I’m Outta Here

Mickey MouseHey all,

Just wanted to let you my faithful readers know that I’m going on vacation for a bit and will be absent from social media. That means no new posts, no Facebook, no Twitter, for at least a week or more.  We’re off to see The Mouse.

If anybody happens to be in the neighborhood and sees me — I’ll be the guy in the geeky Shakespeare t-shirt, almost certainly — don’t be afraid to say hi!  It’ll make a fun story.

I don’t expect there’s much Shakespeare related merchandise to be had, but you know that if it’s there I’ll find it. See you when I get back!



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It’s Not Hamlet

Say what?

Regular readers know my opinion on the “Lion King is Hamlet” issue.  King is killed by his brother, son must go on hero’s journey and eventually regain the crown. Boom, Hamlet.  Timon and Pumbaa are kind of like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, other than the fact that they’re his friends and not spies for the bad guy, I suppose … and  Zazu is the Polonius character even though he doesn’t have any children, doesn’t end up dead…  you get the idea.  We focus on the facts that support our case and ignore the ones that don’t.  Like politics.

Well, the bombshell from the creators this week is that Scar and Mufasa aren’t brothers. That’s not how the dynamics work in lion prides.  They are not from the same gene pool.  Mufasa calls Scar “brother,” this is true, but you don’t need me to cite every time a Shakespearean character calls somebody “cousin,” do you?



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Will #7 : A Midsummer Night’s Deux Ex Machina!


Hurray! Less sex and violence!

You don’t hear that very often. But we finally get an episode that doesn’t have gratuitous people running around naked, and instead focuses on the Shakespeare. There’s a little violence, sure, but nothing like what we’ve seen before.

Last week ended with Presto setting the theatre on fire after his sister died.  At first this just made me hate him even more, because I don’t care how angry he is, why is he taking it out on them? What did they do?  But this week we actually get some closure on that, as he confides in Shakespeare that he was intending to just stay there and kill himself, but couldn’t go through with it.

The plot, admittedly, is a little thin.  The theatre was already in financial trouble, and now that it’s half burned to the ground, Burbage sees no choice to but to sell.  Shakespeare, meanwhile, has a plan. He goes straight to Emilia Bassano, our Dark Lady.

I like this character. Not only is she smart enough to see through Burbage a few weeks ago and say, “I want to talk to whoever actually wrote this sonnet,” but two seconds after meeting Alice Burbage she says, “Oh, that’s who you wrote that sonnet for.” She’s very smart. But she doesn’t come across as an emasculating presence like so often happens in these situations, where the men end up like clowns who can’t figure out the solution to a problem and need the woman to come to the rescue.  In fact she informs him that she doesn’t have any money of her own to help him, so he can forget that idea.

However, while she doesn’t have any money of her own, her friends do.  We meet a new character (whose name I literally cannot remember and who is not listed in the IMDB page) who requests a special performance so he can win the hand of his lady.  The play?  A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Against the backdrop of the most recognizable play they’ve done this far, the characters all fall into place.  Shakespeare wanders around trying to think of great things to say about love. Emilia feeds him ideas, without just writing it for him.  Young Burbage complains that he has to play a fairy and has to have his ego stroked by Moll, who is madly in love with him but he doesn’t see it. Kemp gets to act his ass off as Bottom.  See what I did there? 🙂

The rest resolves as expected, a little too easily – cut to Burbage about to hand over the keys to his competitor, only to have Shakespeare and the gang burst onto the scene, tossing a bag of coins up on the stage to complete the transaction.  Because this is movie economics, that one transaction generated the exact amount of money that Burbage needed.  Nobody ever seems to ask for more, you know, for cushion.  They still have expenses the next day too, you know.

Should we check in with Marlowe? I need his story to get a little better. He enlists the aid of his dark friends again because he wants to see the devil.  I find this ridiculous. The major plotline of this show is that to be a Catholic is punishable by imprisonment and torture, and there’s a small army raiding houses all over town looking for any kind of evidence.  But Marlowe walks up to a guy and says, “Show me the devil” and the next thing you know they’re having a pagan sacrifice.  Sure, why not?

