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TSJ, ABD!

One of the reasons I’ve been absent from my blog these past couple of weeks is because I’ve been slaving away on my prelim A exam. In August, I attempted it, but did not pass, so I had until December to redo it. After three months of blood, sweat, tears, and revisions…

I PASSED.

I can withdraw my Wendy’s application because I. WILL. BE. A. P. H. D.

This calls for some celebratory gifs!

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Things I Can Do, Things I Can Did

Today, I managed to:

  • Get up at 6 AM to make my houseguests breakfast.
  • Make it to Engineering by 9 AM to assist a workshop for APO Region Rally.
  • Make it on time to Gordon Commons for Standard competition, Newcomer Waltz and Quickstep (no placement though, boo 😦 ).
  • Return to Engineering by 1 PM to lead my very own workshop.
  • Participate in advisory roundtable.
  • Get back to Gordon Commons for Newcomer Latin, dance in 4 heats (Cha Cha/Samba/Rumba/Jive), then 4 quarter-finals, then 4 semi-finals (+ an extra semi-final for Samba/Jive), and earn 5th place in the Samba final.
  • Make it to APO banquet in time to hear Maggie Katz speak.
  • Participate in the biggest Fellowship Circle I’ve seen in 6 years.
  • Get to Target before they closed for snacks and some medicine because I’ve been coughing/sneezing.

Exhausting? Yes.

Am I tired? Debatable.

Did I think I could get it all done, and be on time for everything? No.

But did I accomplish it? Yes, I did.

Could I do it again? With enough rest, less coughing, and higher temperatures, absolutely.

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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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How to Make Mealtimes on Passover Much More Enjoyable

This day has turned out to be perfectly awful, capped off with my Internet deciding to go to Italy or something, so I’m posting this from my iPad, which means I’ll have to return later for tags and graphics.

On top of that, it’s still Passover. I know that my ancestors did my unborn soul a solid by getting out of Egypt, but couldn’t they have just brought some trail mix or something? Well, part of it is some old rabbis’ fault, but I won’t go into that right now.

I would like to, on another note, pay a tribute to something that has made my Passover a little more hassle-free, and that is the Solo cup.

Commonly seen at fraternity houses and beach bungalows, the red Solo cup is the iconic imagery of modern-day alcoholism. The fire-engine red plastic never goes with anything you’re wearing, but its color seems to be pleasing to the eye, mind, and soul of those seeking relief from midterms and taxes alike. Students from other countries are often surprised when they come to college in the USA that sometimes the cups may be blue. Its status has only been enhanced by the media exposure received from movies of the last twenty years; hundreds of Oscar-worthy performances yet never noticed by the Academy.

This Passover, I took stock of my utensil collection. I have my grandmother’s silverware, but my Passover flatware was left behind in Houston. Since I bought two sets of dishes once I got here, I never needed anything of the disposable sort. Upon opening my utility cabinet, I had a half-filled sleeve of plastic plates, but no plastic cups. So, I went to the grocery store and bought some red Solo cups for this purpose (and to make me feel young again). Once the holiday started, I realized just how useful red Solo cups are to the everyday consumer.

You can eat just about anything out of a red Solo cup.

Aside from any beverage, the red Solo cup is the perfect side for a bowl of soup, if you let it cool a little before hitting the plastic. Matzah balls act as ice cubes. For fresh fruits like berries or canned peaches, just put them in the cup, run it under some water, and you’re good to go. Speaking of snacking, they have a finger-bowl-like quality for any morsels out of a box or bag. Chicken or fish? No problem! Fold it over, stick it in the cup, and you can have one hand free and use a fork and spoon to cut it into pieces. Eggs are a snap: in omelet form, just slide that baby in, and in hard boiled form, it’s handy to have two on hand – one to hold the eggs, and one for the shells, and the yolks too if they’re not your thing, so you can dump it in the trash or down the disposal when you’re done. Believe it or not, you can also use plastic to save the environment too! You can eat out of one, drink from another, put biodegradable waste in one, and non-biodegradable waste like candy wrappers and drink pouches in the other, and dispose appropriately. How convenient! Another environmentally friendly function of the cups is their reusability. Wash them throughly immediately after use, and you can use them to enjoy another meal! Or, if you like, take the cup you ate your lunch from and turn it into your dinner disposal cup! Double duty, people! And clean-up’s a breeze – just lift it up and you’re done, no more sponging down the table!

The only Passover food that doesn’t quite work with the cup is matzah itself, but who needs matzah anyway?

Now, go out and get yourself some red Solo cups and rediscover the fun of eating at home!

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Better Ideas for A TV Show Featuring Muslims

I’ve still been thinking about Alice in Arabia, so consider this a Part II to yesterday’s post. Sometimes, I look at ideas by others and I think that, given the chance, I could execute them better. So, here are a list of pitches for television shows I’ve come up with that could feature Muslim characters without stereotyping, or at least that are better than Alice in Arabia. Here we go.

