Sunday, May 31, 2009

The play ends...

The play is over. I'm sorry, and I'm glad. It's always sad to see the end of such an enterprise: the friends you make, the entity that's a combination of the script and the actors and all the other facets, and the enjoyment of performing (when you burn fat more than you realise!). But it's also a relief to have some space again. (And the last essay for the Varsity course is now done and sent off as well.)

When We Are Married is an interesting play. It's not as famous as some of Priestly's other works, such as An Inspector Calls (at least as far as I'm aware), but it's obviously a popular choice for amateur and professional groups alike. (The St Peter's Church Players' amateur version on You Tube [see below], which shows the last ten minutes or so of the play, seems however rather turgidly done for a comedy.)

The characters in the play are superbly drawn, with lots of detail - especially the three husbands. There's plenty of room for them to swing from total self-importance to virtual defeat and back again. The wives are different again; Clara's sudden descent from aggressive bossiness may be a bit sudden, but it gives the audience huge satisfaction: every single night they clapped with delight at her downfall. Annie is the quiet one, but her long conversation with her husband Albert in the third act is a supreme example of how to undermine pomposity. And there's a wonderful buildup to her response after he asks, How long has been feeling like this, and she says, Twenty-five years, (which just happens to be how long they've been married).

Maria is different again: in this production she was played with considerable authority and warmth. I think you could also play the part differently, as someone who is less confident and finally realises she's going to have to fight for her man. And that's another great facet of the script: each part can be interpreted differently to the way we played the parts (as the St Peter's Players testify!)

Friday, May 29, 2009

A short review

The review for the play was very good, but I don't think it's online. I'll check on the weekend when I've got more time. Meantime, here's a bit of trumpet blowing. A friend of ours in Auckland got an email from a friend of hers who'd been to the play here in Dunedin. The latter wrote [slightly edited]:

Just a few lines from me, [we] went to a comedy drama play last night called "When We Were Married" and Mike Crowl played a "tiddly"photographer. He was hilarious. The play was by J. B. Priestly set about 1908. I'm sure you would have loved this play - it was a really good laugh.

I knew Mike was musical and had produced operas etc., but didn't know he could act. The part suited him to a "T" (not that he's a drunk in real life!!) but he played the part magnificently complete with red nose!

I've never actually produced an opera that I can remember, though I've done some musical direction in that line (not for a complete, full-scale opera, though).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The camera upstages me

Well, the play's had four performances, and is going well over all. A few of the usual slip-ups with lines and things, but in every case someone's pulled us out of a potential hole. Including me, last night, when I got everyone into a hole and then had to haul us out again - which was a bit chaotic for a moment, but, being a character who spends most of the time being drunk, the incoherence of my somewhat made-up speech was reasonably appropriate!
I've been upstaged three times, however, by the antique camera that accompanies me in three of the scenes.
It behaved itself on Saturday night, but on Monday one of its legs came loose and I had to try and (drunkenly) fix it. No easy feat when I'm not wearing my glasses to see with (!) and it makes it difficult to keep the lines running smoothly. On the same night, at the end of the play, it managed to get itself stuck on the audience side of the curtain at the end of the play, which terrified us all because it only needed to have been hit by the curtain opening again and it would have toppled into the front row, with breakages, no doubt.
On Tuesday, the flap on the large end flopped down, and do you think I could figure out how to get it up in place again? In the end I decided just to leave it, since drunks can get away with more than undrunk characters can!
The props lady thinks I haven't been nice to it, and it's reacting. So last night I spoke loving words to it at intervals between scenes, and told it how great an actor it was and so on. And it behaved.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Global cooling?

Further to my 'Shuffling Stats' post the other day, here's a quote from Muriel Newman's latest column:

According to the theory of global warming being touted by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Al Gore and many others (who have spent an estimated $50 billion trying to show man-made greenhouse gas emissions are causing catastrophic global warming) the earth’s temperatures should be rising in line with a continuing increase in carbon dioxide emissions.[3] The problem is that the planet stopped warming more than a decade ago. In fact, global warming has now been replaced by global cooling and while carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, temperatures continue to fall. This graph demonstrates that the global warming theory based on the computer models of the IPCC and others, is wrong.

