Fly Me to the Moon: Lessons from the Crowd

When I started this piece many months ago I intended to write about the ways in which technology and multi-disciplinary storytelling has changed the way we engage with our senses. The plan was to look at two, equally compelling, modes of storytelling about a single event in history, and tease apart the ways in which each were constructed to build meaning and connection. 

The first of the two experiences was Earthrise, a musical, presented at the Kennedy Center from July 18-August 4, 2019. The second was the National Air and Space Museum’s Apollo 11: Go For the Moon, July 19-21, 2019, which used projection mapping to create a one of a kind experience on the National Mall

In both cases, the audience was central to the experience. The crowds, the people we stood and sat next to, built tension and enhanced the production in unexpected ways. 

But we are now in mid-November, almost a year and half past, and the world is a very different place. 

Continue reading “Fly Me to the Moon: Lessons from the Crowd”

What the Constitution Means to Me

For the past eight months we have talked a lot about self-care, a state of being where we look inward to center ourselves, to focus on our own mental health in order to make it to the next day, and the next, and the next. We read romance novels, and binge re-watched all of New Girl. We learned to bake bread, and more recently began the easy process of mocking holiday movies on Cable TV. We gave ourselves leeway to not be productive, to deal with our emotions, our fear, and the uncertainty.

Mike Wilkens, Preamble, 1987. Smithsonian American Art Museum. I used this image as a central piece in a 2005 essay I wrote called the Visual Representations of the Constitution.

And amidst all that self-care we’ve realized—well most of us at least—that we need to be more aware of what is happening beyond ourselves. That in a lot of ways what America is, and what we will become, depends on that single choice. To care more.

We have all been changed by this year, and we cannot go forward without acknowledging that a single election, for good or ill, will not fix what is broken. While we wait with baited breadth for the results that will begin to roll in on November 3, the real challenge, no matter the result, comes after: the next day, and the next, and the next.

But let’s take a step back.
Let’s talk about me.

Continue reading “What the Constitution Means to Me”

Genetics (& A Pep Talk)

Twenty-Twenty has been a year of forgotten dreams and lost intentions. A year of stasis, and moments of deep grief in wells of unexpected sadness.

This weekend we lost an incredible leader. While I won’t hold her up as a paragon of perfection, Ruth Bader Ginsberg stood at the vanguard of fights to provide women in this country more agency and autonomy then they had ever had before. However, it is so hard to talk about the importance of her work, without acknowledging how her life was, for many, a tenuous thread holding a web of wavering hopes together.

Image of RBG at a candlelight vigil.
On September 19, while many gathered in front of courthouses around the country, I held a very small vigil outside my home. As safe as it may have been, my fears around COVID held me back from going to stand in front of the Supreme Court.

If there is one thing I’ve tried to cling to in this hellscape of year, it is that glass-half-full perception that I define my life by. And as frustrated as I have become with the world, and my personal circumstances, I am searching, constantly, for beacons to offset the fear.

And so, I wanted to write about life—not death.

Continue reading “Genetics (& A Pep Talk)”

2020.

Every January I take a moment to consider the year we left behind with the hopes of taking any lessons and thoughts forward into a clear-eyed vision for how I want to live.

But 2019 was a year of contradiction.

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Just hanging out on the Millennium Falcon next to Darth Vader. No big deal. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

On one hand, I built a track focusing on Celebrating Women’s History at my annual conference, something that included a session that ended up on CSPAN, not to mention a keynote at the glorious Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado (see below).  I bought a home. I capped off an almost twenty-three year love of a little space opera by attending Star Wars Celebration in Chicago. I spent time with my amazing, wonderful, caring family with nieces and a nephew that I watch grow with awe.

But it was also a difficult year. Not just because of the state of affairs beyond our control (you know, the world), but also because I was forced to address the balance between realities and my glass-half-full perspective on my daily life. I had to confront my own understanding of what makes me happy and to push myself in a way that was, and continues to be, hard.

Continue reading “2020.”

On Cultural Heritage & Loss

Sometimes I feel like my brain is filled with puzzle pieces. Separate and distinct elements that fit together into something bigger, something essential, some larger than life truth that only I can pull together

This latest puzzle has been a tough one to crack. Like any good puzzler I have been looking for the connections. The similar pieces—those with flat edges, or colors that appear to mesh in just the right way.

The elements of the puzzle are widespread. They include the near destruction of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Susan Orlean’s The Library Book and the damage to swaths of intangible heritage with the Universal Music Group fire, where the masters of a whole range of popular (and lesser known) music were engulfed in a flame. There is an even clearer picture when you toss in elements from Yesterday and the The Band’s Visit into the fray.

