December 21, 2010

A peek into our world

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 1:17 pm by chavisory

Variety ran this fascinating article a couple days ago, on the stage management team of the new musical Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. (“Spiderman spins epic technical challenge: Seven stage managers try to corral Broadway spectacular.”)

It’s been fascinating and a little unsettling to me, as a stage manager, the extent to which the stage management of this now infamously troubled production has been in the public eye, because, of course, when things are going as they should, we and our work are mostly invisible.  To the public, to the audience, and to an extent even to the cast and rest of the production team.

We’re like fairies that way.

I have not seen Spiderman in previews, and don’t plan to, can’t afford to, will probably be too busy to…it’s a low priority for me given that I probably won’t even be able to make it to In the Heights or Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which I desperately want to see, before they close.  Though I do sometimes go to shows I probably wouldn’t otherwise (Shrek) to appreciate the technical wizardry of how a production that large and intricate is done, given that most of what I do is of a much more intimate scope.  But mostly, I don’t want to support in any way the vision that Spiderman‘s dependence on outsized spectacle is the future of Broadway theater or what’s required to keep audiences’ attention because they can’t be trusted to think or imagine anything for themselves.  I’d rather just be told a good story–tight, elegant and well-acted.

The first preview was apparently a nightmare which had to be halted five times.  There have been four major injuries in the course of the rehearsals and previews so far, the latest just last night when a stunt double fell 30 feet into the pit when a safety rope broke.  I appreciate that the producers, director and designers are attempting to push the boundaries of what’s possible on stage, and that there’s risk in everything we do in theater, but it’s time to stop the magical thinking when it becomes clear that a conception of a show cannot be accomplished with a reasonable expectation of safety.

And yet I stand in total amazement of C. Randall White and Kathy Purvis.  Because I can’t begin to imagine what they must be going through right now, and the kind of single-minded professional determination they must possess to be dedicated to trying to keep this production together.  Because their capability and bravery in taking this on is so far beyond what I ever hope to be.  As much as I think Spiderman was probably a bad idea from the very start, I could never wish this kind of trouble on any production knowing that there’s a stage manager, or seven, doing their goddamn best to carry out impossible demands and keep everyone safe.

And I’m even a little bit glad for the public having a glimpse into the job of the stage manager, because there is so much blame flying around for the show’s problems, so much misunderstanding or total lack of knowledge of the job and what its responsibilities are.  And because usually, mostly in productions in which we manage to remain secret fairies, it is a wonderful job.

Spiderman takes off, with some bumps (NYT)

Actor Injured in Fall During Spiderman Performance (NYT)

December 9, 2010

Unpaid internships: the new normal

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 12:22 am by chavisory

CNN asks this week “Is an internship the new entry-level job?” in an article profiling several recent college grads who have racked up half a dozen or more unpaid internships apiece while looking for full-time jobs in their degree areas.

Several things trouble me here.

“I want to do what I studied, and I don’t want to settle,” says Ani Kevork, who graduated in 2009 and is in her first paid internship after six unpaid internships.  Six. unpaid. internships.

I’ve written before that people who know how to be constantly learning are never confined by their schooling.  Kevork seems determined to be confined by her schooling.  Maybe this recession will pass and she’ll get a job in her degree area.  But then what happens to her in the next downturn or the one after?

I have to wonder what she studied; the article doesn’t say.  I sympathize…who doesn’t want to be actually working in the area they studied for?  But I have to take issue with the outlook that taking a job that isn’t what you studied for right out of college is settling.  This is something that humanities and arts majors have always had to cope with.  It’s the right thing to do for some people, and may be the wrong thing for some people, but if your priority is to be self-supporting, it’s often just the way to do that.  And this is only even a choice for people whose parents are able and willing to financially support them indefinitely.  Anyway, she’s settling in a different way: working without getting paid.

Which is obviously the second big problem.  Companies are learning that they can get away with not paying their young workers, because we’re so desperate and fearful of being left out in the cold entirely.  And if companies are actually using interns to fill functions that used to be paid positions, or if an unpaid internship is really a low-level job and not primarily educational in nature, then that’s also illegal.  And after six (or nine, or 15) internships, an internship is no longer serving an educational function; you’re being taken advantage of.  But this is a condition that we’re being told to accept, or risk falling behind young workers who are more willing to be endlessly taken advantage of.

