There is No Crying in Baseball

About two weeks ago, in the middle of a random Tuesday, I found myself crying. It wasn’t unprovoked, rather, it was in direct response to an unexpected situation that my brain, and my body were not prepared to process.

So, for about ten minutes, I lost it.

During the following hours (now weeks), I thought a lot about those tears, considering how I have been dealing with emotions over the last two and half years. Obviously, the stress and worry of the global pandemic, social uncertainty, and its ramifications have hit all of us in very, very, different ways. While I won’t claim to not have not been a crier before, I will say that it was an emotion not so close to the surface.

Then out of the blue I remembered Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own yelling “There’s no crying in baseball,” at the top of his lungs. While the character is flailing about because the women on his team are upset and he is unable to to deal with it, the sentiment still struck a chord. (Obviously, we know that people cry over sports all the time, but stay with me).

I realized, while the event precipitating the crying was upsetting, I was angrier at myself for losing it over something I was actively trying to be less emotional about. Just as Jimmy Dugan (Hanks’ character) was convinced crying was something you do.not.do. when playing a sport, I fought against a situation where crying also felt taboo.

And then my career coach, Kate (illustrating how well they know me) said—you need to write out your feelings. Which brings us here, to this piece, which ended up being less about me and my mental health, and more about crying, emotional language, and storytelling.

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Three Lessons on Historical Storytelling from Punchdrunk

As historians we are told to interrogate our sources, trained to see connections, and build a historical argument based on primary, secondary, archeological, and physical documentation. As distant observers of past events, we look for detail and nuance—and for new ways to glean what lives within the silences.

In a lot of ways, this is not far from being an audience member at a Punchdrunk theatrical experience.

Nearly a decade ago as part of a piece on breaking the fourth wall, I described a play called Sleep No Morea co-production between Emursive and Punchdrunk. In this retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth the companies adapted three warehouses in New York City to create a massive theatrical experience. As the story unwound the audience meandered through five floors of sets in a fictional McKittrick hotel, stumbling upon scenes and story elements that included more than just the actors performing before us.

Sleep No More Act II, Scene II Macbeth. From an edition with an inscription that states “To Mary from Sidney. 17th June 1924.” | Credit Priya Chhaya

Since that production, I have been fascinated with the storytelling methodology of immersive theater, and in June of 2021, as part of Punchdrunk’s online educational offerings, I took a course on Introduction to Design. I hoped that the course would give me some insight into how immersive theatre layers on different elements of sound, visual spectacle, movement, and narrative cues to build a story that demands the active use of observation by their audience.

Continue reading “Three Lessons on Historical Storytelling from Punchdrunk”

Retreating

I spent the weekend in paradise.

Well. My version of paradise, despite the cool torrents of rain sweeping through for the fifth day in a row, or the Virginia humidity the day after, rising up from the lush, textured, tops of trees that hid the flowing James River.

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[Presentation] Multidisciplinary Storytelling in a Digital World

How do you tell the history of a place throughout time that seamlessly integrates other forms of expression?

We can tell the basic story of the past — the who, what, when, where, and why, but how can we account for a story where human expression and connections to those events become as important as the events being described. Equally critical —  are the digital tools, and methods we can use to communicate these ideas in our work to tell the full American story.

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Exterior of the Colosseum | Credit: Priya Chhaya

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Herculaneum & Pompeii: Fingerprints on the Earth

Everyone had warned us. Bring a hat. Bring an umbrella. Drink water.

You will sweat.

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One of the many side streets in Pompeii.  | Credit: Priya Chhaya

Day two into thirty-three days of inspiration I faced dehydration and a persistent fight against bouts of jet lag induced exhaustion to fulfill a dream. On day two I visited the excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii where the heat shimmered before me, an undulating, endless wave of haze. I could almost touch the air as it moved, and when the heat overwhelmed and I struggled to breathe, water always saved the day.  Despite all this, where my body rebelled against exterior influences begging for the air-conditioning and fans, my mind was filled with exhilaration .  Continue reading “Herculaneum & Pompeii: Fingerprints on the Earth”

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Soul of a Nation at the Tate Modern

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
Brothers in the instant replay
There will be no pictures of young being
Run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process
There will be no slow motion or still life of
Roy Wilkens strolling through Watts in a red, black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the right occasion
Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and
Hooterville Junction will no longer be so damned relevant
and Women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day

The revolution will not be televised

—from The Revolution will not be Televised by Gil Scott-Heron

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Black Unity, Elizabeth Catlett. This wooden sculpture shaped into the hand gesture of the Black Power movement, can be found in Soul of a Nation, an exhibition I attended at the Tate Modern in London. The back of the sculpture is a relief of two faces. You can find it in the section entitled “Figuring Black Power.”

