Note: I learned about the Boston Marathon bombing while in a Houston airport gift shop after attending the Texas Junior Classical League state convention and a local school visit. My heart sunk so low, it’s been hard to think about much of anything else since. At the same time, it seemed wrong to ignore all those wonderful moments of warmth, humanity and connection from the JCL event to focus on one terrible act of inhumanity. So, I decided to write the recap anyway.
More than 2,000 Latin students, teachers and chaperones descended on a Texas high school outside of Dallas for the state JCL convention this past weekend. All I can say is–What. A. Trip.
Honestly, I don’t know how the folks who put on these conventions do it–it seems like everyone is going full out from early in the morning until way past midnight. And that’s just the kids. The teachers put in way more time.
|Lots of kids liked recreating C‘s double-headed ax.|
Friday night, I helped judge the couples costume contest–kids dressed as Clytemnestra and Agamemnon. We judged them not just on the artistry of the costumes, but on how well they knew the story and how well they reflected their knowledge of ancient dress. Some highlights:
– One Clytemnestra had her hair coiffed into an intricate net covering her neck and shoulders as a symbol for the net that she would throw over her daughter-killing, cheating husband as she slaughtered him in the bath.
– Another student sewed a net to the inside of her crimson Agamemnon cape, which served as a shadowy foretelling of how he would die.
– Fake blood. Lots and lots of fake blood. On everyone.
– One student wove a tree branch into the back of her peplos, from which hung small dolls of black-robed furies. Why? Because Clytemnestra’s actions would cause the furies to haunt her and son’s life for ever after.
|The winners–Adam and Eliot. Wish they’d had their sandals on for his shot!|
– The two young men who won blew us away with their research on both the play and the costumes. The Agamemnon character hand sewed a cuirass in pleather and Clytemnestra’s getup was no less ornate, with intricipate borders on both the peplos and epiblema (shawl), which he had drawn over his head. Both characters wore masks they had made and painted and talked through them, much like Greek actors would. The young men even hand-sewed their sandals–a more utilitarian one for the king, and a more ornate one for the queen. The cumulative effect of their masks, costumes and detailed retelling of the tragedy was eerie and disconcerting. They were awesome.
|Students after the workshop–holding up my book!|
On Saturday, I gave two workshops. The first one, LOVE, LIES AND PROPAGANDA–on Cleopatra and her love life–was well attended. All the seats were taken and folks sat on the floor in the back and in corners of the room.
|Catapults–I wanted to watch.|
The second workshop–ON POMPEII* (or, more accurately, WHY WHAT YOUR TEXTBOOKS SAY ABOUT POMPEII IS WRONG)–I expected to be less well attended. After all, my workshop was competing against the talent show AND the catapult demonstrations (I hated missing those!). To my surprise, that workshop was also packed with lots of folks in the back and on the floor. I enjoyed the lively question and answer session that followed both workshops.
|Fire drill at Atascocita High School outside Houston,|
On Sunday, I traveled back to Houston with Magistra Jennings and on Monday, I visited her school to talk with Latin, theater and writing students. Having all three groups together for each presentation was something I hadn’t expected and I found that I could easily bridge the gap between subjects by discussing a) how Roman propagandists shaped our perception of Cleopatra (Latin/history students), b) how going beneath the propaganda and creating an emotional subtext for action helps deepen a character (theater/writing), c) and how, while doing research, you have to seek out multiple sources supporting your claim (research skills).
|With Shawn Jennings and some of her awesome students.|
Right in the middle of my second presentation, the fire alarm went off and the entire school had to evacuate. Fortunately, everything went smoothly and we were right back to it within minutes.
It was a wonderful school visit and I want to extend a special thank you to Shawn Jennings for inviting me out to speak at the state convention and giving me the opportunity to speak to her students as well.
I hope I get the chance to go to another JCL event soon because they are so invigorating and SO. MUCH. FUN.
*My next YA novel is set in Pompeii; I shared some of the surprising things I learned about the city in my research.