BatFan Fiction

Arabic+sample++BMP.bmp

Kids, hit the above button for translation.

I have of late, and wherefore I know not, recently acquired several followers on my

Google Reader shared items

who live in the Middle East.  I'm sure these things tend to spread from friend to friend, etc., and it's largely coincidence, but

Friend Andrew

and I got to discussing it, and theorizing why things might trend that way for me.  We decided it had nothing to do with theatre, or comedy, or philosophy, or collaboration, or my geopolitical proficiency.  No, to us it was clear: Middle Easterners love The Batman.

I mean, who doesn't, right?  Of course right.  But just think: What if there is an untapped creative trove of fan fiction depicting a Bruce Wayne/Batman of middle eastern descent?  If we could somehow harness said trove, what sorts of stories would it produce?  That is the challenge presented herein.  Write a Batman story in which he originates in the Middle East.  Refresher: The "Middle East" as we know it consists of about eighteen countries, but for the purposes of the assignment you can also use countries classified as part of the so-called

Greater Middle East

.

Some guidelines:

  1. For short summaries, feel free to use the comment section on the Aviary itself, not Facebook.  For longer versions, please email.
  2. I reserve the right not to publish anything I dang well please.  Some rules to help you get published:
    1. Nothing hateful, unless it's hateful of superstitious, cowardly criminals (and there's room for interpretation there).
    2. Nothing overtly political - that is, politics can of course be used as a story element, but this 'blog will not be made a platform for political arguments.
    3. Dark and brooding is good.  So is a sense of humor.
    4. If the Internet can't translate it, I can't read it.  It probably won't be allowed to stay on the island.
    5. Try to avoid Survivor references wherever possible.

And that's about it!  Okay, folks: submit to me your concepts.  I would be THRILLED to hear from some of my international buddies on this one, of course, but you in these states united, don't be shy either.  Just promise they'll be good.

SWEAR TO ME!

Update, 12/31/10:

  Friend Kate sent along this little nugget about emerging Muslim superheroes:

Irtiqa 12/21/10

.

Polar

It's an incredibly interesting word. All its meanings come from the concept of a pole shape, and so are rather straight-forward in etymology. However, they signify vastly different concepts in and of themselves, depending upon usage. It can mean central, or pivotal, but also diametrically opposed as in the ends of a pole or opposing magnetic forces. In addition, it can be used to describe something that functions as a principle guide. Quite accidentally, it seems, the word "polar" nearly, neatly encompasses (pun unintended [honest]) just about every little thing inside and out, for or against.

The other night I was in casual conversation with a friend when she made one of those sorts of personal observations that was so exact as to give me a start. I've been thinking that I'm in a place of generalized uncertainty; that I have been in such a place for a while, actually, but am only now coming to realize it. My friend said something to the effect of, "You seem to be in a tricky place of trying to figure out what's next." Bingo. Yes. A place of trying. And that makes me feel uncertain about just about everything. And that in turn swings me around, moodily, as though I were a

Mylar toy

in the mouth of a playful cat.

(Maybe that's only my cat?)

I've noticed a trend in naming when it comes to psychological analysis, and I've always considered myself unqualified for such an observation, so I've kept it to myself. (At least I think I have, Dear Reader; I'm sure you'll correct me if I lie.) Recently, however, I learned about the

American Psychiatric Association

's evaluation of their terminology and definitions (thank you,

This American Life

) and the tremendous controversies and impact these ever-changing guidelines can engender. Take the example

TAL

covers in the linked story: the classification and eventual declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder. The next official guidelines, o

r

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

(DSM-5) are due to be released around May of 2013 and, guess what, you can

view the draft online

.

Heck: Register, and you could've submit commentary. (Only until April 20th! Fail!)

This little affirmation that psychiatry is just as mutable a science as any of the others (if not a bit more so) has me thinking about my little theory a bit more. I think perhaps that the naming of supposed disorders reflects more about our collective relationship to our environment than it does any particular diagnostic insight into psychiatry. To take it further, our concept of "normal" behavior is subliminally reflected in our choice of wording when it comes to naming what we believe to be abnormal. In other words (pun very much intended), by the very act of trying to be impartial and insightful about them, we are showing our specific bias and inability to understand behaviors.

