by Katherine Schloss
The other day, I was walking down the lovely street of Dwight Way when something shiny caught my eye. A plaque on the ground marked the usually insignificant stoplight where you can catch the 79 (which I find to be much sexier than the trusty old steed that is the predictable 51B) just before Theta Chi. Called “Hell’s Fissure,” the plaque demarcates the mythical location where, apparently, a chasm opened up during the 1906 earthquake and “creatures of unspeakable horror” terrorized the local neighborhood. I started to think of all the crazy characters that I encounter without a second thought on the daily here in Bezerkeley. I started to really believe in the chasm’s lasting power over the area as a result of its introduction of such colorful characters as the Hell Yeah Guy, Furryboi, the lady at Brown’s whose “Next!” hits you like a freight train…
In related news, recent reports have deemed six buildings on the UC Berkeley campus seismically unsafe. When the beloved Hayward faultline opens up at a football game this year - “We could have been good!” we’ll say, “But the earthquake ruined all of that…” - buildings as old as shit will crumble. I interviewed a few passing people about this dilemma. First, I hit up a Fiji frat dude, just as he was coming dramatically down his mansion’s luxurious staircase as if he were Scarlett O’Hara of the movie Gone with the Wind. “Bro, I haven’t been to class in a week! I gave myself a long weekend and went on a three-day bender. We can’t rent out RVs anymore because of the incident last year, so I’m thinking of hang-gliding to the next USC game. Oh, it’s actually here? Sick… we’ll see if I’m coherent enough to make it. Oh, wait - what were we talking about??”
Then, outside of Moe’s, we find a resident soft boi looking at the $2 bookrack. His instagram bio says, “Brain like Berkeley,” and he cries into his beanie when no one’s looking about the girl that wasn’t receptive to his charms. “The way she says hi is cathartic, like the dew on the soft grass.” I decide he’s a lost cause.
When asked for a statement, our lovely chancellor was tempted to not comment. Then, when walking down Sproul one day, dodging flyers and faceless/nameless consultors, I ran directly into Oski himself. I felt him slip something into my pocket, and then it was like he’d never been there. The note said: “When the time comes, hide in the tunnels. You’ll know what to do.” As the world around me started to burn to the ground, and memories of a recent earthquake came to mind, I started to feel like that meme about the dog in the burning room.
This just in: Those hundreds of people you friended on Facebook freshman year? Yeah, you’ll never talk to them again…
by Katherine Schloss
You’re walking through the “morning fog.”(1,2,3) Suddenly that fog clears, and just as you start admiring the phallic imagery of the regal Campanile, a familiar face appears before you.
Is that? No. Wait… oh no: you definitely don’t remember their name. Are they from GBO? That one day of rush you went to? Did they flyer to you on sproul? Sweet talk you into signing something for CALPIRG? Out of the 30,853 or so students (one drops out every time a toilet refuses to flush in Moffit), you seem to be charmed with the honor of running into Facebook friends of meet-and-greets past.
“Hey you!” (start with a vague greeting that is friendly but not too overbearing). Then the conversation becomes a barrage of vague questions. “How was your summer? Did you go home? What’s your major again? Have you seen those caterpillars around? Isn’t it crazy how they get stuck in your hair?” You try not to be too put-off by the fact that they know where you lived freshman year, or that they remember “that one time” you were drunk and did “that funny thing” on a table, or that they can list all of your best friends by name. Your strongest contribution to the conversation is, “What’s your favorite font?”
Then, like a lighthouse in the fog, you see that you’ve both somehow reached the Dino Man in front of Sather Gate. It’s enough of a distraction for you to slip into the sea of flyers before being hit by a rich international student floating through the crowd on their motorized skateboard. Karma's a bitch, but you’re still gonna continue to blast people with those connection requests on Linkedin. You’re a professional now, and you’re not going to see any of those Facebook friends again anyhow. A swig of Yerb and you’re on your way, ready to take on the world of screenagers.
1 You’re physically foggy because you got sexiled last night and woke up at three am on the couch just to itch your eye with a finger covered in Trader Joe’s fake taquis
2You’re mentally foggy because you’ve spent the past couple of days frantically creating a quizlet for that anthro class that you haven’t been to since the second day of lecture and are trying to cram your brain with various specificities about ape skulls
3There also happens to be a fog surrounding you that rivals that of Karl across the bay
by Katherine Schloss
Fresh off of a Cal Day full of blue, gold, go bears, and such, my friends and I sauntered to the Memorial Glade in search of respite from the sea of frat noise we’d engaged in, expecting to wade through waves of eager prospective students. Instead, we (thankfully) stumbled upon the concert that SUPERB was putting on. The vibe we encountered on the famous sturdy patch of patchy grass was reminiscent of how I imagine it must have been when the hippies roamed Berkeley in the days of free love and peace. Truly, where have all the hippies gone?!
