Last summer, I posted about Taming of the Shrew, and this summer, Livermore Shakes is back with Much Ado About Nothing. Once again, Livermore Shakes blew my mind with the incredible production, and this ranks as my favorite production of MAAN, and one of my favorite Shakespeare plays in a long time. My dad – a self-professed Shakespeare “disliker” – said this production was the best Shakespeare play he’s ever seen.
It isn’t hard to do a great job when you start with one of Shakespeare’s simplest plays. Much Ado About Nothing is unique among Shakespeare in that there is no murder, there are no characters dressed up as other characters, and there are no deceased/disappeared characters that magically return. It is not unique in that the bawdy humor is forefront, and this production did a phenomenal job of bringing the verbal humor front and center. One of my favorite moments was when Beatrice and Benedick are sparring during the masked dance in act II scene i. Beatrice knows she is speaking to Benedick, though he doesn’t know she knows, and she uses the opportunity to thoroughly lambast him while he cannot defend himself. In this version, I saw something I loved more, perhaps, than any other presentation of any other line in Shakespeare ever. Jennifer Le Blanc, as Beatrice, pauses after the first half of his name, the better to emphasize that he is a “Bene—dick.” And Ryan Tasker‘s response as Benedick is appropriately incensed, coupled with a frustrating inability to do anything. I’m sure this isn’t a particularly creative choice, in that it is probably done in theaters and productions around the world, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love it.
The best part of this production was almost certainly the staging. Kudos to Lisa A. Tromovitch for her incredible use of the stage, the audience, the vineyard. With a show such as this, where characters are constantly hiding here and there, overhearing conversations they “aren’t” supposed to here, most productions put semi-believable barriers on stage. Livermore Shakes, however, chose to use the trees surrounding the stage and the audience itself as these barriers. Watching the characters fooling each other while an actress sits in an empty seat just across the aisle or an actor using an audience member as a barrier (making her stand up and walk around with him) brings the whole experience that much closer and makes it that much funnier.
The use of physical humor was also pervasive in the show, from Beatrice hiding under her own skirt to Borachio, played by Jeremy Tribe Gallardo, stepping out of his bindings after being arrested, and then later stepping right back into them. This type of humor helps emphasize the comedic aspects of MAAN without detracting from them. A small stage combat section felt almost forced, as my mom explained, and a bit like an afterthought: “It’s as if they said ‘Hey! It’s Shakespeare, and we’re carrying swords. We have to use them.'” The stage combat may have been slightly out of place, but I didn’t mind.
Once again, Livermore Shakes blew me away with their acting talent. Within three hours, I’d totally fallen for Claudio, played by Glenn Stott. I believed that he was wronged by Hero (Kat Cordes), and then believed her when the whole story came out. And within three minutes, I despised Don John (Lucas Hatton). The youngest members of the cast brought vitality and some fabulous funny faces to the stage, and the back-and-forth between Beatrice and Benedick left absolutely nothing to be desired.
I may be biased because I know her, but Jenn Le Blanc blew me away in this production. Her accents, her physical comedy, her brilliance. I could wax romantic for a while, but I’m going to stop less Gregg (her husband, also plays Conrade in this production) comes after me. But she was merely one of many, and the sum is that I sat on the edge of my seat the entire night – even through the cold and wind – so that I wouldn’t miss a single word or expression by any of them.
The Costumes, Props, and Set
One advantage of being in a vineyard is that the setting is already beautiful. The set is no less than an original Victorian-era house, with a raised stage set in front so the actors can actually be seen. With this advantage, the era costumes and props fit right in. To be honest, this set, though beautiful, almost certainly limits their artistic choices – everything has to fit in with the house behind it. However, it is a Shakespeare company, and they seem to do a pretty good job at dealing with that.
The costumes in this show were good, but nothing to rave about. The large hoop skirts gave the actresses a bit of trouble in the wind last night, but nothing insurmountable. Similarly, the props never took away from the production. In a production this good – with such incredible staging and acting, to not be distracting is all I can ask of the costumes and sets.
Unfortunately, I have to complain about the lighting. I know that lighting for an outdoor stage is difficult, especially when the company is using tricolor LED par lights instead of traditional halogens. Combine that with the challenge of starting a production before sunset, and then lighting through the change from normal daylight to orange sunset to night, and I’m ready to give the designer a bit of slack. But the entirety of the show (once the sun turned off) was eerily blue, and the light from inside the greenroom bled onstage throughout the entire second act. The lights took away from the show for me in a couple of scenes, but for the most part I was able to ignore them. Nonetheless, the production was brilliant in spite of – not because of – the lighting.