I'm not slamming psychiatry. I think it's a very adaptive science that pursues very important goals. If I'm slamming anything, it's folks who put too much faith in psychiatry as a textbook for understanding people. People who do this exist, and they're stupid. I am pretty stupid, too, as far as formal psychiatric education goes; there's no way I could last in a debate against the most green of students. Fortunately, I'm not aiming for argument here, but for exploration of the possibility that our need for names might offer us clues into understanding the namers as much as understanding the named. All this hinges on another, background premise with which you may not agree -- to wit: there is no "normal." Disorders, yes, to the extent that the disorder refers to behavior that impairs functionality. But normalcy? In self-aware humans? Sorry, I'm not buying it. If you do, you might want to save yourself some grief and stop right about here.

(If you feel like a cat-victimized Mylar toy from here on out, it's not my fault.)

It's interesting to note that the defining aspect of bipolar disorder is currently under review by the APA. That is,

the "

rapid cycling specifier."

[

DSM-5: 296.5x

]

When I was growing up, I never heard about bipolar disorder, and believe it's a quite recent adoption. For most of my life, a sort of blanket adjective was used: manic-depressive. Wikipedia suggests this term was officially adopted

as of DSM-2

. That same article begins with some etymology far more complex and interesting than the stuff of my opening paragraph. This etymological overview suggests that the behavior associated with these terms dates back to the very beginnings of recorded human history. I can't help but wonder what qualified as bipolar behavior in times of such struggle and innovation.

The term "bipolar" is not only ambiguous for its use of "polar," but for "bi-," which is one of the most misunderstood prefixes in western English. When used to indicate a period of time, it can mean twice per a given unit, or once per every two of a given unit. We attempt to overcome this by using for example "semimonthly" to indicate something that happens twice a month, but this is not a replacement, merely a potential substitution. It doesn't make "bi-" any less ambiguous, in other words. Now, I understand how they mean the term bipolar in reference to the disorder (at least I think I do [two magnets every pivotal two months, right?]). I just find it interesting that in ostensibly trying to refine and specify a description of erratic emotional behavior, we have jumbled it up so very thoroughly.

Maybe it's apt. That is how it feels when one is in the midst of a manic-depressive cycle, or a rapidly-cycling mood, or a feeling velocipede (What?) -- it's extremely difficult to know which way is up, find one's center or know whether one is coming or one is gone. And maybe, just maybe, this is my acting philosophy showing through, but I can't help but wonder if we aren't all pretty bipolar. I'm not discounting by any means people who are crippled by bipolar disorder. There are some who need serious help to function. Yet I feel that by searching for the identities of disorders, we sometimes find disorder in the natural order. In acting, at least in my school of it, we say, "use what works." No one technique is superior to another. It's all about the approach best suited to the task at hand. Sometimes feeling lost, or swung about, is the very technique we need to discover another route onward.

Classic Construction

NOTE:

This is an older entry, only being posted now, because I can haz bizyness...

So. As I have

noted

in

previous

posts

, Zuppa del Giorno has been building up for a while now to the project in which we are now embroiled in earnest --

a comic version of

Romeo & Juliet

. What may not have been entirely clear from my previous posts (largely because it was not entirely clear to me at the time of said posting) was just how ambitious and ridiculous this adventure would be. I mean: Really. We are reinterpreting the play using traditions of commedia dell'arte and clowning, verse and prose and improvised dialogue, not to mention passages spoken in Italian. The set is being built specifically to be sturdy and climbable, the floor is padded for falls and it is looking somewhat optimistic for Juliet's bed to be, in fact, a circus silk from which

Friend Heather

and I can hang and climb. We have two Italian collaborators working with us, one of whom is a maestro of the commedia dell'arte. We've been at it for little over a week now, and we're definitely finding our stride, with maybe ten days' real rehearsal left before tech rehearsals begin.

It's all very exciting. And difficult. And

cold

. Why didn't anyone tell me it would be this

cold

?

(They did; I just didn't listen.)

"So how is it going?" I hear you ask from behind the folds of the interwebs, your multitudinous voices betraying just the slightest strain of deep-seated desperation? Be calm, Dear Readers, or, as Angelo Crotti screams at Romeo when he's a little more than worked up: "

CALME TE!

" It is going well. As with any theatrical enterprise, the show is not shaping up to be exactly what I imagined, but that is probably for the best. There's a lot risk in it now, and certainly a great deal more variety. For example, I was thrown to discover just how much of the scenework would involve improvisation over the text, and for a couple of days I wanted to gouge my eyes out with icicles of my own anxiety. That sounds bad, I know, but neither is it hyperbole. I really get that worked up over the work. Hopefully you'll give me the benefit of the doubt, and see this as evidence of my passion for what I make. The fact is, I'm not making this show -- I'm helping to make it, and it needs to be what it will be. So I'm finding peace in the idea of a show with ample modern language mixed in with the Shakespeare; and anyway, I overreacted. The original text is proving just as virulent as contempo-speak. Our Mercutio, potentially the least comfortable with the original text (next to the Italians) frequently slips into the original text mid-improvisation. Billy-boy just wrote good, and it's that simple. That having been said, the man did write a whole lot, and the past few days have been much-consumed with line-memorization for yours truly.

