As I watched Thursday night’s run, it struck me that we’ve not really discussed period etiquette in detail especially protocols of greeting. Just to start off on a light note, here’s a clip from Penn & Teller’s Bulls#*t that cuts right to the heart of the power dynamic between men and women in the Victorian era. It features Walter Nelson, an “expert” in Victorian etiquette, whose website, The Gentleman’s Page, I reference below.

Here is a short list of basic protocols between Ladies and Gentlemen:

  • Gentlemen, rise to your feet when being introduced, or when someone, particularly a Lady, enters the room.
  • “Between gentlemen, an inclination of the head, a gesture of the hand, or a mere touching of the hat is sufficient; but in bowing to a lady, the hat must be lifted from the head. […] The body is not bent at all in bowing; the inclination of the head is all that is necessary.” From Our Deportment 1881.
  • Ladies make a small curtsey in response to a Gentleman’s greeting, especially if they are meeting for the first time.
  • Hostesses greet invited female guests cordially, shaking hands, making all feel welcome.
  • “In passing through a door, the gentleman holds it open for the lady, even though he never saw her before. he also precedes the lady in ascending stairs, and allows her to precede him in descending.” From Polite Society at Home and Abroad 1891.
  • Never turn your back on someone.
  • If you have to remove yourself (to answer a door or look out the window) always asked to be excused.
  • Ladies are never seen opening their own doors in the presence of a man, or carrying anything heavy.
  • Ladies do not call on gentlemen except on matters of business. Gentleman call on one another with little ceremony but still an awareness of class and public position.
  • Gentlemen, never sit beside or in near proximity to the hostess on a sofa unless expressly invited to do so.

Given this list, we can see how Nora breaks the number one rule of all interactions: avoid arousing “the passions.” She’s also a bit with a number of these interpersonal conventions (perhaps not surprisingly since all the scenes we see happen in her space of the home) perhaps with the exception of Krogstad.

For their first scene in Act 1, I think Krogstad is scrupulous about manners, so he’d bow to start off, and Nora responds by coming towards him and speaking more informally until she gestures for him to go to Torvald’s office. Christine moves away to the window and, since Nora doesn’t bother to introduce them, Jamie you don’t make any kind of greeting gesture or acknowledgment. Just know that if you turn your back on the two of them suddenly without asking to excuse yourself, you too are breaking a code of manners.

For the second scene in Act 1, Krogstad knows he’s breaking the rules by coming alone to her house, but when their moment begins he seems apologetic for the breach. Since they’ve been engaged in this “business” for a while, it seems logical that they go through the motions of behaving according to proper rules. However, by Act 2, as they both become more desperate, most if not all pretenses to decorum have vanished, and Krogstad really breaks into her physical space in ways that are really gross breaches of behavior.

We can see how Nora’s situation influences her behavior when, by the beginning of Act 2, we find her coming back in from going out alone, to call on Kristine. Being unescorted on the street is a big no-no. That’s why Torvald’s shows his gentlemanly character when he offers to “go down the road together” with Kristine towards the end of Act 1 and we get to see how far that mask of the gentleman has slipped by Act 3 when he lets her go off into the night alone: “It would be my pleasure to … but you don’t have such a very long walk have you?” (99)

As a widow, Kristine has more ‘freedom’ to be on her own in public (and to work outside the home) than Nora. But, while she might not be assumed to be a prostitute since she is unescorted and looking for work, Kristine must know that a woman alone still needs the sanction of Gentlemen. So I think that upon her meetings in Act 1, first with Dr. Rank and then with Torvald, both men would bow their heads and Kristine would courtsey. She probably continues her part of the etiquette in Act 3, when Torvald and Nora return from the party (maybe a curtsey to accompany her line of “Good evening”?). However, in the first part of Act 3 when she is alone with Krogstad I think they might start out acting more formal with each other (but dispense with any bowing or curtsey) and then that melts as they get to the heart of the matter.

Just for extra information, here are a few pieces of advice from The Essential Handbook of Victorian Etiquette that also touch upon the Doll’s House world

  • No gentleman should use his bare hand to press the waist of lady in the waltz.  If without gloves, he should carry a handkerchief in his hand.
  • Swinging the arms when walking, eating upon the street, sucking the parasol handles, pushing violently through a crowd, talking and laughing very loudly and boisterously on the streets, and whispering in public conveyances are all evidences of ill-breeding in ladies.

