Monthly Archives: February 2012

Woolly Goes Hog-Wild

Rescued pigs at Poplar Springs, from the Woolly visit this fall

It’s a misty day in October, and after an early-morning bike ride across town, a subway trip to the ‘burbs, and a cramped hour-long car trip through the surprisingly lush woods of Maryland, I – bulky boots, light jacket, notepad – have finally arrived at the Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary. Standing next to me are five other Woolly Mammoth associates, many with notebooks, phone-cameras, phone-video-cameras, or expensive-looking microphones that look like they came out of Ghostbusters. In front of us: an entire barn full of 50 impossibly large sleeping pigs.

As we hope everyone knows by now – ‘cause it’s fantastic – the current Woolly show, Jason Grote’s Civilization (all you can eat) centers around a pig. A talking pig. A whole pig chorus, actually, in Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz’s production. So, we had our research cut out for us: the cast, especially the rigorous Sarah Marshall, needed to know a whole lot about these characters. So, we took a morning to get out to Poplar Springs and observe these animals – most of them rescues from farms, including the sort of massive industrial farm Sarah Marshall’s character lives his life. I walked away in a bit of a daze. I like animals well enough – dogs are the best, the zoo is a solid cheap date, I have a working relationship with my housemate’s cat – but had never felt so fascinated by an animal.

To explain: Pigs are amazing.

Pigs are smart. Smarter than dogs. Smarter than three-year-old humans. About as smart as chimpanzees. They are legendary for opening latches of their pens – which might not seem like such a big deal. But consider this: they will often discover that it’s easier to manipulate latches as pairs, and will undo the latches of fellow pigs. In 1789, a farmer documented a female pig who undid a series of gates so that she could visit a certain male pig every night — and then re-latched the latches as she returned to her own pen before dawn. (Foer, Eating Animals, 64)

Unlike most animals, pigs can quickly work out how mirrors work and use them to find food. Not only can they keep track of many different, well-buried food stores, if one pig spies another pig going towards her own food store, the first pig will manage to throw the second pig off her trail while the first pig tries to steal the food. Farmers have learned that a pig cannot be killed anywhere close to where the other pigs are kept, since a pig will scream and become impossibly uncooperative if it feels nearby pigs are in danger. They have been taught to “jump hoops, bow and stand, spin and make wordlike sounds on command, roll out rugs, herd sheep, and play video games with joysticks modified for pig snouts,”  lists a New York Times article on the subject.

They are also known for their excellent memories. It can be very difficult to make a pig forget a traumatic incident – or simply information you don’t want the pig to have. Terry Cummings, the director of Poplar Springs, told us about a period after they had received a surprise shipment of 180 young pigs (they normally have around 50.) Terry discovered that when she brought food to the pigs, the same pigs kept getting to her first and crowding out the others, so that some pigs couldn’t eat. The next day, she fed the pigs from the other side of the barn, but a day after that, the greedy pigs were waiting for her. She kept trying to find new places to arrive with the food, but in response, pigs would keep waking up before her and keeping eyes out all windows, squealing when they saw her coming from a certain direction.

They are clean: the idea that pigs are dirty animals is a myth. Pigs do like to get muddy. They can’t sweat, so it’s a way for them to cool down in hot weather. But the expression “happy as a pig in shit” is enormously misleading — pigs are excellent at keeping their excrement away from where they bathe, eat, and sleep.

They can go wild. Pigs can go feral with remarkable speed. If you are hunting a 300 lb. boar, with enormous tusks and thick black hair, that boar could well be an escaped industrial-born pig. Because of hybridization, the question of whether domesticated pigs count as a separate species than wild boar is quite complicated. When a pig escapes a factory farm, it typically loses weight, since its fat gets transferred into muscle.

More amazing stuff about pigs:

-They can grow up to 750 lbs (or 1000 lbs, if you believe this guy.)

-They are omnivores, though in the wild, they are foragers and chiefly eat plants (animal matter makes up no more than 10% of their diet.) This means they move around a lot, and in their natural state are very lean and muscular. Domesticated pigs are usually fat because they don’t get to move when they’re farmed.

-Their snout is remarkably sensitive and flexible. Remember, they are used to hunt for truffles!

-A boar can sprint up to 15 miles per hour.

-In social groups, pigs can display aggression or submission in a way similar to wolves/dogs. As a website for pet-pig owners explains, “You’ll need to set yourself up as Alpha Pig early on in the relationship.”

