Tuesday, January 5, 2016

On Hamilton: An American Musical

*Insomuch as there can be spoilers on a musical based on historical events from 250 years ago, this post contains spoilers. I imagine. I don't know, this is the first sentence I'm writing of it.

EDIT: There's an eensy kinda-spoiler that I don't really think counts.

I have not yet been able to see this show, however I have listened to the cast album. I have to say, I was positively floored. Hamilton deserves every bit of the hype it's receiving, and frankly, if you are a student of The Great American Musical, you need to learn this show. I predict it may be the harbinger of a new era of American musical theater.

I went into Hamilton with a heavy dose of skepticism.

My husband played a few songs for me to get me interested. This was not what interested me, and it's frankly not the best way to introduce the show. It was when weeks later, he was still talking about it that I finally got interested. Now I'm obsessed with it, too.

Let's first talk about the elephant in the room, which is the musical style. Well-educated musicians like myself may feel that rap has no place in the conversation of American musical theater, and in many cases, they might be correct. However, Lin-Manuel Miranda accomplishes something I previously thought impossible, which is to make rap not only palatable to the musical-loving ear, but relate-able, compelling, and fun. He blends in melodic singing and beat poetry, adding the chorus to certain words for emphasis, and even establishes multiple layers of leitmotif that not only recall characters, but specific moments and emotions, all through the use of spoken word.

The score is sung-through, but it is not rapped-through. There are many hauntingly beautiful melodies, rooted strongly in R&B and pop, with some throwbacks reminiscent of Frank Loesser and Frank Wildhorn. The instrumentation draws heavily from modern music, sampling classical instruments like strings and harpsichords alongside piano and vocal sampling. There's even some tasteful auto-tune. Yes, I said tasteful auto-tune. It's only in one song, and when you hear it, you'll understand. And you'll think, "Oh yeah, tasteful auto-tune. Totally."

The libretto is self-referential, which one might think would make it repetitive; however, by repeating words and phrases from particularly significant moments in the show, Miranda creates a verbal shorthand with the audience to illustrate characters' internal reactions or connections to events in the story. In fact, the use of verbal shorthand is part of what makes this musical not just the musical of the year, but a culturally significant piece of literature.

The action of the play spans 30 years of Hamilton's life, which would be difficult enough to effectively community. Add in that it's during the founding of the United States, and covering that span of time seems nearly impossible. This is where the music genre comes in.

Because of the genre, the ear gives the show permission to use modern idiom and pop culture references alongside the more flowery language of the period. Those idioms boil down pages of writings and historical documents into instantly comprehensible phrases, explaining whole chapters of history in minutes. When I realized Jefferson and Hamilton were about to debate the creation of a centralized national bank in a rap battle, I pretty much made this face.

But this isn't just a culturally significant work. It's fun. It's funny. It's tense. It's heartbreaking. I can't tell you how many different times I cried and laughed out loud listening to the cast recording. And the cast is phenomenal. Everyone smoothly transitions between melodic singing and spoken words. The heavy vocal lifting is left to the two female leads, Eliza and Angelica Schuyler, however the whole cast is called upon to sing in tight jazz-inspired harmonies and do so with alacrity. If I had to make a critique, its that several of the voices are similar, particularly Jefferson and Washington and Eliza and Angelica, sometimes making conversations between those characters harder to follow. However as it's intended as a staged play, not only an album, I wouldn't really call that a critique so much as me whining.

In short, Miranda brings history to life in his brilliant show, making us care deeply not only about the interpersonal drama and relationships of the characters, but also about the various issues and political questions of the day. And WHEN they make a movie of the musical, it will be added to the list of films I watch each 4th of July, alongside 1776 and Independence Day.

Monday, June 30, 2014

On Equality

It's not every day that someone else's decision makes me so infuriated, so incredibly frustrated that I can't function until I write about it. But then, it's not every day someone else's decision directly affects half the population of this country, myself included.

In an unprecedented move, the Supreme Court of the United States essentially granted personhood to corporations today. By a five-four ruling, SCOTUS has declared that a corporation can deny birth control coverage to its female employees if the owner of the company finds it morally wrong. There are so many reasons I'm furious, but I'm just going to list a few.