The fact that the earth is now in a cooling phase should come as no surprise to New Zealanders, given the unseasonally cold weather we are presently experiencing. Some
weather analysts are even predicting that we may miss out on autumn altogether this year!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The play begins

I'm writing this as a way of both getting warmed up for my next (and final) essay for the Research Methods paper I'm doing, and to also note that the play had its first night last night, and went very well. A few missed lines, a few moments when nobody spoke (but somebody should have) - including me - but overall a success. The audience delighted in it. It seems like a very wordy play (I guess that's hardly unusual) but the words have a lot of subtlety and heaps of humour. In fact, I think the cast continues to find it funny, which is always a plus. I certainly do.

There's a 'window' in the set, so that those backstage can actually stand there (without being seen by the audience) and watch at least part of the stage. It's interesting to see how the various actors have developed their characters; no one is just being there saying the lines: there's lots of detail and lots to keep the audiences eyes interested, as well as their ears.

We had an after-show 'do' last night. The South Dunedin Rotary Club had been the bulk of the audience, and were using it as some kind of fundraiser (to do with polio in third world countries). So all the actors trouped upstairs to the socializing area (which is where we did most of our rehearsing, in fact) and met up with the various bodies who make up the Rotarians.

What was interesting is that the two groups barely mixed. Here we have on one hand a bunch of people who can cope with performing on stage in front of a crowd of strangers, and yet when they come face to face with the same people, they mostly become introverts. I thought it was just me, but several of the cast were like that - or else they honed in on somebody they already knew and spent most of their time with them. And on the other hand, we have a bunch of people who are socially adept, and yet who kept their distance from the actors. Surely actors are 'okay' people these days? Or is it that they just didn't know what to say? Intriguing.

On another issue entirely...

There are always new jobs turning up (or maybe old jobs with new titles). I'd never heard of the job that requires medical coding, but apparently it's a job just like any other. The are medical coding training courses available. According to one site: Medical Coding and Billing Specialist are employed by hospitals, clinics, physicians' offices, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), mental health care facilities, insurance companies, consulting firms, health data organizations and information system vendors. As an Insurance Coding & Billing Specialist, you play an integral role in your employer's office. You help make it possible for your employer to collect monetary reimbursements from patient insurance providers. Medical insurance billing/coding and its related occupations are among the fastest growing opportunities in the healthcare industry.
Maybe the reason we don't hear so much about it here in NZ is because we don't, in general, have medical insurance. Or rather, there are medical insurers, but they're not the way the medical system is run, basically. Anyway, if you want to become a medical coding trainee, you can do it online - a kind of distance course, like my Research Methods.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Google not quite killed off yet.

I can't see the much-anticipated 'Google-killer' Wolfram|Alpha search engine taking over the world any time soon. Seemingly the difference between Wolfram|Alpha and a traditional search engine is that the former is able to compute data on the fly, rather than simply returning keyword results from existing pages. Well, I think I know what that means, but presumably it still needs to have some data on hand in order to be able to compute.
For instance, since it seems to like questions, I tried: Where is Mike Crowl in Dunedin? Its response was: Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input.
I thought I'd try something simpler: Mike Crowl in Dunedin. Same response.
Mike Crowl Dunedin. Same response.
Putting just Dunedin in gives some info, but nothing that you wouldn't get anywhere else on any other search engines. But put in my name on its own and it tries to tell me I've spelt my surname wrong. Should be 'crown' according to WA.
It has examples of what it can do over to the right of the page. And of course they work perfectly: but you'd rather expect them to, wouldn't you?
You can watch a video of what it will do, though whether most Google users would want to bother is another thing. When you do watch it, you find that the information WA will give is very specific, very detailed and very good - and formated beautifully, but it's not interested in the world outside its own particular universe. Which means that Google still has the upper hand, as far as I can see.
WA will have its uses, I guess. But since most people using Google aren't looking for school-book, university-textbook information, then I suspect they'll be sticking with the Big G for a while yet.

