The Universal Language

Recently, I had the opportunity to portray “Dawn” in a production of The Universal Language by David Ives. The Universal Language is a short comedic play that features two characters, Dawn and Don. Dawn, a shy woman with a stutter, meets Don, a con artist aiming to trick customers into paying for lessons on a made-up language. Don teaches Dawn about Unamunda, the fraudulent language, until the two find themselves enthusiastically creating the language along the way. Gradually, Don and Dawn also learn more about each other, ultimately falling in love. This short play piqued my interest for several reasons. For one, I enjoyed performing and learning more about the comedic style of playwright David Ives. I also liked developing my character and learning about the real-life universal language. 

I enjoyed playing my character, Dawn, and diving deeper into her motivations. Dawn had a unique dynamic with Don. She was naive but smart. Despite her apparent timidness, she displayed courage when initially going to Don’s “School of Unamunda.” Her stutter affected how she was viewed by others, but she took initiative in coming out of her shell and reaching out to Don. Her purpose in doing so was a result of her poetic and optimistic view of the world. At one point, she revealed the reasoning behind wanting to learn Unamunda – she held the belief that language was a form of music and communication, a vessel for uniting humans and thus eliminating loneliness. Dawn’s pure-hearted motive, drive, and curiosity in learning Unamunda negated her foolishness in originally falling for Don’s scam. In the play, she started out shy but ended up more confident and outspoken, thanks to Don and their newly-acquired language. I commend her kindness and passion for learning that even swayed her scammer into falling in love with her. In playing Dawn, I enjoyed conceiving this character from my own interpretations of the play. In addition, incorporating a stutter that gradually faded as time went on was challenging but interesting to work with. I also thought it was interesting to develop fluidity with Unamunda, and to overall perform a piece centering on a made-up language.

Throughout the dramatic process, both the challenges experienced and the research done pertained to the “universal language” in the play. Memorizing lines was particularly tricky because the words were made-up, and this unfamiliarity made a typical task into a bit of a chore. The seemingly hodgepodge of words and sounds resembled a mix of English, Spanish, German, French, and Latin. The language also referenced old slang and included allusions to pop culture, such as names of actors (“Johncleese,” “Melgibson,” etc.). Yet, while Unamunda is made up, there is an actual “universal language” called Esperanto. Esperanto is an international language that was designed to be easier to learn than other languages. Created by Ludwig L. Zamenhof, its goal was to foster communication between language communities and people from different countries. Interestingly, the language has sixteen regular grammar rules with no exceptions like irregular verbs. This simplicity makes it practical to teach internationally. When learning this, it surprised me how much the language is still used to this day. There are books, films/videos, and broadcasts in Esperanto. There are hundreds of Esperanto organizations and two million speakers worldwide. In additional to Esperanto associations, there are various apps, websites, and other tools that teach Esperanto and allow speakers to connect to other speakers across the globe.

Click here for more  information about Esperanto


Why I Love Taking an Acting Class

This semester, I wanted to take some type of humanities course that wouldn’t be too demanding on top of my other fourteen credits. I’ve always enjoyed subjects related to the arts, so it seemed to be a good idea to take a course that would be interesting but also act as a form of creative expression. An acting class, which goes towards the Humanities and RC requirements, seemed like the perfect option.

Like many others at U of M, my high school career was a busy one, filled with various  extracurricular activities. One of these activities was drama, primarily through my high school’s theater program. Musicals, plays, etc. were a huge part of my life. By being in an acting class, I’ve been given a convenient way to continue doing something that I enjoy. Having a class based on it forces me to keep it in my life without feeling guilty for dedicating so much time to it (at least for this semester).

Acting class, for me, is a huge stress reliever. While there are times I don’t feel like trudging to outside rehearsals or spending my Friday nights memorizing lines, drama is an escape from everything else that is going on. I can walk into the theater and immediately become immersed in the story at hand. For a moment, my worries melt away as I turn my attention towards the director and other actors. Rather than thinking about the upcoming midterms or essays due dates, I can focus on developing a character and making the scene come to life.

In my acting class, there are no specialized auditions, no ensemble characters, and no hiding in the background. Everyone is thrust into a role that’s been assigned and encouraged to step out of their comfort zone. There is a sense of vulnerability as classmates – and eventually audience members – see you portray emotional or outrageous characters. In my class’s  production of Love and Information last Saturday, I had the opportunity to play a series of characters (which I’ll talk about more in my next post). In our next project, I play a girl with a stutter who is remarkably kind, naive, and humorous. In this class, I’ve had the opportunity to portray both sensitive and comedic characters that don’t always follow the basic typecasting based on appearance or demeanor.

Many other students hold similar experiences in taking on different roles within our class. My peers represent a diversity of majors and have varying skill levels when it comes to acting, but have stepped up to the challenge in building characters and their unique story lines. While many people are taking the class because they enjoyed participating in plays or musicals in high school, there are other students who’ve never set foot on a stage before. In addition to the personal benefits I’ve received in taking this class, it’s been amazing to see several people discover a new passion, and I’ve loved seeing everyone in general continue to develop in confidence and communication skills.

(Image Credits: Google Images)

Saying Goodbye

Although there’s many things that I could write about this week for my post, and I went through all of them in my head, trust me, my heart wasn’t in any of them. Why? Because today, I feel like I lost a friend.

For those of you that don’t know, Alan Rickman passed away today at the age of 69. If you don’t know Alan Rickman, though I will be very surprised if you don’t, he is known for his iconic roles in Die Hard, Love Actually, Robin Hood (yes, the terrible one with Kevin Costner), and, the one closest to my heart, Severus Snape in all of the Harry Potter movies.

