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Halloween Costumes For Those Who Truly Do Not Care (Yet, For Some Reason, Want To Give The Impression That They Still Do)

Basically, this is me.

Every Halloween.

It’s not that I don’t care…it’s just that…yeah, I really don’t care. I never had it growing up, I never really understood the point, but these days, the best costumes are the cleverest ones, and often ones that don’t take much effort.

For example, this year I’m wearing a blue Oxford, a soft gray sweater, jeans, and tennis shoes. Can you guess who I am?

That’s right. Ellen DeGeneres.

 

Here are some other lazy-person costumes I thought of.

Wife beater + jeans + tie + lots of makeup = 90s era Avril Lavigne.

Old red dress + random plank strapped to your head = Carrie Underwood.

Pink shirt + jeans + backpack = Dora the Explorer.

T-shirt + jeans + broken glasses = Harry Potter, incognito.

Apron + orange sweatsuit + sunglasses = Martha Stewart.

Oversized sunglasses + oversized t-shirt + granny sweater + Starbucks cup = Mary Kate Olsen.

Dog leash + keys = Alicia Keys.

Leather jacket + jeans + sunglasses + tons of baby powder = James Dean.

A bunch of random items = Lady Gaga.

 

Yeah, happy Hallowhatever, everyone.

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2

Late Night with Jacob Letterbrienfallonmeyers-Winfrey, Your Dramaturg

I’ve always had interest in the theatre and thought I wanted to be an actor, but performing can be stressful and I suck at memorizing lines. Because I love pretty much all sides of theatre, from costumes to sets to writing to acting, I became a dramaturg.

Most people think that dramaturgs are the ones that hide behind books and paperwork, and only peek into the daylight to give a short rehearsal presentation or sneak in a lobby display, but dramaturgs are so much more than that. One of the great things about being a dramaturg is that you really get to be your own dramaturg. If sitting in the back of the theatre is your thing, then go for it. If being in on the action is your thing, there’s times for that too. Though I treasure research and academia and all that goes with it, I’m a social animal and when I want to, I can be outgoing and engaging.

Those skills come in handy when leading a talkback, especially the one I led tonight after Richard III.

I went to the show tonight with five friends. We all sat together in the front row and watched what was, obviously, a fabulous show. Then afterwards, I got to put on my dramaturg hat and lead the talkback with the director and the cast. I’m super awkward in real life, like a good deal of people, but my inner performer really comes out when leading talkbacks. I like to think of myself as a host, kind of like Oprah, Ellen, Sally Jessy, Steve Harvey, Ricki Lake, Wendy Williams, David Letterman, Jay Leno, and Conan O’Brien all wrapped up into one. That would actually be an awesome combination, and slightly scary. While the cast was changing out of costume, I engaged the director in an open conversation, and the cast filtered in for about three or four moderated questions from the audience and a final “button question” from me (what was the most enjoyable part of the experience? what was fun?) to seal the deal. Basically, it’s like I get to have my own talk show.

Even though I try not to judge myself, I inevitably do after each time I moderate a talkback. Like any good performer, I take stock in what I do and usually find myself giving myself both praise and criticism. This time around, it was no different. On the good side, I remembered to get dressed up for the show; I don’t quite have a uniform, but in my black jacket, black pants, teal Oxford shirt, and a touch of makeup, I thought I looked pretty jazzy tonight. I started on kind of an awkward note, as I thought that the director would announce the talkback, and then he gestured to me to start by the time people started getting up and leaving, which they would’ve done anyway, but I might’ve been a few seconds too late. Plus, I was kinda caught on my phone/keys/wallet and I didn’t want to walk onstage with that kind of entourage. Since it was my first time doing a talkback in this space, I also might not have been loud enough in my announcement, but out of about 100 audience members, 20-30 stayed, which was not bad. Also, the actors didn’t stay onstage, nor were they able to change quickly, so it actually was the Jacob Show for a few minutes.

