Found 76,356 Resources
“Call me Ishmael.” So begins Arena Stage’s current presentation of the play Moby Dick. But after that familiar line, this highly engaging production shrugs off tradition with strobe lights flashing, giant waves crashing and the audience swept up in a relentless sense of movement. The play has become an "experience" of life aboard the Nantucket whaler Pequod with Capt Ahab in pursuit of the white whale Moby-Dick.
Arriving at Arena from Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company and with an upcoming stop at South Coast Repertory in Cosa Mesa, California in January, Moby Dick is the product of a multidisciplinary group that received the 2011 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre.
Founded in 1988, the company is dedicated to creating original, story-centered theater through physical and improvisational techniques. For this production, playwright-director and founding member David Catlin was inspired by the challenge of transforming Herman Melville’s lengthy 1851 novel into a compact 21st-century production that reflects the pace and interaction demanded by today’s audiences.
As a faculty member of Northwestern University, Catlin calls himself a “theater-maker who acts, writes, directs and teaches.” Since Lookingglass was created, he has been part of more than 50 world premieres, and currently serves as the company’s director of artistic development.
Traditional “static theater” is dead-in-the-water to today’s theatergoers who are “used to interacting with multiple screens” and multitasking, says Catlin. So the idea for Moby Dick was to dramatically reimagine Melville’s classic seafaring tale, strip it of convention, and make it pulsate with bold acrobatics.
“We refer to the stage as the deck,” Catlin says, and “the people working back stage are the crew.”
He appreciates that theater has long been a primarily auditory experience. “In Shakespearean England, you wouldn’t go to see a play, you’d go to hear a play,” he says, referring to the rich language and iambic rhythms of Elizabethan theater.
While he respects that tradition, Catlin wants to experiment with a type of theater that people “can experience in other ways, too.”
Lookingglass continually innovates with a performance style that shapes an immersive audience environment. Their method incorporates music, circus, movement, puppetry and object animation, symbol and metaphor, and visual storytelling to create work that is visceral, kinesthetic, cinematic, aural and psychological.
The company collaborated with The Actors Gymnasium, in Evanston, Illinois, one of the nation’s premier circus and performing arts training centers. Actors tell their stories acrobatically, propelling themselves across a set designed as a ship’s deck. Filled with interlocking cables and rope riggings, the entire stage, or deck, is framed by arching steel-tubed pipes suggesting the curved ribs of a whale. The set, says Catlin, conveys the long connection between theater and ships—many of the mechanical elements used to move theatrical scenery are common to sailing, such as the block and tackle used to raise and lower curtains, and the use of rope lines.
This production of Moby Dick with its daring use of circus techniques plays to a shared history with the book’s origins.Anthony Fleming III as Queequeg, Christopher Donahue as Captain Ahab and Emma Cadd as Fate in Moby Dick at Arena Stage. (Liz Lauren/Lookingglass Theatre Company)
Herman Melville published Moby Dick in a decade that’s been called “the golden age of the circus.” The circus was considered America’s most popular form of entertainment in the mid-19th century, and master showman P.T. Barnum even established his American Museum as a proto-circus on Broadway, winning great notoriety by displaying such wildly diverse entertainments as “industrious fleas, automatons, jugglers, ventriloquists….”
While Melville never met Barnum, he was certainly aware of the circus and wrote about it evocatively in his short story “The Fiddler,” published anonymously in Harper’s in 1854. The story depicts a sad poet being cheered up by a friend who takes him to a circus: he is swept up by “the broad amphitheater of eagerly interested and all-applauding human faces. Hark! claps, thumps, deafening huzzas; one vast assembly seemed frantic with acclamation. . . .”
The stage audience experiences circus and movement, says Catlin, “in a visceral and kinesthetic and muscular way.” Some of the performers are circus-trained, adding authenticity to the aerial acrobatics displayed.
“The dangers of sailing and whaling are made that much more immediate,” he says, “when the performers are engaged in the danger inherent in circus.”Herman Melville's sixth and most famous novel, Moby-Dick was published in 1851. (Moby Dick, illustration by Rockwell Kent, Random House, 1930, NMAH)
Using movement to propel the art of storytelling is an increasingly popular theatrical approach. Earlier, modern dance pioneers occasionally incorporated a mix of artistic and theatrical ingredients; Martha Graham notably had a brilliant 40-year collaboration with sculptor Isamu Noguchi that resulted in 19 productions. A photograph of Noguchi’s “Spider Dress” for Graham is currently on display in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s new exhibition, "Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/Modern."
Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon is contemporary ballet’s leading proponent of storytelling through movement, and has applied his flowing narrative approach both to classical ballet and to Broadway, where his production of An American in Paris won a 2015 Tony Award.
Perhaps the singular, most dramatic example of a company that tells stories through movement is the Synetic Theater in Arlington, Virigina, which is renowned for its fluid synthesis of innovative techniques for silent storytelling using only mime and movement.
Moby Dick has inspired countless adaptations: Orson Welles broadcast a 1946 radio version, Gregory Peck starred in a 1956 film, Cameron Mackintosh produced a 1992 musical that became a West End hit, and there was a 2010 Dallas Opera production that was a box office triumph.
The Lookingglass production of Moby Dick taps into the public’s continuing fascination for the classic novel with a grand and obsessive vengeance, but Lookingglass employs a more intimate approach.
The company creates a small-scale immersive theatrical experience that largely succeeds, although coherent storytelling in Act II sometimes loses out to vivid theatricality. The costume designs are highly imaginative—actors opening-and-closing black umbrellas seem perfectly credible as whales spouting alongside the Pequod, and the humongous skirt of one actor magically flows across the stage/deck in giant wave-like ocean swells.
Ahab’s doom is never in doubt, and we are there for every vengeful step. For David Catlin, the set’s rope riggings convey the play’s essential metaphor: the web they weave provides the “aerial story-telling” that connects Ahab to his fate, and the rest of us “to each other.”
Moby Dick is a co-production with The Alliance Theatre and South Coast Repertory. It will be in residence at Arena Stage through December 24, before heading to the South Coast Repertory in Cosa Mesa, California, January 20 through February 19, 2017.
A Smithsonian team of scientists re-examined a fossil sperm whale for the first time in 90 years and created an entirely new group in the […]
The post “Call Me Albicetus”: Fossil Sperm Whale Is Named in Honor of Moby-Dick appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.
Reconstructing the past isn’t easy, and it is even more challenging for events that date back millennia. This search for evidence can take researchers to strange places—and for anthropologist Emmanuelle Honoré and her colleagues, that meant measuring baby hands in a hospital.
Though the methods are slightly unusual, the researchers uncovered something curious: The tiny Stone Age handprints stenciled inside an Egyptian cave were likely not from small humans, but rather lizards, Kristin Romey reports for National Geographic.
Honoré and her team, who recently published their results in Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, analyzed small handprints at Wadi Sūra II, a rock shelter in the Western Desert of Egypt. Discovered in 2002, the shelter is also known as “the cave of the beasts” after the menagerie of creatures depicted on its walls.
The sandstone cave is filled with mysterious paintings and markings that seem to pre-date animal domestication, including lots of outlines of human hands that are at least 6,000 years old. Among these handprints, 13 appear to be left by very small humans. These were the first such stenciled hands found in the Sahara.
But when Honoré looked at the paintings, she began to doubt that the handprints were tracings of Stone Age babies. So she teamed up with researchers to get measurements of newborns and pre-term babies at the neonatal unit of a French hospital. This comparison showed that indeed, the cave prints were not human.
Honoré then moved to other candidates, from monkeys to lizards. Ultimately, the lizards won.
“The most compelling comparisons are found among reptiles,” writes Honoré. Likely candidates include young crocodiles or desert monitor lizards—an animal that is well-represented in other Saharan rock art.
But the case isn't closed just yet. “We are not sure if we will get a definitive answer,” Honoré told News.com.au’s Debra Killalea, “but our first results are very convincing.”
The team speculates that the paintings may have included the prints of important religious or cultural symbols like the lizards. But Honoré doesn't want to speculate too much on the meaning, reports Romey.
"We have a modern conception that nature is something that humans are separate from," she tells Romey. "But in this huge collection of images we can detect that humans are just part of a bigger natural world."
Researchers may never know exactly what made the prints, but identifying them as reptile gives the cave of the beasts new meaning—and fresh intrigue.
In Greece, Cuba, and Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Angola and, now, in Syria, “arming the rebels” has been one of the U.S.'s go-to approaches to international relations. Yet according to an internal report from the CIA, that strategy is a bad one, says the New York Times.
