Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Resolutions

As the new year is almost upon us, I thought it would be appropriate to suggest a few New Year's resolutions. It's only paranoia if your fears never come true, and how likely is that, really?

Go back to school.
Education is the key to success, they say. So stop procrastinating and finally become certified to handle hazardous waste and blood-borne pathogens at the online Hazmat School. If two-thirds of your fair city is wiped out by an unidentified plague or biological warfare, you're going to have to wade through some pretty nasty shit to get out of town. And wouldn't you feel more comfortable knowing that you are officially certified to do so?

Spend more time with the family.
Go camping maybe. But follow the boyscout motto and be prepared. Campsites and (shudder) latrines are breeding grounds for all kinds of dangerous bacteria. And need I mention bears? What you need is an RV that is both luxurious and "nuclear/radiation fallout, biological and chemical resistant". Perfect for any post-apocalyptic cross-country road trip with the kids.

Make new friends.
But you can't trust just anyone you come into contact with. Anybody could be a terrorist. The guy in the cubicle next to you at work could have a briefcase full of smallpox, and you would never know until it was too late. So if you can't trust anybody on Earth, whom can you trust enough to befriend? Well, space aliens, of course. Just use this handy phone number to get in touch - only $3.99 a call.

Keep in touch with old friends.
Of course, if the world is decimated by plague, nuclear war or whatever, and all of your friends are dead, this will become quite difficult. So you better prepare now. Purchase a few of these specialized cell phones and you can communicate with your loved ones for over a year after they've been dead and buried. For an extra fee, you can even extend the contract.

Get away from it all. Far away.
If you've seen The Ring, The Ring Two, Fear Dot Com or Pulse, you know that "they" will use our own lines of communication to mount their attack. TVs, VCR's, DVD's, cell phones, email - you name it - all will be the means of our destruction. Protect yourself from the coming armageddon now by purchasing your own private island miles away from any wi-fi hot spots.

Lose some of that extra weight.
You know when the plague arrives and people start dropping like flies, our city will be quarantined, and the grocery stores looted. And when supplies run out, the people will turn to cannibalism. It won't be their fault - it's just human nature. They'll eat the fatties first, though, so buy your self a few extra days of horror by dropping those extra pounds now to make yourself look a little less juicy and delicious.

Plan for the future.
You made out your will and your living will last year. 2007 is the year to take that planning to its next logical step: cryogenics. For the budget conscious, you might want to consider just freezing your brain - it's almost half the cost of preserving your entire body!

Update your wardrobe
Paper masks are so yesterday. What you need is a brand new outfit that is CDC rated for the 'H5N1' Avian Bird Flu Virus. All the cool paranoid kids are wearing them.

Remodel the house.
You've been meaning to for years. With all the war, terrorism and bird flu scares nowadays, there has never been a better time to give your family the kind of peace of mind that can only come from a full-blown disaster shelter. Not your generic bomb shelter from the '50's - no sir. You need the kind that will protect your loved ones from EMP pulses, nuclear radiation, bomb blasts, chemical &biological agents, zombies and more. (disclaimer - the website says nothing about zombies, but it stands to reason that if the shelter is secure against nuclear blasts, it should hold off a few hundred of the undead.)

Institute a disaster management plan.
Your trustworthy and dependable friends at the Department of Homeland security have put together a website to help you do just that. It's full of helpful hints like this:

Happy new year. If you live.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Prison Scene

The sixth scene in Killing Game takes place in a jail. Unbeknownst to the prisoners, a plague is raging in the city outside - tens of thousands of people are dying horrible deaths every day. Bodies have piled up in the streets because there is nobody left to collect them. Almost all of the prison guards have died as well. The last remaining jailer enters to free the prisoners, as they will surely die anyway - it's just a question of dying of starvation inside the jail, or of dying from the plague outside the jail.

Prisoners in the Orleans Parish Prison weren't so "lucky" during Hurricane Katrina. The morning of the storm, guards left inmates to die in their cells as floodwaters swallowed the building. Those who managed to escape were met by heavily armed guards waiting outside the building, who held the inmates for days on a highway overpass without food or water.

