Fried Brains

Photo: Dr Kara McKechnie

Part of the Invisible Diaries series:

Week 4 / Day 1


Photo: Fried Brains (David Geary)

My brains are fried! I’ve been marking for what feels like two weeks solid. By 4pm today all the final grades for my students had to be in. One assignment came in 15 minutes after the deadline, after I had failed them… I hate failing students. Fortunately, Covid-19 means we have some wiggle room and can be compassionate – blame the internet, give an extension.

I find grading degrading for all concerned. We are reduced to numbers and letters. I find it difficult to give unique feedback after the 100+ student. I try to practice the Compliment Sandwich: Praise / Constructive Feedback / Praise. When I worked in TV, we called it the Sh*t Sandwich. There often wasn’t much praise-bread on either side of a whole lot of “This is sh*t and needs to be better… by tomorrow!” I’m being melodramatic but TV and film people don’t have a lot of time to tell you what you did right. They are on big deadlines, balancing budgets.

One student quoted Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Mexican film director (Birdman, The Revenant) saying that directing a movie is “like trying to write a poem while on a rollercoaster”. I get it. Another student wrote a paper on toxic masculinity titled “Hard Bodies and Hot Heads”. It was about the dangers of the athletic tough-guy stereotypes vs. the rise of the ‘softboys’ as personified by the actor Timothée Chalamet in Greta Gerwig’s films. I get it. Coming from New Zealand, I’m pleased Jemaine Clements and Bret McKenzie of The Flight of the Conchords helped promote softer ways for boys and men to be.

I learn a lot from my students. The Māori world ako means to both teach and learn – they happen at the same time. The old idea of the all-knowing Professor filling up the empty vessel of the student is bankrupt. The kids are alright, in fact, they’re a lot better than alright. They’re trying to reclaim the world we lost.

Tomorrow, in a pre-Covid world, I would have been planning my trip to Mexico City for the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) annual conference. I’ve been to three of these: Vancouver, New York and Berkeley. They’re a great way to connect with dramaturgs from all over and not have to explain yourself. We cut to the chase. This year the conference will happen online (so you can all go on a discount rate).

At the Berkeley conference in 2017, I led a session on Indigenous dramaturgy. I Skyped in leading Canadian Indigenous theatremakers Tara Beagan and Andy Moro of Article 11. They were great. We finished with a haka. This is often translated as a ‘war dance’ but it’s a lot more than that. I’ll talk more about