It's rather like this thus far, all-in-all: Today was great work, yesterday was terrible, tomorrow -- who knows? And that's part of the joy. Where will it all lead? Hopefully to many laughs, and at least a couple of well-earned tears. That's all I ever ask for, really, from the theatre.

North Pocono High: Day 3

Today was, in many ways, unexpected. We ended up teaching two-and-a-half classes today, because just as we were ready to start the second period, the school went into a lock-down. I was confused by this; I'd never heard the term before. For those of you who haven't spent a lot of time around a high school in recent history, a lock-down is a sort of policy enacted in the interests of the students' safety in a time of crisis, or investigation. On notice, everyone goes into their respective classrooms and lock the doors. Well, one of these got timed for today in such a way that we missed out on teaching second-period Phys. Ed. class. To be fair, the announcement apparently informed people that they could continue teaching (it seemed it was simply for a drug check; they brought in drug-sniffing dogs), but they don't get all the announcements in the gymnasium and so we spent over an hour sitting, silent, instead. It's a good practice, given what can happen in a school these days. I was completely unaware of it prior to today.

Before all that, though, we had a great Shakespeare class in the auditorium. Our emphasis today was on the improvisation tenet, "When in doubt, breathe out," and we worked with the students on diaphragmatic breathing, enunciation and diction, and projection. I've been using horse stance to encourage the students to have a strong base for their breath, and they kind of hate it, but in a good, collective groan kind of way. It's working; they're really learning to relax the parts of their bodies they're not using, to ground themselves and deliver powerful voice from the diaphragm. After breathing drills and vocal warm-ups, we ran them through a diction drill, using:

"To sit in solemn silence
on a dull, dark dock,
in a pestilential prison
with a life-long lock,
awaiting the sensation
of a short, sharp shock
from a cheap and chippy chopper
on a big black block."

Then we practiced as a group throwing our voices to the back corner of the auditorium and delivering dialogue with power, before taking individuals up on stage with a line from their scene work and working them through clarity and intention in delivery. Heather and I would take turns coaching the student on stage and standing at the rear of the space, checking for clarity and projection. It was continued good work from this early group. Sadly, time got away from us again and we didn't get to everyone, but we made sure the rest of the class paid attention and practiced good audience habits. Hopefully some of what we do will stick, and they'll continue a practice. Tomorrow we plan to explore the use of character archetypes in Shakespeare (which I'm very much looking forward to), and we'll be back in the auditorium Friday to pull it all together.

Our one gym class was abbreviated to just barely a half an hour, so we kept the freshmen and sophomores in their street clothes and sped them through stretching and the most basic partner balances. Everyone was fairly hyperactive after the excitement/anxiety of the lock-down, but we managed to come together by the end of the half-period, and circle push-ups are always good for a bonding experience. We've ended every class thus far with this conditioning exercise. The way it works is that you have everyone in a circle (a rather large circle in our case) and put them in the "up" position of a push-up. When you tell them they only have to do one push-up, they relax a bit. When you tell them we're doing them one-at-a-time, and everyone must stay in the "up" position until we're through, they groan, but don't quite grasp just how hard they'll be working by the end. As it progresses, the energy builds, people moan and groan, but they're enduring together, so that by the end you can give them a choice: to keep it up, or join you in a set of ten or twenty push-ups more. Maybe this seems like torture to you, Gentle Reader? I can only say that, if you're there, you feel the camaraderie afterwards.

In our last class of the day, we revisited improvisation and set some new challenges for the students. We began with more team-building games -- group counting again, and blob tag. After a quick review of the improvisation principles, we set the students to two games: What Are You Doing? and Sit, Stand, Lie. In doing these, we asked them to remember to respond with a "Yes, and" attitude, and all that good stuff. WAYD is good for getting students to react impulsively, and rely on one another for their actions, and SSL reminds the participants that they need to pay close attention to one another if they hope to build a story together. The interesting thing about game play in this context is trying to keep the emphasis more on teamwork, less on competition. The games tend to teach themselves in this regard; they work better when people are working together. However, more inexperienced improvisers need encouragement to leave their safety zones, to trust their scene partners more and more . . . and still more. It was difficult to invite this observation in such a short time, but that's just the nature of a school day. If we get one thing across in our remaining days in this class, I'd like it to be a priority for fostering trust, for creating ensemble. Tomorrow we'll tackle this by way of acrobalance work. The physical can often be a quicker teacher than the conceptual.

