Author Archives: Joseph Paul Hill

About Joseph Paul Hill

PhD Candidate in Theatre & Performance

How do we fight the injustice of government surveillance and its infringement on our privacy?

For quick reference, here are the articles and videos I will be referring to:

While reading Wu and Bilton’s articles, I kept thinking about movies that dramatize surveillance paranoia. In particular, Wu’s New Yorker article made me think of Eagle Eye and I, Robot, although these are both extreme examples of technological surveillance where artificial intelligence drives technology to begin surveillancing and policing humans for our own safety. Funnily enough, Bilton’s opening comment that “Anyone who can watch you will watch you” immediately brought to mind the far less anxiety-inducing Truman Show. I think this line corresponds wonderfully to the shot where Jim Carrey is entertaining himself by drawing on the bathroom mirror with soap as the television audience watches intently:

Truman Show

surveillance to the extreme

And in response to Bilton’s suggestion that even our World of Warcraft activities are being monitored, I would like to express pity for the poor soul doing that surveillancing.

Both Wu and Bilton seem to assume that we, the readers, have an inherent mistrust in the government. It’s probably a safe assumption to make, but even so, each article overlooks some important information.

In his argument that seeks to create awareness of the fact that convenience for consumers through the centralization of the Internet has made it easier for the government to compromise our privacy, Wu makes no mention of September 11th or the USA PATRIOT Act, despite his historical survey of electronic privacy. He also surprisingly omits Obama’s signing of the PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act, which extended provision for roving wiretaps, the library records provision, and surveillance of lone wolves (thank you, Wikipedia). (In opposition to this omission, I think that Poitras very effectively discusses the Obama administration’s complicity in the breech on citizens’ privacy, although admittedly Poitras had an additional year and knowledge of the events depicted in Citizenfour to take a position.) Also, I find it strange that in his conclusion Wu makes reference to the assassination of President McKinley by anarchist Leon Czolgosz alongside the government surveillance during WWII and the Cold War. Not that I want to advocate for presidential assassinations in any way, but isn’t citizen retaliation against the government (à la Edward Snowden) exactly what is needed in this situation?

I find Bilton’s article to be much more sensational in its viewpoint with a tendency for the nostalgic and melodramatic. (I’m actually reminded of the 19th c. Well-Made Play. During the Act Four climax, some piece of evidence, e.g. a letter or photograph, is brought forward to incriminate the play’s antagonist. Reference to Harvey Silvergate’s Three Felonies a Day seems to suggest that the government is going to show up with surveillance evidence to incriminate us all.) The title of the article itself (“Internets Sad Legacy: No More Secrets”) certainly appeals to a reader’s nostalgia for the good ole days when a man could commit three felonies a day and not be caught. Bilton appeals to our obsessive need for privacy without suggesting what sort of incriminating things people might actually be doing or saying online. Bilton’s solution to the problem of government surveillance, namely the hope that new technology can be used to fight against current surveillance technology, fails to address the imminent need for government curtailment to prevent them from using the new technologies to increase their surveillance.

More specifically, though, both Wu and Bilton are lacking advice or guidance to their readers. They seem to suggest that being aware of the infringements on privacy is progress enough. Donovan and Deep Lab go one step further, though. Donovan asserts that people shouldn’t simply accept the notion that “we have no privacy, get over it” as the new norm. (Jacob Appelbaum makes this argument even more poignant in Citizenfour by equating contemporary notions of privacy with historical views of liberty and freedom.) Donovan’s explanation of United States v. Jones and Justice Sotomayor’s disagreement with the other justices over citizen consent very clearly illustrates that a reasonable expectation of digital privacy might be a bit too reasonable for the government. I’m also extremely enticed (and unnerved) by the sentiment in the Deep Lab short film that young individuals must make a choice between remaining culturally relevant or being safe and protecting their information. In light of this problem, Wu and Bilton’s awareness of the situation is translated into a productive question: How do we fight this incredible injustice while being open?

So, how do we fight this incredible injustice? Deleting information that is currently online won’t help since the data is already saved in the government facilities in Bluffdale, UT. Could turning off Location Services on my iPhone actually make a difference? Not if my position can still be tracked by service towers. If, like Donovan suggests, consciousness-raising activities can be anti-surveillance practices, what’s the good of being informed if we can’t fight back? To go back to Rachel’s post about Snowden coming out, is our privacy completely dependent on brave individuals who are willing to sacrifice their own freedoms in the United States for our own?

Should we change the conversation by not using the word “Failure”?

Since I won’t be in class this evening, I wanted to respond to a couple points that Sarah and Anke have made in their latest blog posts, as well as input a couple of my own thoughts into the conversation.