When I was younger and watching Harry Potter for the first time, I had no idea who Alan Rickman was. But when I read the books, I realized that he was the embodiment of Snape, straight down to the hair and nose. He was just menacing, and you knew it, and yet for all his one-dimensionality, you knew Snape wasn’t all bad. That was Alan Rickman, and his brilliant acting.

Only when I got older did I realize this, though, and the respect he was given. I learned about Dame Maggie Smith, and I looked up to these figures, as I was dreaming of becoming an actor, and realizing that the roles these people played were the ones I wanted to play. I respected them, and I’d even say I loved them.

I still remember when I went and saw the last Harry Potter movie at midnight. It was the end of an era for me, and for millions of other teenagers. But I didn’t cry about it, because while it was an end, I knew the books and the movies would always be there for me, just as they had in the past. I knew I might cry during the movie, but not for that.

Instead, when I saw Snape curled around Lily, crying himself, unable to face the truth, I started crying as well. I’m not even that big of a fan of Snape, but that loss, that pain – you could see it all. And that was Rickman. That was what he made people felt.

There comes a time when you have to let go of something when you’re in a fandom. That’s what happens when you become a fan of something. You watch it, you read it, you hold it dear, and when it’s gone, you mourn it. And today, we mourn Alan Rickman.

Rest in Peace, Alan. Always.

A Long Journey

My personal journey to University of Michigan has certainly been an interesting one. It creates great table talk, explaining how I’m a transfer student from Houston, Texas, and wow, isn’t it cold? But to me, it’s more than that. This journey here now defines me, and this entire life I have been living has been almost like a dream.

Since I was very little I’ve always been quite a definite person. Yes, I like cheese enchiladas. No, I don’t like the refried beans. My personality has always been quite honest, and even my friends now know when something’s up, even just by the way I text.

So when I started appearing on stage, I knew I was home. Being on stage, playing parts in thick costumes underneath heavy lights that blind me from the world, I let go. I dropped everything at the stage door and pretended to be someone else for a while. I invested in theatre. I breathed theatre, and while I had very little opportunities, I took every crumb I could get. I told myself I was passionate, and that would carry me through.

And then, one day, my mom drove me downtown. We went inside the building, and my legs were shaking. I was wearing leggings, shorts, and a T-Shirt, along with my favorite (and new) jazz shoes. I met so many different people, teens of all ages, shapes, and sizes. I clung to the forms as tight as I could, and I chanted you can do this. You can do this. You can do this.

I introduced myself more times than I could count. Everyone greeted me with a smile that hid the razors I could see in their eyes. This wasn’t a time to make friends; this was battle.

And battle I did. From the very first time I talked to the other kids, I knew I was hopelessly outmatched and outwitted.

I’ve been taking ballet for the past 10 years.

Oh. I mean, I took ballet when I was 6, but I never continued.

I’m in state choir. Really? You made state? I just sing for whoever shows up at our concerts – usually just parents.

But Jeannie isn’t the kind of person to give away her dream that easily.

The dance portion was the best. I could tell I was having fun, even with the sweat starting to form. I did my dance with a smile, and felt the music running through me. But try as hard as I do, and even with the natural disposition I have to music, fun cannot beat training. It took me longer to learn the steps, and even when I performed them from memory, I stumbled. But, like I said, I lacked training, and so I knew after I was finished performing that it was not star quality.

But I had more faith in my singing. While, again, I am untrained, I had more faith that I have a good singing voice, and the song I chose suited me, since it was upbeat, in a soprano range, and had sections dedicated to belting, which my choir told me I could do well with high notes.

So I was going to be okay. I could do it.

That afternoon, I walked into a room with three judges, and I left with four.

My accompaniment was perfect. The setting was right, I had the song and the notes completely memorized, and my nerves were assuaged after the brutal dance portion. But when I walked in, the judges didn’t look up at me. They didn’t acknowledge me, didn’t even know that I was there. And so, in one of the biggest regrets of my life, I started the song, dropped the middle, and ended, leaving the room with a self-esteem that sunk deep into my heart.

And that was the last straw. After that audition, I knew I couldn’t do it. I didn’t even compare to those who had been training their whole lives for their dream. I didn’t sacrifice anything, I didn’t deserve it.

Looking back, I realize it was a stupid mistake, and I shouldn’t blame myself for not having the courage to pursue acting as a profession. I thought that I knew who I was. Like when I was younger, I thought it was yes or no. Yes, I was going to be an actress and be fulfilled in my life, because it was the only thing that could fulfill me. Or no, I wasn’t, and I would lead an unhappy life trapped in a cubicle. My future looked gray.

But instead of coming to University of Michigan to pursue acting, I decided to pursue writing instead. And it seems like everything has fallen into place since then. I found this job, and I found so many friends and faculty whom I love and find happiness in. I’ve found clubs, and friends who share my passion, who look at writing not as a hobby on the side of something else, some other dream, but as their only dream, their only happiness. Through these people I’ve found my courage. I’ve been encouraged in my writing, and I absolutely love the time I get to spend writing these blogs. So no, I’m not pursuing acting. But yes, I am fulfilled. And maybe someday, I’ll get to see my name on the screen. But instead of being an actress, I’ll be credited with the beautiful script I wrote.

And that’s why University of Michigan isn’t just a far off dream school for a girl far from her Texas home. It isn’t just a college, where I study books and get grades and eat food. To me, this school has been where I’ve seen life happen, where I’ve seen bonds formed, and where I’ve seen a new dream that started from a tiny, unwanted seed grow into a beautiful flower that breathed new life into me.