Monday, June 30, 2014

The 2014 Utah Shakespeare Festival: Review of Twelfth Night

Background Info:
I visited the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City during the preview week of its 2014 season, watching the second preview show for each of the six plays.  I will be posting my reviews all week on this blog.  I will link my reviews as they become public.
A Comedy of Errors 6/29/14
Henry IV Part One  on 7/1/24
Measure For Measure on 7/2/14
Sense and Sensibility on 7/3/14
Into The Woods on 7/4/14
Why go to the Utah Shakespeare Festival on 7/5/14
Unless otherwise noted, all photos used will be from the festival website,  Also, all information regarding tickets, seminars, tours, and classes for college credit is available there.

Remember to click on all photos in this post to enlarge them.

Without further ado, then, here is my review of Twelfth Night, or What You Will.

According to what I have read, Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night for a Twelfth Night party for Queen Elizabeth I, which explains the title, as the play itself has nothing to do with the Christmas season; it is merely a fun story fit for revelry.
The basic plot is a strange and wonderful love triangle:
Viola, shipwrecked and believing her twin brother Sebastian has drowned, is rescued by the captain of the doomed vessel and washed ashore in Illyria, with whom her home city of Messaline is at war.  Viola has heard of Duke Orsino, who rules Illyria, and the sea captain tells her that Orsino is in love with the Countess Olivia.  Upon hearing that Olivia has, within the last year, lost to death both her father and her brother, Viola realizes she can relate to the woman and expresses her wish to serve Olivia as a gentlewoman until she can somehow figure out what to do with her life now that all of her own family is dead.  But the captain informs Viola that Olivia is mourning and "will admit no kind of suit," so Viola is left with the Duke, who takes on only men.  She therefore decides to present herself as a eunuch to him, disguises herself by dressing as her brother, and calls herself Cesario.  Naturally, she falls in love with the duke, and he sends her to Olivia as a messenger, and -- you guessed it -- Olivia falls in love with Cesario (who is, of course, really Viola).
The subplots involve Olivia's nutty household.  There is her drunken uncle Toby, the relative from Hell that leeches off of everyone, not just his niece, but also his friend Fabian and the awkward and nerdy Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who hopes to marry Olivia.  Olivia's gentlewoman Maria is in love with Toby and hence works against Olivia some of the time.  Also, Olivia's steward, the Puritan stand-in Malvolio, is in love with her.  Oh, and Feste, the jester, has returned, wanting work.
Still not confused enough?  Just wait until the very-much-not-drowned Sebastian shows up in town three months later with his overly-devoted rescuer, the sea captain/wanted man Antonio.

This year's Utah Shakespeare Festival version is directed by David Ivers, who is the co-artistic director for the whole festival.  David is more than incredibly talented, and his vision of this play definitely has made it a success.

Viola, played by Nell Geisslinger, is very good.  Sebastian, not so much.  Viola makes a convincing boy, and her comic moments are delightful.  We definitely feel for her as she fends off the infatuated Olivia and falls prey to the practical jokes of Sir Toby.

But she doesn't seem to feel much for Orsino, and her reunion with her brother is flat and almost unemotional.
Olivia is also a weak spot.  She's not bad, but Melinda Pfundstein plays every role the same way, and in this play, she just looks way too old for Cesario, old enough to be his and Sebastian's mother instead of a lover.  This detracts.
However, the play has many strengths.
Ivers has chosen to lighten up the whole awfulness of Sir Toby and the torture of Malvolio, making it truly funny in a way I have never seen before.  In fact, the cruelty of what is done to Malvolio is frequently off-putting to modern audiences, but Ivers' version of it will leave the audience laughing.

Part of this is due to the casting of Aaron Galligan-Stierle as Feste.  He is bitingly funny, but he balances his cut-to-the-core remarks with humanity, and thus he keeps the torture of Malvolio in the lighter range.
Ivers has also chosen to make Sir Toby more Falstaffian and a lovable rogue instead of a drunken leech.  This works well and lightens some of the nastiness of the play.
However, the very best part of the play is Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played by the incomparably funny Quinn Mattfield.

