How Big Was The Prize Turkey In A Christmas Carol?

It should be noted that I absolutely love Dickens’ Christmas Carol. I love it more than any other holiday story. I think it is a shining example of the inherent good of humanity and a constant reminder of our human ability to be better than we are. I re-read it at least once a year and as an actor, I’ve been in enough productions of it to have most of it memorized by heart. However, being this intimately familiar with the source material means that sometimes, there are certain plot points that just….make me wonder.

In particular, I have maintained for many years that Scrooge giving Mrs. Cratchit the prize turkey is a DEEPLY INCONVENIENT GIFT THAT LEAVES US WITH A LOT OF UNANSWERED QUESTIONS.

With that being said, I’d like to now invite you to go on a journey with me.

Like any good historian who is trying to avoid actual work, I have done some research and some passingly adequate math and gone down a few rabbit holes, and I am very pleased to now present this research for the general edification and delight of y’all nerds.

Let us begin.

Some context: If you don’t know the general plot of Christmas Carol, let me be the first to welcome you to earth. Written by Charles Dickens in 1843, the book tells the story of Scrooge, who is mean, has a bad dream and then isn’t mean any more. As a means of showing how very Not Mean he is, he purchases the prize turkey for his employee, Bob Cratchit and his family as a whimsical Christmas surprise.
It is this particular turkey that I will now fixate on for the next 3,000 words. Buckle in, kids. We’re going on a ride.
In the text of Christmas Carol, the prize turkey is described as such:

” Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there?—Not the little prize Turkey: the big one?” “What, the one as big as me?” returned the boy. ”

Then, only a couple of paragraphs later, Scrooge says:
“He sha’n’t know who sends it. It’s twice the size of Tiny Tim” (86).
Then, when the boy shows up with the turkey, Dickens tells us:
“It was a Turkey! He never could have stood upon his legs, that bird. He would have snapped ’em short off in a minute, like sticks of sealing-wax” (87).

So the bird is, physically, so large that it couldn’t stand, and since we know that most medical resources say it takes about 25-30 PSI to break smaller bones, we’re sizing up the bird considerably here.
Scrooge also says that: “Why, it’s impossible to carry that to Camden Town,” said Scrooge. “You must have a cab.”
So if we’re to take these given circumstances into consideration, we can now make a fairly intelligent guess at the size and weight of the turkey.
Some facts, for context:

In Child Workers and Industrial Health in Britain, 1780-1850, we learn several useful facts about the literal size and scope of children in London at the time of writing. For example:

In 1835, the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical journal noted that the average 11-year old male factory worker was 50.76 inches tall and the minimum was 46.50. HOWEVER, it is later noted that ‘mining children were by far the shortest occupation group, while farm boys were the tallest’, so there’s some room for variance.
Earlier, Kenyon, in 1818, found “not much of a difference in point of health or appearance, amongst those employed in cotton factories, which, compared with those who worked at other trades, but considerable difference in favor of those Children who worked at no employment at all”.

Now, we know that Scrooge woke up on Christmas Day, which was, of course, a holiday- In the UK, Christmas Day became a bank holiday in 1834-so it’s entirely possible that the boy sent to get the turkey simply had the day off of work.

Estimates show that over 50% of the workers in British factories were under the age of 14, but, since the kid is described as being “in Sunday clothes”, we can place him in a reasonably middle-class economic bracket and assume that he is not an entirely malnourished factory urchin, so we’ll take the median of the two numbers we have and arrive at the conclusion that our turkey boy would have historically stood somewhere around 48.62 inches tall.
The CDC’s growth standards (for 2018) state that “A standard height is around 39 to 48 inches for a 5-year-old boy or girl, and a normal weight is between 34 and 50 pounds.”, so we know that we’re looking at a MUCH SMALLER child than we’re accustomed to if the kid is around 11, but I’m sticking with that age since it provides the best statistics from which to work.

However, the CDC also tells us that the average height for an 11 year old (white) male today is 54.5″ with a weight of 70.5 lb, which gets us to a healthy BMI of 16.5. (Look I know BMI is kind of trash science at this point but just roll with me here). If we use that same calculation for our given height of 48” (and assume that, being a Dickensian Londoner he’s probably at least a little less well-fed than a modern middle-class American child), we’ll adjust to place him in the slightly underweight category, which gets us to a range of 43.5-45.75 pounds.
(Which, also, then, allows us to estimate the age and size of Tiny Tim, if the turkey is, in fact, as large as this unnamed boy but TWICE the size of Tiny Tim, we come up with a Tiny Tim who is approximately 2 feet tall and 20 pounds, which is, I think, appropriately tiny). Moving on.

Now, let’s say Scrooge was overcome by the spirit of Christmas and exaggerated slightly in his newfound excitement, and the kid is bad at sight-estimating turkey weight, so we’ll round it down again to a nice even 40 pounds.
Alton “yes, daddy” Brown says that a turkey cooks at about 15-20 minutes per pound, so conservatively, we’re looking at 40 pounds times 15 minutes for a total of 600 minutes, or 10 hours even.

However, that’s also based on modern cooking times, and we’re this far in, so let’s look at what a couple of extant cookbooks from the time period say. Oh, you thought we were gonna half-ass this?

Modern Cookery for Private Families by Eliza Acton was first published in 1845, so a little after Christmas Carol but we can surmise that cooking technology stayed about the same. Acton says that “For heavy and substantial joints, a quarter of an hour is generally allowed for every pound of meat, and with a sound fire and frequent basting, will be found sufficient when the process is conducted in the usual manner, but for the SLOW process, as we shall designate it, almost double the time will be required. (171-172)

To be fair, she also says on page 267 that a turkey should take about 1 &1/2 and 2 1&2 hours, which is commensurate with the usual sizes of turkeys she mentions, which are between 7-10 pounds. (She also gives a recipe for BOILING a turkey and this upsets me).

Similarly, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, arguably the most popular cookbook of the period, (fun side note, you can still buy it on Amazon!) gives us cooking times of a “small turkey, 1-1/2 hour; moderate-sized one, about 10 lbs., 2 hours; large turkey, 2-1/2 hours, or longer.
She also tells us that the average cost of a 10 pound turkey is, “from 10s. to 12s., but expensive at Christmas, on account of the great demand”.

(I am absolutely terrible with British money, but my quick sidebar research led me to the conclusion that there are 20 shillings per pound, and a pound in 1843 is worth approximately $107.00 today, so 10 shillings is right around 1/2 a pound, which puts the cost of 10-pound turkey at about $53 in 2019 dollars and the cost of a 40-pound turkey at $180[ish] dollars. Scrooge also offers the kid half-a-crown as a tip, which works out to about $25.00 today.)
Both women mention preparing the turkeys before cooking with some variation on a chestnut stuffing, which, according to Mr. Alton Brown would add at least another 45-minutes-to-an-hour to the cook time, but we’ll ignore that for the sake of staying on track with our 10-hour estimate.

Also, maybe important to mention, just for some perspective: The heaviest turkey ever recorded was 86 pounds.
So, with all of this being said, if we’re to take Dickens at his word, Scrooge rolls up to the Cratchits with a $200, 40-something pound turkey that would take almost 10 hours to cook…and, let us not forget, for the sake of really hammering home that inconvenience, that Mrs. Cratchit has been preparing a goose that is specifically mentioned a number of times in the book (more on that later).

“But my dear Catie”, you say. “A 40-something pound turkey is ridiculous”. An excellent point. Which is why I wanted to know…what WOULD the size of a prize turkey be in 1843? To answer that question, I went to the British Newspaper Archive and looked at every specific mention of turkey, and there it was:
On Christmas Day, December 1843, Bell’s Weekly Messenger published reviews of different butchers and poulterer’s in London, and of a Mr. Donovan’s, in Oxford Street, they said:
“This shop was crammed almost to suffocation, and the samples were of a superior order. Here was a prize turkey, perhaps the largest in London, its weight 38 1/2 pounds”.

