MetamorphosisAn adaptation of Franz Kafka‘s story. The Beav and I saw it at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto. The director and main actors were Icelandic.

Metamorphosis is not an obvious text to adapt for the stage. Until its final paragraphs, the text limits its point of view to that of Gregor Samson, who has transformed into a bug, cannot communicate with others, and spends most of the story trapped alone with his thoughts inside his room.

The play obviously has to invent material that can be watched for an hour and a half. It accomplishes this in two ways: by staging Gregor’s experience in his room as a circus played out on the walls and ceiling of his upstairs room and by reading every reference the story makes to the family as a script for a very spare, very modern family drama.

The circus was amazing to watch. Gregor literally crawls the walls and the ceiling of his room. Midway through the first act, I began to wonder how the actor could keep up physically with the performance. It was that intense.

Metamorphosis at the Sydney Theatre

The actors in the family drama sounded very much like Björk does when she gives interviews. Now, I love Björk (and Dancer in the Dark was crazy good) but this accent plus the very stiff but exaggerated action was off-putting. I felt as if Gregor’s world upstairs was imaginative and energetic and the family’s world downstairs was community theatre. And yet clearly this difference was intentional: the family’s performance was controlled and purposeful and slowly evolved, until by the end, the family drama had come alive. Their final moments together in the gardens were quite moving.

The Seagull

The SeagullWritten by Anton Chekhov, this play is about familiar themes: city and country life, the paths available to an artist, the difficulty of being a family, the bonds and conflicts between the old and the young. This version was adapted by the director, Peter Hinton, who made it a contemporary piece with modern references. This kind of change often wrecks a play, but in this case, it worked really well.

The older actors ran circles around the younger ones, which makes the play seem very much to take their side. It’d be interesting to see the same adaptation with young actors running circles around their elders because I suspect the play is complete enough to take the kids’ side if they did.

The Segal Center made a trailer for the performance that makes the whole thing look like a Denys Arcand film. Which is apt: the piece kept reading as a pastiche or homage to Le Déclin de l’empire américain. The synopsis provided by the theatre reads:

By a lake, in the country, a summer night inspires a family of artists to love, to live and to question the real exchange of art, passion and experience. Chekhov’s masterpiece is brought to life in a new version by visionary director and playwright Peter Hinton, starring two of Canada’s most celebrated leading ladies, Lucy Peacock and Diane D’Aquila. The Seagull is heartbreaking and comic, funny and bittersweet – a modern take on a classic play for our times.


Marie Tudor

Marie TudorWritten by Victor Hugo and directed by Claude Poissant for the Théâtre Denise-Pelletier. The theatre summarizes the play as:

À la fois mélodrame et drame romantique, Marie Tudor raconte les calculs et les impulsions d’une reine d’Angleterre blessée par l’amour et écartelée entre son action publique et ses gestes intimes. C’est aussi la chute orchestrée de Fabiano, son favori, par Simon Renard, le représentant du roi d’Espagne, son futur époux. Mais c’est peut-être avant tout la rencontre entre Marie Tudor et Jane, la jeune et candide rivale, protégée de l’ouvrier Gilbert, manipulée comme ce dernier par le pouvoir de la reine et témoin des violences de l’État.

Denise-Pelletier is a theatre for college students to go to see classics presented straight. So this version was perfect for me: I’d never seen or read this play and was interested to see what a young Hugo would do with his British source. Interesting stuff.

Memorial Art Gallery

A few weeks ago the Beav and I went down to Rochester to see what we could see. Our first stop was at the University of Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery, a museum for students, put together to demonstrate periods, styles, and themes. (That’s not a criticism btw. I wish I’d spent more time in museums like this when I was younger.)

Of the galleries in the permanent collection, the one covering American art was the most interesting, and Mortimer Smith’s painting is the best thing I saw all day.