All of this brings me to one inevitable conclusion – I LOVED IT. Like last year, Livermore Shakespeare has put up a brilliant production this year. There are still 7 performances (June 22, 27, 28, 29 & July 3, 5, and 6), with tickets for as little as $25, and then another 7 productions of Pride & Prejudice in July. I’m hoping I can find the time to go again, if only to drown in the happiness that is an inevitable result of watching those who are better than you in something amazing shoe off their talents.
If you want a nice evening of theater and wine, without going into the chaos that is San Francisco, I strongly recommend you get across the Bay and enjoy a night at Livermore Shakes!
My flight landed in Prague. I was greeted by orange shirts and big smiles, pushed into a cab with a cabbie who had about as much information about where we were going as I did – namely an address. I spoke about ten sentences of Czech and he maybe twice as much English.
When we arrived at our destination, I recognized my host mother standing there from a picture she’d sent me. We wheeled my two giant bags into the apartment building, into the elevator, into the flat, into the room that would become my rom, and then ran out again. On the way out, I was informed that we were going to see Emma’s celebration of her first day at school. We got there, everything was in Czech, and I had no idea what was going on. But apparently the little girl with the blonde pigtails and the pink dress with the tutu would be my little sister for the next four, maybe nine months. If we’re being honest, I didn’t know what to make of it all. At least she was cute?
It’s been nine months. Emma has taught me Czech and I’ve taught her English. We play games and braid each other’s hair and color and do all the things sisters do. (Or at least all the things I think sisters do. I don’t really know. I once wanted a sister, but I got my amazing brother instead.)
But I was thinking about that day eariler today. About the first time I saw Emma, about how proud Anna clearly was of her. But to me, she was just another little girl. But not, I see her and I share that love and pride Anna has. Because I’ve seen her grow up, and I’ve watched her change, and I love her to bits. But then, how could you not love this face:
In exactly one month, I turn 21. (By today, it is closer to three weeks, but that’s beside the point.) This sentence, in and of itself, could merit an entire post. A post about the realities of becoming an adult, and the fears associated with the responsibilities associated with the legal drinking age, which is actuality one of the most irrelevant things in my life, since the drinking age here is 18.
But that is not the point.
At the beginning of the year, I wrote about January goals, and I wrote about my personal opinion that New Year’s Resolutions are stupid. But I don’t think resolutions in general are stupid. In fact, I think they’re a really good thing. If you want to make a change, make a change. Go with it.
I also think that turning 21 is a big deal. Even if my 21st won’t be associated with the late-night crazy parties in Vegas popularized by so many American movies, that doesn’t mean that 21 doesn’t mean anything. So I’m resolving to make a few positive changes as I enter “official” adulthood. (Which is also stupid. I can vote, travel the world, pay my own bills. What’s left in this adulthood club of which we speak?)
I’m not trying to do anything huge. No “go for a two mile run everyday.” No “turn vegetarian.” There are a few things that I’ve thought of over the past weeks, months, years, that I’ve thought I should really do that. Usually these are things I should do “when I’m grown up” or “in my real life.”
Well, here’s the thing. This is real life; though getting to spend 9 months in Prague seems unreal, it is real life. And I am grown up. So I should really stop procrastinating.
And they say that a habit takes 4-6 weeks to form, so its now or never if I want these things to be habits in real life.
Travel Better (or, Travel Truer) – I don’t want to change anything, really, about the way I travel. I don’t want to research more; I don’t want to research less. I love the way I travel! But I want to travel my way more. Not travel more. Travel my way more. Which means, when I’m traveling, I want to let myself do what I want to be doing, even if that isn’t what I think I “should” be doing. If I want to go on vacation and sit on the beach with a book, then I should let myself do that. If I want to go on vacation and party until 6am, then I should let myself do that. If I want to party until 6am, and then go read a book on the beach, then I should let myself do that. When I plan my vacations, I love planning flexibility. I pick a place to be, research things I can do or see there, but don’t make a schedule or itinerary. That way, I know all the interesting things I can do, and I get to choose what I feel like at the time. It is perfect for me, but sometimes I catch myself thinking, “I have to go here, because everyone says I should.” In a lot of ways, I think my entire trip to Berlin falls into this category. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Berlin. But I didn’t know what to do there, because I mostly went because people told me to. As an adult, I want to let myself travel where I want and travel how I want. And that starts this weekend, with my trip to Slovakia. I’m going with a huge group of people – we’re going ski-partying (ski by day, party by night). And if I want to party and ski the next day hung over, so be it. If I decide to ditch a party completely and get on the mountain before anyone has slept off their drunk-ness, that’s cool too. I’m letting myself travel true to myself.
