Monday, August 17, 2015

Salmon Is Everything Returns: Book of the Year Onstage

“Tribes Blast Federal Klamath River Plan” said the newspaper headline early this August, as local tribal members fear that today’s conditions are similar to those that resulted in a massive salmon die-off in 2002.

 Earlier this summer, Humboldt’s U.S. Representative Jared Huffman petitioned the Secretary of the Interior to have more water released from the Trinity River to prevent another such fish kill on the Lower Klamath River, which could happen at any time now—in 2015.

 The 2002 die-off is a central event in Salmon Is Everything, the play created and produced at HSU in 2006, to deal with many issues—scientific, political, spiritual and human—that arise in connection with the past and future of salmon and people on the Lower Klamath River.  The related book with the same title is the HSU Book of the Year for 2015-16.

 Excerpts from Salmon Is Everything will be performed as a staged reading on Sunday August 30 at 2 p.m. in the Van Duzer Theatre. The program also includes a talk by the book’s author Theresa May. There is no charge for admission.

Darcie Black and Mary Campbell in
the 2006 HSU production
An ad hoc group of concerned Native and non-Native community and HSU community members worked for two years to develop this play. Some original cast members will participate in the reading.

Several public readings elicited suggestions and stories from audience members that became part of the script. The play was first produced in 2006 at HSU, and subsequently performed elsewhere in the region. A new production was mounted in Oregon in 2011.

 The script, along with essays about the background and process of creating it, has since been published in book form. This book, also called Salmon Is Everything, is the 2015-16 Book of the Year at HSU.

 The reading on August 30 is directed by HSU student Anthony DePage. It is supported by a coalition of organizations and individuals, including the STEM program of the HSU College of Natural Resources and Sciences, a Diversity and Inclusion grant, the Book of the Year Committee, HSU Library and members of the HSU Theatre program.

Salmon photo above:By Josh Larios from Seattle, US (DSC02252.JPG) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Media: Mad River Union, Times-Standard URGE.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

2015-16 HSU Theatre, Film & Dance Season

Musical comedy based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter
Directed by Susan Abbey
Musical direction by Elisabeth Harrington & Paul Cummings
Van Duzer Theatre October 16-17, 22-25

Contemporary comedy by Jane Martin
Directed by Rae Robison
December 4-5, 10-13 Gist Hall Theatre

Dance: Choreography Projects
 December 8  JVD Theatre

 Evening of Dance
 December 10 JVD Theatre

Drama-fantasy based on stories by Rudyard Kipling
Adapted by Edward Mast
Directed by Troy Lescher
February 26-27, March 3-6  Van Duzer Theatre

Artistic Director Sharon Butcher
April 7-9, 14-17 JVD Theatre

 Faculty Adviser Susan Abbey
 April 20-23 Minor Theatre, Arcata

Contemporary comedy by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Michael Thomas
April 22-23, 28-May 1  Gist Hall Theatre

Dance: Dance Fusion
 May 3 JVD Theatre

Evening of Dance 
May 5 JVD Theatre

Friday, March 20, 2015

April 2015: OF BREATH AND BODY Dance Concert

Amethyst Weburg, Walter Fogler, Lisa Drew in "Of Mist and Mercury" by Emily Steele
Ballet, hip hop, modern, postmodern...Influences from Mexico, Africa, Egypt, Asia...Themes of identity, relationship, inner turmoil...How a hunter feels about animal prey, how women endure the Dust Bowl... All explored and evoked in movement, in expressions Of Breath and Body. 

Of Breath and Body is on the Van Duzer Theatre stage Thursdays-Saturdays, April 9-11 and 16-18 at 7:30 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday April 19. Tickets are $10/$8 seniors and students, with a limited number of free seats for HSU students at each performance, from the HSU Box Office (826-3928) or at the door.  Sharon Butcher, Artistic Director. Produced by HSU Theatre, Film & Dance.

Media: Cover: Urge Magazine of Eureka Times Standard,Mad River Union, North Coast Journal, Humboldt State Now
Allie Phinney in "Reverence"
Seven student choreographers and three faculty members present their latest works in this year’s HSU dance concert, Of Breath and Body.