Home Late
Home Late 
(Thumbnail links to image; caption to info)

This painting is the seed of a story and a trap: I start looking and can’t stop. My eye goes from fire to door to window to man to the boy’s silhouette and then round again without stopping, but the image is completely still. It’s a tableau, evocative, enigmatic and menacing. Yet details like the hams and the gun hanging from the rafters or the way the colours and lines in the doorway are distorted in the window are beautiful and reassuring. So just what exactly is going on here? I love it.

I also liked this painting by Winslow Homer. He’s a late-great and I’m often drawn to his moody seascapes, but this one really moved me.

The Artist's Studio in an Afternoon Fog
The Artist’s Studio in an Afternoon Fog

Clearly there is something in me that wants to spend my every afternoon by the sea on rocks like these under a bright cool sun hanging in dim, quiet air. I swear I can hear gulls calling to each other (rudely of course) just above the frame.

Hale woodruff’s painting of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln stood out for being topical: Rochester is where Douglass and Susan B. Anthony are buried, and the city is steeped in the history of the Abolitionist and women’s movements. But context aside, the stark, graphic contrast and the arrangement of the figures remind me of a relief carving done in bright colour and I really liked it. Good hands and feet too.

Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln Discussing Emancipation
Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln Discussing Emancipation

Finally, some proof that kids were kids even back in the day: a dog named Gun.

Pierrepont Edward Lacey and his dog Gun
Pierrepont Edward Lacey and his dog Gun

Little Edward also rocks the red slippers and black pant suit.

(All images from the Memorial Art Gallery site.)

My New Course Map

A few months ago I wrote a series of posts about revising my Tinderbox course planning file. (The sidebar links to a good starting place.) When that series ended, I’d settled on a new strategy for writing materials and using links to navigate, but my course maps were either auto-generated or simply rough groupings of linked materials.

Neither was very useful, but I was hopeful that as I worked, a sense of how to organize the material would emerge and that the software would be flexible enough to handle the changes. And it turns out that an organization did emerge and that Tinderbox never broke a sweat as I whipped things into shape.

So this is my revised course map:

Revised Map

The changes are extensive and represent a huge departure from the maps I was using last year. But I couldn’t be more happy with the results. So in the next few paragraphs I’d like to explain how to read what you see. In a subsequent post, I’ll explain the tools I used to actually build the map.

Navigation Buttons

The map breaks into two sections. On the left is a column of dark, wide notes with large text sitting upon a red container. The notes in this column function as buttons that drop me into my wiki-view.  I selected which notes to make buttons by looking for notes that emerged as a link hub in my rough early maps.

For example, the note “Required Texts” contains a basic description of every text I will assign or reference in the course along with a summary explanation of how each will be used. Text titles are always an in-text link to that book or film’s note. The text of that note contains links to other notes in turn. So by double-clicking “Required Texts,” I can navigate to information about any of my readings with only a click or two. The same holds for the other buttons.

“Daily Schedule” operates slightly differently, and so I set it off by colouring it black. This button opens a journal note. After every class, I write a very brief description of what we did. The journal serves as my record of what was accomplished and assigned rather than what was planned. Every reading, lecture, activity or assignment mentioned in the “Daily Schedule” is linked in-text to the relevant note. So by the end of term, this note will provide a textual version of my schedule map (which, naturally, is contained in the map view of the “Daily Schedule” note).

Finally, the red container at the bottom of the column contains notes for each of my individual students. These notes are never accessed through wiki view. So to access student notes I drop into this container and work in a separate map (or call up an outline view).

Unit Adornments

The second section of the map sits to the right of the column of buttons. It contains three adornments laid out in a row, one for each unit of the course. I use these adornments to plan the content of the course independent of the schedule of the classes. (This screen cap was taken as I was beginning the second unit, so the second and third units are not yet complete.)

Using prototypes, I have distinguished between four different types of materials.