Writing this has reminded me of my obsession with Lindsay Weir and Kim Kelly of Freaks and Geeks and my envy for their ability to journey off in a VW bus to follow the Grateful Dead. I feel like music today is an escape, whereas it was once a religion. This year I’ve been unintentionally going on a sort of concert pilgrimage. The journey hasn’t taken me far physically, but it has emotionally and intellectually stimulated and changed me. I got my first true taste of the electric experience that is concert-going this past year-- my first year of college. Prior to my time here, I’d only been to a Taylor Swift concert and Vanessa Hudgens’ attempt at one in a small county fair in Pennsylvania. Coming from Orange County, I should have been exposed to more of the small groups that come out of Los Angeles, but I wasn’t savvy enough, always hyper-aware that all of my favorite songs revolved around a 70’s witchy Stevie Nicks period or an 80’s Toto howling “Africa.” But now, I have discovered my intense love for concerts. When I lived in Foothill, notes from the Greek Theater would waft over to my dorm, scoring my study sessions (or lack thereof) and making me feel as though I had started to find a soundtrack for my ever-changing life. I often heard the musicians warming up early in the day, and it felt as if we had gone through space and time together once it was all put together at night. One poignant memory of that time period was when, walking home from VLSB really late one night, I heard the last chorus of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” a few days before he died.
From Berkeley alum Jack Symes to quirky Father John Misty to all of the band nights at Thorsen house, each concert I have attended has been a unique experience that has shifted my perception of the world and of music itself. The concerts with SUPERB have been especially meaningful to me, as they transform various spots on campus that I walk past every day into sites for my infatuations with new artists. The Stelth Ulvang concert in particular was a magical event for me. Rushing from my SwingCal practice, I walked into the beautiful, moody place that is Bowles and immediately was so relieved to shake off the weight from my stressful week and to just vibe to new music with my friends. I felt connected to strangers as we swayed under the purple lights to Stelth’s soothing voice.
For the most part, my concert experience this semester has been like riding a calm comforting wave, save one night where I found myself in the middle of a mosh pit. I’ve learnt to give into the flow of the music without losing my sense of self under the sparkly disco ball and amidst the crowds. I saw Summer Salt at the Corner Stone and I don’t think I stopped smiling once. At the TV Girl concert, I literally went through my whole dance repertoire (trying to avoid the fact that I didn’t know the words and just giving into it all). I was able to just simply vibe with the chill tunes… and that was exactly how I felt on Saturday. The Marías!!! What an insanely hot group they are! I’ll admit that I’d literally only listened to whatever songs my free version of Spotify had fed me-- sorry, I know that’s such chaotic energy but my laziness and lax attitude about some things culminates in having to patiently wait through three of the same ad every hour-- and yet I had definitely loved what snippets I’d heard of her smoky voice. I was not at all prepared for the presence María had onstage- my friend iconically described her voice as “sex embodied” with her black high-waisted dickies, a skin-tight cheetah top and black shades. All of that, combined with her envy-inducing blunt bangs and subtle body rolls, culminated in the creation of one mesmerizing lady. Her movements were sensuous and just self -aware enough to make me immediately want to be so beautifully intentional yet so chill. In a Noisey article, the group’s drummer Josh Conway grapples with the fact that the Marías have been described as “vintage.” I’m personally finding that there’s a timeless collective spontaneity that’s forming in many of the groups I’ve seen this year. By this I mean that the Marías have hit a sweet spot in the combination of their passions somewhere in the mix of old-timey and contemporary, in dreamy tunes that simultaneously evoke hotel lobbies with velour-covered couches and the farthest reaches of the Milky Way. I feel this is best captured by their Ones to Watch article, which says that the music makes one feel, “...transported, taken over by a sultry tranquility as you drift into a timeless space.” They’re all very put-together, care a lot about their music, and each member has a unique look, so their creative juices marinate nicely. This is especially impressive considering the group was a lovechild that sprang from the real love between the band’s eponymous lead woman and its drummer (for once the drummer doesn’t fade into the background). The music videos are a very smooth meshing of retro looks with an effortlessly cool sway set to their sexy and swanky tunes. I could-- and do-- watch “Over the Moon” on repeat, with its intermix of celestial claymation and María in her dazzling, pearly gown surrounded by her monochromatic, white-suited boys. It allows her to be central and showcases her, but not obnoxiously so. She is sexualized, but not exploitatively. Instead, she owns the milky, sparkly dream-like sequence, and its in three minutes and three seconds steals my heart and epitomizes for me what my concert-going journey has been: a time to both find my love for old-school music newly implanted in the present and to also allow myself to grow into my own body. To become my own María, enwreathed by an ivy of the songs that I now carry with me-- whether I know the words or not-- dickies above the ankle and my head held high.
