TT with HD: Kathryn Bosher
[Ed. note: Open to the public is a production of Aristophones' The Assemblywomen, which will be performed at the Classics and Feminism Conference here in Ann Arbor:
HD: Welcome to the teeter totter!
KB: Thank you.
HD: So you walked over here--did you walk from Central campus or did you take the bus part way?
KB: Actually, I drove. We rented a car.
HD: Oh, really, okay.
KB: We rented a car and drove from Chicago to Ann Arbor.
HD: Okay, I figured you would have a tale of a train trip to tell me, but I guess not this time?
KB: Usually. But this time we stopped to see relatives in Kalamazoo.
HD: Ah. The train goes through Kalamazoo, though, right? It's just that scheduling, I imagine, would have been somewhat difficult.
KB: Right. Because we needed to get in relatively early this morning, and we had limited time [inaudible].
HD: So as I understand it, you are in town to set up logistics or coordinate with people for the [Classics and Feminism] conference that's coming up in May, is that right?
KB: Yes. I'm just doing a small part of it, which is sort of an elaborate skit--adaptation of an Aristophanes play.
HD: This is the one where the title translates as The Assemblywomen?
KB: Yes. That's right.
HD: So, is this your adaptation?
KB: No, it's the adaptation of a man called Greg Robic who was a master's student at the University of Toronto when I was an undergraduate. So I knew him then, and I worked on some of his productions. They are musical versions.
HD: Oh! So, there's going to be singing in this?
KB: Yes, there is. They're all parodies of opera and operetta.
HD: But the original Aristophanes was not meant as a parody of any kind of operatic form, was it?
KB: Actually, I think it's really hard to know what ancient music was like. We don't know. But he parodies tragedy a lot in his lyrics. And so one can assume that some of the music was parodied from tragedy, because so many of the lines are. Some of the verse is clearly taken from other recognizable forms. For example, in our play there is what's known as the Song of the Locked-out Lover--which is a familiar form, it's just imported into the play and used as a moment where everybody would 'get' it.
HD: ... so, is all the dialogue sung?
KB: No. There were many more songs. We had to lift a lot of them out, because the college version he adapted for eight professional opera singers, which we couldn't manage. We're a group of students and some faculty from Northwestern and from some other universities. And we couldn't sing that much.
HD: Okay, so, you know, I do try to do some manner of preparation for these rides, and so I thought I would find a copy of The Assemblywomen and read through it.
HD: The first version I tried to read through was through the GoogleBooks Project and it was an edition from like the 1830's. And that would have been fine. I would have just skimmed through that, but GoogleBooks kept crashing my computer. Or, I attribute it to GoogleBooks, I don't know if it was maybe just my machine.
KB: Or the obscenity of the play, maybe!
HD: What's that?
KB: The obscenity of the play--maybe they don't want you to actually read it!
HD: It could be! See, though, from that version I wasn't able to work with it long enough to get to any of the 'good' parts. But I did find another version that seemed like it was a fairly modern adaptation by a guy named George something-or-other [Theodoridis].
KB: A 2005 version, right?
HD: Yeah, it could be. You can sort of tell it's a very modern version because there is this joke in there about the Coalition of the Willing. So that's sort of a flag where you can say, Yeah that's relatively modern. So I wasn't sure based on the fact that it was clearly a modern adaptation--in prose not in verse--I mean, ah this, um, it takes 'bawdy' to a whole 'nother level.
HD: Really, I don't think it would be so unfair to characterize it as pornographic almost.
KB: I think that's right. [laugh] Actually, in the fall I did a Greek class. We read the play in Greek. And it was really embarrassing to read it in class. I had never done that as a student. We had always read them on our own. We had never sat there and read line by line through it.
HD: So you assigned parts and people had to read through it?
KB: Yes, because it was a Greek language class.
HD: So, ancient Greek.
KB: Yeah, and translating those things, very often the dictionary just says 'an obscenity', it won't tell you. Or it translates it into Italian or something. Because it's too direct. It is. But Greg's version removes a lot of that, because it's so shocking to us. And it would distract for modern audiences. And he takes a lot of that out. We put some of it back in, but not nearly as much as there is.
