Tag Archives: MCC

The Dutch Are Coming!

For years, my college has been a member of the Illinois Consortium for International Studies and Programs (ICISP), which is the organization we partner with for our study abroad programs (for our students to study overseas) and scholar exchange programs (for our faculty to visit colleges and universities in Europe, the U.K., and China for professional development).

Usually, our college has the budget to fund one or two faculty in a two-way exchange — where one McHenry County College faculty member hosts an international faculty member for two weeks, and then the MCC faculty member travels to the host’s country to stay with her for two weeks. A couple of our faculty members had applied for the program last autumn, had been accepted, and they were all set.

But, as many of you know, the Illinois budget crisis forced a lot of colleges to cut programming, cut jobs, and to enact their own internal budget freezes, which affected travel. A number of colleges in Illinois that had planned to participate in this year’s scholar exchange with the Netherlands had to pull out of the program, leaving about thirty Dutch professors in need of places to stay. Our Chair of International Studies and ICISP liaison got approval for an unlimited number of our college employees to be hosts in a one-way capacity — to host a Dutch professor but not to travel to Holland — and one additional two-way participant.

And guess who applied and was accepted to host and to travel?

Yep! This weirdo is going to Holland!

Yep! This weirdo is going to Holland!

Yahoo! So this month I’m hosting a professor of English from the Netherlands named Noëmi, and in May, just after my spring semester ends, I’ll go to stay with her for a couple of weeks!


Noëmi (pronounced no-Amy) teaches English at Summa College in Eindhoven. She has two cats, she ran a 10K last weekend, she and her partner are buying their first house and moving next month, and she is smart and super cool.

This is Noemi!

This is Noëmi!

There are seven Dutch professors visiting my college, and others coming and staying with hosts from other Chicagoland colleges. Our liaison put together a schedule for everyone to show them off to the community, and I’ve worked on getting Noëmi into as many of my English department colleague’s classrooms as possible. She’s also going to come with me to classes at UIC, Trevor and I are taking her to see a David Sedaris reading here in Crystal Lake, we’re bringing her with us on our annual Power Family Sonny Acres trip, and I’m going to get us tickets for a play in the city. I have about one million other things I want her to do but I’m worried I’ll overwhelm her, so the rest of the trip we might play by ear. I guess she’ll have to sleep at some point, right?

I’ve been trying to prep everything in the house so we’re all ready for her arrival tomorrow (tomorrow! OMG!), though Roo has been zero help and instead of straightening or going grocery shopping for me, she’s been staring out the window, yawning, and scratching. Useless.

Hi, I'm Roo. Do you need me to do NOTHING AT ALL? Okay.

Hi, I’m Roo. Do you need me to do NOTHING AT ALL? Okay.

A few of us are going to pick up the visitors at O’Hare tomorrow, and they will be greeted with signs and probably some donuts. Trevor is out of town until Sunday for a photo shoot in Dallas, so she will have to be okay with a me-and-Roo welcome committee. I’m going to remind Roo not to jump on her, not to jab her fat head into Noëmi’s torso, and not to leave her shiv-bones around where we can step on them. We’ll see how it goes; I have low expectations.

I’ll be updating the blog throughout her visit, so you can see what hijinks we get up to, and if I’m lucky, I’ll convince her to write a guest post for the blog. Fingers crossed!


First run sign with a failed border





Screen and Stage

On Tuesday, June 2, Trevor and I went to Midwest Independent Film Festival “First Tuesday” show at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema in Lincoln Park.

This month’s showing was a celebration of female filmmakers, and our friend Cristen Leifheit was featured in the program. Of course we had to go to support Cristen, cheer on her amazing animated short film, Power(less), and check out what some other female filmmakers in the Midwest are up to.

Turns out, they’re up to a lot of good stuff:


Cristen’s film was the only animated short on the agenda (and can I say it was the best one on the agenda? [oh, guess what? It was the best one on the agenda. BAM! I just said it]) and it was terribly exciting to see it on the big screen.

Here are some of the gang during the pre-show cocktail hour:

Cristen and her mom, Laura

Cristen and her mom, Laura

The disembodied heads of female filmmakers!

The disembodied heads of female filmmakers!

All of you should check out Cristen’s website for more of her work — she’s pretty much the best.

