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Thursday, November 11, 2010 - 3B
Poetry and truth in the
face of Plato and 9 11
nough about beauty. Not everyone cares
about plosives and rhyme, but everybody
cares about understanding the world. Every-
body cares about the truth," a wise and persuasive
friend of mine recently told me.
"Where are all the poems that
My friend deserves an answer.
But I should say first: I don't apol-
ogize for my emphasis on sound.
W. H. Auden once apocryphally
said if you took two people - one
who wanted to say something
important about the world and
another who merely wanted
to play with words - the latter
Ms ARISSA MC
ies often have months to develop their ideas unchecked.
nlike in the classroom setting, designers of sets
BEHIND THE SCENES
From Page 1B
Working with the set designer,
Garcia and her co-propsmaster
wrote out a "master props list" of
everything they'd need. From there,
gathering the props was mostly a
matter of trips to the Salvation Army,
Michael's and the Internet tofind the
items on the list. But props-collect-
ing is not a decision-free endeavor.
"There's a bunch of fruit that
makes several appearances
throughout the course of the show,"
Garcia explained, "and the fruit that
would have been common in ancient
Egypt is not necessarily going to)
read like decadent fruit to a modern
"They would have had pome-
granates and dates, things that
read as fruit, but they don't neces-
sarily make the same statement as
having a pile of grapes that someone
feeds someone else."
For McCulloch, bringing his
"Into the Woods" costume designs
to fruition also required some hunt-
"The show's so specific, because
it's kind of a 'period-less wonder-
show,' " McCulloch said. Besides
creating 15 brand-new costumes, he
-rented, bought and altered existing
garments to match the details of his
"Into the Woods" renderings.
But, like any costume designer at
the 'U,' McCulloch began his search
by digging through the costume
stock on North Campus.
"Here at the University, we have
a really fantastic costume stock,"
Lubowich said. "(It's) sortedby time
period, by size, by color. So it's racks
and racks of suits, and dresses, and
there's, like, a 1920s aisle - so that's
the starting place."
"Within the shop, there's the
community," McCulloch explained.
"There's drapers who make the pat-
terns and there's stitchers who put
the things together, and those peo-
ple have been working together for
a long time; we have a holiday party
and all of that stuff."
It's a community that has nur-
tured both McCulloch and Lubo-
wich in the theater, and their
costume upbringing sometimes
spills over into other areas of their
"Since I have this background in
costumes, I use a lot of fabric in my
set designs," Lubowich said. When
building the "Potter Sequel" set, he
decided to paint on a large sheet of
fabric instead of actually building
his book cover scene.
"When you hang it up and stretch
it tight, it looks like it's solid," he
As a show's set materializes, its
lighting designs follow suit. For
"Pentecost," McCarthy photo-
graphed the set designer's "model
box" - a miniature construction
of the set - four times. Each photo
showed the same set at a differ-
ent point in the play, under specific
kinds and colors of light. One cov-
ered the scene in bright red, another
bathed it in white from a spotlight
emanating from a hole. McCar-
thy also mapped out a "light plot"
describing the type and location for
each light. All this work was duejust
a few weeks before his show moved
into the Arthur Miller Theatre.
"The director arranges all the
performers a certain way, but in a
rehearsal it can look one way, and
then with lights it changes totally."
he said. When a production moves
into the theater, the designers come
too for their last step.
The final product
The crew takes a day to nove
the set from the set shop to the the-
ater. For "The Elixir of Love," in the
Power Center, the set shop is right
downstairs, and for "Pentecost," in
the Arthur Miller Theatre, it's locat-
ed next door. Once all the pieces are
in the theater, designers can fiddle
with the small things - or in some
cases, alter more general aspects of
the design concept.
"Before we went into the the-
ater, the director and I talked, and
I'd gotten the sense that he want-
ed a more naturalistic approach,"
McCarthy said. "Then we got in the
theater and based on what he liked
... he was interested in a more paint-
erly quality to the lights."
At the time, McCarthy was
studying neoclassical French paint-
ing, and he incorporated that into
"(It) has a lot of color, strong angle
in the light and contrast, it's very
sculptural," he said. "I think that I
was more specific than the direc-
tor was thinking about (when lie
said) 'painterly,' but for me it really
helped translate what was going on,
and it lined up with what he meant,
so it worked really well."
After four days of tech rehears-
als with the set and lights in place,
the costume designer arrives to add
another piece to the puzzle, and
dress rehearsals begin.
The "Into the Woods" dress
rehearsals marked McCulloch's
chance to see his costumes under
the lights and decide if they needed
last-minute modifications. Ulti-
mately, he made some subtle chang-
es - like adding to the outfit of
Cinderella's Prince in order to mix
up the color-blocking.
"I wanted to break it up a little
more because lie was all red and
gold and then white pants, and so
I decided to add these little white
bows on his shoulders," McCulloch
said. "They were kind of froofy,
and when lie ran they kind of flew
behind him, so it added to his char-
once the curtain rises on open-
ing night, McCulloch, Lubowich,
McCarthy and Garcia can see their
finished product -- and so can the
public. in some cases, the design-
ers get feedback: Like its predeces-
sor, "Potter Sequel" went viral on
YouTube, and Lubowich wasn't
ismmune to the attention.
"It was iostly fanss (saying), 'It
looks just like the cover of the book,
was that an accident?' " he said.
But barring emergency repairs,
the designer can rest easy and watch
the onstage action from a padded
"A great part of being a designer
is once it opens, it's done," McCar-
During a show's run, any glitches
in costumes, set and lighting will be
taken care of by backstage hands
like the wardrobe crew, run crew'
and deck electrician. And all of
these players work under the stage
manager, whose job won't be done
until the show closes.
