Dinosaurs for Dinner

A spritely text telling of the Victorians who discovered fossils and began to assemble a new worldview.

In Dinosaurs at the the Dinner Party, Edward Dolnick pens a fun read about the great dinosaur hunting era. They introduce a vast array of people involved in this and how it served to fundamentally change our understanding of the world.

“In these early days, evolution meant “unfolding” or unrolling.” This was a nonthreatening, even encouraging, view. In the cheery summary of the nineteenth century’s most famous preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, “the whole physical creation is organizing itself for a sublime march toward perfectness.”

The author makes great use of first hand source material, allowing the Victorians to speak for themselves. It provides added insight to the thoughts these finds provoked and the exchange of ideas.

Keeping the Technological Commons Open

Copy, Rip, Burn: The Politics of Copyleft and Open Source
by David M. Berry

Not a typical text for me, I was interested in intellectual property (IP) rights and how the digital age plays a role in their changing nature. To my delight, I found a deeper exploration of the subject covering a greater range of the landscape of IP rights.

Copy, Rip, Burn: The Politics of Copyleft and Open Source by David M. Berry discusses how the changing of IP rights is focused on power and profit which in turn alters life beyond the arena of who owns what. Like a rippling a pond, Berry writes, the ramifications of IP rights expands outward effecting a multitude of aspects our lives “transforming our ability to interact, contest meaning and to take part in culture and creativity.”

While reviewing the varying effects, including legal, of these changes, he continues to return to the touchstone of production of meaning. Crucial to human process, the ability to reevaluate meaning is a praxis that can be smothered or restricted as can the power to decide who can make use of a particular intellectual property. In a culture focused on merchandising more and more aspects of life, it is of no surprise that ideas would in turn be commodified.

A response to the growing, more restrictive, and longer time span of control is open source licensing. Copyleft is a response to copyright as well an interest in expanding discourse between created works. The need for this ability was important enough for the writers of the U.S. Constitution to include it in its first Article. The necessity to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts which meant limited control.

Rather than pointing towards an anti-capitalist economy or an alternative conception of technology, the copyleft movement share a broadly pro-technology linear model of the development of human knowledge. Although the question of control is highlighted, particularly in the discourses of the Free Software Foundation, both articles tend to view the workings of technology as unproblematic and further technical development as a human good.

These discourses have helped to alert the public and politicians to the dangers posed to liberal democratic society if warnings about knowledge privatization are not heeded. Towards protecting IP and cultivating a technology commons (a place where people may share in the abundance equally, Berry argues for grassroots response and not a reliance on corporate or state institutions to protect and encourage the sharing of information.

Written by a dedicated scholar, Copy Rip Burn is a strong resource for looking at the story of intellectual property and how it affects the larger world.

Return to This Random World

A Rumination from my dramaturgy of Steven Dietz’s This Random World directed by David Lee-Painter.

I find myself returning….

This spring I got to attend a wonderful production of TRW at Post Falls High School directed by Payton Edwards. Then last week, digging through some records I found the introductory note I’d written for my dramaturgy packet. The note is below. I rather enjoy that TRW is never far from me to prod me into reflection.

This Random World company studying the script.

One of the things that immediately struck me about Dietz’s script is how much we miss when we’re narrowly focused on our own lives. We’re not even aware of all the parts we play in other people’s lives–Even some people we never meet. But with a slight shift of our gaze, we might see different things or things as if new—in ways we’ve never looked at them before.

The idea of randomness resonated. We, as creatures on this planet, are trying to control our world and that belief of control can be very important. It can be humbling to discover how much is really just randomness or dumb luck at work.

The second title or subtitle of the play is: The myth of serendipity. Myth is commonly thought of as a falsehood when it is actually a truth manifested as story. A narration. This Random World looks for the truth of serendipity. It visits the Forest Where Lies are Revealed where we are brought closer to the truth.

When I began my research, I thought the second title referred to serendipity as a myth. But I’ve come to believe Dietz is using it to comment on the main title. This Random World is the truth of serendipity.

Dietz has crafted a compelling story and at the same time has dismantled it by denying scenes where we expect certain characters to meet. This puts us in & out of the story at the same time—like Schrödinger’s cat. It permits us to study the world he has created and juxtapose it with our own.

As Dietz wrote, one of theatre’s most profound gifts are participation and reflection. And This Random World gives us plenty of opportunities to do that.

Notes on games of chance...

The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives is a 2008 popular science book by Leonard Mlodinow. It became a New York Times bestseller and a New York Times notable book. It is a book about humans’ ability to create patterns—even when the patterns are not there. Adapted as a survival skill, our pattern-making is not infallible and at times can lead one to the wrong conclusions.

