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2021 August 9

Entertainment and exercise week

Our son visited us from Berkeley from Friday July 30 to Sunday August 8, so we crammed in an entire summer’s worth of entertainment in just over a week.  We also got a lot of exercise (though not a full summer’s worth).  The steps log from Project Baseline is rather useless for estimating how much we walked, because it does not let me see more than 7 days—then it chunks arbitrarily into weeks.  I can see that we had two big days lately (about 22,000 steps on Tuesday Aug 3 and Saturday Aug 8) and a couple of medium days (about 9,000 steps on Thursday Aug 5 and 11,000 Sunday Aug 8), but I can’t tell how many steps there were on July 31 and Aug 1 (though I’d guess around 10,000 each, based on what I remember of mileage).  I think that the Secret Walks that my wife and I have been doing have increased my walking substantially, as July had about 215,000 steps and no previous month (since last September, as far back as the crippled Project Baseline steps log will show me) had more than 125,000.

Santa Cruz Shakespeare: RII Saturday July 31 8 p.m.–10 p.m.

On Saturday, we walked the 3.7 miles to the Audrey Stanley Grove carrying our picnic dinner in backpacks in order to see RII, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard II performed by 3 actors.  M.L. Roberts performed as King Richard II, and Mike Ryan and Paige Lindsey White performed all the other roles.  I don’t remember ever seeing a performance of Richard II, and the only speech from it I recognized was the tell-sad-stories-of-the-death-of-kings monolog, which my son memorized once for a Shakespeare conservatory.  This reduced-cast version was surprisingly understandable, with the costuming by B. Modern really helping the audience keep track of who the actors were playing (good acting was also essential, to make the body language of the different characters distinct). The set was rather minimal and consisted mainly of banners hiding what was clearly a set for the other play and a few grates to remind the viewers that Richard is in prison and having flashbacks (part of the adaptation of the play).

We all felt that the play was highly successful, and the audience gave the performers a standing ovation.  Some of the appreciation might have just been for having live theater again, but we joined the ovation (something we don’t always do—only when we feel that the performance really has been outstanding).

I had forgotten to pack my hearing aids (which I only noticed about a mile from our house—too far to go back and fetch them), but the new sound system that they installed this year seems to work well, and I had no trouble hearing and understanding any of the actors.

Casts were kept small this season to avoid the possibility of a Covid-19 outbreak among the cast and to keep within budget—there was no season last year to provide the forward funding for this year, and ticket sales were limited because social distancing kept the capacity to about 1/3 of normal.  They are, for the first time, streaming the shows so that people can watch at home (for $25/stream).  I don’t know whether they will continue that option in future years, but it is good for this year, when seating capacity is reduced and many potential audience members are still nervous about even socially distanced groups of people.

After the play, we did our usual routine of catching Lyft home, since we don’t like walking either the Audrey Stanley Grove Trail or Upper Park Road in the dark.  We had to wait a little, as there were few drivers available, but it worked about as well as in previous years.

Cabrillo College Pirates of Penzance Sunday Aug 1 2 p.m.–4 p.m.

On Sunday afternoon, we took a bus out to Cabrillo College to see Pirates of Penzance, performed outdoors in the little amphitheater, which I don’t think Cabrillo has used for a production for over a decade before this year. Cabrillo also had socially distanced seating (which in the small amphitheater meant a very small audience), but they had a full cast and a moderate size pit orchestra.  I don’t know what precautions they took to avoid an outbreak during rehearsals, but the performances were all in only one weekend, so they did not have to worry about maintaining a Covid-free cast for very long.

I quite enjoyed the performance (though I’ve seen Pirates many times, including by D’Oyley Carte Opera Compnay when I was child).  This performance had a lot of energy and ok costuming, even if the set was really minimal and the stage a bit too small for the size of the cast.  The sound engineer was not sufficiently rehearsed during tech week, as he drowned out part of the Major General’s song by misbalancing the orchestra and the singer in the first act, and left off Mabel’s mic at the beginning of one song in the second act.  There were also a couple of songs added to the second act (one from Ruddigore and one from H.M.S Pinafore)—I’m not sure exactly why they were added, as the performance did not really need to be lengthened.

My wife, who is an opera fan, said that the singers were quite good for a local production, and that Mabel hit all the high notes.

After the performance, we had to wait quite a while for the bus back to Santa Cruz: the 71 buses are an hour apart on Sunday afternoons.

