His and hers Halloween reflections and party tips

For the month of October Listing Toward Forty is Listing Toward Halloween, featuring a variety of Halloween posts including many by guest authors. This post is by Alexandra Fliess and Jason A. Fleece.

ALEX: As a social worker I explore people’s motivation.  All behavior is a form of communication, it is just a matter of trying to figure out what is beings said.  Imagine my confusion at trying to understand the need of adults to play pretend.  It brings a myriad of questions to my clinical brain with the first one being…why?

JASON: Theatre as an art form, conventional wisdom claims, began in ancient Greece as part of a festival honoring Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and celebration.  Ancient Greek theatre was performed by a cast of three, supported by a large chorus.

Angel and Devil Halloween couple
The authors

These actors, and the chorus, wore masks.

Actors in Japanese Noh theatre wear masks.  Actors in medieval European mystery plays wore masks.  Actors in Commedia dell’arte wore masks.  Many stylized theatre forms of the 20th and 21st centuries—Brechtian Epic Theatre, Dada Theatre, Julie Taymor’s The Lion King—feature masks.

In all of these cases, masks allow the actor to dissociate from his or her inhibited, naturalistic self.  When the face is covered, the actor is given permission to move in a new way, behave differently than normal instincts dictate, become something new—a god, Petrucchio, a symbol of the oppressed, a singing hyena.

ALEX:  When you say Halloween, I think of crisp fall days with leaves falling and kids running around neighborhoods with candy and parents slowly strolling behind.  I get that it’s a little Rockwellian, but that’s what I imagine.

My childhood reality was very different.

JASON:  I was a very awkward kid.  Shy, intelligent in all the wrong ways, dumpy, socially inept.  I tended to fade into the background.

Of course wearing a mask—leaving my fat, awkward self behind and becoming someone or something else–appealed to me.

Of course Halloween was my favorite holiday.

This was a socially acceptable time to wear a mask, to shed my skin, to join the beautiful people for a day because I was able to forget my insecurities, forget my inadequacies, and walk among the normals.

Plus, I was a fat kid, and here was a holiday where I got free candy, and tons of it.

ALEX: Living on a four lane highway surrounded by businesses, there were no developments full of neighbors to go door to door.  Instead, it was an evening spent in the car driving to friends’ and family members’ homes for candy.  No matter how good my haul each year, I was disappointed the next day at school when my friends who lived in sprawling developments had brought back three times what I had in a fraction of the time.  Needless to say, I quickly became jaded.  Halloween was lame, I thought, and I was happy to give up trick or treating.

JASON:  I went trick or treating every year up to and including my junior year of high school.

Unlike my wife, I grew up in an urban area.  It was easy to walk from door to door, and almost every house in every neighborhood where I lived participated.  I would walk for hours, returning home periodically to empty my bag before I hit a different group of houses and filled it up again.

I’ll never forget the first time I made my own Halloween costume.  I was ten?  Eleven?  And I wanted to be a Ghostbuster.  One brown jumpsuit, some yellow spray hair dye (Egon may have had brown hair in the live-action films, but he was blond in the cartoon and I was a weird kid) and a proton pack.  Not just a plastic store-bought one, no, but one lovingly crafted from foamcore and paint and an old backpack.

Or the time I bought a pattern for a Batman costume, but before my mother made it for me I made alterations to the design.  The ears had to be taller.  Where the pattern called for blue, I wanted black.  And the symbol had to match the one on Michael Keaton’s costume in the first Tim Burton Batman film, the one with the two extra points near the tail.

The seeds of my theatre career—character development, design, attention to detail—are clearly in evidence in the Halloweens of my childhood.

ALEX: Childhood ended—we went to college—we got jobs—we both relocated for graduate school.

JASON: In college, Halloween became an excuse (like we needed one) for drinking and debauchery.  It started to lose its shine.  Sure, we still dressed up, but beyond that it was just like any other party.

As an adult, I often missed the excitement of Halloween, but for many years I had trouble recapturing it.

ALEX: When we met in grad school, Halloween always seemed to be clashing with midterms, rehearsals, and productions.

But that time came to an end our first fall after graduate school when a bunch of our friends were trying to figure out what to do for Halloween and hence the idea for the party was born.

The first year was a team effort with only three weeks to Halloween, our close friends who were bemoaning a lack of Halloween event volunteered to help and we did it.

JASON: In subsequent years, we took the party on ourselves, and the magic was back.  Every year, building the menu, shopping for decorations, learning new recipes, and coming up with costumes creates a build of anticipation.

ALEX: And while we are heading into our seventh year, and to honor the fact that we are guests on a blog about lists, we leave you with our top ten lessons learned.

  1. Expect the unexpected—you never know when your drunk neighbor will show up and start eating off of the serving spoons and telling your guests that the host is dumber than box of rocks. (Yes, this did happen).

  2. If you’re throwing the party, don’t wear a costume that takes a lot of time to put on, because there is never enough time.  And full face make up will melt off while you’re cooking.  No one likes greasepaint in the appetizers.

  3. Don’t ever throw the party on a Friday, even if Halloween falls on a Friday.  Fridays are meant for last meant prep and questioning your own sanity for planning a Halloween party.

  4. Hide the good whiskey.  Trust me.

  5. If you decide to give your male spouse/partner a lesson in shaving their legs, do not limit that advice to “lather your legs and go from there.”  They will scar themselves and you will still be hearing about it five years later.

  6. If you decide to shave your legs, and your female spouse/partner doesn’t give you enough guidance, don’t let her of the hook at least until the scars go away.  My right shin will never be the same.

  7. If you are the guest, remember that your host may be upset if you help yourself to a party favor such as parts of their DVD collection or prescription meds (true story).

  8. Get pajamas that match your costume.  If you decide to change at midnight into something you can relax in, your guests won’t notice.

  9. Take some time to enjoy the party you’ve thrown.  Eat the food, talk to your guests, have a drink.  It’s only worth it if you get to have fun, too.

  10. Nobody likes pumpkin ale.  Skip it.

Bonus tip (from ALEX):  New recipes are great until the experiment goes awry—no one likes getting the phone call that their spouse accidentally started a small stove fire while candying habaneros and simmering mystic wing sauce.  Habanero smoke inhalation could be a new form of cruel and unusual punishment.  Luckily, the stove survived for a long 36 hours of cooking and baking.

Jason A. Fleece is a theatre director and educator in the Chicagoland area, and currently serves as Associate Artistic Director of Stage Left Theatre.  He holds an M.F.A. in Directing from the Theatre School at DePaul University and a B.A. in Theatre from Point Park College in his hometown of Pittsburgh, PA.  His real last name is Fliess, but he got sick of misspellings so he figured Fleece would be easier and it stuck.

Alexandra Fliess: While a trained social worker (MSW, Loyola University Chicago) she is currently a Dean of Students at an alternative school in the south suburbs.  When she is not teaching students pro-social skills to students, she is active with Stage Left Theatre as the current board President and tending to the wayward animal farm of adopted pets she shares with Jason.  She only has one spelling for her name because she likes to keep things simple.

All Halloween posts from this series can be found here.

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