THE BIRTH OF A PHENOMENON – BY ELLIN CURLEY

It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to be in on something, at the beginning, that becomes huge and enduring. My ex-husband, Larry, and I had that opportunity in law school from 1973-1975.

Larry started at Georgetown University Law School (GULC) a year ahead of me. In the spring of 1973, Larry, with a talented guy named Jack Marshall and a few other law students, got together and decided to put on a show. They picked the Gilbert & Sullivan show “Trial By Jury” – very appropriate for a law school. This was unusual. Law schools are not known to have many, if any, extra curricular, non-legal activities. Students are overworked and overwhelmed just trying to keep up with schoolwork.

Jack Marshall

Nonetheless, Jack and Larry’s group forged ahead. Jack was the director. They got a popular professor to star as the Judge. There wasn’t much rehearsal time and no marketing, but everyone involved had a great time. The performance was free, so it was hoped at least a few friends and family members of the cast would show up.

Six hundred people came to see the first show. The auditorium only held 200. People stood sardine-style in the aisles or sat on each other’s laps. The show was a smash! The Dean of the Law School said the show had bound the school community together in a unique way. He asked Jack to continue to produce shows until he graduated.

The next year, my first year in Law School during which I met my future husband, it was decided to try a more sophisticated performance. This show would have full sets, rented costumes and a large cast. Students, teachers and family members were recruited to do everything for the show, which was “The Pirates Of Penzance.” We ended up with a professional set designer and a professional seamstress volunteering their time.

I was in the chorus.

1974 “Pirates of Penzance“. I am in the purple dress, second from the left, second row

Larry was in charge of marketing. He had the brilliant idea to advertise the show in local papers and not just at the law school. Tickets were no longer free.

Jack was a brilliant director and the show was awesome. The cast was as close to professional as amateurs can get. We filled the auditorium for both performances. The cast and crew had a blast. The reviews were fantastic. The audiences were enthusiastic and the law school was thrilled. We made enough money to repay the school for what they had laid out for the production. We even had some money left over to put aside for the next year’s show.

That next show was “Iolanthe” and I was, again, in the chorus. This show became famous at the law school for a strange reason. William Rehnquist, who later became a Supreme Court Justice, loved Gilbert & Sullivan and came to our infamous dress rehearsal. It was an epic, four-and-a-half hour disaster. Everything went wrong. The set caught fire behind where I was sitting on the stage, and yet …

1975 “Iolanthe.” I am second row back, green dress behind the girl in pink dress

The actual performances turned out to be even more polished and well-received than the previous year. We made enough money to be self-supporting. A tradition was born.

Jack was hired by the Law School to stay on after graduation and keep the shows going. These shows have continued for 44 years. This is the only graduate student-operated theater company in the country. It also prides itself in being “America’s Only Theater Company With It’s Own Law School!”

The Georgetown Gilbert & Sullivan Society (GG&SS) is part of the admissions office promotional material used to attract new students. The Company’s success and popularity over the years caused the law school to remodel the Moot Court Room which was being used as the theater. They turned it into a fully equipped, professional theater.

GG&SS logo

Over the years, shows and performances have been added to the repertoire. The GG&SS began producing three shows a year – a Broadway musical in the Fall, a straight play in the winter, and a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta in the spring. Each show gives at least four performances. The recruitment of cast and crew expanded to include the entire Washington, D.C. community as well as the law school. The productions are financed by Student Government.

The GG&SS is now an institution with its own history and fan base. Jack and his original crew are like rock stars at the Society. Stories about our first years are like folk-lore to each new batch of legal theater nerds.

In 2013, Jack Marshall came back and wrote and directed a 40th Anniversary alumni performed Gilbert & Sullivan revue. The current students also put on an anniversary production of “Trial By Jury.” A thousand alumni and fans came to see the four performances and celebrate the phenomenon that is GG&SS. Jack said that they were really celebrating that the law was unable to squeeze the humanity and fun out of generations of law students.

2013 40th Anniversary Playbill

It makes me happy and proud that I was there when all this began. I’m even in a photo of the 1975 “Pirates” cast on the website. Something that I was a part of has made a difference in people’s lives for more than four decades.

It’s still going strong. That says a lot.

WHY ARE YOU WEARING THAT THING?

“How come Gibbs is wearing a coat in Arizona in the summer?”

I was talking to Garry. It was an NCIS rerun. We watch a lot of reruns, though this new fall season of TV is shaping up better than I expected, so maybe there will be new shows to watch.

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The question about costumes comes up often and on various shows. One of the more common “duh” moments is when the male lead is wearing a coat and the female lead is skimpily dressed. No explanation needed for that one.

