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Flip the Script Friday: Henry Beissel, Inuk

I decided to go back to the library, to the same shelf where I found Bone Cage, to see what other treasures it had in store for me. And a treasure I found, in the form of the fantastic fantasy Inuk by Henry Beissel

That’s So Jacob Presents: Flip the Script Friday

Episode #41: Henry Beissel, Inuk

Image Credit: Amazon.com

The Basics

Inuk premiered on 1 August 1973 at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. It has also been translated into French, for a six-year run in France by the Compagnie Morisse. According to the author’s preface, the script has also been translated into Bengali, Chinese, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Polish, and Spanish.

Characters

  • Single Characters
    • Inuk, a young hunter.
    • Father
    • Mother
    • Raven, who acts as a narrator.
    • Polar Bear
    • Arctic Fox
    • Sea Monster
    • Spirit of the Caribou
    • Spirit of the Moon (Male)
    • Spirit of the Wind (Male)
    • Spirit of the Dream (Female)
    • Sedna, Goddess of the Sea
    • Spirit of the Ice (Male)
    • Spirit of the Sun (Female)
  • Group Characters (Choruses)
    • Dog Team
    • Musk Oxen
    • Seals
    • Sharks
    • Inuit Villagers

*Note: In the original production, all characters aside from Sedna, the six Spirits, and the group of Inuit Villagers were performed by marionettes.

Setting/Plot

Mythical Inuit Village. It is winter in Inuk’s village, and he and his mother and father are starving. On a hunt, Inuk’s father is killed by a polar bear, giving Inuk the impetus to embark on a quest to find the Spirit of the Sun and bring her back to his village. His quest, tempered by the feuding spirits of the Wind and the Moon, the tricky goddess Sedna, an initially misunderstood Sea Monster, and helped by a silly group of seals, leads him to the Great Hall of the Iceberg, whereupon he meets the spirits of the Ice and the Sun, as well as that of his deceased father. Overall, Inuk learns a lesson about the cycles of the planet and of life.

Major Themes

Men are the Moon, Women are the Sun?

Not so much of a theme, I guess, but an observation, that characters typically seen as female, such as Moon and Wind, are male, and the Sun is female. This interesting subversion is thought-provoking, adding to the mystery of the elements as well as giving them different dimensions. It is also a reminder that this story comes from the indigenous people and, being non-Western, has its own unique backdrop in many ways, including gender roles.

What About the Children?

The back cover quotes Doug Bale of The Free Press, stating “[t]he tale is an admirable blend of fairy tale and poetry that appeals equally to adults and children.” I could easily see this being a children’s play, but one that adults would definitely pay attention to, with the occasional “slightly older” joke in the mix. However, in terms of the main character, Inuk, he is constantly referring to himself as a man, a hunter, while the other characters see him as a boy up until the end. This shows children that even though you may think you are all grown up, you still have some more growing up to do, as do we all. At the end, it is stated that Inuk and the Spirit of the Sun will be “married, but for a short time only,” which makes me feel like Inuk, although not totally grown up, has progressed to a place where he can get married, traditionally a grown-up activity.

Happily Ever After? Not So Fast

This is literally how the play ends, with Sedna, Goddess of the Sea, telling Inuk that he won’t be able to stay married to the Spirit of the Sun forever, and just like everything in life, she will have to return to the Great Hall of the Iceberg every year. Although she is also there at the end, along with Inuk, Sedna’s marriage to the Moon is also in limbo, as the moon and the sea go through changes and phases, just like Inuk and the Sun will. And furthermore, Inuk’s father stays dead, rather than coming back to life. What I like about this is that it shows children a clear message about the life cycle without being disappointing (Inuk’s father leaves him with a message that he is proud of his son, and that he should take care of his mother in his place), but also sparks children’s imagination with further discussion about Inuk, the Sun, Sedna, and the Moon, warranted by their metaphorical marriages, without any scientific information being offered.