Some of the main lessons:

  • We wrongly over-attribute successes and failures to people’s actions rather than luck’s role.
  • We should judge people by their character and talents rather than their results.
  • We are not as in control as we think.
  • What IS in our control is the opportunities we take advantage of and how we improve our own skills toward the best odds.

Along with the aforementioned book, Mlodinow has written for the New York Times about randomness and the human need to feel in control:

We should judge people by their character and talents rather than the results of their efforts.

Randomness causes much of success and failure, and much of that is outside our control. What is in our control is the number of opportunities we take advantage of and how we cultivate our own skills to give us the best odds.

Along with the aforementioned book, Mlodinow has written for the New York Times about randomness and the human need to feel in control:

It struck me then that I have Hitler to thank for my existence, for the Germans had killed my father’s wife and two young children, erasing his prior life. And so were it not for the war, my father would never have emigrated to New York, never have met my mother, also a refugee, and never have produced me and my two brothers … The outline of our lives, like the candle’s flame, is continuously coaxed in new directions by a variety of random events that, along with our responses to them, determine our fate.

“What Are the Odds?”


Mlodinow, Leonard. The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, Vintage Press, 2008.
Mlodinow, Leonard. “The Limits of Control,” New York Times, June 15, 2009.
Mlodinow, Leonard and the Editors. “What Are the Odds?” New York Times, May 22, 2009.

Revisiting Silver Wings on Blue

Last fall, I enjoyed seeing a play I’d written early in my playwrighting life staged again. As a writer, I tend to not go back over my old stuff. I want to keep pressing forward. I’ve returned to old history articles to refresh my memory, but I stay away from my creative endeavors. I have the rich potential to rewrite forever and never create a new story or article.

Silver Wings on Blue was fun to revisit. It began as a passion project—most of my writing does.

(Photo from Texas Woman’s University.)

A 1996-ish trip to the Seattle Museum of Flight introduced me to the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) and their role during World War II ferrying military aircraft and towing targets for nascent gunners. Being an aviator buff since I was a child, I was annoyed that I’d never heard of them. I’d prided myself on a good general knowledge of the history of flight. That a role model starved kid like myself had somehow missed these women—well, where had they been all my life?! Right in plain sight as it turns out.

The amazing feats of Jacqueline Cochran, self-made woman and renowned aviator also wowed me. That she was involved in the creation of the WASPs and making it possible for getting women flying military aircraft just lit up my brain.

Jackie Cohran, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

I dug up everything I could about them. My quest ultimately led to a trip to the Texas Woman’s University (repository of the WASP history), a return trip to Seattle where I met some WASPs in person!! More wows! And finally I wrote a play about them.

I wasn’t in town for the first production of the script. Down at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I received emails from the director, the sublime Angel Katen. She handled the production while I handled scenery in three different theatres. I arrived at the end of my contract to catch a couple rehearsals and the performances.

A second production followed quickly thereafter and then that was the end of that script’s performance history. Which was more my fault than anything else. It never occurred to me to look for more. Never one for self-promotion, I sent out a few queries then set it aside to work on the next project.

Time passed as it always does. Melissa Syverson, one of the actors in the second production became a drama teacher and we reconnected some 20 years down the road. She was interested in doing the script at her high school. By then the script was in an obsolete software format. More time passed until I transferred it into a current program and edited the formatting so it would print correctly.

When I wrote Silver Wings, it was one of the only plays on the WASPs I knew of. Again, late ‘90s, the internet was just coming into being. And during the intervening years, I saw more books published on them, stories of the individual fliers, then the group received the highest civilian honor – the Congressional Gold Medal and a White House reception.

Last summer the script was finally updated. To my surprise, it had held up over the years. I was NOT possessed with an urge to bury it in the backyard and tell Melissa that it was beyond recovery. Her students read it and they decided to produce it.

It was a delight to see the light in those students’ eyes as they learned about these intrepid aviators. There was also cringing when they read through common practices of the 1940s—like restaurants not serving women wearing slacks. I saw in them a kindling I myself had experienced so many years ago.

They dove into it, and I found myself curiously free of the frets I am bedeviled with when a script is new and getting its first productions. Granted I was a young writer then, but new scripts are delicate creatures for me. I’m trusting my collaborative team to bring the story to life. This while I’m still rewriting, still trying to do justice to the story.

With this production, I was able to enjoy rehearsals and performances. I answered questions and did my best to be there for them. They produced the script, discovered history relevant to them, and learned how the efforts of these women had impacted their lives. And as Melissa had continually told me, the story of the WASPs is still relevant today and people still need to hear it.