by Katherine Schloss
Lately I’ve been too caught up in it all to sit down and truly commit myself to binge watching a new show. Summer nights spent cramming One Tree Hill until my eyes watered are a far-off memory. Then, my roommate suggested Pushing Daisies, and I absentmindedly starting watching the pilot episode as I packed for spring break. Straight off the bat I was incredibly intrigued by how intentional the cinematography felt. It was very Wes Anderson-esque, with odd color palettes and quirky, witty one liners that are given care and attention. A few episodes in, I discovered that the show was tragically discontinued after two seasons. This dilemma has plagued me often in the niche, cult classics that I tend to be drawn to (another example being Freaks and Geeks). I often wonder how it is that other shows can gleefully exist with their cliff hangers, mistaken identities, etc. while my shows must forever be frozen in time, subject to the powers that exist outside of their realm of existence, a reminder that while trying to maintain my image of the characters as very real, there is also the very real fact that they are mere creations. Is it better that the end is left up to the imagination? Does this extend their existence as never-ending and incapable of being sugar coated and boxed into a set path? Should you even start a show knowing full well that there won’t be any satisfaction of a resolution at the end?
Shows like this are often overlooked by mainstream efforts to drag crime shows on with 10 plus seasons, playing out every possible scenario and stretching the characters and their stories thin. I don’t want to belittle shows that rely on the malleability of their characters in such a way, but there is something to be said about a storyline where characters are created with a certain depth and groundedness that makes you identify so heavily with them.That’s exactly why I find shows such as Pushing Daisies and Psych so refreshing. Both center around male protagonists who have tumultuous relationships with their fathers and are subject to playful yet often traumatic childhood flashbacks. However, they differ in a few pertinent ways: one leading man has a special, mystical gift and one merely pretends to. Psych therefore manages to cross a fine line as Shawn (the main character), a restless soul who cannot hold down a job for more than a few weeks at a time, finds his calling by pretending to be a psychic for the Santa Barbara police force, secretly relying on his keen detective abilities that he learned through years of unwanted daily training through his father. There is an awareness and lightheartedness that comes with the knowledge that he cannot sustain the act until the end of time, making the show, with its endless references to obscure 80s-isms, entirely endearing and digestible. It is decidedly real in its location and presentation of realistic situations, and yet there is a sort of blatant and cheeky undertone of the ridiculousness of the legal system and detectives in general. In comparison, Pushing Daisies is presented through the steady voice of Jim Dale-- notable for his narration of the Harry Potter audiobooks-- relying on the fantastic element of its main character (Ned) possessing the ability to bring dead people back to life. This gift comes with two catches: firstly, if kept alive for more than a minute, someone else randomly dies; secondly, Ned cannot touch the person again without them returning to their dead state. Once he brings his childhood love back to life, there exists the heart-aching situation in which they cannot touch. This creates, within the modern fairytale of sorts, a unique ability to explore a male character’s affection for a woman minus the usually heavily-present physicality that generally comes with TV’s depictions of lust and love. His inability to touch her is, indeed, very touching. In Psych, this plays out as a fragile man’s chase of the head detective’s affections, turning the common power dynamic on its head in a cat and mouse chase that involves a strong woman’s dedication to her career. Both shows are decidedly unique despite their existence within the detective genre, each with a nuanced ability to deliver comedy and commentary with heart and flair despite their decidedly niche existences.