The ten dances range from a solo by senior Allie Phinney (“Reverence”)... 
Shannon Adams, Nikia Klat, Matt McGovern, Camille Ruiz, Walter Fogler in "Standing Here, With Red Feathered Gods" a work for 24 dancers by Artistic Director Sharon Butcher (“Standing Here, With Red-Feathered Gods.”)
Lauren Baker in Amethysts Weburg's "Signal the Shake"
“Signal the Shake” by senior Amethyst Weburg won the Audience Choice Award at the fall 2014 Choreographer Showcase. “She’s from a multi-generation Arcata family,” Sharon Butcher said, “and she’s got a great work ethic. It’s great to see her have fun with this energetic dance celebrating women.”
Fiona Melia and Dante Gelermino in their dance, "Variations of Two."
Fiona Melia and Dante Gelermino explore personal relationships, while Claire Patterson is inspired by Dorothea Lang’s photographs to evoke the lives of women enduring the 1930s Dust Bowl.
Lauren Baker, Claire Patterson (standing) in Walter Fogler's "The Life We Choose"
Several students this year are science majors combined with dance majors or minors. Walter Fogler, a graduating Cellular Molecular Biology major (along with Interdisciplinary Dance) explores the flow within human relationships in “The Life We Choose.” Senior Emily Steele, who majors in biochemistry, evokes the flow of natural processes in “Of Mist and Mercury.”  Majoring in Marine Biology, Emily Pinckney looks at inner turmoil in “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend.”
Allie Phinney, Hannah Moss, Nathalie Mostrel in Shoshanna's "Hepcat Hafla"
The faculty-created dances share an accidental theme of crossovers. “Shoshanna always plays in that Middle Eastern crossover area, and this year Linda Maxwell, who has done a lot of study in Mexican Folklorico, is doing something of a crossover with modern Latin jazz,” Butcher said. “Eugene Novotney from our Music faculty introduced me to a score by Christopher Rouse that uses hula rhythms. So my dance is to that music, with a nod to the things I love about traditional hula.”


Camille Ruiz, Nikia Klat, Cassandra Cree, Lauren Baker, Lisa Drew
        Signal the Shake

 Choreographer: Amethyst Weburg
Dancers: Allie Phinney, Camille Ruiz, Cassandra Cree, Emily Mensing, Julia Kandus, Lauren Baker, Lisa Drew, Nikia Klat, Samantha Ortega.

 A fusion of jazz and tap with a nod to East Indian dance traditions, celebrating women.
Claire Patterson and Walter Fogler
  Voces...del pasado y del presente 

Choreographer: Linda Maxwell
Dancers: Ambar Cuevas, Amber Rivas, Cassandra Cree, Claire Patterson, Fiona Melia, Hasti Srabi, Ingrid Hodel, Jonny Wisan, Matt McGovern, Nikia Klat, Samuel Hernandez, Shannon Adams, Walter Fogler.

 “Voices...past and present” explores traditional Mexican folklorico dance as it meets contemporary Latin styles, with traditional music from Veracruz and a Mexican techno band.
Amethyst Weburge, Lisa Drew, Walter Fogler, Claire Patterson
  Of Mist & Mercury

Choreographer: Emily Steele
Dancers: Allie Phinney, Amethyst Weburg, Cassandra Cree, Claire Patterson, Lauren Baker, Walter Fogler.

Combining ballet and modern dance to explore flowing currents in such natural phenomena as mist and mercury.
Natalie Johnson, Luz Mejia (front), Hannah Moss, Nathalie Mostrel, Allie Phinney
  Hepcat Hafla 

Choreographer: Shoshanna
 Dancers: Jeanne Martin, Jenny Wright, Julia Kandus, Luz Mejia, Natalie Johnson, Nathalie Mostrel, Valerie Rios, Veronica Brooks, Allie Phinney, Cybil Nelson, Emily Mensing, Emily Pinckney, Hannah Moss.

 Blending American Tribal Style Belly Dance, jazz and swing with a dash of Egyptian Raks Sharqi in an exuberant celebration of passion and joie de vivre.
Emily Pinckney, Amethyst Weburg (back), Rebeka Staub, Lisa Drew (back)

   broken down, trembling

 Choreographer: Claire Marie Patterson
 Dancers: Amethyst Weburg, Camille Ruiz, Emily Pinckney, Lisa Drew, Rebekah Staub.