They've dressed him as sort of a blond Tiny Tim, and he is so very painfully, hilariously nerdy that it is worth the entire show just to see him.

(Here's what the actor really looks like, shown on the left of this photo I took at a seminar.)

Over all, this is a very good version of Twelfth Night.  I would happily pay to see it again.  If you're going to the Festival this year, this play should be on your list.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The 2014 Utah Shakespeare Festival: Review of A Comedy of Errors

Background Info:
I visited the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City during the preview week of its 2014 season, watching the second preview show for each of the six plays.  I will be posting my reviews all week on this blog.  I will link my reviews as they become public.
Twelfth Night on 6/30/14
Henry IV part one on 7/1/24
Measure For Measure on 7/2/14
Sense and Sensibility on 7/3/14
Into The Woods on 7/4/14
Why go to the Utah Shakespeare Festival on 7/5/14
Unless otherwise noted, all photos used will be from the festival website,  Also, all information regarding tickets, seminars, tours, and classes for college credit is available there.

Remember to click on all photos in this post to enlarge them.

And now, the review of A Comedy of Errors:

The short version:
Oh my freakin' heck!  This is THE FUNNIEST THING I have seen in at least a year!  Do NOT miss it!
Ahem.  *clear throat and looks around*

The more sophisticated version:

Shakespeare's A Comedy of Errors is what scholars believe is his earliest play that was good enough to make it into the compilation that his buddies put together after his death.  Like nearly everything else he wrote, he stole the plot from elsewhere and then improved it so much that hardly anyone bothers to look at the original anymore.  Much of the play is written in rhyming couplets or else ABAB rhyme, which certainly makes it feel less serious than his later works written in blank verse (such as Romeo and Juliet) or prose.
Shakespeare's idea of a comedy was a play where the protagonist didn't die and the couples work out the way that seems obvious, even if some of the matches are pretty stupid (such as Claudio and Hero in Much Ado About Nothing).  Some of his comedies aren't very humorous at all, such as Measure For Measure or A Winter's Tale.  But Errors is a comedy in the modern understanding of the word; it's just plain funny.
The basic plot is that a man has arrived in Ephesis, looking for his son Antipholus and his son's slave Dromio, both of whom left home (Syracuse) 7 years before in order to find their twin brothers (one the twin of the son and one the twin of the slave), from whom they were separated in a shipwreck when they were very young.  The father is arrested, however, as he's thought to be a spy.  He's given 24 hours to find someone willing to pay for his bail or else he'll be killed.  In the meantime, unbeknownst to him, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse have arrived in Ephesis, unaware that their twin brothers -- known as Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesis -- live in the town.  Adrianna is married to A of E, but A of S is unmarried.  And.... well, you can guess just how funny things get.
The Utah Shakespeare Festival did Errors in 2009, and it was hilarious then.  But this time, director Brad Carroll has decided to set it in San Francisco during the 1849 Gold Rush.  And it works!
You might not think that turning the play into a melodrama would work, but it is SO very funny!  At least once every 2 minutes was a laugh-out-loud moment.  Seriously.
Imagine, if you will, not only the twin confusion of the script, but the "witchcraft" of Ephesis portrayed as sideshow freaks from PT Barnum's then-new "Greatest Show On Earth."  And the chase scene in the fight near the end portrayed as a shoot out, ended only when the Abbess, with a voice fit for Calamity Jane, comes out with a rifle to break up the rowdies.  It's hilarious.
Adding to the mayhem is the fact that this version departs from the usual trick of dressing the twins just slightly differently so the audience can tell who's who.  Have a look at this photo from the 2009 version (set in Turkey):
Notice the different colors on the twins?
Well, the 2014 version has each set of twins dressed EXACTLY alike, so that one must tell the two Dromios apart by their voices and the two Antipholi apart by their slight height differences and the fact that A of E must wear the ring given to him by the courtesan.

(Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse are shown here, but the other twins dress just like their brothers.)

Now, this 2014 version of Errors is so very accessible that it is perfectly understandable to Shakespeare newbies.  Got a spouse/friend/child who thinks that Shakespeare is scary/boring/old?  Drag them to this, and they will realize the Bard is not at all inaccessible.

