The man who would be Speaker

October 27, 2010

I don’t often get all political, but I will when I need to say something. 

I will admit, I’m not a big fan of Nancy Pelosi‘s big, fake toothy smile.  Her voice irritates the heck out of me, and I find her as insincere as the Cheshire Cat and as trustworthy as Kaa from The Jungle Book, but I can’t vote for her.  I didn’t vote for her, nor did I vote for a representative based on who would control congress.  I voted for the representative who will best represent my desires as a voter and citizen of my part of my state.  While it might then appear that I don’t care who Speaker of the House is, I am concerned about where we will go as a nation should the Democrats lose control of the House. 

For I am less of a fan of John Boehner, and as the election approaches my anxiety about him grows. 

First, John Boehner and those who would vote to place him as Speaker disturb me because of a fundraising letter I received from Congressman Boehner a couple months ago.  The Distinguished Gentleman from Ohio found it necessary to tell me how his name is pronounced — Boehner (as in Bay-ner) — implying I might pronounce it as boner.  Was this somebody’s idea of an adolescent anatomy  joke?  Even were it not, shouldn’t the congressman’s constituency — those who know him enough to care about his pursuit of Speaker of the House — know how to pr0nounce his name?

This isn’t what concerns me the most.  What concerns me the most is the following statement from the Paul Kane piece on the congressman in the Washington Post:  “Boehner chalks up his theatrical obstructionism to the reality of being minority leader: He must shout to be heard.”  I think those who are in a position to determine what Boehner’s role will be for the next two years ought to consider what Edward R. Murrow had to say about such shouting:  “[T]he fact that your voice is amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other does not confer upon you greater wisdom or understanding than you possessed when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other.”  

Congressman, if all you’re doing is obstructing and shouting, when will you have something to say?     

A beautiful valentine

October 27, 2010

Funeral for a Friend

August 12, 2010

Please pardon any randomness in this post, it’s my immediate reaction to the loss of my friend — Jim Coppens.

His graciousness knows no bounds, and I hope South Bend Civic does some very special things to celebrate his life over the course of the next year if not longer.

I first met Jim Coppens twelve years ago in the green room of South Bend Civic Theatre‘s Firehouse before a performance of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I finally met the man behind the voice on the answering machine, “Thank you for calling South Bend Civic Theatre.  Our next production is Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams . . . ” The man who called each patron personally to confirm reservations.  The man who I would come to realize knew every patron who crossed the threshold of the theatre.  A man I believe Dos Equis lost out on in casting their Most Interesting Man in the World.

And while my name was wrong in that program for some reason, Jim would soon be writing program bios for me where nothing was ever wrong.

Throughout rehearsals for my very next show Jack and Jill, directed by Leigh Taylor, Jim would pop in and say nothing.  To this day, I have no idea what he was doing — or more likely what he was checking up on.  Chalk it up to paranoia, but I always assumed it was me.

From those early days with South Bend Civic, I’ve learned the many links I have with Jim Coppens — from his knowledge of my childhood parish to his self-deprecation and humility to his earliest profession of teacher — and I am humbled by those ties.

I’ve shared the stage with him many times.  He was my ex-girlfriend’s father in Moon Over Buffalo when I wrestled a half-dressed, sweaty Jim out of a closet to the wonderful reactions of Pat Berardi; he was my brother in Little Foxes alongside my evil family of Melissa Gard, Craig MacNab and Ed Ronco; but I think my favorite was when he played my father in Long Day’s Journey into Night, as he sought to guide his dysfunctional family of Mary Ann Moran, Ted Manier and me out of the darkness.

Despite my twelve years with the theatre, I never was directed by Jim.  I auditioned for him.  Twice.  Wanted to other times, but it just didn’t work out for us.  The first time I wasn’t right for the part.  Another time I had a conflict that kept me from auditioning for what might have been a life altering experience — though the role was handled easily by Rick Ellis.  Yet another was just bad timing, and the last he wasn’t able to be part of.  It just wasn’t quite meant to be.  A hole in my resume that will remain gaping.

I think the most flattered I’ve ever been — though Jim was no flatterer — was to know that he was in the audience for my most recent play.  Knowing he was as ill as he was, compounded by the knowledge that he’d lost a child himself, he came to see Rabbit Hole accompanied by his graceful wife Linda. I couldn’t believe it.

I could not be more proud to know and call Jim Coppens — friend.

In his life, he played many roles, and I’m glad he and I were part of the same play.

I love him, and I feared disappointing him like he was my own father.

Good night sweet prince, father, brother, husband, teacher, coach, actor, director, mentor and friend.  He may have felt ordinary, but he lived an extraordinary life that reached all the way to the highest court in the land.