If you’re feeling gutsy, you can try this interactive game hosted by the McCord Museum (Montreal, Quebec) where you gain points by how well you navigate social situations (as either a man or woman) according to Victorian rules of etiquette.

Money money money


According to, following the annexation of Norway to Sweden in 1814, Norway was granted a separate currency. Each country therefore adopted the practice of placing the country name first after the king’s name. During the reign of Oscar I (1844-59) on Swedish coins it reads OSCAR SVERIGES NORR. GOTH. OCH VEND. KONUNG and on Norwegian coins: OSCAR NORGES SVER.G.OG V. KONGE (Oscar, King of Norway, Sweden, Gothland and Vendalia). This practice continued until Norway gained independence in 1906.


1890 1 Kroner coin. Image from

The krone was introduced in 1875, replacing the Norwegian speciedaler at a rate of 4 kroner = 1 speciedaler. In the original text, the amount that Nora has borrowed is 1200 speciedaler, so Lavery has used the 4 NOK conversion rate to get us to 4800 NOK. But this is 1870s NOK so it’s not as simple as converting 4800 NOK to contemporary dollars to know, in today’s financial terms, the size of Nora’s debt.

Front of 5 Kroner note (1877). Image from

Back of 5 Kroner note. (1877).

Front of 50 Kroner note (1877). Image from

Front of 500 Kroner note (1877). Image from

Back of 1000 Kroner note (1877). Image from

I’ve looked at a number of sources — including the amazing website Measuring Worth — to figure this out. Using that site’s conversion data, the best strategy I’ve decided upon is to treat the 4800 as British pounds. If I do that, the figure for the “relative worth” of that amount in 1876 comes to £350,000 in today’s money. That seems like an amazing amount, an amount that Nora has no chance of ever paying back. If we consider that Krogstad is probably charging her an exorbitant interest rate, it might even be a larger sum than this calculation. One source I found (A History of Interest Rates by Sidney Homer & Richard Eugene Sylla) indicates a general 4% interest rate in 1870s Germany but that was for typical lenders. I wonder if Krogstad was as much of a “shark” as a British man who escaped jail time in 2009 even though he charged a woman £90,000 on an initial £500 loan.

To gain a perspective on cost of living at the time the play was written: a day’s wage for manual labor in 1876 Norway was 80 øre. Approximately 100 øre make 1 NOK (Kroner) and we can think of 1 Kroner like 1 dollar, the base of paper money. Just to give you a sense of inflation, in 1968 a day’s wage for manual labor is 6000 øre/60 NOK, about 75 times as much as 1876.

Today the hourly wage in Norway’s building/construction fields is 150 NOK an hour/1050 NOK a day. Using conversion figures to dollars that’s about $27/hour and that hourly rate adds up to a yearly salary (based on a 40 hour week/50 work weeks a year) totalling around $54,000

In terms of household costs, a loaf of rye bread in 1876 cost 18 øre and in 1968 it is 140 øre. To put that in context, in 2011 a latte is priced at 30 NOK (Kroner) or about $5.73. That figure is courtesy of Ali’s recent travels to Norway!

Now I am no economist and, like I mentioned above, I find it still hard to believe that Nora’s debt at the time could be the equivalent of a figure like £350,000 today. If anyone finds errors in my calculations, please let me know!

Daddy, by Sylvia Plath

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo. 

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time–
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal
And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you. Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You–

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.
You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,
The voices just can’t worm through.

If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two–
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.



Always Watching

by Jenny Sherman

Standing in front of a green screen and gossiping my heart out (to no one in particular) while the camera rolled, I realized I know too little about the inner life of my character, Helene. Helene is the Helmers’ maid and we only really hear her voice as she announces guests, dinner and transports various important letters. Yet, as soon as she leaves through the study door, she is scurrying to the kitchen to gossip with the cook (I’m assuming there is one) or to find Anne-Marie and ask her what the goodness gracious is Mrs. Helmer up to now. We see only a sliver of her life and who she is, so it has been my challenge to imagine what Helene does behind the scenes and what makes her tick. While I’ve made some strides in developing Helene (as you’ll see below), I think I need to gossip with myself more and attempt to play out for myself what happens when Helene escapes from the living room.