My Thoughts

I am so glad I picked Inuk off the shelf. It was an unusual but fun ride, and I do think that it would definitely be a hit with both children and adults. I really like the creativity that it presents – in performance, design, and dramaturgy – and the suggestions that masks or puppets be used as the production sees fit, the more the merrier. Beissel notes that even though it was a mix of marionettes and human actors in the Stratford production, it can be either all puppets or all humans, masks or no masks, and it would still be fine. I like that philosophy; it makes it easier to work with, especially for a low-budget group like a school. I think it could be a pretty killer school play, in fact, rather than the normal, played-out children’s shows like Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood, and all the rest.

How I’d Flip It

Much like the cover of the book, I’m seeing some sort of tree design, maybe with moveable flats in front of a backdrop that looks like the sun in the sky, but is really the eye of an eagle, symbolizing both endangerment of the environment, and the eagle Jamie nurses back to health and releases into the wild. A lot of what I saw in various production photos included wood or faux-wood logs and stumps as furniture. I’m not sure I would make it super “campfire” but I would definitely accent everything in wood.

For costumes/appearance, I’m thinking a lot of earth tones in sepia and tan, and navy blue. Much of the colors are described by Banks in the text, but one thing I would definitely avoid would be camo; just too stereotypical. I picture Clarence and possibly Jamie in plaid; Chicky in typical “woodsy girl” attire with a t-shirt and jeans; and Krista in some kind of short-sleeve baseball tee with cutoffs. For Kevin, I picture a lot of solid navy blue, and for Robby, a slightly more formal outfit in forest green. Lissa is harder to pin down; in various production photos, she was in a dress and pigtails, but I see her in something a little less frilly, like denim overalls and a pink short, with glasses. The women’s hairstyles are really clear in my mind. I see Chicky with a bleached blond, sculptured buzz cut; Krista in long brown curls, with an updo for the wedding scene; and Lissa with a short bob, almost making a mullet at her ears.

For the wedding scene, obviously the men’s outfits and Krista’s wedding dress are what they are. However, I would see a change for the other two women. The playwright indicates that their dresses are fuchsia, but I would incorporate a different style for each. For Lissa, I would give her more of a little girl look, with a flouncy skirt and a little jacket, as if she is playing dress up, and for Chicky, I see her in an uncharacteristically feminine outfit that is an extreme contrast to her normal attire, with a sweetheart neckline and a structured bodice, but a length that is short enough for her to rock some black biker-y boots. Something to accentuate the fact that even though she is rough, she isn’t one of the guys and is feminine in more than a motherly way.

And finally, as I was reading, the song “Gives You Hell” by All-American Rejects was reverberating in my head, possibly for a video teaser or to appear somewhere in the production.

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Flip the Script Friday: Catherine Banks, Bone Cage

Hi there.

So, let me preface this by saying that, yes, last week’s Flip the Script, as well as a few others, are empty/unfinished. Partially due to running out of time on Friday nights, partially due to trying to deal with this awful new WordPress interface, and partially due to being just plain tired. But I actually really love making these, no matter if anyone else reads them or not. Hopefully, they’ll be useful at some point, and until then, it’ll just be a chronicle of plays I’ve read, enjoyed, and had thoughts about.

Earlier today, I went through my entire blog – yes, all six years of it, as of last week, happy blogiversary to me – and looked for every single Flip the Script post. I deleted a few which I wasn’t happy with, or which I was never going to get back to, and made an official count of how many I’ve done so far. The grand total is 39, with all but 12 finished, or at least in a state I’m happy with. At some point – hopefully soon – I’ll fix up the remaining twelve, and make some kind of directory listing the entire series so far. But right now, I just spent about an hour relaxing in bed and reading a play I plucked off the shelves of the library, and though it took a while to get into, it ended up being a very interesting elegy that is definitely worth sharing. It comes from eastern Canada, right here to That’s So Jacob, in…

That’s So Jacob Presents: Flip the Script Friday

Episode #40: Catherine Banks, Bone Cage

Image Credit: Amazon.com

The Basics

Bone Cage premiered on 10 October 2007 at Neptune Studio in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. It was produced by Forerunner Playwrights Co-op and Ship’s Company Theatre.

