Friday, June 29, 2012

When Props Go Wrong—A Bad Day at the Globe


Folks who have been involved in theater, amateur or professional, love to swap yarns about various disasters in front of live audiences.  Ask me sometime about when the set fell on my head in the middle of a Jules Feiffer one act play at Shimer College. 

But even the most grizzled theatrical veteran would have a hard time topping what happened to the cast of Henry VIII on June 29, 1613.  During a performance a cannon set off during the performance sparked a fire in the Globe Theater’s thatched roof, burning the structure to the ground.  Fortunately no one was seriously injured, although one actor was said to have suffered an indignity to his pants. 

The Globe, of course, was the famous London theater where William Shakespeare had most of his plays produced and where he appeared in many of them as an actor.  Henry VIII is today one of The Bard’s less produced plays, both because of the liberties taken with the well known historical facts of Henry’s reign and because of suspicion that it was either co-authored or heavily tinkered with by another Globe playwright, John Fletcher.   

The Globe was constructed from timbers of an earlier venue known simply as The Theater in 1599.  That building was built on leased land and when the lease was up, the landlord claimed the building, which was owned by an association of actors.  To retrieve their property the actors hired a carpenter, Peter Street and joined him in disassembling the building in December of 1598 while the landlord was celebrating Christmas in the country.  The material was hidden until the next summer when it was floated across the Themes and the new theater constructed on marshy ground south of Maiden Lane. 

The new building evidently substantially re-created the original, although it may have been enlarged.  The Globe was owned originally by six actors who were shareholders in the theatrical troupe The Lord Chamberlain’s Men.  One of the six was a minority share holder, Will Shakespeare himself.  The building was an open air amphitheater about 100 feet in diameter contained in a building three stories high.  Although described as The Wooden O and portrayed in the only contemporary sketch, by Wenceslas Hollar, archeological evidence now suggests that it may have been a twenty-sided structure. 

Three levels of stadium stile boxes protected under and over-hanging thatched roof were built on the interior walls.  Surrounding an apron stage about 43 by 27 feet and raised five feet, was a large open area where groundlings paid a penny to stand and watch performances while their betters lounged in the boxes.  As many as 3000 people could be jammed into the theater, which was one of London’s most popular places of amusement. 

The design of the theater was believed to mimic the inn courtyards where traveling theatrical troupes performed in earlier days. 

Shakespeare himself at age about 50 seems to have retired from active involvement in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men about the time of the fire, and perhaps because of it.  When a second Globe was erected on the foundation of the first in 1614 he seems to be gone, although his plays continued to be revived as the source of most of the troupe’s material.  He died in his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon in 1616. 

The new Globe continued on until something even more deadly than fire befell it—Puritans.  It was closed by order of the Cromwell government in 1642 and probably razed two years later to make way for tenements. 

In 1997 Shakespeare’s Globe, a modern reproduction of the first theater, opened a few yards from the original site and regularly produces plays from the Shakespeare cannon.  Three years ago during a cycle of all of the Bard’s history plays Henry III received a rare revival there.  This time the cannon fired safely.  Everyone was relieved.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Bloody Birth of a New World—Assassination in Sarajevo


Note: Revised and corrected from a 2010 post.

A good case can be made for abandoning the current B.C./A.D.—or B.C.E/C.E.—division of historic time in favor of B.S./A.S.Before Sarajevo/After Sarajevo.  Certainly the world changed utterly on June 28, 1914 when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife, Duchess Sophie of Hohenberg were assassinated in the capital of provincial Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

The whole brutal avalanche of modern history turns on the death of a comic-opera princeling at the hands of a fanatic teenage nationalist.  Franz Ferdinand was the nephew of the elderly Austro Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph and was his designated heir.  He had assumed more and more public ceremonial duties from his uncle. 

The Dual Monarchy of Austria and Hungary ruled a multi-ethnic empire in central Europe.  In the late 19th Century it had expanded southward, absorbing some of the former Slavic provinces of the fading Ottoman Empire.  Bosnia and Herzegovina first came under Austrian sway by treaty in 1878 when it occupied and undertook administration of the provinces which remained officially under Ottoman sovereignty. 

In 1903 pretense was dropped and the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed the lands, which were peopled by a volatile mix of ethnic groups and divided by religion—Catholic Croatians, Orthodox Serbs, and Muslim Bosnians among others.  All resented rule from Vienna almost as much as they feared and distrusted each other. 

Meanwhile modern Serbia had arisen as an independent kingdom in 1882 and quickly became aggressive and expansionist seeking to unite Orthodox ethnic Serbs in several surrounding states into a Greater Serbia.  It had claims on Bosnia and nearly came to war when the Empire annexed it. 