During my travels abroad this summer I tried to keep an eye out for examples of multidisciplinary storytelling. Near the end of my trip I visited the Tate Modern in London and attended an exhibition about art during the Black Power movement. A short review would simply say that Soul of a Nation is stunning, not only because of the way in which the exhibition mixes print, sculpture, and photography to show the visual culture of the movement’s history, but also how artists illustrated emotion and meaning through their work.

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One Foot in Front of the Other: Defining Terms

In my book, The Heart of the River, I wrote that “every adventure starts the same way, with one foot in front of the other.” After averaging 7 miles (14k steps) a day for the last month, I can testify that I embraced my adventure through formal/informal theatrical performances, walking tours, museum visits, historic site wanderings and so, much, more. It wasn’t merely the steps that made a leap forward, but also my mind as I started to pull on different threads of my project on storytelling, trying to find the ways in which these pieces fit and slotted together.

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Images in this post represent the different ways you could tell the story of my trip to Italy. This first image is the ceiling of the Dumo di Siena in Tuscany.

As a reminder here are the four research questions that I presented a few months ago:

  1. What are the ways in which history and culture are being presented in an increasingly digital world?
  2. In what ways do digital projects dealing with art, music, and the past connect with the public beyond a momentary impression?
  3. What are some of the innovative ways in which the arts and history intersect to tell a narrative – both offline and online? How can we create a more fully immersive experience for the user?
  4. How do various historical presentations and cultural mechanisms relate and effect individual and collective identity?

Continue reading “One Foot in Front of the Other: Defining Terms”

The Layered Past, Italian Style

It’s difficult to describe the way Italy inspires. Perhaps it is the unchecked eating of pasta and gelato, or the way we learned to appreciate beautiful vistas amidst ungodly heat (heat wave code name: Lucifer).

Whatever it is, my feet hate me, but my heart is soaring. There is a lot to tell from this trip so far, but I’ll start with one pertinent to my storytelling project.

From the outset of this project my first lesson about studying the past sketched out the rough edge of my frame of reference. More specifically, that in addition to written chronicles, one of our primary sources of evidence comes from the stratigraphic layers written in the earth.

I grew up comparing the work of archaeologists to time traveling, where each layer took us further back through the ages, revealing how each era built and settled upon the times before.

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From Europe, With Love

And so it begins. Over the last two months I have been interviewing friends, strangers, and colleagues about my project on interdisciplinary storytelling. Their words have been thoughtful, engaging, and challenged the way I think about my work. While I will do more interviews when I return I am now leaving for a month long European adventure – for inspiration and wonder. While I will conduct more interviews in September for now I am going to digest what I’ve heard so far and see where I go. In the meantime, if you consider yourself a storyteller make sure to fill out my survey and tell me about your art.

Ciao, for now.

Visual Storytelling: Tone, Texture, and Scale in Westeros

In a few weeks fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones will embark on the second to last season of a show that redefined how we imagine new worlds on television. While we’ve long known about the different cultures in Westeros through the written word, seeing these stories on the screen has resulted in an entirely new visual experience.

A view of Cave 16 at the Ellora Caves in India. Circa 8th Century. This served as one of the artistic influences for the Hall of Faces in the House of Black and White. | Credit: Santanu Sen on Flickr via Creative Commons

One of my favorite things about the show has always been the intricate sets and staging which was the subject last week of a presentation at the National Museum of the American Indian with Game of Thrones Art Director Deborah Riley. Continue reading “Visual Storytelling: Tone, Texture, and Scale in Westeros”