Folks, if you can only afford to see one Shakespeare play this year, A Comedy of Errors is the one to see.  If you miss it, you will be sorry!

(I snapped this photo of the crew setting up for the show in the Adams Theatre.  You can't see it here, but one of the Saloon doors has "Tonsilatory" painted on it. :P)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Oh, Never Mind

Me: Dad, how are you feeling tonight?  Your ears were bothering you so much when we drove down from Park City.  Are they still ringing now?
Dad: What?
Me:  Your ears.  How are your ears?
Dad:  My knee?  Well, the shot didn't help as much as last time.
Me: What about your ears?
Dad: My what?
Dad: Honey, I just can't hear you.  My ears have really been ringing since we drove back down the canyon.

Monday, June 23, 2014

How The Headlines Put A Spin On It

Differing points of view are most certainly apparent in these headlines, which all cover the same event.

From ABC News, the headline is "Mormon Church Excommunicates Kate Kelly, Women's Rights Activist."

From The Washington Post, the headline is "Founder Of Mormon Women's Movement Excommunicated By All-Male Panel."

From KSL News (owned by the LDS Church), a story that is relegated to a page other than the homepage is titled, "Ordain Women Founder Excommunicated From LDS Church."

And, finally, the two most-telling headlines of all:

From the LDS Church-owned Deseret News comes the headline:

Ordain Women founder's recruitment efforts result in excommunication from LDS Church

Kate Kelly's 'conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church,' bishop says

And from The Salt Lake Tribune, which does its best daily to remind the world it is NOT owned by the LDS Church, we get this headline:

Kelly on her Mormon excommunication: ‘I’ve done nothing wrong’
Religion » Ordain Women founder urges other Latter-day Saints to stick with the faith.

And once again, cartoonist Pat Bagley provides visual commentary:

Sunday, June 22, 2014

In Which I Can't Resist Being Snarky

I got this as a retweet today:

I don't know the guy, but I couldn't resist replying:

Uh, Greenpeace? Or just a spelling issue??

Betcha he doesn't have a clue what my response even means. :)
In the meantime, I'm left to visualize large mammals in a concert somewhere.....

What Should My Protagonist Do Next? Help Me Choose An Adventure.

So, it's been a couple of months since I worked on The Chocolate Smuggler's Notebook, and, as I look over various outlines I've done in the past, I can't decide which (if any) to choose.  Your help is requested here.
When we last saw our 15-year-old heroine (Olivia, but goes as Oliver), she was pretending to be a boy who was escaping the bad dudes by dressing as a girl (Yes, I know; I stole it from Shakespeare.).  When the train is attacked by outlaws hoping to snatch the miners' payroll money, she mistakes them for the bad guys and barricades herself in the luggage car.  When the shooting begins, she hides in a trunk, thinking they'll never find her, but she passes out from lack of oxygen.  The outlaws will steal the trunk, believing its weight means it's filled with silver and gold coins.  These outlaws are rather of the Butch Cassidy sort, and don't like killing -- just robbery.  Also, the book is steampunk.
What should happen next?
a) She wakes up in a mining camp because the outlaws have found an ancient motherlode there and have driven off the Natives.  (Or is that too Lone Ranger?)
b) The outlaws are attacked by other outlaws, her trunk is stolen, and she wakes up
     1) in an airship factory 1000 miles away.
     2) with Chinese laborers working on the transcontinental railroad.
     3) in a secret submarine laboratory under the waters of the Great Salt Lake.
     4) in the Pacific Northwest, with men who poach tree octopi.
     5) having been sold as an indentured servant to pirates.  Or maybe air pirates.  Or maybe gypsy cowboy pirates who do voodoo in Baton Rouge.
     6) with a group of scientists on their way to find the North Pole.
c) She wakes up back home, having been rescued by her friends.
d) She regains consciousness during the outlaws' flight from the train and escapes but is left alone in the forest.  Or maybe the desert.
e) She is captured by the bad dudes and put in prison, as they have received instruction from the chief antagonist that she is worth more alive than dead.  (The bad dudes have already killed someone, believing it was Oliver/Olivia.)
f) She wakes up with the outlaws and decides to join their gang of ruffians as a way to escape the bad dudes chasing her.  She becomes a bank robber/train robber.
g) She wakes up to discover the outlaws are actually scientists plotting the overthrow of the local government.  She must join them or escape both them and the bad dudes employed by the local government.
h) something else that you suggest.