Thirdly, as the article notes, “it’s no longer enough to get a degree. Employers expect a certain skill set of those they consider for a job post-graduation.”

But then, shouldn’t we be asking why students aren’t learning that skill set as part of their education?  If a college education was once considered sufficient preparation for an entry-level job, and is no longer, to the extent that a post-graduation internship (or six) is now considered by default to be essentially mandatory, shouldn’t we be seriously questioning both colleges and employers why a college education is no longer measuring up to real skill requirements?  Not that a classroom education can or should ever be expected to bestow everything a graduate needs to learn, but most students should’ve had some significant opportunity in the course of their college years to obtain and practice real professional skills.  (I’ve estimated myself that probably about 75-80% of my real college education occurred outside the classroom.)  And young workers can and should be expected to pick up skills and knowledge on the job.

I’m by no means unilaterally against internships, including unpaid ones in some circumstances.  There are specialized skills that are best learned in the context of the real working world.  Mentoring relationships with experienced professionals can be priceless. My own one and only internship (paid) was among the most important experiences of my life and continues to pay off professionally.  But when we’re talking about years’ worth of multiple unpaid internships now being the only way that many young workers can stay engaged in the labor market, and we’re expected to accept this as just the way it is now, the very concept of what an internship is supposed to be is being abused to the point of meaninglessness, along with the skills of young workers.  This is something closer to acceptance of a new version of indentured servitude.

And lastly, while the article touches on the statistic that currently only 41% of Millennials have a full-time job, it doesn’t explicitly make a connection between this recent acceptance of unpaid internships in place of entry-level jobs and our generation’s supposed Peter Pan syndrome.  So, for future reference (ahem, New York Times), the next time anyone’s wondering why 20-somethings can’t seem to move out on our own, get married, and start having kids, consider that maybe it’s because employers don’t seem to think that they should have to pay us.

December 4, 2010

Another hundred books

Posted in Lists tagged , at 4:22 pm by chavisory

There’s a list of books going around Facebook.  Purportedly compiled by the BBC, which has supposedly found that most people have read, on average, six of them.  Only according to a friend who went looking, the BBC compiled no such list; the meme seems to be some kind of conflation of the BBC’s “Big Read” list which is the result of a poll of Brits’ favorite books, and some apocryphal statistic about how little the average adult actually reads.

So relax everyone, it’s just fun; it’s not actually a judgment of how well-read you are.  Nevertheless, my Facebook friends had some interesting and useful banter about what made the list and important books and authors that didn’t make the list.

Here’s my own list of 100 important books that didn’t make the Facebook/BBC list, in no particular order of preference.  It’s a highly idiosyncratic and in no way judgmental list, incredibly biased towards stuff I’ve read and stuff I like, or found particularly formative.  I haven’t read all of these; a few are things I think I should have read and haven’t.

If you like, give it the Facebook treatment and see how you do.  (Copy and paste into a comment, star what you’ve read.)  Tell me your own–what are your most important books that haven’t made anyone’s list?

