After almost two years of wanting, I finally got myself a ticket for Matilda the Musical on Broadway and it was everything I hoped it would be and more. (Even though I was literally in the last row of the second balcony … there’s only so much money a college kid can/is willing to spend on a Broadway show, especially with trips to Book of Mormon in Boston and possibly If/Then in SF planned for the relatively near future…)
The set was as beautiful as the pictures, and the cast was amazing. The show is SO much better with the visuals associated with sitting in the theater than it is just listening to the songs. The actors were fantastic, the choreography was beautiful, the entire show from start to finish was perfect. Well… almost perfect. Almost perfect for any average audience member and more than perfect for a techie like me.
There was a moment, in the middle of the song “Revolting Children” when things went wrong. The sets transition from classroom to living room to bedroom to Ms. Honey’s house to classroom to Ms. Trunchbull’s house to classroom to…to…to… Each time the classroom arrives, nine desks rise up out of the floor, and just as often, the desks sink back down. Except for when they don’t. In the middle of the song, eight of the nine desks dropped down into the ground, and the center desk … didn’t. For a moment, it seemed like that was just the choreography. A group of ten-year old professionals, not a single kid looked surprised, least of all the kid who’s desk wasn’t moving. But then the God mic sounded out: “Hold! Hold please.” Followed by about a second of silence as the kids stopped singing and the orchestra stopped playing and then, “All actors off the stage immediately.”
Never in my life have I seen a group of kids follow directions that quickly. In absolute silence, they were off the nearest wing in about two seconds flat. And, most significantly, either the sound tech muted all the microphones in a hot second or they were all completely silent for the five minutes they were backstage. Because that’s about how long it took for the curtain to come down, the announcement to the audience to be made, the desk to be dropped, and everyone to be ready to go.
The final aspect of the process that absolutely fascinated me was how quickly the kids figured out where they were when they started up again. Professionals through and through, even though they’re all between 8 and 15 years old. When the curtain came up, the lights were back to the previous cue, and the kids walked on immediately and stood where they’d been standing at that light cue. Once they were there, the music started and within about two beats they knew where they were in the music. And within a four count they were all singing and dancing as if they were standing on their sinking desks as normal. I know they know the music inside and out, but that still blew my mind.
And once they started up again, I knew exactly why that hold had to be called and why it had to be called immediately: about four bars after the Hold call, additional actors came onstage doing leaps, axles (a jump/spin combo), and cartwheels right over that desk. Had it been still standing, it would have led to some very confused and possibly injured actors.
The rest of the show finished seamlessly, I laughed some more, I cried some more, and I loved it all. But I will never forget the show I saw on Broadway where I was reminded that even on the biggest scales, with the most professional of professionals, live theater is just that: live. No retakes or post production editing; it’s all about being quick on your feet, making the split second decisions necessary for the safety of all involved, and keeping the audience informed and excited. No matter how many shows I see in my life, I’ll remember this one for that.
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!
When I was a kid, I always ate everything on my plate one thing at a time. I wasn’t one of those kids who threw a fit if my peas touched my potatoes, but I always ate all my peas and then all my potatoes. Or all my potatoes and then all my peas, depending on if I was facing the worst first and saving the best for last, or visa versa.
I no longer eat all my food one item at a time, but I still have an obsession not too different. Instead of eating one thing at a time, I absorb things all at once. I might go on a Tess Garritson whim, and read all of her books in a few weeks. Or I might get really obsessed with the variety of games that on the surface require nothing more than a swiping finger and the ability to add 2+2 or 3+3. I’m talking, of course, of Threes and 2048, and all the subsequent versions that have boomed in popularity over the last month or so.
*In the interest of fairness to the creators, I will state that Threes existed first, and 2048 is a version of it. Actually, 2048 is a version of 1024, which I haven’t played; 1024 is a version of Threes. I will also state that the only official version of Threes is available as an app for $1.99. An unofficial version is here.
When you have a facebook wall full of math and science nerds from around the country, it is hard to not notice that a nerdy game is blowing up. And so you wander over to the website to see what the fuss is all about, and two hours later you’ve downloaded the game onto your iPad because you absolutely, positively, must have this game for your 45 minute commute every day. It has absolutely nothing to do with the desire to beat Madeline’s record, which has to this day proved impossible.