Characters

  • Jamie – 22 years old, a tree processor in the logging industry
  • Chicky – 25 years old, Jamie’s half-sister through their mother. Works in the sod fields.
  • Krista – 17 years old, Jamie’s fiancee. A high school student.
  • Kevin – 18 years old, Krista’s brother. Works as a chainsaw wielder in the logging industry.
  • Clarence – 52 years old, Jamie’s father. Retired and on disability.
  • Robby – 30 years old, considered “slow.” Employed by Reg, Chicky’s lover, who is an unseen character.
  • Lissa – 14 years old, Robby’s sister. Also considered “slow.”

Setting/Plot

No time indicated (probably present day), in a small town in rural Nova Scotia. Jamie, an introspective, nature-loving young man in the logging industry, finds out from his friend Kevin that their boss intends to move his to a lesser position as a chainsaw operator, a position which will have him killing more trees. He dreams of becoming a pilot and possibly moving to British Columbia to train in the heli-logging industry. Meanwhile, his young fiancée Krista is planning their upcoming wedding and looking forward to becoming an adult despite still being a teenage high school senior. In a second plot, Clarence is still mourning the loss of his son, Travis, half-brother to Jamie and Chicky, while Chicky attempts to take care of things at home, fend off her father’s advances, and deter him from sending Travis’s remains to some “cloning lab” in Scotland. When it is discovered that Travis’s grave has been disturbed, Jamie and Kevin take a break from wedding preparing in order to get back at enemy Merv “the perv” and his gang. After a family photo session where many secrets are revealed, and an offstage “incident” at Jamie and Krista’s wedding, we are left with Jamie confronting his relationships with the past (Clarence and Travis), the future (Krista), and the present (his job and the environment) at the railroad trestle, a spot which has drawn him in since the play’s beginning, where we first meet him.

Major Themes

Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

I know that the description was borderline confusing, but the play was borderline confusing. A lot of key details are only referred to and not seen onstage. This includes Kevin being beat up by Merv and his gang and the wedding of Jamie and Krista. I suppose this adds to the element of mystery and is due to the fact that we can’t include literally everything that happens to these characters onstage, but I felt like the details pertaining to who exactly Merv is (other than, as they refer to him once or twice “Merv the perv”) and what his deal is with Jamie and Kevin, why they’re enemies. We also don’t see too much of Chicky’s backstory. She’s a badass who has dealt with a lot, from unwanted advances from basically every male except Jamie, which includes her father, Clarence, and Kevin, who may or may not be related to her, as we find out. Instead, we hear a lot about it, and at times it feels like Chicky’s giving us a lot more than we are seeing, and we have to just hope that she is reliable in what she is saying. The scene between her and Clarence attests to the fact that she is probably telling the truth, but it’s almost as if she reveals too much information as there’s not as much visual context.

Waiting For…

This brings me to my next point, which is the obvious presence of absent characters. Some are ostensibly absent, like Travis, who is dead, and Chicky’s mother, who has abandoned the family. However, we also don’t see Earl, the boss, or the infamous Merv. Most notably, we hear a lot about a certain character who never shows up but clearly has quite an impact on one of the onstage characters; Reg, an older, married man, who employs Robby and has been involved with Chicky ever since her early teens, almost as young as Lissa. Chicky is so headstrong, and despite teasing Jamie, is his mother figure, and is protective of the younger and more vulnerable characters, showing sisterhood to Krista (even when she is being a bridezilla), civility and attention to Robby, and being a safety guard for the young and impressionable Lissa. Chicky can be a smart-aleck but she seems to know more than anyone else, and is the most down-to-earth and practical…yet her dreams and aspirations are viewed as a joke by everyone else. This is exacerbated at the not one, but two scenes where she is waiting for Reg, who of course, does not show up. Her fatal flaw is that she is attracted to a man who, despite what he says about his marriage, is not going to leave his wife and be with her. Unlike all the other characters, she does not know that waiting for him is useless because he will never show up.