 Postmodern evocation of  farm women enduring the 1930s Dust Bowl, inspired by Dorothea Lang’s photographs.
Allie Phinney

Choreographer: Allie Phinney
Dancer: Allie Phinney

 A modern solo exploring the complex relationship between hunter and animal prey.
Lauren Baker, Claire Patterson, Cassandra Cree
The Life We Choose

 Choreographer: Walter Fogler
 Dancers: Camille Ruiz, Cassandra Cree, Claire Patterson, Kassie Guimapang, Lauren Baker, Rebekah Staub, Walter Fogler.

 Athletic modern piece with a contemporary twist, suggesting struggles and unspoken boundaries within a relationship.
Hilde Isachsen, Lisa Drew, Ingrid Hodel
  Hello Darkness, My Old Friend 

Choreographer: Emily Pinckney
Dancers: Ginger Greenlee, Hilde Isachsen, Ingrid Hodel, Justin Betancourt, Lisa Drew, Matt McGovern, Moira Winchell, Rebekah Staub, Walter Fogler.

 A modern piece with hip hop and African influences that explores coping with  inner turmoil.
Fiona Melia, Dante Gelormino
Variations of Two 

Choreographer: Fiona Melia and Dante Gelormino
 Dancers: Dante Gelormino, Fiona Melia

 A postmodern approach to risk and reward in the collision of two dancers.
Camille Ruiz, Nikia Klat, Shannon Adams, Samantha Ortega, Walter Fogler, Matt McGovern
  Standing Here, with Red Feathered Gods

 Choreographer: Sharon Butcher
Dancers: Alyssa Krueger, Amanda Johnson, Austin Silavong, Ayanna Wilson, Camille Ruiz, Edgar Ocelotl, Emily Mensing, Emily Pinckney, Emily Steele, Ginger Greenlee, Hilde Isachsen, Ingrid Hodel, Jenny Wright, Justin Betancourt, Kassie Guimapang, Kirsten Williams, Lamont Douglas, Matt McGovern, Moira Winchell, Nikia Klat, Samantha Ortega, Shannon Adams, Valerie Rios, Walter Fogler.

 Inspired by ancient Hawaiian hula, to a score by contemporary American composer Christopher Rouse.

Friday, February 20, 2015

February 2015: HSU Film Showcase

HSU filmmakers get their first audience while the public has its first opportunity ever to see new student films at the HSU Film Showcase, a free event on February 20 in the Van Duzer Theatre.

 “This is our first celebration of all four film production courses since our film major launch in fall 2013,” said filmmaker and film professor David Scheerer. “We’re especially excited for this big-screen premiere of films produced in our Senior Capstone course, taught for the first time last spring. These are festival quality films by creative and hard-working emerging filmmakers.” 

 “Each film is the result of countless hours invested by HSU Film students collaborating with their crews, staff and faculty both in and out of the classroom to express their unique vision and aesthetic.” 

 Andrew Baird’s Deep Sleep and Jassen Lloyd’s Cafe Americain are products of the new Senior Capstone course. Wil Guilfoyle’s  Connection and Jim Simmons’ Old Dudes were created in Film Directing.

 Advanced Production is represented by Turner Bazen’s Moldy Love, Channing Salazar’s The Carpet Sweeper, and Forge by Savannah Carpenter, Zane Critch and Andrew Baird. 

 Melissa Zeigler and Aaron Silviera made Superbad in Intermediate Production, while short films by Alex Orozco, Wil Guilfoyle, Nick Handcock and Tobias Worrall represent the Beginning Production class.

 “To put his or her work on public display for the first time is the ‘moment of truth’ for every artist,” Scheerer said. “Every filmmaker will be watching their own work for the first time at the Showcase, because they’ll be experiencing it through the eyes of its first audience.” 

 The HSU Film Showcase presents student films of 2014 on Friday February 20 at 7 p.m. in the Van Duzer Theatre. Admission and parking are free. No ticket necessary.  Produced by HSU Department of Theatre, Film & Dance. 