Moon Boots

Last year I was in getting massage treatment for my back which tends towards bundles of pain that have to be alternately coached and broken open. The therapist and I talked. We’re usually talking about something random to distract me. I needed shoes with arch AND ankle support which I couldn’t find.

Then we branched into shoes we loved as kids. His were classic Docs and Chuck Taylors. Mine were Traxx which I obsessed about keeping clean. (Later I found they were made by Kmart, who knew Kmart made shoes?) We couldn’t wear any of those classic kicks nowadays which brought some melancholy.

But while we were talking, I flashed to a pair of moon boots that I had. It was not unusual for a hot box once open to free up not only pain and thorned, captive tension, but also memories. As if memories were not only kept in grey matter but in fascia as well.

In my mind’s eye, I saw one moon boot in the blinding white snow. I crouched on a knee. Then like that I wasn’t at the medical facility. I was in the snow of southern Idaho bundled in my fur-trimmed, orange snowsuit. My little brother played nearby. Moon boots were the most amazing snow shoe—well, shoe—ever! Astronauts wore them, right? That’s how my 8-year-old-ish brain operated.

Then snow exploded on the side of my head. I looked up. Dad had hit me with a snowball. Mom was smiling. The pair descended the slope, around the side of the addition to our mobile home they had built. My brother and I screamed with delight. They rarely did this sort of thing.

That moment plays and replays. I search for every detail saved there, but how would I know that I needed to remember every aspect of this moment? That 44 or so short years later Mom would be gone. Dad would be in a facility; his own memories vanishing faster than he could make them.

Those two people walking down the slope toward me, nothing could ever happen to them. Nothing could make them not be there. Those smiles. The screams. Dad bent to sculpt another snowball.

Image from pixabay by Mihai Paraschiv

Verbatim Theatre-Walking Steven Home

Yesterday, I was fortunate to attend an online workshop with Gregory Hinton to get a taste of verbatim theatre writing–creating playscripts from oral history interviews. I’ve worked with oral histories as a researcher with Palouse Anthropology and I’ve written plays but I’ve never combined the two practices. The playwright in me was stoked to mess around in a new technique. The researcher not so much.

There’s a responsibility when someone gives you their story. I see it as an act of trust. When we do our interviews, there’s a review process with the narrator. It gives them an opportunity to clarify, add, and if they wish, remove items from their narrative. It is a gift when they share their stories of triumphs and challenges. Their stories never becomes yours to do with what you will.

Then as a playwright working on these, I became very much aware of how we could still keep quotes from the stories intact and yet with surrounding dialogue frame them in such a way as to use someone’s words against them. It was a reminder of the power of language and how even word placement can influence a listener and shape meaning.

That evening we read our little pieces and then Gregory read Walking Steven Home which he created from the family impact statements at the sentencing hearing of Steven Nelson’s murderer in Boise five years ago.”

I knew Steven Nelson as part of the local Moscow scene. He was the night manager of Shari’s where I wrote a portion of my masters thesis and logged many an hour in coffee klatches with my friends devising theatre projects.

He often stopped by the table to chat us up. I remember him as the friendly, well-dressed fellow who couldn’t wear a suit. They never seemed to hang on him quite right, but that never mattered. He had his own kind of charm. He once regaled us with why he was sporting a spikey haircut. In the end as I recall he had given it to himself. I’m not sure though. There were a lot side stories along the way and laughter.

Steven’s end was not funny. He was lured into a remote area outside of Boise and brutally beaten for being homosexual. Steven had walked, naked and barefoot, half a mile before he could find help. He died of his injuries the next day.

It was these harrowing events that Gregory drew from to create Walking Steven Home. At the reading, he started quietly. It was similar to the ones we had done but obviously not as clumsy. One character spoke then the next and the next. Then slowly, Gregory began to work in his own words announcing a brief break from the transcripts and weaving us back in.

I wasn’t aware of it happening but I could feel it like a storm summoned. Even through the Zoom, it was evocative. The hair came up on my arms. And at the scripts conclusion emotionally I was in tatters. And it was just Gregory reading. There was no fancy effects. No spectacle. So great feats of acting played against each other. It was one man reading the scripts prepared from true events.

Everybody-End of the Journey

Everybody by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
directed by KT Turner
dramaturgy by Ariana Burns

Everybody has taken its final journey and closed two weeks ago. Spring break has come and gone at the University of Idaho and we’ve all moved to next projects.