In the 1912-1913 Balkan Wars with its neighbors, Serbia seized Macedonia from the Ottomans and Kosovo from Bulgaria.  Its reckless aggressiveness was made possible by a close alliance with the Orthodox Russian Empire which saw an opportunity to advance its sphere of influence deep into Europe. 

The Serbs sought to destabilize the Slavic provinces with secret terrorist societies like the Black Hand and by subsidizing local nationalists groups, like the Young Bosnia movement made up of teenage romantics.

For his part, Franz Ferdinand supported a break from the unyielding rule of his uncle when he would come to power.  He proposed making the Slavic south as a Third Crown in the Empire theoretically brining them into equality with Germanic Austria, and Magyar Hungary.  Under the scheme the provinces would be granted significant self rule and a policy of reconciliation with  Serbia would be pursued. 

This equally alarmed the Serbs, who felt that such reforms would derail their plans for eventual annexation, the local nationalists, and the Russians whose ambitions would have been checked by their traditional rival empire. 

There had been sporadic assassination attempts against various officials, including Emperor Franz Joseph himself in 1910.  Tensions in the region were running high.  The provision of arms and explosives to local groups was managed by the Serbian intelligence services, but may have been carried out either without the knowledge and consent of the King and Prime Minister, or with veneer of separation allowing for “plausible deniability.” 

When the Emperor announced he was sending Franz Ferdinand to observe military maneuvers in Bosnia on a date fraught with historical significance to Serb nationalists, Serb diplomats in Vienna evidently did warn officials of the possibility of an attack, but this was written off by the Austrians as a bluff. 

Serbian intelligence agents meanwhile smuggled hand guns, grenades, money, and suicide pills to a small group of young nationalists in Sarajevo Gavrilo Princip, Trifun Grabež, and Nedeljko Čabrinović and sent others recruited from Belgrade, including Bosnian Muslim Mehmed Mehmedbašić, Vaso Čubrilović, and Cvjetko Popović, to undertake the assassination attempt. 

On June 28 the assassins were posted at various points along the announced route of a motorcade carrying the Archduke and his wife.  Two conspirators lost nerve as the motorcade passed but the third, Čabrinović, lobbed a bomb at the Archduke’s car which scratched Sophie’s cheek and landed on the pavement on the far side of the car.  Its timed detonator went off under the following car injuring 20 people. 

The Archduke dismissed the attempt as the work of a “lunatic” and ordered that the day’s activities be continued, although the caravan sped its way to the next scheduled stop, the Town Hall.  On its way the car passed three other conspirators too quickly for them to act.  It looked like the mission was a failure. 

Discouraged one of the men 19 year old, Prinicp, went to a delicatessen for something to eat.  When he emerged he saw Franz Ferdinand’s open car reversing after having taken a wrong turn as it drove past. 

The Archduke had decided to visit the wounded from the earlier attack after making a speech at the Town Hall instead of immediately driving out of the city.  He was guarded only by Lieutenant Colonel Count Franz von Harrach standing on the running board of the car. 

The car stalled as the driver tried to reverse.  Prinicp was able to get within feet of the car and squeezed off two rounds from his automatic pistol.  The first round passed through the car and caromed into Sophie’s abdomen.  The second struck the Archduke in the neck severing his jugular vein.  Sophie spoke then pitched forward between her husband’s legs.  Franz Ferdinand reportedly said, “Sophie, Sophie! Don't die! Live for our children.”  As the car sped to a hospital he repeated weekly several times, “It is nothing,” before blood filled his throat.  Sophie was dead in the car.  The Archduke died  upon reaching the hospital. 

Passers by and police quickly seized Prinicp.  Čabrinović had been captured earlier after a failed suicide attempt.  The other conspirators were quickly rounded up as anti-Serb rioting swept the capital.  Eventually all but Mehmedbašić, who managed to escape to Montenegro and then to Serbia, were caught and tried along with others who aided them.  Those over twenty were condemned to death and were either hanged or died in prison.

Princip and others under the age of 20 received the maximum term of 20 years.  Held under harsh conditions, he developed tuberculosis, lost an arm to an infection, and was malnourished.  He died in prison at the age of 23 in April 1918. 

In 1917, as a result of negotiations to reach a separate peace between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, the leaders of the Intelligence services that had authorized the assassination were tried and three of them including the chief, Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević, known by the cover name Apis were convicted of various crimes and executed by firing squad. 

But the assassination itself, was soon overshadowed the enormous consequences which seemed to fall mechanically into place.  Within weeks Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum to Serbia.  Serbia agreed to most of the terms but refused to arrest plotters on the territory or allow the Empire to participate in an investigation.  They began mobilizing their forces with full assurance from Russia that it would honor their treaty of mutual defense. 

After a skirmish between boats carrying Serb troops and the Austrians on the Danube, the border between the powers, Austria Hungary mobilized on July 28.  Under the Secret Treaty of 1892 Russia and France were obliged to mobilize their armies if any of the Triple Alliance (Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy) mobilized.  By the first of August all major powers except the Italians were mobilized. 

