Weeks 9 and 10 have blurred, with two shows back to back opening. I think I’ve not posted for two weeks out of a need to retreat and refresh myself. It’s been somewhat self-protective. More about that anon.
I relived the 1992 Los Angeles uprising in week 9, during tech for Anna Deveare Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, again in my living room, In fact, a week ago Friday night I watched the first performance by SDA on the streaming site, SHOWTIX4U, which hosted our performance, directed by Bayo Akinfemi, and performed by BA students at SDA. My husband and I were living in Los Angeles in 1992, when the news that the officers involved in the beating of Rodney King had been acquitted came out and the city literally erupted in flames. But we weren’t in the city when it happened. Newly adoptive parents, we had just taken our son, age two and a half, down to La Jolla for our first family vacation as adoptive parents. Many memorable moments in that trip:
- We were sitting next to the hotel pool at around 5pm, Jimmie reading the newspaper, and I keeping watch on Chris. We planned to go to dinner, so we were all in our clothes to do that. Chris wandered over to the edge of the pool, and then just jumped in, and as I rushed to the side of the pool and looked down into its depths, I could see him looking up at me and waving his hands over his head, his curly black hair moving in the water, his 100 watt smile grinning up at me. Looking behind me at Jimmie on the chaise longue, he looked over the tops of his reading glasses, and said way more calmly than I was feeling: “Go get him, dear.” And then the shock of the cold water as it closed over my head as I dropped like a stone to the depths of the pool. It was my first rescue of my child, well maybe the second, after he’d disassembled my mini mag flashlight and crunched down on the bulb.
- We took Chris to his first baseball game that week, a Padres game at what is now the PETCO stadium but what was then called the Jack Murphy stadium. Montreal Expos vs. the Padres. He lasted about three innings, during which time he ate a hot dog, popcorn, cotton candy and half a soda, and was, as a result, feeling dyspeptic and restless. We bailed on the game and were in the car driving down the exit ramp onto the 5 freeway when I turned on the radio and heard the decision and the resulting chaos in Los Angeles.
Anna Deveare Smith’s research and the resulting play effectively captured the prism of reactions to events of that turbulent time, through interviews with about 20 witnesses to the aftermath of the jury’s verdict. Each witness’ story is unique and reveals the hundreds of vantage points of what the verdict meant to the city. The play has aged well, you can say unfortunately, because while one would hope some of the views would seem anachronistic nearly thirty years later, they are chillingly representative of this summer’s reactions to the protests which followed the murder of George Floyd.
Week 9 began with the Sunday night win by the Lakers of their 17th NBA Championship victory over the Miami Heat, played, as all sports events currently are, without a crowd in the Staples Center. However, shortly after the game, the streets around the Staples Center filled with well-wishers to the Lakers, the rowdy throng of celebrants blocking the street near my apartment for close to four hours, with loud cheering, punctuated with chants of Kobe! Kobe! Kobe! The acrid air from idling cars unable to proceed through the intersection rose through my windows along with the din of shouting, peeling rubber, fireworks, which went on for close to four hours.
The aftermath the following morning revealed that every building in the vicinity had been tagged and all of the windows of the Starbucks in my building were smashed. I struggled to silence my inner Karen in the following days, as I processed the sporting madness through the prism of Deveare Smith’s words.
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 was well attended and very successful for our first production.
The Monday of week 10 brought us the tech for the BFA Juniors Maker Project, entitled Microwave Dinner. That first tech will forever in my mind represent the giddy collision of expectation and reality in the pandemic process of tech. Tech in the theatre for those of you who don’t know (and after all, probably anyone who is reading this post knows something about tech in theatre, is where the director, actors and designers meet in the room to collaborate while using all the tools they’ve developed over weeks of preparation to bring this theatrical “baby” into the world. This semester, the work has been more separate, with experimentation happening across the projects on the technical side, a protracted period of Research & Development driven by the creative demands of directors and actors as they enter the “theatrical space” in sequential shows. So, unlike our traditional techs, where the designers have been more engaged with the specific show’s needs, our technicians have arrived in each first tech with growing cumulative knowledge about what’s possible at this moment. It’s been an exciting process to witness and the growth of our Theatre Managers on whom this new role has been fitted, has been inspiring.