Everyman and the early morality plays taught audiences that how they lived their life effected where their afterlife would be spent. And after Everyman’s confession, repentance and death, an Angel arrived at play’s end to report Everyman was finally with God. The story told the audience that if they followed the same course, they too might know redemption.

Everybody offered a more open ending. There is only Death’s assurance that they will be okay and the audience is left to decide for themselves what that meant.

And in the end, Everybody makes the journey alone. A point that was emphasized in our Zoom production which had the actors siloed in different performance rooms and the audiences in their own homes.

What finally becomes of Everybody as they make this solo journey is a question BJJ has left us to tangle with long past our time watching the show.

Performance of Everybody. Laurel Joy as Everybody and Luke McGreevy as Stuff.

Everybody-Making the Danse Macabre

Everybody by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
directed by KT Turner
dramaturgy by Ariana Burns

(Section of frontispiece from edition of Everyman published by John Skot c. 1530.)

The Danse Macabre allegory discussed in a previous blog post probably claimed antecedents in pagan traditions of dancing in burial grounds. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ script called for a Danse Macabre after Everybody meets with Love and before Death returns to begin the journey.

The University of Idaho Theatre Arts Department planned Everybody to be a virtual production from the start. With this knowledge, director KT Turner and her designers began pushing what they’d learned over the school year working in Zoom. What grew out of those meetings was a hybrid production that involved prerecording elements in the studio and on the Hartung stage which will be fed into live performances.

The big set piece is the Danse Macabre which involved efforts from the entire design team (set, lights, sound, costumes). Choreographed by Victoria Zenner, it was filmed on the Hartung stage. We had access to the Hartung for only a few days for rehearsal and filming.

The rest of the time rehearsals were on Zoom from the actors’ homes and offices.

Typically for Zoom productions here, a backdrop is provided for the actor performance areas. For Everybody, the backdrop would be a combination curtain and green screen to display an image of the set on the Hartung stage.

While Zoom rehearsals went on, lighting and scenic (set by Brindle
Brundage) were testing ideas at Hartung. The curtains at the proscenium limited upstage lighting positions to back light performers.

They looked to where they could and couldn’t reach and how to use that to their best advantage. They also tested different plastics for the upstage curtain to create silhouettes on.

Our theatrical rehearsals were the first at Hartung in almost a year when the pandemic shuttered The Moors one day after its opening. For the short period we were there, strict safety protocols were in place along with constant reminders to watch out for each other.

Besides the Danse, there were also a couple other elements that needed to be worked out and filmed like transitions between the live performances and the short recordings. And through the rehearsal process, the show continually develops and changes.

After watching the dance, KT decided to interweave the actors into it instead of having them be outside observers. Victoria began teaching them the routine.

Then Idaho-always known for unpredictable weather-brought a snow storm which closed campus and we lost a precious rehearsal day at Hartung. The actors were still learning the routine. We would not be able to make up the day before shooting that weekend.

Composite image of Zoom rehearsal. Victoria Zenner top left coaching the actors through dance steps.

The decision was made to have dance practice on Zoom. The above composite image captures the humor and the frustration as the company met the challenge head on. Two days later, we returned to Hartung and were ready for filming.

After several days filming, Christian is now editing the footage for technical rehearsals which begin on Saturday. This is the final process of stitching the production together for audiences to see starting March 5.

More information about ticketing can be found at the University of Idaho Theatre Arts Department’s webpage:


Everybody-Dramaturgy Packet-Sisyphus

Everybody by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
directed by KT Turner
dramaturgy by Ariana Burns

(Section of frontispiece from edition of Everyman published by John Skot c. 1530.)

Let 'em go. They're right. I don't have time for this. I've already spent my entire life dealing with this crap. I refuse to spend the last moments of it pushing the same rock up the same hill. --Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Everybody

The above quote from Everybody is a description of the Greek legend of Sisyphus, a king punished in the underworld to push a boulder up a hill for eternity.

Sisyphus by Friedrich John (1769–1843)

A cunning trickster of legend, when Death came to fetch him, Sisyphus chained Death up instead. This resulted in the sick suffering more so since they were unable to die. The world was thrown out of balance because nothing died. Ares finally freed Death because war was no fun if people didn’t die. Sisyphus was sent to Hades.

Prior to his leaving, he had told his wife to leave his body unburied. He was able to use that as an excuse to get out of the underworld which he did to punish his wife. Once free, he lived a long life until dying a second time.