On August 1, Germany declared war on Russia and France.  The British declared war on the Germans after they refused to refrain from attacking France through neutral Belgium.  By September much of the world was at war. 

The Ottoman Empire entered the war on the side of the Central Powers.  Italy eventually turned its back on its former partners and joined the Allies in 1915.  The United States entered the war in 1917. 

The conflict saw carnage on an industrial scale never before imagined.  The introduction of the machine gun, modern high explosives, long range artillery, poison gas, and aerial warfare made the battle field a lethal killing zone in which the maneuvers, charges and counter charges of the 19th Century became impossible.  Massive offensives failed at anything but piling up the dead. 

The British alone suffered 57,470 casualties including 19,240 dead on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Stalemated trench warfare became the norm.  At the end of the war the Allies had total casualties (killed, wounded, missing) of 22,477,500 of which 5,525,000 were dead.  The losing Central Powers had casualties of 16,403,000 of which 4,386,000 were dead.  These figures do not include millions of civilians on both sides who died of starvation, disease, or military action or the millions more made homeless and displaced. 

At war’s end the empires of Austria Hungary, Russia, the Ottomans, and Germany were destroyed.  Russia had withdrawn from the war in 1917 following the ouster of the Tsar, but was soon mired in bloody civil war from which the Bolsheviks would emerge as the masters of a new nation, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). 

With old Europe bled dry and financially ruined by the long war, the late arriving upstart the United States emerged as the dominant power in the world. 

The League of Nations was founded to avoid future conflicts, but the U.S. despite the pleas of Woodrow Wilson, who conceived the organization, refused to join and it proved itself incapable of managing real international conflict.  Disarmament was tried and failed. 

Resentments and humiliations arising from the war would fester, particularly in Germany, leading to another conflagration within a generation.  

The Balkans, the powder keg of the war, remains divided by ethnic and religious hostilities and is perpetually on the verge of erupting into more senseless conflict.

Lines drawn on maps dividing the spoils of colonies would have continuing consequences reaching down to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the war in the cobbled together state of Iraq. 

Nearly a hundred years later we still live in the shadow of those shootings.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Compassion for Campers—Join in a Weekly Cook-out With the Homeless


Lisa Jacobsen of the Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation now in McHenry  is coordinating the Compassion for Campers program to provide needed supplies to homeless PADS clients who must camp out from May through September when church shelters are closed.  She reports on an exciting new opportunity to do even more.

This summer season has seen the numbers of homeless people needing assistance rise, while the services [and staff] at PADS have taken some drastic cuts. I know many of you participated in the late Joe Blanco’s Community Ministry Suppers over the summer season in years past. While our congregation lost our space to host the Suppers over this summer season, our desire to provide a home-cooked meal once a week hasn’t disappeared! Providing a good, balanced meal for folks living on packaged- and fast-food was particularly poignant as we heard over and over again on Monday when we delivered supplies how many of our PADS guests are dealing with diabetes and other food-related illnesses.

Compassion for Campers had its first cook-out at the PADS office, 14411 Kishwaukee Valley Road in rural Woodstock on Monday morning ... it was GREAT! Bob Tirk and Dave Dreyer cooked up a mess of brats and dogs. Sue Renkenthaler, Pam SourelisTony and Marilyn Hlinak, Judy ChinnEric RyanElizabeth Dimond and Bella added to the feast. There were lots of salad and fresh fruit leftovers to bag up and leave for later.

The radio was playing rock and roll, lawn chairs were out, kids were playing on the grass, people were telling jokes and sharing stories, the sun was shining, and the food was smokin’ on the grill! Nobody was homeless ... or hungry ... or scared ... or lonely ... or frightened about the future. We were all just a group of people sharing a picnic together for two hours.
We would like to do this EVERY MONDAY between now and the end of September. Need something meaningful to do with your kids over the summer ... help us provide lunch?! Had a big party over the weekend and overbought on supplies? ... we’ll take ‘em! Nobody has to take on the whole thing, but “it takes a village to feed a village!” Bake a pan of brownies; cut up a watermelon; toss up a pasta salad; plate-up two bags of cookies; buy 3 lbs of potato salad; try out that new rice salad recipe; come flip some burgers.

There are ONLY 13 MEALS between now and the end of the summer season. Lisa Jacobsen, ourlocalgurl@gmail.com or 815-337-0075 has a schedule for the remaining weeks. There are many ways you can contribute to this ongoing effort: you can bring food, stay to hang out and help serve/set up/clean up, or donate money or supplies for the ongoing program. I realize that Monday at 11:00 am isn't convenient for many people. I’m, personally, more than happy to pick up food/supplies on Sundays or whenever is convenient for your schedule. Just let me know how we can make this easy for you, and something for our PADS guests to look forward to during the “off season.”