Media: HSU Now, Mad River Union

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Film Showcase: The Program

FILM 315 - FILM I / Beginning Production (16mm + HD)

 Alex Orozco: Prometheus Unbound – 2:50
Wil Guilfoyle: Allegory – 1:37
 Nick Handcock: Forever – 1:53
Tobias Worrall: The Bookshop – 3:56

 FILM 372 – FILM II / Intermediate Production (16mm + HD)

 Melissa Zeigler & Aaron Silviera: Superbad -4:30

 FILM 415 – FILM III / Advanced Production (16mm + HD)

 Turner Bazen: Moldy Love - 9:40
Channing Salazar: The Carpet Sweeper – 8:00
 Savannah Carpenter, Zane Critch & Andrew Baird: Forge - 7:20

 FILM 425 / Film Directing (HD only) 

Wil Guilfoyle: Connection – 10:07
 Jim Simmons: Old Dudes – 10:06

 FILM 475 - FILM IV / Senior Capstone (16mm + Pro HD)

Andrew Baird: Deep Sleep – 11:42
Jassen Lloyd: Café Americain – 10:28

Saturday, February 14, 2015

February 2015: LOS PAJAROS (The Birds)

Two “free-range homeboys” create a utopia for our time—and it’s for the birds.

HSU Theatre performs LOS PAJAROS (The Birds), a contemporary musical satire adapted by the Chicano American performance troupe Culture Clash and directed by Dell’Arte’s Michael Fields, for two weekends: Thursdays through Saturdays, February 5-7 and 12-14 at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday February 14 in the Van Duzer Theatre. Tickets are $10 general/$8 students and seniors, with a limited number of free tickets for HSU students at each performance, from the HSU Ticket Office (826-3928) or at the door. Produced by HSU Department of Theatre, Film & Dance.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Foxx (played by Geo Alva) and Gato (Ivan Gamboa) are “a couple of sorry-ass immigrants” who want a better life. They’re searching for a bird who was once a man, to ask him if he’s seen a perfect place for them from the sky.
But when they find him Foxx gets a better idea, and he convinces the bird/man Hoopoe (Jesse Chavez) to call a council of the birds to listen to his proposal.
Foxx’s plan is simple: for the birds to build their own utopian city in the air, between the gods above and humans below. By controlling the borders, they can become masters of the universe--with Foxx as their increasingly imperious leader.
The scheme is blessed by Hoopoe’s wife Prokne (Ambar Cuevas), who was transformed by the gods into a night club nightingale.
They seem to succeed and everybody’s happy, until a series of farcical and familiar visitors (like President Nixon, a real estate agent, John Lennon, various political activists, the IRS and Mother Teresa) complicate the dream. They set out to be free as birds, but end up mired in old problems and their own weaknesses.
Adapted by Culture Clash from one of the western world’s first great comedies, The Birds by Greek playwright Aristophanes, this brand new production features a professional six-piece band headed by Tim Randles, backing the cast in the blues, salsa, gospel and rock and roll composed by Michael Roth. This HSU production is the first anywhere not performed by Culture Clash. 

 Sometimes outrageous, this contemporary retelling from a Latino perspective (further updated for today’s audiences) uses satire and slapstick, music and dance, to locate laughter and tragedy in our continuing struggle to reinvent the American Dream.

Los Pajaros: Our Cast

Foxx: Geo Alva
Gato: Ivan Gamboa
Hoopoe: Jesse Chavez
Prokne: Ambar Cuevas

Various Characters and Ensemble:
Ina Loaiza
Christopher Moreno
 Camille Borrowdale
 Gino Bloomberg
 Veronica Brooks
 Elio Robles
Mark Teeter
Madison McCormack

Latin Peppers (the band)
Andrew Barnett, Jimmy Durchsiag, Jon Lewis, Orlando Morales, Lee Philips, Tim Randles.