Game. Set. Match. You’re WELCOME.

So after all of that, we’ve established that it is entirely likely that Scrooge delivers a 40ish-pound turkey to the Cratchits on Christmas day and that is just a SILLY amount of turkey.
However, that wasn’t good enough for me—we know that the Cratchits get the turkey, that’s cannon, but having just suffered through cooking my very own turkey for the first time, I wanted to know if Mrs. Cratchit would have had time to cook the turkey on Christmas.

Here are my results:

To answer the question of whether or not Mrs. Cratchit would have had time to cook the turkey—now we have to be detectives of a kind- because all we have to go on is a specific series of little details that Dickens leaves us in regards to the actual timeline of Christmas Day for Scrooge.

Stave 4 closes with Scrooge learning a Valuable Lesson and then immediately waking up excited about his bedposts or whatever Victorian nonsense, but we don’t know, specifically, what TIME. What we DO know, is the following about Scrooge’s morning:

“He was checked in his transports by the churches ringing out the lustiest peals he had ever heard. Clash, clang, hammer; ding, dong, bell. Bell, dong, ding; hammer, clang, clash! Oh, glorious, glorious! Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious! Glorious!”
So we know that there are church bells ringing and that it’s daylight out, and it’s late enough in the morning that the dew point has adjusted and there’s no fog.

A few facts: Christmas Day, 1843, fell on a Monday. According to the British Almanac of 1844 (because 1843 wasn’t available on Google, deal with it), sunrise would have happened around 7:03am (but also daylight savings and standard time wasn’t established until 1895, so I’m not sure how accurate that is). Today is 8:05am so I imagine it’s close.

So we’ll say that sunrise is at 7ish, but what about the bells? In ‘Church Bells of England’, by H.B. Walters (1912) he exhaustively details the history and usage of church bells across England.

“Besides the regular Sunday ringing, it is customary to recognise the great festivals of the Church, especially Christmas and Easter, by special peals, either before the services, or early in the morning, or on the eve of the festival. At Christmas ringing usually takes place on the eve, and in many places a peal is also rung early on Christmas morning, before the services begin”. (138)

More to the point, however, he sets down some specific times that they would’ve run: “The ringing of one or more bells at an early hour on Sunday morning still obtains in a large number of parishes, though the old custom has been somewhat obscured by the introduction of early celebrations. But there are great divergencies of practice. In some churches the bell is rung at 7, in others at 8 (when no celebration), in others at 7.30, 9, or 10.” (118)
So with all of that in mind- bells, sunlight, sunrise and day of the week, we can adequately surmise that Scrooge woke up somewhere between 7-8am on Christmas morning.

From here, we’re going to get a little bit hypothetical, but you’ve read this far and don’t pretend like you don’t want to know what happens.

So. Scrooge wakes up (7am), and yells excitedly about Christmas for awhile, then looks out the window and gets the kid to go buy the turkey. Scrooge tells him if he’s back in five minutes that he’ll give him twenty bucks. We’ll say that the kid nails it, gets to the poulterer’s, there isn’t a line, buys the turkey and the shop’s man carries a 40-pound bird back to Scrooge in 10ish minutes. That puts us at around maybe 8:00am.

Also important: in the book, Scrooge doesn’t hand deliver the turkey with Rizzo on his shoulder (Muppet Christmas Carol is the best version, fight me about it), he goes to his nephew Fred’s house and has the turkey delivered to the Cratchit’s by a man from the shop. He hails a cab specifically for him, as well.

Thanks to Dickens’ details on page 15, we also know that the Cratchits live in Camden Town (and that Bob Cratchit is a sledding enthusiast).

If we’re to use our Mr. Donovan from Bell’s Messenger as the correct(ish) address for the poulterer’s, he’s on Oxford street, which is about a 15-minute car trip through modern day London by car—and Scrooge **does** hire a (horse-drawn) cab from his house one street over and around the corner, so we’ll say that at roughly 10-15 miles per hour based on city traffic, Oxford Street to Camden would be about 30 minutes, which, on our Hypothetical Turkey Timeline, puts the turkey at the Cratchit’s by 9:00am.

If we allow time for cleaning, (INCLUDING PLUCKING and dressing the turkey because let us not forget you would have had to do that bit yourself), without also making a 40-pound turkey’s worth of dressing for the sake of simplicity, Mrs. Cratchit could have probably had the turkey in the fire by …what? 10:00 maybe? We’ll say she’s really quick about it.

So that’s ten hours in the fire with constant basting, which takes us to 8:00pm, which isn’t ENTIRELY unreasonable, particularly in context of the new, fashionable dining trends of the 1840s, in which dinner was pushed back to accommodate travel times of the wealthy merchants and tradesmen who built homes outside of the now-overpopulated London. (McMillan)

But even more pressingly—WHERE did she cook it?

Bread was a staple of Victorian life, and baking was a hugely profitable, if not absolutely exhausting industry. However, as the population of London grew, so did the need for cheap and available housing, and that meant a lot of sort of “project” style homes as well as converted houses meant for one family that instead provided lodging for as many as 5-7.

Let’s take just a brief minute to talk about what housing in Camden was like. (I swear this is going somewhere)

In A History of Camden Town, 1895-1914, David Hayes writes that by 1830, “Camden Town had evolved into a crowded inner-London suburb with a very mixed character […] Most of Camden Town’s early houses had been designed for middle class families. These houses, in yellow stock brick, were typically of three storeys, with a basement service area and often an attic containing the servants’ quarters. Some smaller two-storey cottages had also been erected for the less affluent.

By the end of the nineteenth century most of the housing stock was soot-stained and run-down. Multiple occupancy had become the norm: large houses originally built for the middle classes and their servants had been divided into apartments, and few premises were without boarders or lodgers”

Back on track. These shared lodgings and multiple-family homes meant that not every home had a traditional oven, which is where public bakehouses came in.

Valerie Porter, in Yesterday’s Countryside: Country Life as it Really Was, tells us that “Meat, pies, cakes, and other dishes for festivals and holy days used to be cooked in big bread ovens by families who normally cooked on the hearth, but could afford a few extra pennies for special meals”.

She goes on to say that “people would bring along their Sunday joints on the way to church; the joints, on trays complete with the housewife’s own batter puddings and potatoes for roasting, would be popped into the baker’s ovens and churchgoers would collect their sizzling hunks of meat after church to carry them home again under a cloth”.
Dickens confirms this: “But soon the steeples called good people all, to church and chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in their best clothes, and with their gayest faces. And at the same time there emerged from scores of bye-streets, lanes, and nameless turnings, innumerable people, carrying their dinners to the bakers’ shops.” (51)

(This timing too, checks out—Mrs. Beeton tells us that the cook time for a large goose is “1-3/4 hour; a moderate-sized one, 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hour.”– just enough time to drop the goose off at the baker’s, get to church, and back to pick up your Christmas Goose, and, as Bob arrives home from Church with Tiny Tim and they get the goose soon after, this timeline makes sense.

We know from the story that the goose is not being cooked at home– “And now two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside the baker’s they had smelt the goose, and known it for their own” (52). This is confirmed later when “Master Peter, and the two ubiquitous young Cratchits went to fetch the goose, with which they soon returned in high procession (53)”

[Sidebar, Mrs. Beeton also tells us to expect to pay 5s for a goose around Christmas time, and we know that Bob Cratchit makes 15s a week at Scrooge’s place (Dickens 12), so we’re looking at about 1/3 of Bob’s salary for this Christmas goose at a modern adjusted cost of about $40].