Shuffling Stats to Suit

You don't have to wonder why people don't take global warming and climate change issues seriously when you read the following sort of stuff:
At his Victoria University of Wellington seminar in March, Bob [White] was armed with some startling facts:
combined searches on Google (through power usage) contribute to global warming as much as all plane travel;

cows contribute 18% of global warming, more than all the world's transport;
43% of New Zealand's greenhouse gases come from cattle and sheep;
the best thing that New Zealanders can do to reduce global warming is eat less meat.
Taking just the first item alone, it seems amazing that someone who claims to be a scientist should come out with such an unthought-through statement. In the (British) Sunday Times there was a similar recent comparison: with the Google search and the boiling of a kettle. Google's response is rather more measured: Others have used much higher estimates, claiming that a typical search uses "half the energy as boiling a kettle of water" and produces 7 grams of CO2. We thought it would be helpful to explain why this number is many times too high. Google is fast — a typical search returns results in less than 0.2 seconds. Queries vary in degree of difficulty, but for the average query, the servers it touches each work on it for just a few thousandths of a second. Together with other work performed before your search even starts (such as building the search index) this amounts to 0.0003 kWh of energy per search, or 1 kJ. For comparison, the average adult needs about 8000 kJ a day of energy from food, so a Google search uses just about the same amount of energy that your body burns in ten seconds.
On that basis we shouldn't we worrying about planes at all, but the people who travel in them!
David Galbraith deals with the issue of Google searches and planes:

“A recent study estimated the global IT sector generated as much greenhouse gas as the world’s airlines put together.”
This is a largely meaningless assertion since without the global IT sector people would have to use planes more. In addition, ‘global IT sector’ includes all of the computers required to design, build and operate aircraft, all of the computers used to search for and book trips, all of the computers used for in flight entertainment systems and all of the computers used by air traffic control.
In terms of moving people around to exchange information, if you wanted to make plane travel several million times more efficient, an Internet enabled computer is a viable alternative.
If you dare to search Google, after White's warning, you'll find all the media took up the cry of the cows (and sheep and other domestic animals) being the cause of more woes than cars. This 'sky is falling' piece of doomsdayism is based on a
"400-page report by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, entitled Livestock's Long Shadow, which also surveys the damage done by sheep, chickens, pigs and goats. But in almost every case, the world's 1.5 billion cattle are most to blame. Livestock are responsible for 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together."
But when you look at the way in which this theory is worked out, you find that cattle are supposedly responsible for a vast number of negative aspects of the industry, including the transporting of them. Now hang on: shouldn't the transporting go under the vehicle pollution box rather than the cattle box? Just reading the rest of the article (in the link under 400-page report) you start to scratch your head. It takes 990 litres of water to produce one litre of milk? HUH? Certainly the average cow isn't consuming that amount of water, so once again, the stats are being used to load onto the cow, when they're already loaded on elsewhere - or should be.
I'm not going to look at the other two items on White's list. In part they're already covered by point 2, and again, when you start to look at them in any depth, you find inconsistencies in the stats.
If scientists would stick to what they know - geophysics in White's case - they might come up with some better solutions for the real problems.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


A colleague gave me a book for Christmas (Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything) which unfortunately I already had and had already read. (Hey, that last phrase is rather cute!)
So she swapped it for a $40 gift card which I promptly forgot about until she mentioned it a week or so ago. Today I went off to Whitcoull's just to check what they might have of interest, and came across Banksy's Wall and Piece, which I didn't have and now have.

I already had and had already read;
I didn't have and now have.

Anyway, Banksy's style is fairly familiar, in the sense that it's copied a good deal around the place through people using a similar stencil approach to graffiti - although seldom with Banksy's rather anarchic wit. Check out his website, where there are plenty of examples of his work. He's probably become a bit more respectable in a way, since most of the art on the website has a more permanent look than a lot of what appears in the book. Without photos, many of his art works would have vanished.
The great thing about Banksy is that he's a peace anarchist, and a man with a sense of humour. The book is full not just of his witty paintings, but also his witty texts. And he can certainly paint, something he says all graffiti artists should learn to do....