Which brings me to the most intriguing fact about pigs:

They make fantastic pets. Though there are a couple unusual problems to deal with (i.e. their need to roll in mud on a regular basis), they are loyal, do tricks, easily pick up commands, and can be litter-box-trained. Hmmmmmmmmmm……

~ Doug Eacho, Assistant to the Artistic Director and Assistant Dramaturg of Civilization (all you can eat)

 

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Exploring Twittergate: Lessons Learned from Woolly’s Infamous Tweet Up Experiment

About a month ago, Woolly Mammoth came under fire for launching a new Twitter-based program aimed at deepening engagement with a new audience. There was a lot of support for the program, and a lot of fear as well. People loved it or hated it; quibbled with our language (this is not a tweet-up); wanted more access (it felt too top-down); wanted less access (the rehearsal room is sacred); shared strong opinions about live tweeting; and much more. We promised that we would allow the program to run its course, and then report back on what we learned. Below, you will find our reasons for embarking on such a project, our successes, and perhaps most importantly, our mistakes. Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts, ideas, and further feedback with us.

It was early December when Woolly’s Director of Artistic Development, Miriam Weisfeld, approached Marketing and Connectivity about a new project she had just heard about: NASA’s TweetUp Program. There were many reasons for us to get really excited about this:

–          We’re Woolly. How could we not get excited about anything social media?

–          As a theatre with a strong Connectivity focus, we were excited to deeply engage a new group of individuals.

–          I was seduced by the idea of a community of ambassadors—millennials and others who were inspired to preach the sermon of Woolly.

–          We hoped we might reach non-traditional theatre audiences: people who might be intrigued by an experience like this, but who didn’t know much about theatre.

–          Miriam and Howard had been having a lot of conversations about greater transparency in the rehearsal room.

–          Innovation is the Woolliest of values. While this was not brand spankin’, it was a relatively new idea, and so we wanted to give it the old college try.

We met a few times to figure out how to do something like this ourselves. The plan: a call for applicants to join a “Tweet Up,” out of which we would pick three participants. The experimental nature of this undertaking led us to limit the number of participants. Our three participants were invited to attend our first rehearsal of Civilization (all you can eat), a technical rehearsal, and then the final dress rehearsal. Participants were invited to tweet their thoughts and reactions to these events using the show’s hashtag #WoollyCIV. The final dress rehearsal included the opportunity to tweet during the entirety of the performance.

Now that all’s said and done, some of the best things to come out of the project are as follows:

–          The day it was announced we received a higher than average number of new followers on Twitter. Nine people entered the contest, but many more showed their support or opposition in the Twitterverse.

–          The three guests chosen were not Woolly subscribers, frequent attendees, or industry people. They had never seen our more challenging work; having purchased only for presentations or Fringe shows. They were intrigued to learn more about what we do.

–          The guests have since been frequent participators in the #WoollyCIV hashtag, sending out links to our articles as well as supporting show-related social media initiatives.

–          They were incredibly respectful of the process, and their live-tweeting was positive and enthusiastic. They were particularly excited to see the process realized, having witnessed this project from design presentations, through tech, and to its final form.

–          There were nine articles written about it in the press (including one in Forbes). Institutionally, we got press in the mainstream media about something other than our shows, and non-theatre people who don’t usually read about us started to pay attention. What better way to brand us than to have a story about us trying something new and stirring things up?

We also made a lot of mistakes. We learned a lot and are hopefully smarter for it. Here are some lessons that might be helpful, should you want to try something like this too. 

1)      Make sure you discuss this idea with all the artists involved!
This is where we made our first big mistake. We didn’t tell Jason that we were doing this, and he learned of it—like everyone else—on Twitter. Aah! It’s the most basic mistake, and as we’ve explained to Jason, it was indeed a mistake. We got caught up in the excitement of a new idea, and didn’t do our due diligence. I think Jason knows just how sorry we are. Don’t make the same mistake as us. 

2)      Use clear language

Our language around this endeavor seems to have been a little confusing. We used the term “tweet-up,” while our actual project had none of the social elements associated with such a program. Three people do not a tweet-up make. As for the tweet seats component of this program, this was a distraction from our main goals, and while not a big part of our process, was the focus of our many critics. Greater clarity may have prevented some of the misinformation in the press that followed.