Through context, Christmas Carol tells us that the Cratchits are part of this population of “hearth cookers” that Porter mentions in her writing: “…basking in luxurious thoughts of sage and onion, these young Cratchits danced about the table, and exalted Master Peter Cratchit to the skies, while he (not proud, although his collars nearly choked him) blew the fire, until the slow potatoes bubbling up, knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out and peeled (52).

and again, later, we get further details about the meal:

“Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce” (54) Let’s also take a moment to shout-out that Mrs. Cratchit meal-prepped her gravy to save herself some effort on Christmas.

And the fire and hearth are finally confirmed as extant when we hear about how “ apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth” (Dickens 56).

However, on page 51, Dickens says that the bakers “closed up”, and it is here that I think he is, perhaps incorrect, or at least fudging details to make things seem a little more magical- all of the world stops for Christmas in his world, but nearly every resource I found in regards to the bakehouses of London talked about how absolutely awful the working conditions were. Two examples I found very specifically assuaged my fears that the bakehouses would be closed for Christmas-

“The journeymen bakers of London are almost with• out exception overworked. From 18 to 20 hours of continuous occupation, with perhaps a nap of from an hour to two hours on a board, may be stated as the rule with the large majority of the trade. It often happens towards the end of the week that the poor fellows are employed without rest or sleep for more than 48 hours on a stretch”. (Chambers Edinburgh Journal, 1848)

And further:

“In London, as also in some of the larger provincial towns, a considerable proportion of these men are required to work both night and day. For instance, they commence their week’s labour on Sunday at 11p.m. and continue at it till about 4 p.m. the following day”. (The National Magazine, 1860)

What’s also particularly interesting to me is how the cookbooks I reference earlier are almost specifically set up to deal with this issue- most of the recipes detail dressings and trimmings and add-on dishes that can be cooked (over a fire) and done separately from your meat that is surmisably cooking elsewhere.

However, Mrs. Beeton says that you can, in fact, cook a turkey over a fire, “hearth style”-: “Fasten a sheet of buttered paper on to the breast of the bird, put it down to a bright fire, at some little distance at first (afterwards draw it nearer), and keep it well basted the whole of the time it is cooking”, so it’s possible that maybe Mrs. Cratchit just sent out the goose to give herself the day off, particularly, since as noted above, she’s also meal-prepped the gravy (and pudding).

So maybe Mrs. Cratchit decides to opt out of paying extra for the bakehouse – The real issue is that now, even if dinner isn’t going to be terribly late, we’ve still doomed poor Mrs. Cratchit to sit in front of a fireplace for 10 hours cooking a turkey– this isn’t the set-it-and-forget-it method of cooking we’re accustomed to, it’s “turn this bird on a spit and baste it constantly (if she goes for Acton) or making sure it doesn’t burn while you move it back and forth (if she goes for Mrs. Beeton) for the next ten hours so you don’t ruin a turkey that costs more than your family makes in a month” pressure.

It is also perhaps important to mention that, a late dinner would, in fact, justify Bob Cratchit coming into work 18 and a half minutes late the day later as Dickens tells us he does on page 90. (Although no one ever talks about how the entire Cratchit family gets lit AF on gin at their Christmas party, so it’s entirely possible that his ‘making merry’ was less about a mystery turkey and more about being shitcanned on that good, good Plymouth).

So, one last question then– what about the leftovers?

However, at least in terms of leftovers, both cookbooks also have a number of recipes that call for the ‘remains’ /leftover bits of roast turkeys, which makes me believe that leftover turkey is far from a modern problem. Salting/smoking meat was also fairly consistently popular at the time, and being a family of meager means, my general educated opinion is that Mrs. Cratchit would have used these methods to preserve as much as possible to avoid waste.

Our dear Mrs. Beeton, too, had some VERY specific instructions on cutting waste:

WHEN FUEL AND FOOD ARE PROCURED, the next consideration is, how the latter may be best preserved, with a view to its being suitably dressed. More waste is often occasioned by the want of judgment, or of necessary care in this particular, than by any other cause. In the absence of proper places for keeping provisions, a hanging safe, suspended in an airy situation, is the best substitute. A well-ventilated larder, dry and shady, is better for meat and poultry, which require to be kept for some time; and the utmost skill in the culinary art will not compensate for the want of proper attention to this particular. Though it is advisable that annual food should be hung up in the open air till its fibres have lost some degree of their toughness, yet, if it is kept till it loses its natural sweetness, its flavour has become deteriorated, and, as a wholesome comestible, it has lost many of its qualities conducive to health. As soon, therefore, as the slightest trace of putrescence is detected, it has reached its highest degree of tenderness, and should be dressed immediately. During the sultry summer months, it is difficult to procure meat that is not either tough or tainted. It should, therefore, be well examined when it comes in, and if flies have touched it, the part must be cut off, and the remainder well washed. In very cold weather, meat and vegetables touched by the frost, should be brought into the kitchen early in the morning, and soaked in cold water. In loins of meat, the long pipe that runs by the bone should be taken out, as it is apt to taint; as also the kernels of beef. Rumps and edgebones of beef, when bruised, should not be purchased. All these things ought to enter into the consideration of every household manager, and great care should be taken that nothing is thrown away, or suffered to be wasted in the kitchen, which might, by proper management, be turned to a good account. […]Much waste is always prevented by keeping every article in the place best suited to it. Vegetables keep best on a stone floor, if the air be excluded; meat, in a cold dry place; as also salt, sugar, sweet-meats, candles, dried meats, and hams. Rice, and all sorts of seed for puddings, should be closely covered to preserve them from insects; but even this will not prevent them from being affected by these destroyers, if they are long and carelessly kept.

Out of sheer curiosity, I also checked a couple of almanacs just to be thorough and because this is my new weird obsession, and it seems like December 1843, the weather was actually really warm, which is probably bad news for our leftovers– “In 1843, the year Charles Dickens first published A Christmas Carol and the public sent their first Christmas cards, the temperature reached a balmy 10.1C (50F) – though dense fog probably made it feel at least a bit more seasonal.”(source) , so just to ABSOLUTELY ruin your Christmas, every time you’ve seen it magically snow at the end of Christmas Carol that’s a dirty, dirty lie.

So that’s…about it. I remain steadfast in my belief that a 40-pound turkey is not an appropriate holiday gift, but I also recognize that it’s absolutely meant to be symbolic of generosity and of the newfound socio-economic level the Cratchits will enjoy with Bob’s generous raise promised by Scrooge. In the interim, I hope that you learned a little something about and how closely he integrated the realities of daily life into a short little story that changed the way the entire world celebrated Christmas—but also, if we’re being honest, I just really enjoyed going down this rabbit hole for the sake of being able to academically prove that a very silly plot point that’s always bugged me a little bit contains a whole lot of incredibly fascinating insight into the way people lived and ate in Dickensian London!

God bless us, everyone!

Streets of Camden Town, Camden History Society, London 2003, pp.10–12.

Church Bells of England, HB Walters –

[Child Workers and Industrial Health in Britain, 1780-1850],

Modern Cookery by Eliza Acton

Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management

Bell’s Weekly Messenger, December 25th, 1843

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens-

Click to access Dickens_Carol.pdf

CDC Growth Chart

British Almanac 1844

Alton Brown Turkey Recipe

Where I’ve Been.

I have always had a fascination with coins. Well, I suppose, not coins themselves, but the idea of coins.

When I was a kid, I had grand aspersions to be an archeologist. My mom was the type of parent who encouraged exploration, so she signed me up for Archeology Magazine, many copies of which still live in my childhood bedroom with gap-toothed pages where I cut out pictures and articles out and hung them on my wall, sometimes connecting them with push-pins and yarn to make my room look more treasure-hunty.