HD: Distract, well, I was going to suggest that it might actually attract modern audiences.
KB: Oh! Yes!
HD: Because you know my experience with classical Greek theater tradition was high school, we read Antigone, and it was a compare-and-contrast--I can't even remember now--was it Sophocles who wrote the original?
HD: So compare and contrast Sophocles version with the version of a French guy named Anouilh?
HD: So that was our treatment of Antigone--to read both versions, and compare and contrast them. And I just remember thinking, you know, Okay, there is no real connection to me, I never really got why she wanted to bury her brother. And why kill yourself over it--that didn't seem like a good thing to do. But you know reading through this play [The Assemblywomen] I'm thinking, Ah, if that had been served up to me as a high school student, that would have captured my imagination, I think, as a 15 or 16-year-old kid growing up in southern Indiana. I would've said, Huh, the Greek classical tradition, that sounds like something that I perhaps wanna look into! Southern Indiana, though, I don't imagine that an English teacher could get away with teaching this play. What would you guess would be the reaction say in a Canadian public school? Because you're Canadian, right?
KB: Yes, I am. And I certainly never read--actually I didn't read any Greek plays in high school. However, about 10 years ago I met a man who helped found the Toronto Film Festival and he had had a Jesuit education in, I think, Toronto. And they studied Latin and Greek, 30 teenagers, they were reading Sophocles, and they heard about Aristophanes. And they all went out in Toronto--15-year-olds--and bought it to read. Sometimes they do recommend it--sometimes people teach it in school because the Greek is difficult and so it's ...
HD: ... it's got the longest word in all the Greek language, I read!
KB: Yes, that's right!
HD: So, like in Canada, could you have gotten away with, do you think, teaching that play as a public school teacher?
KB: In a high school?
HD: In high school. I mean, would that have brought out the parents protesting, or?
KB: I don't know. I'm actually not sure what the official restrictions are. My guess would be that it would depend what translation you used. Because there are some very gentle translations you can use. There is a very long history of Aristophanes being performed in very elegant versions. The women's suffragette movement put on Lysistrata in 1912 in New York and it was described in the newspaper as this lovely version, where they all looked like angels in brightly-colored pastel costumes. And there was clearly no obscenity, but the play is full of obscenity. They just took it out.
HD: And this was Lysistrata?
KB: Lysistrata. Lysistrata is a very, very--I mean they all are obscene, but I think there is a really long-standing tradition of removing the obscenity when you need to.
HD: In terms of this production then, are you thinking about this at all in terms of the history of classical productions at the University of Michigan? I mean, where it fits into that scheme? Or is this something that you're just planning to document and add that documentation to what you've already done?
KB: Ah, that's interesting. Actually, I should think of it in terms of the production history at the University of Michigan.
HD: Because there have been some really elaborate productions. The swimming pool one is pretty striking. I don't suppose there is video of that? Just still pictures?
KB: I didn't come across any. Perhaps there is somewhere. But not, I don't think, in the archives open to the public. Aristophanes comes relatively late at Michigan and I didn't have the translation they used, so I don't know. But, yeah, you know, I should think of it in those terms.
HD: So are you taking any pains to document this performance in a way so that people, say in 100 years from now, who are trying to fit this in to either the performance history at the U of M specifically or for Aristophanes in general, so that they will be able to say, Oh, this is exactly what it was like. I mean, are we going to see this on YouTube?
KB: We did film it. We did a rough version at Northwestern and we filmed it.
HD: So will we see that on YouTube?
KB: Well. That's a good idea! Put it on YouTube. I filmed it to give to all the people in the class to have a record.
HD: Just sort of as a memento.
KB: But it's a good idea to [inaudible]. But we're actually in the process of putting together an archive of performances of Greek and Roman plays, or plays based on antiquity, in Chicago. And we'll put a record of this in, even though it's a small production. And maybe there will be room in that database to upload a video.
HD: So do you know exactly what the venue is going to be for the performance? Because the tentative schedule sort of ironically--all the items that are unknown as yet, they just fill in XXX, so it's going to be in 'room XXX'. That's sort of fitting based on the version that I read of the play, anyway.
KB: Actually, I do know. It's going to be in the Ballroom at the Michigan Union. And it's going to be at 4:45pm on Saturday, May 10. Everybody's welcome!