The weirdest part of the evening happened as we were walking into the theater. I ran into these adorable faces greeting the festival-goers:

Those two cuties are Emily and Matthew, students at MCC! (kwhat?! I know, weird, right??) They’d volunteered to be ushers for the event, and I loved seeing them, randomly and fifty miles out of my usual school context.

Emily and Matthew segue nicely into the stage portion of this post, because the two young actors appeared in MCC’s Spring 2015 production of columbinus. Some of you might remember that I helped out with the props for this show, and I was proud to be a part of such an interesting and thoughtful production.

And next month, I’ll be a part of another school production, the first summer show in MCC’s history (someone fact check that; I don’t know if it’s accurate…): God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza.

God of Carnage at MCC

My character, Annette, has previously been played by Hope Davis (in the Tony Award-winning 2009 production) and Kate Winslet (in the Roman Polanski film version). So that’s freaking me out. And it’s actually scarier than filling Liza Minnelli’s shoes when I did Cabaret last year. I don’t know how this is possibly scarier than Cabaret, but it is.

We’ve been rehearsing for almost four weeks now, and all is going well. It’s a terrific play with a lightening fast pace, which makes memorizing lines a little tricky, but the four of us are doing well. Kellee Stall of Inhabit Theater is directing this show, and the crew — many familiar people from Cabaret — are kicking ass in the creativity and helpfulness departments.

God of Carnage Table Reading

Pre-rehearsal chats

Pre-rehearsal chats

Getting into character with Crazy Helium Booth

Getting into character with Crazy Helium Booth

Jay gets comfy on the set during break

Jay gets comfy on the set during break

I’ll have more about the show as we get a bit closer, but mark your calendars for the second and third weekends in July — and you’re all welcome to spend the night at Camp Crystal Lake (maybe not all of you…).

Come back on Monday for a new post about our Lake Projects Summer Writing Group. Until then, have a lovely weekend!

Prop Shopping

Springtime is play time around the Power household.

You may remember, if you’re a friend or reader of our old blog, Archipelago, that last spring I played Sally Bowles in the school’s production of Cabaret.

When I found out that this spring’s production would be columbinus, a play inspired by the Columbine High School shootings in 1999 and written by Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli, I was both excited as well as slightly disappointed.

I was excited because work about the massacre at CHS is close to my heart. When Dave Cullen published his book Columbine in 2009, I devoured it–all of its thorough research, clear, objective explanations, and heartbreaking narratives–and I soon after decided to use it in my English comp. 2 classes. I felt, and still feel, that it should be required reading for all freshmen and sophomore college students. They are not far removed from the high school experience and all of its drama and turbulence, and they are learning how to think critically, question mythology and rumor, and avoid logical fallacy. It’s the perfect book and context for them to do all of these things.

So I adopted Columbine in my comp. 2 classes and taught with it for a few years. The students loved it, and I loved teaching it, though it was a dark way to spend a semester. I haven’t taught comp. 2 in about a year, so I haven’t revisited Cullen’s text in a while. The play, then, seemed perfectly timed.

I was, though, a bit disappointed about the play as well, since I quickly realized after reading it that I wouldn’t be auditioning. If it’d been produced by a theater company in the city with adult actors, I’d have given it a shot (it’d been done this way by American Theater Company in 2013). But since we’re on a community college campus and the majority of our students and student actors are traditional-aged college students (i.e. 18 – 25), I knew I’d be the odd (old) man out.

But I still wanted to participate, so I asked my colleague Jay, our one-man MCC theater department and director of the show, if he needed help backstage. And he gave me the best gift by asking if I’d like to do props. Shopping? Yes! With someone else’s budget? Yes, please! Crafting? Oh, hell yes!

Now, columbinus is a dark play, so I had to do some dark shopping and prop-building: PVC pipes and caps for dummy bombs; plastic bottles for useless but dangerous-looking Molotov cocktails; a utility knife that played sharp on stage but wouldn’t actually cut.

I had to ask the liquor store clerk where they kept the schnapps. He looked at me with disappointment in his eyes.

Fake Knife

A blade made out of card stock and my first attempt at a blood bladder

I also bought cigarettes for the first time in a decade, which was…odd. Kind of fun, really, knowing that I wasn’t going to smoke them. I made a wooden bead necklace, and I hunted down a Boston Red Sox cap, two-bell alarm clocks, and a black tool box. I made one particularly fruitful trip to Walmart to get a pregnancy test, a silver cross necklace, a makeup compact, and a bottle of Jack Daniels. I even got to shop for books! Two used copies of Romeo & Juliet and an SAT prep text.