In every instance but one, arming the rebels just didn't really work. And even when it does, says the Times, there can be some nasty aftereffects.
Let's say there's some conflict or struggle or insurrection that American leaders want to sway one way or another but don't want to actually get involved in—no boots on the ground. Since its inception 67 years ago, the CIA has offered a different option: the agency will arm and train the existing opposition. Yet in almost all cases, says the Times, arming and training rebel forces, rather than fighting alongside them, “had a minimal impact on the long-term outcome of a conflict.”
The one time it did work, says the Times, was Afghanistan in the 1980s. But even there the local opposition wasn't working alone, and the goal wasn't to overthrow an existing leader but to wage a war of attrition against a larger Soviet army. The NYT:
“But the Afghan-Soviet war was also seen as a cautionary tale. Some of the battle-hardened mujahedeen fighters later formed the core of Al Qaeda and used Afghanistan as a base to plan the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. This only fed concerns that no matter how much care was taken to give arms only to so-called moderate rebels in Syria, the weapons could ultimately end up with groups linked to Al Qaeda, like the Nusra Front.”
If arming rebels does little to sway the outcome, that doesn't mean it's without risk. Last month, for instance, the House of Representatives gave the White House the go ahead to continue arming and training Syrian rebels. Around the same time, the Guardian wrote that some of the weapons currently being used by ISIS fighters were originally supplied by U.S. and Saudi Arabia to rebels fighting Assad in Syria.
Satire has long been used to expose human rights abuses—take Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” or this letter to a newspaper written over a hundred years later.
“Are Women Animals?” asked its writer, whose letter was published this month in 1872 in The Times of London. The writer, still known only as “An Earnest Englishwoman,” asked if women—who did not have remotely equal legal status with men under English law at that time—were even due the level of legal protection against cruelty afforded to animals.
By doing so, writes author Joanna Bourke in What it Means to be Human: Reflections from 1791 to the Present, the Earnest Englishwoman was “protesting against the fact that women were not being treated as fully human.” She wasn’t asking if women were biologically animals—the answer to that question was clear—but was using the example to highlight the cruelty towards women that she felt went often unpunished in a legal system designed to protect men’s property rights. Bourke writes:
Who, she asked, are entitled to the social and political rights assigned to ‘mankind’? How could it be just that animals had been granted more rights under law than women? She sounded exasperated. ‘Whether women are the equals of men has been endlessly debated’, she admitted, adding that it was a ‘moot point’ whether women even possessed souls. But, she pleaded, ‘can it be too much to ask [for] a definitive acknowledgment that they are at least animals?’
Women’s status under the law would improve if they were considered animals, Bourke writes—because they would be subject to the explicit prohibitions against animal cruelty that had been put into force earlier in the century, thanks to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The RSPCA was founded in 1824, almost 50 years before the Earnest Englishwoman’s letter. RSPCA members pushed for more animal welfare laws and sought to enforce existing laws. In doing so, that meant animals had an active advocate looking out for their welfare—something women did not have. The Earnest Englishwoman's letter, writes Bourke in a separate article, was prompted by real events:
Her fury had been fuelled by recent court cases in which a man who had “coolly knocked out” the eye of his mistress and another man who had killed his wife were imprisoned for just a few months each. In contrast, a man who had stolen a watch was punished severely, sentenced to not only seven years’ penal servitude, but also 40 lashes of the “cat.” She noted that although some people might believe that a watch was an “object of greater value than the eye of a mistress or the life of a wife,” she was asking readers to remember that “the inanimate watch does not suffer.” It must cause acute agony for any “living creature, endowed with nerves and muscles, to be blinded or crushed to death.”
Indeed, she wrote, she had “read of heavier sentences being inflicted for cruelty towards that—may I venture to say?—lower creation,” meaning animals.
The letter, Bourke writes, added to the ongoing conversation about the rights of sentient beings that helped to shape Victorian England and America. Indeed, a year later in America, the first successful court case against child cruelty was brought—by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Winston Churchill, British prime minister and one of history’s most influential statesmen, was undoubtedly a man with weighty questions on his mind. How best to save the British Empire? he must have mused. What will the postwar world look like? he surely wondered. But the legendary leader also focused his prodigious mind on less pragmatic questions. For instance: Is there life on other planets?