HD: Really? That was going be a question I wanted to ask, because it seemed like certainly if you were an attendee of the conference, you obviously could get in. So it is open to the public?
KB: Yes. I spoke to the conference organizer, who is Ruth Scodel at the University of Michigan, and she said that that performance and the keynote speaker--which is I think on Thursday--both of those are public. So I think it would be great.
HD: Especially because, I mean there's not going to be nudity, but some obscenity at least?
KB: Yes! A little bit of obscenity, yes.
HD: And let me see if I can phrase this delicately. There's this scene at the end where these women are tugging back and forth on the guy using his 'handle'?
KB: Ah, hah, yes.
HD: So is that going to be depicted?
KB: Actually it's interesting that you say that, because one of the students in my class, who worked on an adaptation--just read her paper, she wrote an essay in which she suggests that we put this back in. So quite possibly by the time we get to Michigan it will be there. We did a gender inversion in that scene. Because one of the things about Greek comedy is that we know it was all performed by men. We tried in an early stage of this class ...
HD: ... so in this play that would have meant men playing women who were playing men?
KB: Yes. Which really changes everything. Unless--you could argue that they were so used to men playing all the parts they didn't notice. But that seems to me probably to mistake the point, since there are so many female comic female characters with so much discussion of their gender, or of their markers of gender. And there are quite a lot of articles written about how this men-playing-the-women-playing-the men really subverts any idea that we might have of a 'feminist' play. I mean, it becomes feminist in our modern reading of the play, because we just read it as women taking over the government.
KB: But at the moment it's not there!
HD: Okay! [laugh] Okay so maybe something to look forward to. So how many people are going to be at this conference? I got the impression, just from presenters, I mean I lost count after about 50. But it's going to be a sizable gang of people here just for this, right?
KB: Yes, this morning they estimated about 150 people at the conference. It happens every four years, this Classics and Feminism Conference. This is the fifth one.
HD: I thought it was interesting that in the listing of possible conference accommodations that I don't think there was a single commercial hotel listed. It was all stuff internal to the University of Michigan, including dormitories. And I thought, Man, how are they got to pull that off? And then you realize, Oh, well school is going to be out by then! So that becomes a possibility.
KB: That's right. And the organizer, Ruth Scodel, very much believes in this low-key, not too enormously expensive ...
HD: ... yeah, it's only like 100 bucks for the conference registration and then as best I could tell, based on like double occupancy in a dorm you could get away with under 150 bucks for the entire package deal. Plus a couple of dinners, or maybe it's just one dinner. At the Blue Nile?
KB: Yes, one dinner at the Blue Nile, and there are lunches and breakfasts. There are three lunches and three breakfasts.
HD: So is this the first time you have been back to Ann Arbor since you defended your thesis? Or if you been back multiple times?
KB: I guess I've been back a few times, I came back for a wedding.
HD: So it wasn't like when you came into town today, that you were able to notice any physical changes that were dramatic?
KB: No, it doesn't seem very different. Always, coming back to a place that was so much a part of your daily life, it's a bit strange to come back.
HD: When you were here studying for your Ph.D., did you find yourself over in this part of town much at all?
KB: I came to some concerts here [at the bandshell]--in the summer. And actually I lived on West Ann Street, which is not very far away. So, a little bit.
HD: So, when one Googles your name and adds 'Ann Arbor', one of the things that comes up is the result of a 2003 regatta in Victoria?
KB: Oh, yes.
HD: So I wasn't quite sure how to interpret the results, but it seemed like it was possible that you were the Canadian national champion in that event?
KB: Oh, thank you very much! Unfortunately, though, I won the B Final.
HD: Well, that was going to be my question. That was the one thing that made me doubt. The B Final, what does that mean exactly?
KB: That race was a preliminary qualifying race for the national team. I can't remember exactly, but I would have had to do well in the A Final. Like many races, you have these preliminary rounds and secondary and there are sub-finals and various things, and you get into an A, a B, a C, a D--I don't know how many finals there were, and I didn't get into the A Final. And then I won the B Final. I was very pleased, but I didn't get on the team.
KB: It was fun.