I started to get a little nervous as the crowd started to leave, but then the director joined me onstage. I introduced him to some applause (yes!) and then we sat down and I asked him a few questions while the cast was getting ready. I made them pretty open-ended and general, because I definitely wanted him to take the spotlight and say what was on his mind, rather than talk about the show myself. I do not come from the Jeff Probst school of event-hosting. After a few minutes, the cast started filtering in, so I did the “go-around-and-introduce-yourselves” thing, and then another round of applause. After this, I opened the floor up for questions, which ended up being a little awkward since some of the characters with more extensive costume/makeup started filtering in, so we needed to pause every so often so I could welcome/introduce the new arrivals. I almost made a booboo when I didn’t see someone in the corner of the audience, and the cast pointed him out for me to call on – hey that’s my job! – but granted, he must’ve raised his hand after I looked away, and I managed to officially call on him after a momentary twirl to get things back on track. I like it when the whole cast gets to speak, but due to the time and the gigantic cast, a few people didn’t get to say anything; one of the larger-cast shows that I led the talkback for was A Streetcar Named Desire at Spotlighters in Baltimore, and I predicted that most of the audience’s questions would be directed towards Blanche/Stella/Stanley, so I made sure to jump in at a brief lull and ask Negro Woman and Mexican Woman to give us their take on being citizens of Tennessee Williams’s New Orleans, which hit the dominoes for the rest of the chorus to speak, which is something I strive for – to make everyone feel special.

For some reason, I have a pretty good sense of time when it comes to these things, and I cut it off at just the right moment, after my button question, with no awkward lulls along the way and concluded by thanking the audience, cast, director, and everyone everywhere. Ending is never fun and this was not one of my best attempts; I hate getting all thank-y, but at least the audience left happy and the actors seemed to be pleased to continue on with their night. Of all my friends, only Kelly stayed throughout the whole thing, and I’m really happy she did. She mostly stayed because she was watching my keys/phone/wallet, but since she did, I introduced her to the director and to Richard himself, to whom she was ecstatic. Combine that with a front row seat and an escorted walk back to her dorm and that’s a red-carpet, VIP experience all for the price of $16.00.

Oh, and one more thing that happened, which was kind of unexpected: when an audience member asked about how the actors learned about Richard and Shakespeare and all the history, one of the actresses pointed me out and thanked me publicly with a “we’re not worthy”, which some of the actors echoed. The director chimed in that I did a good job, and led a brief round of applause for me while I gave an “aw-shucks” face, with a slight bow to the cast and to the audience. That’s never happened before.

I always leave a talkback feeling exhilarated, like I did a performance myself, walking offstage with a beaming smile and a bit of graceful spring in my step. It’s like magic. Yay for dramaturgy!

So..hey NBC, can I have my own talk show? I’ll dress up for it and everything; I’d like late-night and afternoon, but I could be coerced into primetime, or even a hangover slot…will you think about it? Give me a call…please?

 

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In-Flight Entertainment

One video I’ve been seeing a lot of on my Facebook feed lately is that of the funny Southwest Airlines flight attendant whose safety lecture is basically like spending three minutes with Kristen Wiig as all of her characters put together. Naturally, I watched the video myself, found it utterly hilarious, and for some reason made me desire crackers, but maybe because it was still Passover when I watched the video. In case you haven’t yet seen what I’m talking about, here it is for your enjoyment.

Yes, this is a real video, shot on an actual Southwest Airlines flight by someone with a very thin cellphone camera. Didn’t anyone on that plane manage to record it on HD? Anyway, this fantastically funny flight attendant was on Ellen today, where the world learned that she is 49-year-old Marty Cobb of Dallas, Texas (color me unsurprised; even the humor is bigger in Texas). Despite looking very young, she has three kids, two of whom were on the show with her today. Ellen DeGeneres, in typical Ellen DeGeneres fashion, was extremely generous, giving her an Ellen luggage set stocked with Ellen souvenirs and $20,000 dollars in gift cards from Target, RadioShack, Shutterfly, and others. She seemed like a terrific lady; not like she didn’t deserve those prizes (she totally did) but there are tons of funny flight attendants out there. Most of them work for Southwest Airlines. Personally, I love flight attendants because not only do they help keep the plane safe, but if you’re on their good side they will be the kindest of kind to you.