As Anke explains, students likely have a difficult time equating the academic goal of failing with good grades because they have serious concerns about GPAs, scholarships, or what have you. I think that these completely legitimate concerns must be addressed. As individual instructors, it is potentially dangerous to teach our students that risk taking is a worthwhile pursuit because other instructors might have very different thoughts on the matter. We need to be clear that our classrooms are safe learning environments, but other classrooms might not follow the same guiding principles.

I wonder if trying to encourage students to fail is fighting an uphill battle. Sarah and Anke both expressed interest in discussing whether or not a group’s relationship to failure is culturally specific, but whether the struggle with “Failure” is strictly U.S. American or not, we certainly need to address the fact that [most of] our students (and quite likely ourselves as well) do not view failure as a positive pursuit. For me, this leads to a question about language: would it be better (read: faster and more effective) to just re-frame the objective in different terms rather than try to reclaim a word that is loaded down with baggage? When we use phrases like “fail better,” we understand that the goal is risk taking and innovation. What we seem to mean is that we shouldn’t be afraid of failure because new ideas, thoughts, processes, technologies, etc. arise out of testing and development. However, aren’t we then arguing that the multiple iterations that it takes to achieve something more worthwhile are steps in the process rather than failures? And if these steps in the process are not failures because they help lead to the next thought or development, why are we encouraging failure?

Ultimately, we do not want our students to fail in the sense that the word implies. We want them to rethink what failing means. We do not want failure to be in opposition to success. Perhaps it’s just a small linguistical concern, but language is powerful and combating failure’s negative connotation might be a struggle we won’t be able to win over the course of a single semester. I’m pretty sure the capitalistic machine’s notions of failure are going to outweigh our own.

(For the record, I also see the benefit of using the term “failure,” but I think it worthwhile to play devil’s advocate.)

Perhaps a scientist in the classroom can help me with this final point … As educators, we should be trying to constantly improve our approaches and methods. Each new class we teach or assignment we develop is a pedagogical experiment. After an experiment has been completed, do scientists label their results as either success or failure? Shouldn’t we instead avoid connotations and simply discuss our findings and conclusions? Why this obsessive need to classify? Doesn’t every assignment have something salvageable even if it didn’t have the desired or anticipated results?

Joseph Paul Hill’s Midterm Proposals for Theatre Classroom Projects

Proposal 1: New York Theatre Student Rush Ticket Web-Based App


During any given semester, students enrolled in an undergraduate theatre course, whether Introduction to Theatre, Advanced Scenic Design, or World Theatre 1642 to the Present, will be required to attend a theatre performance and submit a review. The content and style of the review will change depending on the instructor and the course content, but one major component of the assignment remains the same: finding a production to attend. Many undergraduate students, especially the many non-theatre majors enrolled in Introduction to Theatre courses who have never seen a professional theatre production, are clueless to the number of options available to them. Since the 1996 Broadway production of Rent, almost all New York City theatres have implemented Rush ticket policies in order to make discounted tickets available to students and young adults with no additional processing fees, but no one has aggregated the Rush ticket information for Broadway and Off-Broadway (and even the few significant Off-Off) houses?

The proposed project will serve to make such information easily accessible to students who want to attend quality productions without paying full price. Additionally, the project will attempt to make use of students’ theatre reviews beyond a classroom assignment submitted only to an instructor for credit by making them publically accessible.


Instructor Isabella: Isabella is an adjunct professor in the Department of Theatre and Speech at the City College of New York. This semester she is teaching Introduction to Theatre Arts and Black Drama USA Part 2. For both courses, she requires her students to attend a professional theatre production in New York City and write a performance review. Isabella has a good sense of which new productions might appeal to her non-major students, but she is unsure of which productions might be relevant for students in her African-American theatre history course. Conscious of her students’ financial constraints, which are very similar to her own as a graduate student in the Theatre Program at the Graduate Center, she wants to suggest affordable theatre options for her students.

Student Samuel: Samuel is a Theatre Major at Hunter College. For his scene design class, he needs to attend a theatre production and write a review critiquing the play’s design and analyzing how the design served both the playwright’s and the director’s concerns. Samuel has already seen most of the new plays on Broadway this season and isn’t inspired to write about any of their scenic designs. Two years ago he saw a production at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn that he really enjoyed, and St. Ann’s is hosting a new play next month that Samuel thinks will be an interesting production for his paper. He knows that St. Ann’s Warehouse offers student tickets, but he doesn’t know how to go about getting them since he can’t seem to locate the information on their website.