Los Pajaros: Our Production

Director: Michael Fields
Music Director and Sound Design: Tim Randles
Scenic/Projection Design: Heidi Voelker
Costume Design: Marissa Menezes
Properties Design: Marisa Day
Technical Director: Jared Sorenson
Stage Manager: Ellen Martin
Asst. Stage Manager: Elena Kay
Production Manager: Derek Lane
Scenographer/ Lighting Design: Jim McHugh
Asst. Lighting Design: Ian McBride
Asst. Costume Design: Isabella Ceja
Wig Design/Construction: Samantha Silva
Costume Shop Manager: Catherine Brown
Prop Shop Manager: Emma Lubin
Scene Shop Supervisor: Jayson Mohatt
Administrative Support: Lorraine Dillon, Debra Ryerson
Photography: Kellie Brown
Publicity/blog copy & design: Bill Kowinski

Los Pajaros: Our Director

The Culture Clash script of its adaptation of The Birds by Aristophanes includes a prefatory quotation by the art critic Robert Hughes that begins: “Americans are suckers for utopian promises.” Hughes observes that each new generation “will have some other fantasy to chase, its approaches equally lined with entrepreneurs and flacks, who will be its main beneficiaries.”

Michael Fields is producing artistic director of the Dell’Arte Company and director of the California Summer School of the Arts as well as director of this HSU production. He referred to the Hughes quotation in explaining that it is a “very pointed adaptation. It’s about two guys who are legitimately searching for a better life, but they end up re-creating the same kind of world they set out to escape.”

 Culture Clash updated the ancient Greek play in 1998 and gave it a contemporary urban Latino perspective. Fields took this process a step further by changing the play’s title, from English (The Birds) to Spanish (Los Pajaros.)

 “Language is culture,” Fields said. “We want to be true to the perspective of the main characters. I talked with members of Culture Clash and they’re fine with the title change. They also gave us permission to change whatever we needed to change to make it contemporary.”

 Fields had the collaboration of his largely bilingual cast to decide what to change in the script, especially for a 2015 audience. “It’s like commedia that way,” he said. “You have to keep it on the edge of what’s current, which is what Aristophanes did for his time.”

 “For example, there’s a line—‘older than Dick Clark.’ Dick Clark is dead now so we needed somebody else. The cast suggested Betty White.”

 Fields also discovered references that didn’t need to be changed. “I was thinking of substituting somebody else for President Nixon, but they said he’s a character on Cartoon Network, so everybody still knows about him.”

But the basic story remains, from ancient Greece to now. “It’s the vacuous quest for utopia,” Fields said. “The idea that if only we had this or that, then everything would be perfect.”

 In this version there’s an unhappy ending. “It’s pretty brutal,” Fields said.

 But that isn’t the only element that may shock people. “Structurally this is a farce, but it has a lot of flat-out satire, which Culture Clash designed to be very topical and intentionally provocative,” Fields said. “Some people are probably going to be offended, but the satire and the stereotypes are spread out evenly. Everybody is a target.”

 Along the way there are jokes, physical humor, outrageous costumes, projections and scenic elements that remain secret, as well as dancing and music. Lots of music. 

“The music is really great,” Fields said, “and in many different styles—including salsa, blues, gospel, rock & roll. Thanks to an HSU diversity grant we’ve got a live band of professional musicians, led by Tim Randles. The cast does a lot of singing that keeps the story moving.”

Los Pajaros: Culture Clash

This adaptation of The Birds by Aristophanes was created by John Glore with Culture Clash, with music composed by Michael Roth.  It was produced at South Coast Repertory and Berkeley Repertory in early 1998.

The show began at South Coast Rep, which requested a Culture Clash confrontation with a classic.  At first they did the Aristophanes script, then developed their own in a series of workshops. "We worked from a multicultural perspective," Glore said, "and somewhere along the line we decided that the Greek chorus should sing songs, so the composer Michael Roth was brought in. We've avoided calling this adaptation of The Birds a musical, but it is musical in nature."

The HSU production is the first time an ensemble other than Culture Clash has performed their script of this play. Director Michael Fields consulted with composer Michael Roth on the music, and with members of Culture Clash, who gave their permission to update contemporary references, and to change the title to Los Pajaros.

According to their archival site at California State University Northridge: "Culture Clash is Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza. The Latino/Chicano comedy and theatre group was born on Cinco de Mayo, 1984 at René Yáñez's Galeria de la Raza in San Francisco, California. Originally composed of six members, this innovative troupe gained a place in the national spotlight with their 1988 play, The Mission.

Counting influences such as Charlie Chaplin, Bertolt Brecht, Cantinflas, and the Marx Brothers, Culture Clash have brought their blend of social and political satire to prominent venues including New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Miami's Colony Theatre, and Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum; to their television specials and comedy series; to their movies and short films; to their artwork and visual style; and most recently, to the publication of their collected works--Culture Clash: Life, Death and Revolutionary Comedy (1998) and Culture Clash in AmeriCCa: Four Plays (2003)."

