Flipping the Stage: show me more ugly

Earlier this week, Dr. Shawn Graham forwarded me on this website and project, knowing about my interest in theatre. This post is going to talk about that project, and I’ll be using both my history/theatre and digital history hats!

St. Lawrence Performing Arts Program is undertaking something that to my knowledge, is pretty unique in the performing arts world. Their using social media platforms and tools, like Instagram, Tumblr, and Snapchat, to give the public and audience members a behind the scenes look at the making of “Ash Girl”, a play by Timberlake Wertenbaker. They’re calling it “Flipping the Stage.” Here’s an explanation of what they’re doing:

Typically a theatre production is experienced for a narrowly prescribed moment—the 2-2.5 hours of performance. “Flipping the Stage” looks to lengthen and broaden the theatrical experience for the students involved in the production as well as the broader PCA department and SLU campus population by offering in-depth exposure to the production via the cast, crew, and production team.

The program was developed through the Digital Initiatives Faculty Fellowship Program. Through Flipping the Stage, they showcase the production work that goes into a show. They’ve broken down their posts into different themes/categories, including “Mystery Monday” “Technical Tuesday” “Wisdom Wednesday” “Funday Friday” “Selfie Sunday.”

The photos and snapshots show pictures of the cast picking apples together, costume mock-ups, pre-show rehearsals, script readings, inspiration, game nights etc. Here’s a snapshot of some of their posts (you can see much more through their website.)

This is a pretty brave step. Showcasing what goes on from script to stage is never easy. This kind of transparency excites me, as it’s something that I think a lot of historians are calling for in the field (and are reluctant to do). Talking about these decisions and negotiations is something I tried to do with my MRE script, and in the reflection I’ll be writing.

What the St. Lawrence Performing Arts Program is doing deserves applause, but there are some issues with it as well. I’m confident that someone involved in the Flipping the Stage program has  A) already thought of these issues, and B) will likely write/present about them at some point, but since I haven’t seen anything as of yet, I’m going to throw in my 2 cents, coming from a historical/theatre perspective, and combined with some of the things I’ve learned thus far from my Digital History class.

The biggest issue is that they’re buying into the idea that by using things like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, the public is getting a “real look” at what is going on in production. Whether we like to admit it or not, whenever we post something on the Web, we’re performing.  Think about how many selfies you’ve taken when you have a huge pimple on your chin…None? Yeah, not surprising. Knowing that the images we’re taking are going to be seen by others causes us to automatically filter ourselves. We all want to look like we’re living happy, fabulous, and fulfilling lives.

Not surprisingly then, the majority of the Flipping the Stage content shows a happy, fun cast. While I am in no way saying that these people weren’t happy when these photos were taken, I can’t ignore the fact that there aren’t too many photos/videos that show a stressed out director, dealings with a difficult cast member, budget issues etc. This is because we don’t often have the knee-jerk response to whip out a camera when people are fighting, and things are going wrong. However, those are the realities of theatrical production. Nothing every goes 100% according to plan, there are always hiccups.

I’d argue then that in carrying Flipping the Stage forward (which St. Lawrence Performing Arts Program should 100% do, because again it is an amazing initiative), they should strive to catch more of these kinds of interactions. Leave the camera running during rehearsal, capture those creative differences. Because it’s those things that will be interesting for public, the conversations that happen surrounding blocking, readings, and character development, that show all the minute decisions that go into a production. All the little negotiations that shape how an audience will learn a story.

Congratulations to the cast/crew of The Ash Girl, and to St. Lawrence Performing Arts Program for being bold and brave! Keep pushing forward, and keep up the good work!


Photos from NYE Past

Courtesy of Vintage.es.

Happy New Year!

New Year’s Eve Ball, 1978.
New Year’s Eve, 1950s, New York City.
New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s Eve, 1912, Chinatown.
New Year’s Eve, c.1910, New York City.

New Year’s Eve, 1939.
New Year’s Eve, 1946.
New Year’s Eve, Studio 54, 1978.
New Year’s Eve, 1956, Times Square.
New Year’s Eve, Philadelphia, 1942.
New Year’s Eve, 1952.
New Year’s Eve, 1943, New York City.
New Year’s Eve, c. 1920.
New Year’s Eve, 1941.
New Year’s Eve, New York City, 1963.

Footage of the streets in Tokyo after WWII

Courtesy of boigboing.net

Original article here.