Student Simon: Simon is a psychology student at Brooklyn College who enrolled in Introduction to Theatre Arts to satisfy a general education requirement. His midterm writing assignment for the course is to attend a theatre performance and write a newspaper review that discusses the highs and lows of the production. Simon has never seen a play before, unless you count seeing his younger sister in a junior high drama show, which Simon does not. Simon’s teacher has offered a small amount of extra credit on the assignment if the students attend an Off-Broadway show, but Simon doesn’t know the difference between On- and Off-Broadway. He thinks he would like to see a musical, but he doesn’t know to go about seeing a list of all current productions.

Aspiring-Actress Alice: Alice sees as much New York theatre as she can between working at her survival job and going to non-union auditions. She received her BFA in Acting from Marymount Manhattan College three years ago and became very familiar with finding inexpensive ways to see Broadway productions. Since Alice is no longer a student, she’s ineligible for many Rush tickets, but since she is under the age of 35, she can still get Rush tickets at some theatres. Alice doesn’t have to work tomorrow morning and has time to go sit in line for a Rush ticket, but she doesn’t know which productions have performances tomorrow night that offer Youth Rush tickets instead of Student Rush tickets.

Use Case Scenario:

There are many websites—although none that utilize responsive web design—that have information about discounted tickets for various Broadway theatres, and there are various membership companies that charge handling fees for discounted tickets, but every venue and every show has different policies about discounted ticket information, and it’s often difficult to find the information online. Theatre students in the know have their go-to websites or applications, such as BroadwayForBrokePeople.com, TodayTix, or StudentRush.org, but initially finding these websites or apps is typically the result of a grueling Google search or a friend recommendation.

The new web-based app will have a responsive web design so that the content can be easily accessed from a laptop as a student plans out which show to Rush the following morning or from a cell phone as a student desperately tries to find an alternative show to Rush when all the Rush tickets for a particular show sell out. Unlike many ticket organizations, there will be no fees associated with the website because it is not offering ticket discounts that are not openly available to the public; rather, it is making already inexpensive theatre tickets easier to obtain. Because it provides information not easily accessible elsewhere, instructors, students, and avid theatregoers who find the application useful are likely to recommend it to their friends and colleagues. (Certainly all of the adjunct theatre professors associated with the Graduate Center’s Theatre Program would find it useful in their CUNY appointments.)

Full Fledged Version:

In the full version of the web-based app, interactivity is key. Theatre students and young theatregoers are both active communities, and the continued success of the application would require the input of individuals. Although students and non-students alike will be able to use the site anonymously, they will be encouraged to log in and contribute to the site under their username by updating production information, suggesting new shows and venues that are not currently part of the system, and, of course, submitting student reviews of shows they have seen.

The full version brings together information about obtaining Rush tickets for all Broadway and Off-Broadway theatres, as well as notable Off-Off-Broadway and university productions. Detailed information about obtaining a Rush ticket at each theatre will be integrated into a format that is easily searchable by event type, Rush ticket requirements, theatre location, and day of the week. Brief production information gleaned from theatre and/or production websites will appear alongside student-submitted reviews of productions. Information about the shows is secondary to ticket information, but many may find it useful. Ideally there would also be a thread of alerts each morning where Rush participants can share current information about Rush tickets, especially regarding availability, for that particular day. With enough traffic to the site, ideally theatre companies and venues will also seek to keep their own information up to date as good marketing and publicity.

WordPress has enough functionality that it would provide a good platform for a successful responsive web design that would also allow for user input, such as the posting of student reviews and day-of Rush information. WordPress plugins will also be useful for sorting information by custom fields to make sure that Rush information is accessible according to the desires of the users.

Any version of this project would require the compilation of pre-existing Rush information from various production and theatre websites. Boilerplate pages can be made in response to typical Rush scenarios including various weekly show schedules, box office hours, and ticket prices. Content updates from the project creators would undoubtedly need to continue until there is enough user activity to allow for community cooperation, so it would also be useful to chart out company seasons well in advance and to establish e-mail correspondence with the marketing teams of theatres who have limited runs.

The site should be developed concurrently with the accumulation of information, as new performance information can always be added once the site is functional. I imagine that designing a site for the ticket information alone (in addition to the information culling) will take a couple months given that multiple plugins will need to be tested extensively for their usefulness in sorting through the information. Adding user ability to post reviews and day-of Rush information should only take a couple weeks, but adding user ability to contribute to the information content of the site would likely require another couple months, as questions about user vandalism will have to be addressed and guarded against.