This, of course, leads to the obligatory “sell my soul” reference which gives him the idea for Dr. Faustus. Ok.  Keep it moving.  Once upon a time this was supposed to be about some sort of competition between Marlowe and Shakespeare for who is the greatest playwright, and Marlowe’s written nothing for all seven episodes of the show.

There’s the usual advancement of story with the other characters as well – Southwell’s printing house is raided, but he takes Alice to a baptism.  Presto tries killing Topcliffe again but Shakespeare saves him, again.  Apparently they’re finally friends now.

I liked a lot about this episode – mostly because it was about Shakespeare and crew and not about random sex and violence. But I hate that it wrapped up so nicely. Bardfilm is the one that called it a Deux Ex Machina, but I think he’s right.  “We need money.”  “Hey, here’s this new guy that’s willing to give us the money we need.”  “Let’s put on a show!” It’s like the plot device of every sitcom in the 1970s.

Everything feels like it’s building toward something, which is good. I guess they’ve got 10 episodes.  I’m wondering how far we get, and what resolves and what’s left open.  Mostly I’m wondering if the series will do well enough to merit a season two.  I even told my wife the other night, “I have to go watch my Shakespeare show.  In all the years you’ve known me when have I been able to say that?  Shakespeare is on tv every week.  That is so many kinds of awesome.” I don’t want it to end.



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What Are Some Of Your Favorite Moments in Shakespeare?

I’m not a big fan of “favorites” when it comes to Shakespeare – I like to play the “that’s like picking a favorite child” card.  But part of the reason for that is because every play has got some good and some bad, something to recommend and something to avoid, none of them are perfect.

So instead let’s play Moments.  Doesn’t have to be a scene, or a line.  I’m not interested so much in the “what” as I am in the “why”?  Explain for me when, during the course of a particular play, you feel like everything hinges on this one moment?  Maybe it’s just one character’s chance to do something right. Maybe it gives ultimate insight into your favorite interpretation of the character. Maybe it’s one of those lines that rockets through 400 years and hits you square in the heart like it happened 5 minutes ago.


King Lear‘s “Why is my man in the stocks?” scene.  I wrote about this at length when Commonwealth Shakespeare did the play a few years back, and having rediscovered that post this scene is what gave me the idea for the post.  It’s not the line that’s important. I can’t even tell you the act and scene in which it occurs.  But that image of the king, who previously had people falling to their knees whenever he looked at them crossly, now being unable to get his question answered? Just does something for me.  This is the unraveling.

Emilia’s confrontation of Othello.  How she discovers what has happened, and how she is implicated in Desdemona’s murder?  Her first thought isn’t, “How can I get out of this?” her first thought is to confront her husband.  Bold move, since she has the most insight into just how dangerous he is.

Who else has some good ones?



Will #6: Dark Lady! Blackfriars! Sonnet 29!

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere! I’ve often said that I’m in it for the Shakespeare, and tolerating all the other bits.  Tonight, and I realize I’m a day behind, I’m happy.

We open with Shakespeare’s family still in London with him, and it’s not long before Hamnet is lost in the crowd. Just like last week they play “family” well, with the kids pointing at everything in every direction, wanting to buy everything they see, the parents having to slap hands away and say no. I like Shakespeare as family man – although the more they do it, the more plain it looks that he is too young to be father to these children.

There’s soon a riot as the pro-Catholics start handing out literature and the fighting begins.  Enter the Queen’s guard who just start….stabbing people indiscriminately.  There’s literal blood spraying everywhere.  This I guess is the reminder that we’re trying to be Game of Thrones. We get it already. This is a violent time.  Move on.

Shakespeare’s trying to come up with his next play, and nobody likes his idea for the sequel to Henry VI, so Alice convinces him that he should write the prequel. Meanwhile the flippin’ Dark Lady is introduced! Of course “Big Dick” Burbage wants her, and commissions a sonnet from Shakespeare to woo her. For some reason Shakespeare pulls Sonnet 29 out of nowhere and gives it to him, but she immediately sees through it, tells Burbage, “You didn’t write this,” and demands an audience with the real poet.

In other news, James Burbage is trying to get funding for a new theatre so we have plans for the Blackfriars Theatre in the works. That’s kind of nice to keep the chronological pace of the story moving forward, as it’s a minor story arc at best.  In a show that’s so interested in pushing the boundaries of sex and violence, it’s odd to see the devote any time at all to real estate deals. But, looking at the whole episode, we can predict where that story is going and what’s going to happen next.