McSweeney's has recently published Voices From the Storm: The People of New Orleans on Katrina and its Aftermath as part of its Voice of Witness series. Voice of Witness is a series of oral histories focused on illuminating human-rights crises around the world. By allowing the victims of social injustice to speak for themselves, each book provides an unadulterated, ground's-eye view of the events, told in the unique and captivating voices of the people closest to the story. Stranded in a city submerged, the narrators of Voices from the Storm survived the devastation brought on by Hurricane Katrina only to find themselves abandoned—and even victimized—by their own government. These thirteen men and women of New Orleans recount, in astonishing and heartrending detail, the worst natural disaster in American history.

Here is an excerpt from Dan Bright's account of being an inmate in the Orleans Parish Prison during Hurrican Katrina.

"Late, late—maybe early Monday morning—maybe like 4 or 5. Hard wind, very hard wind. Lights went out in the jail. I was on the top floor. We can look out the window. They had these little portholes that you can look out, and see the rain, the wind blowing, and the water starting to rise.

It was early. You can see the water is constantly rising. You gotta remember, we’re stuck in these cells. Guys on the first level, on the bottom level—man, they hollerin’ and screamin’. No one comes. They were hollering for the guards to come. Begging, pleading. You had guys who had broke windows out, burning sheets and blankets, flagging them to try to get some attention. In fact, helicopters was flying over, and guys was holding blankets out the windows, burning blankets to try to get their attention. And no one came and helped them.

The lights had done went out, so you can imagine being in this water, in the dark with this water constantly rising. Only thing we had to do now is to break out. We wasn’t trying to break out just to be breakin’ out of jail, we breakin’ out to save our lives."
Continue reading here...

Source: Voice of Witness via Your Daily Awesome

Death and Plague in Art

Sometime in the middle of the 14th century, Europeans became fascinated with the concept of death. Losing over a third of your population to the plague in just a few years will do that. And naturally, this fascination was mirrored in their art. Somtimes death was depicted beautifully, sometimes every gory, disgusting aspect was portrayed. I've gathered a few examples here.

Click on any of the images below for a larger view.

"Death as a Cutthroat", engraving by Alfred Rethel (1851). Rethel was inspired by an account that the celebrated poet Heinrich Heine had made of the sudden outbreak of cholera in the year 1832, at a masquerade during the carnival of Paris. Here, Death plays a kind of violin, while the musicians flee. Close to them stands an emaciated female silhouette, wrapped in a shroud: symbol of the disease. In the foreground, some people have already died of cholera.

Anonymous drawing, 16th century. Death stands with a bow and an arrow in his hands, his arms outstreched in a gesture of triumph over mankind. At his feet are scattered people from all walks of life - clerics, emperors, gentlemen, soldiers, peasants, scientists, etc. - symbolizing that death conquers all.

In this woodcut from 1512, a doctor and his assistants tend to a plague patient.

Lazarus, the sore-covered leper in Christ's parable, became the patron saint of leprosy, perhaps the first "quarantinable" disease. The term "lazaretto," which refers to a quarantine hospital or station, may be a combination of his name and Santa Maria di Nazareth, the church on the Venetian island where the first quarantine station was opened.

In this engraving from about 1660, a syphilis sufferer gets fumigated in a special oven. The caption on the oven translates as "For one pleasure a thousand pains."

The caption to this 1883 Puck drawing reads, "The kind of 'assisted emigrant' we can not afford to admit." The drawing depicts members of the New York Board of Health wielding a bottle of carbolic acid, a disinfectant, in their attempts to keep cholera at bay.

From the 14th to the 20th centuries, ports around the world carried out official quarantines of arriving travelers in hopes of staving off epidemics of plague, yellow fever, and other deadly scourges. The caption to this drawing from an 1858 issue of Harper's Weekly quotes a Dr. Anderson as saying: "While the Angel of Death rides on the fumes of the iron scow, and infected airs are wafted to our shores from the anchorage, we shall have no security against these annual visitations of pestilence."

This four panel engraving illustrates the horrors of the Black Plague in London. The captions read:
- "Multitudes flying from London by water in boats & barges."
- "Flying by Land"
- "Burying the dead with a bell before them. Searchers."
- "Carts full of dead to bury"

Copperplate engraving by Bernardino Genga (anatomist) and Charles Errard (artist) (1691). In the 17th century the line between medical text illustrations and fine art was so blurred as to be practically nonexistent, as in this engraving by the court painter to Louis XIV.