More weird is when each cast member is dressed randomly, apparently without regard for the plot. One is wearing a heavy winter coat, another a light denim jacket. A third is in shirtsleeves. Some are clothed in jeans or other casual stuff while others look ready for Wall Street … or a cocktail party. Women are supposedly hiking. Or running from or after serial killers while wearing 4-inch spike heels. My feet hurt looking at them.

Garry and I have done a tiny bit of movie “extra” work so I’m guessing it goes like this:  “Go find something that fits in wardrobe and be on set in ten.”

Everyone hustles off to wardrobe, which looks like a jumble sale or the clothing racks at the Salvation Army store. Most of the clothing in wardrobe probably came from some second-hand source or other. The cast dives in looking for something that fits. As soon as they find an outfit … any outfit … they head for a changing booth, then off to be on set before someone yells at them. Stars get slightly better wardrobe or wear their own clothing. Wearing ones own clothing, both on TV shows and movies is quite common. I understand why.

The real question is not why everyone on a show is poorly or inappropriately dressed. It’s whether or not the people who produce the show think we won’t notice.

My theory is they don’t care if we notice or not. They don’t want to spend money on wardrobe. They figure if you and I notice, we won’t care. In any case, we’ll keep watching. And they’re right. It’s a bottom-line  world. Wardrobe is an area where corners can easily be cut.

The thing is, we do notice. You don’t need to be a professional critic or especially astute to see the incongruities of television costuming.

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It’s not just costumes, either. Sloppy editing, crappy scripts, stupid plots that include blatant factual and continuity errors. Ultimately, we do stop watching. Because it’s obvious they don’t care so why should we?

You notice it on long-running shows that had good scripts and editing, but not any more. Quality drifts away. Producers are baffled when loyal fans stop tuning in. Obvious to a normal person, but apparently incomprehensible to network executives. Disrespect for viewers is at the root of much of the illness besetting the TV industry.

They should be nicer to us. We’re, after all, the customers. Aren’t we?

WHY ARE YOU WEARING THAT THING?

“How come Gibbs is wearing a coat in Arizona in the summer?”

I was talking to Garry. It was an NCIS rerun. We watch a lot of reruns, though this new fall season of TV is shaping up better than I expected, so maybe there will be new shows to watch.

YLE Wardrobe

The question about costumes comes up often and on various shows. One of the more common “huh” moments is when the male lead is wearing a coat and the female lead is skimpily dressed. No explanation needed for that one.

More weird are when each cast member is dressed randomly, apparently without regard for the story in progress. One is wearing a heavy winter coat, another a light denim jacket. A third is in shirtsleeves. Some are clothed in jeans or other casual stuff while others look ready for Wall Street … or a cocktail party. Women are supposedly hiking and running from or after serial killers while they wear 4-inch spikes. My feet hurt just looking.

Garry and I have done a tiny bit of movie “extra” work so I’m guessing it goes like this:  “Go find something that fits in wardrobe and be on set in ten.”

Everyone hustles off to wardrobe, which looks like a jumble sale or the clothing racks at the Salvation Army store. Most of the clothing in wardrobe probably came from some second-hand source or other. Everyone dives in looking for something that fits. As soon as they find an outfit … any outfit … they head for a changing booth, then off to be on set before someone yells at them. Stars get slightly better wardrobe or wear their own clothing. Wearing ones own clothing, both on TV shows and movies is quite common. I understand why.

NCIS Filming

The real question is not why everyone on a show is poorly or inappropriately dressed. It’s whether or not the people who produce the show think we won’t notice. My theory is they don’t care if we notice or not. They are cheaping out on wardrobe figuring if you and I notice at all, we won’t care or we’ll keep watching anyhow.

It’s a bottom-line driven world and wardrobe is one area where corners can easily be cut.

The thing is, we do notice. You don’t need to be a professional critic or especially astute to see the incongruities of television costuming. Movie costuming is often no better. Whoever is in charge figures if you’ve noticed the clothing, you are must be watching the show. They’ve got you. Why worry?

The thing is, the overriding disdain for viewers adds up over time. Eventually it feels like a virtual slap in the face. As a viewer, I have to assume they think I am astoundingly unobservant or plain stupid … or so hooked on their product they needn’t worry about retaining my loyalty. They are wrong.

NCIS Filming

This nonchalance extends beyond costumes. Sloppy editing, crappy scripts, stupid plots that include blatant factual and continuity errors … Ultimately, we do stop watching. Because it’s obvious they don’t care so why should we?

You notice it on long-running shows that had good scripts and editing but suddenly don’t. The quality of the show starts to slide. Producers are baffled when loyal fans stop tuning in.

It isn’t baffling to a normal person but is apparently incomprehensible to producers and network executives.

