Purple Elephants

During Junior year of high school, Mr. Bassett—my English teacher—used to give us a chance to earn extra credit by submitting our own literary works. As he explained it on the cover sheet for these assignments,

Since the purpose of ‘doing extra credit’ in this class is to help you see connections between texts (literary scholars call this ‘intertextuality’), I would like you to complete this cover sheet and attach it to any work that you submit for ‘extra’ credit. [sic]

Of course, since I liked writing and was never ashamed to earn extra credit, I often submitted extra credit writings in Mr. Bassett’s class. I recently came across one of these submissions, and I still find it amusing, so thought it would be fun to share it with the world.

First, my answers to the questions on the cover sheet:

  1. Q: To what text is this work related?
    A: My own internal text.
  2. Q: Please describe the work that you are submitting:
    A: It’s a poem.
  3. Q: Please explain how this work is connected to the text to which it is related:
    A: It is a type of writing within the text. In my work, I have changed the species of the animals and also changed their color, therefor [sic] making it a different view from the original.
  4. Q: Please explain how ‘producing’ this work has enhanced your reading of the text to which this work is related:
    A: I can understand what the orange monkies [sic] were going through much more clearly now.

Have I piqued your interest yet? If so, here’s what you’ve been waiting for:

Purple Elephants
Purple elephants
Stomping down the rainforest
Sitting on people.

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Sympathetic (or Opportunistic?) Pricing

The post embedded below is fascinating (original link), although the idea that sympathetic pricing is an emerging trend seems somewhat sensationalized given that not-for-profits — especially arts organizations — have been offering discounted and free tickets to many underserved populations to alleviate pain points and help communities support shared values for as long as the nonprofit sector has existed.

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5 Counterintuitive Steps to Becoming A Resilient Organization

Kenneth J. Foster headshot

Kenneth J. Foster

Kenneth J. Foster, current Director of the USC Thornton School of Music Arts Leadership Program, former executive director of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for nearly ten years, former Chair of the Board of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, and all-around arts presenting superstar, led the plenary session at this year’s combined Wisconsin Presenters Network/Minnesota Presenters Network conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The topic of the plenary was “Thriving in an Uncertain World: Arts Presenting and the New Realities”—an important topic of discussion given the changing ecology of the arts presenting field—so, having used Ken’s report by the same name as a primary source document in my own research report, I was more than a little excited to hear Ken talk, in person, about this topic.

Of course, there were many golden nuggets of wisdom contained in Ken’s talk, but one topic really stuck out to me, and so I’d like to share it with you here. What you’re about to read was taken directly from Ken’s presentation slides, so all credit goes to him for the ideas and most of the words. I claim no ownership of these ideas.

If you’re as interested in this topic as I am, you can a lot read a lot more about these ideas in Ken’s Thriving In An Uncertain World report.

5 Counterintuitive Steps To Becoming A Resilient Organization

  1. Deconstruct the organizational chart. Minimize infrastructure and stay flexible to stay energized.
  2. Resist the urge to streamline; build strength through diversity, redundancies, and shared responsibility to the vision.
  3. Give up the strategic plan in favor of strategic thinking.
  4. Rather than setting goals, drive to the unrealized vision and let the benchmarks emerge.
  5. Put your evaluative faith in qualitative, not quantitative, assessments.
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Fiddler on the Roof Remixes

In honor of the closing weekend of The Children’s Theater of Madison‘s production of Fiddler on the Roof, let’s devolve back to some *interesting* remixes and covers of Fiddler tunes. To be clear, I’m not saying that I necessarily like any of these: I just think they’re … interesting.

Most of the pit orchestra for The Children's Theater of Madison's production of "Fiddler on the Roof"<br>PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Klingele

Most of the pit orchestra for The Children’s Theater of Madison’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof” (2014)
PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Klingele

You’re still here?


There’s more 🙂

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#MotelMonday (5/5/14)

Austin Pendleton (Motel), Zero Mostel (Tevye), and Joanna Merlin (Tzeitel)<br>Source: http://www.bluegobo.com/production/2880400/photo/181236405

Austin Pendleton, Zero Mostel and Joanna Merlin
Source: http://www.bluegobo.com/production/2880400/photo/181236405

When Fiddler on the Roof opened in Detroit in 1964, the role of Motel Kamzoil, the tailor, was played by Austin Pendleton, who had actually auditioned for the role of Perchik. When director/choreographer Jerome Robbins ended up offering him the role of Motel instead, he apparently told Pendleton that, “Since we cast you, we’re reconceiving the role of Motel. He’s this utter loser, but just absolutely tenacious—it’s you!” (Alisa Solomon, Wonder of Wonders, page 142). Kind words to start their Fiddler relationship, no? But interpersonal issues aren’t what I want to focus on in this post; rather, it’s Motel’s songs that have attracted my attention.