3)      Prepare for a lot of feedback
Before Jason’s statement on this project, we were already seeing blogs write about it: some positive, some weary. But then, when Jason got involved, the press went hog-wild (pardon, the CIVILIZATION themed pun). Articles in The Washington Post and Forbes.com were particularly attention-grabbing and a few donors and board wrote in with their concern. It is important to note that most of their frustration was with the “tweet seats” element of the program. I was extremely grateful for the support of Woolly’s leadership. They were excited to stir the pot and were behind us every step of the way. It’s important to know that about your leadership before embarking on such an adventure.

4)      Don’t shy away from it, or, find your allies
When the news hit, and we started getting feedback, we tried to respond to everyone. We wanted to listen and learn, but we also wanted time to see how the experiment went, before making any final comments. We promised to present a fuller analysis when the project had been completed. Unfortunately, as we lost control of the story (as tends to happen on social media), it looked to people like we were cutting ourselves off, when in fact, we just didn’t know where all the conversations were happening. And yet, we had an entire cadre of board, staff, artists, claque, and designers, who could have been advocates for us. Indeed many of them told us later that they wanted to support us in the Twitterverse but didn’t know what to say. It would have been fairly simple for us to email them and let them know about the project, our goals, and how we were responding to feedback. 

5)       Don’t be afraid to try again
Woolly’s Press and Digital Content Manager, Brooke, and I spent a lot of time talking about this. We asked for feedback from our participants. In the end, a lot of people were right—three people is too small a group for a project like this. We’d like to announce earlier, get a bigger group, and rather than doing three separate events, have a whole day dedicated to them. They can sit in on rehearsal, they can talk to the playwright and director, they can get a backstage tour, and we can add more of the social component that any good tweet up dictates.

6)      To Tweet Seat or Not To Tweet Seat
We were really happy with how the Tweet Seats component of final dress went. Our tweeters were highly engaged through the whole process, and thoroughly enjoyed sharing their thoughts about the play in real time. No one was looking to be a critic; simply share an experience. It allowed us to comment on and understand nuances that might have been missed in a post-show discussion, highlight key moments that made the show for us, and most importantly, formed a bond between all of us. We didn’t have to be sitting next to someone to find a kindred spirit, and the connection really enhanced the event. We often talk about the value of live theatre as being one where people, strangers, sit in a room and share an experience. Tweet Seats is simply a heightened version of that connection. It was powerful indeed.  Bottom line: we would like to replicate this in the future. And the additional benefit of real time word-of-mouth does not hurt us either.

We had a great time doing this and learned a lot. We hope the adverse publicity does not scare you from trying the same. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me or Brooke. If you’d like to share your thoughts, please comment below. Have you tried something similar? What have you found? We’d love to learn more and try again soon. We look forward to hearing from you.

~ Deeksha Gaur, Director of Marketing and Public Relations

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Pig Icons in American Culture


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Hungry Pig

Within the first five minutes of Civilization (all you can eat), the audience is introduced to Big Hog; DC favorite Sarah Marshall’s intricately crafted and cunning pig character. Big Hog makes his way through the piece consuming everything in his path from the English language, images of the vast American landscape, to maybe even something larger than that… (no spoilers!) This brave pig’s journey through the arc of Civilization is interspersed with scenes of humans trying to find their way and stake their claim at the dawn of the Obama age. Or is it the other way around? Whatever the case may be, there is room for interpretation as to what Big Hog signifies or represents. Are we Big Hog? Is Big Hog a victim of our economic system? Is Big Hog the American Dream?

I find it interesting to explore the symbolism and iconography of pigs in our own culture. Pigs—when you really think about it—pop up EVERYWHERE.

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Cute Pig

There’s Piglet from A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh – the loyal sidekick of Pooh himself. In Disney stores there are often t-shirts and other merchandise that depict Piglet as being shy, sweet, and oftentimes a bit clumsy. I know when I was younger my best friend and I used to refer to ourselves as Piglet and Pooh.

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Sexy Pig

To turn the tables, there’s Miss Piggy, the sex icon of The Muppets cast. She’s fabulous, she has a great sweeping sense of style, and her boyfriend is Kermit the Frog. She clearly has the upper hand in that relationship.

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Lipstick Pig

Just when you thought Miss Piggy was the only pig in the cultural sphere who would wear lipstick… A popular idiom in American politics is, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig,” referring to dressing up a political issue (or something in general) but not acknowledging its underlying nature. Barack Obama drew some heat in the 2008 election campaign when he used this phrase referring to John McCain’s policies—except critics said it was offensive to VP candidate Sarah Palin.