 When this death came, Hades was ready for him and had a special punishment for cheating Death: pushing a boulder up a hill again and again and again. A torment that has stayed with us through the ages, surviving through art, poetry, and remaining in common speech as a never-ending and futile task. Homer mentions it in the Odyssey:

Aye, and I saw Sisyphus in violent torment, seeking to raise a monstrous stone with both his hands. Verily he would brace himself with hands and feet, and thrust the stone toward the crest of a hill, but as often as he was about to heave it over the top, the weight would turn it back, and then down again to the plain would come rolling the ruthless stone. But he would strain again and thrust it back, and the sweat flowed down from his limbs, and dust rose up from his head.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Sisyphus”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 10 Jul. 2020, www.britannica.com/topic/Sisyphus. Accessed 9 February 2021.

Homer, The Odyssey, translated by A.T. Murray. www.theoi.com/Text/HomerOdyssey11.html. Accessed 9 February 2021.

Everybody-Dramaturgy Packet-Danse Macabre

Everybody by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
directed by KT Turner
dramaturgy by Ariana Burns

(Section of frontispiece from edition of Everyman published by John Skot c. 1530.)

Danse Macabre or Dance of Death is a medieval allegory about one’s own mortality that came about during a time when death was very much present. The allegory has been presented through a myriad of media including sculptures, murals, wood cuts, paintings, music and presentations (Hollar; Cohen, p 37). Murals were displayed on church walls and charnel houses where corporeal remains were stored and Gertsman wrote of a Parisian cemetery with a large mural surrounding its inner courtyard (p 1). Danse Macabres typically showed people in long processions with corpses in varying stages of decay (Hollar Collection).

Michael Wolgemut, Danse Macabre (1493)

The Danse Macabre probably claimed antecedents in pagan traditions. The practice of dancing in burial grounds did not stop after Christianity had spread into Europe (Cohen, p 37). Medieval cemeteries were not relegated to solely mourning and reflection. Gertsman found them to alive with a variety of activities:

…the medieval cemetery, not necessarily a mournful place, was a site of public picnics, promenades and celebrations—and therefore always busy and often given to worldly affairs. –Elina Gertsman, p 1.

As the church absorbed the graveyard dance, it transformed it into a moral pageantry (Cohen, p 37.) It was the fusion of these differing beliefs that would give rise to the Danse Macabre. Gertsman wrote that the Macabre imagery melded the ideas of death as communal and individual. Each person faced it on their own, in their families, and with the presence of mass burials at cemeteries. None could escape it. “The Nobleman and the Beggar of the danse macabre are both mortal in equal measure, and their indistinguishable remains will co-mingle at a charnel house….” (Gertsman, p31).

Holbien, The Noble Woman

The most popular woodcuts of the Danse Macabre were created by Hans Holbien in about 1525 (Public Domain). His work has seen successive reprints over time.

Interestingly enough, when artists decided how to depict Death visually the most common representation was his own handiwork. Jean de Vauzèle, the Prior of Montrosier remarked on this in his preface to Holbien’s book:

"And yet we cannot discover any one thing more near the likeness of Death than the dead themselves, whence come these simulated effigies and images of Death's affairs, which imprint the memory of Death with more force than all the rhetorical descriptions of the orators ever could." (Wikipedia).

Death is often illustrated dynamically and full of more life than any of the other characters. As if being freed from the mortal coil, has given it more energy. Cohen wrote that he found the pain still within Death’s appearance:

“…the artists of the Dance of Death, by levity, satire and humour, render him a ‘jolly fellow’, a trusted friend. Nevertheless, anguish in the face of Death breaks when, as in our time, massacres and monstrous weapons of universal devastation are all too familiar, death as a dancer can no longer have any ‘reality’, even in fantasy.” (Cohen, p 38).

Along with the duality of Death being a communal and individual experience, the Danse Macabre brings it close and keeps it apart making it both friend and stranger to the people of the Middle Ages.

Wenceslaus Hollar, Procession of the Dance of Death (Unknown date, author lived 1607-1677)
Dance of Death attributed to Johann Jakob Haid, 1700-1750, from the @britishmuseum collection.

Cohen, John. “Death and the Danse Macabre.” History Today, vol. 32, no. 8, Aug. 1982, p. 35. EBSCOhost. Last accessed: Jan 21, 2021.

Gertsman, Elina. “Visual Space and the Practice of Viewing: The Dance of Death at Meslay-Le-Grenet.” Religion & the Arts, vol. 9, no. 1/2, Mar. 2005, pp. 1–37. EBSCOhost,

Hans Holbein’s Dance of Death (1523–5). The Public Domain Review. publicdomainreview.org/collection/hans-holbeins-dance-of-death-1523-5. Last Accessed: Jan 22, 2021.

University of Toronto’s Library Wenceslaus Hollar Collection. hollar.library.utoronto.ca/dancedeath.