At this point, you probably want to know what exactly it is that I’m talking about. Below is the link to play, but I hope you’ll finish reading before you just go off and play. Because once you start playing, you will NEVER COME BACK. Before clicking the link, I warn you to set a timer or some other way to prevent yourself from falling into the dark hole of a time suck that 2048 is. Because it is a time sink. You think, “oh! I was so close! Just one more game and I’ll get there,” and then, once you do, “hm! that wasn’t so hard. I wonder if I can get to 4096 too…?” Apparently, I am not the only person who feels this way. Buzzfeed is very rarely good for anything, but here it gives an accurate impression of the mind of a 2048-player. Since you want to play anyway, here you go.
Threes and 2048 as fall into the only category of online games I truly enjoy – those that are a) incredibly simple to learn, b) easy to play and c) almost impossible to win. The premise is simple: combine like numbers to get to the highest numbers you can.
Threes starts with blue 1 and red 2 tiles. Combine them, and 1+2=3 (The 3 tiles are white, as are all the larger tiles). Each time you move, the tiles collectively move one square in that direction. You can see the next tile coming, but you don’t know exactly where it will show up. You do know, however, that it will come from the direction you’re swiping. So, if you move left to right, the next tile will show up somewhere in the left-most column. Usually, the new tile is a 1, 2, or 3, but sometimes larger tiles show up too. These are signified by a white tile with a “+” on them. Higher tiles become more and more adorable monsters, egging you on to find out what their elder brethren look like.
The furthest I’ve ever gotten was to 768, which apparently has been reached by less than 5% of the players of Threes. My next goal – 1536 – would put me in the 99.82% percentile. (See Threes’ official infographic)
The key to making progress in Threes is to keep an eye on what the next card is, in order consider both the moves you want to make on the board AND the next move you can make with your next card.
2048, while similar, is different. For one, you’re combining powers of two, not three. Like in Threes, you get the low tiles thrown at you – 2’s and 4’s. But unlike Threes, you’re never going to get a bigger tile added in; you’re always going to have to build up yourself. In 2048, the tiles go all the way to the end, so if you swipe left to right, all the tiles go all the way to the right, which means it is easier to combine multiple pairs into bigger numbers at once. On the other hand, you have no idea what number will show up next or where, because any empty spot is fair game.
To beat 2048, you need to set up a line of increasing tiles that you can combine. If you have a 1024 next to a 512 next to a 256 next to a 128 next to a 64 next to a 32 next to a 16 next to an 8 next to a 4, beating the game is just a matter of combining two 2’s and completing the trivial steps to win. But then, it asks you if you want to keep going.
My personal highest card is 4096, although I did have one game with a 4096 and a 2048, so I’m well on my way to the 8192 tile. I’ve got to get there if I want to beat Madeline.
Like any good game, 2048 has spawned dozens of fakes. Most of which are stupid, but hilarious, but some are fun, and some are impossibly difficult. My personal favorites:
1. The Tufts Theater version. Tufts is full of Computer Science people, and even the Theater department isn’t immune. So, when the make-your-own-2048 website became a thing, Artoun was kind enough to take pictures of Tufts Theater people and create our very own version. Fair warning: there are no numbers, so this is not a game you want to play necessarily unless you a) know people in Tufts Theater or b) enjoy randomly hitting the arrow keys. Also, you will not find me in any of the pictures. That is what happens when you live backstage…
2. The Nuclear Fusion version. This one, I’ll be honest, is a version I have yet to master. Because, just like Threes and 2048 are different and thus have different strategies, Fe also plays by its own set of rules. Complete with frustrating 3Helium when you want 4Helium, and inconvenient decays. Can you fuse atoms together to make 56Iron?
Please please please don’t forget that you have a life! And go outside sometimes too…?
I’m a theater geek in a theater city, and I am trying to take advantage of that as best I can. Last week, I bought $10 tickets to see Madame Butterfly in the National Opera, and this week, we were given tickets to see La Boehme. Then, over the weekend, I took Emma to see Swan Lake at the National Ballet. Unsurprisingly, all three shows were fantastic, and I can’t wait to see more theater. There are so many things I want to say about both the ballet and the opera, so sorry if this post is a little discombobulated. (more…)