All the Unfit Kings and Riot Grrlz

It’s time to go back and see some live theater! Even if it’s on film.

We took a long weekend to trek up to Ashland for three plays, so if you’re thinking this is like free advertising for Oregon Shakespeare Festival, you’re probably right. But the performances were excellent, and all three have been filmed. If you can’t make the trek up to the rolling hills of the Rogue River Valley before the seasons ends,  then you can watch the films live next weekend or on demand. Check out the options here.

My particular goal was to get my bingo card punched, which is to say that I had seen 36 of the 37 plays of Shakespeare and was only missing “King John.” (You’re going to point out that “The Two Noble Kinsmen” makes it 38 plays, and I’ll counter that it’s never staged and besides, John Fletcher co-wrote it. If you find a version of it somewhere, send me a link, and I’ll watch it.  Meanwhile, I’m calling B-I-N-G-O.) And Shakespeare was his name-o!

Who Wants to Play a Weenie?

We were speculating as to why “King John” is almost never staged, when the history play that precedes it, “Richard III,” is done all the time It may be the nature of villainy in the central character. Even though Richard is one of the worst scoundrels that ever walked a stage, he controls his own destiny. He pillages, rapes, and murders with glee. A good actor will get the audience laughing at his roguish charm, while Richard woos his enemy’s widow or plans the assassination of the princes in the tower. Don’t believe me? Watch the Ian McKellen 1995 “Richard III.”

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The Lost Art of Browsing

Searching for information on the Internet has brought data to our fingertips, but it doesn’t always provide answers. It’s also made us a little lazy. Google searching means our inquisitiveness is filtered through an algorithm, designed to push answers at us whether that’s what we’re asking or not. Our lives are surrounded by forms of entertainment designed “For you,” yet curated content doesn’t satisfy our wanderlust either. Swiping or scanning through social media doesn’t replace the glory of a meandering conversation with a friend over lunch in the shade on a hot day. And nothing replaces the stacks.

A study cage, or carrel, is pictured in the Memorial Library north stacks on Dec. 28, 2021 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Photo by Bryce Richter / University of Wisconsin–Madison)

When I was a kid, my library protocol was a systematic wander. Sometimes I started with the As or with a recommended book, but sometimes I started in the middle just letting my eye roam over titles with intrigue, interesting fonts, and curious covers. My one rule was I liked to get ten books; my one irritation was that you had to write out slips in groups of three, which vexed me because there was one left over. (But I never picked out nine or twelve.) I was ever so happy when the slips went away.

When I was an undergraduate, I figured out a way to get special permission to go into the stacks at Berkeley’s Doe Library, one of the largest libraries in the world. Normally, only the graduate students had access. In their lone carrels, the exuded a haunted yearning that required quiet, desperate thinking, not to mix with the mass of noisy, playful undergraduate puppies bounding about in Moffitt Library. I would study up in the stacks, too, but I liked to pull random books of the shelves to “steal moments,” perusing books unrelated to what I had to study. (How do English majors avoid studying? they read something else…)

Consider this, then a love letter to pulling random books of the shelf, a paean to browsing, to wandering through places where information is stored and letting curiosity take over. For any kind of search, changing the paradigm can yield unexpected fruit.

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Watching the Watchers

Watching them watch the “Classic Replay,” CBS 5.

I sat down to watch a football game yesterday, and I was appalled. I knew it was a repeat, but I did intend to watch as if it was live, and I didn’t know the outcome. But it was a giant fail! Most of the game was framed by three local commentators eating, drinking, and making obscure inside jokes. It was one of those “What is the world coming to?” moments, which are happening with increasing frequency.

I do understand that there are rules. Sports are a form of entertainment, like circuses and magic shows, not an epic battle upon which the fate of the universe or local pride rests. Entertainment is for watching. I am watching it on a screen while eating and drinking, so others must be doing the same. Plus, given that there are 752 channels that run 24×7, content must fill the time, so much of the content is people talking. In fact, there is more content of people talking about sports than there are televised sports, so the cycle of discussion circulates around the same people, sports, drama, behind-the-scenes will so-and-so play or get paid or ask to be traded, &c.&c.&c.

(This plays out elsewhere. I was in the lap pool swimming yesterday, and there were three fellas in the seating area outside the steam room at one end. In between gulps of air, I heard “quarterback.” When I came up for a turn at one, another person not in their party had walked up and was wildly gesticulating while yelling something about Aaron Rodgers. It’s worth noting that said Rogers is not on any team in our local area, but he does seem to inspire many people to get very excited. This is proof of the ultimate success: you generate controversy nationwide even though you are just an aging human being who occasionally throws a ball a long way.)

So this is where we are. There is so much talking to be done about this entertainment form, that when you go to experience the entertainment, it’s packaged as another type of entertainment: “Watching the watchers.” It’s a disturbing trend.

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