North Pocono High: Day 1


Today I and fellow Zuppianni Heather Stuart had our first day as artists in residence at North Pocono High School; we're teaching all this week, four classes a day -- one Shakespeare, two Phys. Ed. (yes, you read that right) and a theatre class. This is our first go teaching under the auspices of the NEIU, and we've been pretty excited about it. So often with the workshops we have to have an intense but brief experience, and never get to follow a progress with a group of students. This week, we'll start what I hope is the first of many chances to help students evolve over some time.

Shakespeare is a new class for us to be teaching, but particularly apt, given our upcoming project. Heather and I decided to offer the students our techniques for developing a show, improvisation and characterization, all through a Shakespearean lens. We were pleasantly surprised to find the students particularly eager and bright at first period. They are working on scenes from Taming of the Shrew, and some have already begun to memorize. Our plan was to review (in a scant 43 minutes) the basic tenets of improvisation, and then structure the rest of the week around those tenets as they apply to exploring and developing Shakespeare. After a quick warm-up, we led the students through a few exercises to get them accepting and building, making the other look good, being specific and breathing and making a physical choice when they got stuck. We ended the period with genres, asking them to perform their scenes in the round and inviting their classmates to jump in to help build the environment when necessary. Then we introduced a genre -- James Bond film, Western, etc. -- for them to adapt the text to. They took to it like they were on fire, and we were very pleased. The rest of the week we can really focus on specific techniques and approaches with this class.

Physical Education we were, I must admit, a bit nervous about. We've taught highly physical classes and workshops before, but never have we needed to incorporate the specific goals of a P.E. program and environment. We would have two rather large classes (30 to 70) in a row in a large, echoed gymnasium, and the classes we see Monday and Tuesday we meet again on Thursday and Friday, due to their rotating-day scheduling. Our approach then was to spend a good amount of time on the stretching and preparatory activities for partner balance, then instruct one-to-two acrobalance moves later in the week. We had the whole class form a circle, and led them through some of our more interesting stretches, making a point of first running them through some aerobic exercises to shake out the initial hyperactivity. It was surprisingly effective to keep the group focused simply by staying in the middle and pausing at key points; Heather and I stayed back-to-back, eyes watchful as though we were defending a hill. As the group warmed up and became accustomed to the activity, we switched to partner stretching, getting them adjusted somewhat to physical contact and communication. The students paired off by approximate height and we took them through pulling assisted stretches. The response was good. In that environment, the most hopeless response you can get is apathy, and we had very little of that. Afterwards, we heard good feedback, which is all the better for us as it spreads into the halls and informs the approach of our future students in these classes.

The last class of our day was a theatre one, after a break, and we also endeavored to teach the students the tenets of good improvisatory theatre, this time in a bit more detail. We were a little surprised to find this class a good deal more bashful than the first period. But then again, it was a greater mix of ages, and by seventh period some of the hyperactive energy so critical to good teenage productivity has worn thin. We warmed them up, then took them through more advanced improvisational exercises than those we used earlier in the day. They responded well, but we still had some showing fear at the end. Our goal with these students is to train them toward learning to work in Zuppa del Giorno's style, to regard a scenario, or a string of actions, as their script and to get a little more comfortable with putting their own ideas into what they're creating, making strong choices that are unique to them.

It was a good start. Tomorrow we have some modifications to add to each class, based on what we learned today. In Shakespeare, we plan to begin looking at methods of creating a strong physicalization for a character, using a combination of textual clues and personal physical exploration. Gym will be basically the same approach, but we'll have our first freshman/sophomore class, which should tell us a lot about how to proceed with the rest of the week. We may also do some demonstration of where our work with them leads, showing off a few of our more impressive acrobalance moves. For the theatre class, we intend to incorporate more game play, to disarm some of their defensive responses and get everyone into a team mindset. To this end, we're teaching some of our comic techniques: threes, one-thing-at-a-time, lazzi and the like. If they get comfortable performing their own work for one another, they'll be a hair's breadth from doing it outside the classroom. There's a strong possibility for our returning in the spring to work with them on their production of A Midsummer Night's Dream; the potential for tracking so many students' development over such a prolonged period of time is a very exciting prospect indeed.