Speaking of which, I continue to be embarrassed by the sex in this thing.  It’s like softcore, it reminds me of when we first had cable when I was in middle school and we’d come up with reasons to stay up until midnight so we could catch a show on “Skinemax’ that never really showed anything but at the same time didn’t leave much to the imagination.  We even get a walk through of the brothel where there’s a fully naked woman bouncing up and down in the lap of a customer.  Move on already, unless the audience for this show is horny twelve year olds.  We have the internet now, if we want that we know where to get more, more easily.

I wish I knew more about Marlowe’s history, because his story is getting interesting.  Last week he met a new friend, obviously someone very important to him, but I have no idea who it is.  This week we see Marlowe’s portrait! Now I’m hoping a Marlowe historian fills me in and tells me everything I’m seeing is historically accurate.

The “urchin” story (I’ve learned his name is Presto) gets as dark as it’s going to get this week, where we’ve not only confronted the child rape angle, but when the sister tries to rescue him we get to watch her whipped until he comes back. I won’t spoil how it all plays out, but I hope they’re done with it.  We really don’t need it to be that dark. Who do they think they’re appealing to, exactly?

In the WTF scene of the week, Anne comes to visit Shakespeare at the tavern and meet his friends.  This is incredibly awkward – they don’t know anything about her concerns (like the price of fish) and she hasn’t even bothered to see their play yet.  But then Kemp appears and it’s wonderful. He starts flirting with her, composing a poem on the fly that turns into a song. It feels so in character, his personality perfectly matches the action on screen and how he makes himself the center of attention…

…and then it turns into a music video set to James Brown.  I’m not kidding.  I loved it right up to that moment, then it was just laughably stupid.

Overall I liked this episode (even the urchin stuff, dark though it may have been, did move the plot forward). There’s plenty of content, lots of Henry VI action (Anne does eventually go see the play), sonnet 29, Burbage, Kemp, Dark Lady, Marlowe …  if they focused on those stories and less on the violence and torture (I haven’t mentioned Topcliffe at all this week, even though he’s here), I’d be much happier.





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Safe for Shakespeare

On the common message board at work I posted quick thoughts on the local Romeo and Juliet this weekend, where I called it (among other things), “safe.”

“I’m curious what exactly a safe production of Romeo and Juliet is,” said a coworker in person.  “Do they not die in the end?”  Laughter from random overhearing coworkers.

“Nope, they definitely still die.”

“Is there still an implied teenage sex scene?”

“Yup, definitely has that.”

“And they still murder people?”

“Yes, yes they do.”

“And you call that safe? As a parent?”

“Fair point.  My kids definitely gave me the, ‘Seriously, Daddy?’ look when Mercutio was writhing and grinding on the floor a few times. But everybody knows the story, it’s not like anything was a surprise.  By safe I meant it was a traditional, expected interpretation.  At no point did I think, “Whoa, hey, that’s different! I’ve never seen that particular interpretation of that moment before!”

“Ohhhh,” said he, “You meant it wasn’t avant-garde.”

So I immediately sent him this picture from Slings & Arrows as the first thing that comes to mind when somebody mentions an avant-garde Romeo and Juliet:

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A Three Hour Shakespeare, A Three Hour Shakespeare

Tis now the very witching time of night, plus about three hours.

What is Shakespeare’s fascination with three hours?  I was at Romeo and Juliet this weekend and this stood out to me:

Ah, poor my lord, what tongue shall smooth thy name,
When I, thy three-hours wife, have mangled it?

Because I thought, “Hmm, that’s interesting, because clearly they’ve been married more than three hours so it’s like she’s using that as just a generic term for some length of time. Kind of like how Hamlet does it, doesn’t he?” Actually I was off on that one:

how cheerfully my mother looks, and father died within these two hours.

But then I thought about that one about, “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late,” from Merry Wives of Windsor.  I got to wondering just how often he used this expression. Turns out, quite a lot. Some of them could even be literal (such as “the length of time after supper and before bed time”) but surely not all of them.

