Life after Wig, Tragedy after Comedy

Life after Wig, Tragedy after Comedy
December 11, 2013 Donald Fisher

By Oren Gur ’06

The Quest to Continue Putting on 2 Shows a Day

I am teaching a class on Criminal Courts this semester at Villanova. You’re not supposed to be laughing yet… I didn’t learn a lot about the US court system during my time in Wig − recall that “Hogan’s Gyro’s” (F’05) featured a prison motif, not a courtroom devoid of phalluses, though I was a member of a gospel jury in “Riot on the Set” (S’03) − yet my current job has given me occasion to reflect on the age old musical tradition of putting on two shows/night in IGT (Iron Gate Theater), as has been done every fall forever. While applying my base and eye-liner each morning, I Revlon in the fact that this semester I again get to put on two shows a day, teaching seven students from 11:30am-12:20pm, and eight from 12:30pm-1:20pm.

Here’s an excerpt from my teaching diary:

Driving to Villanova on the 76 with West Philadelphia burning in my rearview, I do solfège as I prepare to wow the day’s first audience with a lecture on the purpose and structure of American Courts, the types of law, or the court organization and structure. I forget which. Thankfully, PowerPoint will tell me what to say.

During the opening weeks of the class, a chorus of overarching principles are introduced while dancing around the topics of Marx, the Federalist papers, and Amendments. The first few classes − “bits” − start with a lot of promise, but are then mostly hit or miss. Sometimes, the audience participates. Other days, there are quizzes, or an exam on chapters 1-4. For one class, we took a field trip to the Criminal Justice Center at 1301 Filbert. Every few classes, I’ll cross-dress. It is truly a Montana rusa. The District Attorney for Delaware County featured as a guest speaker for one bit, along with his Chief Officer, who went to Wharton − he’s 1 out of the 5, I guess. There were other guest speakers, including from the Philadelphia Police Department, the Philadelphia Adult Probation and Parole Department, and the Defender Association of Philadelphia.

“The tap” is like the days I haven’t arranged for a guest speaker to dazzle them with their “real world experience,” when I attempt to infuse lectures with a sense of the “Sociological Imagination,” to borrow from C. Wright Mills (1959).[1] To know the structure of the modern court is to understand it as a historical phenomenon, ruminate on its limitations, how its form impacts the lives of individuals, and to laugh at my jokes. If students in the first class don’t laugh at a joke, I usually don’t try it again with the second audience. Though sometimes, if they don’t laugh, I’ll be sure to try it again in spite of the tepid response, so confident am I that our judicial system is a laughing matter.[2]

Another excerpt from my teaching diary:

It is the mid-semester recess, there are no classes, but I still drive in on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, because a) routines keep me regular b) skip ahead to the next paragraph c) I hate choosing my own adventure d) all of the above. Diary, remind me to include this question on the final. Wanna have lunch tomorrow?

After the break, the second act has featured a research project that allows each audience member to sing their own original song by conducting interviews or observing courtroom proceedings. Classroom lectures focus on the roles of defendants and victims, before transitioning into court processes: criminal and appellate trials, and specialty courts. By the end of the semester, my audience − first the students, and now you, dear reader − can’t wait for the show to end, but they still have to submit their research projects and take their final exam (on a Saturday). They don’t think any of this is funny, either.

Content aside, similar to performing the fall show, teaching the same material back-to-back involves a good deal of recursivity. Gauging whether jokes in the first class hit-or-miss occasionally requires me to consider if I am explaining the material correctly, such that the punch-lines resonate and do not fall while minds are still digesting facts or gchats. Perhaps I am not standing in the light of my PowerPoint slides, or the students are distracted by other happenings that are more center stage in their lives, such as texting, a top-25 basketball team that probably just beat the Quakers, or outside. Depending on how the first class goes, I may then switch up my pacing for the second class to spend more time on the “good” slides or in silence, use successful points made during the first class to engage students during the second show, or cancel the second class altogether as I cry in the handicap stall while performing the kick-line with two fingers atop my open palm.

As much as I prepare beforehand, at this stage in my career the first class tends to be a “Wednesday show” of sorts, with later audiences standing to benefit from earlier mistakes. Every lecture is practice in learning how best to convey information. Similarly, each show is part of the process of getting to the proverbial Saturday late night show, where all the practice pays off and all the jokes fall on thirsty ears. Seeing “A State of Confucian” (F’13), I realized how much the experience of fall show prepared me for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays this fall.

[1] Mills published a very insightful article in 1940 titled “Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motive,” when he was only 24. He probably didn’t get a chance to write a cool blog post instead of focusing on his dissertation, though!

[2] It actually isn’t funny, and I’d be happy to have a serious discussion on the topic.

Oren is currently a PhD Candidate in Criminology, Law & Justice at the University of Illinois-Chicago. In his spare time he teaches criminology to the masses, and is very excited to have this piece of writing and his professional affiliations linked together for eternity.

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