Painted by Marianne Stokes in 1900, this work brings a new twist the well-known story of Death and the maiden. Here, Death is neither a decaying corpse nor a skeleton, but a winged woman dressed in black. The young girl lies in bed in her nightgown. Suddenly awakened, she pulls up the sheets, out of fear or modesty. There is no physical contact between the two characters, but Death makes a soothing gesture with her left hand. Usually, the theme of Death and the maiden warns against vanity, but this isn't the case here. Instead, Marianne Stokes simply evokes, in this painting with a dreamlike quality, the sudden death of a girl during her sleep.

Engraving by Hans Sebald Beham (1548). A winged skeleton holding an hour-glass moves towards a young girl, who fell asleep in a suggestive position. 'Death and the Maiden' was a common theme during this period, both because of the aforementioned fascination with death, and as an excuse to paint nude women.

"The Kiss of Death" by Edvard Munch (1899). Death was often represented in a sexually aggressive way.

"Death and the Maiden" by Hans Baldung Grien (1517). painted this painting in which Death seizes a girl by the hair and forces her to go down in to the tomb dug to her feet. Death indicates the grave with his right hand. Grien painted many variations on this painting - see the note about naked women above.

The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut, from the Liber chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel. La Danse Macabre, also called Dance of death, La Danza Macabra, or Totentanz, is a late-medieval allegory on the universality of death: no matter one's station in life, the dance of death united all. La Danse Macabre consists of the personified death leading a row of dancing figures from all walks of life to the grave—typically with an emperor, king, pope, monk, youngster, beautiful girl, all in skeleton-state. They were produced under the impact of the Black Death, reminding people of how fragile their lives were and how vain the glories of earthly life were. Its origins are postulated from illustrated sermon texts, the earliest artistic examples are in a cemetery in Paris from 1424. From 2004 - 2006, Houston's Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theatre and Two Star Symphony collaborated on the three part performance series Danse Macabre, a darkly comic puppet performance about death.

"The Best Doctor" by Alfred Kubin. Kubin, also known as the "priest of Hell", or the "Austrian Goya", had a tortured and conflictual soul. He suffered much while creating, and the theme of Death takes a significant place in his works. The feminine silhouette of Death, dressed in black with a medal around her neck, is frightful, just like the dying one's, a too long body clad in white.

"Death and the Miser" by Hieronymus Bosch (1490). This painting was inspired by a 15th century book of prayers entitled: Ars Moriendi (the art of dying): a handbook on the proper way of dying. It included eleven scenes: the first five were temptations of the devil, who was inviting the dying man to sin through impiety, despair, impatience, vanity and avarice. The five following ones described states of mind inspired by an angel: faith, hope, patience, humility, and generosity. In the last scene, the angel took the soul of the dead to Heaven, and the devilsin Hell let loose frustrated howls of rage. In Bosch's work, on the other hand, the outcome of the fight between devil and angel remains uncertain.

"The Triumph of Death" by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1562). Brueghel was strongly influenced by the style of Hieronymus Bosch. The painting is a panoramic landscape of death: the sky in the distance is blackened by smoke from burning cities and the sea is littered with shipwrecks. Armies of skeletons advance on the hapless living, who either flee in terror or try vainly to fight back. Skeletons kill people in a variety of ways - slitting throats, hanging, drowning, and even hunting with skeletal dogs. In the foreground, skeletons haul a wagon full of skulls, and ring the bell that signifies the death knell of the world. A fool plays the lute while a skeleton behind him plays along; a starving dog nibbles at the face of a child; a cross sits lonely and impotent in the center of the painting. People flee into a tunnel decorated with crosses whilst a skeleton on horseback slaughters people with a scythe. The painting clearly depicts people of different social backgrounds - from peasants and soldiers to nobles and even a king - being taken by death indiscriminately. Pieter Brueghel also painted Mad Meg, a portrait of Dulle Griet, one of the main characters in Full Circle.

This fantastical depiction of the plague was painted by Arnold Bocklin in 1898. Guillermo Del Toro is a big fan of his work.

Anonymous illustration of the Black Death from the Toggenburg Bible (1411). The buboes characteristic of the bubonic plague are quite evident.

Sources: NOVA's History of Quarantine, Death in Art, Wikipedia, Dream Anatomy Gallery, Plagues in Art

Monday, December 25, 2006

Stupid global warming

According to the BBC, warming climate changes could lead to more outbreaks of bubonic plague among human populations. Great.

