Thomas’s play “House of Atreus” takes first at sub-sections!

This weekend was the world premier of our son Thomas’s play “The House of Atreus”, written for Morris Area High School (MAHS) to perform as their entry in the annual One Act competition. Today they took first at Sub-Sections, and will go on to Sections next week!

Cast of MAHS one act 'The House of Atreus', written by our son Thomas. Photo from Morris Sun-Tribune.
Cast of MAHS one act “The House of Atreus”, written by our son Thomas.
Photo from Morris Sun-Tribune.

This weekend was the world premier (doesn’t that sound grand?) of our son Thomas’s play “The House of Atreus”. He wrote the play for the Morris Area High School (MAHS) folks to perform as their entry in the annual One Act competition, and it was a really wonderful opportunity to give back to the theatre program that was so valuable to him during his time at MAHS.

The play is a challenging one to perform, involving a lot of monologue from the four leads, and a lot of synchronized response from the chorus. There’s not a lot of action, as the play emphasizes ideas instead of car chases and love scenes. The cast really rose to the challenge, though, and managed to own these complex concepts and stories.

I’m particularly grateful that teacher/director Seth Kelly was willing to work with Tom on this. Not everyone would be willing to take a flyer on a still-being-written play by a college student. Mr. Kelly, however, was incredibly supportive of Tom’s writing, and was then able to help his student actors inhabit these complex characters and make the play really work on the stage.

All this would have been totally wonderful if all that happened were the two performances at the high school. Today, however, they took the play to the one act sub-sections and won first place! This qualifies them to go on to sections next Saturday (8 Feb). If they can take first there as well then they perform in the state event on Friday the 14th! Taking first at sections is tough as the competition is likely to be stiff, but a parent can hope :-)

Congratulations to Thomas for writing such a cool play, and to all the MAHS folks that brought it to life on the stage!

We really liked Mr. Kelly’s description of the story in the program:

This bold and honest Greek drama is a tragedy within a tragedy, focusing on Agamemnon’s children. Agamemnon, a hero of the Iliad and the Odyssey, has no shortage of heroic feats and triumphs under his storied belt, but his children’s struggles are more complex. In popular mythology, these four siblings are rarely given depth, often acted upon as pawns, and usually treated as victims rather than individuals. This play gives them the voices they lost millennia ago.

Iphigenia, Chrysothemis, Electra, and Orestes must face the terrible realities of their existence in order to make peace with their lives. As they bravely face the trauma of their pasts, they grasp for hope’s elusive grip. The truths they stumble upon along the way are as relevant today as they were in ancient Greece.

and his “Director’s Note”:

I knew that selecting a Greek play for our One Act this year was ambitious. After all, stripping actors of all physical objects and elaborate scenery leaves them with little but their own dramatic imaginations to carry the story. That said, at the production’s onset I couldn’t have fathomed the intensity we eventually found in these stories and characters. I’m tremendously proud of our cast and crew, and I would never have burdened them with such a complex and challenging script if I didn’t have faith in their ability and dedication.

We are pleased that this year’s show was written by MAHS alum Thomas McPhee, who currently studies Theatre and Writing at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. I am delighted that his passions have continued to inspire us beyond his tenure here, and I sincerely hope this won’t be the last time he lends us his talent.

It is also worth noting that, as in all Greek tragedies, very weighty themes abound in this show. At its best, tragedy informs the audience how we might improve the business of our own fleeting lives, therefore an ever-present, foreboding sense of mortality drives these stories. We recognize that these concepts might be difficult for younger children to digest, so please don’t feel locked in to your ticket purchase if, knowing this, you’d rather not have your children hear about violence, war, sacrifice, death, and revenge. We understand! The ticket taker can refund you if you leave before the show begins.

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Why learn & understand when you can search?

A recently and widely (in my nerd circles) shared XKCD comic featured ineffective sorting techniques. The alt text (what you get when you hover over the comic) proposed an additional sort:

StackSort connects to StackOverflow, searches for 'sort a list', and downloads and runs code snippets until the list is sorted.

Internet nerdom being fairly OCD, someone (Gregory Koberger) of course went and implemented this, and it works!

As Gregory says, this is potentially a security nightmare waiting to happen, so it’s not clear that you should actually run his code. Being a brave and foolish (and somewhat careful) soul, however, I’ve fallen on this sword so that you don’t have to, and I can confirm that it works. After trying several dozen StackOverflow pages (most of which yielded either “Could not extract a function to run” or “Contained potentially bad code”), it stumbled across a working version of Quicksort in JavaScript.

Ta Da!

The success of this approach, however, does suggest interesting things about how people approach certain kinds of problem solving these days. Where “old people” like me would have bought a book to learn something new, my students are much more prone to assemble a patchwork understanding from tons of Googling. While I think this often leads to a quite fragile and incomplete understanding of the topic at hand, it is often sufficient to get them through what is assigned. In other words, they’re very skilled at answering the question that was posed, which was itself often somewhat shallow because that’s what we all have time for. So while faculty would like to think that we’re creating experts (whatever that means) in certain topics, we rarely have the time to give them assignments and tasks that require a deep level of expertise.

In the land and time of books, we might have believed that everyone read and understood the 8 assigned chapters, but the assignments almost certainly didn’t strictly require that. In fact I’m willing to bet a whole lot skimming actually went on that was not so different from the Googling that happens now. The difference is that when I skimmed a book, there was a reasonably coherent thread connecting the dots that were touched on. “Skimming” the Internet, however, is a much less coherent experience. The authors, examples, and assumptions aren’t the same from search result to search result. Worse (in computing) the versions aren’t necessarily the same, so we often end up with inconsistent and downright contradictory results! A few years ago I taught a class that used Python 3, and it turned out that almost all Googling pointed us at Python 2 examples and answers, which lead to all manner of confusion amongst my students.

So call me old-fashioned, but I still like a book, even if it’s an e-book, when I’m learning something conceptually new, as I do really appreciate a coherent voice and structure. If I need to remind myself of a library function or piece of syntax, it’s to the Googles. If I’m learning something that’s very similar to something I already know, then I’m happy with on-line docs if they’re well written. If, however, I’m expanding my horizons in more significant ways, a book is still the thing.

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