I started writing this on August 22, 2008. I should have started about twenty days earlier and finished at least by the end of the year, but I’m really not good with publishing these things on time, am I? Oh well. unfortunately. This one’s for you, Margaret. 🙂 I’ve preserved as much of what I initially wrote as possible. Inevitably, there are gaps; I can’t do much about that, but hopefully the incompleteness will motivate me to be better at getting these things done in the future.
A lot can happen in five weeks… And I mean a lot! Let’s see, what did I really do during my summer at Northwestern University?
(Begin text 100% from 2008; footnotes excluded)
Lots of things happened at the same time at Cherubs:
- I put on a fully-mounted 50-minute show with four weeks of rehearsal time1
- I had a good two-and-a-half hour workout every weekday morning (core classes)
- I learned about sketch comedy, how to simplify stories into the most basic possible beats, and about solo performance
- I learned about theatrical lighting
- I got to help change over the lights for two shows, and ran the light board for a dress rehearsal
- I got to watch the other 14 performances completely unencumbered by any cast/crew duties whatsoever, and got to watch the four performances I crewed, as well, because lighting people were basically jobless during a performance unless they were working the board
There’s lots of stuff that should be in that list, but there’s just so much… I’ll leave it at that. Some things are too subtle to list, anyway.
Opening Days: Elective Preferences and Monologues
After arriving on Sunday, we all checked into the dorm and had the first of many meetings, during which we were acquainted with the basic rules of the program and the general layout of the next five weeks’ schedule.
Monday morning, beginning bright and early (08:30), we began the tedious and nerve-wracking process of performing 168 90-second monologues in one day. We also turned in our preferences for electives, which we decided on Sunday night using the handy elective catalog provided in the introductory materials. With only a forty-five–minute break for lunch, the process of reciting monologues took until about 15:30, when we had a tour of the campus. Once the tour was over, we were free until the meeting that evening.
At the evening meeting, we received our elective schedule sheets back, along with assignments to core classes and production companies. After the meeting, it was time to go back to the dorm and go to sleep.
The First Day of Classes
Core on Tuesday morning was pretty much the first thing we did after monologues, since it was pretty much time for bed after the meeting Monday night. It was a reasonably gentle class, since it was the first day. (And the rooms were still pretty close together; details later in the post.)
It was then time for the first of many 11:00 meetings, at which we discussed many things. I can’t remember any of them; however, I do know that most of the meeting related to the afternoon and evening coming up after lunch. Then it was time for lunch, and then “A” day electives. I had lighting crew for my very first elective period—and crews are double the length of other electives!—of the summer! That day was just a tour of the theatre.
Free time came after crew for me, and I went to the library to check my email and such. Then it was time for Everyday Theatre, which I really enjoyed (this class was also moved; details later in the post).
Dinner was after that, and it was followed by the first rehearsal of Company G, which was putting on a production of Tristan & Yseult. We did some weird team-building stuff and called it a night.
All in all, the first day was pretty chill compared to what was to come… It didn’t take long for things to get intense.
The Loss of Fisk B1
Well, it wasn’t that dramatic, but it did cause quite a shift in my schedule. After about the first week, it turned out that one of the classrooms we’d been using wasn’t actually assigned to our program. It made sense in a way, since it was the only room we used in that building (normally reserved for the journalism program). But it wasn’t simple to move to another place.
For a few days, my first core section was shifted to the stage of the theatre, and Everyday Theatre (which had also met in Fisk B1) was pushed to different rooms depending on the day. (Fortunately this happened right before the weekend, so there was time to resolve the room changes without worrying about temporary locations—most classes are suspended on weekends.) I actually liked being in the theatre for core; the space was wonderful, and it was just a hop, skip, and a jump from the second half, just in the other wing of the Theatre/Interpretation building.
It didn’t last.
It was announced the following week that the worst was happening: my Voice & Movement core (the affected section) was to be moved to Tech Auditorium. On North Campus. Just under a mile away. So that was fun. Not. But it allowed for a little improvement in my running, so perhaps it was a blessing in disguise. Too bad I didn’t appreciate it.
You know a program is different when it makes a game night mandatory. Game Night at Cherubs was mandatory, meaning one couldn’t go and relax in one’s room for a few hours. I wanted to at first, resenting the required attendance, but soon relented after getting into one of the activity choices—one I hadn’t played in a long time: Four Square.
Astonishingly enough, I began to enjoy myself. Despite being given the chance to switch games in the middle of the event, I stuck with it. And I got to know a few other people.
There were several field trips during the summer. Two of them were to go see other shows (we first saw Lookingglass Alice at the Lookingglass Theatre, and then Funk It Up About Nothin’ (an “ad-rap-tation” of Much Ado About Nothing) at Chicago Shakespeare), and there was an all-day trip to Chicago in the second half of the program.
Lookingglass Alice was actually so good, I went back to see it again after Cherubs was over, and brought my mom. I wasn’t quite as impressed with Funk It Up About Nothin’; while it was entertaining in its own way, and cleverly rewritten in rap style, it wasn’t my favorite show of the summer.
The Chicago field trip was basically just knocking around the Navy Pier area (for my group), since we opted to go see Chicago Shakespeare’s production of Willy Wonka (and Chicago Shakes is on Navy Pier). Then we just killed time exploring, and convinced one particularly reticent companion to go on the Ferris Wheel. (I have pictures of us up there, somewhere, but I haven’t uploaded them yet.) Oh, did I mention that we got caught in the on-again, off-again, rain? Yeah, the clouds really couldn’t decide whether or not to dump dihydrogen monoxide on us.