Minimally Viable Version:

The minimally viable product would have Rush ticket information available without user activity and contribution. Rather than provide Rush information for a near limitless number of New York theatres, the bare bones site would need to limit the scope primarily to Broadway and Off-Broadway theatres. Detailed information about obtaining a Rush ticket at each theatre would still be integrated into a format that is easily searchable by event type, Rush ticket requirements, theatre location, and day of the week, but production information will be limited to linking to a show’s official website.

WordPress and its plugins would undoubtedly be the best route for a minimally viable product, especially considering the need for responsive web design. Again, designing a site for the ticket information alone (in addition to the information culling) will take a couple months given that multiple plugins will need to be tested extensively for their usefulness in sorting through the information. The entire project should only take about three months to get up and running if there is no addition of user activity.


Proposal 2: Complex Theatrical Relations Web Visualization


Over the last two decades, Theatre Studies has been problematizing notions of a Western, male-dominated canon by increasingly stressing the intertextuality and interdisciplinarity of theatre as an art form. For undergraduate students, a key difficulty in studying theatre history is the necessary use of theatre history textbooks that separate theatrical developments, genres, and innovations both temporally and geographically, thereby encouraging canonization and periodization. The ability to represent the complexity of theatrical traditions and inspirations varies between theatre courses based on the object of study, whether determined by time (e.g. World Theatre to 1642) or location (e.g. Asian Theatre). However, in instructing students in the work of theatre historians, it becomes necessary for us to train students to find intertextual connections between seemingly disparate playwrights, producers, designers, theorists, theatres, plays, and artistic movements.

The proposed project will allow for a semester-long assignment where students create a visual web of relations and connections between the various people, places, events, and ideas presented during the course in order to visually depict the complexity of the theatrical art form and to disrupt (or demonstrate the need to continue problematizing) the dominance in theatre history by dead white men. The assignment would function comparably to an academic re-imagining of six degrees of separation


Professor Penny: Penny is a tenured professor of theatre at Brooklyn College who is repeatedly scheduled to teach theatre history courses for both the department’s BA and MA programs. The department has decided to use Brockett and Hildy’s History of the Theatre—despite its serious shortcomings and obvious flaws—for all theatre history courses. Penny wants an assignment that will help make her students aware that theatre history textbooks parse out information based on external modes of categorization retroactively applied by theatre historians. Penny’s preferred style of instruction is lecture and discussion. She is not comfortable using technology in the classroom beyond showing video clips, but she wants some way for her students to visualize theatre trends apart from chronological ordering.

Adjunct Adam: Adam is an adjunct professor in the Drama Program at the College of Staten Island and has been assigned to teach a course on contemporary global theatre. Through his course, Adam wishes to convey what, where, why, and how theatre travels both trans- and internationally in the contemporary period and how that travel has changed since the pre-modern period. He wants to assign his students a project where they must select one global nation or geographic region and chart the movement of theatrical forms and texts both into and out of the area of focus. If all of the students’ assignments could be combined somehow into one larger project then perhaps the entire class could see visually how inter- of disconnected global theatre has become in the twenty-first century.

Graduate Student Greta: Greta is studying for her first examination in the Theatre Program at the Graduate Center. Because there is no provided reading list for the exam, Greta has been working through the prominent theatre history textbooks: Brockett and Hildy’s History of the Theatre; Wilson and Goldfarb’s Living Theatre; and Zarrilli, McConachie, Williams, and Sorgenfrei’s Theatre Histories. Before reading anything further, Greta wants to map her current knowledge in order to find the gaps in her general theatre history knowledge. Because her success in the oral component of the first exam will be dependent upon her ability to quickly associate theatre trends across time and space, she wants to create a visualization of her knowledge that visually represents a web of theatre terminology.

Use Case Scenario:

This project will design a web-based tool that will enable a course assignment in which students can input a series of related terms that will then be represented visually by linking terms with lines. Students will be able to collaborate on a single visual representation, with all of their connections or associations being added to the same visual web of terms. The assignment to create the visual representation becomes the impetus for further discussion or reflection, such as questioning any links that do not exist or examining the centrality of a particular term in the course. A professor may compare multiple webs from various classes in order to examine areas of student interest that may or may not have been covered extensively in a given course in order to update and expand curriculum away from a Western theatre canon. Ultimately the creation of a term web is a challenge for the students, daring them to find connections between seemingly disparate items in the field, such as musical writers Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kathakali Indian dance-drama, and Torelli’s chariot and pole system.

There is no particular relation of the project to theatre or theatre history courses per se other than the impetus for the project’s creation. Versatility in the website’s functionality will enable the assignment to be used for assignments in other disciplines or for individual purposes. If the tool is interdisciplinary, it may be linked to by websites such as TAPoR or Project Bamboo’s DiRT alongside other research tools for textual study, like Voyant Links and Wordle.