Exercise Better – This is really just Exercise. Because I’m not a huge fan of exercising just to exercise, even though I know I ought to do it. My problem is that, since I stopped playing soccer and dancing regularly after senior year of high school, I haven’t found a form of exercise I like enough to commit to regularly. So my first task in exercising is to find something I’ll enjoy enough to do often. Something MUST be out there for me. To accomplish this before I turn 21 (or at least make a concerted effort), I’m going to exercise 21 different ways on 21 different days. For one thing, maybe I’ll actually make it to one of those dance classes I’ve been eyeing, or maybe I’ll try a half dozen different types of yoga and finally find one I enjoy. Perhaps I’ll make it to the giant pool only a few tram stops from school I’ve heard about, or find someone with a bike who wants to go on a bike ride with me. Or perhaps I can take a Thursday and go on a hike somewhere. Ooh! The possibilities are actually getting me excited, so this bodes well.
Work Better – One thing I hate is when people show up to class and then they don’t pay attention. But then I catch myself doing it all the time. So I’m challenging myself to work better by focusing on one thing at a time. People say women are really good at multitasking – I say I’m really good at multitasking – but scientists know that multitasking is just switching your focus really fast. And every time you switch your focus, you lose concentration, which means you can’t get whatever you’re working on done as fast. So I’m committing to focusing on one thing at a time – and only one thing at a time for the next month. Maybe I find it to be amazing, a miracle, a wonder cure! Maybe I discover I actually accomplish more in a day when I’m doing two things at once at all times. Either way, it’s a good thing to know for adulthood.
Eat Better – This one is easy to say, really hard to do. More greens, less meat. It isn’t hard because I hate vegetables and love meat, but because Czech cuisine hates vegetables and loves meat. My goal is to up my servings of fruits and vegetables by one of each every day, and hopefully I’ll keep it up for my entire time in Prague. (I’m not worried about post-Prague because I actually love vegetables and I’m not so great at cooking meat unless I have a barbeque…) Also, stop eating Snickers for mid-afternoon snack. Bring an apple, goddamn it.
Play Better – I’ve been plagued by a somewhat strange problem all of my college career – I go out, but then I come home. Obviously, everyone comes home, but I tend to leave early. Like, really early. I have all sorts of excuse depending on the location and situation (I like sleep, I live far away, I’m technically underage, I don’t want to dance, I don’t know anyone, I have school tomorrow….). But really, I’m just uptight. I don’t like partying because I never partied in high school, and, honestly, I still feel out of place at a party. Like I did freshman year of college, when it seemed that everyone had stories to tell about getting blackout drunk in high school, but my only stories about drinking involved the gold-rimmed plates, my grandparents, and a holiday. I need to let myself go. Forget about this strange insecurity about inexperience, because now is the time to make the memories. Even though I won’t be in the states for my 21st, I still want to welcome it in style, but I don’t even know enough clubs in Prague to know where I’d want to celebrate the moment. That seriously needs to be remedied before the date comes around, and hopefully I’ll meet some new people in the partying process. But “play” in this sense isn’t just about bars and clubs. I want to spend more time exploring the city, having lunch/dinner with friends, just hanging out. I tend to go to school, and then go back to my host family, and not really spend a lot of time with the other students. Part of that is that I feel like I should spend time with my host family, but the reality is that I spend a lot of time with them, and this should feeling is related to the should feeling from Travel Better. And by related, I mean they’re identical twins. So Playing Better is twofold – letting myself open up to meeting new people, and to having new experiences.
Love Better – This could also be Risk Better, because to me, they are pretty much the same. And by that, I mean loving is a risk. I am finishing my junior year in college and I’ve never had a boyfriend. Not a serious boyfriend, not a one-night stand, not even a real date. Which is stupid. I’ve thought about the whys and wherefores a lot, and I think it’s a combination of insecurity (mostly caused by feeling like I should’ve had a boyfriend by now, which just makes the cycle worse) and excessive expectations. I need to stop waiting for a perfect man that encompasses everything I could ever want, and just try. If I like a guy, I need to recognize my feelings, embrace them, and even act on them. I need to stop hiding, scared, waiting for Prince Charming, even though I know Prince Charming doesn’t exist. I need to put myself out there (see Play Better). This is also the only entry on this list that doesn’t have a one-month time limit. Yeah, I’d love to have a Czech boyfriend to party with on my 21st, but I’m not going to say it needs to be a thing. Because relationships can’t be forced. Or so they say. I don’t actually know.