Drawing from our physical gestures work, Helene has become, for me, a fidgety, young, eager to please, worried, naive young woman. But there is another layer to her: she has a fascination with the mysterious goings on of the house and really has very little concern for the troubles of the people she serves (as long as they’re entertaining and dramatic). She savors being the one with all the gossip and feels important when she gets to blurt out a new secret to Anne Marie. While she worries about her own skin and wants very much to do her job well, she harbors a pent up frustration and resentment towards Nora who is so constantly making demands and treating her like she’s invisible. It is difficult to translate this character work into my objectives on stage: when Nora frantically asks me about Krogstad’s surprise visit, my first impulse is to help her and to worry with her. But perhaps this would not be Helene’s first impulse; perhaps she rather enjoys her part in the whirlwind of strange events. Perhaps she is first concerned with defending herself rather than sympathizing with Nora. And maybe she goes along with Nora’s pretenses and idiosyncrasies while simultaneously judging her and laughing at her inside. Helene is constantly fighting to keep all this inside as she smoothes her uniform and plays her part.

I’ve always found it interesting that the entire play takes place in one room and that Nora stays there nearly the whole time as the other characters make their entrances and exits. Nora’s home is both literally and figuratively a stage upon which she plays her different parts, plays out her life. She always, always has an audience. Maybe it’s the crowd at the Stenborg’s party feasting their eyes on her tarantella or Krogstad trying to sniff out her fear. Maybe it’s Torvald examining her face for traces of macaroons or Helene watching her every move, making mental notes of every slip in her conversation. She is constantly on. There is always someone watching. In the end, part of Nora’s redemption and revolution is a demand for privacy, for the type of solitude and independence through which you can know yourself. As for me, I’ll keep looking over my shoulder, waiting for my chance to spill the beans and pass judgment, a tiny gear in the machine of societal expectations that pushes Nora over the edge.


by Ali Yalgin

We had a first run-through yesterday, which went quite well. Before the run-through, Ellen and I had a quick chat about my character, Krogstad. I have usually played creepy and slightly crazy characters at Duke, which were fun to play but not so deep. Initially I was quite worried about playing Krogstad, in that I didn’t want to play yet another creepy cuckoo antagonist. I have a tendency to over-characterize my roles, which makes both me and the audience tired after some point, and I have long wanted to break that habit. Krogstad is not a villain, and he is not a caricature. He is not strange, he is just a stranger to Nora and Torvald’s world. Since the couple’s world is not quite an honest one, Krogstad is not creepy; he just does not belong there, and he makes it tremble. That is why I have been having such a hard time playing the second and the third acts. His transformation is enormous, and requires a lot of attention, since it does not happen all at once. If Krogstad were a completely unacceptable man, would Kristine want to be with him? He wants to get rid of tags such as “scurrilous,” or “man of the gutter press,” or “scandal mongerer,” he wants to get out of the puddle of slime he’s been pushed in. In a way, he is like Nora, since the one thing he once did has destroyed his reputation, just like Nora who we can see fluttering on stage. What caused him to forge a signature? Ibsen does not tell us, so he might have had selfish motives, for he is a really ambitious man. But, it might have also been one of his naive moments. Regardless, the society, once identified him as “the other,” has never indulged him. People hit his head even harder to make him sink, and he can’t find a way out of the slime he swims in.