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Gargoyle’s look out over Paris from their perch on Notre-Dame in 2013. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

And perhaps all of these are funnels into my reaction to the film The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which collectively summarizes the idea of loss and cultural heritage in a single remarkable package. Continue reading “On Cultural Heritage & Loss”

Evidence of things not seen

This post was originally posted on History@Work.

Where I am at home, only the sparsest stars
Arrive at twilight, and then after some effort.
And they are wan, dulled by much travelling.
The smaller and more timid never arrive at all
But stay, sitting far out, in their own dust.
They are orphans. I cannot see them. They are lost.
But tonight they have discovered this river with no trouble,
They are scrubbed and self-assured as the great planets.

Sylvia Plath, “Stars Over the Dordogne”

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Montana sky (The haziness is due to a series of western forest fires in the summer of 2018.) Photo credit: Priya Chhaya

There was a fire. The warmth a contrast with the cool Montana air. As the sun dipped beyond the mountains and dusk passed its way into the deep inky blackness of night, we glanced up to see a sight not often visible from my home in the suburbs of Washington, DC. From my perch on my balcony, I can often only spot one or two sparks of starlight; whereas, on this night, a vast dream of glitter, obscured a little by forest fire smoke from the west, lay above us.

Continue reading “Evidence of things not seen”

Kate Hamill: Vanity Fair and Adapting the Classics from the Female Gaze

This post originally appeared on FANgirl blog

Published in 1848, Vanity Fair falls within a broad category of novels often referred to as “classic.” Some may have read the novel as students, while others stumbled upon William Makepeace Thackeray’s serialized story through the Mira Nair film (starring Reese Witherspoon) or the recent mini-series on Amazon. Whatever the medium, the story of Vanity Fair details the life of Rebecca (Becky) Sharp and her friend Amelia Sedley, two women who come from vastly different circumstances and are thrust into — or take on, depending on your interpretation — a society that isn’t very kind to either of them.

Vanity-Fair-play-Kate-Hamill

Thackeray’s intent was to be satirical and to be a mirror on society. However, like many classic novels it is often dismissed as lacking relevance in the here and now.

That expectation is what led to a challenge: How do you take a book like Vanity Fair and translate it to the stage, creating a more realistic and identifiable Becky and Amelia that serve, also, as a reflection of our times? Continue reading “Kate Hamill: Vanity Fair and Adapting the Classics from the Female Gaze”

Narrative, Empathy, Trust, and #NCPH2019

Circles are interesting things. Providing an illusion of comfort, they are made up of a series of dots meant to be equidistant from its central point. If you are standing in one, the shape provides a sense of belonging. That we are all in this, whatever this is, together.

Plain Talk History Postcards
A give away from one of our exhibitors at NCPH 2019, I brought a stack of these postcards back to my office for my colleagues to fill out.

However, in a circle there is nowhere to hide. While they imply equal footing, equal power, they also represent transparency, or the hope for clarity.

With that in mind, I spent the 2019 National Council on Public History Annual meeting in circles. These circles were tangible, physical, and metaphorical — but they all connected to a central conversation about the ethics of being a historian. About our truths as professionals where neutrality is no longer an option.

Continue reading “Narrative, Empathy, Trust, and #NCPH2019”

Podcasting, Podracing, and Celebrating Star Wars

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L-R Fangirls Going Rogue hosts Sarah Woloski, Teresa Delgado,  and Tricia Barr,  and myself at the Podcast Stage for Star Wars Celebration. | Credit: Brian Sims

I am not at all impulsive, but one day last year I gave in and purchased, without really thinking, tickets to Star Wars Celebration 2019. The event, which took place last month was what I had always expected it to be — a party with 65,000 of my fellow fans. Before attending I had been apprehensive about my diminishing levels of fandom for the GFFA, and this convention was the moment to see how I really felt.  As I wandered amidst the crowds I realized that:  Continue reading “Podcasting, Podracing, and Celebrating Star Wars”

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow: A Farewell to Michael Kahn

This is an extension of a hand written letter I sent Michael Kahn on the eve of his final production as artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company. You might call this an ode to my love of storytelling on the stage, or more specifically a personal reflection on the importance of having access to theatre as a young adult.

Dear Michael Kahn,

I would like to start this message simply by saying thank you. For over a decade my experience with the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) included joy, wonder, terror, and awe — mostly in part due to your deft handling of the company’s artistic vision.

I don’t know when I began to truly love Shakespeare. It might have been when I was in middle school watching Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet or even later when I joined a college troupe of players known as Shakespeare in the Dark and ran props. But for a few years after that, subsumed beneath the weight of graduate work, I stepped away. Continue reading “Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow: A Farewell to Michael Kahn”