Sunday, February 22, 2009

One Idea in Detail: Form a Play-reading Group

This idea definitely incorporates playfulness (sorry, bad pun) as well as a chance to involve other people; in fact, it really can’t be done without collaborating with at least a few others. This idea is to spend a HarvilleQuarter reading plays with a small group of other folks who have the enthusiasm, time and lack of self-consciousness to take this project on and enjoy it

My vision is that the group would first select a set of plays they would like to read out loud. Leadership for each play would be assigned at an advance planning meeting, with the leader being responsible for locating copies, assigning parts and doing some research on the play and playwright to help guide the playreading process. Participants would be expected to read the play in advance, concentrating on the assigned role(s), and be ready to throw themselves into their parts when the group reconvenes. The enjoyment of the group will be greatly reduced if even one person is stumbling over lines or has to be reminded of which characters he is playing. Ideally, plays would be selected that offer at least one meaty role for each member of the playreading group.

I would suggest reading two plays per week, which should give ample time for preparation for all concerned. Members can take turns hosting. Assuming that most plays will take at least two hours to read (although one-act plays can certainly be considered as well), this leaves time for some introductory exposition by the play’s leader to set the context and an intermission or two. After the reading, the leader can encourage discussion of the plot, characters, historical context, writing and members’ personal reactions to the play, perhaps over beer, wine or mixed drinks (the selection of beverage may be influenced by the particular play).

I’ve been thinking about the plays I would contribute to a list for my group, and I realize (sadly) how few plays I know well enough to make a recommendation. I hope that other members of my group would be more knowledgeable. At a minimum, the group should talk about a mix of plays that all would enjoy.

Is everyone enthusiastic about the classics, with heavy weighting on the works of Shakespeare, Moliere, Ibsen, Chekhov and Calderon - not to mention Aristophanes and Euripides? Or would they prefer to concentrate on 20th Century American playwrights, such as Williams, O’Neill, Miller, Wilson and Mamet?

Is there a preference for comedies vs. dramas, regardless of time period or country of origin? One-act plays? Radio or early television plays? Plays that were controversial or even banned when originally produced? The possibilities really are endless and suddenly twelve weeks seems like a pitifully short time to cover even a smattering of the truly great options.

Depending on the nature of the group and how well they know each other, they may decide to forgo some highly-regarded plays. Do they really want to take on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, just to name one? Is anyone bothered by continual swearing and “adult situations?” Will someone prefer to avoid plays so depressing the group will be making a suicide pact by the end? It’s best to find these things out in advance – and let everyone know that they won’t be viewed as over-the-hill fuddy-duddies if they’re not comfortable when every other line contains coarse language.

On the other hand, this should be an opportunity for all the readers to stretch themselves a bit and read plays that are unfamiliar and challenging. Remember, besides playfulness, one of the criteria for a HarvilleQuarter is a little riskiness. You Can’t Take it With You, The Man Who Came to Dinner and The Odd Couple can be great fun, and I wouldn’t avoid them, but also consider plays that no one in the group has read or seen.

Of course, there is one practical concern - can the leader find sufficient copies of the play (in the same edition, if that's important) for each reader to have one without spending a lot of money?

Whether or not you allow for an audience is up to the group.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

One Idea in Detail: One Event per Day for a Quarter

One of the ideas on my first dozen list is to spend a HarvilleQuarter attending some sort of event in my home town (in my case, Madison, Wisconsin) every day, focusing primarily on those I most likely would not have attended without this incentive. In other words, besides the opportunities for learning, growth and playfulness, there could be some riskiness as well - not physical risk, but the risk that I won't enjoy them, or understand them, or may be surrounded by people who don't seem very much like me. Which means - it ought to make for a great HarvilleQuarter.

To visualize what this might be like, I’ve taken the last three Madison weekly newspapers (the Isthmus) and sketched out three weeks of daily events that I might actually enjoy. These particular events are listed in order, one per day, starting Thursday, January 22, 2009.

  1. Lululemonade, deep relaxation class
  2. Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra
  3. Duck Soup Cinema
  4. Cook for the homeless at Lutheran Campus Center
  5. Russian National Ballet
  6. University of Wisconsin Men's Tennis against Marquette
  7. Wild Ones Wildflower Photo Tour at Sequoya Branch Library (just 3 blocks from my house)
  8. Stand-up Comedy at the Comedy Club
  9. Madison Rep production of "Bus Stop"
  10. Sexy Ester and the Pretty Mama Sisters at Frequency
  11. Madison Gay Hockey Association
  12. Michael Hanson Jazz Group at the Samba
  13. Lunch lecture "Milton House and the Underground Railroad," Wisconsin Historical Society
  14. Bruce Bengtson organ concert, Luther Memorial
  15. Javier Calderon, guitarist
  16. Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, talk by exhibit curator
  17. Live simulcast of "Lucia di Lammermoor" by the Metropolitan Opera
  18. Ben Taylor, Schuyler Fisk at the High Noon Saloon
  19. Master class with Karen Caballero, soprano, and David Collins, pianist
  20. Lecture by Chrystia Freeland, Financial Times U.S. managing editor
  21. Lecture by Biddy Martin, UW chancellor
  22. UW Women's Basketball vs. Penn State

About half of these events are free or have no cover charge. I figured out that, buying the cheapest ticket when there are multiple prices, the three weeks would run me $137, or about $6.50 per day or less than a movie, which doesn't seem too bad for 22 days of entertainment.

I'm also struck by whole categories of events that I could have included, such as meetings of government organizations (and in a state capital, there are plenty of those), judicial bodies (a morning listening to arguments at the state supreme court, for example), religious ceremonies, high school athletics and musical or dramatic productions, poetry readings, volunteer opportunities and more. Over the course of three months, I can be exposed to an amazing array of new experiences.