HD: So how much longer is--I was gonna say 'boat'--but is that the wrong word for that? Can you use the word 'boat'?
KB: Yeah, that's fine.
HD: How much longer is one of those boats than this teeter totter? I mean, this is like 12 feet.
KB: I think it's a bit more than twice the length.
KB: 26 feet, or.
HD: Even one of the single sculls? That was a single scull event, right?
KB: Yes. And they are very narrow.
HD: Narrower than this?
KB: No, not narrower--well, at the bottom end they are narrower--they're narrower than this, they go down to a point. So when you sit on it, my hips, for example, are slightly wider, but not very much.
HD: So probably kind of comparable. Do you have any experience with those--there was some controversy with the oars, there was like a double linkage that someone invented for the oars that gave you a mechanical advantage, do you remember that? It was the Olympics one year, I thought, and then they disqualified them--or maybe I'm thinking of speed skates?
KB: Well, that is familiar. There have been various inventions which I think have been, although I don't know specifically. That's right, there was a sliding--normally your seat slides and everything else stays, but instead I think everything else moved, and your seat stayed. I can't remember exactly how it worked, or maybe both things moved, or.
HD: Yeah it was some mechanical innovation they gave a distinct advantage, I guess.
KB: Right, I don't think that's around.
HD: You never used one of those, at any rate,?
KB: No. I have seen--I mean, sometimes there are some incredible things you can see if you watch the Olympics. They had some bizarre contraptions. There was one--was it a Japanese crew--who had what looked like turtle shells on their backs, which were to try to make the wind ...
HD: ... oh, to reduce wind resistance. I wouldn't think that wind resistance would be a huge percentage of the resistance for that.
KB: You can win and lose by a fraction of a second.
HD: But you won your B Final by over two seconds, so.
KB: Thank you! [laugh]
HD: So do you still get a chance to get out on the water?
KB: A little bit. Not much.
HD: Is that in like a Northwestern University facility?
KB: Actually, the Northwestern rowing team rows there and there are some very kind coaches who let us row with them. They row on a drainage canal, which is on the border of Evanston and Skokie. It's actually a perfect place, because there's no other boat traffic, it's long and very calm.
HD: And straight?
KB: And relatively straight. So sometimes I do, but not very much.
HD: So you've been there now--is this your first year or your second year?
KB: Second year.
HD: So you are fully acclimated to Northwestern University at this point? Was there any sort of orientation that they gave new faculty? [Ed. note: phone rings.]
KB: Oh, I'm so sorry!
HD: If you'd need to get that, go ahead!
KB: No, that's all right.
HD: No really, go ahead.
KB: No, no.
HD: People have answered their phones on the teeter totter before. Seriously.
KB: Hello, Ann? I'm sorry, I'm just in the middle of an interview, can I call you back? Okay. Okay, thank you. Bye! Sorry!
HD: No, no, quite all right. Actually, it's fun when people have side conversations, it adds to the texture of the transcript. Let's see, what were we talking about?
KB: Northwestern and ...
HD: ... ah yes, your introduction to Northwestern. Did they give you like an orientation you know like, This is the fight song, This is our mascot, This is how to be a loyal Northwestern University patron, anything like that?
KB: Ah well, no, not like that. I don't know the fight song. No, but they did ...
HD: ... it's, "Go U. Northwestern fight for victory, for our colors blue and white we'll cheer with all our might--rah, rah, rah."
KB: Did you go to Northwestern?
HD: No, I went to Northside Junior High in Columbus Indiana, and what junior high schools do in the midwestern United States do is they just take some Big Ten university fight song and alter the words slightly. So instead of "Go U. Northwestern," it was "Go Northside Spartans!" [Ed. note: The revisions of NU's fight song to fit the requirements of Northside Junior High were more drastic than what HD reported here, and he should have realized it at the time. NU colors, for example, are purple and white, and 'purple' doesn't scan properly in that line. The actual text of the NU fight song is similar in spirit, but readers who are trying to learn the NU fight song are urged to use other online resources.]
HD: So Spartans is consistent with the whole Greek theme. So anyway they didn't give you an orientation of that flavor?