It can be argued that these shows warp our understanding of crime and the criminal justice system. Instead of developing “mean world syndrome,” which causes viewers to perceive the world as more dangerous than reality, these particular television programs make the viewer feel as though they should go into the business of solving murders. I certainly considered criminal justice after obsessing over Sherlock in its delicious Britishness and addictive portrayal of the analytical process that accompanies solving a murder or crime. In a similar vein, the Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller hoped to create an appreciation for life despite the show’s inherent focus on the topic of death. His Amelie-inspired amalgamation of patterns, vibrant color schemes, and quirky dialogue may have been cut short, but the show’s defiant spirit lives on.
by Katherine Schloss
Where the heck did memes come from? Open any social media app and you’re immediately hit by memes about everything from politics to celebrities. Every public event is slyly condensed into a little joke that is a commentary on the unraveling of our society. I feel that memes somehow become an ironic portrayal of the darkest fears of Millenials and Gen Z. Through memes it is acceptable to absolutely decimate someone’s character or make a very serious topic into something that somehow commodifies it into a comedic bit for the entertainment of the “woke” masses. Memes bring people together, just as our own university’s Facebook meme page unites the edgy teens for miles around in their common goal to craft poignant pieces on the culture that they mutually take part in.
This condensed commodification certainly reflects an ever-decreasing ability to focus on something. Everything must be cut down into digestible skits… like SNL on steroids. On social media, our lives are conveyed by a few words, some strange emojis, and carefully curated content. We create our own little art exhibits, raw and vulnerable and on full display 24/7. What does all of this say about our culture? Are we more aware? Is our ability to curate the things that are happening around us into such a stylized, clean look a reflection of our shallowness, or an increased productivity? I think that memes can be different in that they display a certain agency. While it is true that they can become mainstream, they’re not made to feed their creator’s ego, but rather to facilitate a connection between young people that aren’t willing to take any more bulls***. We are creating our own curated worlds, taking what is relevant to us as young people and crafting a new world within the realm of technology and likes and retweets. This brings about a danger of suddenly becoming unable to care about things that aren’t carefully curated to our taste. Our Facebook feeds spit out what we want to hear, targeted ads hit us at every turn, and our Instagram feed projects the “best,” most aesthetically pleasing and socially acceptable points of our days. Memes, on the other hand, are defined as, “a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.” Therefore, this massive amount of consumption that is occurring also allows for a new art form to emerge. The urban dictionary says that memes, “are a lifestyle and art used by teens and adults who are willing to actually live a life that doesn't include depression.” That definition in itself is rightfully meme-worthy. I often hear people say “that’s such a meme” which makes me wonder when people aren’t doing things just so that they’ll be worthy of being commodified on social media into a small picture/text combo. Regardless, I do see memes as a way that we can fight back with comedic relevance against the ever-stressing world that we’re being pushed into. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, we certainly can’t face the confusion of the world that was created by all those preceding us.
I talked to two of my friends who make memes for The Free Peach, a satirical publication produced online by students from UC Berkeley. One, my roommate, said, “I find my inspiration from current events, media trends, and the many meme accounts I follow, but also from my friends. Some of the most relatable content is just a result of listening to what people around you are saying.” When asked how meme culture has become so rampant, she replied, “I feel like memes are so loved by our generation because they remind us not to take life too seriously, that everything is a joke, and also of the importance of ~~Free Speech~~.” The other social media editor told me, “I find meme inspo from situations that I am in or have experienced! I'll take a photo and then usually see it's meme potential right away. Or, something will come up in conversation, a person will say something funny or unique, and it will instantly trigger a meme response.” Therefore, memes can be seen as a reflection of capturing spontaneity, in comparison to when one carefully chooses an Instagram photo out of a long string of carefully-staged moments. She said, “I think memes are rampant because they create a sort of standardized and digestible joke. One meme format can be applied to a ton of different circumstances so it's easy to create a middle ground for people. Someone says something and instantly a couple people see it through the lens of memes. Also, memes are spread so fast and there is always new content so it's a form of humor that anyone can dabble in and find something that makes them laugh.” I hope that this post was easy and breezy like the memes that we hold so dear. Sweet memes my friends!
by Katherine Schloss
I’ve never been one for horror films. Sometimes I get unpredictably queasy at the sight of blood, and I often laugh disappointedly at the overly emotional responses from female characters boxed into the limiting role of the victim. Why would I put myself into a situation of simulated stress for two (plus) hours only to find out who the killer was when I can so easily look it up?
But I’ve started to realize that there is a sweet spot between thriller and horror. Create just enough violence and sprinkle in just enough nail biting suspense and you’ve got a perfect concoction. I thought it was worth a try to watch Gaspar Noé’s Climax purely because it was tantalizingly French.