Full Fledged Version:

The full fledged version of this project will require the development of both a website and a web tool. The website will allow users to collaborate on a particular assignment, including the development of discussion threads for what sorts of information and connections are desirable in the visualization. The website will then allow for interaction with the web tool that will work to generate the text visualization. Thus, unlike most text analysis tools already available online at websites such as TAPoR, this visual representation should be able to adapt and change according to users’ desires. In setting up the assignment, an instructor or individual user would have options for how the connections are displayed visually. Does it make sense to plot points on a world map and see how different artistic cultures interact, or does it make sense to assemble an asymmetrical web of names, titles, and terms that progress in time historically with the earliest words being closest to the center of the system and branching outwards with the progression of time? The visual representation will dictate the possibilities of the project. Inputting a connection should require the two terms being connected as well as a reason for the link. There will be many predetermined links, such as “play written by,” “artist associated with,” “artist influenced by,” and “produced in theatre,” as well as the option for creating new links. Each of these links may then be briefly elaborated upon, such as adding a year, location, or other piece of data. Once the representation has been generated, users can continue to add information, i.e. additional connections, in order to continue changing the visualization.

A key feature of the visualization will be searchability. Rather than the end product being the text visualization itself, the information from the visualization may be extracted. For instance, if a student wanted to see all of the connections to a figure such as “Bertolt Brecht,” searching for the term would return all of the associated results, such as “Mei Lanfang,” “Berliner Ensemble,” and “Threepenny Opera,” as well a short detail about the link, meaning whichever link and additional information a user entered. Another desirable feature will be public access to finished, searchable visualizations. Thus, a student interested in learning more about German theatre since statehood might find a visualization from a course on German theatre in the twentieth century interesting for further reading and key ideas.

As mentioned briefly above, the web tool has no necessary limitation on its interdisciplinary potential, other than perhaps default links between items. If different visualizations are tagged appropriately, all theatre history or theatre-related connections could be aggregated into a single visualization that will continue to change as individual visualization assignments are added to the website. Such a visual might be of interest to those concerned with the state, content, and focus of the academic field.

WordPress might serve as a foundation for an interactive website where discussions about assignments or other related text visualizations could live. Two months should be enough time to have a website running that enables users to log in and discuss information and connections for their particular assignment or project. The tool itself, though, would require quite an extensive amount of work. Hopefully there is some not-yet-discovered open source code that has similar visualization capabilities. The tool would need to be created with a programming language, perhaps one such as Python, of which I have begun to learn. Research into and development of a user-friendly, adaptable tool would likely take six months. A multi-user visualization could then be created to test functionality before spending another month making the tool and website interdisciplinary.

Minimally Viable Version:

A minimally viable product would not have the flexibility of the full fledged version in determining different styles of representation. Likely, representation would be limited to line connections between terms. The visualization also would not have full searchability but would instead serve solely as a visual representation that links related terms. Instead of using the tool in association with a website that can be used to develop and host projects, the tool could be created as a stand-alone entity. Similar to web tools like Voyant Links and Wordle, which were previously mentioned, a stand-alone tool could allow for a certain amount of text to be written elsewhere in word processing program following particular language structures and then copied and pasted into a field that would translate the language into a text visualization.

As with the full project, the most time-consuming part of the project would be creating the tool. Python is perhaps not the best programming language for the tool, but it is the only one with which I have any familiarity. Still anticipating a six month period for the research and development of a mostly user-friendly tool, a bare bones project would not have the same interdisciplinary adaptability.

Is Wikipedia too idealistic in its aims? Are Wikipedia editors equipped to deal with other editors on the spectrum?

When we were claiming blog topics at the beginning of the semester, I jumped on the opportunity to motivate the discussion on dystopic views of Wikipedia. After going through this week’s readings, though, I found that the positive and negative aspects of Wikipedia’s collaborative project are often inextricably linked.

As Joe Mullin’s article demonstrates, the Wikimedia Foundation doesn’t always make clear its positioning … to the point of hypocrisy. In Mullin’s discussion of Sarah Stierch’s termination, he quotes Wikimedia’s Senior Director of Programs, Frank Schulenberg, standing behind Wikimedia’s decision on the grounds that “it is widely known that paid editing is frowned upon by many in the editing community and by the Wikimedia Foundation,” while somewhat contradictorily spouting that “the Wikimedia movement is a place of forgiveness and compassion.” Well, apparently it wasn’t a place of forgiveness for Sarah Stierch. Clearly, though, paid editing is a potential problem. And I do mean potential, because who is going to determine if the editing itself is biased, meaning in violation of Neutral Point of View and/or Verifiability? Is the “bright line rule” (that paid advocates should limit their comments to  the “talk” page of an article) necessary? Presumably the Wikipedia community would eventually discover such biases and make the necessary changes to restore a NPOV. Should we believe that paid advocates will never adhere to the goodwill of Wikipedia’s guidelines?

