21 April 2008

Hockey season comes to an end

My hockey season with the local women's team came to an end this weekend. We played in a tournament and did pretty well for our skill level. I scored a nice goal, too. I won't try to recap those four games, but I thought it'd be a good idea to write down how I improved and what I want to work on for next season.

  • Passing to open teammates
  • Using boards to make indirect passes
  • Crashing the net
Need to work on
  • Catching passes off the boards and breaking out
  • Aiming shots
  • Stickhandling past defenders
  • Backwards skating
In about a week, summer league starts, so I'll have some chances to work on some of this stuff.

13 April 2008

Line changes

Melissa and I talked a bit about line changes on the ride home. We agreed that our team is really sloppy on the line changes. Melissa complained that our coach, Rai, sometimes calls risky changes. As a general rule, you should only change when the puck is in the offensive zone and the play is away from the bench. Rai has been known to violate both those guidelines.

Melissa said that on her college team, the rule was that if you get off the ice, you should head towards the door closest to the goalie. I've been using the closer door (wrong door), but I'll try to remember to use the other door in the future. As a general rule, if you are getting on the ice, you should jump over the boards. That avoids a logjam at the door because up to three forwards may be switching at the same time. Unfortunately, some of our teammates don't like jumping over the boards, which I find lame.

Another interesting thing Melissa said is that she pushes off when she jumps over. Normally, I just lift my body so that I sit on the boards and then I jump down a few inches. Melissa says that at the moment she's sitting on the boards, she'll use her hands to push off and give her a little acceleration. That's a great idea and I'll have to try in the future.

April 13 game recap vs Mt Vernon Ice Breakers

Score: 1-1 tie
Opposition: Pretty even match. The Ice Breakers had a few good skaters/puck handlers but also a few bad skaters.
Our team performance: In general, we played a good game, had some nice breakouts and didn't get stuck in our zone too many times. We did get lazy a few times which led to the Ice Breaker goal. But we came back with a nice effort.

We tied the Ice Breakers 1-1. I started feeling tired towards the end of the first period, but I started to get my legs back in the third period. As usual, I played left wing. My linemates were Moie (right wing) and Melissa (center).

I had at least two shots on net and two attempted shots that went wide. The first shot was me trying to backhand the puck from the left side of the net while standing two feet from the goalie. I lifted the puck nicely, but the goalie covered the entire net and blocked the shot easily. The other shot came on a little bit of a breakaway. Unfortunately, I was just so tired that my shot was weak and easily covered by the goalie. One attempted shot happened when I had a near breakaway on the left side of the ice. I charged past the blue line and took a shot but it went wide ride. The other attempted shot occurred when I was standing near the left side of the net. I got the puck with my back facing the goalie and tried to do a 180 turn and whip the puck towards net. The shot went wide left. I was trying to imitate a similar move by Joe Pavelski that netted a goal in Game 2 of the Calgary-San Jose playoff series.

As usual, I tried to plant myself in front of the crease and screen the goalie. There was a humorous moment where the goalie screamed "backdoor!" (which means the defense should clear attackers away from the crease.) The defender decided to shove me backwards into the goalie who screamed in response, "That's not helping!" Most of the time, the puck didn't come near the crease, so my efforts were useless. But there was one time when someone (Moie?) took a shot on net and I was in front of the goalie. I didn't really see the shot, so I didn't have a chance to deflect it and the goalie just covered up the puck.

The Ice Breakers scored in the second period on a breakway where our defenders were lazy about getting back. They had a 2 on 1 and the winger on the left simply passed to an attacker coming down the high slot who one-timed it high into the net. Pretty embarrassing.

In the last two minutes, our coach threw my line out on the ice along with Yuki and pulled our goalie. We faced off in the offensive zone. The puck squirted out of the zone past the blue line two or three times, but Lynn was always ready to clean up and dump the puck back in. I tried to help my teammates when they got trapped, but when the puck was far from the net, I setup in front of the crease to screen the goalie. Finally, my efforts paid off when my teammates started jamming the puck at the net. The goalie couldn't cover up with me standing in front of her. I remember seeing the puck squirt behind the goalie and sit perilously close to the goal line. Melissa skated over to the left side and banged the puck in.

Overall, I played a good game though my conditioning wasn't that great. I need to hit the gym, but I've been preoccupied with other things. I also made a bad decision when I came down the left side with the puck. Instead of passing to Melissa in the center, I dumped the puck. I don't know if Melissa was open, but I should have looked in her direction before dumping the puck. Melissa's been doing something new in this game where if she gets trapped on the boards behind the net, she'll toss the puck back along the boards. She did that twice and I wasn't able to get to the boards in time to retrieve the puck. Next time, I'll be better prepared.

12 April 2008

Bedtime reading

I'm trying to wean myself off the computer as my late-night relaxation method. Apparently, there are studies that the bright screen tricks your mind into thinking it's still daytime. Personally, I find that the internet frequently becomes a drug and you'll find yourself surfing the web into the wee hours.