Attack of the Fleas

Wayne's been using this break between plays to do some much-needed cleaning and organizing downstairs at the Axiom. He must have disturbed a nest of fleas or something, because all of a sudden, they're everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE. So Friday he bought two gallons of industrial strength flea killer, soaked the Axiom with it until the stench of floral scented chemicals was overwhelming, and we all left early. The fleas should all be quite dead after we return from the holiday break on January 2.

This development is particularly disturbing after reading up on the role of the flea in speading the plague. Disturbing enough to keep one up at night. Especially when you go on to research how fleas can be intentionally used as a means of biological warfare. In the middle ages, cadavers infected with plague fleas were catapulted into nemy cities. In the 1940's, the Japanese airdropped paper packets of plague fleas on Chinese territories, and their bites killed hundreds. Japan also developed a specialized bomb, the Type 50 Uji, which could hold up to about 30,000 plague fleas. Intended to burst at an altitude of 660 to 980 feet above ground level, field trials at Anta, Manchuria, concluded that 80 percent of the fleas survived dissemination and that coverage was best under conditions with high wind. Also during WWII, Canada (yes, Canada) worked to create a colony of fleas for use in combination with both plague and murine typhus. In the United States, the plague flea concept was competing against the use of mosquitoes, flies, ticks, and lice. Of these concepts, the United States put most of its energies behind weaponizing yellow fever in combination with the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Who knows what our governments would be capable of now.

  • The Ctenocephalides felis flea, (the kind of flea you find on your dog or cat), can jump the equivalent of the Eiffel Tower and has an acceleration 50 times higher than a space shuttle.
  • 15th century ladies wore fur to trap fleas.
  • People in the 17th century wore cylinder flea traps around their necks. Scented substances or rags soaked in blood were inserted in the traps to attract fleas.
  • Americans spend one billion dollars a year to find a new molecule which will eliminate fleas.
  • The National History Museum has over 270,000 specimens of fleas in its Lord Rothschild collection
  • It was once believed that there was a hormonal relation between women and fleas.

The splendid flea image above, btw, was drawn by Robert Hooke in his famous Micrographia. Robert Hooke was very colorfully depicted in Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1) - if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

of Rubber Chickens and Obscenities

Killing Game made global headlines during February of this year, when an actor, Thomas Lawinky, performing in a German production of the play, saw a critic that he despised sitting in the front row during a performance. The actor became furious and in the middle of a scene threw a rubber chicken that he happened to be holding at the critic, tore his notebook out of his hands and shouted obscenities at him until the man was forced to flee the theater out of fear and shame.

The critic was Gerhard Stadelmaier, famously conservative and disapproving of the theater (Frankfurt Schauspiel), which is known for it's violently theatrical and gory productions. Later, he wrote that "this attack on my freedom, which is nothing less than the freedom of the press" had left him deeply distressed: "Nothing like this has ever happened in the theatre. Never in the thirty years of my career as a theatre critic have I felt so besmirched, so abased, so insulted - and never have I felt such deep sorrow about the state of the theatre."

After the mayor called for the actor to be fired over the act of violence (the chicken didn't even scratch the critic), Lawinky resigned.

Sources: BBC News, Sign and Sight

How do we respond to pandemics, and are we prepared?

Source: Scribe Media

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Plague Doctors: then and now

During the Black Death, plague doctors would wear a very distinctive, funny-looking costume.

Most of these "doctors" were actually unqualified volunteers- the real doctors fled the cities in the early stages of the plague. Their outfit consisted of a broad rimmed hat, worn low on the head. Underneath the hat, plague doctors wore a mask which completely covered the head, and was gathered in at the neck for extra protection. The mask had crystal lenses over the eyes to protect the wearer, and a long beak which was stuffed with spices or herbs to purify the air that the doctor breathed. Some historians have hypothesized that the mask's beak symbolized a prevailing belief of the period that the plague was carried by birds. The plague doctor would wear a full length gown made of thick material which was then covered with wax. He would also wear leather gloves, leather boots, and underneath the gown, leather breeches. He would always carry a long wooden stick to push away plague victims who attempted to get too close, and to touch the garments of the diseased.