(This isn’t supposed to be a collection of show reviews, but I should say that I wasn’t super impressed with Willy Wonka either. Both CST shows were technically good, and the actors were obviously talented; it was the scripts that I didn’t really like.)
Electives (My Afternoons)
I enjoyed my elective classes, for the most part (and I’ll include crew in here just for simplicity, since it was during the elective portion of the day). The classes I had were (with their periods; A3 was my free hour):
- Sketch Comedy (B2)
- Everyday Theatre (A4)
- Solo Performance (B4)
- Lighting Crew (A1&2)
- Core Text Classes
- Text Analysis (B1)
- Performance Theory (B3)
The first three classes were the true electives, which had the opportunity to present at the elective recital in the last week before performance.
Anyway, here goes…
Sketch Comedy consisted of about nine of us trying to come up with ideas for sketches (skits a la Monty Python and Saturday Night Live) that would be funny. I didn’t do particularly well at coming up with ideas; my strengths were more in the realization phase, improvising a scene once a premise already existed. We had a bunch of ideas for the elective recital, and ended up picking “Preppy Gangs”, which involved a verbal duel between the Ivy League and the J. Crew. (Polo shirts were a must for this presentation.)
Everyday Theatre was a good place to explore the little scenes that happened to all of us every day. Once again, there were nine of us; each class period, we brought in one or two (usually funny) anecdotes. Nine stories were cut down to the three most interesting ones and we then split into groups of three and developed short skits.
For the elective recital, we did a few stories that we had particularly liked.
Solo Performance wasn’t exactly my first choice. It had been #4 on my list for that period, but I got it over Speech and Dialect. I found some of the exercises to be somewhat esoteric, but I at least got a rough poem out of it that I may eventually finish and publish here.
Text Analysis was just that… usually. We were instructed to read three books before attending Cherubs (this year they were The Play About The Baby (Edward Albee), Offending The Audience (Peter Handke), and Shakespeare’s Henry VI. Following the field trips to see shows (only Alice and Funk It Up), we discussed them instead of the books. Occasionally the discussions were interesting, but I usually had very little to say; this was the most English class-like period of my entire two-day cycle, and I’m not fond of English class discussions.
Performance Theory was more interesting than Text Analysis, if only because we discussed Improv Everywhere for two days and staged a ‘freeze’ in the cafeteria during lunch one day (using all four of my teacher’s sections). We got into much more interesting discussions in this class, and I decided it was definitely a high point of my ‘B’ days. As in Text Analysis, both shows we went to found themselves used as material.
I liked my ‘A’ days better than my ‘B’ days, and much of that is due to the fact that I had lighting crew on ‘A’ days. For a full two hours (well, 1:50, but who’s counting?) we all got to mess with lights, cables, fly rail, weights, and R-FU (ARE-foo), among other things. All four lighting crews worked on the same lighting plot, and we used the same lighting plot for all ten shows. So there were a lot of lights to hang. I felt most at home on lighting crew, and I enjoyed it more than any other elective period. (Except, maybe, for my free hour, which was right after crew, during which I usually went to the library.)
(End text 100% from 2008; the rest was written this month.)
Lighting crew was also great fun at the performances. Eight of us were chosen from each pair of shows (AB, CD, EF, GH, & JK) to be on electrics crew for the following pair. Since mine was show G, I got to be on crew for shows J and K. My duties mostly included changing the gobos2 and color gels3 after each performance to prepare for the next one, and getting a shot at actually running the light board. (Each of us on the crew got one run, to give everyone a chance.) During the shows, we could watch or hang out, and we all did a little of both since we crewed the shows twice.
Looking back on the experience from nearly two years in the future is possibly a good perspective for the writing of some posts. The details above were fresh from my memory in 2008, when I wrote them, but now most of them are new again. Now, when I think of the summer I spent at Northwestern, I think of Tristan & Yseult, David Chapman, and lighting crew. I think of the fire alarm test they did at 22:30, after rehearsals, while some of the kids were showering and getting ready for bed. I think of a lot of things—things that have changed, that I’ve lost, that I’ve gained.
Most importantly, I think of how that summer shaped the last two years of my life. Thanks to Cherubs, I discovered a passion for technical theatre that has guided my decisions ever since. I would never have gone to Colorado Springs or to Emerson if I hadn’t made the discoveries I did at Northwestern University.
Sure, the show was fun. Yes, it was awesome how the faculty set up the last day of classes so we all ended up together and did something involving twine and a balloon that I still don’t understand. Of course it was fun both to hang and to strike the lights for the shows, and to run the light board for a dress rehearsal. And it was fun how the director of show K included the voices of the crews in the ending of his show.
But on top of it all, there’s the influence that summer had on me, as a person. It’s really stuck, and it was totally worth it.
- OK, OK, the hours spent rehearsing were equivalent to several months of the usual theatre I would do at home. We had three to four hours of rehearsal, five days a week at Cherubs. [↩]
- A gobo is basically a metal template that allows the lighting instrument to project a pattern onto the stage, instead of a flat wash. [↩]
- So named because they used to be made from gelatin. A favorite trick back in those days was to send a newbie to “wash the gels”—they’d disintegrate and the newbie would panic. [↩]