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Greedy Pig

More often than not, our instincts lean towards thinking about pigs as a symbol for greed or gluttony, as is represented in this political cartoon about Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan.

What are some of your favorite representations of pigs in our culture? Do you have a favorite pig character in the media?

~Melanie Harker, Connectivity Assistant

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You are What you Eat?

“What are you doing with regular sour cream? Get the gay version.”

It’s taco night and I am learning about my subculture’s very specific way of eating. Lesson one: If there is a lite, low-fat, fat-free, calorie-free, or diet option, always buy that over any other version of a product.

I remember somewhere—probably a History Channel special—learning that the food a culture consumes can tell you a lot about its people. When you think about it, you really can tell a lot about the values and history of a group of people based on their food choices—what they choose to consume and what they omit from their diet. So what does this diet say about my friends and community?

Despite being a theatre major, I didn’t have that many close gay friends when I first came out. I ran with rag tag crew of theatre majors that ranged from low key hipsters to Greek life artists, so we ate pizza from a place around the corner from the fine arts building, pasta with red sauce, whatever was offered up at the dining hall, and splurged on the occasional organic feast from the hot bar at our local food co-op. My freshman and sophomore year food values could be summarized as cheap, convenient, tasty, and comforting. Junior year was my transition to vegetarianism: social and ecological responsibility became a major factor in what I ate. Then over the summer before senior year, I found my gays.

I finally had a strong group of gay guy friends. They were nerdy and liked video games, but loved going out and dancing too. We enjoyed debating politics as much as we did pop culture. For the first time since graduating high school, I was part of a circle of friends that was not founded on working together as theatre majors. And those different circles of friends had different relationships with food. Senior year became more about vodka and calorie free mixers than my beloved craft beers. A whole new factor entered into the way I evaluated my grocery store purchases: calories. I didn’t want to lose weight—if anything I was trying to add some muscle to my frame. But when I knew I would be eating with my new friends, I knew that those things were important. And with at least one night every other weekend becoming a group prepared meal, I found these values creeping into the way I ate.

I am still not sure exactly what this way of eating means. An overreaction to the demand for perfect bodies gay men make of each other is most certainly part of it. But if I had to guess, I would say that 95% of my friends in this network would see very little change if they started eating like I did freshman or junior year. Perhaps it’s some paranoia about our youthful metabolic rates prematurely abandoning us overnight that leads us to our strict adherence to this dietary obsession with all things diet. I know that’s what the voice in my head says that makes me continue to reach for the calorie-free cranberry juice over its calorie-full cousin.

~ Cameron Huppertz, Literary Assistant

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What Does it Mean to be a Foodie?

I am a self-proclaimed foodie to my core.

The dictionary defines a foodie as, “a person keenly interested in food, especially in eating or cooking.” Some might even call these people “gourmands” or “epicures” or “gourmets,” but I find all of these terms a) a little snobby, b) a little outdated, and c) not an accurate term to describe my relationship to food. I’d much rather go by the definition at *Slashfood:

“To be a foodie is not only to like food, but to be interested in it. Just as a good student will have a thirst for knowledge, a foodie wants to learn about food. A foodie will never answer the question What are you eating with I don’t know. There are some basic traits of being a foodie, as there are basic traits that come with all labels. Generally, you have to know what you like, why you like it, recognize why some foods are better than others and want to have good tasting food all or certainly most of the time. This doesn’t mean that you can’t eat flaming hot Cheetos every now and again, but it does mean that you don’t fool yourself into thinking that it’s a nutritionally balanced meal. Do you have to know the difference between a beefsteak tomato and an heirloom tomato? No, but you might be interested to find out what it is. Do you have to only shop at farmer’s markets? No, but you still look for good, fresh produce. Are there some foods you just don’t like or weird foods you like? That’s ok – it doesn’t make you any less of a foodie. Just like food, learn about food and, most importantly, eat food.”

*The bloggers there now live at HUFFPOST FOOD.

For me, eating is an activity that spans from tasting in the kitchen to my parents and I coming together for three meals a day (yes—most of the time, all three.) Growing up in the age of corporate moms and dads, I found out that it was a rare occasion that families could gather together and participate in food in the way that my family was dedicated to doing. To my Dad (the French Chef in the family,) eating and cooking are moments where he and I could bond, where my whole family can sit down and appreciate a meal together.