Arboretum walk Tuesday Aug 3

On Tuesday, we did a long walk in our Secret Walks series, which I covered in a separate post.  After the walk, no one felt much like cooking or going out to dinner, so I just got takeout from Sabieng Thai, which is just a 2-block walk from our house.

The Green Knight Thursday Aug 5 1:15 p.m.–3:30 p.m.

On Thursday, we did something none of us has done since before the pandemic—we went to a movie theater!  We deliberately picked the first matinee of a movie that we were interested in, but which was unlikely to have a large audience.  Indeed, there were only three other people in the audience.

I had a little trouble with the sound in the movie—it was certainly loud enough that I did not need my hearing aids, but a lot of the actors were whispering their lines and the background music was badly balanced, so that big chunks of the dialog were unintelligible in places.  The film was mostly an ok telling of Gawain and the Green Knight, though the addition of a CGI fox to the story seemed completely pointless, and pushing Gawain’s mother into the story was not really necessary (though it certainly worked better than the stupid fox). They also mangled the end of the story, to try to make it more ambiguous and relatable to modern audiences—I don’t think that worked very well either.

Overall, I’m glad that we saw the film, but I have no desire to see it again and I would not recommend it to anyone who was not already familiar with the story. It would be better to read a decent retelling than to get the story from the movie.

Bicycle ride in Wilder Ranch (Cowboy Loop Trail) Friday Aug 6 6–8 p.m.

On Friday, my son borrowed an ancient mountain bike from the garage (no suspension), and he and I took a ride out to Wilder Ranch, to do the short Cowboy Loop Trail.  We planned to do the loop clockwise, but we could not find the second entrance to the loop and went a ways up Engelman’s Loop before we decided that we must have missed it. Engelman’s Loop had very loose sand and gravel, which did not work well with the slick road tires that I have on my recumbent—I had to walk some of the steep parts, because my rear tire kept losing traction.  We came back down and did the Cowboy Loop Trail in the clockwise direction.

It seems that the Cowboy Loop is more popular with equestrians than bicyclists—we saw no wheel tracks but our own.  The trail is a narrow single track, with tall grass growing up on either side—on my recumbent my hands occasionally brushed the thistles and blackberries encroaching on the trail.  Luckily the large stands of poison oak did not encroach so much.  My son walked some of the twisty downhill parts and found the tall grass on either side of the trail a bit claustrophobic.

There were some nice vistas from parts of the trail, and the creek actually had water in it where we crossed near the end of the trail (in the counter-clockwise direction).

When we finished the loop, we found why we had not been able to find the upper turnoff to the trail—both the park map posted at the entrance and Google maps have the trail mapped incorrectly.  The creek crossing has been moved, and the trail now ends where it begins, not further up Engelman’s Loop as the maps have it.  I’ve given feedback to Google maps.

Santa Cruz Shakespeare The Agitators Saturday Aug 7 8–10 p.m.

On Saturday, we again made the 3.7-mile trek to the Audrey Stanley Glen, but we tried a slightly different route, going through the Church of Christ parking lot to Pacheco, rather than going up Elk.  Next year, we might try going all the way to Park Way, rather than using Old Vineyard Trail, though we’d miss seeing the remnants of the old zoo on Old Vineyard Trail with the entrance off Pacheco.

The Agitators is a two-hander, with Patty Gallagher playing Susan B. Anthony and Allen Gilmore playing Frederick Douglas.  These are two of my favorite actors from Santa Cruz Shakespeare, and they provided excellent performances.  One problem with the play is that it spans almost 50 years, from when they first met until after Frederick Douglas’s death.  That puts a heavy burden on the actors to convincingly play all the different ages (and on the wigs and costumes).  Patty did an excellent job of all but the youngest, and Allen of all but the oldest.

The play is very timely, despite being set entirely in the 19th century, as many of the issues of racial and gender equality have still not been resolved, 125 years later.  The play is thoughtful and inspiring, rather than being heavy-handed propaganda, and the dialogue humanizes the characters while still portraying them as heroes of their times. Some sections seem to have been taken from their speeches or writings, but a lot seems to have come entirely from the playwright’s imagination.

The audience was once again impressed with the performance, and we again joined in the standing ovation.

After the show, we tried to get a Lyft, but no vehicles were available—same for Uber.  We also tried two taxi companies—one offered a ride with at least a 45-minute wait and the other didn’t even answer their phone. We decided not to wait, but walked home taking Upper Park Road out, because Audrey Stanley Glen Trail is too risky in the dark.  The distance is only slightly longer (3.8 miles instead of 3.7 miles), but the road is quite narrow in places, so it is not a walk we would take when there was a chance of two-way traffic.  We got home a little later than we planned (around midnight), with a little more exercise than we’d planned.