I Guess This is Growing Up

My final major theme is that of growing up, or lack thereof. It’s obvious that Chicky has been thrust into the role of parent, basically raising her younger half-brother Jamie, and that Krista, who dreams of being Jamie’s wife, is more into playing at being an adult than actually being one, leaving Jamie somewhere in between. With his desire to clone Travis and somehow eliminate the future “new Travis’s” brain tumor, Clarence is holding on to a memory and acting like the very child he lost and is obsessed with. Lissa, the youngest character in the play, is entranced by adulthood in two ways: by Krista, only three years older than her but already a bride, and by Kevin, who makes romantic advances on her. Even though Kevin stops before he does anything immoral or regretful, getting up off of Lissa and sending her home before they do anything, Lissa is smitten with him, which she shows in the monologue section of the photo session scene, with her monologue that is basically all of her thoughts about sex. When Jamie and Chicky piece together what Clarence has been doing, they confront him, telling him to grow up and act like the father he should be, and on the flip side, Chicky emphasizes to Kevin that Lissa is still a child, and even though she and Reg have had a physical relationship since her early teens, that Lissa, being “slow,” is way more vulnerable than she was, and warns him not to engage with her, at the risk of giving her signals she does not understand which could lead Lissa to a dangerous place.

My Thoughts

As much as parts of it confused me – for instance, the scene where Jamie and Kevin are putting on dresses and makeup for a stag party, and the sexual aspects of Merv and his “gang” – I kept reading just to see how this gritty Gothic tale would turn out. I kept thinking of a combination of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and Naomi Wallace’s The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek; the former, because of a main character living in his own world, contemplating moving across the country, and the chopping down of trees, and the latter, with the country aesthetics and father/son relationships, as well as the railroad which dominates the landscape. Also, my current read is John Green’s Looking for Alaska, and though I’m only about a quarter of the way through, I am picturing the gang in that book as similar to the unseen Merv and his gang.

How I’d Flip It

Much like the cover of the book, I’m seeing some sort of tree design, maybe with moveable flats in front of a backdrop that looks like the sun in the sky, but is really the eye of an eagle, symbolizing both endangerment of the environment, and the eagle Jamie nurses back to health and releases into the wild. A lot of what I saw in various production photos included wood or faux-wood logs and stumps as furniture. I’m not sure I would make it super “campfire” but I would definitely accent everything in wood.

For costumes/appearance, I’m thinking a lot of earth tones in sepia and tan, and navy blue. Much of the colors are described by Banks in the text, but one thing I would definitely avoid would be camo; just too stereotypical. I picture Clarence and possibly Jamie in plaid; Chicky in typical “woodsy girl” attire with a t-shirt and jeans; and Krista in some kind of short-sleeve baseball tee with cutoffs. For Kevin, I picture a lot of solid navy blue, and for Robby, a slightly more formal outfit in forest green. Lissa is harder to pin down; in various production photos, she was in a dress and pigtails, but I see her in something a little less frilly, like denim overalls and a pink short, with glasses. The women’s hairstyles are really clear in my mind. I see Chicky with a bleached blond, sculptured buzz cut; Krista in long brown curls, with an updo for the wedding scene; and Lissa with a short bob, almost making a mullet at her ears.

For the wedding scene, obviously the men’s outfits and Krista’s wedding dress are what they are. However, I would see a change for the other two women. The playwright indicates that their dresses are fuchsia, but I would incorporate a different style for each. For Lissa, I would give her more of a little girl look, with a flouncy skirt and a little jacket, as if she is playing dress up, and for Chicky, I see her in an uncharacteristically feminine outfit that is an extreme contrast to her normal attire, with a sweetheart neckline and a structured bodice, but a length that is short enough for her to rock some black biker-y boots. Something to accentuate the fact that even though she is rough, she isn’t one of the guys and is feminine in more than a motherly way.