First, this opens the door for personhood appellations in a lot of icky and gross ways. What if the owner of a corporation feels women shouldn't work for religious reasons? Or their religion tells them that people with disabilities should work? Or gays, or minorities, or Jews, or any other protected class as recognized by the 18th amendment? I realize this is rather reactionary, but the way that SCOTUS works is on precedent, and this has set an extremely harmful precedent. UPDATE: From the Dissenting opinion, by Justice Ginsberg:

"Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah's Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today's decision."

Second, forget Roe V. Wade. It's now legal to deny birth control let alone abortions. And let's be clear what specifically we're talking about here: Plan B, commonly called the Morning-After Pill. When taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, Plan B can stop ovulation, fertilization, and/or implantation of a fertilized zygote in the uterine wall. *Can*. It is not 100% effective, as a friend of mine and her daughter can tell you. Hobby Lobby argued that in the eyes of their owners, Plan B was an abortion pill which it fucking is not. (Those sources are Princeton, Christianity Today Magazine, and NPR, by the way).

Let me break it down for you: The owners of Hobby Lobby hold opinions which have been proven to be incorrect in multiple peer-reviewed studies. Regardless of this, they fought all the way to the Supreme Court, and instead of being laughed out, SCOTUS backed them, and now any woman who works for a "closely-held" corporation (meaning no separation between the company and the people who own it), can be denied basic birth control because her boss disagrees with it.

All of this is maddening enough. But Justice Alito's suggested solutions were just plain insulting, dumping the burden of closing the gap in coverage on the government or the insurance companies, instead of on the employer like the rest of the nation. 

But the worst salt in the wound, the thing that made me furious all over again: Every Justice in favor of the ruling was male. That's right, the three female Justices, including Sotomayor, who is fairly conservative, were against this decision. Doesn't that tell you everything you need to know?

Friday, May 16, 2014

An Open Letter to Legislators RE: Gainful Employment Proposal

I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about how proprietary schools have changed my life for the better, and why I believe that the “Gainful Employment” requirement is, to use familiar words “arbitrary and capricious”.

First, I met my husband at the proprietary school where he was returning to school after having to leave to take care of his family; I was attending a Graduate Program while working full time. While the results of that serendipity are significant to my own path, it is the circumstances that led to it that I wish to highlight. Both of us were approaching 30, and had very limited options when it came to advancing our studies given our situations. Because of the programs and flexibility offered, as well as the financial aid and assistance available, we have been able to advance our careers and financial goals in ways that would not otherwise have been possible.

Second, I have worked in proprietary education since late 2008. Having worked for two different entities (Alta Colleges and EDMC), I can tell you first-hand about the culture of these types of schools. When I began working at Westwood College in 2008, I was immediately imbued with pride in the work we were doing. Our students were lower-income, from struggling public high schools, largely Latino and other minorities, and here they were able to achieve and afford higher education. Every person on campus, from Admissions to Career Services was dedicated to serving and elevating our students, creating life-long learners and giving them not just a degree, but the knowledge, skills and credentials to succeed and thrive in the workforce.

The culture is no different at Western State College of Law. I have only been with EDMC for a few months, but what immediately struck me is the incredible amount of love and pride with which each member of the Staff and Faculty approaches their work. These are dedicated educators who approach the growth of their students with passion and verve, and I find it difficult to avoid feeling daunted to find myself among them.

It has been disheartening over the last few years. I have seen many in Congress target these schools that have given me so much, personally and professionally. I hear them accused of manipulating and abusing their students, taking advantage of their hope and poverty and tricking them into borrowing for degrees they’ll never be able to pay off. However, the problem of unemployment and the shrinking market of skilled entry-level jobs is universal. An undergraduate degree from Harvard may open more doors than one from ITT, but if there are no doors to knock on it doesn’t much matter.

Targeting proprietary schools may seem like a simple solution to the problem of rising student debt, but that growing deficit is a symptom of the much larger issues facing our young adults entering the workforce. I urge you to consider that proprietary schools serve those in this country who need higher education the most. Many graduates from Western State are first generation US Citizens, often the first in their families to finish undergraduate studies, let alone to achieve a higher degree. Accountability and outcomes assessment are important to all sectors of Higher Education; however a better rule would apply to all institutions with fair metrics that assess value over time. 

Thank you,

Self-Rescuing Princess

Friday, January 17, 2014

Tips for First Time Ren Faire Goers

*This is based on my opinion, which is based on my experience. Your experience may have been different. Positive suggestions for additions are welcome.*

I went to my first Renaissance Faire in 2002, and have been going 4-16 weekends a year ever since. I've been a patron, a guildie, a boothie, a circuit act, and I've worked behind the scenes on staff. While I am by no means an expert, I am both seasoned enough that I have a good idea of how Faires work, and yet removed enough to understand how to translate "Rennie" to "Normal People."