For the most part, plague doctors didn't even attempt to treat those afflicted with the plague. They knew it was useless. The most they could hope for was to identify the sick without becoming infected themselves. When they did attept treatments, they would use leeches (didn't work), give the victim hot drinks (didn't work), give the victim a strong does of laxatives (sometimes quickened death because of dehydration), or they would coat the victim with mercury and place them in an oven. This last "treatment" would often kill the victim - mercury is poisonous, and the heat from the oven would cause serious burns.

Modern day doctors who are called in to treat deathly infectious diseases also wear elaborate costumes to protect themselves from the sick. They wear Hazmat suits, which are just as terrifying to modern people as the plague doctor uniform was during the Black Death.

Hazmat (short for Hazardous Materials) gear (or "bunny suits", as they are sometimes called) protect against all forms of chemicals: solids, liquids, and gasses/vapors.

Hazmat suits are hot - it is not uncommon for the environment inside the suit to be 20-30°F (11-17°C) hotter than the ambient temperature, and 100% humidity, within minutes of sealing up the suit. Because of this, medical monitoring is required before and after working in these suits. Hazmat gear will usually be worn in several layers, making it even less comfortable to wear. These layers are taped up at the ankle and wrist, so that there are no gaps for nasty things to enter. After using this equipment in a hazardous environment, the wearer will have to be decontaminated before removing the suit.

The first layer is a one-piece jumpsuit which seals snuggly at the ankles, wrists, and neck, giving fire protection.

The next layer of defense is a Tyvek suit. This disposable suit provides a layer that is impermeable to most chemicals. In addition, the wearer wears an SCBA, and carries a voice-actuated radio, because once sealed inside the outer suit, there is no way to reach any of this equipment. Tyvek booties cover boots, and an inner pair of Silver-Shield chemical protective gloves is put on over latex surgical gloves. Some wearers also carry a knife, in the event that they have to get out of the suit quickly in an emergency. The suit is too heavy to tear through, and would have to be cut from the inside.

The next layer is completely sealed and has a one way (exhaust) pressure bleed valve to vent the wearer's expelled air. Even with this valve, the suit tends to blow up like a balloon.

The final layer is a flash suit, worn to protect the wearer from fire and explosions. This outer layer would be worn in the unlikely event that the wearer had to enter an explosive atmosphere. This is a situation which would normally be avoided at all cost, except when human life is in danger. Some Hazmat suits have flash protection built in, but that makes them even more expensive.

If everything is being worn, the wearer has five layers of hand protection, five layers of foot protection, and is looking through three layers of protective windows. Needless to say, this isn't comfortable, and one doesn't move quickly. Hazmat suits can cost anywhere from $4,000 - $10,000 each, and may need to be disposed of after a single use, depending upon what they were exposed to and how contaminated they are.

Sources: History on the Net, Wikipedia, Santa Clara County Fire Department

What is the plague, anyway?

Well, it's a disease. A really, really bad disease, caused by fleas vomiting infected blood into open wounds. Gross, no?

Plague can take many forms:
  • Bubonic plague occurs when Yersinia pestis (a bacterium) causes an inflammation of the lymph nodes, making them tender and swollen. This is the most common form of plague. Bubonic plague becomes evident three to seven days after the infection. Initial symptoms are chills, fever, diarrhea, headaches, and the swelling of the infected lymph nodes, as the bacteria replicate there. If untreated, the rate of mortality for bubonic plague is 50%.

  • Cellulocutaneous plague is a very unusual form, with Yersinia pestis causing a skin infection.

  • Pneumonic plague or pulmonic plague occurs when the lungs are infected by Yersinia pestis. It is the second most common form of plague. It may be a secondary infection, caused by bacteria spreading from the lymph nodes and reaching the lungs, but can also exist on its own, caused by inhalation of airborne bacteria. With this infection comes the possibility of person-to-person transmission through respiratory droplets. The incubation period for pneumonic plague is usually between two and four days, but can be as little as a few hours. The initial symptoms, of headache, weakness, and coughing with hemoptysis, are indistinguishable from other respiratory illnesses. Without diagnosis and treatment, the infection can be fatal in one to six days; mortality in untreated cases may be as high as 95%.

  • Meningeal plague or plague meningitis looks like meningitis at the outset. It is most common in children and is usually the end result of ineffective treatment for other forms of plague. It is highly unusual.

  • Pharyngeal plague occurs when Yersinia pestis is consumed, often through food. It can resemble tonsillitis. It is a very rare form of the plague.