And finally, as I was reading, the song “Gives You Hell” by All-American Rejects was reverberating in my head, possibly for a video teaser or to appear somewhere in the production.

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Flip the Script Friday: Black Lives, Black Words – Part III

This semester is officially in the books, as I proctored my students’ final on Wednesday, finished all the grading on Thursday, and submitted the grades today, so hopefully I can get back to writing and blogging some more.

I realized that I’ve had Black Lives, Black Words out from the library since last summer/fall or something, and haven’t gotten a chance to finish it, so here’s to wrapping up reading it and highlighting some of the interesting pieces in another edition of Flip the Script Friday.

In This Bitter Earth by Harrison David Rivers, two young men – Neil, white, and Jesse, black – are at a protest in memory of Trayvon Martin. Neither intended to be there, but they ended up there anyway. Neil ends up with a megaphone in his hand, and thrust atop a platform, so he does the first thing he can thing of, which is to recite a poem by black poet Essex Hemphill. At first, Jesse is offended, but as they say the words in a combination of call-and-response, alternating lines, and together, there is a strange, uneasy moment that may or may not be peace, before the sound of protestors are heard. I think that this would be interesting on some sort of moving platforms – up and down, to reflect the power dynamic between white male voices and black male voices in society. Think cherry pickers or something. That would be something worth staging and seeing.

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Reading My Way Across America: Basketball Under the Big Sky

I haven’t been doing a ton of reading for fun lately, with grading, research, and dissertation-writing taking up most of my time, but I have managed to finish a few books this semester. In addition to being a stellar read, this book gave me a really interesting and fun idea. But I’ll get to that after this review.

Full Court Quest: The Girls from Fort Shaw Indian School, Basketball Champions of the World by Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith is an in-depth look at an extraordinary situation and group of people who have been almost lost to history and memory. Peavy and Smith navigate the reader through life at Fort Shaw, an Indian boarding school in Montana. Fort Shaw was among the institutions set up by the government in order to “civilize” Native Americans in a movement that was later regarded as a cultural failure. However, during the school’s heyday at the turn of the twentieth century, the new sport of basketball took hold in the heart of Josephine Langley, a Native American herself who had been educated on the East Coast. She brought the game back with her to Montana and added it to the physical education regime of the school. It was popular among the students, especially a group of girls who were exceptionally skilled at it, so much so that in the few years Fort Shaw fielded a team, against high schools and colleges from around Montana, the girls lost only once. In addition to playing basketball, they would also perform their own musical entertainment, read poetry, perform tableaus, and ballroom dance with local boys; all in one night. When word of this amazing team spread, they were sent to St. Louis in 1904, where they became part of the Native American exhibits along with Geronimo and others at the World’s Fair.

Along with all the other innovations of the World’s Fair, national and international athletic competitions emerged, reviving the Olympics. In that same spirit, the Fort Shaw girls supplemented their exhibition games at the Fair with a tournament against local high schools. Emerging undefeated against any team they faced, they were declared World Champions and presented with a silver trophy which they took back with them to their school. This level of interaction between Native Americans and white people was highly uncommon and actually revolutionary for the time, and it succeeded in changing many peoples’ preconceived notions about Indians. Even the mainstream media took notice, referring to the team initially with racially-motivated descriptions which got less and less stereotypical, until they were described in the newspapers just as any other team – evolving from “dusky maidens” to “Indians” to just “talented girl basketball players,” earning respect on small and large stages.