Because we were squarely in Week Ten of the college pandemic experience, we also were confronting the growing universal edginess, restless exasperation with circumstances of deprivation. The nuclear heat-seeking search for a source to blame for our not being “ready” to immediately solve the technical obstacles which became evident as we headed into our tech on Monday.
Credit: this week’s dazzling metaphor I owe to my dear friend Bob Stern from our Sunday Morning Sage Global WhatsApp chat. Today, instead of talking about our wattles, we discussed how we were “holding” our cameras and a variety of choices came to light: a rediscovered selfie stick or a beautiful ceramic tea cup (Japanese style) made by my stepmother, who will be celebrating her 95th birthday in Week 11.
In this cup, are the cockle shells I picked up the last time I went to Cape Cod with Jimmie, and a bit of Chatham sand, too. Bob remarked that they looked like opercula, and we all looked blankly at our screens until he shared this natural phenomenon with us. Operculum, meaning “little lid” in Latin, has multiple usages – in the meaning Bob intended, it relates to the little flap that ostropods or intertidal snails use to close up the opening of their shells when they retreat into them, its function to help them resist desiccation. Bob more colorfully described it, as: “The big slimy booger.” It is, according to Wikipedia, very important during low tide to help them to survive periods of drought and dry weather.
The other definitions of this “little lid” have to do with brain function, and refer to the left frontal operculum function which covers the insula. Did you like how that tripped off my tongue? Forgive me, please, anyone whose modicum of knowledge about the brain’s function exceeds mine- which I acknowledge is 99.9% of you: “The frontal lobe is responsible for reasoning, planning, emotion control and personality. A portion of the left frontal lobe helps you convert thoughts into words.” (Catherine M. Albano) I would argue that at this point in our pandemic experience, little lids protecting our reasoning, emotion control and personality are much needed and that the desiccation of those protective lids is something we should work actively to prevent.
Dazzling? Hardly. But bear with me for a moment. The giddy collision referred to earlier represented just such a moment of temporary desiccation, resulting in the experience of a severe drought of generosity and collaborative spirit, what we strive to bring into the room on the first day of tech. Even when you are in the most well equipped theatre with Broadway designers and Broadway directors there is always a moment of questioning – will this team be able to reach the aesthetic goals of the director and designers given the resources we have? And sometimes the temporary answer is no. And the process to solution is fraught with much emotion and colorful language in many cases. But in my experience, (again, apparently this is my favorite number today) 99.9% of the time, creative solutions are sought, and found. Now they may be different creative solutions than those first imagined, but there is a spirit of “this will be all right and this brain hive in the room will solve this aesthetic problem together.” This is the most compelling reason that I’ve remained in the theatre/theatre education for the past forty years. It’s what keeps my opercula functional. Even when we can’t do what we do in an interior theatrical space with the tools with which we are most familiar, we still bring into our spaces the positive knowledge that all have contributions to add to the creative problem solving we do in the theatre. When everyone stays hydrated, we call the process play making. There is a quality of playfulness to the inquiry and that’s the best kind of work.
There are two more definitions for the term opercula that I’d be derelict for not mentioning, both of which have some metaphoric value here.
The last I’ll spare you a graphic of: “a plug of mucus that blocks the cervical canal of the uterus in a pregnant woman. When the cervix begins to dilate, the opercula is discharged in “a show.” “operculum .” A Dictionary of Nursing. Encyclopedia.com. 16 Oct. 2020 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.
I kid you not. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. In summary, in answering the vital question of the day, “What are the benefits of Opercula?”
- They protect us so we literally don’t desiccate in periods of great drought
- They help us to protect our frontal lobe which controls our reasoning, planning, emotion control and personality
- When we discharge it, we have a show.
Carry on. Off we go into Week 11. Keep hydrating my friends.