Santa Cruz Antique Faire Sunday Aug 8

On Sunday morning, we walked our son down to the bus station to catch the Highway 17 Express bus to the Capitol Corridor train to Berkeley (he has enough Amtrak reward points to redeem that Amtrak is cheaper than BART, and the walk home for him from the Amtrak station is about the same as from BART).

After his bus left, my wife and I went to the Antique Faire downtown—the first in over a year (last one was March 2020).  My wife noticed that a couple of vendors were missing, but the fair was almost the usual number of vendors.  My wife did not buy anything, but I got a couple more Hawaiian shirts (I’m retired now—I have to dress the part!).

After browsing the fair, we had lunch outdoors at Cafe Campesino—our first time eating there.  My wife liked her gordita (cactus and green sauce), but I had mixed feelings about the mole plate.  The sauce worked well with the corn tortillas, but not so well with just the chicken—I was not able to include the tortillas in every bite.  Next time I eat there, I think I’ll try the tinga plate instead.

2020 September 3

Shakespeare cookies (whole wheat)

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I last baked Shakespeare cookies 11 months ago (for the Santa Cruz Shakespeare trip to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival), using version 7 of the cookie cutters I designed:

Version 7 of the Shakespeare cookie cutter uses a simple outline for the cutter and a separate stamp for adding the facial features.

I’m going to make some more today using a similar recipe (using whole-wheat pastry flour rather than white pastry flour is the only change, other than shrinking the size of the batch):

½ cup butter
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
¼ cup powdered sugar

Sift the flour and sugar together.  Soften butter slightly in microwave, beat into flour-sugar mixture with a fork, and shape the dough into a smooth ball by hand. I refrigerated the dough for a few hours to reharden the butter, but this turned out to be a mistake—I had to warm the dough with my hands to make it soft enough to roll out.

On a silicone baking sheet, roll out dough to 6mm thick (using cookie sticks to set the thickness).  Cut the cookie outlines and remove dough between cookies.  Stamp the facial features. Put silicone sheet on an aluminum baking sheet. Bake at 300°F for about 60 minutes.

I made 9 cookies with this recipe (plus a little bit left over to make a small rectangular cookie).

Here are the best 3 of the 9 whole-wheat shortbread cookies. They taste a bit like the digestive biscuits we used to be sent from England.

2020 September 2

Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s Richard III

Santa Cruz Shakespeare is ending their season with a free Zoom reading of Richard III (after 9 weeks of doing Henry VI Parts 1, 2, and 3) Wed 2020 September 9, 6:30–9p.m.  They spent a lot getting a Zoom license for 1000 viewers, and they’ve been running around 500 viewers for the Henry VI plays, so they’d like to double that for the more popular Richard III.This is also the only one of the plays that they are doing as a single installment—the others were broken up into three evenings, with scholarly discussion after each third of each play.

To get the Zoom link for the play, register for the free webinar at

https://ucsc.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_p_11ndXkRsq7G_zsFnjN4Q

I’ve been watching the Henry VI readings, and they have been doing a good job of using the limited capabilities of Zoom to present these rarely performed plays.

Last weekend I saw a rather different use of Zoom (and OBS and Youtube) by SFShakes to do a full live performance of King Lear.  That was technically much more ambitious, with each actor having their own camera and green screen and one person with a lot of monitor space busy compositing them live onto the appropriate backgrounds. Much of their rehearsal time went into blocking and marking positions and sightlines, as the actors could not see each other when performing.  There is a good “behind-the-scenes blog post at behind-the-scenes blog post at https://sfshakes.wordpress.com/2020/0/Unfortunately, the performances were all in one weekend, so there was no way to get out word of mouth advertising for the performance after seeing it. King Lear continues (I don’t know for how long) as live performances on https://www.youtube.com/user/SFShakes Sat at 7pm, Sun at 4pm, Mon at 4pm.

Santa Cruz Shakespeare went for a broader sweep (4 tightly coupled history plays), but more modest production (seated actors doing a reading directly on Zoom).  Their rehearsal time seems to have been spent more on understanding the lines and verbal delivery, with minimal props and costuming.