Going into previews and opening night in Detroit, Motel sang two songs in Fiddler: “Now I Have Everything” in the first act and “Dear, Sweet Sewing Machine” in the second act (Alisa Solomon, Wonder of Wonders, page 191). “Dear, Sweet Sewing Machine,” which was sung early in the second act, was “Motel’s paean to his ‘Dear, Sweet Sewing Machine.'” In it, “he promises, as if taking a matrimonial vow, to love and honor it, to keep it clean and oiled if, in turn, the machine will help him make a living, transforming ‘satin and silk’ into ‘butter and milk.'” According to Alisa Solomon, “the song had always been a favorite at backers’ auditions,” but “Pendleton’s singing scraped by [only] on spirit” even if “he was a terrific actor and his weedy voice fit Motel’s nebbishy character.” Further, audience reactions to the song during previews and on opening night were less than desired. During the first preview, the cast’s townspeople waited to “rush on[stage] as directed once the clapping had peaked” after Pendleton finished singing “Dear, Sweet Sewing Machine;” unfortunately, “there was barely any clapping that night. Almost none. Mostly an awkward silence until the Anatevkans realized they should go ahead and make their entrance” (Alisa Solomon, Wonder of Wonders, page 190).

To fix this problem, Robbins, Sheldon Harnick (lyrics), and Jerry Bock (music) told musical director/vocal arranger Milton Greene that the audience wasn’t “getting the lyrics,” so “the orchestra should play slower and more softly.” Even at the slower tempo, though, the audience at the second preview “greeted the song with indifference.” And, again, at the opening night performance, the audience “did not take to ‘Dear, Sweet Sewing Machine,’ despite the orchestra’s now playing new underscoring at the end instead of stopping and leaving a hole that should have been filled with applause.” With the only “easily available” review of the opening night performance coming in less than favorable“Everything is ordinary about Fiddler on the Roof except Zero Mostel” (Tew in Variety, as quoted in Alisa Solomon, Wonder of Wonders, page 191)—Pendleton asked Robbins, in a bar, “‘So, Jerry. What are you going to do?’ … Robbins answered calmly: ‘Ten things a day’ … One of the first was dropping, ‘Dear, Sweet Sewing Machine'” (Alisa Solomon, Wonder of Wonders, pages 191-192).

The review in Variety suggested cutting what it called the “forgettable” song, but Robbins didn’t cut “Dear, Sweet Sewing Machine” because of that; rather, he cut it because “‘The audience doesn’t want to hear it. They want to go on.'” As he explained to Harnick, “Tzeitel and Motel’s romance [had] already been resolved by the time that song” came along, so “the audience [was] interested in what will happen with the other daughters and their suitors. ‘You can keep the first couple alive, but you can’t give them a major number,’ Robbins said.” Pendleton, when informed of the cut, “was relieved: ‘It’s no fun being in a number that doesn’t work.’ And anyway, he still had a song in the first act, ‘Now I Have Everything'” (Alisa Solomon, Wonder of Wonders, page 193).

Austin Pendelton (Motel) and Joanna Merlin (Tzeitel)Source: http://www.bluegobo.com/production/2880400/photo/181236410

Austin Pendelton (Motel) and Joanna Merlin (Tzeitel)
Source: http://www.bluegobo.com/production/2880400/photo/181236410

As originally written, “Now I Have Everything,” which was sung in the first act, was Motel’s “exuberant response to Tevye’s accepting him as Tzeitel’s intended: ‘Did you see what I did / When he laughed in my face? / I stood there and stiffened my spine. / The nerve of a tailor to ask for a queen / Without having goods or a sewing machine. / A nothing turned into a Samson, no less, / And lo and behold! You are mine!'” (Alisa Solomon, Wonder of Wonders, page 193). While still in Detroit, though, Bert Convy, who originated the role of Perchik, “lobbied for ‘Now I Have Everything’ to be taken away from Pendleton and given to him. The song’s sentiment fit Perchik better, he argued, and he didn’t have to point out who was the superior singer” (Alisa Solomon, Wonder of Wonders, page 205).

