Message from the Dean – November 5, 2018

First some good news:

UCO Musical Theatre Major Greg Gore has recently been cast as The Man in the Yellow Hat in Lyric’s upcoming Theatre for Young Audience production of Curious George: The Golden Meatball. The production will also feature UCO Musical Theatre graduates Justin Larman and Bailey Maxwell. Congratulations!

Now a story:

“When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer.” – Stevie Wonder

I am not a superstitious man. If I changed my mind, I would begin with number 13. I was born on Friday the 13th. I was married on March 13. The closing for the purchase of my first home was on the 13th. My daughter graduated in the class of ‘13. My office is Evans Hall 13. It’s a thing. As a teenager, I remember concluding that since I was born on Friday the 13th, I enjoyed luck reversal. If a black cat crossed my path, it was going to be a great day! If I walked under a ladder, broke a mirror, or stepped on a crack, those were all good omens in my personal grimoire.

There are many theatrical superstitions, but one of the longest running is “The Scottish Curse”. Several intriguing theories exist concerning the ill luck associated with The Tragedy of Macbeth. Shakespeare lifted many of his lines and plot points from contemporaneous sources, including a pamphlet describing the North Berwick Witch Trials of 1590. The weird sisters’ behavior in The Tragedy of Macbeth, closely mirrors rituals described by professed witches at those trials. Because there were no genuine witches, confessions of witchcraft were difficult to obtain. Thus challenged, tribunals used horrific torture of either the accused, or the children of the accused to extract admissions of guilt. Any body part that could be pulled out, crushed or pierced was exploited during questioning. Apparently, the witch’s lines in the “Scottish Play” are so accurate to these torture-induced revelations that a myth quickly grew that the spells in the play were authentic. According to this legend, a coven of “real” witches, thus induced, cursed the play and all who acted in it.

For those more inclined toward reasonable explanations, there is a second, more likely origin story for “The Scottish Curse”. In the days when every English village sported a theatre, the owners would often cancel a new play with poor ticket sales and replace it with the perennial crowd pleaser, The Tragedy of Macbeth. If you heard an actor rehearsing lines from “Macbee” backstage, it likely meant your current play was doomed. Actors grew bored of performing the same old play, and banned running lines from “The Scottish Play” backstage. Thus, the curse was born.

Traditionally, The Tragedy of Macbeth includes three “weird sisters”. Doubling down on the odds of toil and trouble, the Department of Theatre Arts version of “The Scottish Play”, performed this past weekend included SEVEN witches who eerily lurked about the beautiful, ruined-castle set like ghosts from The Haunting of Hill House. It was a preternaturally good time. The music, lighting effects and stage combat were exhilarating. The costumes added a layer of dirty realism to the medieval period piece. Unfazed by the curse, or our seven witches, I wrote the welcome message for the Macbeth playbill on Halloween. Ignoring the ill omens, and under the assumption my personal “luck reversal theory” was sound, I probably uttered the “M word” in the theater half a dozen times in the week leading up to the performances. I hope everyone is O.K. this morning.

While I am not superstitious, I certainly praise the luck that brought me to UCO. Every week, I am reminded that the blue-collar grit of our students, the remarkable quality of our faculty, and the supportive nature of our staff work like compression on carbon to produce diamond-like transformative learning experiences and opportunities for personal growth. We all benefit from the privilege (or luck) of working in this environment.