KB: No, but they organize a lot of cocktail parties, and they take you out to lunch. The very senior people, the deans, they take junior people out to lunch and they answer your questions.
HD: So was that surprising to you that there was that dimension, or did you just sort of figure Well, yeah, of course they would do that.
KB: I had no idea. This was my first job. Everything feels a bit surreal. And so I don't know how it compares to other places. But it's nice! It's nice of them to do that. They have a very generous policy for beginning faculty. Your first year you are essentially a postdoc. So you teach much less. And so really this year is my first year on the tenure track, even though it's my second year.
HD: So your tenure calendar, or your tenure clock, you're only one year into it?
HD: That's nice, I guess.
KB: Yes, it is.
HD: I would see that as an advantage. So do you have like a graduate student assistant who is at your disposal for teaching purposes?
KB: On specific occasions. When you teach a class that has a lot of people, then there are graduate student assistants. And actually, this spring and last spring I had and have a graduate research assistant--we are researching history of the production of ancient drama in Chicago together in the archives.
HD: The reason I asked whether you had a graduate teaching assistant is that--I don't know if you followed the current news about the University of Michigan--but they walked out on Tuesday. They picketed the Stadium, which was sort of a brilliant move because they are doing the reconstruction of the Stadium, so the union construction laborers honored the picket line. It actually had a direct impact on the University administration, because that construction deadline, I think, is pretty tight already, to get it done for the next season.
KB: I didn't follow that, I didn't know that part of it.
HD: That was an interesting tactical decision. But they seem to have basically gotten most of what they wanted. I know you were the GEO steward for the Classics department when you were here?
KB: For one year, I was. I was a co-[steward] with a friend who is in archaeology. We traded off meetings. Yeah, I mean the GEO has done terrific things. Unions function to help groups that are particularly under-served, and I think that just before that year when I was on the GEO, they had worked very hard to make sure that people couldn't be given small fractions of an appointment, so that they would have enough fractions to add up to a full appointment, but they wouldn't get their tuition paid, and wouldn't get health care. The GEO is really good about that kind of thing.
HD: Yeah, actually I think that this year that was one of the issues addressed explicitly, a 'small-fraction issue', where even people with small fractions of an appointment would receive essentially the full benefit of the health insurance.
KB: The Classics Department was good to its students. I think other professional schools, the Ph.D. students fall a bit to the wayside, because they are really concentrating on turning out lawyers or whatever it is--I don't know exactly. But in Classics they were really good about giving us funding, and good funding all the way through. So we didn't have so much a personal stake, it was just sort of an ideological stake. Seems like a good idea in general, especially for big departments. But Classics is a tiny department.
HD: Well, listen, is there anything you wanted to make sure we talked about on the totter before we dismount here?
KB: Well, I would like to ask you a question.
KB: Which it not traceable on the Web, the answer to this, which is, what you mostly do in between tottering?
HD: What I mostly do in between tottering. You know it's evolved so that this is the way I spend the majority of my time. Recruiting people to ride, writing up--hey, how's it going?
Photog: What are you doing?
HD: We are riding a teeter totter, man.
Photog: Can I take a picture?
HD: Absolutely. [to KB] You don't mind, do you?
KB: Oh, no.
Photog: You're a traveling movie crew?
HD: Not exactly, but we are documenting it in a very subtle way.
Photog: Am I in the way or something?
HD: No, no you're fine.
Photog: You're in the Film Festival? [Ed. note: The 2008 AA Film Festival ran from 25-30 March.]
HD: No, we're not in the Film Festival. This is actually for an interview website where all the interviews take place on a teeter totter.
Photog: Where do I find that?
HD: Google 'Ann Arbor teeter totter' and it should come up.
Photog: Are there pictures?
HD: There's pictures, lots of pictures.
Photog: Ann Arbor teeter totter.
HD: The URL is homelessdave.com.
Photog: If you Google 'Jeff Lamb' on Flickr you'll see me, or go to 'Jeff and Leyla' and you'll see everything on Ann Arbor.
HD: I'll do it. Okay. Will do.
Photog: This is pretty amazing. [inaudible]
HD: Yeah, well thanks, I think it's pretty amazing. In fact I think it's amazing enough to want to explore the idea turning this into a revenue-generating enterprise.