I guess it is important for me to remember that he really wants to save himself in other people’s eyes, and mostly in Kristine’s. Therefore, he wouldn’t want to cause Nora’s death. In a way, he shakes Nora’s world, but this helps Nora to wake up. He is not however an angel. Although he tries to pull himself out of the slime, he has been involved with a lot of dirty business, which is where my ‘centipede’ gesture is coming from. He has competed against Torvald ever since they were students together, and Torvald won, with a beautiful wife, three children and now a respectable position at the bank. Krogstad wants all that to be his, he is envious. He wants to rise, and now he has the opportunity to use Torvald as a step, and does not really care if Torvald would be smashed if he stepped up on him.That is when I play Krogstad I like him to touch the furniture in Helmers’ house, because he wants to have them, as he wants to have that ‘happy house’ to himself. Indeed, he is surprised when in the second act when he says to Nora ‘Your husband loves you so little? He knows how I can expose you, and yet he dares to…’ Having gone through such an unhappy relationship, Krogstad realizes that Helmer’s love for Nora is extremely shallow before Nora herself does. Krogstad is scary to Nora not only because he blackmails her, but because he constantly reminds her that her future could very easily look like his present. Yet he is kind enough not to turn this into a public scandal, or perhaps he just does not care to hurt Nora, it is Torvald he wants to surpass.

The important turning point to him is in the third act, where he lets go of his ambition. Life has treated him badly, and he is bitter about it, but a new life starts as soon as Kristine offers to be with him. He realizes that life doesn’t have to be that complicated anymore, that he doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore, because she offers her a hand out of the slime. He does not care to have a better position in the bank, since he says he will demand his letter back. Kristine doesn’t let him do so for Nora’s sake, but he sends a letter saying that everything can be forgotten, and therefore he doesn’t ask Torvald to give him a leg up anymore. As soon as Kristine leaves the doll house, they start their journey together.

Ibsen and Feminism 3

The image below is from feminist and critical race theorist bell hooks (if you aren’t already, you should get familiar). It’s been making the rounds on Facebook and I share it here because it touches on the continued debate over whether Nora’s uniquely female position makes her a feminist figure and, by extension, Ibsen a “feminist” playwright and whether the label of “feminism” excludes men from identifying with and advocating for the character and her actions not to mention detracts from the playwright’s stated humanist mission and politics.

From bell hooks' FB feed.

I think hooks is trying to disentangle some essentializing assumptions in her chart. One being that feminism means just one thing; it is multi-faceted, particularly if one defines it as a political movement based in progressive social theories that connect multiple aspects of individual identity (of which gender is only one) to the struggle for social, economic, and interpersonal equality.

And with that assertion, I’ve probably just outed myself as a feminist who attaches particular value and self-interest to this definition of the term. But like many terms that characterize politics and identity – e.g., conservative, liberal, independent to use the big three floating around the mainstream media today – once one pushes beyond the surface assumptions and impressions invoked by the terms themselves, one finds great variety in individual beliefs and actions within such groups. I think back to one of my very first slogan t-shirts; I think I bought it when I was a sophomore in college (back in the day). It read: Feminism is the radical notion that women are people. I hear echoes of that slogan when Nora says, I am first and foremost a human being just as much a one as you are. It’s a simple, powerful line and one among many that makes A Doll’s House a “feminist” play.

Still another assumption challenged by hooks’ graphic is the idea that all women, by virtue of being women, are inclined towards feminist political interests. There are multiple examples of women in public and private life that benefit from opportunities that exist because of the influence of feminist theories, social movements, and political organizations but who eschew “feminism” because of the movement’s negative, essentializing connotations.

There are also women who reject “feminism” precisely because the policies and activities of feminist academics and activists do not benefit all women equally. They key in on the fact that while the chart below asserts feminism as a philosophy that sees gender as interrelated to other facets of identity (including class, race, ethnicity, sexuality), feminism as a political or social movement organizing principle has tended to place particular emphasis on the concerns of upper-middle-class, educated, white women with male partners and children. (Interesting to note that a contrasting stereotype of a “feminist” that appears frequently in popular culture and talk radio is a lesbian of any race who eschews not only traditional femininity but also any/all traditional institutions from churches to corporations.)

Finally, I think hooks’ chart begs the assumption that only women can be feminists. This idea is perhaps the most pervasive and most difficult to disentangle from conventional wisdom because it seems impossible to conceive that men would be participants in a movement or subscribe to a theory that wants to dismantle male privilege. Unless one realizes that “male privilege” itself is unequally distributed; not all men, simply by virtue of being men, gain access to power in the same way. While they may have preference over women in certain circumstances, men too are constrained by other facets of identity (race, class, sexuality, ethnicity), constraints which feed, in hooks’ terms, the “ideology of domination” that thrives on pitting individuals and groups against each other, scrabbling for resources and privileges versus banding together to dismantle oppressive systems of power.