Perhaps it is my wonder about the people of the past that have led me to where I am now– at the halfway point of my last year of grad school– one master’s degree down and another on the horizion, planning for an uncertain future that, at this juncture, has no set destination and not much of a plan on how to get there.

There was an article once in Archeology Magazine about coins. How sometimes, researchers would discover large piles of coins in random places in the ruins of ancient cities, which led, usually, to one of a couple of options: 1. The place had been a bank. 2. The place had been some sort of business. 3. The place had been a shrine or a wishing well.

I always liked the third option best. The thought that a thousand or so years ago, a person was so worried about some problem that they stopped and tossed a coin as an offering or a wish, only for someone to collect that wish in the age of Ebay, for someone else to catalogue and collect again and again.

Discovering the detrius and extraneous stuff of life. Collecting re-claimed wishes.

I think, maybe, in some way, this notion about things collected again and again is why I love Shakespeare. Some people find the notion of playing Hamlet terriying because of all the comers-before that had to Say The Words. Me? It find it reassuring.

For me, it’s like going to church. That moment when everyone stands up and sings a song, but intead its raw, human creativity and emotion captured in iambic pentameter. But with Shakespeare, everyone still knows the words. Shakespeare makes me feel connected to something more important. Who came before.

Tonight, we opened Troilus and Cressida. Five actors, the entire Trojan war. Tonight, for the first time in a really, really long time, I felt that connection. The spark. With my cast, with the audience, and finally, after almost a year of missing the feeling completely, the words.

I am a fan of gestures. Tokens. Signs of appreciation. After my first Titus, I started a tradition of giving ancient Roman coins to my cast mates whenever I found myself in a Roman Shakespeare play. It turns out that the detrius of Rome comes pretty cheap on Ebay.

So I did the same for the T&C cast. Coins from ancient greece and ancient Macedonia, (which is about as good as you can get to Troy). And it felt good. I’m not good at gratitude. I’m not particularly good at giving gifts. I’m awkward and self-effacing, but in this case, with this cast and this play and where I am, now, I felt like I needed to do …something.

So, much like Oprah, errybody got a coin. Simple. Small. But to me, huge.

What fascinates me is not the what– it’s, in the most pedandic way possible, an old-ass coin. It’s not the coin, itself. It’s the wh0, and when. The history its seen. Two thousand years of human history whizzing by at the speed of everything, only to end up, accidentally, with me. The people its met. The places its seen. So much in a couple of milimeters that it tends to get overdramatic and very quickly.

The idea that maybe, impossibly, though I’d never in any capacity ever known at all, that a thousand years before four hundred years ago before the story was written down, the real, live person just happened across it.

Maybe Hector or Agamemnon or Achilles– when they were still real people, before they were legends and before the particularities of their actual existence were lost to time, maybe they dropped this particular coin in that particular well for an archeologist to find and an amateur collector to buy in bulk and for me to end up with 9 small pieces of the past in my mailbox.


Weight Gain and What I Gained.

A couple of days ago, I was walking out of the restroom at the movie theater, when I got trapped between two mirrors on opposite walls. I hate that. My scumbag brain uses those opportunities to point out every flaw it can, starting, usually, with: “Ugh, you’re so disgusting and fat”, moving on to visible bra lines and ending somewhere around “ugh, your profile is so embarrassing. Look at your huge nose and your weird neck hump”, because apparently my scumbag brain thinks I’m Richard III.

But this time, I just looked in the mirror and thought. “Huh. I got fat again”, and went to join Chris inside. The movie was terrible but the popcorn was delicious.

Yesterday, I woke up, barely, in time for class. I had a migraine and was in that “should I or shouldn’t I go” mode while I waited for my overdose of Excedrin to kick in. I stumbled to my closet, and pulled out the first pair of pants I could find, only to get them about midway up my thighs, where they remained stalwart and unyielding. “Oh”, I thought, “I grabbed the old ones”, rummaged around, found a pair that fit, and rushed out the door.

It wasn’t until I was sitting in class and listening to a heated debate about the textual authorship of Star Wars (because this is what happens when you let a bunch of nerds study Shakespeare) when I realized that something profound had happened– my jeans hadn’t fit –and I hadn’t freaked out.

Normally, this would have set me off on a spiral of self-hatred, shame, guilt and self-harm that would have lasted two or three days. I would have cried, thrown a really attractive tantrum, then eventually resigned myself to relapse, all the while pretending that everything is fine.

It’s really, really hard. That cycle of self-hatred is exhausting, especially when paired with my need to appear at all times like I have my life together.

Last semester this time, my life was brilliantly together. I was going to the gym four times a week and doing neat crossfit weight lifting things, then graduated in the summer to running the lakes in Winona. I lost about 30 pounds, and I was proud of how I looked. I took selfies from high angles to show off my new, fancy crossfit arms and bought pants a size smaller than I was used to.

Then I started writing my thesis. That transition, from gym rat to library mole, was difficult. I felt guilty. I felt like I was letting someone down. I felt like I should be able to handle it all, do all the things, maintain the fitness and write the thesis and do the hard classes and plan my life– but at some point, I had to admit that I just…couldn’t.

My depression had reared its ugly head, worse than ever before, telling me that I was awful, that I was a fuck-up for barely being able to get out of bed in the morning, that all the good actors wake up at 6am and go to the gym and write three theses a day, so what was wrong with me that handling school was such a struggle? I’m Catie Osborn, it’s supposed to be easy.

I realized, one night, as I cried (all over Chris), that this wasn’t working. Doing it all was destroying me, physically and mentally. I was depressed and on the verge of a major eating disorder relapse. My fuckity back was fucked again, from trying to push myself too hard in the short amount of time I’d found to exercise that day, and my motivation to do anything had just disappeared. I was hurting, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

So I prioritized. The two hours of gym and clean-up time became two hours between classes spent working on my thesis. The five mile runs around the lake became marathon paper writing sessions. And I started to feel better. I admitted defeat on my thesis and shamefully asked for an extension, and had one granted to me with a beautiful message of support and understanding. I was so afraid to fail that I forgot to ask for help in my success.

Sure, I gave up the gym (for now), but I gained a master’s degree (I mean, let’s just hope at this point, or this post is going to be really embarrassing in about a month). I sat, literally, on my butt for the better part of a year researching a play I love and writing something that I’m proud of.

That sitting around taught me about my body, what it feels like when it’s just…there, not being pushed or asked to lift weights or run for miles, and it turns out my body is broke as shit. Literally, total garbage. Who pulls a muscle getting out of bed in the morning? Seriously. I’m working on resolving the medical side of things, but allowing myself to listen to my body allowed me to realize something wasn’t right and prevent further injury.

I studied, I read, and I fell in love with a new area of scholarship, which was a huge deal for me. After a semester of failing to find the motivation to do anything, I am excited about school again and throwing myself into research and academia in a way that I was too afraid to attempt before. I feel more confident in the future. I discovered that I am in love with an incredible person, friend and partner who has listened and put up with me through one of the most difficult years of my life, unquestioningly and with unfailing support.

I discovered, this year, that gaining weight doesn’t mean that I lost anything at all.

A temporary change to my appearance does not fundamentally alter who I am. My body will shift and change from year to year, hell, from month to month based on the quality of pizza in the town I’m currently living in, but who I am at my core does not change with the size of my jeans.

This morning, when I looked in the mirror and saw the bra lines and the change in the fit of my clothes, I didn’t panic. I just picked up my backpack and headed for the library to finalize the last draft of my thesis and get it submitted by tomorrow– the second to last step to finishing this year and graduating with a master’s degree.

It’s a beautiful day.
I walked.

Who is Rey?

So The Force Awakens ~finally~ came out. In celebration of this, and because I have woefully neglected my blog this break, I decided the best possible tribute would be to write down my crappy fan theory about Rey.