What's your vote?  What story would you most like to read?  Comment below or tweet me @lisamshafer.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Something's Not Right Here

So, I just got a breaking news tweet from CNN that the Pope has excommunicated Italian Mafia members, presumably for organized crime, drugs, and probably murder.

This week, Utah news has even spread across the US, as the LDS Church prepares to excommunicate Kate Kelly (of and John Dehlin (of Mormon Stories) for.... uh, presumably because of feminism (OW has repeatedly asked LDS authorities to consider asking God for revelation on women's ordination) and gay rights (Dehlin has been outspokenly in favor of gay marriage), while Cliven Bundy, who led an armed insurrection against government forces, is, apparently, still considered a member in good standing (He is reportedly LDS.).

So, the Catholic church is ousting criminals and the LDS church is punishing ... uh, people who want equality?
Wow.  Just wow.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Solstice Giveaway! Win an E-copy of Becoming Brigid!

To be honest, folks, I haven't gotten enough reviews on this book.  And I don't really know why, as it's a better book than my half-vampire books.
Thus, in order to get some new reviews (and boost sales!), I'm going to do a few more giveaways this summer.
Let me see if I can hook your interest here.  Would you like to meet the characters?  Here, I'll introduce you.

Pepper Kircy:  She thinks she's got her life all figured out.  But the problem is that she's not at all who she thinks she is.  Not. Even. Close.

Dougal: That's just one of his names.  He's been around for a while -- like, centuries.  He's spent the last 16 years looking for a lost goddess, and he thinks Pepper might just be the right girl.  In order to be sure, however, Dougal's going to have to try to kill her.  Repeatedly.  This makes her life rather interesting. ;)
Dougal's also quite the attractive guy.  Here's what one reviewer had to say about him:

"A couple of my female students read this book about the same time I did; they really loved it and found themselves absolutely ga-ga over the sexy yet morally ambiguous character Dougal, who is equally endearing and infuriating. I can see their point."

DC Skethaway: "Death Child."  It's not his real name, of course.  But his dad owns a funeral home, and his nickname fits him better than his real name does.  In fact, Pepper's even forgotten DC's real name, which just happens to be the same as the name of a man who accidentally has caused her a lot of problems.  Problems like slavery.

Zane:  He's new in school.  He's got a good part in a movie.  He's hot.  And, unfortunately, he also wants to change Pepper into something she's not.
But Zane is right about one thing:  Dougal is dangerous.  Very, very dangerous.  And if Pepper doesn't keep away from him, everything in her world could be at stake.

Curious?  You can read a sample for free at Amazon.  Just click here.
I've tried over and over to upload the book trailer onto blogger, but it just won't let me!  Here's a link to see the book trailer here.

OK, have I convinced you to read it?  I hope so.
Solstice is a great time for a giveaway for this book, but you'll have to read it to find out why!  :)
So, without further ado, let's have a giveaway!
The prize is one e-copy of Becoming Brigid.

Starting now, I will accept entries.  You have until 12:00 AM MDT on June 23 to enter.  By entering, you agree that:
1) you are 13+ years of age.
2) you have an Amazon account so I can gift you the e-book.  You also agree to provide me with the e-mail address associated with this account (so I can gift you the book).
3) you agree that, if you like the book, you will post a review of it on Amazon (and feel free to post a review of it on goodreads and/or your blog as well!).
4) you agree that, if you don't like the book, you will at least comment or tweet me to tell me that it's just not your thing so that I don't think you just took the prize and didn't hold up your end of the agreement.
5) you agree to do either #3 or #4 by September 1, 2014 (as the whole point of this giveaway from my POV is to get reviews!).