So there you have it. Things I want to do as an adult; things I’m going to start doing now. Things on my mental list as ways I can help myself feel better (eat, exercise), stuff I do but know I can do better (work, travel), or aspects of who I am I’d like to free myself up to change (play, love). And now that I’m an (almost) adult, I guess it is time to get cracking.
The reality about me is that I read. A lot. Like, a lot a lot. I like reading, and I’m a fast reader. I could out-read my mom before I left elementary school, and if I can’t out-read my Dad, I can at least keep up with him. Seeing as he is the fastest reader I know, I’ll take it. I constantly get asked “Wait, you read that already?” and speed reading averages put me somewhere between the average high-level executive and the average college professor. (Side note: it makes me glad that college professors can still read faster than professionals.) I read books. I read magazines. I read articles. I read the side of cereal boxes. Since I’ve been in Prague, I’ve read every sign I could (even if I didn’t understand it).
Reading is what makes me me. If I’m bored, I read. If I’m stressed, I read. If I’m procrastinating, I read. Someone asked me today why I read, and I didn’t have a good answer for him. Because I can? Because it is the fastest and easiest way to absorb information on every topic under the sun? Because when I read fiction I get to experience a completely new world; if I don’t like it I can always stop reading and settle back into reality. Because it isn’t possible to travel everywhere, so I read to experience those places and those times that I will never get to see? All of the above?
A few days ago, I got bored. So I went online and started reading reviews. Book reviews, of course. Which sent me back to my list of books I want to read, and sent me scouring the internet for books I might enjoy. Which, ultimately, meant I ended the night with 25 brand new books on my iPad. And someone asked me what they were, so here is the list, in approximately alphabetical order by author’s last name:
- Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
- A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
- The Power of Less by Leo Babauta
- How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds by Nicholas Boothman
- A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
- R.U.R by Karel Capek
- Influence by Robert B Cialdini
- Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
- How to Read a Book by Paul N Edwards
- Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman by Richard Feynman
- Dune by Frank Herbert
- The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
- The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene
- The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
- An Incomplete Education by Judy Jones
- Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
- The Physics of Start Trek by Lawrence Krauss
- Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
- Nexus by Ramez Naam
- Brilliance by Marcus Sakey
- Cryptonicom by Neal Stephenson
- A Bend in the Road by Nicholas Sparks
- The Road Less Traveled by M Scott Peck
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
- Harry Potter 1 by JK Rowling
This is in addition to the books I already had on my iPad (starred books are those that I am currently reading):
- Neither Here nor There by Bill Bryson*
- Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely*
- The BFG by Roald Dahl*
- Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R Hofstadter*
- The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle*
- Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens*
- Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman*
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville*
- After Dark by Haruki Murakami
- Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami
- The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami
- The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking*
- The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker*
It is an interesting world, that of being a book worm. Sometimes, I feel like I should spend more time in the “real world,” where I can interact with people, make new friends, and the like. But sometimes there is nothing I’d rather do that bury my nose in a book. Or, more accurately, where the ability to find books in a library is highly limited, bury my nose in my iPad. Which, interestingly is almost accurate, since it is cold here and since I wear gloves when outside and thus can’t swipe to the next page while reading and waiting for a tram, I often use the tip of my nose to go from one page to the next. I guess my long nose comes in handy after all.
I go through phases where I read like there is nothing else to do in the whole wide world, and I’ll read as many as a dozen books in a week. And sometimes I go weeks on end barely reading a thing (outside of schoolwork, of course). Right now, it seems like I’m sliding back into a reading phase which, though it will probably cut into my sleep time, doesn’t bother me a bit.
I also go through phases when I have a certain favorite author or genre. I had an Agatha Christie phase freshman year of high school, when I read every single one of her novels. That was shortly followed by and Isaac Asimov phase, probably because his books happened to be on the next shelf in our house. I went through a dystopian phase for a while, then through a Dickens phase, then a Murakami phase. Recent phases have included a travel book phase (Bill Bryson, Eat, Love, Pray, that sort of thing), a young adult fiction phase (I will admit, I jumped on that bandwagon for a while, and loved it.), and most recently a non-fiction phase. Not really a self-help book phase, but a phase inspired by a desire to learn something. Hence the last group of books put on my iPad – The Grand Design, which I’ve finished, Predictably Irrational, etc. My next phase seems to be somewhere between sci-fi and Czech literature; the bridge was probably Karel Capek’s RUR, in which he coined the term robot. It also seems that I’ve still got a bit of non-fiction to finish.
