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)

When Actors Can’t Even Save The Play They’re In

(Content Warning: brief discussion of trans*phobia, Nazism, sexual violence.)

I’m a huge fan of thee-aye-tah (theatre). I like venues, I like stages, I like audiences, I like lights, I like music, I like actors. Sometimes, however, a production cannot save a play from just tanking.

I’m also all for weird-ass-shit. I like performance art. I like Finnegans Wake. I’m queer and pretend to be hip. I can stare at upside down urinals for hours. All of these together morph my aesthetic tastes, which, at times, can be questioned (but I’ll never admit it).

Last weekend, I attended the second night of “Marisol” that was put on my the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance. I was SO EXCITED. Not only did I have a friend in the show (who performed AMAZINGLY) but I also haven’t been to a SMTD production in a while (I usually go to student group performances). I was anticipating the flawlessness of the performance, which is exactly what I got. The acting was amazing. There was so much passion present. I could feel their emotions emanating off of them and hitting me in the face. The energy never faltered and I was emotionally fatigued at intermission, at the end, and for days to come. The acting, for me, sold the entire performance and I think that I’m going to miss the amount of talent that is present on this campus when I move away.

The actual written play was horrendous. While I think Rivera’s post-apocalyptic landscape was admirable insofar as he tried building and executing many different themes, tropes, and imagery, and pull it off as cohesive, it just didn’t work. When I attend a play I can accept the fantastical, I can accept the absurd, I can even (sometimes) accept problematic bullshit. But all together and at once was traumatizing.

Why is the moon orbiting around Saturn? This never was explained fully besides God’s senileness. God “being old” (whatever this means) doesn’t destroy physics. And if age could destroy the world, why were all other laws of physics seemingly still in place? HOW COULD HUMANS FIGHT A COSMIC ANGELIC WAR BY THROWING STONES AT THE SKY? These questions remain unanswered.

Why do plays have to perpetuate gender norms and stereotypes and use pregnant men as jokes? Not only is this bordering on trans*phobic, but it isn’t ever explained. God is so out of it that everyone just gets a womb? But why? For why?

Why are there Nazi’s? Sure, there could be neo-Nazi’s but there’s a really important difference. Also (neo)Nazi’s don’t hate everyone (even though they do hate most people), and to have them as these mass serial killers made little sense? Why use a historically loaded term when you could just make something new up?

Why was a man burned by the nazi’s trying to jack off to the moon, which he was trying to pull back into orbit via a giant magnet from his wheelchair?  This scene, while, yes, the most poetic, was the biggest *facepalm* moment of my life.

Why does sexual violence have to be used as a plot device? And for a shitty plot? I’m tired of sexual violence being used in ways that either perpetuate rape culture, or used in ways to develop plot (and not characters), or used in ways that are just bad. Everything is the worst.

People have told me that my critique isn’t valid. The play is just “edgy.” But, to me, the term “edgy” doesn’t mean that you can have an incoherent plot with problematic details, angsty angels, dying god, New York City, and a fog machine that smells a little like tobacco and weed (that doesn’t give highs just headaches). Ugh.

The acting almost saved the play. And then the whole thing ended with a message of hope after a lengthy narrativizing soliloquy. AKA the students of SMTD shine even in the midst of the apocalypse. AKA (passibly) queer women of color ended the play hand in hand and that was enough for me to clap. And, perhaps, that is the point.