I agree:
1) that I will not share any of your contact details with anyone.
2) that I will gift you an e-copy of Becoming Brigid ASAP once you have been declared the winner and have provided me with the appropriate e-mail address.
3) that I will enter your name into my upcoming swag giveaway for further prizes.

To enter:
Leave a comment on this post (make sure to tell me either your e-mail address, your blog URL, or your twitter address so I can contact you if you win) or simply tweet or DM me your entry.  On Twitter, I'm @lisamshafer.  Just click here.
There's no fancy question, you just need to tell me you want to enter.  That's it!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Wee Bit O' Scotland

It's cool and rainy today -- which means I actually got some sleep last night instead of tossing and turning in the stifling atmosphere.
Then, I accidentally discovered this app last night.  Ian Rankin's one of my favorite authors anyway, and with this free app, he narrates tours of Edinburgh.  Just fiddling with the app last night, listening to his accent (so very different from Utah!), looking at the photos, and walking the tour in my mind, along familiar streets was like a mini trip back.
And, my favorite cozy writer and good buddy, Paige Shelton, is researching for her new Scottish Book Shop series, which is, naturally, set in Edinburgh.  I've been helping her with setting details on and off for a few months now, but this summer she's going to Edinburgh to do more research.  I cannot even tell you how jealous I am!
If that isn't enough, add to my woes that the Edinburgh International Book Festival has now released their catalog for this year's festival.  (Oh my heck!  As usual, they've got over 800 authors attending.  Carol Ann Duffy, Alistair Gray, Maureen Johnson, AL Kennedy, Liz Lochhead, Alistair Moffat, Kate Mosse, Alexander McCall Smith, Darren Shan, Irvine Welsh, and tons more!)  Oh, I want to go so badly!  Argh!
I haven't been to Scotland in six years, people.  Six long years.  It's way too long.
Dang.  I miss it.
But at least it's raining in the desert today; that is a small consolation.

Monday, June 16, 2014

On The Tyranny Of Doctors' Receptionists, According To The Law Of Supply And Demand

Like most school teachers, I try to take care of all my doctors' appointments during the summer.  However, the older I get, the more body parts need "tune ups," and the harder it becomes to schedule juggle appointment times.  And the law of supply and demand does not make things any easier.
Take my dentist as a starting point.  He and his son own their practice and their building, so the costs stay down.  They hire their own hygienists and receptionists.  Their hours are reasonable, and they call back when you have questions.  Because it's a small affair, and because there are plenty of dentists in the valley, the wait times aren't bad at all, although for regular cleaning, you have to schedule about a month out.
Then there's my family medicine doctor.  This is becoming a rare breed, as more and more doctors specialize, so one must plan further ahead.  However, he works in a big, well-organized clinic.  There are receptionists available from 8:00 to 5:00 to take calls, and his nurse or assistant will call you back to answer medical questions.  Usually, to schedule a yearly check-up, one must plan 3 to 4 weeks in advance, but times for when you're actually sick are only about a day or two.
But then there's the ob/gyn.
The main problem is that Utah has the birth rate of a 3rd-world country.  (No kidding.  The Utah birth rate is about 2.6 per woman, which is roughly the same as India's birth rate, and 25% higher than the national average of 1.9-2.0 per woman.  In fact, this chart shows that Utah is currently keeping up with the birthrates of countries such as Ecuador and Turkmenistan, and freakin' beating the birthrate of such countries as Bhutan, Colombia, Jamaica, and Iran.  The UK, in contrast, has a birth rate of 1.8 and Japan has 1.26!)  There are simply not enough doctors to meet the needs of the breeding multitudes here.  And this leads to tyranny, plain and simple.
The receptionists all take the same lunch and shut down the whole clinic for the hour.  They also are snippy with patients about medical/appointment questions, and they have a superior attitude about everything.  And the doctor usually spends 3 minutes per appointment with non-pregnant patients.

Planning ahead, I called today to schedule my routine examination with Dr. "X," but, as I am not pregnant, I have a very low status with this particular clinic.