I would also like to open up a discussion about Wikipedia’s democratic structures. We looked at the Categories for Deletion (CfD) discussion about American Women Novelists, the Article for Deletion discussion about David Horvitz, the Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) discussion about the Gender Gap Task Force (GGTF), as well as multiple articles discussing the ArbCom decision surrounding GamerGate (Reddit thread, Mark Bernstein’s “Infamous”, and Alex Hern’s article). Is the existence of the Arbitration Committee a sign that the Wikimedia Foundation’s goodwill does not work? In particular, the ruling surrounding the GamerGate ArbCom decision are extremely upsetting. I don’t think that the banned editors were guiltless, but doesn’t the ruling seem to favor GamerGate? Is that my own perspective on the conflict and issues at hand, or is systemic bias more deeply ingrained than I thought?

I was very drawn to ThatPeskyCommoner’s article “Wikipedia:High-functioning autism and Asperger’s editors”, which humorously draws attention to the fact that Wikipedia editors do not always know how to effectively communicate. (I came to this realization myself while reading through the various discussion pages.) Are Wikipedia editors equipped to deal with other editors on the spectrum? Maybe it’s human nature and the complexity of human emotions, but the discussion pages on Wikipedia are filled with much more than just productive conversation.

Processing the changes that were made to my most recent Wikipedia edit and deciding if I need to revert any of the information that was removed

For our small exploration into the world of Wikipedia editing, I took a crack at revising the entry on Theatre Journal, which is one of the top journals in theatre studies. Prior to the revisions I submitted yesterday afternoon (4 March 2015) at 19:36, the page had had no activity since 9 July 2014, but even the edits made last year were only minor; the content of the entry had not been substantially altered since March 2012. When I came upon the entry, it looked like this:

Robertgreer revision to Theatre Journal Wikipedia page

As Michael had suggested to me during our Wikipedia workshop, I began my edits by looking at entries on other academic journals. I quickly realized that at the very least I could add some information about the history of Theatre Journal, find some much-needed citations for the entry, and make minor corrections to the entry’s content (e.g. updating the name of the current editor). I thought that my edits took a huge step in improving the content (and usefulness) of the Wikipedia page.

Josephpaulhilll revision to Theatre Journal Wikipedia pageAnd thus ends the editing process, right?!

Minutes before class last night, I decided to check on the entry and see if anyone had swooped in to revert my edits, and I was surprised to see that Randykitty published additional revisions to the Theatre Journal page less than an hour after my own revisions went up. Before I decided to get personally offended, I checked out the revision history page.

I synthesized the edits one at a time. “Cleanup” … okay. That’s generally a good thing. “Remove contents list” … I don’t like the idea of removing any of the material I added, but perhaps I added something to the entry that should not have been included. I am new to this and others out there know much more about it than I do. “Add abstracting info” … absolutely no idea what that means, so I’ll have to check it out on the page itself.

As you can tell from the revised page, Randykitty’s revisions did a lot to cleanup the entry and make it look more like a standard Wikipedia page–and by that I mean that there’s now magically a Contents box listing the page’s different headings.

Randykitty revision to Theatre Journal Wikipedia pageI had added information about the journal’s history, but I hadn’t made a section heading. Thanks, Randykitty. The abstracting and indexing information is also something that I would never have done. Another positive improvement. My list of recent special issues was removed, but as Randykitty informed me, pages should not be used as directories. After some reflection (and my initial anger at having my own [perhaps not so] invisible labor become even more invisible), I understand Randykitty’s rationale behind removing my list as it was. Indeed, I had merely cataloged the last six special issues of the journal. However, there still might be cause to mention some of the journal’s past special issues in order to demonstrate the types of subjects that the journal considers noteworthy. Perhaps this is something that I should discuss on the talk page. It’s also interesting to note that my brief list of notable previous editors did not get removed. My list, which consists of Sue-Ellen Case, Susan Bennett, and Jean Graham-Jones, is factual, although the inclusion of prominent female scholars (and the omission of male editors) clearly demonstrates a political positioning on my part to fight back against systemic bias.