  • Septicemic plague occurs when Yersinia pestis multiply in the blood. It is the third most common form of plague. It is usually associated with hunting and skinning of animals, but can also occur secondary to bubonic and pneumonic plague. This type of plague is characterized by bleeding into the skin and other organs, which creates black patches on the skin. There are bite-like bumps on the skin, commonly red and sometimes white in the center. Untreated septicemic plague is universally fatal, but early treatment with antibiotics reduces the mortality rate to 4 to 15%. People who die from this form of plague often die on the same day symptoms first appear.

  • Other forms of plague (Aliae formae pestis) include the milder forms abortive plague, asymptomatic plague and pestis minor, all three often resulting only in a mild fever and light swelling of the lymph glands, usually resolved in approximately a week if appropriate treatment is given.

Plague is primarily a disease of rodents. Infection most often occurs when a person is bitten by a rat or flea that has fed on an infected rodent. The bacteria multiply inside the flea, sticking together to form a plug that blocks its stomach and causes it to become very hungry. The flea then voraciously bites a host and continues to feed, even though it is unable to satisfy its hunger. During the feeding process, blood cannot flow into the blocked stomach, and consequently the flea vomits blood tainted with the bacteria back into the bite wound. The Bubonic plague bacterium then infects a new host, and the flea eventually dies from starvation. Any serious outbreak of plague is usually started by other disease outbreaks in rodents, or some other crash in the rodent population. During these outbreaks, infected fleas that have lost their normal hosts seek other sources of blood.

Sources: Wikipedia, Manual of Common Diseases and Parasites of Wildlife in Northern British Columbia

Monday, December 18, 2006

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Ring around the pustulant oozing sore...

Ring around the rosey
A pocketful of posies
Ashes, ashes
We all fall down

Many scholars believe that this rhyme is somehow connected to the Great Plague of London in 1665, or perhaps earlier outbreaks of bubonic plague. This is entirely unsupported by textual sources, as there is no mention of the verse, nor written evidence of its existence, before 1881.

For those that believe that the rhyme describes the plague, each line is a clear analogy. The first line illustrates the round red rash that would break out on the skin of plague victims. The second line refers to scented sachets victims would keep in their pockets to cover the odor of their sores and the dying. Others believed that such sachets would purify the air and keep them safe from the plague. Yet another hypothesis is that the modern word “posies” is derived from an Old English word for “pus”, referring to a plague victim's oozing open sores. The third line would refer to when people - alive and dead - were gathered up into piles and lit on fire in a belief that burning the diseased bodies would not allow the disease to spread. The last line is most often believed to mean “we will all die.”
Source: Wikipedia

More Killing Games for family fun!

I bet you're wondering, "Now that Hide Town has closed, how will I ever while away the time until Killing Game opens?" Well, don't you worry. There are a slew of killing games that you can play in the privacy of your own home, with none of the red tape and moral quandries of killing actual people. I've gathered a few here:

Fling the Teacher
If you answer 15 out of 30 questions about the Black Death correctly, your teacher (customized by YOU to look just like the real thing) gets flung by a trebuchet.

The Black Plague: A Simulation
Travel to a variety of towns and villages Europe during the mid 1300's. Will you die from the Black Death or from Cholera? Your fate depends on a throw of the dice...

Plague & Pestilence
A light card game involving the build-up and destruction of medieval towns. In the Prosperity phase players attempt to build up their populations via stealing from other players of via improvements. Then the Death Ship arrives bearing the plague! In the Plague phase players attempt to kill off other players by playing war, pestilence or other deadly attacks. The cards contain illustrations reminiscent of medieval woodcuts featuring the Grim Reaper.

Digital Plague
The year is now 2707. Help a historian from the future discover the real reason behind the bubonic plague.

The Year of the Plague Prototype Project
The Year of the Plague will be a small multiplayer game in which students complete discrete "levels," each with its own learning outcome. The first level will relate to medical, social and political aspects of the great London plague of 1665. The environment for this level is St. Giles, the poor, overcrowded parish where the plague first appeared.

First Assignments

The winter holidays always make a mess out of everybody's schedule, and it's damn near impossible to schedule anything with a group of people until they're over. Therefore, Killing Game rehearsals won't begin in earnest until the second week of January.

