Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Mikado

In 7th Grade, our music teacher Mrs. Muller decided to do a 7th-8th grade musical. She chose the Gilbert and Sullivan classic ‘The Mikado.’ The storyline is set in feudal Japan. The Mikado is the ruler of Japan, and his son, Nanki-Poo, is being forced to marry an elderly ugly lady Katisha (although she does have a very pretty elbow), so Nanki-Poo runs away and disguises himself as a wandering minstrel.

In the mean time, the Mikado decreed that flirting was a capital crime. In the city of Titipu, the authorities assigned the office of ‘Lord High Executioner’ to the tailor, Ko-Ko, a prisoner who was next in line to be executed for flirting, and he could "not cut off another's head until he cut his own off", and since Ko-Ko was not likely to try to execute himself, no executions could take place. However, all officials but the haughty Pooh-Bah proved too proud to serve under an ex-tailor, and Pooh-Bah now holds all their posts—and collects all their salaries.

Nanki-Poo, in his disguise, comes to Titipu and falls in love with Yum-Yum, one of the three maidens who are Ko-Ko’s wards, but Ko-Ko is supposed to marry Yum-Yum that very day. The other two maids are Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo.

There is a whole series of twists and turns where Ko-Ko arranges to pretend to kill Nanki-Poo just as the Mikado comes to claim his son, and when they discover that Ko-Ko has ‘killed’ Nanki-Poo, he is sentenced to die, and then there is more mixing up as Ko-Ko woos Katisha, and Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum marry and shown to be alive…It’s is a fun mix of satire, song, and intricate series of coincidences. From that time on, I’ve enjoyed the ‘coincidences’ that lead to craziness in films, plays, and real life. I do enjoy the irony of it all.

My friend Karland got to be the lead Ko-Ko, and Nick D was the Mikado. A couple others who were in there from my grade were Jenny Scheppers as Pitti-Sing, Kris Karrman as Peep-Bo. Anyone who was in choir was also in the chorus.

I got to play Pooh-Bah. I had a blast playing him. He was pompous, proud, clever, and a little to full of himself. I didn’t have to do a lot of acting with it; you have to admit, that describes me pretty well. Pooh-Bah’s part and lines are some of the funniest in the operetta. I love the scene where Pooh-Bah is talking to Ko-Ko in his role as Treasurer, and then doesn’t want the Treasurer to hear what is being said, so he, as Chief of Police, takes Ko-Ko across the stage so the ‘Treasurer’ doesn’t hear. I had a lot of fun with that.

I did learn something else about how I learn music. I actually have a pretty good ear for notes and key and so forth. We were given a tape of the songs we had to learn – this was when cassette tapes were a new technology. I listened to that tape of my songs time and time and time again. I learned my songs, but when I tried to sing it in the choir room, I could not find the notes to save my soul. I was singing what I had heard, and I was really frustrated with why I couldn’t. Mrs. Muller finally explained that the tape was in a different key from the music that we had. I could never make the adjustment to the music, and eventually had to ‘speak’ my singing role.

The other memory I have about the Mikado was actually away from the stage. Karland invited me to go on a church retreat - a Friday-Saturday with his youth group. While we were there, the pastor mentioned that Karland was in the musical and that we should all plan to go. He then asked Karland what his favorite part of ‘The Mikado’ was, and Karland said a line that led right into one of Jenny’s, who was also there, which cued me. It was a spontaneous moment, and we just fell into character.

The laughter I was able to get with Pooh-Bah continued my love of stage and getting people to laugh. I enjoyed the character, and, in all honesty, would love a chance to play him again.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Villains and Vigilantes - Round 3

I did love my Villains and Vigilantes game. I had a blast running it. The group that I had playing it continued to grow. Although Eric, Michelle, and John stopped playing almost immediately, the others – Dan (the Blue Knight), Brad (Daybringer), Warren (Beethoven), and Lance (Speed Demon) all continued to play.

Before I ran the second adventure, I had gotten another couple people to play.

  • Tom Hood ran Phearless Phred, a winged, regenerating hero with a vibratory attack
  • Karland Kilian was Kranos, a super strong telekinetic who had a pet.

One of the great features of the game was when you were able to create something. A pet did not necessarily mean an animal. It could have been a robot or something like that. Karland decided to go with an Iron golem – an animated iron statue that was superstrong and very hardy. It had a telepathic link to Kranos, and it was the strongest hero that was on the team. Karland named the golem Krunch.

I have to admit, I had a lot of fun with Krunch. I got to use a real groaner during a game. A villain was trying to escape, and Karland sent Krunch to stop the villain. I said “You can’t get away from the Krunch, because the Krunch always gets in your way!”