Later this week I’ll be seeing UCSB’s Naked Shakes performance of Immortal Longings (a combination of Julius Ceasar with Antony and Cleopatra). Free tickets from https://www.theaterdance.ucsb.edu/news/event/826.

2019 December 13

Santa Cruz Shakespeare 2020 season

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Santa Cruz Shakespeare announced their 2020 season to the “Producer’s Circle”—people who donate $1000 or more—last night. They have chosen the 3 main plays and their directors, but have not yet chosen the Fringe play for the interns, nor the staged readings.

Their non-Shakespeare play will be “A Flea in Her Ear” by  Georges Feydeau adapted by David Ives.  SCS has had good success with David Ives’s plays lately including “The Liar” and “Venus in Fur”.  Having a sex farce as the main non-Shakespeare play should be a box-office success.  I don’t remember who will be director for this play—someone who will be new to SCS, if I remember correctly.

The Shakespeare plays have a shipwreck theme: “Twelfth Night” and “The Tempest”.

“Twelfth Night” will be directed by Paul Mullins, who has directed for SCS several times before.  The instances that stand out for me were “Hamlet” in 2016 (the best production of “Hamlet” that I’ve seen), “The 39 Steps” in 2017, and “Pride and Prejudice” 2019.  I look forward to his interpretation of “Twelfth Night” and I hope he includes a lot of the music that is referred to in the text.  (One of the best performances I’ve seen of “Twelfth Night” was by Berkeley Rep about 40 years ago, with Oak, Ash, and Thorn singing all the songs.)

“The Tempest” will be directed by Mike Ryan, who will be directing for the first time.  I hope he does a good job—I’m always a little nervous when an Artistic Director assigns himself a major task (a plum role, selecting his own play, or selecting himself as director).  I have a lot of respect for Mike and I think that it is likely he’ll do a good job, but I worry a little about the wisdom of choosing himself as director.

The event last night shared some information about the successful 2019 season (record attendance, very successful matinee program for students in the county, lots of first-time attendees—particularly at the pay-what-you-want previews) and kicked off a new capital campaign to raise money for a multi-purpose building at the theater (offices, stage shop, and dressing rooms) and for permanent restrooms to replace the rented trailers.

There should be a more public announcement of the 2020 season and the new capital campaign sometime in January.

2019 October 18

Book progress update

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:33
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At the beginning of the summer, I set myself the goal to clear the 161 to-do notes from the draft of my book by the first of December, which meant doing about 1 a day.  I kept up for quite a while, but I am now a little behind schedule, with 48 to-do notes left, which would have me finishing on December 5, if I maintained one a day. The book is now 637 pages, with 315 images in 256 figures (many have subfigures).  I think I may be done adding figures, but the remaining to-do notes include adding a few pages of text (which may or may not increase the page count for the overall book, depending of how much white space there is at the end of the relevant chapters).

I was keeping pretty well to schedule over the summer, but I fell behind during the Santa Cruz Shakespeare trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. The trip was worth the time—I saw six plays: two very good (La Comedia of Errors and All’s Well That Ends Well), one well-acted but with a bit of a thin script (Mother Road), one well-acted but with awkward sets and strange direction that did not really work (Macbeth), one interesting but deliberately uncomfortable play (Between Two Knees), and one awful production (As You Like It) that failed in almost every way.  The original script for As You Like It is good, but the director managed to mangle it by rearranging speeches, assigning them to the wrong characters, cutting excessively, and generally making a hash of it. Gender roles were randomly reassigned, the wrestling match was played for laughs (like a video game), Touchstone was played very stiffly, and Jaques was changed from a melancholy character into a giddy one.  The costuming was also poor—I felt very sorry for the actors having to put up with such a poor interpretation of the play.

I’m on leave this quarter, so I don’t have to teach, go to meetings, or hold office hours, but I’m taking a physics course (PHYS 102, which is an introduction to quantum mechanics).  The homework for the physics class has been taking quite a bit of time, and I have been prioritizing it over the book writing. I brought my laptop with me on the Ashland trip, but I didn’t do any writing for the book—I finished the first homework for the physics class instead, as it was due the day after we came back.  Today I finished homework 3 for the physics class (due Monday), so I should work on the book this weekend.  Maybe I can get back on schedule? (Or maybe I’ll try mowing more of the back lawn—I’ve cleared about a quarter of it.  Creative Procrastination!)

I’ve also been wasting a lot of time reading news, humor, and a few subreddits on the internet—the physics class is only taking about 15 hours a week, so I can’t really blame the class for my being behind schedule on the book.

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