The only other noticeable deletion was a sentence taken from the front matter of the journal itself about the publication’s subject matter and approach. I had revised a simpler version of the statement in my own edits, so I had some attachment to its inclusion, and I haven’t yet decided if the removal of the statement helps or hinders the page’s content. My shift from “performing arts” to “theatre arts” (another conversation worthy of the talk page) was retained in a different sentence, which I like, but the deleted statement also included information about the journal’s scope, and I think that such information could be informative for Wikipedia users.

It’s interesting to consider that some of Randykitty’s revisions could have been made before my own. Certainly the abstracting and indexing information could have been generated previously, as could the LCCN and OCLC numbers (whatever the heck those are). Yet, Randykitty, whose user page indicates that s/he spends most of his/her time editing articles on academic journals, waited until after I had made some significant changes. At the moment, though, and having just finished reading Joseph Reagle’s book chapter “Nazis and Norms,” I’m deciding to perpetuate the notions of goodwill and collaboration. This is part of the process, right? If I want to continue to edit and talk about the Theatre Journal Wikipedia page, it looks like there’s someone else here with whom I can engage.

Joseph Paul Hill’s Thoughts on Technology Projects for College Theatre Classrooms

1. A student/youth rush and discounted ticket app for Broadway and Off-Broadway

Theatre teachers require their undergraduate students to see performances. There are many good websites that have information about discounted tickets for various Broadway theatres, but no website that takes into account both Broadway and Off-Broadway (or even the few significant Off-Off) theatre houses. Every venue and every show has different policies about discounted tickets, and frankly, it’s often difficult to find the information online. An app that compiled rush and discounted ticket information along with performance schedules of each major theatre could prove extremely beneficial for students of all levels seeking quality, affordable theatre in the city.

What would be even more useful than having all of this information available in one place would be the interactive functionality of a live map, like Waze. Students and other theatre-goers could share real-time information about various theatres and the status of rush tickets on any given morning. For example, I wake up at 7 o’clock on a Thursday morning and think about heading down to Studio 54 in the hopes of getting a rush ticket to Cabaret. I open up my rush ticket app and see that someone has already been by Studio 54 that morning and posted to the app that Cabaret is not offering rush tickets to the performance that night. However, there’s a message from someone at Gentlemen’s Guide that there are only two people currently in line for rush tickets at the Walter Kerr Theatre. I don’t have to waste my time traveling to a theatre that doesn’t have available discounted tickets.

Such an app would be a wonderful tool for theatre students who are required to see productions for class, but the app could also appeal to avid theatre-goers who weekly encounter the difficulties and unpleasantness of rushing shows.

2. Database (and discussion forum) of useful online educational videos

There are a plethora of videos available online, many on YouTube, that could be useful for instructors of any given subject, but when it comes to finding useful videos and/or clips, it seems that every instructor is on her or his own. Wouldn’t it be great if there were some way for instructors to share, categorize, tag, and comment about online videos that they have found useful. The ability to categorize and comment is key because it would allow teachers to discuss how or why a particular video is useful. For instance, some videos might provide succinct summaries of textbook reading, while others might be beneficial for providing social and historical context for a given event.

Although YouTube has an Education Channel, YouTube does not easily allow for users to comment about the usefulness of videos in education. In fact, any critical, insightful comments made about a video are likely to end up buried beneath uncritical, judgmental comments provided by everyday users.

Perhaps an even simpler (but still extremely useful) tool would be a database of video databases. This would be extremely useful for theatre in particular where types and styles of performance are more easily explained through video than text. Over the last twenty years there has been an exponential growth in the use of video to document and archive performances, and if such videos are available online, theatre instructors and their students should know where they are.

3. Play adaptation/translation commentary and analysis interface

There are many different ways to analyze a play text, but one of the most useful approaches is to compare a particular adaptation or translation of a script to its source material or source text. Of course there are many ways to annotate a document (although perhaps not an easy way for thirty students to simultaneously annotate the same document), but within theatre it would be useful to be able to annotate multiple documents in a side-by-side format.

As an example, I offer up Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. If teaching the play in a theatre class, it could be useful for students to practice thinking intertextually by creating parallels between The Comedy of Errors and its various source materials, such as Menaechmi and Amphitryon. Portions of these two plays by Plautus could be taken and parsed out next to corresponding (or disparate) portions of Shakespeare’s play to see how the Bard borrowed and adapted the works of his predecessors. Likewise, such an interface could be useful for having students apply certain theatrical theories to playtexts. The Comedy of Errors could be taught in relationship to Aristotle, Horace, and the 18th century neoclassicists, with students pulling quotations from neoclassical texts and placing them beside Shakespeare’s play in order to show how the work reflects and/or adheres to certain theatrical theories.

If such an interface could be used and edited in real time online (such as in a Google Doc), then students would be able to see the work of their classmates and comment upon others’ insights.