All’s Well That Ends Well

Ten o’clock: within these three hours ’twill be
time enough to go home.


Within these three hours, Tullus,
Alone I fought in your Corioli walls,
And made what work I pleased:


I have read three hours then: mine eyes are weak:

Henry VI Part 1

More than three hours the fight continued;
Where valiant Talbot above human thought
Enacted wonders with his sword and lance:

Love’s Labour’s Lost

And then, to sleep but three hours in the night,
And not be seen to wink of all the day—

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

what dances shall we have,
To wear away this long age of three hours
Between our after-supper and bed-time?

Romeo and Juliet (again)

Now must I to the monument alone;
Within three hours will fair Juliet wake:

The Tempest

My father
Is hard at study; pray now, rest yourself;
He’s safe for these three hours.

How thou hast met us here, who three hours since
Were wreck’d upon this shore;

What is this maid with whom thou wast at play?
Your eld’st acquaintance cannot be three hours:

Twelfth Night

Ay, madam, well; for I was bred and born
Not three hours travel from this very place.



Commonwealth Shakespeare 2017 : Romeo and Juliet on Boston Common

I haven’t missed a Commonwealth Shakespeare performance on Boston common since the infamous Hamlet incident in 2005. Every year I wait to see what they’ll play, every year I tell friends and family and coworkers for weeks leading up that I’ll be going.  It’s something of a holiday for me.

This year is Romeo and Juliet. Or, like I told everybody, “The one everybody knows!” I could not say that about Love’s Labours Lost or Two Gentlemen of Verona :). Better, I could at last take the kids. People might think that my kids have grown up with Shakespeare, and they have. But that doesn’t mean that at under ten years old they can sit through an actual 2-3 hour Shakespeare performance in the original text.  They’ve seen movie versions, clips, kids versions, modern versions – but this would be the first time they would sit through a “real” show.

This was a very traditional interpretation, which made it even more perfect.  Period scenery, with a balcony dominating the stage.  Period costumes, with the Montagues in one color and the Capulets in another (and Mercutio in a third).

All in all I liked it, and I’m glad my kids – who also liked it – got to see this one. But I didn’t love it. My oldest, who just finished the play in high school, spent the play explaining things to her sister, and occasionally turning around to me when they chose a particularly interesting interpretation, or altered a more obvious line. My middle, who is fascinated primarily with story, wanted me to tell her the plots of basically all the Shakespeare stories. At one point she apparently realized that Shakespeare collaborated (when I called The Tempest his last solo effort) and she got all bent out of shape over that, declaring that she never knew Shakespeare was a fake, and that she’d have to seriously think about this. My youngest did his best to piece together everything he knew about the story, coupled with what he could skim in the program, with what he was seeing on the stage.  Of course that led to moments like the early scene where Benvolio is explaining to Lord Montague where Romeo has been, and my son explains to me, “That’s Tybalt talking.”  In this particular cast, both Benvolio and Tybalt were two African American gentlemen, and from our seats I’m sure they looked very similar to him.

Stuff I Liked

One particularly fascinating moment came during the “pre-show” of sorts. The troupe put on a stage combat demonstration. No explanation or narration, just an opportunity for the audience to get a sneak preview at the fight scenes.  I watch two guys go at it and tell my kids, “That must be Romeo and Tybalt, because that’s not how Mercutio gets it.”  My attention drifts, because in a few minutes I realize there’s about twenty people all battling and I think, “Oh, cool!  The opening scene!”  When suddenly this tall, athletically built woman, in a dress, leaps into the fray with sword drawn and parts two warring men.  It was actually pretty cool, and looked like something out of a movie fight scene. I had no idea what was going on.  My brain immediately flipped through the script trying to figure out what I’m watching.  “Wait,” I say out loud, “Are they going gender blind for this?  Cool.”  I ask my oldest to look her up in the program, and without looking (because apparently she already had), all I hear her say is the word “princess” because now there’s some other noise, I think the director had come out to talk.  I still don’t get it, and I think that this is the actress’ name.

Nope – that’s Princess Escalus.  They have gone gender flipped for that particular role, and I’m totally ok with it because she was seriously badass. When this Princess said to knock it off, people took her seriously.  (What I did not like is that they put her in a dress but still left her lines calling herself Prince.  Can’t we just pick one?  Either you’ve got a woman playing a man, or else you’ve flipped the gender of the character.  It’s jarring to me when they play it from both angles.)