KB: In what way?
HD: By developing an advertising program for the website. So you may have seen the left-hand column or left sidebar, is largely blank. So the layout was designed that way with the idea that eventually advertising would go there. But the idea is not to use these Google or Yahoo! ads--or there are any number of various programs out there. I actually want to do business with bricks-and-mortar merchants, so there will be more or less conventional print-style ads--where there's a nice graphic and lots of copy, words to read, and sure, links to people's websites.
KB: It seems like a nice way to talk.
HD: To be perfectly honest though, I think that for me this is more or less an elaborate defense mechanism. Because if I was simply doing an interview website and I invited people to come talk to me just across the desk, or in my living room, or over the phone, or what have you, and if they said, No, then I wouldn't be able to blame it on anything other than me, and that's tantamount to a personal rejection, right? But a requirement that well, you have to ride a teeter totter, then if someone says, No, then I can say, Well they just didn't want to ride a teeter totter, that's all [laugh].
HD: I don't think that my fragile psyche could handle the idea of being flat-out rejected just because it's me. It could well be that that is the reason that some people don't want to ride. Maybe they would be willing to ride a teeter totter, just not with me.
KB: It sounds as if Bill Clinton earlier on this year got cold feet?
HD: Well, he had to leave early. He was called away to do something and cut things short. Now seriously, when you bring this up you get that the Bill Clinton thing was a spoof, right?
HD: Because some people didn't. And I felt bad, because of the reaction that some people had when I told them it was meant as a prank, spoof, a joke--it wasn't meant to fool people, I thought it was pretty obvious--and I thought people would just have fun with it. But there were some folks who didn't take kindly to being 'fooled' in that way.
KB: That's a compliment! It means that perhaps in the long run you'll have presidents knocking on the door to get onto your teeter totter! [laugh]
HD: [laugh] Well, maybe. I don't know. I feel like now, I could just put anyone on the end of the teeter totter and get away with it, because there is a precedent. Just put them on the other end, and have them say pretty much anything I want them to say. So there is an implicit threat, I think. I will invite you to actually ride, and if you don't, well, you're going to ride anyway! And you're going to say exactly what I want you to say.
KB: I see, yes!
HD: But not everybody has a photograph out there that is easily adaptable. For Clinton, that was the Esquire cover, I don't know if you saw that. But he sitting on a stool and he's pretty much posed exactly like that, and I saw that picture and I thought, Man, all I gotta do is get rid of that stool and slide a teeter totter under there, add some gloves and we're golden. So I've been trying to get people to wear the gloves. And a couple people have. Just to ...
KB: ... oh, should I wear them, or no?
HD: Well, we've already taken the portrait, but that sure is nice of you to play along! [laugh] And other than teeter tottering, I am hauling books, and that might also expand to include other things.
KB: I understood that you made a washing machine run by a bicycle?
HD: Yeah, that's how I wash my clothes. Actually I should say I have this handcranked Amish washing machine that I do the washing in. But I have done that for years and years. And I noticed that I had a psychological barrier to the wringing-out phase because--you've probably seen these rubber rollers where you crank the clothes through the rollers and squeeze out all the water. Well, it doesn't do that great a job compared to, say, the spin cycle of an automatic washer. And it's really a pain in the ass. This jacket that I'm wearing, to wrestle that through--if you can get it through at all--it's going to do a terrible job. Jeans you can't get through. So I said, You know, you really can't beat the centrifuge of an automatic washer and that shouldn't be too hard to power using pedal power. So I still wash in the same old washer but I do the spin cycle with the bike.
KB: You should advertise that.
HD: You know it's interesting, out of all the pages on the website, that is by far the most popular. It is more popular than any of the actual Talks. Which I suppose is understandable because most of the Talks are with people who are interesting from a local perspective or are interesting to a local audience. But there was some website that picked [the pedal-powered washer page] up recently, I'm not even sure what the the script is. I think it's Hebrew, but when I popped it into a Hebrew translator one of these online things, it gave me no results.
HD: So I'm not sure what it is. But it attests to the fact that it has a certain international appeal. Well, then let's dismount. And listen, thank you much teeter tottering with me!
KB: Well, thank you!