After downloading all these books, I wanted to read them. So last night, after dinner, I made a cup of tea (which quickly became two, then three, then I lost count) and settled down against the couch. Filip and Jachym were playing a racing game on Jachym’s x-box, and Emma was playing on her iPad, and I read. 600 pages. I finished the novel I was reading (Nicholas Sparks’s A Bend in the Road, as painful as it may be to admit that I read Nicholas Sparks. I’ve actually only ever read two – this and the Notebook, but there you are. I may read a lot, but I’m not always discerning…). Upon this completion, a short break was taken so I could get another cup of tea and a slice of bread with Nutella, and then I moved back to a book I’ve been reading off and on for a week or so now, The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker. It reads a lot more like a textbook than most non-fiction books published for a general audience, so I tend to read it just a few chapters at a time. Nonetheless, it is truly fascinating, and has already given me some significant insight into how my brain works as I’m learning Czech. I finished up the evening by starting a new book, Brilliance, by Marcus Sakey. I went into it with the intention of starting it. And then it was midnight. And then it was one, and I was done with the book. Check out my review here. So it seems I’m starting with the sci-fi portion, and perhaps from there I’ll move into Czech literature and some more of the classics. Perhaps I’ll get distracted when classes start up in earnest after next week, and I’ll forget to read anything at all. Who knows?
I thought about going out last weekend but decided against it for a variety of reasons. That ended up having absolutely nothing to do with the great things that happened because I stayed home.
For one, my grandmother called. Which is a big deal, because she called from the States. I definitely was not expecting a phone call and it was absolutely wonderful. We talked about all sorts of things, but mostly about things happening in Prague back in the day. Like when it snowed a lot one winter and her mom skied down Wenceslas Square. Or during World War II, when she and her family couldn’t get to the mountains (the Germans wouldn’t let them) so they consequently took the trams to the end of the line at Motol, and skied at the hills nearby. Well,… I live in Řepy, which is on the same tram line as Motol, just a bit further. AKA, I live where Babi used to ski. We talked about other stuff (and she accidentally told me what I’m getting for Christmas) and after about 15 minutes, we said our farewells. It has been about 3 months since I spoke to Babi, and getting to tell her about some of the fun things I’ve been doing and the people I’ve met, as well as getting to hear the stories that she had to tell, was definitely fun.
Second, it snowed! Obviously, the snow would’ve fallen whether I went out or not. But, had I gone out, I wouldn’t have been home to play in the snow with the kids. We went outside and threw snowballs at each other, ran around, and basically enjoyed the first real snow of the season. I spent a half hour or so sitting next to the heater in my room, just staring out the window and drinking tea, enjoying being inside as the cold wind (apparently from Scandinavia) sent the snowflakes, visible only in the bright yellow cone under the street light, flying in every direction.
Walter Lewin. How much I love you. Your crazy hair, your crazy stunts, the fact that you clearly love nothing in the world as much as you love physics. Since, as you say, physics explains the world, that makes a lot of sense. And I totally agree with you. We both know, however, that lots of people don’t. To lots of people, there is nothing more boring than a blackboard covered in equations. As much as I love physics, I love teaching people about physics (and science in general) even more. I love telling kids something fun, about bubbles, or trees, or their own skin, and watching their eyes light up as they process their new knowledge. I love showing my friends cool random things about the world around us.
Like this silly putty with magnetic flecks “eating” a magnet:
I’m exactly six weeks from starting the next huge adventure of my life. I’m spending the year abroad in Prague, where I plan on studying the language I’ve been hearing my whole life, meeting all my distant relatives, learning everything I possibly can about my history, making phenomenal friends to last a lifetime, and maybe even finding a Czech man (although Babi cautions me that they are “unreliable, so be careful”).
And I can’t help but remember advice I got years ago: It takes six weeks to form a habit. Until the day that sentiment was calmly spoken to a frustrated 11 year old girl, I’d always just assumed that you were the way you were. That was one (of many!) eye-opening moments I got while at Odyssey. I realized that people meant it when they told me, “You can be anything you want to be.” They didn’t only mean that I could be a doctor or a teacher or a firefighter, if that’s what I wanted. They also meant that I could be more patient, less fearful, more open. Nobody is everything they are out of pure chance. The bad things come because we (or our parents, friends, etc.) indulge them. And the good things are there because we work at them.
So I’ve got six weeks, and a very nice, concrete time marker at the end. So I’m setting habits. These are not goals, they are habits. I’ve always felt like goals are nice: things to aim for, but rarely to achieve. Goals, to me, are out of reach (for now, at least). They require a lot of work, a long timetable, and help from outside sources to accomplish. Habits, on the other hand, are smaller. They depend on me, and only me. They are easily measured, easily accomplished, and don’t require anything except willpower and determination. So I’m setting four habits to accomplish in the next six weeks. (more…)