One Time Only

June 10, 2009

In South Bend anyway. This will be your last chance to see South Bend Civic Theatre’s production of Intimate Apparel before the American Association of Community Theatres’ Competition in Tacoma, Washington. Here’s the skinny: Host: South Bend Civic and the Cast & Crew of Intimate Apparel
Type: Music/Arts – Performance
Network: Global
Date: Thursday, June 18, 2009
Time: 7:30pm – 9:30pm
Location: Campus Auditorium, Northside Hall, IU South Bend
Street: Northside Blvd – just West of Ironwood
City/Town: South Bend, IN

This event has 2 purposes: 1) to help raise the much needed funds to send our cast/crew of 10 and our gorgeous set to Washington state! and 2) to allow us the opportunity to perform in a theatre similar in style, size and capacity as that at the Pantages Theatre in WA! Now is your last and only chance to be a part of this award-winning and beautiful show as we prepare to represent the U.S. Midwest at Nationals!

Audience members will enter the theatre only to see a bare stage. As in competition, it is up to the cast and crew to “set the stage” before the eyes of the audience and adjudicators within 10 minutes only. (Our story takes place in 1905 New York City – we have beautiful woods, furniture, colors and costumes – a joy to watch come to life!) From there, the lights will dim and the show begins!

Our story follows a 35 yr old African American seamstress who lives in a boarding house and sews intimate apparel for women of all social backgrounds. She corresponds with a worker on the Panama Canal who proposes to her in a letter. She accepts, sight unseen, and he makes his way to New York City.

The cast includes:
BEN LITTLE (George Armstrong)
DANA VAGG (Mrs. Van Buren)

CREW includes:
Matt Davidson (Technical Director, Lights)
Kyle Curtis (Stage Manager)
Alex Bowman (Sound)
Caela Barry (Costumes & Props)
Dana Vagg (Director)

Upon the completion of the show (the story, that is) the cast and crew will also STRIKE THE SET before the audience! This must also be done in no more than 10 minutes (however, we do it in four! *wink*) At this point, all audience members are invited to remain and offer their comments, suggestions, and well wishes!

FYI!!! Tickets may be purchased at the SB Civic Box Office, or by one of the cast and crew. It will be GENERAL ADMISSION SEATING – Doors will open at 7:00 p.m.!!! Hope to see you there! (And, thank you!!!)

Summer Reading Draft for 09-10

April 20, 2009

I need your feedback!  What am I overlooking?  Or is this just as bad as what I’m trying to leave behind like a cat with incontinence on a brand new rug in a brand new house?

Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition
Summer Reading/Writing 2009

N.B. The 2009/2010 AP English Lit Course Description published by College Board indicates that this course “engages students in the careful reading and critical analysis of imaginative literature. Through the close reading of selected texts, students deepen their understanding of the ways writers use language to provide both meaning and pleasure for their readers. As they read, students consider a work’s structure, style, and themes as well as such smaller-scale elements as the use of figurative language, imagery, symbolism, and tone.” Additionally, “such reading should be accompanied by thoughtful discussion and writing about those books in the company of one’s fellow students.” Therefore, I am trying something new this summer.

Because some universities ask all their students to read over the summer, and because some universities ask their writing students (including this writing student) to post blog entries affiliated with course work, and because threaded discussions are a College Board suggested discussion method, we will blog our summer reading responses this summer.

The blog enables us to discuss readings and respond to prompts with greater immediacy than waiting until August, and it enables us to actually discuss the summer reading – admittedly and ashamedly — something my classes have not always done. Some blog discussion will be arranged by the instructor, but students ought not to wait for instructor postings. The purpose is to exchange ideas and to guide each other through the literature.

Our blog is on blogger. Our blog is restricted. I need to invite you, so I need you to send me an e-mail. Once I receive your e-mail, you will receive your invitation. E-mail your e-mail addresses to: Our address is:

Reading Requirements: Over the course of the summer, actively read Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, and Jean Anouilh’s Becket. The texts ought to be read in that order, and I have to be heavy handed about the order to have some sense of – well – order about this whole thing. While it’s an experiment we have to have some rules.

Writing Requirements: As indicated above, there will be some points of discussion arranged by the instructor, but I want to be tied to my computer about as much as you do. But before we get down to the task, let me remind you of two matters. 1) The ideas in blog responses are NOT to be borrowed from any outside source(s); all work is expected to be original to the writer. The beauty of the blog is that we have each other to lean on instead of SparkNotes, PinkMonkey, or what have you. 2) Composition of texts must occur in a word processing program, then you save that text to your flash drive (or other similar device), and copy/paste into blogger.