"We've got actors and dancers
and musical theater msajors," Elias
said of the crew for "The Elixir of
Love." "They're the ones control-
ling it and they've never worked a
rail in their life."
Besides making sure all these
new-to-crew students know what
they're doing, Elias has been fol-
lowing the director and overseeing
all the coiplexities of the produc-
tioi, from design meetings'to audi-
tions to actor safety.
"I like the more organizational
side of it, and I get to play make
believe every day," she said.
Like many theater designers and
managers, Elias started her stage
life as an actor. But these artists all
found the dramsa behind the scenes
"Its a job where you are paid to
create fake worlds and entertain
people," she said, "and I don't have
to get onstage and do it."
was more likely to become the poet. If poetry allows
us access to capital-T Truth, it does it through the
sounds of language. But this doesn't mean we should
ignore whatever truths those sounds allow us. Auden
knew that too, and I think this knowledge was gnaw-
ing on him when he wrote these lines from "Septem-
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirmingiflame.
Though it stares down the German invasion of
Poland and the inevitability of the Second World
War, the poem was circulated widely after the ter-
rorist attacks of Sep. 11, 2001. Its most famous line
- "We must love one another or die" - showed up
Providing a poetic
answer to my wise and
in one e-mail forward after another, though Auden
himself had struggled with the "truth" of the line.
He revised it obsessively, eventually cutting the
entire stanza, then disowning the whole poem for
But the poem had become necessary in a way art
rarely does. People had found comfort, however slight
or fleeting, in the words of this poem just when much
of the world seemed so suddenly unfamiliar and ter-
rible. While it has been omitted from many editions
of Auden's work, a poem people feel has laid claim on
truth - even if the poet doubts that claim - is not so
easily disowned. What was said could not be unsaid.
So the poem survives in anthologies and memories
and, in the autumn of 2001, in countless forwarded
Every cultural institution struggled to find what to
say that September. The first issue of The New Yorker
after the attacks included a single poem, by the Pol-
ish poet Adam Zagajewski, printed on the magazine's
last page. The poem must have been accepted by the
editors months earlier and was probably written and
translated years before that. Nevertheless, I cannot
imagine a work of art more relevant in that awful fog
that followed the 9/11 attacks, a poem to remind us
beautifully and without pretension how to live our
lives. To "Try to Praise the Mutilated World" (trans-
lated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh):
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June's long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrew
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You've seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth's scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
Lower Manhattan lay in chaos and ruin, but even
this world, we are reminded - especially this world -
must nevertheless be praised.
of course, not everyone agrees that poetry reveals
truth, and by not everyone, I mean Plato. Before going
into business selling gently used clothingto teens and
20-somethings, Plato kept busy by expelling poets
from his Republic. Poets, by creating images of virtue,
lead people toward illusion instead of the truth. With-
out the allure of their language, poets "are like faces
which were never really beautiful, but only blooming;
and now the bloom of youth has passed away from
That Plato uses the poetic device of the simile to
condemn poets is a note of irony I cannot resist men-
tioning. But Emily Dickinson has already answered
Plato far better than Iever could. If poetry diverts
us from the truth, it's only so that we getthere by the
scenic route. In other words, poetry tells the truth
slant. I doubt if anyone has ever told it more beauti-
fully than she:
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant-
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightningto the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind-
Dickinson and Plato both remind us that any truth
is always mixed up with the way it's told - which
is why Plato thoughtpoets so dangerous, and why I
think poems are so important. It's good to have a wise
and persuasive friend to remind you just how impor-
tant they are.
Lucas is starting a gently used clothing business. To
work for him, e-mail him at email@example.com.
"Try o Praise the Muilated World" from WITHOUT END:
NEW AND SELECTED POEMS by Adam Zagajemski, translated
by several translators. Copyright (c) 2002 by Adam Zagajew-
ski Translation copyright (c) 2002 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
LLC. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.
page and it really lives and has a
ELIXIR reason to exist."
From Page 2B Katz mentioned that one of the.
focal points of this particular bel
canto opera is Nemorino's mourn-
"The Elixir of Love" is in the bel ful solo aria, "Una Furtiva Lag-
canto style, which means "beauti- rima" ("A Furtive Tear").
ful singing" in Italian. This style "That aria has never been less
of singing is focused on showing than a favorite all around the
off the beauty of the voice through world since 1832, the year it was
dizzying vocal ornamentation, written," Katz said. "Everybody
stratospheric high notes and waits for it. The composer has
breathless legato passages - all given the tenor the stage all by
elements that keep opera audienc- himself - he's the only person in
es engaged. the whole show that ever has the
"When you're dealing with a stage to himself.... And it makes it
kind of music where the instru- into a real highlight of the whole
ment itself is the star - in this case experience."
it's the voice - that's a special job For audience members new
for a conductor, because it's my job to opera, Katz assured that "The
to help (the singers) exploit their Elixir of Love" is a favorite work
vocal gifts," said conductor Martin of many - even people who don't
Katz, the Artur Schnabel colle-
giate professor of collaborative
piano at the School of MT&D.
"If they do that exploiting, it's
kind of self-promoting, in a W HY PLACE A
way, of (their) vocal gifts. Then
the music comes right off the
normally like the style. He went
on to say that the romantic doubts
and worries of the many charac-
ters will be relatable for college
"I think that if (college stu-
dents are) telling themselves that
they've never had these problems,
they're lying," Katz said. "I don't
care how cool you are, there's got
to have been someone that you
were wanting who didn't want
you. And what do you do about it?
In this case, Nemorino drinks this
cheap red wine that he thinks is
"But there's something really
dear about - not that he's stupid
- but that he's so naIve," he added.
"That kind of pure belief is some-
thing that I hope hasn't gone out of
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