Obviously, this entry contains spoilers, so I would stop reading now if you are still needing to be kept spoiler free.
You’ve been warned.

One of the BIGGEST questions being discussed right now is just who exactly Rey is.

Lots of people think she’s Luke’s daughter. I am here to tell you, you’re wrong.

While I suppose it COULD be possible, narratively, it would create a situation in which Luke is training his own daughter, who he…for some reason…abandoned on Jakku…and forgot about…and also never told any of his other friends about her…

That narrative is weak. It’s also just shitty writing. Sorry, everyone else in the galaxy, only people directly related to Luke Skywalker and his friends can be interesting characters.

So my theory was developed in the car on the ride home. It is, partly, Chris’s idea as well, but the hypotheticals and implications are mine.

What if Rey is Snoake’s granddaughter?

Lots of people on the internet are currently theorizing that it is possible that Snoake is Darth Plagueis, and if you add THAT into the equation, it becomes an even more interesting dynamic.

They established in the originals that SUPPOSEDLY, Palpatine’s master had figured out immortality using the force. Looking at Snoake, it’s clear that he’s suffered massively catastrophic wounds, but he’s still alive.

So if Snoake is actually Plagueis in disguse/hiding, and he had a kid who wasn’t Force sensitive (Luke generation) and was a huge disappointment to him, then that kid had a kid (Rey), and Snoake, like, finds out that she’s massively Force sensitive and tries to take her, but his son (we’ll say for the sake of argument) either dies or sends her off with Aunt and Uncle Dursely and they dump her on Jakku, it would make sense that the whole movie Snoake kept asking about her/trying to figure out who she was.

It also answers the question of how Snoake would have established himself as Supreme Leader that quickly. If he’s been lurking around since before the Death Star and helped Palpatine rise to power, that gives him a pretty fantastic backstory and motivation to want to get back at the Rebellion.

Then, when Rey revealed herself to be hypothetically more force-powerful than Kylo Ren, Snoake got SUPER interested because he has a shot to find her again and train her in the dark side.

It also makes Rey’s relationship with Kylo Ren really interesting because he obviously is trying to please Snoake, and it opens him up for the possibility of a proto-sibling rivalry type thing with Rey where he eventually gets really pissed at Snoake for being so focused on finding her instead of Kylo’s training.

THEN that also means that if if Luke is training Rey, then his padawan is descended from the line that trained Palpatine, which could cause all sorts of interesting internal struggles and conflicts in Luke about repeating history (see: Vader).

The ultimate showdown will (probably) involve Luke, Rey, Kylo and….someone for Luke to fight. So what if Luke is pitted against Rey’s grandfather who is also one of the most powerful Sith lords in the galaxy? How will Luke respond to the profound call of the Dark Side?


Sorry, I’ll stop now.

Eating Disorders and Disney Princesses (or I’m Too Fat To Be A Princess).

Disclosure: This has taken off in popularity in a way that I never expected. I am profoundly touched. However, in reading this, I realized that I was not originally clear in my message. This was never about Disney’s casting practices (as some people very rightly seemed to take away) but more about my own insecurities. I believe that writing is a living thing, so I have opted to edit this to reflect as such.

I have never particularly liked my body.
I have always particularly wanted to be a Disney Princess.

Keep both of these in mind, they become important later on.

Last summer, my boyfriend, Chris asked me casually if I might want to go to Disney World sometime. Roughly two weeks later, he surprised me with an invitation to tag along with his family on their trip this year. I was floored at the generosity, but even more excited when I found out that we’d be going during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party– the one time of the year that Disney allows grown-ups to wear costumes in the park.

Naturally, I was excited. Costumer problems.

We decided, after some debate, that we would do a group costume. Chris would be Lumiere, his brother would be Cogsworth, his mom Mrs. Potts and his dad would be Gaston. I would be Belle.

When I was a kid, Belle was always my favorite Disney Princess. She was the one who read books (just like me!) and people thought she was weird (just like me!) and wanted adventure in the great wide somewhere (just like me, cuz someday I’d be old enough to drive!). It’s cliche, I know. But I love that movie. I still remember falling asleep to the soundtrack and dancing around in the basement, pretending to be Belle.

I am not proud to admit that when Chris suggested the group costume, my first thought was not excitement, it was “But I’m too fat to be a princess. Will people take me seriously in the costume?”. Even after four years of being in recovery (with slips and trips and failures along the way), it is startling how fast my mind goes into Eating Disorder Brain whenever I’m confronted with dealing with my own size.

Disney’s requirements for playing Belle at Disney World are simple: be a decent actor, know your character, be between 5’4″ and 5’7″ and, most importantly, for the purposes of this story, fit a size 10 or smaller.

I am a size 12.

As such, my scumbag Eating Disorder Brain has a literal numerical value by which to compare my own body. According to “the numbers”, I don’t measure up. (Ha ha ha get it). My Eating Disorder Brain latched onto that number and that voice of self doubt in my head constantly told me that I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t pretty enough, I was too big to be a princess. I wasn’t “right”.

I have been, over the course of my journey with an eating disorder, anywhere between a size 0 and a size 20. As I have gotten further into recovery, my body has settled into the range of a 12. I’m not particularly stoked about it, but I have found that trying to be much smaller results in the danger of relapse and any larger makes me, well, in danger of relapse. It’s a tightrope.

So we made the costumes. Over the course of three weeks, I meticulously built the costumes from scratch, drafting my own patterns, staying up late and sewing during spare moments between classes. About a week before we were slated to leave, I tried my costume on. It didn’t fit. It was about 4 inches too big in every direction. I was pissed– I’d spent a solid day building the dress, and it didn’t fit. I cried.

Chris looked at me and said “Maybe it’s time you reevaluate how you see yourself”. I hadn’t trusted my own measurements– I couldn’t possibly be THAT size. I added inches for safety because12118623_904267604074_8426076473956985471_ne I didn’t want to face the humiliation of putting on a too-small dress. Instead, I’d wasted a week of work because I couldn’t accept that might actually be the size written on the tape measure.

I fixed the dress (well, completely remade) and off we went. On the night of the event, I was convinced that the dress wasn’t going to fit, that I’d somehow gained 40 pounds on our trip, that I was going to break the zipper, that people would laugh at me. Eating Disorder Brain is an ugly thing. The dress fit.

All night, people kept stopping me. Frankly, I was surprised, since Chris had told me not to expect much attention since most everyone was going to be in costume. I’d expected maybe a couple smiles, but the minute we stepped out of our hotel room, kids were whispering and pointing.

Over the course of the night, about a dozen people stopped me for photos. Many more stopped me to ask if I worked at the park. Several people didn’t believe me when I told them I didn’t work there, one cast member approached me and told me I looked more like Belle than the Belles she works with.

One guy insisted that we track down a cast member who could connect us with the casting department. “Your entire outfit is your audition, you should be working here”. My Eating Disorder Brain whispered “They won’t hire me, I’m too fat”.

A group of parents came over and asked me to take a photo with their kids. I told them what the people at the gate had told me to say: “Just so you know, I’m not the REAL Belle, I’m just dressed like her tonight– the real Belle is somewhere else, you should try and find her tonight!” They took their pictures with me anyway. My Eating Disorder Brain wondered if I looked fat in the pictures.

Several of the moms pulled me aside and thanked me, they were relieved to have a picture with “Belle” (even a fake one) because their daughters had desperately wanted to meet her and they couldn’t afford the park hopper pass that would have taken them to the other park where the “real” Belle was appearing that day. My Eating Disorder Brain assured me I would never have groups of little girls hoping to take their picture with me.

What particularly frustrated me was I happened upon a (park official) Gaston, who was legitimately the worst actor I have ever seen. Not only did he barely know enough about the character to converse with the little girl who was interrogating him about his desire to murder the Beast, it was abundantly clear that he didn’t really care– he wearing the costume, therefore, he was the character and that was good enough.