4. Web of people, places, and ideas

An interesting project over the course of a semester might be to have students create a web of relations and connections between the various playwrights, producers, designers, theorists, theatres, plays, artistic movements, etc. The objective of such a project would be to have students visualize the complexity of artistic tradition and inspiration.

A decision would have to be made about how the connections are displayed visually. Does it make sense to plot points on a world map and see how different artistic cultures interact, or does it make sense to assemble an asymmetrical web of names, titles, and terms that progress in time historically with the earliest words being closest to the center of the system and branching outwards with the progression of time? The visual representation will dictate the possibilities of the project. Connections could be made like points between lines, but connections could also be labeled. Ultimately the web is a challenge for the students, daring them to find connections between seemingly disparate items in the field, such as musical writers Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kathakali Indian dance-drama, and Torelli’s chariot and pole system. It could almost function like an academic re-imagining of 7 degrees of separation.

Introducing … Joseph Paul Hill

Please pardon my picaresque musings, but an introduction wouldn’t be complete without some anecdotal humor. Since we briefly discussed our technology interests in class last week, I decided to use this space to talk about the development of my other academic interests.

I was born and raised in southern California. At that point in my life I had never been to New York City nor did I know anyone from the east coast, two facts that made it all the more unusual when I decided to spend several months of Kindergarten speaking with a New York accent. I do not remember the incident myself, but my mother maintains that my public school teacher, who had over forty years of teaching experience, thought it best for me to see a therapist. Since I was the third of four children and had always tended towards the dramatic, my mother insisted that it was a phase and would pass. The New York accent passed, my flare for the dramatic did not.

While growing up (and indeed, even to this day), my mother and grandmother actively consumed MGM movie musicals. Although not particularly enthralled by Judy Garland’s journey over the rainbow or Gene Kelly’s tap dance in the rain, my father was a musician and occasionally surprised us with a chorus by Lerner and Loewe or, even more unexpectedly, all four verses of Rado, Ragni, and MacDermot’s “Hair.” Since neither of my older siblings expressed any interest in musical performance, the responsibility fell on my six-and-a-half year old shoulders. And I like to believe that I rose to the occasion. I cherished music, and I adored performing—or, at the very least, I proudly carried the banner for middle children everywhere and adored being the center of attention. Yet despite my childhood dreams to make it big on Broadway and ensure my parents’ favoritism, my career in musical theatre peaked at the age of twelve when I played the Artful Dodger.

Upon entering high school two years later, I decided to get more “serious” about theatre, opting to establish myself in drama instead of choir. (Besides, my voice changed in junior high, and I never fully recovered.) Although I had success as an actor, I was never satisfied with my theatrical education, repeatedly challenging my instructor and her unrelenting insistence on class time being used to play improv games. Wanting my artistic opinions to be heard, I cultivated interests in both directing and scenic design early in my senior year, and since I wasn’t about to receive any satisfying instruction in my high school drama class, I applied to undergraduate theatre programs.

For the majority of my academic studies, both undergraduate and graduate alike, my own theatrical interests were heavily influenced by my mentors and advisors. I was quick to latch onto the passions of academics whom I admired, just as I had been quick to latch onto my parents’ passion for musical performances. Amongst my four undergraduate mentors in theatre and English departments, three were self-identified Shakespeareans and two were musical theatre enthusiasts. Perhaps it’s little wonder then that for several years I believed that I too wanted to be a Shakespearean scholar—as if I had something more to contribute to four hundred years of Shakespearean scholarship.

Now at the precipice of my academic career, my decision to pursue academic fields other than my long-time interests perhaps surprises me more than anyone else. My views on scholarship have grown, and I no longer believe that interest is the only factor that should attract a scholar to her or his work. Scholarship should contribute qualitatively to a discussion, and although my interests in Shakespeare and musical theatre persist, presently I do not feel as though my contribution to such fields would be anything beyond quantitative. If I want to produce worthwhile scholarship—and I do—I need to work in areas that don’t just pique my interest but that also challenge my artistic understanding of the theatrical medium.

Because my interest is in the theatrical experience, I want to pursue scholarship that confronts contemporary theatre practices and how practitioners continue to develop the art form. Over the last two years, I have become particularly engrossed by theatres of disability, specifically deaf theatre and the theatrical company Deaf West. Since I do not yet sign, my interest in such theatrical experiences is perhaps a bit Artaudian, yet I can’t deny my fascination with theatrical languages and the depth of the emotional expression contained within such performances. At this particular time, disability studies are taking off, and deaf performance has been largely ignored. But hopefully that will change before long.