Lesson #251: Back In the Hall of the Mountain King

Autobiographical note: This post isn’t entirely random. I’m in the process of organizing my iTunes. It’s a long, tedious process and it’s making me a little bit crazy.*

A while ago, I wrote a post about Sextus Tarquinius that made brief reference to the Grieg piece having lyrics — because apparently it’s set to Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt.**

The Ibsen play, his last written in verse, is based on the Norwegian fairytale Per Gynt, which is about the eponymous hero saving milkmaids from trolls and slaying giant worms. The play was meant to be a satire of contemporary Norwegian self and drew heavy criticism from such heavyweights as Hans Christian Anderson.***

*The way iTunes decides on album art makes me a little homocidal. Why it’ll assign cover art to one song, but not another from the same album is beyond me. I like consistency; if one song gets album art, the rest of them get album art. So this is a long process of manually going in and assigning cover art to songs.

**I knew the music was from Peer Gynt, I just didn’t know it was written to be produced in conjunction with an Ibsen play. Incidentally, Grieg and Ibsen are literally all I know of the 19th century Norwegian arts scene.

***More information on the Ibsen play here.

Lesson #243: ETAOIN SHRDLU

What? You read that right.

ETAOIN SHRDLU are the 12 most common letters in the English language. They are also the two “home” columns on a Linotype keyboard.

The phrase was fairly commonly seen in type, accidentally of course, up until the 1960s and it was a mistake. A typist would run his hand down the columns to indicate there was a mistake in the line and that it should be eliminated, but proofreaders make mistakes and things go to print with misplaced semi-colons or (at times hilariously) missing commas, and so ETAOIN SHRDLU would sometimes make it into my grandparents’ newspapers.*

The term ETAOIN SHRDLU has come to mean something that is nonsensical or absurd. There is a play I stage managed in college called The Adding Machine, about a man who is replaced by an adding machine after 25 years on the job and then kills his boss, that has a character named Etaoin Shrdlu.

For more on the frequency of letters, in itself a really interesting breakdown of English, see here.

*More can be read here (with a printed example) and here.

Lesson #176: The Merchant of Venice (or Shakespeare’s Anti-Semitism)

That title might be more accurately worded, “Shakespeare was a product of his time.”

I’m in New York City visiting an old college friend of mine with whom I worked in the theatre, so we went up to Queens to see a friend of hers, with whom she works in another company, in a production of The Merchant of Venice.* It’s a very anti-Semitic play, but it turns out that in Shakespeare’s time, it was perfectly acceptable to treat the Jews like second-class citizens and dupe them out of what is rightfully theirs.** This is not really all that surprising, I suppose, if you know the history of Judaism, but for a Jewish character to be so openly mocked by someone like Shakespeare says something. It’s not a bad play, it’s just shockingly anti-Semitic. The number of times the word “Jew” is used with a demeaning connotation just made me cringe.***

There’s a very interesting discussion on the anti-Semitism of the play here.

*I’d never seen it before, mostly since I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan. It’s a very weird play. It’s like he took a comedy and a drama and mashed them together. Also, it has the typical Shakespearean women as deceivers for hilarity thing going and I freaking HATE that about Shakespeare. Every time I read/see one of his works where the women dress up as men and deceive their men for later shenanigans, I get annoyed and spend the rest of the time rolling my eyes at the men and sighing passive-aggressively. I always want to smack the men upside and ask, “HOW ARE YOU THIS STUPID?”

**I’ll be honest, I was on Shylock’s side the whole time. Basically, this guy spits on him and then demands Shylock lend him some money, is the reason his daughter runs off with a gentile, can’t pay back the loan, all but refuses to make good, has to have his friends come to his rescue and in the end is the reason why Shylock is forced to convert to Christianity when all he wanted was what was due him in the first place.

***I’m not alone in this. My friend’s friend was playing him and he said that because he had no experience as regards Judaism, he would rehearse it as if the term were “fag” because he understood how much that hurt.

Lesson #107: Rocky Horror

Lawyer Housemate, Club Manager Housemate, The Vet and I are all big fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show — though I am the only one to have ever seen a live action version of it. Anyway, when we found out the touring company was going to be in town, we decided we had to go.

Best. Theatre. Ever.

It was SO much fun. I’m used to seeing live versions in which a bunch of people get up in costume and mime the film that’s playing on a giant screen behind them, but this was a stage performance like any other musical. Except that it had audience participation like you do at any performance of the show. And then after the curtain call, the entire audience did the Time Warp. We’re talking some serious fun.*

So in honour of the house excursion** to the theatre tonight, a little bit about Rocky Horror…

The film is an adaptation of the stage show, which I didn’t know. Until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of it being onstage. It was first produced in London in 1973 with Tim Curry*** in the role of Frank N. Furter. When the production moved to Los Angeles in 1974 and then Broadway in 1975, Curry stayed with the part. There are 29 different cast recordings of the show. (Seriously! 29!) The movie, with an ongoing limited release since its original release in 1975, is the longest running film release in history, which is pretty cool! Audience participation began in 1977 in the US at midnight runs of the movie.

If you want to get a bit of a look at the show we saw, see the official tour website. Otherwise, you can read up on the show in general here.

*There was a country type who evidently knew nothing at all about the show attending with his girlfriend sitting next to Lawyer Housemate and he was not impressed with the more risque aspects of the show. Apparently at the end of the floor show when Rocky all but mounted Brad, there were some “Jesus!”es and some “Oh dear Lord!”s. Funnily, this was exactly the point where I turned to The Vet and said something very similar in a completely different context.

**Urban Planner Housemate had never seen Rocky Horror until recently and he did not like it at all…not for any puritanical repression, he just doesn’t like musicals. Marine Biologist Housemate is away home for spring break, so she didn’t come either.

***I love Tim Curry!