Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rock the Vote

Today’s message from the Snark is brought to you by the Department of Those Highly Politically Active College Students, You Know The Type, Who Color-Code Their Fabric-Softened Clothes, Run For Every Available Office Including Vice President of Vending Machine Affairs, and Still Wet The Bed. Please give them a hand.*

This one is for all you college students out there. People: get out there and vote in your school elections. The Snark doesn’t want to have to say this again. Do you understand, fully understand, what it means to exercise your democratic rights as a student? No, the Snark didn’t think so. Well, allow me to explain it more fully to you. It works like this: if you DON’T exercise your democratic rights as a student, then there will be NO students for apathetic students like the Snark to hide behind. So there. I hope you are ashamed of yourselves.

This has been much on my mind, because recently, election season got into full swing at my current school, the Université Paris IV Centre Malesherbes (named after the eminent seventeenth-century royal court guy the Marquis de l’Université Paris IV Centre Malesherbes). Now you’ll have to forgive me my sentimentality here, but there is something profoundly stirring about the moment when your fellow students – the politically-minded leaders of tomorrow, with the dreams of leadership in their hearts and the condoms of leadership in their pockets – stand up before class, go up there in front of the whole auditorium, and bravely, steadily, voice their visions of the future. “Blah,” they say. “Blah blah. Blah blah, blah, blah blah blah.” I have no idea what they are saying, because everybody is talking over them about other things. But I am nonetheless profoundly stirred by this occasion, and with good reason: it shaves off class time. Therefore I am free to kick back and do my own thing,** and occasionally look up to realize the Leader of Tomorrow is still blah-blah-blahing about whatever. Blah-blah-BLAH BLAH BLAH, they say, reaching their climax of passion,*** at which point SPLOOSH I am free to dunk myself back down into the Great Pool of Cozy Apathy, which is where I write these columns.****

Getting a new cafeteria seems to be the central issue of most of the candidates’ platforms. Though I am not a full-time student over at old Marquis de l’Université, I can frankly understand the need. Our current cafeteria consists of the following:

  1. Food (occasionally available, unless sold out) (usually sold out)
  2. Vending machines that do not accept certain coins, defined as “coins used by humans.”
  3. Students sleeping on windowsills.

So until this pressing issue is resolved, us students will be subject to frenzied Leaders of Tomorrow, with crazed eyes and foamy mouths, leaping upon our persons at every corner and promising to give us pedicures on the spot or whatever if we will only listen to their deepest feelings on blah blah blah. Me, I always do, and I highly suggest you do the same. You might be lucky enough to have an experience such as mine the other day. At the time, I was with a friend of mine who has the remarkable ability – like laser vision or picking things up with his toes – to be interested in The Issues. We were going about our business when we were accosted by a girl who wanted to campaign at us. This included handing us a brochure with the names of the candidates on it. Now in my defense, I tried, HONESTLY I did, to listen carefully to the girl’s speech and consider her views, but unfortunately this was impossible due to the fact that I happened to look down at her brochure and see that one of the candidates is named – really – “Aphrodite Hung.” I do not have to tell you how much The Issues began to mean to me at that point, except to describe the ensuing tableau in which my friend stood there nodding thoughtfully, making Informed Political Decisions, while I was doubled over like a person with a full-body bowel disorder, trying not to spit out her own skull ; that is how profoundly I was affected at that moment by The Issues. I only wish that you will one day experience the same.

Which is all to come back to my original point, which is:***** EXERCISE YOUR POLITICAL RIGHTS, STUDENTS. Don’t relax, react. Think not of your Facebook, but of your future.****** Get out there, whenever it is those elections are,******* and vote, vote, vote. Vote for improvement. Vote for justice.

And please please plEEEEEase -- you will make the Snark's day -- vote for Aphrodite.

* They need it.