But he fit the costume, so he got the job. My Eating Disorder Brain told me “see? It’s not about your talent, it’s about your size”.

Later, two little girls bum-rushed me, hugged me around the waist and yelled “OHMYGOSHITSBELLEYOUARESOPRETTYCANWETAKEYOURPICTURE?” I told them my Official Disney Rules Statement within earshot of two Disney cast members. One of them looked at me in confusion and said “I thought you worked here!”. The little girls got their picture, their dad shook his head at me and said “If you don’t work here, they are doing a terrible job in casting”. My Eating Disorder Brain whispered “Size 10”.

20151020_224116My favorite moment came when we went to go take a picture at the Be Our Guest restaurant. We watched several people ask to go inside for photos, and they were granted access. When we asked, the cast member out front paused and apologetically explained that we couldn’t go inside– our costumes were too good and he didn’t want people to have the impression that “official” actors were visiting to do meet and greets. He took our picture outside for us…..sort of. (Potato camera is a potato).

It’s stupid, I know. And probably not even worth a blog entry.

But there’s something important, I think, about recognizing the damage that Eating Disorder Brain can do, even when I am eating healthily and maintaining recovery.

But I am, still, a size 12.

Not everyone has Eating Disorder Brain, but I am fairly certain most of us struggle with self-doubt. How can we ever be the Disney Princess when Disney tells us that only women size 0-10 can be the princess?

I have considered many times trying to lose enough weight to meet the requirements and showing up an an audition, just to say I did. Just to see what happens. Maybe I’d get the job, maybe my nose would be too weird for them and they would say “thanks but no thanks”. I don’t know.

Disney says that Belle has to be a size 10. That’s fine, and their right as the owners of her image. But what I learned is that number doesn’t magically make someone a princess. I’m not calling for some massive political movement, or really even change. I am the size I am, and that is okay. Disney says that to be a princess, you have to be not the size I am. And I suppose that is okay.

But a couple of nights ago, I felt beautiful. That is not often the case.
No little girls pointed and said “she’s too fat”.
Instead, a couple of nights ago, little girls stopped me in my tracks and begged to take my picture.
A couple of nights ago, I was a Disney Princess, size 12 and all.

Not many people talk about the recovery end of Eating Disorders as something ongoing. Most people think that it is a “go to rehab and you’re cured” type thing. And that’s not the case. Every day, I struggle with that gnawing, shitty voice inside my head that tells me that I’m too fat, not good enough, not pretty enough– recovery is learning to ignore that voice, to silence it, to find ways to remind yourself that you are worthy. And it sucks. Because even in truly magical moments, being at Disney World, dressed as a character I have admired my whole life, feeling beautiful and strong and confident and excited with a man I love more than anything in the world and his incredible family, that voice still tried to tell me that I wasn’t good enough, I could never be a princess.

And I suppose, at the very least, on one night in October, I proved that voice wrong.

An Edit:

I am honored that this post resonated with so many people, and so many people have shared it among their friends.

Somehow, through one of those shares, this got posted on the internet in a public forum. Thank you to whoever shared it, I am happy that you thought it was worthy of the Internet’s attention as a whole.

However, a bunch of people have jumped on the bandwagon and started criticizing me, saying that “I feel entitled to the job” and that “just because a few kids liked my costume, I think I deserve to work there”. That is assuredly not the point. My point is that just because Disney has mandated that their princesses are a certain size, everyone has the right to feel beautiful. Everyone has the right to feel entitled to the space they fill. Everyone, of any size, has the right to feel respected and included and valued. I often fail at many of these.

Disney can hire whoever they want.

What I hoped to do was start a conversation regarding the self-doubts that many people feel regarding body image and the pressure to be a certain size. I think I have done that, to the best of my small ability. My experience is my own, and I can only speak for myself. Do I think my costume was balls awesome? Yes. And I will admit to being proud of it. But this isn’t about getting a job at Disney. I’m not asking for a job.

What I’m asking is for the people who read this to consider how many times their self-doubts negate the truth. How many times are you told “you look beautiful” and wave it off? How many times have you looked in the mirror and only seen imperfections? How many compliments do you reject as flattery, not truth? It’s not about the job, or the costume or really, even about being a “princess”. It’s about learning to accept myself–ourselves– as we are. It’s about recognizing the beauty and humanity that others see, even when we are too clouded with our own self-doubts to see it ourselves.

Love yourself. You are beautiful.

Catie out.

My Wandering Feet and Important Work

Last night, I was mustering up the motivation to actually do some real work on my thesis when an email popped up.

” I came to your blog by the way of Reddit. I sniffed around the /r/WilliamShakespeare subreddit for anything and everything Titus Andronicus and found your comments. I was cast as Lavinia in a production of Titus Andronicus! ….I just wanted to say: Thank you. Thank you so, so much.

As you know, Titus Andronicus isn’t produced very often, and even then, there’s not very much about Lavinia. Aside from the “oh she’s pretty and quiet and just sits there”, which of course infuriates me. Being able to go through your process was absolutely amazing and I know I’ll return to your blog as rehearsals start up.”

I waited until after Chris had gone to bed and I snuck back to my computer, intent on sending the Best Email Ever to this girl, to offer her my support and advice, but instead, I cried.


Awhile ago, I posted this photo on my facebook.

In it, I am describing how Iambic Pentameter works to a group of students from a Children’s Theatre in Minnesota. The reason, in particular, that I was giving this workshop is because they are doing Titus Andronicus this year, and wanted a workshop on it.

I love giving workshops. Teaching Shakespeare in a an environment where I can casually crack jokes and answer questions and go on weird tangents about the timelines of Shakespeare plays feels, to me, so very ‘right’ that I have a hard time not launching into Education Artist Mode whenever asked about Shakespeare. I’m good at it.

I have never really believed I am *truly* good at a lot of things, but I believe that I am good at this.

Anyway, on my Facebook, I posted this statement along with that picture.

I still have a moment when I think “Wait, me? you want ME to do this?!?”– because I’m still not used to being the one who knows things, I’m used to being the awkward kid who’s way too excited and has way too many questions. And every time I present a workshop or teach a class, I wind up in a room full of incredible people– sometimes kids, sometimes adults, sometimes students, sometimes retirees who always give me new insight into this thing I love. I get really emotional about it sometimes, but it means the world to me that I get to do this, that the people I work with understand the passion and fire I feel about Shakespeare and trust me to impart that on others in a way that speaks to who I am.

One of my friends, one of those insanely talented, clever and witty women I seem to have been blessed with commented back, admonishing me, in her friendly way, to “start believing it”.

That was hard to read. Because she was right. She was really quite right.


Earlier this year, I got turned down for an education job that I really wanted. I’d put a lot of work into my audition/presentation and when I was turned down for the position, I was told, essentially, that I move around too much and, basically, got too excited and so didn’t appear professional enough to represent their organization. I was too excited about Shakespeare to teach Shakespeare.

That. Hurt. I was devastated. After spending so very long in my adult life trying to first figure out and then accept who I am as an artist and a teacher, it felt like a very direct personal attack. I wasn’t good enough for them: not because I didn’t know the material, but because I couldn’t turn off who I was. Now, to be fair, it was also a very fair assessment. I do move when I talk, quite a bit. I pace, I gesticulate wildly. I shift back and forth. I tend to wander. I like to look everyone in the eye. I like to use the space I’m given. I make a point to try and fill it with the energy and passion I feel about what I’m teaching. I get excited. I get distracted. That’s just who I am.

And then I watched this video:

Amanda Palmer is one of my personal heroes, sort of the quintessential non-traditional Strong Female who helped me to stop being embarrassed about how my voice sounds and whose voice, writing and lyrics served as sort of the “if she can do it, maybe I can do” type-muse in regards to my poetry and art. She’s awesome, basically.