  • Blue notes with round edges are primary texts that are either assigned or discussed directly. A blue border indicates a print text; a green border, a film text. The notes that have been darkened by changing their pattern to lines are texts held in reserve as alternates.
  • Yellow notes are graded work. A purple border indicates the assignment involves students creating and drafting pages on the course web site.
  • Grey circular notes are mini-lectures. A red border identifies history lectures that build upon each other independent of other course materials.
  • Green notes with pointed edges are in-class activities that involve a formal assignment sheet or complex instructions.

The map shows only one type of link. These links are visible on the map as arrows leading from one note to another and indicate that a reading, lecture or activity will be used directly in graded work and so must be completed before it is assigned. All other link types are invisible.

Finally, overlapping notes indicate when lectures use primary texts as examples or incorporate activities.

Oral Presentations

Managing oral presentations is always difficult. For this class, I laid out the presentation texts in order on an adornment below the units. I then created aliases of student notes and lined them up under the text they were speaking on. This simple set-up lets me to know who’s presenting on what at a glance and allows me to make adjustments when needed with little hassle or up-keep. This reduces my workload so much that this section of the map is just about my favourite.

A Info Rich Map

Finally, what may not be immediately obvious in all of this is that each of the notes visible on this map contains note texts accessible by double-clicking the map object.

Double-click on a lecture and you’ll find my speaking notes and, probably, a link to the keynote file I’ve prepared. Double-click on graded work and you’ll find the assignment sheet. If the assignment will be completed on the web, those instructions will be in mark-up, ready to be copy-pasted into the text field of the edit page on the course wiki. Most importantly, every single one of these notes will contain at least one in-text link, which means that from any point, I can navigate to all my other notes independent of my map or outline.

So I think my revised course map is incredibly useful, and I’m very happy with it. In the next few days I will post an explanation of the nuts-and-bolts of how I actually built it. That post’s not done yet but it’s shaping up to be a love letter to the Attributes and Inspector Panes. So stay tuned.

Comments Closed. Email Open.

Five or six months ago I turned comments on for posts on this site. I was curious what would come of them and expected mostly silence. So I was surprised when a few comments trickled in and I was flattered beyond flattery when one eventually arrived from the blogger at Fat Free Milk, a low-key site I’d stumbled upon long, long ago and still read and had linked to in an earlier post. Comments, I decided, were awesome!

Except then they weren’t.

Spam started arriving. First just a few comments, then dozens, and I responded by closing comments on the targeted posts. That helped for a bit, but then other posts were picked up, and before I knew it comments targeting dozens and dozens of posts were pouring in, all of them selling and phishing and basically crapping on the blog I’d built.

And I was unprepared for how that felt.

I’d worked for a few years building up my little corner of the internet. Nobody visited, it wasn’t important, but it was mine. I enjoyed it and was proud. But now, subject to this deluge, my blog quickly became a demoralizing chore. Every visit to site admin meant clicking through and deleting pages and pages of pending “comments.” On good days when I was done, I’d be able to shake off the frustration and disappointment and post what I’d come to write. But in too many dark January mornings and grey March afternoons, the spam made my blog feel like a trash can in a public park and just no fun. So I started logging into my site less and less often. Because /sadmonkey.

But then today, clarity.

If Web 2.0’s promise of awesome-through-commenting doesn’t work for me, then I can take the train back to good ol’ Web 1.x. I just need to close the comments on my posts. No need to come up with spam-management strategies or deal with add-ons. I just close comments. So that’s what I’m doing. And writing that feels like sitting down at a campfire replacing wet socks with dry when you know that the rain is finally, finally gone for good.

That said, I’m not walling myself off: my email is still linked in the sidebar. If you want to comment or say hi, please send me a message. I’d love to hear from you.

But I only want to hear from you. Not from that machine that “like your writing very good but notice some spelling. will certainly read more! also having good price on guarantee seo [or hacking the Facebook, gucci bags, etc.]”