§ For Tess, you are expected to blog three times – divide the novel into thirds – making sure to respond to the end of the novel. Each blog entry should address one or more of the following notions in at least 250 words – What is Thomas Hardy’s purpose and tone? How does he create that purpose and tone? How does diction, syntax, topic, character development, use of setting, imagery, and etc. help Hardy fulfill his purpose? In other words, what is Hardy doing, and how is he doing it?

§ For Murder, you are expected to blog once, when you have finished consuming the play. Read it, mark it, digest it. In at least 250 words, respond to the play in its entirety. You are invited to consider the notions of purpose, tone and style, but more than anything I want you to respond to the play in a way that makes sense.

§ For Becket, you are expected to blog once, when you have finished consuming the play. Read it, mark it, digest it. In at least 250 words, respond to the play in its entirety. You are invited to consider the notions of purpose, tone and style, but more than anything I want you to respond to the play in a way that makes sense.

§ Then, for Murder and Becket together, you are expected to blog a response to both pieces – as they are related. In at least 250 words, respond to the plays in their entirety. You are invited to consider the notions of purpose, tone and style, but more than anything I want you to respond to the plays in a way that illuminates us and them and you.

§ Finally, comment at least once using at least 250 words on a peer’s response or a prompt from me related to Tess, and comment at least once using at least 250 words on a peer’s response to either Murder or Becket. Can you respond more than once? Absolutely.

Your responses must be thoughtful, supported by references to the text, and not mere summary.

Indiana Community Theatre League Festival

March 25, 2009

Way to go South Bend Civic Theatre on getting the word out on this one (I’m being ironic).

Here we are days away from the festival, and the only reason I know about it is because I have dear friends involved with Civic’s submission to the Indiana Community Theatre League Festival (ICTL).

Here’s the skinny if you find yourself in Muncie, looking for good theater this weekend; the information following can be found at ICTL’s website:

ICTL/AACT 2009 Festival

Written by Dottie Peek
Tuesday, 17 March 2009
March 27, 28 & 29, 2009

Muncie Civic Theatre

Muncie, IN

11 Companies to Perform in ICTL Festival

What an exciting Festival is planned. There will be three performing on Friday evening beginning at 6:00 PM and a party afterwards. Saturday morning there will be two entries beginning at 9:00 am, with four Saturday afternoon starting at 12:30 and two Saturday evening beginning at 7:45. Individuals can pay the $25 registration fee and attend all eleven shows, or individual session tickets are available.

The companies entered and their shows are:

  • Muncie Civic Theatre: Orphans
  • Clinton County Theatre: Insane With Power
  • South Bend Civic: Intimate Apparel
  • Community Theatre of Terre Haute: Laramie Project
  • Pulse Opera House (Warren): You Can’t Take It With You
  • Clarksville Little Theatre: Assassins
  • Kokomo Civic Theatre: Gulf View Drive
  • Spotlight Players (Beech Grove): Apartment 3A
  • Genesius Guild (Hammond): The Women of Lockerbie
  • Elkhart Civic Theatre (Bristol): Once On This Island
  • Community Theatre Guild (Valparaiso): Assassins

Participating Theaters: Click here for Tech/Load-In/Performance Schedule

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 18 March 2009 )

South Bend Civic’s Intimate Apparel will perform at 9:10 Friday evening. As indicated above go to ICTL’s website for more information.

I can say that Intimate’s original full production in June was a piece of beautiful theatre, and the cutting required to participate in the Festival retains its core. The intimate quiet moments remain and continue to move. I recommend you catch it if you can.

Comment on Summer Reading

March 25, 2009

An anonymous poster (always curious — as I can only think of a minimal number of reasons one would wish to remain anonymous on a post about summer reading) asked the following:

Would students be able to read the responses posted by their peers? This could create a plethora of problems. First off, many students are self consious about their work, so they could be very hesitant about posting. Second, some students are lazy, so they may just look at other students posts and use them to write their papers. Third, even if these students happen to not be lazy, they could be still influenced by the other posts, hindering their creativity. Therefore, I believe that either the posts should be blocked until the due date is past. That way, students could look at other peoples thoughts only after they have turned in their own.

Rather than comment on the comment, I think a direct response in a post will best serve the dialogue.

Yes, students would be able to read responses posted by their peers.

Believe me when I say, I recognize a student’s self-consciousness; however, a student needs to recognize that his work, regardless of what he chooses as a career, will be public. If that student chooses university level course work at any point in his life, then I can almost guarantee that student’s writing will become public — for every writing course I took at an undergraduate and graduate level required copies of individual papers to be made and distributed. A colleague has informed me his child’s intro comp course at the University has included a blog requirement, and I’m just trying to get my students ready.