Because of this, I get asked a lot for tips for "Ren Faire Virgins" or more simply, people who have never been to a Renaissance Faire. And so, thinking perhaps I could a) help people I don't know and b) save myself some time typing it here, I present:

Tips for First Time Ren Faire Goers

1) Don't Dress Up
I know this sounds counter-intuitive, and in fact it goes against what a lot of other sites and similar articles say. Hear me out.

As a Faire worker, we're often directed to give our best show to people not in costume. Why? Because people who dressed up have already drunk the Kool-Aid. They are invested and ready to be a part of the show. People who aren't in costume are new. They need to be shown the wonder that is Renaissance Faire so they keep coming back.

Also, every Faire has its own culture when it comes to costumes. Some are more historical, others tend towards Fantasy, while still more look like Tortuga from Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean. If it's your first time going to a new Faire, its often more fun to go in street clothes and buy something fun that you like there. Plus, you'll be supporting local small business owners, which makes you awesome.

2) You WILL Be Outside in the Hot Sun
Many people seem very unprepared for this. Don't be one of them. Wear Sunscreen. Bring a Hat and Sunglasses. Bring a Parasol if you have one. BRING WATER! Pretty much every Faire will let you bring in water, and most will also let you bring in snacks or food, especially if you have special dietary requirements. Remember to listen to your body, and go sit down if you feel tired or very hot. The stage shows are fun and free!

3) Bring Cash
Many vendors accept credit cards, however I have never seen a Food Vendor or Ale Stand that did. There are usually mobile ATMs, but they charge as much as $5 per transaction. Plus, a lot of vendors will drop the tax or give you a discount if you pay them cash. Don't bring more than you can afford to spend, but for a first-time couple, I recommend at least $100.

4) Ask Questions
Most of the people who do Renaissance Faire do so because they love creating a part of history. Ask the woman at the spinning wheel about her yarn. Ask the glassblower about his sculptures. Ask the Food Vendor what's in his meat pies. Renaissance Faire is one of the biggest collections of Historians and Artisans in the world. You'd be amazed what you can learn.

5) Have a Beer
If you're able to, have something from the Ale Stand (they often serve Cider and Wine, too). Again, Renaissance Faire is often home to specially crafted microbrews that you can't get anywhere else. Don't overdo it, though, especially on your first day. I recommend drinking one glass of water after each alcoholic beverage. 

6) Prices are High
One of the most common comments I get from newbies is shock at how expensive many of the items for sale are. Remember that much of what you see is handmade, quite often by the people selling it. In addition to covering the costs of materials, which are often locally sourced and high quality, they also have to pay for the labor to create it, the packaging, and most Faires charge a booth fee AND a percentage of sales to each merchant that attends. The food you see is typically prepared from scratch on site, often made to order. If you're really questioning a price, ask the merchant about the item, you might find out something amazing about it.

7) Wear Comfortable Shoes
I can't tell you how many unfortunate ladies I've seen proudly prancing in their platforms at 10am who are miserable and ready to go home by 2pm. There are rocks, there is dirt, there is grass, and there's often hills and uneven terrain. Don't be a hero. Wear comfy shoes.

8) Some of the Shows are Not Kid-Friendly
If you have kids with you, be warned that some of the shows are on the naughty side. If you're unsure whether a show is safe for your kids, most performers will be happy to tell you if you ask them. If your kids are particularly sensitive or have special needs, it might be a good idea to take an adults-only trip first to see if it's something they can handle.

9) Be Aware
There are jousters, parades, mounted riders, jugglers, fire-eaters, musicians and hundreds of other performers that can injure you or can become seriously injured by a collision. Get out of the way of parades and keep clear of stages and performance areas.

10) It's An Interactive Show
Many participants will try to include you in their games, their shows, or their "lives" at the Faire. You are free to play along, but you are also free to politely decline, and you are ALWAYS free to set boundaries. We want you to have fun and play, not be embarrassed and uncomfortable.

And now for the bad news....

First Time "Don'ts"...

-Don't touch anyone anywhere unless you're invited to.
There's a lot of cleavage and a lot of sexual innuendo, but we are not Sex Workers and you may not treat us as such.