This reminds me: one of my two favorite flight attendant stories happened on Southwest Airlines.

When I went to UMass Amherst, the closest airport was Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Connecticut. Because there are so many colleges and universities in Connecticut and western Massachusetts, during weekends like Thanksgiving and Spring Break, the airport is full of students. A good number come from the DMV, and since Southwest offers cheap and quick flights from Hartford to BWI, students tend to use them frequently. At that time, Southwest didn’t offer flights to Dulles or Reagan (this may have changed) so for anyone from within a few hours from Baltimore, it was worth it to fly there and then take public or private transportation to elsewhere in Maryland, Virginia, or Washington DC. Since I went to one of the biggest schools in the area, chances were that I saw at least one familiar face in the terminal or on the plane, and usually we were actual friends, not just acquaintances. This is also how I ended up sitting next to the most insufferable girl in my major for four lovely hours in the air, but I digress.

I believe it was the end of Spring Break, and I was on my way back to school. The entire Trinity College men’s basketball team ended up being on my flight, coming back from a game with some school in Baltimore/DC. Just about everyone was settled on the plane, when the intercom system crackled, and a flight attendant’s voice rang out.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Kevin? Kevin Miller? Is there a Kevin Miller on this plane?

Behind me, I heard a shuffle of sweatsuits, and various voices saying, “Kevin, wake up, they’re calling your name.”

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Passenger Kevin Miller…if you are on this plane please press your call button immediately.

BING! A call button comes on a few rows behind me, as I hear Kevin saying, “I’m here.”

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Passenger Kevin Miller, we have a message for you from Baltimore. Your mother just called, she said you left your Spider-Man lunchbox on the kitchen counter. She did talk to the pilot, and unfortunately, he has decided that we cannot delay the flight to wait for the lunchbox to arrive, but she is checking it through on the next flight out, and you should be reunited with it at baggage claim in Hartford. She also wanted me to tell you that she cut the crusts off of your peanut butter sandwich, and remembered the Double Stuf oreos, and she loves you very much.

His friends sitting behind me started cracking up, as did most of the rest of us on the plane. Somehow, they had managed to pull this flight attendant aside and convince her to play along with their prank. The best part was that she was a big, sassy black lady who didn’t miss a beat. That is how it’s done.

And that’s how to properly prank your friend on a domestic flight. International might be a little tougher.

2

The Worst Best Day of the Week

That would be today. Thursday. My classes this semester are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Friday, I have Shabbat, and on the weekends, I do weekend-type things like shopping and sometimes being social. So that leaves Thursday. Most people would enjoy the fact that they have one day a week with absolutely no regularly scheduled commitments, but I am not one of them. From Sunday to Wednesday, I pull out all the stops, reading like a fiend, writing responses, taking notes and taking names. By the time Wednesday night rolls around, I am exhausted but relieved that another academic week is done. I make a promise to myself that I’ll get a jump on next week’s reading this week by starting first thing Thursday morning…and then it doesn’t happen. What does happen?

  • Wake up.
  • Remember that there’s nothing in my plans today, so sleep a little more.
  • Get up, make a leisurely breakfast, and a hot or iced coffee drink.
  • Head to the couch to catch up with Mental Floss, Ellen DeGeneres, and Jenna Marbles.
  • Promise myself I won’t waste the day.
  • Proceed to read twelve BuzzFeeds, stalk some friends on Facebook, play a round of Word Strips, check my blog stats (welcome, Uganda!), do the New York Times crossword puzzle.
  • Promise myself that I’m done.
  • Remember that I never get to watch Survivor since I’m in class while it’s on, so catch up on that.
  • Convince myself that if I don’t leave the apartment now I won’t leave until dance class (By this time, we’re in the late afternoon).
  • Head out for “lunch” since I “just ate breakfast” (at 10 AM).
  • Do I have enough time to get to the gym? Maybe I’ll go.
  • How about the library? But I have too many books. Oh wait, I need to do some research for that paper. You know what, I should just write the paper. Let’s go home and think about that.
  • Dance class.
  • Get home, unwind after a busy day of nothing. Contemplate studying but usually opt for YouTube.
  • Look at the time, frantically make dinner, call parents, and think of a blog post.
  • Compose and post said blog, and promise self that it’s early bedtime tonight.
  • Proceed to stay up all night (well, 3 at the latest) doing – guess what? – nothing but the Internet, and usually end up feeling bad for myself.
  • Head to bed with a book, and read about five pages before telling myself that I need to get some sleep.