As for students’ laziness, I recognize that too. Been there. Been that way. Might they use their peers’ writing to write their own papers? What’s to stop them from e-mailing their papers to one another if we don’t blog? Essentially, I want to move from papers for the summer reading component anyway. I just want to try to guide the thinking and discourse and have a way to be in touch with my students over the course of the summer as we gear up for the fall. At present students succumb to SparkNotes as an aide to their writing if not in lieu of their reading anyway. This way, I’m a bit more involved in the conversation.

As for the final concern about a student’s creativity, I think some students need that extra assistance. Current students, for instance, would not have necessarily caught — on their own — the moment in Henry IV, Part I when Hal breaks out of prose and speaks in poetry to Falstaff to which Falstaff responds after Hal’s departure in a short poetic soliloquy beginning with the words, “strange words.” They got it, and — frankly — I got it, only after class discussion. Similarly, some got, and some did not, the moment in Henry IV, Part I when Hotspur refers to Hal in a parody of the Greek epic stock epithet as: “The nimble-footed madcap Prince of Wales” (IV, i).

In short, I want this to serve as merely a tool for discussion purposes. The question is, how to do that?


High School English and Summer Reading

March 13, 2009

I am a teacher of English, and if you are reading this, then you are a literate human being.  What follows is a request I have submitted to my peers, but I would also like the opinions of any regular and irregular readers I may have. 

What was your experience with summer reading when you were in high school?  What kinds of texts did you have to read, and what kind of work did you have to provide your teacher to help prove that you actually read the work? 

Last summer, my students read Tess of the D’urbervilles, Murder in the Cathedral, Becket, and Sonnets from the Portuguese.  In addition to their reading, students produced three 500 word responses to the novel and plays and four 250 word responses to the sonnets.  For those of you maybe not paying attention, that translated into 13 separate responses from each of my 50 students, so at approximately 250 words per page, that means 22 pages times 50. 

This year I want to do something completely different.  Maybe with the same texts.  Here’s where you come in.  This is what I shared with my peers:

I want and need your input.

I don’t know about you, but in some ways, I dread summer reading. I don’t dread re-exploring the texts I ask the students to read at the expense of losing my guilty pleasure beach pulp so much. Nor do I necessarily dread learning what the students think about the texts.

What I dread is the volume of written response that I collect on the first day that I still feel compulsively compelled to respond to in order to defend the scores I give the students. I dread the feeling of starting the school year with an albatross around my neck. Worst of all, I dread the idea of letting the summer reading into my home for fear they will not simply take care of themselves and go away.

I know there’s a better way.

I know to respond to each entry is asinine.

I want to work smarter and enjoy the whole year, not just the day that I get rid of the box of binders (and believe me, I’m not collecting binders EVER again) that have appreciated riding around in the back seat of my car with the windows down on Friday afternoons blissfully unaware that I leave my car unlocked at night in the driveway with the dark hope that somebody will steal them from me and not ask for ransom. Unfortunately, however, I live in a neighborhood with five members of the local Sheriff’s Department, so not many are breaking into my car.

I refuse to live like a Cubs fan anymore and simply long for next year. Then again, maybe I do want to continue living like a Cubs fan so I can celebrate the end of the season as early as, dare I say, August.

Here’s where you come in. I’m thinking about asking my students to read their texts, and respond to blog prompts over the summer on a private blog I create where only my classes and I can participate. Students without easy Internet access will receive an alternative assignment. The problem is, I want the work my students do to be proportionate to what they are asked to do at other levels.

What are your thoughts on this idea of mine?

Most importantly, what is a proportionate number of responses to reading? How many do you do? How many would you like to do? The appeal of this, for me, is to be able to communicate with the students about their progress through the texts, to be able to communicate with them when they have problems, or to communicate at moments in their reading where I can send them to a specific internet site that provides supplemental information that they might not get from SparkNotes.

Thanks for any feedback you can provide.

Preview and Review

February 9, 2009

Andrew Hughes of the South Bend Tribune gave South Bend Civic Theatre‘s production of Almost, Maine a nice preview article on Friday.  Unfortunately, the piece won’t be available in the archives for long before you have to pay per view.  Here’s the link for now.  If you’ve had the chance to see it, don’t forget to submit a review online at ArtsEverywhere.   

And if you’re still wondering whether or not it’s something you want to see, Marcia Fulmer — formerly of the Elkhart Truth — seemed to enjoy what we presented over the weekend.  Ms. Fulmer’s opinion has been one I’ve trusted in the past, and her more recent reviews can be found here.

Almost, Almost

February 5, 2009

Almost, Maine opens tomorrow at South Bend Civic Theatre. It’s selling well, so get your tickets. In the meantime, check out the new gallery at the Civic’s website for the show.