It’s good to be able to see the positive because I’m often asked what I think of student written, directed and choreographed pieces. You can’t say “That was awesome. Was this your first time directing?” Or “I haven’t seen an effort this adorable since middle school.” Instead you concentrate on the positives. The lighting. This typo-less program. It was shorter than you thought it would be.

I asked my theater friends what else I don’t notice as a member of the audience. They explain that theatrical productions have more drama than a Mormon temple in the Castro district. There is always sexual tension within the cast of these productions; people hook up with one another and tempers flair. I’m never perceptive enough to know the gossip, so I’ll accidentally compliment someone else who has just dumped the person I’m talking to. “Oh Chris, you’d think that was a good performance. But you haven’t seen him say that he loves you.” I really feel like having production notes on who is hooking up with whom would make the audience’s job a lot easier. That way I can intentionally screw with my high-strung theater friends.

Well, with winter and spring productions on the horizon, I’m looking forward to seeing the best that motivated, talented Stanford students have to offer. That’s why I’m going to the basketball games instead.

Chris respectfully thanks his friends for the help he received on this column. He is actually a patron of Stanford theater, so don’t ask him what he thinks of it. Send complaints to cholt@stanford.edu.

Posted with Chris Holt's permission.

20 February 2007

Hilda's question

I took Stage Manager Samantha and her good friend Hilda to see Ruddigore on Sunday afternoon. The show was great fun and the girls enjoyed their backstage tour and the Q&A with the cast very much as well. Big kudos to VLOC for instituting the "Children's matinee" where any full freight adult can get two kids in free. This is definitely the way to raise the audience of the future because after the curtain calls both girls said that they wanted to see Pirates in June. Or rather they wanted to see Pirates until they heard that the director is looking for some kids to be in the show, so now Hilda wants to be in it and Samantha wants to work backstage, wear a headset, and paint stuff. Did I call it or did I call it? Stage Manager.

Anyway, during the Q&A, Hilda - who is, let us remember, about 9 - had a question. Her question: "What do you think is the message that people should take from this show?" I think that Hilda's question followed something like "How do you chose how is going to be what character?" so it was great fun to watch the Q&A panel change gears and go into, like, SAT mode. I don't even remember the answer but I'll never forget the looks on folks faces as they came up with it.

So now we have Stage Manager Samantha, Producer Charles, and Theater Critic Hilda. At this rate, I really am growing my own theater company.

Abby someone. Abby who?

Quaker makes these very tasty maple brown sugar multi-grain cakes (yes, they are wheat-free). And thank goodness for the yummy maple brown sugar taste because they look and crunch pretty much exactly like freeze dried cross sections of human brain.


14 February 2007

My Peanuts identity

You know all those silly internet quizes (SIQ) that ask "Which cartoon character are you?," "What sports car are you," "Which inane internet quiz are you?" Over the years I've taken a few of them and they always have complex or compound-complex true/false questions where half of the clauses apply to me and the rest don't, so I'm never entirely happy with the result.

I know, I know, these are SIQs, not the Myers-Briggs,* but their imprecision always bothered me. (Big hint: If I remember correctly, I'm an ESFJ. Or an ENFJ. Anyway, there's a buncha "J." Can you see why I might take SIQs too seriously?)

So, anyway, today I was mousing around looking for the correct spelling of "Babboo," as in "Sweet Babboo," Sally Brown's endearment for her beloved Linus (Yep, checking the spelling of "Babboo" - much "J"), and I found Wikipedia's description of Sally. And, you know, if you skip over the blond curly hair part, that's a pretty darn good description of me.

I'd spent years trying to figure out of I was more like Lucy or Sally, because there's some Lucy in me and there's a world of Shroeder in the men I like, but now I know for sure. I'm Sally. And there's a world of Linus in men I like, too. They are taller than either Linus or Shroeder and older and none of them carry blankets, but that doesn't matter. And that fact that I couldn't get many of them within a hundred miles of elsewhere? Just further proof.

Your friend,

Sally Brown

*One day, I'm going to go to that entry and correct the spelling of "extrovert." Sigh.

13 February 2007

Liberal Leave

I love to joke that "Liberal Leave" means that Liberals can stay home, but conservatives have to come in to the office. As a moderate, I get to come in late.

Several years ago I worked as a temp at a company owned by... well, by someone who now owns a major local sports franchise. One January day it was snowing pretty heavily and then it began to freeze and eventually we ended up with a pretty nasty ice storm. CEO and his assistant were off at a series of dog-and-pony shows and the assistant would call in every so often to pick up messages and check in. Around 10:30 I told her that it was getting icy and that staff were starting to leave, she told me that yeah, that happens, but that they go and she stays. We agreed that I would stay until about 4:00 (instead of my usual 6:00) so that I could go home before dark and I returned to surfing the internet, playing Freecell, reading, and taking messages for CEO. (In a job that had a fair number of ups and downs, being allowed to play with the computers was a definite up.)