And that’s how I spend my Thursdays, including today. My sad life is sad. And even though I got nine hours of sleep last night, I’m still exhausted. Get it together, Jacob, because your palm is going to have a date with your face come Sunday night.

1

On Dying Young

Earlier this week in class we discussed the short but meaningful and interesting life of playwright Lorraine Hansberry. She was a playwright who is responsible for A Raisin in the Sun, a key play in the history of American theatre. Tackling topics such as family, faith, loyalty, truth, gender roles, Pan-Africanism, and the generation gap, it was a hit on Broadway and is studied in schools and universities all across America. Unfortunately, Hansberry never had the chance to shine again, as her star flickered out in 1956, when she died of pancreatic cancer at age 34.

Her life was short, but it contained the depth that so many other people’s did not, and for that, it is a shame that she died so young. It leads you to ask yourself, “why? Why did Lorraine Hansberry have to go? Was this her only purpose in life? And why did we lose her when so many awful people are still sticking around?”

My views on death have changed over the years. Today, the rational part of my brain says that biological things are strictly biological, humans can be victims of spontaneity, and that everyone has to go sometime – if that didn’t happen, the world would be overpopulated with centenarians, or folks even older. When an older person dies, it seems more appropriate – they’ve had chances to make mistakes, have successes and failures, have relationships and children, and if they’re lucky enough, leave this world in the comfort of a bed, either a hospital’s or their own, regardless of whatever mental/physical conditions they may be suffering from. But the one thing that always stops me in my tracks is when I hear about someone young being killed or dying of disease. Especially someone my age or younger. I always ask myself, “why am I still here when so many promising young people aren’t anymore?”

One of my earliest memories of someone my own age dying was in elementary school. A news story came on one night about a local girl who’d put an ad in her apartment complex’s newsletter with her name and number, offering babysitting services. Upon arrival at the home of what she thought was a family hiring her for the night, it was all a hoax, a set-up for this strange guy, who had no children, to murder her. I don’t remember her name, but I remember the freckled face and long blonde hair that stared at me from inside the television set, and her list of accomplishments: straight As, basketball and soccer player, beloved neighborhood babysitter, and overall, a “good girl.” She was “good people.” Since then, so many people that I know of (or in some cases, know personally) have left us at a young age. To cite some recent examples, whether it’s teenage makeup artist Talia Castellano succumbing to cancer, or thirty-something-but-playing-a-high-schooler actor/singer Cory Monteith overdosing on drugs, the reaction’s always the same.

“What a shame.”

But is it really? Realistically, some people do die young, with or without their consent or control. Death is final and it’s always horrible when it occurs, and sometimes it’s not preventable. I’m not saying that people who died young deserved to die, but in my opinion, maybe it was their “time.” Maybe their death is a way to remember them at their finest moments, and that had they lived any longer, they might have caused pain or hurt to others. For example, the babysitter could’ve grown up and blown up her college campus or assassinated a politician, and Cory Monteith could have been killed in a back-alley drug deal gone bad, or murdered someone under the influence of drugs. Then again, it could be the complete opposite. We will never know what they would’ve done, and we’ll never find out. And I guess that’s the way the world works, the way that God works. He shields and protects us all our lives in so many ways, from allowing us to digest food without choking, vomiting, or exploding; allowing us to get from point A to point B safely, whether it’s on wheels, air, sea, or our own feet; for having that car come to a juddering stop when you run across the street at the last minute, or having you step out of the way just before the piano falls on your head. In a sense, maybe death was a way of protecting them from having a worse fate, or from harming someone else later on down the line.

On the opposite side, some young people shouldn’t be alive after what happened to them, but my some miracle, have remained alive, to serve another purpose. Their time isn’t quite done here yet, and they’re the living proof.