Watching Climax was like stumbling through a beautifully lit haunted house, minus the jump scares. There was an uneasiness in that lack. Besides a playful title, Climax was a lot of things. Highly intimate, jarring, nauseating…it was like we were on a drug trip ourselves, with a sensory overload of dancing figures paired with the constantly droning electronic music that became overwhelming in its consistency. The filming style was a couple of long, mesmerizing takes, and it became clear that the film is focused less on forcing viewers to attempt to solve a psychological puzzle and more on presenting life as an ongoing, chaotic dance that we’re all wrapped up in.
Cinematographically, the film was beautiful. It retells a (mostly) true story of a French dance troupe that discovers that the sangria bowl which they’ve been drinking copious amounts of at a small party has been spiked with LSD. The film, which was shot in fifteen days and based off of a three page script outline, is enticingly raw with a supersaturated color scheme. Noé’s decision to cast dancers instead of actors-- save for Sofia Boutella-- created very accessible characters and exposed universal truths, despite the language barrier and sparse dialogue. Their dance background allowed for a freedom in which they weren’t overly conscious of their performance character-wise and were instead able to give into their bodily aesthetic.
I felt this movie presented a sort of microcosm of the world within which the seven deadly sins were present. Certainly lust, but also envy and the like. The characters all seemed to be insanely aware of power dynamics, and then slowly their social positions began to break down as the drugs set in. Reading some articles about the film, which are bound to be mixed with the good and the bad, I realized that there’s a confusing gray area in relation to the fact that the film is presented as “French made,” in congruence with the presence of a huge, sparkly French flag playfully displayed over the DJ’s turntables. Is the movie presented as notably French? I honestly walked out of it feeling that the disturbing messages were universal, and that the flag was somehow ironically placed and discussed. However, upon closer examination one finds that the first one to be accused of lacing the sangria bowl and to be thrown out into the snow was a Muslim man. Is this a commentary in conjunction with racial unrest in France? The fact that all of the characters are insanely different and that their supposed civility at the beginning of the film devolves and degenerates into a hellish-but highly aesthetically pleasing in the red moody lighting- combination of death drops (dancing term), voguing, and bone breaking intermixed with nervous breakdowns, shaky trips down long hallways, and sex, sex, sex further presents the idea of tensions amongst diverse groups of people.
The movie doesn’t have a high point of tension. The line between sanity and whatever else lies on the other side is perpetually blurred with prolonged traipses down hallways, upside down shots, and close-ups of wild eyes. As a viewer you are never truly grounded, as the camera is almost constantly moving and the main character is in a state of paranoia punctuated by bodily outbursts and screams. The camera’s tendency to slowly pan from character to character means that we never quite learn enough about any of them or fully trust any individual character, and are thus presented with the unique ability to make value judgements on our own. The performances are insanely physical and somehow Noé manages to coax out a reveal of the darkness that lies beneath human nature through them.
An interesting trope throughout the film was that of the men as a negative presence, giving into their sexual desires and disregarding how the women actually feel. David’s main goal is to sleep with all of the women. Taylor essentially rapes his sister because…incest. The film essentially breaks down male sexuality into a meaningless search for dominance and pleasure, resulting in their reveal in harsh lighting at the end of the movie as a mass of exhausted bodies. The men are presented as primal and crass, and the women are often manipulated despite their strong personalities. Lou is cornered, Gazelle is raped, and Selva is harassed. In the end, Psyche is the one who spiked the punch and watched unharmed, so perhaps a female prevails? However, she ends up giving in to her supposedly regretted past by applying acid eye drops.
It is clear that, in Climax, dance is presented as a reflection of life itself. This idea can even be found in the opening bird’s eye view shot of a woman screaming in a bloody, snowing, writhing panic. It is especially apparent when Ivana’s response to, “If you couldn’t dance what would you do?” is simply, “Suicide.” I’ll leave you with one of the intertitles from the film: “Life is a collective impossibility,” which hopefully leaves you spinning around like the fruit in their endless cups of sangria.
BareStage Performers in Curtains
By Katherine Schloss
One of the major theatrical production organizations on campus is BareStage Productions. They pride themselves on providing pre-professional opportunities for students to get involved in every aspect of the theatrical process. I personally watched their production of Cabaret last semester and was impressed by the dark depth of the story that they were able to convey to the audience through their performance and storytelling. I interviewed Eliana Adise, the managing director of BareStage, to get a better feel for the organization in its massive appeal to the student body.