Banksy remains anonymous (to the general public) and supposedly has written: "I am unable to comment on who may or may not be banksy, but anyone described as being 'good at drawing' doesn't sound like banksy to me."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Swingle Singers

Several years ago the Swingle Singers appeared at one of Dunedin's Festivals of the Arts. My wife and I paid what seemed a very large amount of money to go and hear them, as the SS sound had been something I'd loved as a youth, when I first started collecting records.
I was a bit disappointed with the concert, even though the group (not the original group of course, which had long since gone its way) was utterly professional and polished and superb in their singing. I was disappointed because they didn't sing any of the famous Bach pieces that had made the group famous.
I was reminded of this because my wife bought me for my birthday last week a turntable that connects to the computer. Old records that haven't been heard in years can be put on it, with all their hisses and scratches, and turned into digital files. The turntable on its own is fine, but the advantage of being able to 'preserve' the sounds is a great addition.
A friend of ours has one that she got a few months back, and try as we might we couldn't get it to record onto her computer. To her frustration and ours. However, this time round, with some adjustments for 'this' and sortings out of 'that' we managed to record two tracks without disaster. (So we'll go down to our friend's place when I've finished with the play and see if we can finally get things humming at her end too.)
The Audacity program that we're using is a bit temperamental, but otherwise things are humming along fine.
The J B Priestly play is in its final week of rehearsal, and while most of the lines are in place, we all got a bit knocked by being on stage on Sunday afternoon, and having to contend not only with different furniture to that which we'd been rehearsing with, but also a different - and seemingly smaller - space. We'll get used to it (and the real door which we now have to open and close) but Saturday wasn't one of our great achievements.
Which reminds me of a couple of times back in 2007 when I wrote on this blog about mesothelioma. At the time I had no idea what it was, and had to go investigating. But when the word turned up in front of me again just now in a different context, I had no idea that I'd ever met it before (!) So much for all the learning that the brain enjoys that I talked about in one of those posts. Learning is fine; remembering is a task.
Incidentally, I don't think I've mentioned that one of the actors in this play (he plays Rev Mercer, the character I started out playing) was in a J B Priestly play that I had connections with back when I was probably only about 16. That play was An Inspector Calls and I think this actor played the father. I didn't have much to do with the production of the play; think I was mostly there because my best friend was involved in some way. But it was one of my first tastes of real drama, and I saw every performance. The actor and I were discussing the other day how few of the cast from that play were still alive: at least two of the women died quite young, and the Inspector himself may also be dead. The guy who played the young man has now had a stroke, and isn't well. The changes that 45 or so years bring!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Auckland and Vancouver tie

You may not believe it if you're a Mainlander (that's people from the South Island for those who aren't familiar with the expression) but Auckland comes fourth equal with Vancouver in Mercer 2009 Quality of Living survey, which covered 215 cities and was based on criteria including political, social, economic and environmental factors. Even more amazing - to Australians at least - is that Sydney only came in 10th.

Here are the 10 Best Cities:

1. Vienna (Austria)
2. Zurich (Switzerland)
3. Geneva (Switzerland)
4. Auckland (New Zealand) and Vancouver (Canada)
6. Dusseldorf (Germany)
7. Munich (Germany
8. Frankfurt (Germany)
9. Bern (Switzerland)
10. Sydney (Australia)

And here are the 10 worst, most of which will hardly surprise you:

1. Baghdad (Iraq)
2. Bangui (Central African Republic)
3. Ndjamena (Chad)
4. Brazzaville (Congo)
5. Khartoum (Sudan)
6. Sanaa (Yemen Arab Republic)
7. Pointe Noire (Congo)
8. Nouakchott (Mauritania)
9. Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
10. Port au Prince (Haiti)

Monday, May 11, 2009

On not being perfect

I'm indebted to Jurgen Wolff for the following. He writes:
On Ali Edwards' crafts blog she wrote about working through creative fear. She identified five typical fears. I really liked what she said about this one:

"Thinking this is the one and only chance to tell this story so it simply must be perfect. Oh man, what a way to stop you in your tracks. What does perfect mean to you? And who is the judge? Perfect is so very relative. What is perfect to me in this moment may be entirely imperfect to you. To me, perfect is actually taking time to tell your stories. Risking that bit of yourself to document your experience. Perfect is carving out a bit of time to be creative. Perfect is embracing the imperfection inherent in creating something that comes from your heart, and your head, and your hands. Let it go. Simply begin writing. Tell the story in simple, plain sentences one word at a time. Keep writing until all the words have spilled onto the page and then go back and edit. Perfect is actually telling the story rather than letting fear keep you from sharing the lives and lessons of your family."

This reminds me of the essay I was writing on Saturday: I kept struggling with getting started until I remembered (yet again) that getting it down right the first time is an impossibility. Getting words down is the way to start. Once there are some words - any words - on the page you start to see progress, but not until then. It's that Anne Lamott axiom about 'shitty first drafts' - nothing is right the first time round.

Friday, May 08, 2009


Well, we began Act 3 of the play this week - short of one rehearsal (on Tuesday) because the carpet-layers were laying new carpet round the theatre. It's a bit scary: we open on the 23rd and at this point we've done Act 3 about four times - and because of the directing style of the director, we don't often go back over a scene once it's done. She relies on our innate and excellent acting skills to get us through - along with a small amount of instruction about where to move if we've bumped into each other.
We've still got Sunday and next week to go as far as rehearsals are concerned, and then we're into the last stretch before the opening. At this point, most of us are still struggling with our lines in this third Act. Crikey. I'm used to long rehearsal periods, where you can 'learn' your way into the part. This is all a bit pressure-cooker (and not just for me; others in the cast are feeling the same pressure). Guess we'll get there, but it's a little nightmarish.
Simultaneously, I'm involved in the first of a series of short dramas that are going to be presented at church over the next couple of months. They'll be using the same group of actors fairly regularly, and....most of the dramas aren't even written yet.
The first of these goes on this Sunday, and isn't too much of a stretch because it consists of four monologues, so we don't have to learn cues or interact with the other three actors. We've all got speeches that last a couple of minutes, but you can take them at the pace that's right for the part, and since I'm playing a somewhat sceptical older person (it's not entirely based upon me!) I can go at an unrushed pace without it being out of character.
When I began to learn the lines for the first act of the Priestly play, I felt as though nothing was sticking. Somehow, since then, the lines are coming much more easily, and it hasn't been too drastic an effort to learn lines for two different plays at the same time (as it were). However, I'll be happier, once the Priestly is out of the way to be able to concentrate on just one play at a time. Think it'll be healthier!
Meanwhile, the essay for Varsity which I'm supposed to have got into tonight has taken a back seat to blogging. Not really good enough....