In Civilization (all you can eat) almost every scene involves food in some way—but not all to signal the coming together of families. The metaphor of “the table” can come to mean any number of things: a place where decisions are made, a place of comfort, a place of community. For me, the table is a place of comfort, a symbol of personal value, and a touchstone of family memory. For all of these reasons and more, I am a foodie.

In my opinion, the easiest way to be a foodie is to peruse the never-ending list of Foodie Blogs on the interwebs. I’ve done a quick round-up of some great local bloggers who are itching to talk about what DC has to serve up:

1. Washington City Paper’s YOUNG AND HUNGRY

The folks over at Young & Hungry do a great job of collecting all of the DC food-centric events and putting them in one place, as well as keeping us abreast of the restaurant news in the District.

2. D.C. Foodies

This food blog is adventure focused, talking about anything from restaurant experiences to specific food recipes and taste pairings. They pretty accurately describe themselves: “Here you’ll find information about restaurants, food or wine events, wine reviews, cheese, cooking and recipes, farmers’ markets, and the list grows every day.”

3. Dining in DC – Food and Restaurant Blog

Lisa Shapiro, aside from being an extremely accomplished food journalist, has created a blog specifically for folks who are looking to dine out in DC. “Dining in DC is a blog about the DC Metropolitan area restaurant scene. The blog includes Dining reviews, Tips for diners, Food & Restaurant news and trends, Restaurant Events including festivals, openings, and closings, Chef Interviews — just about everything related to dining out in the DC area.”

4. Metrocurean

Hailed as an “expert in the DC food scene” by NPR, The Los Angeles Times, National Geographic Traveler, and FoxNews.com, Amanda McClements possesses a desire to educate and inform food lovers about what and how DC eats.

5. eat Washington

Julia Watson has a habit for finding food treasures in DC and then sharing her finds with as many people as she can reach. Divided up by regional cuisines (or in traditional blog-roll style) you can comb through DC’s best restaurant, food, and market finds—both familiar and unfamiliar.

Happy eating!

~ Melanie Harker, Connectivity Assistant

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CIVILIZATION SMACKDOWN

If you’ve been following along on Twitter and Facebook (which um you should be!) you know we’re holding a “Civilization Smackdown” during the run of Civilization (all you can eat) to find out what is the “greatest civilization ever.” We’ve asked experts (and non-experts) from across DC, and we finally have the list of the competitors!

You can vote for your favorites live in our lobby during the run of the show or via Twitter (#WoollyCIV) or Facebook to determine which civilizations advance to the next round. Fill out a bracket à la NCAA March Madness with your top picks to predict which one will make the championship. Accurately predict the winner and receive a free Woolly flex pass!

Thanks everyone for your nominations, here are the competitors:

  • Ancient Mayans
  • The United States of America
  • Ancient Rome
  • Ancient Egypt
  • Harry Potter’s World
  • Abbasid Caliphate
  • Facebook
  • The Ming Dynasty
  • Dutch Golden Age
  • J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elves
  • The Majapahit (1300’s Indonesia)
  • Disney World
  • Apple Inc.
  • Atlantis
  • Sumer
  • The Vogons (From Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
  • Yorubaland
  • Twitter
  • Azeroth (From World of Warcraft)
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Red Sox Nation
  • Napoleon’s Empire
  • Voltaire’s El Dorado
  • Iron Age Ireland
  • The American South
  • Canada
  • Mohicans
  • Appalachia
  • The Amish
  • No Civilization! (Hunter-Gatherers)
  • Modern Mexico
  • Flatland

And here are the first round match ups:

  • Ancient Mayans vs. The Amish
  • Apple vs. Yorubaland
  • Dutch Golden Age vs. Red Sox Nation
  • Harry Potter’s World vs. The American South
  • USA vs. Hunter-gatherers
  • Atlantis vs. Twitter
  • J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elves vs. Napoleon’s Empire
  • Canada vs. Abbasid Caliphate
  • Ancient Rome vs. Modern Mexico
  • Sumer vs. Azeroth (From World of Warcraft)
  • The Majapahit (1300’s Indonesia) vs. Voltaire’s El Dorado
  • Facebook vs. Mohicans
  • Ancient Egyptians vs. Flatland
  • The Vogons (From Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) vs. Portlandia
  • Disney World vs. Iron Age Ireland
  • The Ming Dynasty vs. Appalachia

Stay tuned, we’ll have a bracket that you can fill out shortly and submit to us. Let us know your picks!

~ Brooke Miller, Press and Digital Content Manager

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