When asked about the history of BareStage, Eliana said that, “BareStage was founded in 1994 by Ben Rimalower. It was always intended to be student-run theatre but it has expanded in size and production value since its beginnings. There are many opportunities for students to get involved in BareStage. We put on four productions a year- two plays and two musicals. Students can get involved in any of these four productions as actors, production team, orchestra, designers, and directors. Outside of these productions, students can also get involved in BareTroupe, our musical theatre ensemble, gain technical experience at our Build Days or by shadowing senior members of our company. Finally, students can get involved in our Board of Directors and Company Member positions and gain much of the experience one would typically encounter in running a professional theatre company (on a smaller scale).”
This semester, Barestage put on two productions: 1984, an adaptation of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, and Curtains, a comedic murder mystery musical within a musical. Ethan Glasman made his directorial debut for Curtains, and the students had their passionate efforts rewarded when they sold out their second weekend of shows despite having to reschedule due to the poor air quality in Berkeley.
As managing director, Eliana oversees the Board of Directors and helps to refine their artistic visions so that they can become a reality. Eliana brings up the fascinating concept of how plays and musicals that were written in a completely different time period can be revived or can be used as a vessel for providing commentary on the current state of things as well as for showing how history can repeat itself. She says, “To me, the magic of live theatre is its inability to be archived. Each performance differs as artists learn and grow and as audiences experience the show for the first time. When we choose our season, every show carries a new message with it; a reflection of the flaws we see in the world, idealization of the world that can be, an escape to the fantastical imaginings of art itself. Several shows we’ve put on recently, Curtains and Noises Off, have been shows within a show. So on one hand, you have this escape from everyday reality and on the other hand, you have an honest reflection of the world artists live in and the work they produce. That’s what I love about theatre. Artists that so willingly bare their soul to comment on society.” In this way, performances within the theater are also so incredibly personal, and though you sit and have an experience with the mass of people that surround you in the audience, each individual also has their own unique take-away from the show and approaches the messages differently based on their own life experiences.
BareStage performers in their production of Curtains
I also was able to get some perspective from Walker Heintz, who has both acted with Barestage as well as being involved as a dramaturg. He says that what may seem like a grueling amount of rehearsals - 4 hours a day, six days a week - became a positive thing to look forward to at the end of the day. He cites BareStage as being a good place for first timers to express themselves and to “try something new on the stage,” as well as a space for “anyone looking to express their creative side.” He felt that seeing how their art affected the audience was “one of the most rewarding things” that he has done at Berkeley. Experiencing the thrill of being onstage and then being involved in the creative process the next time around gave him a very well-rounded perspective. Of that he said that he found being able to “witness the creative aspects of organizing and fulfilling the creativity of the actors and actresses on the stage” to be a “completely different reward in itself.” He says that BareStage is a tremendous experience for anyone looking for an outlet at a school as big as Berkeley!
BareStage performers in Curtains BareStage Performers in 1984
The cast of “A Mid-Nineties Night's Dream” at rehearsal
by Katherine Schloss
Coming to college, it’s interesting to see the different paths that those of us who dedicated our high school careers to theater take. For some, it means a degree and a pursuit of the bright lights of Broadway. For others, it means finding that theater bleeds into so many other forms of learning, and that we can diversify ourselves from the skills that we gained. I feel that theater often gets written off as cheesy and that theater kids get pushed into a corner where we’re wearing dramatic scarves and doing random interpretive dancing. Truthfully, comedic theater is an art form that reflects the ups and downs of the universal human experience.
To dive into the theater scene on Cal’s campus, I interviewed the President of Theater for Charity, Ethan Schlatter. Ethan himself got involved in T4C because he didn’t want to major in theater but still wanted a way to be casually involved in theater at Berk. He said that, “Theater4Charity was founded over 10 years ago as a student organization at Cal. T4C is a 100% student run, acted, written, directed, and acted club. This means that we only put on completely original shows by Cal students. From these shows, we put on usually two showcases a semester and donate 100% of our ticket proceeds to charity and we pick new charities each semester.”