-Don't touch anyone's weapons without being invited. Many of the weapons are museum quality replicas, and still more are functional tools that are well oiled, sharp, and dangerous. This should also be expanded to include instruments, tools, and animals.

-Don't let your kids wander off. At least not on your first visit. We will protect wandering kids as best we can, but there are lots of ways for them to get injured if they're left unattended.

But the biggest and most important piece of advice I can give a first-time Faire-Goer: Have Fun. For those of us who have been doing Faire a while, this is our playground, and we can't wait to share it with you.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On Falling In Love - My Wedding Toast

Well, Scruffy and I got married last Saturday. We decided to spend about 5 minutes during the toasts thanking our guests for coming, so we split the time evenly (as California Law dictactes) and each wrote about 2.5 minutes of material. Scruffy, being his kind and generous self, wrote a long list of thank yous and heartfelt thoughts, and I being myself, wrote a treatise on the nature of love.

I've been asked if I will publish this. I'm starting here, and we'll see if anything else comes of it.

"It’s a strange and dangerous business, falling in love. It’s one of the few adventures that happens both completely separate and yet totally entwined. There you are, in your life, with your family, your friends, your home, and your plans. Your heart, walled up in its own safe haven. Maybe you’re happy, maybe you’re not, but you’re you, and you’re there, contained within yourself.

Then, all of a sudden, because it’s always sudden, you meet someone. A smile. A conversation. A sweet gesture. And the walls around your heart begin to crack. And if you’re both very lucky, their walls are cracking too.

And so you go along with your daily life, seeing that someone more and more, watching your defenses crumble, wondering what’s on the other side. At some point you stop caring that your carefully built walls are falling to dust. Even later, you start helping, because you’re tired of being safe at the cost of not knowing what’s on the other side.

And then, if you’re both very lucky, the walls give way, and you see that someone, your someone, who quietly owns your heart, standing in the rubble of their own shattered castle. You realize that the thing on the other side was them all along. Your hearts have always shared a wall, because that’s how you two were designed.

Slowly, wonderfully, everything changes while kind of staying the same. Plans become Our Plans, home becomes Our Home. Your friends and my friends, Our Friends. And then, if you’re both very lucky, your family and my family, become Our Family.

It’s a strange and dangerous business, falling in love. There are fantastic failures and terrifying triumphs. And there are moments when it can’t possibly ever, ever work. But if you’re both very lucky, sometimes it does.

As I look around the room today, I think back on our own journey, the story that couldn’t have a happy ending but did. And I look at the people who love us, Our Friends, and Our Family, there is one thing I know without question: we have both been very lucky."

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Passing Thoughts

My grandmother is in her last days, and I fear I've begun the grieving process already. She recently moved closer to my mother and I, after having been 1500 miles away for the past 20 years, and I find that what I most regret is those 20 years.

Because of the distance, and budget, I haven't really been around her much. When I learned that she would be moving down here, I got very excited, as to me, it meant a chance to bond with this woman whom I have always loved but never known well.

Sadly, this was not to be. About a week after she moved here, she entered the hospital with pneumonia, and it seems she will not be returning to her home.

I'm angry, I'm heartbroken, I feel guilty, and I'm a t total loss for what to say to her, or how to help my mom.

But beyond my feelings, which while justified and important are not particularly helpful, I have come to know something about myself.

You see, two days before I learned that my grandmother would be leaving us soon, I also learned that in 60 days, I would no longer have a job. Massive lay-offs. And I blinked, took a deep breath, and started updating my resume. That was it. No tears, no panic, not even anger, just acceptance and action.

Five days after the news about my Gram, and I'm a bigger basket case today than I was on day one. Stay with me here, because this isn't about my feelings.

The most important thing in my life is the people in it. This message has finally been driven home in such a way that it is absolutely unmistakable. No job, no salary, no dream, nothing is more important than my family and chosen family.

I'm not sure what this means for my job search, but I know that nothing is going to get me out of Southern California and away from my parents and close friends.

I do know that many of my friends and family will probably have to endure a lot of clinginess in the coming months, as I try to make sure they know exactly how much they mean to me.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

In Defense of Ben Affleck

None of the intellectual properties discussed below are mine, I have no ownership, claim or sponsorship and retain no rights beyond my own commentary.

"The Internet" exploded yesterday when Warner Brothers announced that the co-star of the next Superman/Man of Steel franchise would be none other than Wing Wearin', Argo-Directin', Lesbian Lovin' Ben Affleck. Hashtags like #betterthanbenaffleck and #benaffleck are still top trending this morning, and with good reason.