In fact, in 1939, Churchill penned a lengthy essay on this very topic, which was never published. Besides displaying a strong grasp of contemporary astrophysics and a scientific mind, he came to a breathtaking conclusion: We are probably not alone in the universe. The long-lost piece of Churchilliana has just floated up to the surface again, thanks to an article written by astrophysicist Mario Livio in this week's edition of the journal Nature analyzing Churchill's work.
“With hundreds of thousands of nebulae, each containing thousands of millions of suns, the odds are enormous that there must be immense numbers which possess planets whose circumstances would not render life impossible,” Churchill concluded in his essay. He wrote these words on the eve of World War II—more than half a century before exoplanets were discovered.
Until last year, Churchill's thoughts on the problem of alien life had been all but lost to history. The reason: His 11-page typed draft was never published. Sometime in the late 1950s, Churchill revised the essay while visiting the seaside villa of publisher Emery Reves, but the text still didn't see the light of day. It appears to have languished in the Reves house until Emery's wife Wendy gave it to the U.S. National Churchill Museum during the 1980s.
Last year, the museum’s new director, Timothy Riley, unearthed the essay in the museum's archives. When astrophysicist Mario Livio happened to visit the museum, Riley "thrust [the] typewritten essay" into his hands, Livio writes in Nature. Riley was eager to hear the perspective of an astrophysicist. And Livio, for his part, was floored. “Imagine my thrill that I may be the first scientist to examine this essay,” he writes in Nature.
Churchill did his homework, Livio reports. Though he probably didn't pore over peer-reviewed scientific literature, the statesman seems to have read enough, and spoke with enough top scientists—including the physicist Frederick Lindemann, his friend and later his official scientific adviser—to have had a strong grasp of the major theories and ideas of his time. But that wasn't what left the deepest impression on Livio.
“To me the most impressive part of the essay—other than the fact that he was interested in it at all, which is pretty remarkable—is really the way that he thinks,” Livio says. “He approached the problem just as a scientist today would. To answer his question 'Are we alone in the universe?' he started by defining life. Then he said, 'OK, what does life require? What are the necessary conditions for life to exist?'”
Churchill identified liquid water, for example, as a primary requirement. While he acknowledged the possibility that forms of life could exist dependent on some other liquid, he concluded that “nothing in our present knowledge entitles us to make such an assumption.”
"This is exactly what we still do today: Try to find life by following the water,” Livio says. “But next, Churchill asked 'What does it take for liquid water to be there?' And so he identified this thing that today we call the habitable zone.”
By breaking down the challenge into its component parts, Churchill ended up delving into the factors necessary to create what is now known as the “Goldilocks zone” around a star: that elusive region in which a life-sustaining planet could theoretically exist. In our own solar system, he concluded, only Mars and Venus could possibly harbor life outside of Earth. The other planets don't have the right temperatures, Churchill noted, while the Moon and asteroids lack sufficient gravity to trap gasses and sustain atmospheres.
Turning his gaze beyond our own solar system raised even more possibilities for life, at least in Churchill's mind. “The sun is merely one star in our galaxy, which contains several thousand millions of others,” he wrote. Planetary formation would be rather rare around those stars, he admitted, drawing on a then-popular theory of noted physicist and astronomer James Jeans. But what if that theory turned out to be incorrect? (In fact, it has now been disproven.)
“That's what I find really fascinating,” Livio notes. “The healthy skepticism that he displayed is remarkable.”
Churchill suggested that different planetary formation theories may mean that many such planets may exist which “will be the right size to keep on their surface water and possibly an atmosphere of some sort.” Of that group, some may also be “at the proper distance from their parent sun to maintain a suitable temperature.”
The statesman even expected that some day, “possibly even in the not very distant future,” visitors might see for themselves whether there is life on the moon, or even Mars.
But what was Winston Churchill doing penning a lengthy essay on the probability of alien life in the first place? After all, it was the eve of a war that would decide the fate of the free world, and Churchill was about to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Such an undertaking was actually quite typical for Churchill, notes Andrew Nahum, Keeper Emeritus at the Science Museum, London, because it reflects both his scientific curiosity and his recurring need to write for money. It was skill with the pen that often supported Churchill and his family's lavish lifestyle (recall that he won the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature, with a monetary award of 175,293 Swedish Kroner worth about $275,000 today).