I believe Warren and Dan both threw a 12-sided throwing die at me…

We played a lot for the following several months, and added four more people –

  • The first was Burton Davis, who created Animal Lord, a sword swinging, shape-shifting blind hero. Burton played a few times.
  • The second was my little brother. We played quite a bit without the others around. He created Vibratron. He had regeneration, stretching power, vibratory attack and defense, heightened endurance, and a special weapon. The special weapon was a pair of electrified discs much like what you saw in Tron (therefore part of his name). During this stretch, Mark and I weren’t always getting along. I had hit my growth spurt early – I was 5’10” as a freshman, and grew maybe an inch and a half during high school, and Mark was going to enter his freshman year at 5’2” or 5’4”. In some real ways, I think getting Mark to play VnV with me helped me accept him for who he was. Sometime or another, I’ll delve more into Mark’s and my relationship, but now isn’t the time.
  • A friend who moved away during 8th Grade – Scott Kindshci, came back to visit, and I had him create Silver Storm. He had, obviously, storm control, and he may have had flight, but I can’t remember his other powers.
  • The final member in that first year was Gian Pagnucci who created the Shogun Warrior. He had a robotic body, was as strong as Krunch, had wings, electrical control, a power blast, and had enhanced senses (radar). He was also very vulnerable to water.

This first set of adventures culminated in an attack of two of the recurring villain groups on our high school. It was a lot of fun destroying PHS. I can only imagine how paranoid people would be now if they heard we were 'destroying PHS. With all the publicity of school shootings and terror threats today, I'm sure I would have been called into the office and had to explain it.

Here’s the map that goes with it, as well as a picture I drew at the time – on the back of my geometry homework. The heroes were victorious. The pictures help remind me how far I have come.

After that adventure, Brad, Eric, and John graduated and went off to college. Dan, Mark, Lance, Warren, Gian, Tom, and I continued playing and beating up bad guys.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Richard III

In the summer of 1979, I was blessed to return to the Wisconsin Shakespeare Company. The school year of 1978-1979 was not a pretty one for me. I had gotten some really ugly glasses (but really in style then), and had gotten braces. Let’s face it; 6th grade is not a pretty time for almost anybody.

Something that is very interesting about theater is that every year, things are different. Very different. Now, I was a year older, but the stage seemed like it was a lot more serious place. The woman that we had spent so much time with did not come back (she had gotten a short stint on ‘The Guiding Light’ soap opera), and Mark and I missed her. Michael Duncan did come back, and was in the lead role of Richard III, the historical play they were producing that year.

I was cast as the Prince of Wales, and had a much more calm, dignified role, and David Burgett got the more fun role as my younger brother (even though he was a year old than me in real life). David was just a better actor than I was. I do wonder what happened to him. Any of you out there know?

Even though it felt like a more serious stage, I enjoyed the play immensely. Watching Michael bury himself in one of Shakespeare’s strongest villains was quite enjoyable. In retrospect, I learned a lot about the acting craft that summer.

Even though I love Shakespeare, I was beginning to get a bit concerned about being in his plays. By my 7th grade year, I had been in two plays, and my character had been killed in both of them. As the son of MacDuff, I was stabbed, and as the Prince of Wales, I was smothered with a pillow and buried in the Tower of London. I was beginning to wonder if Shakespeare had something against me…

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Anti-Heroes

I am an old-time comic collector. I admire the superheroes and the noble things that they do. I love the fact that most of them are able to do it without killing their opponents.

When I was collecting the X-men in the 1980s, I enjoyed the storylines and the characters. I liked Cyclops and his leadership abilities. I loved Nightcrawler with his humor and his faith. I loved the gentlenss and serenity of Storm, the solid caring of Colossus, and the dedication of Banshee. I related well to Kitty Pride (Shadowcat) because when she was introduced, I was feeling that same teenage angst. My least favorite character was Wolverine.

Wolverine never appealed to me. He was rude, crude, and he killed. He was the burr that got into everyone’s skin. He was always angry and had few redeeming qualities, it seemed to me. I admit I was baffled as he gained in popularity and more and more stories focused in on him. They did expand him to include a Samurai sort of honor, which I approved of. Still, he is one of my least favorite X-men. His popularity continued to increase. Now, it’s almost impossible to buy a Marvel comic without seeing him. He’s now in more comics than Spidey is. For a long while, I had safe haven away from him in the Avengers, but he’s there, too, now.

He is really a wonderful example of an Anti-Hero. He does what needs to be done, no matter what the cost, and if he kills, he has limited remorse for that. I think it’s that remorse that makes the difference. We have several characters who do kill, but they feel bad about it. Not Wolverine. Not the anti-hero.

There are several characters that I’ll lump into this ‘anti-hero’ category of ‘why-are-they-liked?’ The Punisher is at the top of the list. I do find it amusing that he was originally put in as an over-the-top joke in Spider-man, and that the comic creators were just as surprised as anyone at his popularity.

Others who have been villains – and still are – such as Deathstroke the Terminator, and Venom. Lobo is another one whose popularity baffles me. I do get great joy when Superman cleans his clock.

The most recent anti-hero who has started to appear everywhere is Deadpool. I've fought against liking him, but he's just plain nuts. I do enjoy him. I got the chance to play Marvel vs. Capcom III recently, and he is hilarious in that. Still, he's appearing in places where he doesn't make any sense to appear.

I have to admit, I’ve never understood that the attraction to the ‘bad boy.’ There are many times in real life when some women or girl in my life has been mistreated by a ‘bad boy’ through cheating, my initial internal reaction is, ‘well, duh, what did you expect.'

I do manage not to say it out loud.