Ethan also comments on the universality of theater, saying, “I personally think theater and comedy are so universal because of the sheer escapism of theater. Especially with how constantly connected everyone is, it's great to just sit back and watch something that will make you happy. I also think theater and comedy are so universal because they’re so accessible. You don’t need a camera, crew, or even a dramatic stage or lighting to put on a performance. Comedy can be as simple as just telling jokes with friends.” I feel that comedic theater is a real art and that many do not realize the true extent of planning and life experience that goes into a good joke or bit. To this end Ethan says, “It’s a really great form of self expression, letting the writers, actors, and directors all share something in a wacky and outlandish way that they might not have been able to regularly. It’s also a great way to share ideas with people. You don’t have to be doing a serious drama to broach an important issue. While obviously not all of comedic theater is going to have some underlying message, I feel like a lot of people discredit the ability of comedy to actually say something.”
I personally joined T4C this semester and I’ve seen first-hand how students light up when they’re given a space to engage in comedic scenes and bits, such as with our recent one-acts. We’re now moving on to our full-length, “A Mid-Nineties Night’s Dream,” which was written by Brendon Greenberg. It’s a lose comedic biography of Kurt Cobain told in Iambic Pentameter. Proceeds are being donated to the Berkeley Food Collective.
When asked where his inspiration for the project came from, Brendon said, “My friend Joe and I went for a night walk through the neighborhood and we were just riffing and joking around and the concept of ‘That 90’s Musical’ came up and I wrote it down in my notes. Then it morphed into ‘A Mid-Nineties Night's Dream’ and I really wanted to write a play around that pun. I was obsessed with Nirvana in highschool and so I already knew a lot of trivia and lyrics that I could incorporate to make a plot. Also, angsty Kurt Cobain as a 90s Hamlet analog, and his controversial romance with Courtney Love a la Romeo and Juliet seemed to fit quite well.” For someone who’s obsessed with music as well as the bard, it’s been such a magical experience to watch Brendon’s smartly-written text come to life.
When asked how he combined the ancient art of Shakespeare with more recent forms of comedy, Brendon said, “There are a lot of these tropes like disguise plots and mistaken identities, roundabout wordplay, the rhyming, etc. that kinda lend themselves to humor as it is. The rest, hopefully, comes from the juxtaposition between the antiquated, metered English and the world of the 90’s i.e. ‘Hast thou seen the new vid on MTV’ --you know, at the least it sounds kinda weird.” His writing of the play combined his love for Nirvana with an academic pursuit of English as a minor. “One of my favorite classes was 117s, which surveyed Shakespeare’s career beginning to end. That's where all of my knowledge of Shakespeare and theater comes from, for the most part. From there I just pulled from character archetypes, type scenes, famous monologues and mashed them together with their counterparts in Kurt Cobain’s life, and inserted and adapted music lyrics to make a lot of the dialogue and speeches while counting the syllables as I wrote.”
Brendon is in many improv groups on campus, including Improv4Charity. In relating this back to his writing, he says, “In improv a lot of the humor is about being inspired by real people and situations and using those real experiences as a starting point. I'm really amused by fandoms, hardcore sports fans, super pretentious sci fi nerds, diehard EDM people, etc, just the concept of these big cultural phenomenons that have so much gravity and effect on people but they're so niche and kinda ridiculous in a vacuum...I channeled the diehard Nirvana geek I was sophomore year who listened to ONLY Nirvana for like 6 months straight...so I guess I tried to parody this idea of ‘a rock mythos,’ you know they talk about this pantheon of ‘musical gods.’ I guess what I’m trying to say is people worship these people, the Kurt Cobains and Thom Yorkes-the big players in whatever niche community they identify with, and it’s fun to look back and laugh at that sometimes?”
Brendon also has some great insight when it comes to seeing art in terms of comedy: “You always see that theater symbol logo thing with the two masks, one frowning for drama and one smiling for comedy...so art and comedy are definitely not mutually exclusive especially for theater, it seems to be at least half of it based on this evidence. A lot of the time art is funny and funny is art, or at least I tend to find humor in art museums and novels and stuff…maybe the safe thing to say is comedy is an approach to art?
“For example, a portrait painting can be funny depending on the subject, or at least the way the subject it painted (i.e. an oil painting of some nobleman with a neckbeard and fuzzy fedora hanging in the museum of beaux-arts vs. caricatures of people with super exaggerated features painted by the guy sitting in the park, it’s kind of a stretch, but you get the point). For me, art is about representing the world and how you represent it. You can choose to represent the drama and woes of the world in very poignant forms, or the comedy of the world in way that heightens the ridiculousness, or a mix-match of either, maybe with a tinge of irony.”