Case in point: Malala Yousafzai.

On 9 December 2012, she was traveling home from school on the bus when two men from the Taliban stormed on, shooting her point blank in the face as well as at her other friends. Miraculously, her friends escaped mostly unhurt, and Malala herself lapsed into a coma, during which time her life was in the balance, with things going either way. She woke up in a hospital in England some time later, and slowly regained her strength and mobility to a full recovery. After she resurfaced, she resumed her activities as an activist for education and peace, and was reportedly a nominee (and a favorite) to win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

She didn’t win, but she won her life back.

I watched tonight’s 20/20 special on her and her story, and she said something akin to “death didn’t want to take me yet.” While I wouldn’t put it quite as bluntly as that, she’s right. There’s gotta be something more in the works for her. If she was meant to be some sort of child martyr, it would’ve happened. Children have died before, whether they were activists or just your everyday kid on the school bus.

But Malala didn’t. And that’s a fact.

No matter how murky the story may be, or by whose account was most accurate, the proof is right there in the flesh. Malala didn’t die. It was not her time. Nobody knows if she’ll live to be 19 or 90, but there’s a reason that she’s made it to 16 with all of her faculties, and only some internal and external scars on the way. Just because a person has a strong personality, doesn’t mean that their body chemistry and all their cells and organs are strong too. No matter how strong your will is, you can’t take that force and say “hey bones, tissues, organs, cells…heal up, because it’s time to save the world!” What your body does is not up to you. It is beyond human control and moreover, human comprehension.

When a disaster happens, a common sentiment that arises is that “because of X, I can’t possibly believe that there is a God.” But not enough people look at a situation like Malala Yousafzai and say themselves, “because of this, I can’t possibly believe that there’s not a God.” I am of the latter opinion. Looking at pictures of Malala, reading about her story, and seeing her on my computer and TV screens, makes me think of nothing other than this: God is. Growing up, I learned not to image God as an old man, an old woman, a king, a queen, any person or thing, so I wondered – who is God, if we don’t, can’t, and shouldn’t know what God looks like? I also grew up in the 90s, so my mental playlist is totally queuing up Joan Osborne hardcore right about now, but to get back to the point, I just think that God is. Not exists, but is. In outer space, right here on my couch in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, or just somewhere. Existence is a human concept. Talking about religion is something pretty personal to me, because I’m still figuring things out myself, and I don’t like to impose my views on others, but I feel like I want to make some sort of statement. Something like…even if I can’t see, I believe. Because…why not? Cold hard facts aren’t changed by belief, At the end of the day, Malala is still standing, still speaking, and still working for what she believes in.

Malala Yousafzai comes from a world that is further along in time than Lorraine Hansberry, but less advanced in terms of wealth, rights for women, and educatoinal opportunity. But the facts are the facts. Something was meant to happen to Lorraine Hansberry that was not meant for Malala.

Lorraine Hansberry, your words are an incredible inspiration for us all, and I am so grateful that at least we have that extant sliver of your intelligence and creativity. Even though you died young, you did more in that short time than some people who manage to live into old age.  You must have been destined to do just what you were sent here to do, and then rejoin God to give a full and thorough report.

Malala Yousafzai, your words are an incredible inspiration for us all, and I am so grateful that we have only seen a sliver of your intelligence and creativity. You are meant to do more, and now you have that chance, so go do it. Don’t stop for anyone or anything. Make the world a better place because that’s what you’re here to do. I know you can. I wish I had the courage, strength, and drive that you have, and maybe one day I’ll get there myself. You survived what should have been the end, so pick up where you left off and keep going. I love you, the world loves you, and somewhere out there, a force – called God, if you like – loves you too and sent you back on a mission. You are destined for great things with this great thing called life and free will to do with it what you wish, so make the most of each day.

That last sentence isn’t just for you though, it’s for everyone who’s reading this.

Oh, and Malala – if somehow, God, or the universe, or the force, could send you on a mission to end to all the conflicts in Israel, the Middle East and South Asia,  that would be nice too.

And if God could send you on Ellen along the way, that would be even better.