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Treasure and Emma

Just watched National Treasure: Book of Secrets - in other words, the sequel. Worst thing about is Nicholas Cage's dreadful hair style. I presume it's some form of wig or toupee to make him look younger; whatever it is, it's so unsightly, it's a wonder Cage himself didn't have it banned. It has a definite front line, unlike normal hair, and he's lacking even a hint of sideburns, which makes it look as though a cap's been stuck on his head. Unbelievable.
Apart from that the story is so thoroughly far-fetched that you just have to take it as it comes - and with Cage, Helen Mirren, Jon Voight and Ed Harris in the cast, not to mention Diane Kruger and even Harvey Keitel, it's certainly not going to fail on the acting side of things. It sends itself up gently on a number of occasions, and is mostly as good as the first movie.
On a different line altogether, I went and saw Emma last night at the Fortune Theatre. It had had rave reviews, and a number of people had said they were going to it or had been. I can't explain why I was disappointed, because the actors did their utmost, particularly Mel Dodge, who played a shy and awkward Harriet Smith, a tottering and verbose Miss Bates, and a dragon-like Mrs Elton, each with such delineation of detail that she captured the show.
And the direction was energetic and busy, laughed at itself and threw in some marvellous non sequiters. Perhaps it was too busy - and yet the subtle moments came off beautifully.
I think I was just very tired, and the seats were uncomfortable (no arm rests between people, which means you have to sit up straight), and I came away feeling somewhat grumpy that I hadn't enjoyed it.
It had the same approach as Jane Eyre, which I saw at the Fortune last year (but don't appear to have mentioned in this blog): a small cast playing a wide variety of characters, one basic set that was manhandled by the cast, various props picked up and used for different reasons, a sense of reinventing the original while still telling the story. Only here the actors played with the audience as well, giving them knowing looks at certain points, or being very aware of something silly happening to them, and so on. Which can work, but can also be rather twee. It was also a play within a play - five young people perform Emma for themselves, in an attic amongst all the family's no-longer-needed clutter - and at time revert to their non-Jane-Austin roles.
These reinventions are all very well, but the curious thing is that they still work best when the straightforward dramatic elements are allowed to run without any authorial or directorial interference - as in the last scene, where Emma finally realises her foolishness (it's a wonderful scene in the book too - and in the movie), or where Emma insults the nattering Miss Bates and has to be told off by Mr Knightly.

Friday, May 01, 2009

From Panic to Pandemic

A couple of posts ago I wrote about the way people panic these days, as soon as there's the slightest hint of something out of the ordinary. (Another example is the people in the States who are buying up six months worth of food and other necessities to last them through the Recession.)
I mentioned the swine flu 'pandemic' in the post, and was rather cynical about it. Seems that we're now reaching the pandemic level - according to the World Health Organisation. But, as MacDoctor notes: Bear in mind, however, that we essentially get a pandemic of influenza every year. Although this virus is likely to be significantly more dangerous than the standard influenza virus, it is also likely to turn out more like the Hong Kong flu pandemic rather than the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. There will be some tragedies and some disruption to life - but the world will not come to an end.
MacDoctor also lists five myths about swine flu, which make useful reading:
1. You can get Swine Flu from eating pork/ham/bacon
2. If Swine Flu becomes pandemic it will kill 50 million people worldwide like in 1918

3. Swine Flu is just media hype
4. The current flu vaccine offers protection against Swine Flu
5. The antivirals have terrible side effects and will kill more people than the Swine Flu
These are an interesting mix of ideas, and MacDoctor deals sensibly with each one. By the way, MacDoctor is Dr. Jim McVeagh, who is currently working in the New Zealand public hospital system and in Accident and Medical practise. He thinks politics and health make strange, and often uncomfortable, bedfellows and that the law of unintended consequences is particularly bitter in medicine.
One other thing: an article from AAP in the paper today reports that
Worldwide, seasonal flu kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people in an average year. That's far more scary than the current panic about swine flu....

A N Wilson 'returns' - albeit slowly

In an honest, first-person article in the New Statesman, A N Wilson, the novelist and biographer, admits that his 'conversion' to atheism was an aberration, which he has spent the last several years leaving behind. I remember reading Wilson's biography of C S Lewis perhaps twenty years ago, and being quite disappointed in his obvious belief that Lewis wasn't really the man everyone thought him to be. Wilson explains why in the article, along with his slow decision to believe in God again, and his realisation that the atheists have got it wrong. A paragraph from the article:

Do materialists really think that language just “evolved”, like finches’ beaks, or have they simply never thought about the matter rationally? Where’s the evidence? How could it come about that human beings all agreed that particular grunts carried particular connotations? How could it have come about that groups of anthropoid apes developed the amazing morphological complexity of a single sentence, let alone the whole grammatical mystery which has engaged Chomsky and others in our lifetime and linguists for time out of mind? No, the existence of language is one of the many phenomena – of which love and music are the two strongest – which suggest that human beings are very much more than collections of meat. They convince me that we are spiritual beings, and that the religion of the incarnation, asserting that God made humanity in His image, and continually restores humanity in His image, is simply true. As a working blueprint for life, as a template against which to measure experience, it fits.