The staff had been leaving steadily all day and the last real staffer left at 2:30, leaving me and the security guard. Did I mention that I was a temp? I could have cleaned out the place and fled and all they could have done was sued Kelly Services. Good grief. At 2:45 the security guard left. And so at 3:00, did I. I actually felt bad that I was leaving early, although why I couldn't tell you. CEO's assistant did make the very good point that in situations like that it pays to leave last because then everyone else is off the road and she was right - outside of being scary slippery, my commute home was much easier than it would have been had I been sharing the road with the genius drivers we get around here.

So today we have had snow. Now we have sleet and freezing rain. Some people think that "IRS audit" are verys scary words, but they are nothing on "sleet and freezing rain." At least not around here.

The worst commute home I ever had was a big winter snow storm when I was in college. Now, as we all know one of the hallmarks of the geezer is the unfavorable comparison of going to school in bad weather then and now and I'm totally owning my geezerhood. "These kids today!" There. I said it. "Uphill all the way!" Check. "They didn't just cancel school willy-nilly when I was a girl, no, sir!" Blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda. We were nearly eaten by bears every day, too. And we didn't have these fancy-pants computers, no we didn't. We carved our assignments out on big stone slabs. Etc.

But it is true that back in the day the University of Maryland didn't close for sissy stuff like weather because - back in the day - there wasn't a microwave in every dorm room and if the university closed, the dining hall staff didn't come in and the dormers wouldn't get fed. So we hauled our sorry butts to school back in the day, unlike these kids today. Hmph.

Well, one storm was bad enough that the University closed around 1:00 pm. The snow was coming down in cubic feet rather than flakes and the prospect of several thousand commuter students taking over the student union for the duration was too much even for Chancellor Kirwan and President Toll, so the University ---- closed. At the time I lived about 7 miles from campus and those 7 miles took 6 hours to traverse. Oy. Now, of course, they close the campus if it gets overcast. These kids today.

Of course, I am one of the "kids" the previous generation would kvetch about, so it's all part of life's rich pageant. And I remember back when I was a teenager and Mom worked for the State of Maryland. If Mom wanted to be out of the office, she had to get a signed leave slip which was pretty much a permission slip for grown ups. Her supervisor would have to sign it and it had to be submitted well in advance of the requested time off.

This always created a problem on snow days because if the difficulty in time travelling that they had back then, so the government (or ... someone, I dunno) created "Liberal Leave," meaning that staffers could simply call in and take leave without advance permission rather than experiencing whatever punitive measures they would otherwise incur.

I'm so used to the modern day private sector that for me "Liberal Leave" is just the set up to a fairly lame joke and our new staffers here at the office, who are all young, very, very young have never worked in an environment where they had to get permission to be out of the office. But the federal government still uses it and it still has meaning for them.

So here's to whoever thought up "Liberal Leave." And as a moderate, I'm going home early.

07 February 2007

Alton Brown Comes Through for Me

Last night, after posting about Mom's instant Hot Chocolate Mix, I caught an episode of "Good Eats" on the Food Network. Mom didn't use cayenne pepper (or, probably, cornstarch), but check out those first three ingredients. Mom was - as always - ahead of her time!

"Dutch Process," by the way, means cocoa powder that has been treated with an alkali to neutralize its natural acidity. Dutch Process cocoa is darker and milder and, according to Mr. Brown, a better choice for recipes that don't contain enough fat to tame the acidity. I believe that the antique cocoa powder that I got from David is has been Dutched because it's brown rather than red and it tastes good in my hot chocolate.

Thanks, Alton!!

Hot Cocoa

Recipe courtesy Alton Brown
Show: Good Eats
Episode: Art of Darkness II: Cocoa

2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup cocoa (Dutch-process preferred)
2 1/2 cups powdered milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 pinch cayenne pepper, or more to taste
Hot water

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and incorporate evenly. In a small pot, heat 4 to 6 cups of water.

Fill your mug half full with the mixture and pour in hot water. Stir to combine. Seal the rest in an airtight container, keeps indefinitely in the pantry. This also works great with warm milk.

06 February 2007

Better Hot Chocolate

Speaking of cold, it's the time of year when I drink lots of hot chocolate. Not as much as I drink tea, of course, or even coffee, but more than usual. One of the things that has always disappointed me about most hot chocolate mixes is that they are thin (not very chocolaty), sugary, and kind of gray colored. A glance at the ingredients for the Nestlé Rich Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix explains why: "Sugar, Corn Syrup, Vegetable Oil, Dairy Product Solids, Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Salt, Cellulose Gum, Sodium Caseinate, Potassium Phosphate, Sodium Alumino-Silicate, Mono- and Diglycerides, Guar Gum, Artificial Flavors, Sucralose." Uhm, to quote RaRay, "Yummo."