In 2007 Culture Clash did their updated version of The Birds as an "elaborate readers theatre" piece at the Getty Center in LA.  In 2009 they did their version of another Aristophanes play, Peace, also at the Getty Center.

Los Pajaros: Aristophanes and Old Comedy

Most HSU students today have lived much of their lives with the US at war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Aristophanes was around 14 when Athens first engaged Sparta and its allies in the Peloponnesian War, which lasted for a quarter century. When it began, Athens was an imperial power, fighting to hold on to its empire and then extend it. When the war ended, Athens was an impoverished and subjugated state, and its years of cultural as well as economic and political glory were over.

Aristophanes is believed to have written some 40 plays, though only 11 survive. Many express his antiwar sentiments and opposition to the imperial ambitions of the Peloponnesian War, particularly to war profiteering.

 His comedies target political and military figures, and other prominent people of his time, including fellow playwright Euripides and the philosopher Socrates (who was amused by the caricature, but his disciples were upset, especially Plato.) He was a controversial and sometimes feared critic of Athenian society.

 Theatre as we know it was born on the Greek stage in this era. Tragedy was the predominant form at the festivals where plays were presented, and after a series of such tragedies, a comedy was the classic definition of comic relief. Aristophanes is the major proponent of comedy whose plays survived. His work defines comedy as it changed during and after his lifetime.

 Scholars divide this period into Old, Middle and New Comedy. Women in Congress by Aristophanes (presented last year at North Coast Repertory Theatre) is Middle Comedy, with less pointed caricature of known figures. It’s a little closer to the story-dominated comedies of our age, which developed from New Comedy through the Romans and branched off into everything from commedia dell’arte to situation comedy.

The Birds however is Old Comedy. The story is less prominent. Old Comedy is closer to the bawdy fertility revels and rituals in honor of the god Dionysus, which are believed to be a major source of both comedy and tragedy. Old Comedy was highly musical.

 But even with less of a story in our sense, there was a set form to Old Comedy. There was a prologue spoken to the audience (parados), a staged debate (the agon) and the chorus addressing the audience (parabasis.)

 In between there were episodes we recognize as story, though there is less development of a complete beginning, middle and end. In our terms, Old Comedy combined sketch comedy, farce, political satire, physical comedy, rude stand-up and the kind of bragging to the audience that boxers and wrestlers engage in before matches.

 Many of these elements of Old Comedy are preserved in this Culture Clash adaptation, including addressing the audience and lots of music. But it has more of a story shape, and while not quite a black comedy, it has elements of classical tragedy and no happy ending. Within its southern California urban Latino milieu, stylistically it might be thought of as Saturday Night Live meets Duck Soup and Doctor Strangelove.

Los Pajaros: Utopia Parkway

The Birds provides a name often used to sum up the wishful fantasy of utopian dreams: “Cloud Cuckooland.” But even though utopia is a Greek word, it doesn’t appear in Aristophanes. The elaborated idea of an ideal or at least a better society enters Western literature with Plato, but it was the Englishman Sir Thomas More who gave it this familiar name in the 16th century. His book is called Utopia (which means “no place”) but in it, the fictional society he describes is also called eutopia (the good place.)

 Utopian tales have been told for centuries. More recently, an opposite sort of story has predominated, called the anti-utopia or dystopia. It often takes features of contemporary society to their extreme logical conclusions to demonstrate possible consequences of today. The Hunger Games series of novels and films form a prominent contemporary example, but there are many others.

 So in these terms, is Aristophanes describing a utopia or a dystopia in his play The Birds? Scholars gathered in San Francisco in 1990—about eight years before Culture Clash produced their version—to discuss this question (among others.) The traditional utopian view was seriously challenged by those who consider it dystopian. One scholar called The Birds a classical precursor to George Orwell’s The Animal Farm. Another points out distinct differences between Aristophanes and Plato's utopia in The Republic (Apparently the two didn't like each other.)

Since then the anti-utopian view predominates. But there's still scholarly division on this point--maybe it's basically utopian.