Convy’s efforts, combined with “two inspirations: a note Robbins gave [Harnick] and Bock in a meeting telling them that in response to winning Tzeitel, Motel needed, musically, an outburst of exuberant happiness, and a line Stein had written for Motel in that moment: ‘It’s a miracle!'” From these inspirations came a song “made to order for Pendleton: the melody and chordal harmonies were simpler than those of ‘Now I Have Everything” and the range was tighter.” Pendleton’s Motel had been given the wonderfully joyous song “Miracle of Miracles.”

Perhaps it’s fitting that Pendleton—whom Robbins once thought “had fallen into a rut as Motel and … was simply not working hard enough,” whom Robbins once told, “‘Last night, during the wedding scene I had to leave the theater … I couldn’t bear the thought of that wonderful young woman being married to you'” (Alisa Solomon, Wonder of Wonders, page 204)—ended up with one of the best songs in Fiddler while Convy, who schemed behind his back to steal his song, ended up with one of the two songs most often cut from productions of Fiddler. It’s a miracle!

Motel (Alex Brick) Shows Off His New Sewing Machine to Tzeitel (Rachel Holmes) and other villagers in the 2014 production of "Fiddler on the Roof" done by Children's Theater of Madison (2014)<br>Photo Credit: Tom Klingele

Motel (Alex Brick) Shows Off His New Sewing Machine to Tzeitel (Rachel Holmes) and other villagers in the 2014 production of “Fiddler on the Roof” done by Children’s Theater of Madison (2014). PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Klingele

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#FiddlerFriday (5/2/14)

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#TevyeThursday (5/1/14)

Bostonow (formerly Poland, now Ukraine)

Bostonow (formerly Poland, now Ukraine)
(source: http://jewishwebindex.com/Polishshtetls.htm)

In Fiddler on the Roof, the people of Anatevka are depicted as stereotypical shtetl residents: their “prosperity was spiritual rather than material” (Maurice Samuel as quoted in Alisa Solomon’s Wonder of Wonders, page 55) and they were “forever frozen in utter piety and utter poverty” (Lucy Dawidowicz, The Golden Tradition: Jewish Life and Thought in Eastern Europe, page 6). Eva Hoffman’s historically accurate book, titled Shtetl, confirms that this stylized idea of shtetl life wasn’t totally off the mark:

0395822955[1]Until the later stirrings of socialism, prosperity was unabashedly respected in the shtetl, and the nuances of neighbors’ wealth were closely watched and widely known. For a traditional Jewish man, the injunction to make a living and provide for his family was as compelling as the duty to pray.
Divisions between the rich and the poor were clearly perceived and important, and yet they were to some extent subsumed under another system of values — religion. A religiously learned man was prized above the wealthy, simple man; piety was the greatest adornment and merit. (pages 96-97)

Many times throughout Fiddler, we hear Tevye and his family complain about how poor they are:

  • TEVYE to GOD: It’s enough you pick on me, Tevye, bless me with five daughters, a life of poverty. What have you got against my horse?
  • GOLDE to TZEITEL: A poor girl without a dowry can’t be so particular. You want hair, marry a monkey.
  • TEVYE to GOD: You made many, many poor people. I realize, of course, that it’s no shame to be poor, but it’s no great honor either. So what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune?
  • The entire song “If I Were A Rich Man”
  • PERCHIK: In this world, it’s the rich who are the criminals. Someday, their wealth will be ours.
    TEVYE: That would be nice. If they would agree, I would agree.
  • TEVYE to PERCHIK: I am a very poor man. Food for lessons? … Of course, we don’t eat like kings, but we don’t starve, either.
  • TZEITEL to MOTEL: And I’m only the daughter of a poor milkman.
  • TEVYE (after Perchik congratulates Tzeitel on “getting a rich husband”): Again with the rich! What’s wrong with being rich?
    PERCHIK: It is no reason to marry. Money is the world’s curse.
    TEVYE: May the Lord smite me with it! And may I never recover!

And yet, as Alisa Solomon writes in Wonder of Wonders, “… while they may be poor, Golde has her shabbos pearls, Motel gets his sewing machine, [and] Tevye owns his house (and even, anachronistically, his land)” (page 289). Lazar Wolf, the butcher, has his “own house, a good store, a servant” (Fiddler on the Roof), and even Mordcha, the innkeeper, owns his bar.


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