In the meantime, each actor has been asked to take a scene or part of a scene (as long or as short as they want) from the original script and prepare it to be performed during one of the first rehearsals after the break. The cast has been given just four guidelines for these pieces:
1) the scene must be performed to music.
2) it must be interesting.
3) they must work with a partner. Each cast member has been urged to consider non-human and/or inanimate partners.
4) gender lines should be ignored and/or willfully crossed.

The results of these compositions will be used to generate even more ideas for the play.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Pandemics through world history

From the symptoms scattered throughout the script, the disease that kills people in Killing Game would appear to be the bubonic plague. But there have been many deadly pandemics in recorded history. The sheer numbers dead are staggering - thousands per day, in some cases. Read on for some colorful facts sure to break the ice and win you some new friends at your next cocktail party:

Peloponnesian War, 430 BC.
Typhoid fever killed a quarter of the Athenian troops and a quarter of the population over four years. This disease fatally weakened the dominance of Athens, but the sheer virulence of the disease prevented its wider spread; i.e. it killed off its hosts at a rate faster than they could spread it. The exact cause of the plague was unknown for many years; in January 2006, researchers from the University of Athens analyzed teeth recovered from a mass grave underneath the city, and confirmed the presence of bacteria responsible for typhoid.

Antonine Plague, 165–180.
Possibly smallpox brought back from the Near East; killed a quarter of those infected and up to five million in all. At the height of a second outbreak (251–266) 5,000 people a day were said to be dying in Rome.

Plague of Justinian, started 541.
The first recorded outbreak of the bubonic plague. It started in Egypt and reached Constantinople the following spring, killing (according to the Byzantine chronicler Procopius) 10,000 a day at its height and perhaps 40 percent of the city's inhabitants. It went on to eliminate up to a quarter of the human population of the eastern Mediterranean.

The Black Death, started 1300s.
Eight hundred years after the last outbreak, the bubonic plague returned to Europe. Starting in Asia, the disease reached Mediterranean and western Europe in 1348 (possibly from Italian merchants fleeing fighting in the Crimea), and killed twenty million Europeans in six years, a quarter of the total population and up to a half in the worst-affected urban areas.

first pandemic 1816–1826. Previously restricted to the Indian subcontinent, the pandemic began in Bengal, then spread across India by 1820. It extended as far as China and the Caspian Sea before receding.
The second pandemic (1829–1851) reached Europe, London in 1832, Ontario Canada and New York in the same year, and the Pacific coast of North America by 1834.
The third pandemic (1852–1860) mainly affected Russia, with over a million deaths. (Where it had killed Peter Tchaikovsky and his mother.)
The fourth pandemic (1863–1875) spread mostly in Europe and Africa.
In 1866 there was an outbreak in North America.
In 1892 cholera contaminated the water supply of Hamburg, Germany, and caused 8,606 deaths.
The seventh pandemic (1899–1923) had little effect in Europe because of advances in public health, but Russia was badly affected again.
The eighth pandemic began in Indonesia in 1961, called El Tor after the strain, and reached Bangladesh in 1963, India in 1964, and the USSR in 1966.
The "first" pandemic of 1510 travelled from Africa and spread across Europe.

The "Asiatic Flu", 1889–1890.
Was first reported in May of 1889 in Bukhara, Russia. By October, it had reached Tomsk and the Caucasus. It rapidly spread west and hit North America in December 1889, South America in February–April 1890, India in February-March 1890, and Australia in March–April 1890. It was purportedly caused by the H2N8 type of flu virus and had a very high attack and mortality rate.

The "Spanish flu", 1918–1919.
First identified early March 1918 in US troops training at Camp Funston, Kansas, by October 1918 it had spread to become a world-wide pandemic on all continents. Unusually deadly and virulent, it ended nearly as quickly as it began, vanishing completely within 18 months. In six months, 25 million were dead; some estimates put the total of those killed worldwide at over twice that number. An estimated 17 million died in India, 500,000 in the United States and 200,000 in the UK. The virus was recently reconstructed by scientists at the CDC studying remains preserved by the Alaskan permafrost. They identified it as a type of H1N1 virus.

The "Asian Flu", 1957–58.
An H2N2 caused about 70,000 deaths in the United States. First identified in China in late February 1957, the Asian flu spread to the United States by June 1957.

The "Hong Kong Flu", 1968–69.
An H3N2 caused about 34,000 deaths in the United States. This virus was first detected in Hong Kong in early 1968 and spread to the United States later that year. Influenza A (H3N2) viruses still circulate today.