“A Mid-Nineties Night's Dream” will be performed November 30th and December 1st and 2nd! Come out and support a great cause while also feeling as if you’re in the globe theater with the frontrunner of Nirvana himself. Follow Theater for Charity on Facebook for updates.
Left: Katherine Schloss as Courtney Love and Arcadia Eckmayer as Kurt Cobain
Right: Ethan Schlatter, T4C Prez
By Katherine Schloss
In high school, my theater group was inextricably linked with the improv group, and I avoided my teenage angst by attending the improv shows when I wasn’t performing in productions for theater. I always envied the improvisers, cracking up at their wit and deeming their on-stage choices as “smart” despite the fact that I knew that I couldn’t do so myself. There’s a certain boldness that comes with throwing oneself out onto a stage, when you let down your barriers and allow your body to be a vessel for the promotion of a heightened sense of hilarity.
The more politically aware I became in the days leading up the 2016 presidential election, the more I turned to comedy as a refuge from the ever-changing (and often frustrating) political climate. Not only had it become a coping mechanism, it had also become a way to realize that I wasn’t alone in my feelings of turmoil within a world that already felt unsteady. My love for stand-up comedians such as John Mulaney has become a bit ridiculous, as I begin to idolize them and their ability to turn their own personal experiences into cultivated and relatable bits, just as an artist in the more traditional sense might curate a collection.
Improv, however, is a whole other beast. It involves split-second decisions, demanding that the improvisors generate material on the spot and in relation to the decisions of those around them, resulting in a sort of dance in which all of the players feed off of each others’ energies to create a larger masterpiece. Coming to college, I felt that initial drive to try new things and to diversify myself, but for whatever reason I always gravitate back to watching improv shows on Friday nights, quelling my swirling thoughts and allowing myself to give into the satisfying art of improvisation for a few charming hours. One of these groups is improv4charity, which has delivered clever shows with titles such as “Tie-Dye or Die Tying.” I decided to interview Colin Jindra, the president of the club, to gain some further insight on how improv, comedy, and art are all intertwined.
Kat: How is improv an art form to you?
Colin: Improv is about expressing yourself! Improv demands truth—you can’t do improv unless you let go of inhibitions and preconceptions and just let yourself come out on stage.
There’s also a certain magic that comes from the live nature of improv. While some people create with a pencil or a violin, an improviser creates with the energy in the room. There’s a give and take between the performers and the audience that you can’t find in scripted theater. Improv is fleeting and volatile, and there’s an intimacy that comes from that. Every single experience with improv is different.
Kat: What comedians, comedic movies, and shows do you find relevant right now and why?
Colin: I think late-night television comedians are among the most noteworthy entertainers of our time. With how politically turbulent these times are, late-night comedians like Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, and Trevor Noah provide much-needed levity while still calling out absurdity where it exists. In my opinion, tough times are when comedians are at their most relevant.
Kat: What does improv do for you personally?
Colin: Improv has taught me how to present myself, engage with a crowd, and think on my feet. It trains me to recognize patterns and approach situations from a novel perspective. Most importantly, however, improv has allowed me to meet the closest friends I have ever had. Doing improv with someone really opens yourself up to them and forces you to rely on them, and because of that I have found a group of people I trust deeply.
Kat: What are the origins of i4c?
Colin: I4c has always been a subgroup of Theater for Charity. I cannot speak much to what i4c was like before I got here, but I know the group is only seven years old—and it has since grown very quickly in popularity in both its show attendance and its audition size.
Kat: What kinds of games do you do in practices?
Colin: Improv4charity performs short form improv, meaning we play mostly 3-5 minute games, like the type one would see performed on Whose Line Is It Anyway? “New Choice”, for instance, is a game in which the players act out a scene while the person running the game can prompt them to replace whatever they just said with something else. Some other examples of games are “Eulogy”, “Genre Replay”, and “Then There Was One” (an i4c original!). We also do long form sets in practice sometimes, which are 15+ minute improv sets with more free-form rules.
Kat: What is it like dealing with the different improv styles of each member of the group? Do you learn from one another?
Colin: Everyone has a different style, and that does give us a lot to learn from one another. I definitely think diversity of style is a strength that adds to our performances. Whenever we do a scene in practice, we have an open-floor discussion afterwards that allows everyone to offer their own input, so there is plenty of opportunity for performers to learn from one another.
Kat: Do you have any plugs for future shows?
Colin: Our last show of this semester is November 9th (so probably before this goes live), but information about all of our shows and events can be found at Facebook.com/improv4charity!