 Still, the two wanderers at the beginning of The Birds are definitely looking for a society more to their liking. The walled city in the sky built by the birds (Cloud Cukooland) isn't an impossible dream: it successfully forces the gods to bow to its power. But there are many complications.
 Yet Aristophanes The Birds has what would become the classic happy ending of comedies: a wedding (or in this case, preparation for a wedding.) The violent ending of the Culture Clash version however is very different. And partly for that reason, it has a clearer sense of utopia sought but dystopia found, or created.

There is a strain in American thought and writing that supports this sense of what HSU production director Michael Fields called “a vacuous quest for Utopia” by those who unconsciously “ end up re-creating the same kind of world they set out to escape.”

 Historian Frederick Jackson Turner proposed a now- famous thesis that the American character was forged by confronting and conquering the western frontier. Others however have pointed out that the frontier was a movable dream that eventually became the same old nightmare.

As civilization moved west, new settlers dreamed of building a different and better place just beyond the latest frontier, only to eventually replicate nearly all that they left. The dream of an American utopia beyond the next frontier ended in California, which was, as the poet Lew Welsh wrote “the last place/There is no place left for us to go.” (At least until there was Alaska and Hawaii.)

 But there were still spaces between the cities, and the utopian dream was transferred to suburbia, which one writer called “the crabgrass frontier.”

 On Long Island from New York City, in an ever-widening concentric circle around Chicago, all along the new freeways in southern California, and most everywhere else in America, suburbia sprouted in the 1950s and 1960s. That these were to be utopian alternatives to the city was an explicit promise, most vividly preserved in one of the new highways built expressly as express lanes carrying commuters from New York to suburbia: the Utopia Parkway.

 But the highways themselves were immediately overcome by reality. Noting that “expressways opened in 1952 were by 1955 carrying the traffic load that had been forecast for 1985,” author Robert Caro observed that these highways, “of dimensions literally unknown in history, could be opened one month—and be filled to absolute capacity the next.”

Suburbia by David Shankbone
 The fateful irony can be summarized in one story: in the early 20th century, doctors on the U.S. East Coast and Midwest sometimes advised severe sufferers of hay fever and other related allergies to head for Arizona, where the air was clear and dry, and hay fever was pretty much unknown. Over the subsequent decades many took that advice, but once there, settlers planted the familiar trees and grass that were the sources of these allergies. By the late 20th century, Arizona had the highest incidence of hay fever and related allergies in the country.

 Fictionally, the unconscious habit of polluting utopia was extended to “the final frontier” by various science fiction writers, notably Ray Bradbury in The Martian Chronicles.

 Utopia has often been ridiculed as naive fantasy, as the name Cloud Cukooland now implies. But the notion of creating a utopia became suspect in itself in the 20th century due to the utopian pronouncements and horrific consequences in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, China in the Cultural Revolution, and Cambodia under the Kymer Rouge. The temptations of attaining power is an important theme in The Birds, reflecting Athenian imperialism. It is even more explicit in the Culture Clash adaptation.

 But even though utopia has possibly its worst press in history today, some contemporaries (including science fiction writers like Kim Stanley Robinson) still insist on the need to imagine utopias in which humanity consciously confronts its current problems, including those self-delusions that turn utopias into dystopias. They are needed partly to provide models of a better future, and partly to provide the hope that might motivate attempts to work towards it. Even creators of dystopias are warning against thoughtless acceptance of new technologies and old patterns of behavior.

It’s become a feature of our age that due to the immense power of technology as well as its cost to the natural environment, our civilization may well be left with only two choices. They are, in the words of Buckminster Fuller, utopia or oblivion.

Friday, November 21, 2014

December 2014: The End of History

With video, projections, sound and music as well as live action in a transmedia event, HSU students explore themes of love and revolution inspired by the earth-shaking happenings 25 years ago in 1989. 

 The End of History is performed Thursdays through Saturdays, December 4-6 and 11-13 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee at 2 p.m. on December 14, in Gist Hall Theatre. Tickets are $10 general/$8 students & seniors, with a limited number of free tickets for HSU students at each performance, from the HSU Ticket Office (826-3928) or at the door. The End of History is devised and performed by HSU students, directed by professor Mark Swetz and senior Shea King.

Media: KHSU Art Waves, Mad River Union, Humboldt State Now