The most surprising thing is when quality stays high for longer than two seasons. Few shows survive more than 3 anymore. An embedded disrespect for viewers is, in my opinion, the root of much of the illness besetting the television industry. They either treat us like morons or discount us because we are too young, too old  or some other incorrect and undesirable demographic.

If you are under 18 or over 49, you literally don’t count. There are other, subtler forms of discrimination. Someone decided young people and old people don’t buy enough stuff. No TV for us!  Reality never intrudes into the decision-making process. I’m pretty sure I buy a lot of stuff and so does my granddaughter. Her and her friends are always shopping.

They should be nicer to us. We are, after all, the customers. Aren’t we?

TEAM WRITING by ELLIN CURLEY

I just had an exhilarating creative experience! In order to appreciate my euphoria, I need to explain my writing life a bit. I write blogs on my own but I also write audio theater scripts with my husband, Tom.

Tom and I are part of an audio theater company called Voicescapes Audio Theater. We write, produce, post online and perform live our repertoire of original short theater pieces. They are fully produced with music as well as live and recorded sound effects. You can read more about our group on our website: http://www.voicescapesaudiotheater.com. On the website you can also listen to some of our comedy and dramatic pieces, mostly written by Tom and me.

voicescapes-header

We are currently writing very short, one to two-minute comedy bits to post online. We are hoping to put these “Snippets” on our Facebook page as well as our website to create some buzz and name recognition for our group.

That’s a long-winded introduction to get to a very simple story. I wrote a short, allegedly humorous “Snippet” involving two women talking about how stressed out they were about getting to Yoga class on time. Humor, by the way, is much harder to write than anything else. Tom read it and said that it wasn’t really funny and that it didn’t sound like a realistic conversation between two humans. He suggested we scrap it. He said that sometimes you have to just let something go when it doesn’t work.

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I felt strongly that there was a germ of a good idea in there somewhere. I advocated for trying to work on it some more and Tom agreed, probably just to humor me. In the process of our discussions, we honed in on where the humor was in the piece and where it wasn’t. Tom was still skeptical but said I should try to reshape it around the funny parts.

I tweaked and cut and rewrote and finally presented him with a new draft. I left it on the kitchen table when I went to bed. I came down for coffee in the morning to find my piece with these words written across the top “This is funny!” Those were the most beautiful and exciting words I’ve seen in a long time. I had such a sense of accomplishment!

It is so rewarding to work well with someone else on any kind of creative project. Tom and I combine our sensibilities and styles to create a viable hybrid entity. This entity has parts of us both but also has the separate identity of “us”. We both write on our own. But something special happens when we write together. And it’s nice to be able to point to something concrete and say that we did that together.

WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND THEY ARE US

In this insane political year, when many of us are wondering if Donald Trump is the Beast of the Apocalypse, the angriest controversy on the Internet is over the loss of Stana Katic (Kate Beckett) on ABC’s “Castle.” It’s huge. Gigantic. Cataclysmic.

castle-4

It’s more important than our lemming-like rush to national oblivion.

Although I watch more television than I did when I was young and working, I can’t imagine being so invested in a show that I would display such vitriol about it. Garry and I watch “Castle.” We’ve enjoyed it, but the show has been drooping for the last two seasons. It’s probably past its prime and deserves honorable retirement. Nonetheless, ABC is going to give the show a full face lift, starting by ditching one of its two primary players. I doubt it’ll work, but hey, it’s their show. If they want to give a try, what’s the harm, right?

But man, the people on all these TV web sites are frothing at the mouth. As far as they are concerned, this is personal. They’re ready to take up arms in defense of a character on a television series.


Everyone is in a state of rage about something. Constantly. What used to be minor annoyances are now reasons for killing rage. Road rage is a great example. When did fender benders become cause for violently attacking each other? Maybe that accounts for why we’re locked into a national political suicide pact.

It’s generational. Our younger generations from Gen X through my granddaughter and her crowd — all of them are convinced the world has cheated them. Stolen the good life to which they were (by birth?) entitled.

Things have been a lot worse in this country than they are now without everyone going wacko. We’ve forgotten how to lose, so every contest — political, sporting, or whatever — is life or death. Surely we know that in any contest, one side wins and the other loses. Why is everyone going ballistic if they find themselves on the losing side?

When did a sense of entitlement replace commonsense and reason? If the good stuff doesn’t happen, if life doesn’t go as hoped, we are angry. Enraged. Failure no longer is a spur to greater effort, to rethink career goals, go back to school, find a better job, or work harder. We prefer to look for someone to blame. We could hold a national “Scapegoat of the Year” contest. Vent our national spleen on whichever group is the current favored object of collective wrath. It would be the only contest no one would mind losing.

Muslims. Mexicans. Brown people. Asian people. Democrats. Atheists. Poor people. Disabled people. Old people. Those People. What potential!