Batman and Superman have 75 years of portrayal behind them. Even with the top grossing film not made by James Cameron of all time coming out last summer, many would be pressed to tell you who Black Widow and Hawkeye are, however every kid who's ever seen a television knows what black ears and a cape, or blue tights and red briefs mean. Everyone loves Batman and Superman, and every fan, geek, nerd, and cosplayer has a very specific and meaningful (to them) opinion about their story and franchise. As someone who has at one time been all of the above, I fall into this category myself.

But here's the thing guys, and I want you to hear me out on this: We. Don't Get. A Vote.

Remember when this guy:
Got cast to be this guy:

And won the freaking Oscar?

Do you also remember when this happened?

For those not motivated to click, that link shows a fairly comprehensive collage of (pun intended) everyone loosing their minds. People HATED the idea that the pretty-boy star of Knight's Tale, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Brokeback Mountain would be touching their precious fandom and ruining The Joker. One blogger suggests "Johnny Deep," which, Porn Industry - if this hasn't happened yet, take note.  Point being, Heath Ledger shocked the world with how incredible his performance was. Honestly, there are days when I'm still pissed for hours that he died and can't make more movies.

But Claire, you say. Heath Ledger was a good actor. I mean, c'mon, Ben Affleck was DareDevil!!! Have you SEEN Surviving Christmas?

He loves that people remember this, by the way.

Yes. And Tom Hanks starred in Splash, James Earl Jones narrated Judge Dredd, and Robert DeNiro's work before the first Godfather movie was... well, it wasn't the The Godfather. Do you think any of those actors should have been limited by their early work?

Seriously. Look at the big climactic scene from splash, and tell me you can see him losing it over a volleyball 16 years later.

what's mermaid for "your hair's in my face?"

Moreover, anyone who thinks Ben Affleck isn't good actor has clearly never seen Chasing Amy, a fantastic film written and directed by Kevin Smith (and if you haven't seen it, go. Go now. Stop reading this blog, and go see that movie, because oh my god what are you doing with your life?). The film is also a good argument for Joey Laure Adams, Jason Lee - basically everyone in the film because Kevin Smith is amazing.

And since we're talking about amazing directors, let me point out that the man himself, Joss Whedon has endorsed Affleck as Batman, as has Kevin Smith. There are not bigger geeks in this world than those two, I checked. If they can get behind him, maybe give him a chance why not?

Incidentally, if anyone who reads this happens to know either or both of them, they should totally work together on something because it would make all the money ever. Just... all of it.

But there's a deeper issue here, one as old as reboots and franchise resets themselves, and that is the rabid, viral nature of fan ownership. Those of us who have followed a story or character for years, in some cases our whole lives, well, we're a little entitled. We feel like since we have such a personal stake in these characters that the franchise owners owe us, and are obligated to make us happy.

And now comes the part where I make the really unpopular point I've been heading towards: They're not.

So while I'm at it, let me say a few more unpopular things:

1) They're not making Firefly again, stop asking.
2) Man of Steel, judged on it's own merits, was quite good.
3) George Lucas has every right to do whatever he wants with his own intellectual property, and if you don't like it, don't buy it.

For anyone still with me, let me repeat that filmmakers, writers, and content creators are IN NO WAY obligated to make you happy. Tell me this: did you watch every episode of Buffy because you were laughing the whole time? Are you eagerly awaiting this year's Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special because you can't wait to see how the Tenth Doctor's Happy Ending is treating him? Did you see Revenge of the Sith because Attack of the Clones was such a stellar and fantastic film?

"Around the Survivors a perimeter create"? Come on.

But Claire, you say (again). These are good franchises! Their writers are amazing! Except Star Wars, but c'mon, it's freaking Star Wars!

Yeah, and this is freaking Batman vs. mofoin' SUPERMAN!!! And rumor has it they will be following this storyline, wherein hate on Affleck will be well deserved, but not because he's Ben Affleck. Actually, in a way, the casting was brilliant, because you're (spoiler alert) kinda supposed to hate him, at least if they follow the story above.

Maybe I will be proved wrong, and in 2015, I'll be writing about how much I hated this choice. But in the meantime, I'm going to wait, accept that this decision isn't about me, and well, just kinda move on with my life. Because seriously, new Doctor this Christmas. EPIC!!