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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What can dance tell us about intellectual property? A lot, it turns out

How a casebolt and smith dance performance has a lot to say about intellectual property and re-appropriation.

As mentioned earlier, one of the really excellent performances we saw at the Minnesota Fringe Festival was casebolt and smith’s O(h).

While it’s really hard to describe and summarize such a complex performance, a section I particularly loved had them doing a somewhat traditional dance to a large chunk of the audio from the video below. The video is of an art installation by Nate Harrison where the viewer listens to the audio on an LP, where Harrison discusses how a drum break from the The Winston’s 1969 B-side “Amen, brother” (often referred to now as the “Amen break”) has been sampled, re-used, and deconstructed in hip-hop and commercial advertising. Harrison’s discussion is a really nice piece of cultural history and analysis, although I confess it was perhaps more compelling with casebolt and smith dancing at the same time.

It would have been interesting in its own right if casebolt and smith had simply danced with Harrison’s commentary. They took it up a notch, however, by following it up with a really interesting dance/discussion of how dancers use and re-appropriate moves and steps they learn in classes and see in performance, effectively “sampling” movements much like a hip-hop artist samples beats. She demonstrated various moves and styles, and he then grilled her about where she learned the moves, and on the appropriateness of re-using these moves without credit or payment. This quickly borders on the absurd, which is of course the point. The courts have allowed labels to charge for re-use of tiny fragments of recordings, where there are no such expectations in dance. Presumably a key piece of this is the ability to record (either on paper or as an audio recording) and distribute music, where dance can’t be recorded and copied in the same way.

In short, it was a cool, funny, intelligent performance. We had a great time, and highly recommend the show.

I found it really interesting to find that the YouTube version of the video above was in fact lifted from Harrison’s web site without his permission, although he says in the comments that he doesn’t care (search for “nkhstudio” in the full comments). So you have Harrison making a commentary on copyright and intellectual property, which is then appropriated by someone else and turned into a YouTube video. Then casebolt and smith use it in their performance, without ever telling us where that audio comes from, as a starting point for a great conversation about intellectual property. And while it’s possible they knew about the Harrison piece before it showed up on YouTube (Harrison was a friend from college for all I know), the odds favor them discovering the piece via YouTube, where it has over 2 million views.


  • Now I’ve listened to “Amen, brother” (a song I’d never heard of)
  • because of a dance performance
  • borrowing parts of an audio track
  • which I was able to find via Google
  • as a YouTube video
  • generated (without permission) from a video by a performance artist commenting on intellectual property and copyright
  • using as a springboard the extended and repeated use of a 6 second drum break from The Winston’s “Amen, brother” in hip-hop and advertising

What a wonderful example of how re-appropriation can enrich the world, especially if we worry less about profit and more about gain.

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