I've taken to reading short story anthologies. A few days ago, I checked out the following from my local public library: The Year's Best Science Fiction (2007), The Best American Short Stories (2004), O'Henry Awards, Prize Stories (2000). I think it's working. I can finish a story in about a half hour, I get transported to a different world (whereas the internet just feeds my ADD tendencies), and I can turn the light in my room to the dimmest level while still being able to read.

10 April 2008

Take notes on your family and friends

Here's an interesting idea I read about on Parent Hacks via Lifehacker. The idea is simple: take notes during phone calls with friends and family.

Usually, I'm very good at remembering details, but I seem to forget some details when I talk to my parents over the phone. Maybe it's part of the child wanting to separate themselves from their parents aspect of growing up, but I'm just not a very good listener when it comes to my parents. It's easy not to listen because I talk to them on a regular basis. I don't feel the same urgency as when I get in contact with a friend who haven't spoken to in a year. I think it might improve my relationship with my parents to take notes. I've started a text file on my computer called people-notes.txt. I'm sure that businesspeople already do this kind of thing for their clients and collaborators.

I still can't remember what day of the week my dad goes to calligraphy class. Of course, my dad has no trouble remembering details about my life...

06 April 2008

Two theater experiences

I went to see Sondheim and Lapine's Sunday in the Park with George on Tuesday night (29 January 2008) and Saturday afternoon (5 April 2008).

The Tuesday night performance was a preview and I didn't even plan on going until the last minute. I realized that I couldn't get a great seat (defined as being in the first five rows) unless I went to a preview. So I bought the ticket online (for a third-row seat) and went to the show about five days later. It was pretty frantic because I learned the day before (Monday) that I had to substitute lecture for a freshman physics class I as TAing. The substitute lecture would be Wednesday so I had to read the notes for previous lectures on the train to the New York.

In contrast, the Saturday afternoon performance was an undertaking planned far in advance. I thought a hockey teammate would enjoy the show, so I convinced her to buy a ticket and join me. It was hard to find two seats together, so we sat in the fifth row of the mezzanine. These were actually very good seats, but not front row.

The Tuesday night performance was so much better. I'm not exactly sure why, but I can speculate. The Tuesday performance was only locals and probably a lot of Sondheim fanatics. The audience was much more enthusiastic. Patti LuPone says that weekend audiences are the worst because they're mostly made up of tourists and husbands whose wives dragged them to the show. Sitting in the third row was ten times better than in the mezzanine even though I paid 30% more for the third row ticket. Talk about a good return on your money. The actors were louder and not drowned out by the orchestra. Their performances were also much more intense from close up. I'm the type who likes things intense and not understated (think Battlestar Galactica.)

For the Tuesday night performance, I waited by the stage door and got the autographs of several actors including Jenna Russell and Daniel Evans. Jenna was such a sweetheart about signing. She was shocked when I told her "this is my first Sondheim show!" I guess she thought that it was a really challenging show for someone who hadn't seen much Sondheim and for someone my age. It's wonderful that in theater, even the top actors are willing to autograph Playbills (slang for Broadway play program) and chat a bit.

For the Saturday afternoon performance, a few of the actors stood by the theater exit collecting money for the charity "Broadway Cares." I was surprised to see Jenna Russell by the door in her Dot costume! I gave her a dollar and thought about talking to her, but she was pretty busy hawking for donations and my friend wanted to get home, so I changed my mind.

It seems tricky to take your friends to see things you like (plays, movies, musical albums, ball games, etc). There's the cost, both time and emotionally. Maybe I'll just give up. Eighty percent of the time I fail and my friends just don't like it.

In the future, I'm just going to stick to front row tickets and weekday night performances for my favorite shows. I'll probably go on my own.

Sunday in the Park with George review

Sunday in the Park with George (SitPwG) is the first musical Sondheim wrote in the second "act" of his career. Sondheim's collaboration Merrily We Roll Along with book writer George Furth and director Hal Prince was a horrible flop in 1981, lasting less than ten performances. Sondheim publicly declared he was going to stop writing musicals, but fortunately, he changed his mind when James Lapine suggested that he write songs for a musical about the life of Georges Seurat. SitPwG was a great critical success in 1984 and even won a Pulitzer prize for drama (only one of seven musicals to do so).

The first act of the musical centers around Georges Seurat during the time of his painting of his masterpiece "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." He has a lover named Dot who bears his child, a girl named Marie. In the second act, Marie's grandson is also an artist named George. The actors who played Seurat and Dot double as young George and Marie.

This review should have been written a while ago, but I was planning to see 2008 Broadway revival a second time and thought that a second viewing might bring some new insights. That wasn't the case, but I still need to write up this review.

SitPwG has an incredibly challenging score that is written to mirror the Pointilism style of Seurat's painting (making the painting with very short strokes, almost like dots). The prime example of this style is the song "Color and Light" where Seurat sings about painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." I didn't truly enjoy the score until the third listening. The music is bright and shimmering (apparently the painting itself has also been described in the same way). These qualities in combination with the unusual pointilistic style give the music a freshness and uniqueness so amazing that I have to drop everything I'm doing when I listen to the soundtrack. If I have one negative comment, the song where Seurat impersonates two dogs ("The Day Off") is really weird, but maybe it serves to show how self-absorbed the artist is in his work.