But Amanda Palmer can’t stand still. She wanders. She paces. She shifts back and forth. And still, Amanda Palmer has a TED talk with 3 million views. And she is not afraid to be herself.

On the drive back to Virginia, I listened to her audio book– sort of a 12-hour version of this TED talk, interspersed with biography and personal musings and stories. It’s a brilliant, lovely book. One of the first things she talked about was giving the TED talk. Nowhere does she mention being critiqued for moving around too much, she only talks about the audience members who came up to her weeks and months and years afterwards, thanking her.

This summer, I got to give a short 15 minute lecture on King John before each performance. I’d been asked to put together the educational materials for it, and along the way, someone looked at me and said “why don’t you just do it?”

The first night I gave the talk, I was terrified. All I could think of was how I’d been turned down for a job just like this. I stumbled. I stammered. I lost my place. I literally lied to the audience and told them the wrong king was in power. (Richard the Lionheart is Richard I, not Richard II, as I had mistakenly typed). After the talk, I thanked the audience for their attention and let them know that I would be available for questions and comments over at the merchandise booth after the show.

I went back to my little merchandise table and sighed. What the fuck was I thinking, like I have ANY right to be here, to do this? I was selling the t-shirts for fuck’s sake, I wasn’t some notable scholar. I was just…me.

And then, during intermission, people started coming up and thanking me. They thanked me for the presentation, for the educational materials we hand out– most of them were overjoyed to learn that I’d designed them for all of the shows, not just this one, which is why they all sort of matched– and, most meaningfully, for my energy and passion. The first night, about 15 people came up.

Well, I figured, it WAS opening night. The fancy donors and board members tend to come to openings, and they are usually a little more vocal. It was a fluke. Except it wasn’t.

The next night, the same thing happened. And the next night, the same thing. People coming up, thanking me for explaining the show, for helping them understand it, for being “so excited about Shakespeare!”. I heard that one over, and over again.

Slowly, I started to believe it. I was still terrified that someone would call me out as an impostor, that I’d drop my note cards and humiliate myself in front of 60 people, that I’d be laughed off the stage….but instead, something entirely different happened. Every night, people listened as I talked about lineage and symbolism– interspersed with Star Wars jokes and shitty puns. It was entirely mine, and the audience laughed with me– not at me.

And I wandered. I would gesticulate wildly, drawing diagrams in the air of relationships and plot points, often getting so excited that I would wheel around 180 degrees mid-sentence, to address the end of the thought to the audience on the opposite side of the 3/4 thrust, only to turn again a split second later to send a joke to the lady in the first row. It was Shakespeare Education: Catie Style.

And it worked. It worked so well that some people, not content to just thank me, personally, started seeking out my boss or the artistic director to compliment me. It was a really, really cool feeling.

Maybe, I thought, I was good at this.


Getting rejected from that first job didn’t ruin my life or drastically change the course of human existence, it was just disappointing. But ultimately, it wound up being the best thing that could have happened to me. I had convinced myself that I wasn’t fit for teaching, that no one like ME could teach, that no one would take me seriously or trust me as a teacher.

But instead, this summer, I was given that trust, fully and completely, because other people believed for me. Not only did I get to teach, I got to create the workshops that I taught. Not only did I get to teach Shakespeare, but I got to be funny and silly and nerdy while doing it. I learned that someone like ME can teach, because I was doing it, every day, and the response I got was nearly unanimous: that what I was doing mattered, and that I was good at what I did.

I have jokingly told people that my life’s goal is to become like, the internationally recognized expert on Titus Androncius. I want to be The Titus Girl, the one you call when your theatre is doing Titus so she can come teach her goofy Titus Workshop to your actors and make your production phenomenal. I’m like 90% serious about it at this point.

So last night, in the middle of a pretty big bout of depression and self-loathing for my inability to focus on Real Important Work, I got this email, from a stranger on the internet, asking my advice about being Lavinia, because she’d found some comments I’d made.

And something about that was just…profound to me. In probably a really douchey, eye-rolling way, it was profound. After spending all summer worrying about if I was really worthy of this, if someone like ME would be taken seriously— it wasn’t a fancy workshop or teaching seminar, it was a few simple, pointed statements that I’d made on an internet forum, where I hadn’t worried about how I sounded or how I presented or if I wandered around too much– I’d just spoken honestly, with the passion and joy I feel about Shakespeare, and someone had trusted me enough to email a complete stranger and ask her opinion and her view.

And so I cried.

I think, sometimes, the Real Important Work isn’t just my thesis, or research papers– it’s found here, on my blog, where I talked about the process and my personal experience, where, even when I wrote it, I would think things like “no one is ever going to want to read this” and “this is so self indulgent”….

But maybe it’s not. Maybe the most important work we can give is the work that comes not from a writing prompt or a looming thesis deadline. Maybe It’s the most honest work that is truly important. The work where we get to be ourselves, where we speak truth into the void, –truth filled with Star Wars jokes and shitty puns– and trusting that there is an audience who will hear us, as we are, and recognize that our individual voices and stories –stories told with wandering feet and wildly gesticulating hands-are all remarkable, all valuable, and all worthy of sharing.

I am starting to believe.

Oh and if you feel the need to check out or support that all-women Titus, check them out and send them some love.

Grad School, Year One: A Recap

Almost exactly a year ago, I was sitting in a dorm room in Winona, Minnesota, working as an intern at the Great River Shakespeare Festival while I waited to start grad school. Today, I am sitting in a dorm room in Winona, Minnesota, working as an intern with *slightly more responsibility* at the Great River Shakespeare Festival, and my desk has a big pile of papers and notebooks on it.

You know. Because I’m writing a thesis.

The notion of me, Catie Osborn, writing a thesis is still hilarious to me. Compile it with the fact that people have recently been asking me, in absolute seriousness “So, are you going to go for your doctorate?” makes the whole thing hilariously bizarre.

No one ever told me that “being an adult” is something that gradually occurs. Much like the fact that I was SHOCKED to learn in high school that my “grown up” handwriting was never going to kick in and I was stuck with the monkey-scratching that my dad taught me when I was six, I have suddenly realized that there is no ‘moment’ of adult-hood. Well, actually, I HAD that moment. I was slightly tipsy and standing on stage at my favorite karaoke bar, gangster-rapping a Miley Cyrus song while doing the Pee-Wee Herman dance when I had this sudden epiphany that this was the adult I had grown up to become.

I don’t know how I feel about that. I thought that Becoming an Adult meant suddenly understanding how to do your taxes and being able to manage money, but apparently for me, Becoming an Adult means being able to buy my own swords and choosing to leave a really solid job to pursue a Master’s in Shakespeare. I’m not complaining– it’s just not what 9-year-old Catie ever thought her life was going to be.

So. Grad School.

Year One of grad school went off without much to-do. It’s funny– so many people told me that OH MY GOD GRAD SCHOOL IS GOING TO BE SO STRESSFUL AND YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!! Honestly, 90% of the time? I thought grad school was pretty damn easy.

I was actually disappointed with how easy some of my classes were at the beginning– I understood the issue– a program built for both sides of “English Major” and “Theatre Major” spectrum meant spending some time getting everyone on the same page, but goddamn was it boring sitting through classes on what Iambic Pentameter and a sonnet were. In a graduate program. About Shakespeare.

Eventually, I realized that I needed to shift my attitude. So instead of being annoyed, I decided to be grateful that my little band of Prenzie Players had given me, over my time with them, the (free) equivalent of a year-one graduate school education because they care so much about the language. That helped, a little.