--Lisa Jacobsen

The Night the Queers Fought Back

Gay demonstrators confront New York City riot police on the second night of the Stonewall Rebellion.


Note:  Adapted from a post on this date in 2010.

On the night of June 27, 1969 something snapped when New York City Police made one of their regular raids on a Gay bar.  Instead of meekly submitting to arrest, patrons at the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village bar operated by the Mafia and patronized by the most marginalized of folks—homeless street kid hustlers, drag queens, and butch dikes began resisting when police started to arrest them. 

The raid was conducted by a small team of detectives, uniformed officers and police women led by Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine of the Public Morals Squad. 

For some reason patrons refused to follow the familiar procedure of such raids—allowing restroom inspections of individuals in women’s clothing to determine if they were men and providing identification upon request.  Dumfounded by resistance, police called for backup and paddy wagons.  There was some scuffling inside. 

Meanwhile some patrons who had been released were joined by passersby outside the bar.  The crowd quickly swelled.  Taunts and jeers were exchanged between the police and crowd.  The crowd began to interfere as drag queens were led to the wagons.  When a lesbian made several unsuccessful attempts to escape, she was beaten and cried out to the crowd, “Why don't you guys do something?” 

That ignited the crowd which began pelting police with beer cans, coins, and rubble from a nearby construction sight.  They attacked the wagons, freeing some of those arrested.  Police retreated into the bar and barricaded themselves.  They grabbed some members of the crowd as they went, including folk singer Dave Van Ronk who had been playing at a nearby club and came out to investigate the ruckus, and Howard Smith, a writer for the Village Voice.

 Observers reported that the most aggressive members of the crowd were the young street kids.  They used uprooted parking meters as a ram to try and break down the doors of the bar and crashed through the plywood covered windows.  When they got in police drew their pistols and threatened to shoot while rioters used lighter fluid to start a fire. 

The Fire Department responded as the crowd outside grew to hundreds.  The Tactical Police Force (TPF) arrived in riot gear to rescue the besieged officers in the saloon.  They formed a phalanx and moved up the street being blocked and taunted by an impromptu kick line of drag queens and “sissies.” 

Rioters and police played a brand of violent tag around the narrow streets of the Village until after 4 AM.  The riots were front page news. 

They were not over.  The next night even larger crowds gathered in front of the building and fighting continued.  Despite heavy rain there were sporadic eruptions the next two nights. 

Meanwhile the gay community, which had been largely unorganized except for the small Mattachine Society which advocated a campaign to educate the public that Homosexuals were “normal,” began to meet and debate tactics.  Thousands of fliers were printed for a Wednesday march. 

The original rebellion, which had been entirely spontaneous, was already laying the groundwork for a new, open and defiant Gay movement.  Taking cues from the Civil Rights Movement and the Peace Movement, which were also confronting authorities with a new militancy, and taking advantage of the traditional anti-establishment radicalism of the Village, the beginning of a new movement was taking place. 

On Wednesday the Village Voice—the most liberal paper in New York, carried a harshly critical piece on the riots describing participants as “forces of faggotry.”  Angry demonstrators descended on the Voice offices that night and threatened to burn them down.  Other violent confrontations erupted in the neighborhood as police tried to stop marchers, this time for the first time carrying signs and “making demands.” 

That was the last night of disturbances, but things changed quickly over the next year.  Two new militant Gay organizations emerged in New York, the Gay Liberation Front, which allied itself with the broader radical movement, and the Gay Activists Alliance which advocated a focused campaign demanding an end to police harassment and for broader rights for Gays. 

Similar or allied groups sprang up in major cities and college towns across the country.  New Yorkers founded three new newspapers, Gay, Come Out!, and Gay Power which soon had press runs to 20-2500.  Again, similar publications were founded across the country. 

On June 28, 1970 the anniversary of what was now being called the Stonewall Rebellion was marked by Christopher Street Liberation Day and a 51 block march from the Village to Central Park with thousands of marchers filling the streets.  Marches were also held in Chicago and Los Angeles. 

These became the Gay Pride Marches that have become annual events across the country.  There was a huge march Sunday in Chicago.  An indication of how accepted and mainstream Gay rights have become, at least in big cities, is that there were official floats sponsored by the city’s sports teams. Politicians galore and all of the major media turn out to court the potent Gay vote and consumer demographic.  But there were still loads drag queens and all of the high camp fun that the carnival-like parades have become known for.

It was also the very first Gay Pride Parade for my granddaughter Caitlin, who is not afraid of coming out.  Her proud mom Heather was there at her side.  Good for both of them.  Wish I could have been there, too.

But I hope in all of the celebrations, the roots in the struggle for simple human respect fought out on the streets of Greenwich Village were not forgotten.