Ibsen insisted to the Norwegian feminist group that tried to honor him in 1898 for his work on the “woman’s rights movement” that he was looking at the larger “humanist” picture.

I thank you for the toast, but must disclaim the honor of having consciously worked for the women’s rights movement. I am not even quite clear as to just what this women’s rights movement really is. To me it has seemed a problem of mankind in general. And if you read my books carefully you will understand this. True enough, it is desirable to solve the woman problem, along with all the others; but that has not been the whole purpose. My task has been the description of humanity. (Speech reprinted in Ibsen Letters and Speeches, editor Evert Sprinchorn, 1964.)

As Joan Templeton argues in the article we read towards the beginning of the semester, however, when you put Nora’s actions and dialogue in the context of early feminist writers (e.g., Mary Wollstonecraft, Margaret Fuller, Harriet Martineau are a few that Templeton mentions specifically) and Ibsen’s own circle of “personal” feminists (Templeton cites his wife Suzannah Thoresen Ibsen, Magdalen Thoresen–Suzannah’s former governess!–and Camilla Wergeland Collet) one sees in their texts and struggles “a compendium of everything that early modern feminism denounced about woman’s state” (Templeton, “The Doll House backlash,” 32, 36). Also, Ibsen’s 1898 speech is not his sole musing on the matter. He wrote this when sketching out an early draft of the play:

A woman cannot be herself in the society of today, which is exclusively a masculine society, with laws written by men, and with accusers and judges who judge feminine conduct from the masculine standpoint. (Ibsen qtd. in William Archer’s introduction to an anthology of Ibsen’s Works, qtd. in Templeton, 36).

The more I write this, the more I think of the end of the play when Nora insists to Torvald that they both must change in order for the “wonderful thing” to happen. He would have to be willing to learn lessons himself instead of continuing to “teach” or “guide” her. I have to educate myself. And you’re not the right man for the job.

When he appeals to known structures (education, religion, social mores) to convince her that these institutions can lead her to self-knowledge, she insists that only she can determine what her education will be or when it will be finished. I don’t know anything more than Pastor Hansen passed on at my confirmation! He said religion is this and is that. When I leave all this and I’m on my own I’ll examine this matter too. I’ll see if what Pastor Hansen said is right or if it is right for me.

Templeton notes that critical views of A Doll’s House either try to rescue a great play from being consigned as a “feminist” work by asserting the universality of Nora’s struggle or deny her the mantle of feminist because, ironically, she’s simply too much of a flighty, flawed woman. The first trend is often attributed to George Bernard Shaw, who was keen to say that Ibsen was too great of a playwright to focus on “issues,” instead “he was a poet of the truth of the human soul” (Templeton 28). The other trend emerged from the moment of the play’s publication and performance and continues through contemporary theater history. Templeton notes, “All female, or no woman at all, Nora loses either way” (30). Ironically, the binary divide is similar for Ibsen. Either he is a feminist champion or unfettered observer of human nature; either a playwright steeped in his time and place who used the theater to illuminate issues of the day or a playwright whose dramaturgy of essential human truths allows his works to exceed any specific time and place. Just as bell hooks’ graphic tries to maintain the broadest conceptualization of feminism, one that is diverse and can admit a number of different “kinds” of feminists under its mantle, perhaps can we conceive of Ibsen and Nora. Both/and instead of either/or. To my mind, you can’t get more feminist than that.


Still another assumption hooks’ graphic challenges is the idea that all women, by virtue of being women, are inclined towards feminist political interests. There are multiple examples of women in public and private life that benefit from opportunities that exist because of the influence of feminist theories, social movements, and political organizations but who eschew “feminism” because of the movement’s negative, essentializing connotations.