1. The Hunchback of Notre Dame–Victor Hugo
2. The Poisonwood Bible–Barbara Kingsolver
3. Caucasia–Danzy Senna
4. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl–Linda Brent
5. American Gods–Neil Gaiman
6. Like Water for Chocolate–Laura Esquivel
7. Middlesex–Jeffrey Eugenides
8. White Oleander–Janet Fitch
9. The Alchemist–Paulo Coelho
10. 2001: A Space Odyssey–Arthur C. Clarke
11. Fahrenheit 451–Ray Bradbury
12. Pillars of the Earth–Ken Follett
13. Girl, Interrupted–Susanna Kaysen
14. Interpreter of Maladies–Jhumpa Lahiri
15. The Lacuna–Barbara Kingsolver
16. The Millennium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.)–Stieg Larsson
17. The Woman Warrior–Maxine Hong Kingston
18. Native Speaker–Chang-rae Lee
19. Wicked–Gregory Maguire
20. Beloved–Toni Morrison
21. A Canticle for Leibowitz–Walter M. Miller
22. No-No Boy–John Okada
23. Fight Club–Chuck Palahniuk
24. The Stolen Child–Keith Donohue
25. The Red Tent–Anita Diamant
26. God’s Mountain–Erri De Luca
27. House of Leaves–Mark Z. Danielewski
28. The Prince of Tides–Pat Conroy
29. The Mists of Avalon–Marion Zimmer Bradley
30. The Once and Future King–T.H. White
31. Atlas Shrugged–Ayn Rand
32. The Joy Luck Club–Amy Tan
33. Frankenstein–Mary Shelley
34. A Soldier of the Great War–Mark Helprin
35. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil–John Berendt
36. Slaughterhouse 5–Kurt Vonnegut
37. The Demon-Haunted World–Carl Sagan
38. On the Origin of Species–Charles Darwin (If I had to pick ONE book that should be required reading in school, at the very least for anyone who ever takes a science class, this would be it.  Not only is it the basis of the practice of modern biology, it’s not that hard to read, fun, clever, and doesn’t remotely say what over half of Americans think it does.)
39. Till We Have Faces–C.S. Lewis
40. The Neverending Story–Michael Ende
41. Into the Wild–John Krakauer
42. The Last Temptation of Christ–Nikos Kazantzakis
43. A Little Princess–Frances Hodgson Burnett
44. The Giver–Lois Lowry
45. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister–Gregory Maguire
46. Possum Living–Dolly Freed
47. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal–Christopher Moore
48. Breakfast at Tiffany’s–Truman Capote
49. The Time Quartet (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters)–Madeleine L’Engle
50. Maus–Art Spiegelman
51. Reviving Ophelia–Mary Pipher
52. Cat’s Cradle–Kurt Vonnegut
53. Pudd’nhead Wilson–Mark Twain
54. A Gesture Life–Chang-rae Lee
55. Ishmael–Daniel Quinn
56. Something Wicked This Way Comes–Ray Bradbury
57. A Tale of Two Cities–Charles Dickens
58. Last of the Mohicans–James Fenimore Cooper
59. Walden–Henry David Thoreau
60. The Passage–Justin Cronin
61. The Canterbury Tales–Chaucer
62. Mystic River–Dennis LeHane
63. The Earthsea Cycle (A Wizard of Earthsea, etc.)–Ursula K. LeGuin
64. Jacob Have I Loved–Katherine Paterson
65. The Silmarillion–JRR Tolkien
66. The Screwtape Letters–C.S. Lewis
67. Shoeless Joe–W.P. Kinsella
68. The Feminine Mystique–Betty Friedan
69. The Scarlet Letter–Nathaniel Hawthorne
70. Wonderboys–Michael Chabon
71. The Iliad/The Odyssey–Homer (This is how we were taught The Odyssey in high school: our 9th grade language arts class was divided up into groups of 3 or 4, and each group was assigned one section of the tale–one of the adventures of Odysseus and his crew–and had to read it and present it in book report form to the rest of the class.  So we “learned” The Odyssey, but no one actually had to read the whole thing.  It was the stupidest thing ever.  And I still haven’t gotten around to correcting the situation and just reading it.)
72. My Sister’s Keeper–Jodi Picoult
73. The Diary of Anne Frank–Anne Frank
74. The Tipping Point–Malcolm Gladwell
75. The Magicians–Lev Grossman
76. Awakenings–Oliver Sacks
77. The Faerie Queene–Edmund Spenser
78. Anthem–Ayn Rand
79. A Farewell to Arms–Ernest Hemingway
80. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest–Ken Kesey
81. Johnny Tremain–Esther Forbes
82. Matilda–Roald Dahl
83. The Outsiders–S.E. Hinton
84. Flowers for Algernon–Daniel Keyes
85. Bridge to Terebithia–Katherine Paterson
86. Neverwhere–Neil Gaiman
87. The Chocolate War–Robert Cormier
88. Only Revolutions–Mark Z. Danielewski
89. The Winter’s Tale–Mark Helprin
90. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry–Mildred Taylor
91. Angels of Destruction–Keith Donohue
92. The Laramie Project–Moises Kaufman (Yes, technically a play; give yourself credit if you’ve seen it)
93. His Master’s Voice–Stanislaw Lem
94. Franny and Zooey–JD Salinger
95. The Satanic Verses–Salman Rushdie
96. Angels in America (Also a play, well, technically two plays)–Tony Kushner
97. Griffin and Sabine–Nick Bantock
98. The Koran
99. Little House in the Big Woods–Laura Ingalls Wilder
100. Beowulf–author unknown