Love Mercutio.  I tell my kids, “The trick with Mercutio is, the minute you see him, you have to like him.  He’s the cool guy that everybody wants at the party.  He’s the one where you’re invited to hang out and you’re all, Oh, Mercutio’s gonna be there?  Dude, absolutely, let’s go!”  And this Mercutio (who was giving off a strange Key and Peele vibe) crushed it there.  During the Queen Mab speech all of the other masqueraders are hanging on his every word.  But he can just as easily flip and talk one on one with his pal Romeo.  I find myself looking sadly forward to watching him die because I already like him.

Commonwealth Shakespeare 2017 Romeo and JulietRomeo and Juliet are … well, annoying. Overacting every word.  And I’m totally ok with that.  I am of the “Romeo and Juliet are two stupid kids who think the world is ending around them” school, and kids in that situation *are* annoying, even if it’s Shakespeare they’re reciting.

The soundtrack. I don’t know how to explain it, it just worked.  The party scene was hopping.  The fight scenes were ominous.  With my kids at this one I was especially aware of anything happening that would help make it obvious what is happening on stage, and when the music suddenly switches when Tybalt walks in, you know something’s about to go down.

There were also bits of interaction with the audience that were pretty cool, and kept my kids entertained.  Several times the Friar actually motioned to the audience to complete his lines.  Granted this had the effect of really killing the mood because he was enunciating the first part like Inigo Montoya playing rhyming games with Andre the Giant’s Fezzick the giant (“You have a great gift for ….rhyme…”) but hey, it was fun.  I’m not holding this production up to any high standard.

There’s also a funny bit in the beginning where Romeo and Benvolio are arguing about Rosaline, and Romeo’s got his line, “Show me a mistress that is passing fair,” so Benvolio hops down into the audience, picks out a woman to stand and show off for comparison to Rosaline.

It was little stuff, but it worked.  The party scene at the Capulets had the dancers all come through the audience to enter, but then back out into the audience to dance.  There were even these little mini stages set up around the edges that they made their way toward, which I even commented at the time seemed like a lot of effort because they were there for just that scene, and delivered no lines (just regular dancer/partygoers).  Strange amount of extra effort for that little effect.

A word, too, for the overall visual presentation of this production. I thought it was absolutely beautiful. Totally traditional, but that’s fine, there’s a reason why it’s iconic.  There’s a moment when Juliet’s up on the balcony in her nightclothes and the wind is blowing them just ever so slightly, I found it quite near perfect.

Stuff Not So Much

The pacing of many scenes was off.  Fred Sullivan, the most senior actor of the group, plays Lord Capulet as I expected. I go into every show wondering what role Fred will play, because I know he brings everything he’s got.  Saw him as Nick Bottom years ago and never forgot him. But it felt like all of his scenes this year were this sort of zero to sixty ride where one moment he’s laughing and jovial and the next HE’S RANTING AND SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS LIKE HE’S GOING TO HAVE A STROKE and then he’s back to being his jolly old self.  This was true at the Capulet ball where he had to yell at Tybalt, but it was really obvious when Juliet tells him she doesn’t want to marry Paris.  He’s talking to her so softly and quietly that you barely realize he is…taking off his belt.  The next thing you know he’s chasing her around the scene trying to whip her with it, screaming the whole time.  It got so bad that when he finally delivers the “My fingers itch” line, with his hand poised above his head to strike, I’m thinking, “Dude, the belt was way scarier.” Later when she apologizes and he goes back to being the loving father. He basically seems bipolar.  Which I think is an oversimplification of his personality (seems to be a theme here).

Same with the opening scene.  I like the opening scene to build and be mostly comedy, so the audience can get into it and feel the transition between the humor and the violence at any time.  Not here, here it is all loud screamy violence all the time.  We all know the Baz Luhrmann version, right? The scene in the gas station with all the screaming?  I liked that one better. Here it just felt like the actors couldn’t bring any more depth to their roles than, “These guys just want to fight because they hate each other so much.”