There are also women who reject “feminism” precisely because the policies and activities of feminist academics and activists do not benefit all women equally. They key in on the fact that while the chart below asserts feminism as a philosophy that sees gender as interrelated to other facets of identity (including class, race, ethnicity, sexuality), feminism as a political or social movement organizing principle has tended to place particular emphasis on the concerns of upper-middle-class, educated, white women with male partners and children. (Interesting to note that a contrasting stereotype of a “feminist” that appears in popular culture and talk radio is a lesbian of any race who eschews not only traditional femininity but also any/all traditional institutions from churches to corporations.)

Finally, I think hooks’ chart begs the assumption that only women can be feminists. This idea is perhaps the most pervasive and most difficult to disentangle from conventional wisdom because it seems impossible to conceive that men would be participants in a movement or subscribe to a theory that wants to dismantle male privilege. Unless one realizes that “male privilege” itself is unequally distributed; not all men, simply by virtue of being men, gain access to power in the same way. While they may have preference over women in certain circumstances, men too are constrained by other facets of identity (race, class, sexuality, ethnicity), constraints which feed, in hooks’ terms, the “ideology of domination” that thrives on pitting individuals and groups against each other, scrabbling for resources and privileges versus banding together to dismantle oppressive systems of power.

Doll House imagery

I’ve been on the look out for doll houses, when they are invoked as metaphors as well as when and how doll houses appear in popular culture. Just this weekend, my daughter went to Marbles Kid’s Museum in Raleigh and in their farm/agriculture display she discovered a doll house for animals. Not a barn but a pink, two-story, 4th-wall-open “house.”

Then, on the way in to school today, I was listening to a NPR Morning Edition report on the end of fighting in Libya and the death of Moammar Gadhafi. Correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro spoke with some still shaky Libyans about the decimated town of Sirte, Gadhafi’s birthplace and the city where he was found hiding in a drainage pipe before, it appears, he was assassinated by his rebel captors. Mass graves have also been uncovered in the city as the chaos of daily fighting subsides and the damage of this civil war can be assessed.

One of the Garcia-Navarro’s informants, who stands in front of his bombed out home, refutes the notion that Sirte was “blessed” by Gadhafi. When the dictator came to power in the late 1960s, Sirte was a simple fishing village. Gadhafi set about transforming it into a place befitting his birth. In 1988 he moved all government offices and the toothless Libyan Parliment there. Even with all this development, it remained a town with no factories, no port, no sources of income for its citizens, completely dependent upon the generosity of Gadhafi for its prosperity. The man Garcia-Navarro interviews says that Sirte was a kind of “doll house” for Gadhafi, “an homage to his vanity.”

An great example of Gadhafi’s use of Sirte as a “doll house” is the multi-million dollar Ouagadougou Conference Centre. When built it was an ediface to rival any similar building in the West. Today it lies in ruins, footage of its capture, along with Sirte University, can be found on YouTube which shows rebel fighters blasting the front of the buildings with gunfire, unleashing their rage at the dictator on his monuments.


Exterior of Ouagadougou Conference Centre in Sirte, Libya. Image from McClatchy Blog.

Interior of Ouagadougou Conference Centre. Image from McClatchy Blog.

The Centre’s state-of-the-art facilities bought him good will from neighboring countries, and he did his best to house them in gracious and lavish style.

Sirte has been punished for its “special” standing with Gadhafi. The “doll house” has been nearly obliterated, and the remaining, very real human beings fear they too will be discarded like used toys by the new regime. “Now we are really lost,” Garcia-Navarro’s interviewee says, “we are really confused. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know if the new government will help us, if they even care about us.”



Thaier Al-Sudani. Reuters.



Mute Dolls? A Show of Looks

by Elena Lagon

Ibsen’s words are startling, well-chosen, poignant, and thought-provoking. He is a revered playwright and we’ve started off at an advantage: the play itself is SO good. Reading the play or hearing a recording could tell you that. But in rehearsal, I’m just starting to see how much the visual aspect–faces, clothes, hair, expressions, glances, and gestures–matters.

Today we did makeup and hair and full costumes for the first time. Without even being “in character” or saying a word, we were entirely transformed, and I was dumbfounded. Outside friends who saw me backstage didn’t recognize me and I gained a good fifteen or twenty pounds in costume. Nora was a sexy zombie, Torvald her stately, overworked master. Rank was more dignified in his suit than I’d ever imagined, and his pain was more noticeable as the lines on his forehead wrinkled. Why is it that these talented actors with which I’ve surrounded myself had never seemed so real to me? What is it about this effortless transformation that was so, well, transformative to me?