Here’s all of it:

Quite a spread

Quite a spread

It was fun doing it all on the cheap, too–trying to find things for as little money as possible, and making what I could. And that’s when my love for Halloween-style crafts came in really handy. It just so happened that I already had a pint full of theatrical blood (as any self-respecting Halloween decorator would have tucked away in her garage, next to her plastic rib cage and ghost parts).


So, I had plenty of material as I fooled around with the best techniques to make a little blood bladder for my fake knife. The actor was playing a character who was a cutter, and Jay wanted there to be blood as she drew the “blade” across her upper arm. I needed just enough to see in the back of the house, but not enough to be a mess.

I started with plastic baggies, but they didn’t give as much as I needed them to. I then tried skinny party balloons, filling them up with an eye-dropper, but they were too small. Finally, I came to the ultimately successful method:

  • Cut off the little finger of a latex glove (a box of 50 will run you about $8)
  • Cut a drinking straw in half
  • Insert half of straw into the glove finger, leaving an inch at the bottom
  • Pour blood into straw (carefully) until there is as much in glove finger as needed
  • Carefully remove straw, trying not to get blood on sides of glove finger
  • Tie off glove finger
Isn't it adorable?!

Isn’t it adorable?!

I cut off the excess latex and affixed it to my prop knife using double-sided tape. I poked a hole in the tip and covered it with a piece of Scotch tape that the assistant stage manager pulled off immediately before the actor went on stage. And it worked like a charm!

For the first weekend of the run, I used my card stock knives, covered in Scotch tape so they wouldn’t get too wet with the blood. But then, wandering around Hancock Fabrics, I found this little beauty:

I’d been able to find lots of prop knives–kitchen knives, machetes, switch-blades–but no prop razors. So when I saw this, I was thrilled and snatched it up immediately. I painted it silver (using a Sharpie fat-tip metallic marker) and it looked great.

The only downside to all of this is that for weeks our kitchen table has looked a bit like a weird crime scene.

IMG_5633But that’s a small price to pay for the effect, and, really, for the fun of doing it.

The show closed last Saturday, and, not surprisingly, got good reviews. The acting was great, the set design, lights, and screen-images were effective, and the overall atmosphere was thought-provoking and earnest. And, of course, the props were super cool.

Writer’s Block: It’s a Good Thing

I had a crummy day yesterday. I don’t know quite what it was about the day, just a regular Tuesday, but it seemed to be going around. The colleagues I have joint office hours with in the morning also complained of feeling that it was a crummy day; the meeting I went to in the afternoon felt sucked of energy (and my own 2 minute report wasn’t any kind of stand-out, so I know that I, too, was responsible). Even Trevor, when he got home from work, told me that his day–independent of my own–was crummy in its own right.

But I have this magic thing that makes any crummy Tuesday better than it was, and I forgot about it until 3:59 p.m., at which time I walked into the student club I advise, and everything about the crummy day was put on hold.

Writer’s Block is the creative writing club on campus, and it was started in 2009 by some of my creative writing students who’d bonded so much over our class that they wanted to keep it going. They asked me to advise, and the next year I brought on my friend and colleague, Lisa, as co-advisor. The students have come in and out as they’ve matriculated in and through the school; sometimes they take just a semester, sometimes years, as is often the case at a two-year college. But regardless of who’s sitting in our meeting room on any given Tuesday afternoon, they always seem to make me feel better about the crumminess.

Writer's Block, MCC FA2014

The gang, circa November 2014

Yesterday they cheered me up with a love haiku; a poem featuring a potato (a running theme in the club [don’t ask me why; I don’t really know]); a short story about a mystical Druid army; a short story that read like the toddler of Vonnegut and D. Foster Wallace; discussions about speculative fiction, “magi-tech,” and why both Blade Runner and Phillip K. Dick’s inspirational novel (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) are fantastic; and, the cherry on top, a half-dozen young writers who are just plain fucking cool.

Pardon my language. I feel strongly about them.

So next Tuesday, I will remember that at 3:59 p.m., no matter what, I’m about to feel a whole lot better.