I also conquered a monumental task for myself and appeared on stage (vaguely) naked. That was a bizzare, weird, challenging but ultimately empowering experience. One of the second years was doing her thesis on nudity in the theatre, and I, for some reason, agreed to be part of her project. She was doing Troilus and Cressida and asked me to play Cressida. Of course I said yes. And so it came to pass that I showed my boobs to my professors before Christmas break of my first year of graduate school. Everyone was super supportive and professional about it, which was nice, but it was just such a weird experience getting naked backstage before going on. It was like that dream you have where you go to school without clothes on, except it was absolutely supposed to be like that.

Towards the middle of the year, I fell pretty hard into some serious depression. I’ve dealt with a little in the past, but the combination of frustration with the program, being away from home/friends/the Blue Cat, the lack of creative outlets for “my thing” (read: slam poetry) meant that I fell pretty deep into a funk for a couple of months.

I fell out of recovery for awhile, which sucked, but as shitty as I was feeling it was just another failure on the fail pile that seemed to be my life at the time. Today, as I write this, I think I’m at 30 days or something– sticking back in recovery has been challenging, but I’m working at it. Finding my creative outlet helped. A lot.

Thankfully, one of the local creative types who is friends with Chris approached me and asked me to be a part of her miniature performance series. Her name is Carmel, and of the fearless, fantastic females that I have the privilege to know, she is very, very high on that list. So depressed and fed-up Catie found herself involved in a group of incredibly talented and creative women, performing slam poetry in a goofy costume in a bookstore on Sunday afternoons, and slowly, the clouds began to lift.

I also worked my way into being the semi-official program photographer, which has been a saving part of my existence in grad school. I didn’t know how much I loved photography until I started doing it, but it has become my creative outlet. It also serves as an excellent service— getting to archive the productions this year has allowed me to both improve as a photographer, but also as a director– if it looks good in a picture, it will look good on stage. IMG_2340

Getting to perform/take pictures at the American Shakespeare Center is also incredible. I mean, THIS is the view from the stage. I become a better actor just by standing there.

Around the same time, casting for the first year show, Much Ado About Nothing, happened. Now, anyone who knows Much Ado can tell you that there are exactly two roles in that play that any Shakespearean actor wants on their resume, and they are Beatrice and Benedick. So when the cast list came out and I discovered that I’d been cast as Borachio, my first instinct was to look up the character because I had no idea who the fuck he was. Great. My first “official” school show and I got a shitty little part.

It turns out, whether by choice or happenstance that Borachio was exactly the character I needed to play at the time, because he was so far outside of my wheelhouse that I spent the entire process trying to figure out *how* to play him. That casting forced me to work a hell of a lot harder than I would have being cast as, essentially, myself. And so Catie learned a valuable lesson about judging the worth of a character based on line load.

I had fun with Borachio. By the end of the process, I sort of liked him. He morphed from a skulking, inherent villain to, basically, Jean Ralphio from Parks and Recreation. Most of the cast started calling me Jean Borachio. The day I “discovered” Borachio happened by total accident. I was really struggling and was in that sort of mood where I felt like everything I did sucked. Since the method of the process was a lot of “do it on your own”, I was getting little to no feedback and was really unsure of where I was going with the character. I had a meeting with one of the faculty directors, who told me that he wanted me to look at the New Romantics for character inspiration. At first, I was REALLY annoyed because it was directly opposite of EVERYTHING I had been working on with the character. All of the in-class viewpoints work and character exploration I had done was 180 degrees in the opposite direction, but fine. I went home and watched an Adam Ant concert from the 80’s.

The next day, almost as a joke, I put my hair into a huge, ridiculous 80’s pompadour. I was sitting in the theatre, waiting for rehearsal to start, when aforementioned faculty member came in and started cracking up. Apparently, I’d chosen correctly. So I had the look. Next came the Great Shoe Debacle. Borachio was a dude, and they wanted me playing him, as, you know. A dude. So with that came a pair of men’s dress shoes, which I had never worn before.

During the masked dance scene, we had a big, elaborate dance number that began with all of the dudes entering into the space. The first time we ran it on stage in costumes, I was a bit late on my entrance, so I ran in, tried to stop, and accidentally did a Risky Business slide through the door. For whatever reason, our other director noticed that particular moment, thought it was a choice, praised me for it, and in that moment, Borachio was born.

Snapshot_20150406A stupid hairdo and a slide morphed, almost suddenly, into a pretty decent character. We performed for One Night Only, and I remember being SHOCKED at how much laughter I got. I took risks, I made big choices, and I don’t think I sucked. Which is really unusual for me.

I was so proud of everyone in my class– the process to putting the show on was brutal, but we opened (and closed, I suppose) to a packed house and a standing ovation. It was a good feeling.

I also took a directing class and (I know you will all be shocked) used a scene from Titus Andronicus as my final project. If I could choose one moment from this first year of grad school to remember for the rest of my life, it would be the day that the co-founder of the American Shakespeare Center casually turned to me in class and deferred to me on a question about Titus Androncius. I’m not saying I’m obsessed, but I am saying that people understand me here.

I also started going to the gym on the regular. Okay, I will publicly admit (once), that I started doing Crossfit, but it turns out that it’s exactly what I needed. Turns out I love weight lifting, and the added bonus of it never being the same thing means that holds my interest. I haven’t exactly turned into a She-hulk yet, but making the commitment to trying to be more active and healthy at the time I did wound up being an incredibly good choice. And now I get to lift big giant weights with the Swolebros at the gym. I think at some point I might actually be good at it. I’m not sure. But I like it. That’s enough for now.

And life…went on, except instead of working at a casino in Iowa, I was in graduate school in Virginia. I drank a lot of coffee, stopped drinking coffee, and started drinking coffee again. I bought shelves and tried to organize my closet and got bored halfway through. The clothes are still on the floor. I bought poster frames like an adult and learned to sew a french hem. I bought way too much fabric and spent too much money.

I got a job doing overhire at the ASC in the costume shop, which was really wonderful, but also slightly disgusting since now Chris (who is, by the way, still around and just might be the love of my life), is still the propsmaster, so we became the propsmaster/costume shop couple, which is just too cute to be real life.

We watched a lot of Netflix, ate a lot of chicken, saw a lot of movies and I wrote some really terrible poems. I read a lot of Shakespeare, I performed a lot of Shakespeare– I fulfilled a dream I’ve had for a long time and got to play Mephistopheles in Faustus, which was awesome. (Oh, and I entered on a sardonic slow-clap, which might have been the best part of the whole thing). IMG_1842

That same evening, I also got to play a Rosie-the-Riveter-esque Maria from Twelfth Night, which was a separate challenge– I’d never gotten to be ‘funny’ before. But man, I loved that costume.


And that was about it for my first year. The showcase was over, my classes were done, and I was, technically, a second year. There was a brief class that we had to help us gear up for writing our theses, which was bizzare, because suddenly it was real and Holy Shit I’m Writing a Thesis Now. I chose my topic, then changed my topic, then changed my topic back to the old topic and changed it again and changed it back the other way.
And now, I’m sitting by a lake in Minnesota. Last week I got to teach a stage combat workshop at a school for about 100 kids, on Tuesday I’m going to be doing the same thing, but this time, with the artistic director of the company. No pressure, right?

Next semester, I’m taking an acting class with one of the best actors I’ve ever seen at the ASC, and two classes on early modern history. I’m writing my thesis on swords. Our apartment is covered in tudor gowns and broadswords and the walls are covered in comic books and movie posters.

Sometimes, I eat entire watermelons for lunch. I have amazing friends, some new, some who have known me for almost half of my life. Sometimes I forget to pay my phone bill until they send me an email. But most importantly, I still have moments where I pause and realize that I’m getting to do the thing I love most in the entire world. I may not ever be rich, or famous, but I am learning about the thing that holds my passion and working towards a career in that same field.

Being an adult is extraordinary.




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