Maybe this is because Nora, and to an even greater extent, Torvald, are so very interested in looks. Nora relishes in her attractiveness, allowing her to “look good in everything,” and spends great portions of money on outfitting “the littlies.” Torvald suggests Mrs. Linde should crochet because it’s prettier than knitting. Torvald and Rank can’t wait to see Nora’s costume. Time and worry are spent on fixing said costume so Torvald can show off his pretty possession. Or maybe it’s the era. Late nineteenth-century women were seen and not heard, men didn’t dare insult, and raw, true emotions don’t reveal themselves but for short moments.

At first, the idea of silent gestures at different levels as interaction felt weird, like mime or interpretive dance. How could Anne-Marie tell Nora she made me so incredibly sad neglecting her own children, because I’d had no choice but to do so for mine? How could Krogstad effectively mix his hurt and love for Mrs. Linde? How could Nora communicate her revelation that she needed to leave everything she knew? But it works. I realized these glances, lip bites, reaches, and touches are mute interactions, but come from the same place as voiced emotions. That’s why our 200% Charlie Chaplin runs work–we need no help from language or vocalization to access that emotional storage and thought that allows us to act, to BE our roles.

So when everyone put on their petticoats and jackets, we changed stature, and needed no words to be who we needed to be. When we’ve mastered our outward appearances and our reflection of subtext and inner emotion and add language, that’s the end. I only hope that with words, our performances with be that much more powerful.

Societal Entrapment and Gender Disparity

Blog # 1

by Caitlin O’Neill

When Nora and Torvald interact, the power dynamic is startlingly disturbing. The deeply seated power plays prior to Act 3 were rather hazy to me in my first few readings of the play. However, upon watching the exchanges between the actors as they puzzle through the psyches of their respective characters, the misogyny has clarified and morphed into a clear detailing of daily pressures by Torvald, which act to slowly belittle and stagnate Nora. Her opinions cannot find encouragement, or even purchase, in her own home. Rather, all must be in accordance with Torvald, the patriarch.  Socially he has been conditioned to act as he does—as she has been as well. Blame cannot easily be dealt out when the reality of their society has, in large part, led to their present relationship.

Nonetheless, this dynamic is, happily, not the only one put forth in A Doll’s House, because we see a strong contrast to it in the Act 3 reunion of Krogstad and Mrs. Linde, as they create the bounds of a mutually beneficial relationship where both are respected for their contributions. It should be noted though that Mrs. Linde had already undergone her own degradation of sorts through her marriage to a man with monetary prospects which could provide for her family. As Mrs. Linde says, she “sold herself once” (pg 94), and learned she could not ever do so again. Such a lesson undoubtedly accounts for a large portion of her self-assurance and consistent composure, which far outstrip that which is possessed by any other character.  Mrs. Linde parallels quite well with the present time and atmosphere, especially regarding the confidence of women and how it often requires some form of catalyst to crystallize and strengthen.

The general state of society does not produce such confidence in equal measures across gender lines. The aspect in today’s culture I find most disquieting is the way in which women are valued in society—and the similarities between Ibsen’s time and ours. This trailer put things in terribly clear perspective for me.

Gender disparity in powerful positions throughout industries is a direct reflection of how women are portrayed by media. The focus on the physical body of the woman matches the Tarantella scene of A Doll’s House because Nora’s goal is to beguile the men of her life, especially Torvald. Likewise, advertisements portraying women in piecemeal outfits seek to similarly fascinate and trap attention, never utilizing the intelligence behind the pretty face in that pursuit. Marian Wright Edelman, Founder & President of Children’s Defense Fund, said, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” and this is unfortunately too true. Mrs. Linde escapes this norm following her experiences of falling into it, and Nora struggles to slip out from the trap, requiring her breakage from the only life to which she has ever been accustomed. Her final scene challenges me to take a difficult review of the media and messages I consume, and hopefully to begin to recognize the subliminal, as well as overt, messages which seek to stagnate society from gender equity in every plane.