** Usually draw pictures of dogs.

*** This is usually the part where they talk about a new cafeteria.

**** That’s why they’re always a little wet when I first post them.

***** Beats me.

****** When you will be on Facebook.

******** Probably yesterday or something.

©2010 Nicola McEldowney

Sunday, March 14, 2010

L'Étrangère au Théâtre, no. 3: Much Ado About Something

What went wrong with the production of Berlioz' Béatrice et Bénédict, as rendered recently at Paris' Opéra Comique? Frankly, we at the Department of the Foreign Person at the Théâtre are still scratching our head, and with good reason: we have a mosquito bite. Meanwhile, we are trying to figure out what went wrong with the show.

This was a production that left us a bit troubled, for a reason we find difficult to admit to ourselves. That's because this reason is: puppets. This department finds itself very much in conflict over this, inasmuch as puppets are one of our primary Areas of Professional Interest, which means it is one of those things you can tick on an application alongside Communications, or at least it WOULD be if anybody actually believed it was an Area of Professional Interest, and that we are not just a little arrested weenie who likes playing with dolls. We will have you know, for the record, that it is an ENTIRELY viable Area of Professional Interest, especially for us little arrested weenies who like playing with dolls. So there.

But back to the production. Now don't get us wrong: we are infinitely grateful that puppetry is so highly esteemed in France. However, this is no excuse for outfitting opera singers as hideous Guignol marionnettes, their faces immobilized under approximately ten tons of makeup (each), their eyes unblinking black holes. In fact, this department never looked directly at their eyes, for fear of turning to stone.

And we have not yet mentioned: the hopping. These estimable performers (and again, don't get us wrong; they were) had been directed to HOP everywhere, we guess to evoke the jerky motions of real marionnettes on strings, the result being that they were obliged at all times to skitter around the stage, then jump, like this: tiktiktiktiktikHUNH!!!! Now this department does not wish to make unjust generalizations, but, how shall we put this? Opera singers are not generally small persons; therefore, as a Concerned Foreigner, we would like to suggest (are you listening, French government?) that federal measures be put in place to prevent opera singers from EVER jumping in any way, shape, or form, thus avoiding unnecessary tragedy and seismic action. Thank you for listening.

Of course, as we have noted, these were first-class performers. They did everything in their power to overcome the production's flaws, to keep the spotlight squarely on their powerful voices, their formidable presences.* And in the end, everything turns out happily, with the celebrated dénouement** in which Béatrice and Bénédict declare their love, and the audience hopes fervently that they (Béatrice and Bénédict) will never breed and people the world with hideous marionnette-children.

Naturally, we realize we are leaving ourself open to argument here, so if someone at the Opéra would like to debate these matters, we say, in our best French, "Bring it on, bébé." After all, they have a right: we didn't even pay for our ticket; it was a gift. Although, if you consider the four euros we had to pay for the experience of a can of Orangina at the interval, we'd argue we are more than even.

* We didn't say it WORKED.
** Literally, "tiktiktiktiktikHUNH!!!!"

©2010 Nicola McEldowney

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Who Gives a Lit?

Today’s column comes at you from the Dept. of Larnin’, where you too can pretend to do your literature homework while really secretly (SHHHH) writing a column (DON’T TELL ANYBODY).
If, like me, you ever found yourself in the bowels of academia, you no doubt encountered the great ancient philosophy-guy Aristotle, who went by only one name the way at least one contestant always does on American Idol, and who had things to say about philosophy to boot. For example, he said (we understand this was with a straight face) that, in any dramatic story, plot is more important than characters. Clearly, “Aristotle” had never read Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. This was on account of either pig-ignorance or its having been written nearly 2,000 years after his death, but either way, the Dept. of Larnin’ calls it a poor excuse.
Cymbeline, you see, is a play in which the “plot” consists, at one beautiful point – keep in mind the Dept. of Larnin’ exaggerates nothing here – of Jupiter suddenly descending in the middle of a scene, like when the characters are doing the dishes or something, and offering to fix all their problems, to which the characters say (understandably), “Thanks, Jupiter.” In perfect unison. Naturally Shakespeare doesn’t give a stage direction, but I like to think they say it in the exact manner of Suzanne Somers thanking the Thigh-Master (in fact, scholars agree this was Shakespeare’s inspiration for the scene).
And yet, here’s the thing: this is an awesome play. Never mind these little plot kinks; this is the same play in which a girl wakes up from a drugged sleep in a cave, next to a headless body she thinks is her lover’s, and she manages to keep her wits about her enough to say the coolest monologue on earth, which, if I recall correctly, goes something like this:

Yes, sir, to Milford Haven. Which is the way?
(Something) (something) GAH!!!! HOLY CRAP!!!!! A HEADLESS BODY!!!!!!!!
(Something) (something) (something about flowers, I think)
So when’s this mortal coil gonna give us some PAUSE already, huh?

OK, so I don’t remember it exactly, but in my defense, it’s been years. I did once have a rich knowledge of this piece, though; I even, on one occasion, performed it at a conservatory audition in the city, with my green L.L. Bean parka playing the part of the corpse. Sadly, I did not receive an offer of admission, but my coat got in on a full scholarship. (Rim shot.)
Anyway, for next week’s exam, I’ll need to remember the definitions for five terms, all courtesy of our friend Aristotle. In French, these are the exposition, the noeud, the péripétie, the catastrophe, and the dénouement. Let us proceed directly to our roundup of the highly suspicious:

  • One of these is called the “noeud.”
  • Which, yes, translates into English as “node.”
  • But we really know it secretly means “nood.”
  • Aristotle was born in “384” and died in “322.” Who else smells a rat? Show of hands.
So this “nood” is defined as “the central moment of intrigue,” or the part of the play between presentation and resolution of conflict. But hands up all who believe THAT. It’s a NOOD.
Meanwhile the exposition is defined as follows (hastily translated): “The first part of the theatrical action … indicating to the spectator the elements which will be necessary for him to understand the action: place, time, reasons for the presence of the characters, relations which exist between them, recent events, and indications of the crisis to come.”
If you want to see these Writer's Tools put to use, look no further than the following little-known example of Aristotle’s own dramatic work. He never made it as a playwright, but as we can see, he had dreams:

Act I, Scene I. A Laundromat.
GLEN: It’s 3:30 here in Florida (“The Sunshine State”).
MINDY: Thank God we’re here, at the Laundromat, for to do our laundry.
GLEN: Why, yes, Mindy, that is the reason for our presence. Not to mention the recent event of casual sex, which also counts as a relation that exists between us.
MINDY: By the way, a crisis is coming.
GLEN: Huh?
(They are hit in the heads by a flying nood)

It goes without saying this is miles better than Cymbeline, the Jupiter scene of which – if Shakespeare had cared a whit for his work – would have gone like this:

JUPITER: … and I’ll fix all your problems. ‘Kay?
EVERYONE: Thanks, Jupiter.
(They are hit in the heads by a flying nood)

Frankly, I see no reason why this handy dramatic device should not be adopted for all pieces of theatre, and fast, please. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it would save the sorry asses of a great many current Magical Broadway Productions. Just imagine the countless souls saved from, for example, Phantom of the Opera. (Yes, as you may already have observed, the sorry-assness of a Magical Broadway Production correlates directly with record-shattering ticket sales, which means, basically, that the Snark should shut her face.)
But that is not why this column exists. This column exists so that we can tell you our dreams, our hopes, our frustrations and our triumphs, and not the least of all, so we can get a good grade on our exam next week, because now we remember how to define exposition and noeud. So, really fast, the other three: péripétie is a reversal which complicates the events of the action; catastrophe is either an ending, or just a catastrophic event within the story; and the dénouement is where all the tensions are quelled by the final moment in the piece, in which (the Snark is hit in the head by a flying nood).

©2010 Nicola McEldowney