Worse, though, was Mercutio’s death.  Above I said I sadly looked forward to it, because I liked the character, and I think that the whole mark of a tragedy is you can know what’s going to happen and still be sad about it because you feel something for the characters.  Here I didn’t get that.  First, it was over way too fast.  They fight, Romeo dives in, Mercutio is struck and then immediatelydelivershisnextthreelinessofastIwasn’tsurewhatwashappening.

I like a good dying Mercutio. I want him struggling for breath, on the ground, uttering his dying words like a curse. This Mercutio was running around the stage during the whole thing.  It wasn’t even obvious that there was any blood on him until the end of the scene, and if you didn’t know what was going on you might have missed it. He even walks out practically under his own power.

I did like (and I realize this should go in the section above but they go together) Romeo’s reaction.  I’ve always thought that his line about “Mercutio’s soul is little ways above our heads, and you, or I, or both must go with him” is underrated.  I like a Romeo that’s a combination of fire-eye’d furious and yet also terrified because he thinks there’s an equal chance that he’s going to die, too.  I got that.  That was cool.

Bonus?  The rest of the scene plays out, and at some point, as the lights go down, Tybalt’s body is borne off.  But not before Benvolio taps one of the Capulets on the shoulder and takes his spot, helping to carry him.  Loved the idea of that.  Easily went past many people – it was dark, they were getting focused on their intermission bathroom break, no words are even spoken.  But it shows that Benvolio, who just replayed the scene as “Romeo didn’t do anything wrong, he came here trying to make peace,” maybe realizes, unlike the parents, that this is an opportunity to bring the families closer, not farther apart.


I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I ended up describing it to a co-worker this way: “It’s way better than any school or community performance you’ll see, but at the same time, it didn’t feel like the professional standard you might expect. I’m glad it was a free show. If I’d paid fifty bucks to go see it, I think I would have come away disappointed. There were things I liked, a lot, but there were many things that I felt could have been done so much better.”

It disappoints me to say that, but I’m just being honest. I’ve seen more than a dozen of their shows, and I’m not going to say each one of them moved me to tears. They’re quite capable of it. I’ll never forget the image of Kent in the storm, calling out for King Lear.  I loved the play so much I wrote two posts about it- part one, part two.

Of course, everything I’ve said above – the traditional interpretation, the oversimplification of the characters, the over acting – all made it the perfect show to take my kids.  So there’s that!  I just hope that next year when it comes around again, whatever show they may choose – because I’m going! – that I bring it up to the kids and see whether they want to come with us again.


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Know Your Audience? I Thought I Did!

So this weekend we’re at Shakespeare on Boston Common and I’m waiting in line for the port-a-potties with my kids.  It’s intermission, it’s dark, there’s 20 people in line ahead of us, so you know the condition those things are going to be in.

My son goes in first.  Comes out, tells me, “Daddy, somebody left a wine bottle in there.” The lady in the line next to us laughs.

“Well,” I tell him, “Drink is a great provoker of three things.”

Now, I knew he wasn’t going to get the reference. But I’m surrounded by people who are at outdoor Shakespeare, I expected somebody to get it. I even turned and made eye contact with the woman who laughed in the first place.  I should have gone up for a high five.  She would have left me hanging, but still.

I got nuthin.   I was disappointed.  Who says Shakespeare isn’t relevant today?



What Kind Of Performances Are You Seeing?!

Funny story time.

I was hanging out on a forum that has nothing to do with Shakespeare (more of an entrepreneurial, side-hustle kind of thing).  Since it was definitely not a Shakespeare crowd I decided to ask, “What do you think of when I say the name Shakespeare?”

I got the usual results – “boring”, “old”, “classic”, “exciting”, “men in tights”, “Shakespeare in the park” and so on.  I engaged a few people in conversation, and like these things often do, everything just kind of tapered off.

But then a few days later somebody posted and wrote, “Exhausting.”

So I responded, “Watching it, or performing it?”

And she replied, “All of it. I’ve tried the videos.I can’t believe the poses they expect you to get into. And then when you actually go, somebody’s always coming around and touching you, and that makes me really uncomfortable.”

Wait, what?

Turns out she was talking about yoga.  She’d responded to the wrong thread.

Too bad, for a minute there I was fascinated by what kind of productions she’d been seeing!


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