Act I

by Jenny Madorsky

Tonight was an important rehearsal. We began by walking through Act I simply to see if we could do our lines without too many breaks. We were then asked to speed it all up to a level where it was “almost too fast.”

As the scenes unfolded, I, as Nora felt myself delve deeper and deeper into a frantic sort of wild energy. At first the energy was directed at playing games with Torvald, and then at telling Mrs. Linde “my Secret.” The more bored she looked, the more frantic I became. At a certain point it didn’t matter at all if she was there in the room with me or not—the story just flowed from my lips as though they were a broken dam.

This momentum was suddenly unwelcomingly interrupted by Mr. Krogstad’s entrance. All of a sudden the stakes entirely changed. We acted out the scene, but somehow it felt that the energy was stifled. I felt a strong sense of pent up…MORE-ness. Clearly Ellen could feel it, too, for she stopped us immediately after the scene and asked us to do it again, with everything at 200%. This couldn’t have been more welcome news. As Ali and I threw around furniture and almost toppled over the couch by both standing on it, the scene suddenly flourished. There were moments of LOUDNESS and intensity, but there were also moments of heightened quietness and immobility. And the MUSIC! At the beginning of the scene Ellen played a piece of music composed for the play (I think called “Jagged”), which suddenly exposed an entirely other canvas on which we could paint with our acting (I’m thinking of Ali’s incredibly creepy centipede movement).

As we neared the end of the scene Ellen urged us to keep going forward with the 200%. After my scene with Krogstad, the energy was at a violent boil inside of my body, so when “my dear Torvald” walked through the door, I wanted to simply throw myself at him the way a 5 year old girl throws herself at her daddy after a terrible fright. Every time I had played this scene with Micheal before, I immediately dropped Nora’s “Krogstad interaction” mask and donned the familiar “playing with Torvald” mask. However, this time the change seemed impossible. All I could feel was an intense desire for a hug and an “everything is ok, dear Nora.” Instead, Torvald proceeds to chastise Nora for lying to him about Krogstad’s visit. Since he doesn’t know anything of her secret, and she can’t tell him, the boiling energy suddenly had no possible outlet. To my own surprise, I felt tears forming in my eyes. As Torvald dives into his bird name-calling and cooing and coaxing, all I could focus on was the deep, deep disappointment that he didn’t behave in the way I really needed him to. I suddenly realized that this scene is not just another “Torvald playing with Nora” scene, but a mirror image (to a smaller degree) of the final scene of the play. Nora expects this huge, “wonderful thing” and instead Torvald lets her fall flat when she depends on him most.

I had never read the scene with that idea and it never even occurred to me to play it this way. However, the 200% gestures really allowed for the energy inside of me to manifest itself externally so that suddenly it was influencing me, instead of the other way around. I know this might sound cheesy and vague, but I was actually surprised by my own reactions. I did not “plan” to cry when Torvald entered, all I was focusing on was changing masks back into “playing with Torvald” but the stakes were so high and the disappointment so tangible that the struggle actually manifested itself in tears. The more I tried to smile and laugh, the more my face scrounged itself up to cry.

It is rehearsals like these that make me hope and pray that we can translate these moments of discovery to the stage during performances. Somehow, the play is much more clear when the actions are at 200%. Though it is not naturalistic, the emotions and psychologies of the characters are so raw that it becomes impossible to escape them even for a moment (though they are talking about “boring bank business”).

I think these revelations actually relate to the play itself and when it was written. At the turn of the century (when A Doll’s House was written) theater itself was changing. Conventions such as unnatural footlights, heavy make up, and melodramatic acting were on the way out and the naturalistic forms of Strindberg, Chekhov, and Stanislavsky were on the rise. Therefore, I think it would be unwise to completely get rid of all the over-dramatic techniques characteristic of theater before these men. Though A Doll’s House does provide actors with three-dimensional characters with complex psyches, it also provides us with a highly dramatic and engaging moment in time that should suck the audience in.

Looking at it now, I cannot believe we have yet to do any actual blocking. I, personally, feel like I have a very strong understanding of Act I, as well as a sense that there is yet much to discover about this fascinating and intricate play. Now on to Act II…