I haven't even mentioned the lyrics which are some of the best Sondheim has written (and that's saying a lot considering that Sondheim is probably the best lyricist in musical theater history). There are gently comic and witty songs like "Sunday in the Park with George" (Dot complaining about being a model), "It's Hot Up Here" (a whimsical fantasy where the characters in the painting complain about being stuck in time), and "Putting It Together" (George complaining about the hassle of fundraising and hobnobbing to get your art on exhibit). The duet between Seurat and his mother "Beautiful" has one of my favorite lyrics "Pretty isn't beautiful, Mother/Pretty is what changes/What the eye arranges." The bittersweet song "Finishing the Hat" is considered one of Sondheim's very best songs. It's beautiful the way Sondheim weaves in the metaphor of seeing as an artist and sitting by the window watching the world go by because you have to do your work. The song ends with the line "Look I made a hat... where there never was a hat." This idea, the uplifting nature of creation, is brought to a climax in the Act I/II finale "Sunday." What's interesting about "Sunday" is that the lyrics seem like a meaningless jumble of words: "Sunday, by the blue purple yellow red water/On the green purple yellow red grass." But you realize that it's really saying how a bunch of dots painted by Seurat can come together into a beautiful piece of art.

Book writer James Lapine does a wonderful job turning the creative process into a coherent, touching, and wise play. It would be a stretch to say that SitPwG has a plot or story; it's more like a portrait which captures all the joys and disappointments of making art. Seurat is a controlled, anti-social character who doesn't speak much, so Lapine cleverly comments on the artist through the other characters. Dot notes that artists are "bizarre, fixed, cold" (hmm, sounds like a lot of physicists). Franz, a German servant, says "Work is what you do for others, art is what you do for yourself."

Lapine also directed the original 1984 production (rare, since book writers don't usually direct their own work). His conception of the Act I set as the painting itself holds the play together. It's so clever how the characters interact on the island and suddenly at the end of Act I come together as the painting itself. It's ironic that these lively characters end up as being stiff, faceless figures in the final painting, but Seurat wasn't interested in personality. He wanted to understand the interplay of color and light. For some elements of the painting, Lapine uses paper cutouts (for instance, the dogs and one of the soldiers). The metaphor of arranging people and papercuts is extended to the beginning of Act II. In a bit of perversity, the young George is using his artist vision not to make art, but to arrange the critics, sponsors, etc to fund his art.

Comparing the two acts, I feel like the songs in the second act aren't quite as strong. "Children and Art" is a really touching song mood-wise, but the lyrics just don't seem very interesting. "Lesson #8" has to be acted very well; otherwise it comes across as excessively self-pitying.

It doesn't help that the Act II is less coherent than Act I. The second act starts off strong and promising, but it seems like James Lapine didn't know quite how to end it. The idea of Dot's ghost coming back to help young George find his way back to creative productivity is far-fetched and feels like a hack. Unlike some people, I do feel like Act II is important because if Act I is the "head" of creating art, Act II is the "heart." Young George is the opposite of Seurat. He lacks confidence, feels like a failure at times, and cares about his personal relationships. It's easy to be an artist with tunnel vision, but how do you do hard creative work when you can't help being distracted by other things (some of them arguably important like human relationships)?

Finally, I'll discuss the actual performances. My first introduction to SitPwG was a video taping of the 1984 stage production with Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters as the two leads. The 2008 Broadway revival is actually a transfer of a transfered production. The revival was originally put on in a tiny 190-seat theater called the Menier Chocolate Factory. Then it was moved to the West End of London before moving to Broadway. The two leads, Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell, who play Seurat/George and Dot/Marie, transferred to Broadway from the West End but the rest of the Broadway are American actors, new to the production. Menier Chocolate Factory is tiny, so they only used a 5-piece orchestra. Even when the production was transferred to Broadway, they kept the 5-piece pit which I find very strange. I prefer a larger orchestra for SitPwG (I think the original 1984 production had 20+ musicians). The other difference is that the paper cutout of the scenery and animals have been replaced by computer animation. The technology is more modern, but the basic concept of the paper cutout hasn't changed. They just happen to be digital this time. Comparing the stage video of the 1984 original production to the live 2008 Broadway revival, I prefer the acting of the British actors Evans and Russell, but I prefers the singing of the American actors Patinkin and Peters. But these are minor quibbles; both productions are fantastic. SitPwG is so sophisticated (most audiences probably won't "get it"), the music and set design so challenging, it's rarely put on. I'm just glad to have seen it twice.

Overall, Sunday in the Park with George is a daringly beautiful and touching work about the creative process which manages to capture all the joys and struggles of living life as an artist, writer, or even scientist. It's not perfect, but even slightly flawed, it's one of the best works I've seen in a long time.