“One recent biography is entitled No More Champagne: Churchill And His Money,” Nahum says. “That was a phrase he put into a note to his wife about austerity measures. But he didn't know much about austerity. He liked luxury so he wrote like crazy, both books and articles that his agent circulated widely.”
That’s not to say that Churchill was simply slinging copy about aliens for a paycheck. “He was profoundly interested in the sciences and he read very widely,” notes Nahum, who curated the 2015 Science Museum exhibition “Churchill's Scientists.” Nahum relates the tale of how as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Churchill was once sent a book on quantum physics, and later admitted that it had occupied him for the better part of a day that should have been spent balancing the British budget.
He not only read scientific content voraciously, but wrote on the topic as well. In a 1924 issue of Nash's Pall Mall Magazine, Churchill anticipated the power of atomic weapons. “Might not a bomb no bigger than an orange be found to possess secret power to destroy a whole block of buildings nay, to blast a township at a stroke?” he warned. In 1932, he anticipated the rise of test-tube meat in the magazine Popular Mechanics: “Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or the wing, by growing these parts separately in a suitable medium,” he wrote.
In 1939 he authored three essays, tackling not just extraterrestrial life but the evolution of life on Earth and the popular biology of the human body. Two were published during 1942 by the Sunday Dispatch, Nahum discovered when reading Churchill's papers at the University of Cambridge. It remains a mystery why his thoughts on alien life went unpublished.
In the rediscovered essay, Churchill admits that, because of the great distances between us and other planet-harboring stars, we may never know if his hunch that life is scattered among the vastness of the cosmos is correct. Yet even without proof, Churchill seems to have convinced himself that such a possibility was likely—perhaps by swapping his scientific mind for one more finely attuned to the human condition during the troubled 20th century.
“I, for one, am not so immensely impressed by the success we are making of our civilization here that I am prepared to think we are the only spot in this immense universe which contains living, thinking creatures,” he wrote, “or that we are the highest type of mental and physical development which has ever appeared in the vast compass of space and time.”
Seventy-five years after Churchill's bold speculations, there's still no proof that life exists on other worlds. But, as was often the case, his analysis of our own still seems prescient.
On this day in 1968, a phone rang in the police station of Haleyville, Alabama. But unlike all the days before, the caller—Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite, who was not in an emergency situation—didn’t dial the local police number.
He dialed 911, a three-digit number that would go down in local and national history.
The idea for a universal emergency phone number didn’t start in Haleyville, a town of fewer than 5,000 inhabitants that was dry until 2010. It started with a 1957 recommendation from the National Association of Fire Chiefs, writes Carla Davis for the Alabama News Center.
Their recommendation was prompted by a serious problem, she writes: before 911, anyone who needed emergency help had to figure out if they needed the fire department, the police, or medical help, and then call the appropriate local number. Not easy to do when someone is bleeding, a baby is being born, or the building’s on fire.
It took more than a decade before the fire chiefs’ recommendation was put into effect, Davis writes. Haleyville came into the picture when the president of the Alabama Telephone Co., an independent telephone company, fought to have his company launch the new system.
The call was picked up at the police station on a special red phone, wrote Hoyt Harwell for the Associated Press on 911’s 25th anniversary in 1993. At the receiving end of the call was Congressman Tom Bevill, Alabama’s longest-serving congressman—who was still in office when Harwell interviewed him 25 years after that first call. “Immediately afterward, we had coffee and donuts,” Bevill recalled.
But the early days of 911 weren’t all coffee and donuts, Harwell wrote:
A couple of years after the system was installed, newly hired Haleyville police dispatcher Ronnie Wilson received a frantic 911 call.
“A woman said, ‘My water just broke,’ and I told her I’d get her a plumber right away,’” Wilson recalled.
“Then she said I didn’t understand, and I realized she was about to have a baby, and ordered an ambulance for her.”
Haleyville still celebrates the event that put it on the map with an annual 911 Festival, Davis writes.
But out of the 10 possible numbers on a telephone, why were the digits “9-1-1” chosen? That question has an answer that dates back to the 1960s as well. Rotary phones were still common in the 1960s, writes Sarah Stone for Today I Found Out, and the digits of the emergency number were both easy to remember and quick to dial, as they used the number at the end of a rotary phone’s rotation and the number that was fastest to dial.