Sometimes called "camp fever" because of its pattern of flaring up in times of strife. (It is also known as "gaol fever" and "ship fever", for its habits of spreading wildly in cramped quarters, such as jails and ships.) Emerging during the Crusades, it had its first impact in Europe in 1489 in Spain. During fighting between the Christian Spaniards and the Muslims in Granada, the Spanish lost 3,000 to war casualties and 20,000 to typhus. In 1528 the French lost 18,000 troops in Italy and lost supremacy in Italy to the Spanish. In 1542, 30,000 people died of typhus while fighting the Ottomans in the Balkans. The disease also played a major role in the destruction of Napoleon's Grande Armée in Russia in 1812. Typhus also killed numerous prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

Effects of Colonization.
Encounters between European explorers and populations in the rest of the world often introduced local epidemics of extraordinary virulence. Disease killed the entire native (Guanches) population of the Canary Islands in the 16th century. Half the native population of Hispaniola in 1518 was killed by smallpox. Smallpox also ravaged Mexico in the 1520s, killing 150,000 in Tenochtitlán alone, including the emperor, and Peru in the 1530s, aiding the European conquerors. Measles killed a further two million Mexican natives in the 1600s. As late as 1848–49, as many as 40,000 out of 150,000 Hawaiians are estimated to have died of measles, whooping cough and influenza.

There are also a number of unknown diseases that were extremely serious but have now vanished, so the etiology of these diseases cannot be established. The cause of English Sweat in 16th-century England, which struck people down in an instant and was more greatly feared even than the bubonic plague, is still unknown.

Source: Wikipedia

Movie Night

Last Monday Tony had the cast over to his apartment to watch some movies, to give everyone an idea of some the ideas rolling around in his head before we start rehearsals. We've used this technique before, and it works well. It's an easy way for a director to share his inspirations with a group of people in a direct, visual way. Charlie Scott did this when he directed Medea - we watched Dead Man and Grey Gardens, and little snippets from several other films I can't remember right now. It's also a great excuse to get together and drink in the name of art.

Tony showed three very different films. The first was the Charlie Chaplin classic Modern Times. Modern Times is full of broad physical humor and slapstick comedy, and also showcases Charlie Chaplin's trademark facial expressions.

Then he showed one of my personal favorites, the Peter Lorre classic M, the first serial killer movie. M is a great film in that tension is overwhelmingly present in the film from the very first scene. It's also wonderful in that every single character in the film is fully fleshed out, and interesting to watch - there are no "extras."

Finally, he showed Songs from the Second Floor, a Swedish film which was the winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 2000. Like Killing Game, it is a series of fascinating vignettes. Also like Killing Game, the characters devise certain rituals to try and combat a spreading terror.

To Begin

"A city is gripped by terror when a plague threatens to destroy the entire population. Hilarity ensues. Come watch your favorite IBP company members drop dead multiple times."

This is the description that Tony gave me of the play he has chosen to direct next for IBP: Killing Game, by Eugene Ionesco. While Ionesco is a very popular playwright, this play just isn't performed all that often. Maybe it's because of all the death. Because that's what this play is about - corpse after corpse after corpse after corpse, and how the townspeople deal with their fear and the corpses, until they become corpses themselves. Not "fun for all ages", some might say. And opening it in February, when many theaters choose to throw up love stories? Well, that is an interesting choice. And a hysterical one. And a challenging one.

Ionesco makes it plain in his stage directions for Killing Game that he wants producers to make the play their own. The play could have a cast of five or a cast of twenty. It could be performed with a mix of humans, puppets, and painted figures, or could be all live actors. Tony intends to take a very liberal approach in style to the script, one that involves a great deal of sound, physical comedy, choreography and technical elements. He also plans to rely heavily upon creative inspiration from the cast, and this will truly be an ensemble-driven piece.

As a company, we at IBP have been interested in communicating more about our process to the audience, and that's what we're going to try to do with this blog. We'll post dramaturgical information as we dig it up, similar to the zine that Cathy Power created for Hide Town. Hopefully, as we get further into the rehearsal and performance process, a few of the actors will feel comfortable posting about their experiences, much like Cary Winscott did during Speeding Motorcycle.

Creating a production blog while we're creating a play is new for us, so we welcome any comments you have. Onwards and upwards.