The book goes into detail about the early lives of the players, who came together from different tribes across Montana and Idaho to Fort Shaw, working together as sisters in sport. The initial five, assembled by Josephine Langley in 1903, were Belle Johnson, a Piegan; Emma Sansaver, a Chippewa-Cree; Minnie Burton, a Lower Shoshone; and Genie Butch and Nettie Wirth, both Assiniboine. Accompanying them to St. Louis in 1904 were their classmates Genevieve Healy, a Gros-Venture; Flora Lucero, a Chippewa; Rose LaRose, a Shoshone-Bannock; and Sarah Mitchell and Katie Snell, both Assiniboine. They ranged in age from 15 to 19 years old. Together, these ten were unmatched in ability among other girls their age and even girls older than them. At the Fair, they would play exciting, fast-paced exhibition scrimmages, five-on-five, to huge crowds, just like NBA superstars. After the Fair, they returned to Fort Shaw, and eventually parted ways as the school closed only six years later, in 1910.

What I loved about the book were the descriptions of the intense basketball games, and the girls’ relationships with one another and their own identities. Their journey across Montana through North Dakota and the Midwest to St. Louis, and their eye-opening experiences at the World’s Fair, were definitely the most interesting sections of the book. It was as if they were learning as much about the world as the world was learning about them. Even though we get some insight into the girls’ personalities, the first half of the book gets bogged down in details of the girls’ early lives, pre-Fort Shaw, as well as the lives of the superintendent and creator of the school, who was not Native American. When they start talking about the games, the book really picks up, and despite being non-fiction, keeps an exciting narrative all the way through the girls’ return to Fort Shaw from St. Louis.

What happened to the girls afterwards, though, was mostly disheartening with a few bright spots. Although one of them Nettie Wirth, was honored at the World’s Fair in 1962, and another, Genevieve Healy, lived until the age of 93, dying in 1981 as the last survivor of the team, most of them died in their thirties-fifties, including one under “questionable circumstances” and one who was unable to be tracked down entirely. Even sadder was the life of Minnie Burton, one of the team’s superstars (known for her shooting skills, so much so that spectators would chant “shoot, Minnie, shoot!”), who, although she did live to see many children and grandchildren, never spoke of her experience (imagine their surprise when they found out their grandmother was the LeBron James of the early twentieth century!) Fortunately for us, though, and for the authors, who found out about the girls from a team photo in a Montana archive, Emma Sansaver kept a journal and boxes of memories, which she passed down to her children and grandchildren, keeping the story from fading away into history. The authors did a mind-boggling amount of research for this book, contacting descendants of all ten of the players and people who knew them, ensuring that their legacy would live on.

Overall, I learned a ton about one of American history’s most unlikely and underrated footnotes, from a place I’ve neither been to nor even heard of. What these girls from the middle of nowhere did was groundbreaking, and even though all that’s left of Fort Shaw is an arch and a monument of a basketball – not even a museum – I’d still like to go visit it someday.

The idea that this sparked? Well, I had heard of this book and had it on my list for a little while, and ended up finding it in the Historical Society Library, where books are catalogued by country, region, and state. Finding it in the Montana section led me to want to read more from that section, and the Historical Society Library as a whole, with hopes to find more unusual but fascinating historical footnotes. I’m not sure how long I can keep up with this, but I’m going to try to find one historical hidden gem from each state. Now that Montana’s down, I’ve got 49 states to go, and rather than go in a specific order, I’ll ask Siri to give me a number between 1 and 50, and pick states that way.

As I typed that, I did that, and it gave me 7 – so Maryland, my home state, I guess I’ll be in your section tomorrow afternoon.

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Flip the Script Friday: George Shiels, The New Gossoon

This is a play that I thought I had read, but it turns out that I hadn’t, and it’s now public domain so I can do what I want, bwahahaha.

Before I finish writing this post, I just have to say that I’m really not loving this new block editor. I used to be able to toggle back to the old style, but now I can’t. I’m hoping to avoid either writing posts in Word or Google Doc and then copying and pasting them, but one of the reasons I’ve been avoiding blogging is because this editor just plain sucks. How do you manage to get around this problem?