Dramas

Eyes Open

 

Souad is a twenty-something Muslim woman who has left Afghanistan to pursue her dreams of being an ophthalmologist. In the pilot, we see her getting her acceptance letter to a university in America, and leaving with her family’s blessing. Souad thinks she’s got it all figured out, but upon arrival at school, however, Souad discovers that there’s more to America than meets the eye. Proudly sporting her traditional burqa, all that others can see are her eyes, which are usually in a book or looking into a microscope. Follow Souad as she struggles through navigating her new life and her new language, challenged by her fears for her own safety as well as that of her family back home; but revel in her triumphs of never giving up, and finding love where she least expects to see it, with a man who can look past her veil without removing it. One unique feature of this show would be the usages of two camera styles: one as Souad’s eyes and one as the eyes on Souad.

 

Beyond the Screen

Abdul, a young man of a wealthy Saudi family, spends every waking moment on the Internet, making friends all over the world through a computer simulation game where he is mayor of a virtual city. Things take a serious turn when he finds out that some of his citizens are not who they seem; he stumbles upon what he thinks is a virtual terrorism fantasy story that is an actual plan to kill a powerful figure overseas. For help, he reaches to the one person he still trusts: his virtual wife and first lady of the city, Nadia, a beautiful young player from France who speaks impeccable Arabic, in whom he has confided his deepest personal secrets, including this one. In the pilot, after they decide to team up to take this player and his real-life plan down, Abdul and Nadia video chat for the first time, Abdul is relieved when the beautiful young woman he’s dreamed of looks just like her pictures, but the truth comes out that she is not as far away as she seems: Nadia was born in France, but grew up and still lives in Tel Aviv, Israel, and is Jewish.

Sitcoms

Sis-Kabobs

Two Muslim sisters-in-law decide to open the first halal shish-kabob food truck in Boston, and turn Beantown (and their families) upside down with their newfound friendship, custom-painted truck, and unconventional ingredients. A recipe for fun.

 

 

When Sherri Met Ali

When Sherri, a stubborn, high-powered American executive, gets dumped, she crashes into the first man she sees for a one-night stand. That man turns out to be Ali, who’s an arrogant Muslim fashion model. Sherri and Ali detest each other and swear to never get together again, but they find out they have more and more in common, with Sherri’s firm taking on a company Ali models for as their newest client. Ali starts developing feelings for Sherri but has to keep it professional, and when Sherri finds out that Ali’s “traded up” to a new girl, a co-worker with model-esque looks, it turns into a case of…

Estelle Reiner, we have liftoff.

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How Do You Pronounce Your Name, In Your Country?

Today, I hosted the sixth and final film in this year’s Madison Israeli Film Festival. It was a Sunday matinee showing of the 2012 film Foreign Letters by Israeli Filmmaker Ela Thier.

A still from the film

The film takes place in the USA in 1982 and centers around Ellie, a young girl who has recently emigrated from Israel to America with her family. She struggles, but is curious to learn about this strange new place called America where supermarkets give away bags for free and schools have libraries and cafeterias. While at school, she befriends Thuy, a girl who has moved from Vietnam to America with her family several years prior, due to the war. The girls have an unlikely friendship but bond over being outsiders in an America that is predominantly white and English-speaking. Their close friendship is tested by Ellie’s self-proclaimed “boyfriends,” Thuy’s shy and protective nature, and ultimately, betrayal, when Ellie spills one of Thuy’s secrets. But the film ends on a happy note, when Ellie makes a sacrifice in order to win her friend back.

After the film, I gave a short speech and invited some students from our school’s Vietnamese Student Association to the front of the room, where they talked about their lives and their different connections with their own Vietnamese culture and heritage. The two members of the group who were born in Vietnam (including one who just arrived in America this past year for school) wore spectacular Vietnamese outfits called ao dai just like Ellie and Thuy wear in the film when they are dancing together on the rooftop of Thuy’s apartment building. They gave a really solid presentation about Vietnamese culture and traditions, connecting it to things that we saw in the movie, such as Vietnamese clothing, food, and family values.

We had a small crowd, of only about 40 people, but I think any more than that would’ve been overwhelming. After their presentation, they took questions from the audience. All in all, it was a really fun event and I got more than a few compliments from people who attended and those who worked at Hillel.

From the moment I read the description of the movie, I had to see it, and after the first time I saw it, I knew I wanted to see it again and that I wanted to be the host for this one (there were six students on the film committee, each of us hosted a different night) because I love films that have a happy ending but still an urban, gritty atmosphere. Life is awkward sometimes and watching Foreign Letters again helped me feel like even though I’m an awkward person, I’m not alone. I also feel like this film really shied away from stereotypes, and showed a slice of life, something real. The Jewish/Israeli perspective was spot on, and I hope that the Vietnamese perspective was shown accurately, which I think it was. This film is definitely among my all-time favorites.

And of course, there’s the background soundtrack, featuring the fabulous vocals of Chava Alberstein. Watch the trailer here:

Oh, and welcome to my newest country, Latvia (laipni lūdzam!). Maybe I’ll get my first blog hit from Vietnam?

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Learning is Pun

Now playing at the Las Vegas Colosseum…

…everyone’s favorite late-nineteenth century Irish playwright and late-twentieth century Canadian pop sensation…

CELINE DION BOUCICAULT

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And this is what I learned in grad school this week and just spent an hour of my life doing.

Oh, and here’s the rough draft, which was significantly less pretty…

celinedionboucicaultOkay, it was hideous, but I tried.