Pogo - Walt Kelly

Pogo – Walt Kelly

Whatever is wrong with the world, it didn’t get that way without our help. We elected the morons who got us here. Time to look in the mirror, then point an accusing finger at the real source of our woes. Us.

Oh, and Beckett is leaving Castle. Get over it.

GENERATIONS

AN EXPERT ON GUILTY PLEASURES

GUILTY PLEASURE – EXPERTISE

I think most of the things we enjoy would be counted as guilty pleasures by someone else. You might say we’ve become guilty pleasure experts.

The other night, Garry and I watched “Paris When It Sizzles” on Netflix. Universally panned, it is generally regarded as awful. Except among movie buffs — like us — for whom it is an officially designated guilty pleasure.

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We laughed all the way through it, although it isn’t supposed to be funny. It got us talking about other movies we’ve seen that were panned, but which we liked.

The one that came immediately to my mind was “Flypaper,” starring Ashley Judd and Patrick (“McDreamy”) Dempsey. It opened and closed without a single good review and made less money in its American release than I made on my last freelance job. But it cost $4,000,000 to produce.

Flypaper2011Poster

On February 27, 2013, I reviewed it on Serendipity — FLYPAPER (2011): A PLEASANT SURPRISE. It’s been getting a slow but steady stream of hits ever since. When I looked in my stats, I saw I’d gotten a hit on that review, the source for which was Wikipedia.

Wikipedia? How could that be? I clicked. There was my review, referenced by Wikipedia. Flypaper (2011 film) has two numbered references in the reference section. Number 1 is my review. What are they referencing? The grosses.

That Flypaper made a pathetic $1100 and opened on just two screens in one theater during a single weekend. Serendipity is their source for this data.

facts expert

Where did I get my information? I looked it up on IMDB (International Movie Database). Not the professional version. Just the free area anyone can access.

IMDB is, to the best of my knowledge, an accurate source. But it’s not a primary source. Clearly the financial data had to have come from somewhere else. Maybe the distributor? IMDB got the info from elsewhere, I got it from them, then Wikipedia got it from me. The beat goes on.

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How in the world did I become a source? If you have ever wondered how bad information gets disseminated, this is the answer. I don’t think this information is wrong. If it is, it’s harmless.

But a lot of other stuff proffered as “fact” is gathered the same way. Supposed news outlets get information from the Internet. They access secondary, tertiary and even more unreliable sources. They assume it’s true. By proliferation, misinformation takes on a life of its own and becomes “established” fact.

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Scholars, journalists, historians and others for whom truth is important should feel obliged to dig out information from primary — original — sources. A blogger, like me, who gets information from who-knows-where shouldn’t be anyone’s source for “facts” unless you’ve confirmed the information and know it’s correct.

For me to be a source for Wikipedia is hilarious, but a bit troubling. How much of what we know to be true … isn’t?

HE’S DANCING AND SINGING IN THE RAIN – MGM, 1952

Cover of "Singin' in the Rain (Two-Disc S...

Turner Classics was playing “Singin’ in the Rain,” so of course, we had to watch it. It wasn’t raining, but it didn’t matter. We never get tired of it. It has been remastered it, so it looks brand new.

Sometimes, it’s not hard to figure out why a movie becomes a classic. Singin’ in the Rain is an MGM musical comedy made in 1952. It stars Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, with Kelly also providing the choreography, It is magic.

There’s quite of bit of back story and gossip attached to the movie. Debbie Reynolds hasn’t been shy about sharing her story. The dissatisfaction of Gene Kelly at having to work with Debbie Reynolds — who he had to teach to dance for her role.

By the end of each day of shooting, Debbie’s feet would be bleeding. Kelly was a perfectionist and no kinder than he had to be, but it’s hard to argue with the result.

Whatever was going on behind the scenes, the result is a masterpiece. Sixty-one years after the original opening, it’s fresh and funny, and the choreography is a wonder and carefully works around Debbie Reynolds more limited dancing skills. If you watch “Good Morning” carefully, notice how often she is posed while Kelly and O’Connor carry the complex dance numbers.

The plot is a light-hearted look at the movie business during the transition from silent to talking movies.

There had been several versions of Singing In the Rain before, but none of them enjoyed the success of the 1952 MGM production. How you could improve on perfection?

After more than 60 years, it still plays beautifully. A pleasure to watch and a family favorite. Many great musicals have been produced since this classic. Many were and are brilliant, but although they may be as good, they are not better. In many way, Singing in the Rain set the bar.

Until they make a new Gene Kelly, they won’t improve on it.

English: Gene Kelly and girls in Singin' in th...

It was greeted with no great enthusiasm when released, yet with each passing year, its popularity grows. That is, perhaps, the true definition of a classic when the years only increase respect for a film. Time has not diminished Singin’ In the Rain.