When my sister and I were voracious teens and my mother blanched both at how much sugar we consumed and how much the hot chocolate mix cost, she decided to create her own mix. The ingredients were: Hershey's Cocoa, powdered milk, powdered sugar. I don't remember the proportions, but with just three ingredients, it shouldn't be that hard to figure out.

I take my tea completely without additional ingredients (the way the Good Lord intends it), but I like to crap up my coffee with things like a dash of vanilla extract or cinnamon or (uh oh) nutmeg. And for hot chocolate, it's basically just open season for crap, especially when I get my very favorite hot chocolate: Starbucks (or Cosi) whole milk hot chocolate. It's my favorite because the ingredients are steamed milk, mocha syrup, vanilla syrup, and whipped cream. (I usually get the nonfat milk, however, because of the 70 calories, 90 fat calories, and 6 grams of saturated fat difference, but looking at Starbucks' nutrition info, I learn that if I went with nonfat milk and no whipped cream, I'd save another 80 calories, 60 fat calories, and the remaining 5 grams of saturated fat. Oh dear. Bye-bye, whipped cream.) Once I have my cup of wintertime joy, I crap it up with lots of cinnamon and nutmeg. MMMMmmmm.

But that's only at Starbucks or Cosi. At work I have the aforementioned Monsanto via Nestlé stuff. Thin. Sugary. Gray.

When I discovered that David had a can of Hershey's Cocoa that he wasn't using, I requisitioned it. Now when I make hot chocolate at work - it's pretty cold here a lot - I add a tablespoon of the Hershey's powder first. Now it's much more chocolaty. And less sugary. And brown. And now cocoa is the first ingredient instead of the fifth.

I can' t do the rest of the math because the can that David gave me is so old that it does not contain any nutrition information (and let's remember that the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act was implemented in 1994) and is actually a metal can. So it's sort of like having a yummy hot drink and time traveling simultaneously.

Making a better argument

When I stay overnight at David's, he seems to have some trouble getting me out of bed in the morning. And the basic reasons that he has any kind of interest in getting my lazy butt up and going are two:

1. When I should be getting up, I'm usually curled up with my head on his shoulder, pinning him down; and

2. He likes to spread out diagonally across the mattress and having Limpet Girl adhering to him noticeably slows that process.

And for the last several days it's been cold here the in DC area, so I'm even less inclined to bounce out of bed and start the day. In fact, just yesterday, Diagonal Man was trying to get me up when I made the following extremely subtle, sophisticated argument: "It's cold out there. It's warm in bed. QED."

My unintentional Wham! quotation aside, he still wasn't moved by my argument and, in fact, completely failed to acknowledge just how D it was, bringing up irrelevant rules of argument and logic. Again, not likely to pry me out from under nice, warm covers in Frigid February. David has yet to learn how to persuade through compliments and effusive flattery. Pity, that.

Anyway, for the past few days I've been thinking that he'd probably have no trouble at all in getting me up if he'd just invest in a
Bacon Alarm.

*All syllogisms have three parts :. this is not a syllogism.

The credit: I got the link from

01 February 2007

In the dusk with the light behind him

The joys of having your friends come to see you shows are without number. So are the opportunities for said friends to make fun of you from their seats. Case in point: I am kind of chatty. (We now pause as the Readership contemplates the immensity of that understatement.) Years ago, I was in a production of Blithe Spirit, playing the doctor's wife and at the end of one of our scenes his line was "Come along, Violet, you're talking too much -- as usual." Not normally a laugh line. Unless a half dozen or so of my friends in audience, in which case it's a real howler. (Sigh. I am so put upon.) The crew backstage couldn't figure out why that line got such a big laugh until I said that I had friends in the audience. "Ahhhhh."

Last night seven or so of us went to see David (not my David, yet another David) in a very sweet memory play called Sleeping Arrangements. We were lucky that he sang on his first entrance and we applauded (he sings very well) because it meant that he forgave what happened a few minutes later: Another character, looking him over, asked his age: "You're 38? You could pass for 28!" at which point our group laughed. Rudely. (Although, it should be noted, without pointing or snorting. We're a classy bunch.) David is, by just a few years, the oldest of the bunch of us, a fact we never let him forget.

The rest of the show passed without any further editorial comment from the stalls and we all went out for drinks afterwards. Happy ending.

But there was one more part of the show that I particularly enjoyed - the same character who gave us our laugh line had a repeated insult that I just loved and am considering adopting as my own. So from now on just think of me as the "no-good, Blondie, shiksa, bum, tramp, ham girl." Ham Girl, for short.