After seven full minutes of  hold music, I managed to speak with a self-appointed goddess receptionist.
Me: Hi!  I need to make my yearly appointment with Dr. "X."
Her: When was your last appointment?  You know the insurance companies won't pay for it if it's even one day before a full year since your last visit.
Me: It was last August, so I'd like to schedule for this August.
Her: What day last August?
Me: *slightly stunned*  Uh, I'm not quite sure.  Mid-August, I think.
Her: *clearly annoyed with my stupidity*  You don't know the exact date?  I just told you that it can't be even one day too early.
Me: Well, don't you have that information on your computer?
Her: *snorts with laughter* No, that's on your chart.  We'd have to pull that up with the nurse, and that would take a couple of days.
Me: *mystified that this brand new clinic has data retrieval methods dating back to the 1950s* Um, could we schedule for September, then?
Her: *even more irritated* No.  We can't schedule for September in June!  Call your insurance company and find out when your last appointment was.  Then you can call me to schedule for August.
Me: But --
Her: *hangs up phone*

This woman clearly enjoys her power.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Joke's On Him

So, I don't really have all that many Twitter follows, 325 as of right this second, actually.  (I have well over 1500 on Pinterest, in contrast.)  And when new people follow me, it's usually because they know me personally or else they're interested in writing and publishing or else in education.
So, a couple of days ago I picked up a new follower, a young man whose photos show him as about 20 years old.  But I didn't recognize the name (which appears to be his real name) or his face (like all kids that age, he had at least 2 dozen selfies available to peruse).  Yet, among his followers and those he followed were at least 10 of my former students of the same age, a couple of whom follow me.
I kept trying to place this guy.  I knew he hadn't been in the same English class with the others, but I've taught a couple of thousand students by now, and I know darn well I don't remember everyone.  But still... if he were friends with X, Y, and Z -- all of whom I remember -- then why can't I remember this guy.
After about half an hour, the lightbulb blinked on in my head.
I don't know him.  He hadn't followed me because I'd been his English teacher; he'd followed me because he saw my name and my cute, young-looking twitter icon (the same superhero icon I use on this blog) and he assumed I was a cute, 20-ish girl who was friends with all these others who followed me.  This dude has no freakin' clue that I'm waaay past 20 and that these college kids are following their former English teacher.
I find this slightly hilarious.
The joke is definitely on this dude.  (And, no, I'm not going to follow him back.)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Update: The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay

So, I probably have a FEW blog readers left.  (Hi, Liz!  *waves*)  And you folks might just wonder what I've been doing with myself lately.
Well, I have survived another school year and yet more health issues (most of which were brought on by the school year).  That sums up most of it right there.
I haven't touched the first draft of The Chocolate Smuggler's Notebook in a while, to be honest.  But I have been tinkering with The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay, my novella, set in the same world as the Half-Vampire books, in which the protagonist -- a girl who is desperate to be seen and noticed -- accidentally turns herself (temporarily) invisible.  Nerissa's a bit neurotic, so she's very fun to write.  :)
I had given out proof copies to my friend/former colleague's high school creative writing group last autumn, and I got all but one returned -- eventually.  (That one missing proof copy really bothers me.)
I am now nearly through with the first post-proof revision.  I've added a fun "excerpt" from Nerissa's commonplace book (which she makes in imitation of the one her great-great-great grandmother Liza MacKay had).  So far, it includes recipes (all the food ones are my original creations) for bathtub potpourri, facial scrubs, soup, sandwich spread, and two kinds of non-caffeinated herbal teas.  I'm thinking of adding homework tips as well, as Nerissa is little miss super-student and has skipped two grades.
But the cover is what's troubling me the most; I'm just not happy with it.
Max and I took dozens of shots last summer, and I took more later besides, but I can't get any of them to look right with lettering.  I made some 5x7s of several of the cover shots and gave them to my dad (who had a career in commercial art) to do some mock ups, but he's had so much going on this spring that he hasn't gotten to them yet.
I may just try some different kinds of shots this weekend, now that school's out.
It's be nice to have this book ready to release by the start of the school year.