Record producer and DJ Boogie Belgique assembled this crisp black-and-white footage of post-WWII Tokyo. The clips “take us for a ride down a shopping street in the Shinbashi district, past market stalls in Shibuya, alongside the river, and even into areas meant exclusively for the occupying American forces,” says Colin Marshall at Open Culture.

I’ve been to Tokyo a half a dozen times and the city shown here is unrecognizable to me.

Rocket News 24 has a lot of interesting speculation about the footage (commenters say the film is second unit footage for the movie Tokyo Joe, which came out in November of 1949).

Some things you don’t typically see in modern-day Tokyo: people walking around in geta sandals, military personnel being transported around in trucks, and streets that aren’t completely filled with cars.

One thing that hasn’t changed: salarymen. One thing that has changed: their hats are much less badass nowadays.


Will I ever take photos the same? The postcolonial gaze and tourism

Two weeks ago, I was very fortunate to be able to travel to the pacific coast of Mexico for a week to visit a friend. Like many tourists, I packed my camera.

On my second day in Mexico, my host took me to a nearby market in Pochutla. This bustling market, featuring locals selling and buying fruit, fish, clothing, and toys, presented many opportunities for a photograph. Something that immediately caught my eye soon after we arrived was a man who had fashioned a bicycle into a knife sharpener. I quickly pulled out my camera from my bag and pointed the lens. Instead of snapping away, I paused, hearing the echoes of recent seminar discussions on photography in my head. This would lead to me standing quietly for about 5 minutes thinking about the ethical and theoretical implications of this potential photograph.

First, I questioned what my motivation for taking the photograph was. I admitted this had to do with the strangeness of activity in relation to others going on in the market. A fruit stand next to a knife sharpening service seemed abnormal. This answer made me uneasy. My desire to capture this moment was based on a process of “othering.” Was this potential photograph an example of the colonial gaze? Thinking about E. Ann Kaplan’s definition, my photograph is a reflection of the assumption that the white western subject is the norm. This then implied that my gaze is also postcolonial, regardless if I take the photograph or not.

This initial anxious inner-discussion played out while I stood a few feet from the man working away, oblivious to an audience. My friend and host approached me and, thinking I was being timid, took the camera from my hand and approached the man on his bike. The man looked up. Inner-debate number 2:

If I took the photograph and the man was looking up at me, did it counter-act my gaze?

In terms of some of the seminar discussions of the colonial gaze I’ve been engaging in recently, this is a grey area. Some would answer yes, that the act of the photographed looking at the photographer, and at the postcolonial audience, does qualify as act of agency and of resistance. I felt myself relax slightly, maybe it was okay after all to take this photograph.

Enter debate number 3: My host turned to me asking, “Did you ask him if we can take his photo?” I immediately blanked. Did I? Even now, I can’t be sure. If I didn’t, there are implications. First, my lack of consultation takes away the man’s opportunity to say no, and block my postcolonial gaze. Secondly, it’s also very rude.

I play out the scenario if I had taken the photograph without his permission: most likely he would have been unable to hold up his hands and block the shot, as he was busy operating a machine. Again, another instance where he could have disrupted the postcolonial gaze. Immediately a photograph taken by Warren Langford of a Yoruba woman trader attempting to shield her naked child from photographers comes to mind. Similarly, his photo was taken in a market.

Oblivious to my inner-anxiety, my host continued to chat with the man, asking his permission to take his photograph. He pleasantly said yes, never breaking from his work. She quickly snapped the following picture:

The picture taken, my host beckoned for me to move on so we could do our grocery shopping.

Over the course of the following week I continually kept coming back to this moment whenever I took out my camera. It made me think about my photos and what they represented. I don’t have a solution for how I will negotiate these issues in future travels, but I’m hoping that an awareness of my complicity in a postcolonial gaze is a step in the right direction.




The North gets in your bones

Recently I had the chance to travel up to Iqaluit, Nunavut, on a business trip. For someone who has only ever lived in a city, this was an amazing and unforgettable trip. I’ve already decided that this trip is only the first, and am adding hiking through one of Nunavut’s four national parks to my bucket list. It truly made me appreciative of the initiatives being undertaken both promote and protect these areas. Here are some photos from the trip:

Amazing sunrise from the plane

Amazing sunrise from the plane

Iqaluit Airport

Iqaluit Airport


The English elementary school

The English elementary school


Shwarama in Iqaluit, you better believe it!

Shwarama in Iqaluit, you better believe it!