On the Avenue Q Incident and the Firing of Joe Keefe

Yeah, you read that title correctly! Buckle up, fucknuts, we’re doin’ the whole thing!

So! If you have ever been a professional theatre artist in Chicago, and if you’ve ever been young and dumb and recently graduated, then the odds are that you have worked at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights, Illinois. It is one of those suburban regional theatres that mostly produces safe, predictable, and charming musical theatre for overwhelmingly white and affluent audiences.

Lots of well-paying traditional musical theatre – or at least the kind that’s available to younger, non-Equity actors – tends to happen in the Chicago suburbs rather than Chicago proper. But Metropolis is somewhat unusual, because the jobs there both A) pay reasonably well, and B) are entirely non-Equity. To make a slight generalization, I’ve observed that theatres in the city tend to favor more edgy and revolutionary and uncomfortable fare that, for better or for worse, aims to expand the boundaries of what theatre can be. And so if you’re recently graduated from a Chicago school, you’re just starting out and don’t have an agent yet, AND you want to pursue roles that fulfill your musical theatre dreams? Then you’re basically forced to go to the suburbs.

Put a pin in that! We’re gonna circle back to it.

If you’ve been keeping up with the recent Metropolis gossip as I have, there’s probably a few things you already know by now. You know about the Time’s Up Metropolis letter that was sent out last month, written by an anonymous theatre artist who has collected hundreds of stories from former Metropolis cast and crew, detailing incidents of harassment, intimidation, and unsafe working conditions. You know that a few weeks later, Rescripted.org (a publication that, to be fully transparent, I am the assistant editor for) published an open letter from Lauren Berman, a former resident director at Metropolis, giving personal testimony on the theatre’s many deep-seated issues.

And then, of course, you have also probably seen this article in the Daily Herald. And maybe you’ve even seen this article, also in the Daily Herald and written by the same person! If you’re anything like me, the first article made you roll your eyes straight back into your head. And the second article filled you with a white-hot boiling anger that can only be described as apocalyptic!

So you’ll forgive me if this blog post is not the most neutrally delivered, even-handed, journalistically sound thing you’ve ever read. I am angry, and I’m not interested in pretending otherwise! I am also not a journalist, nor have I ever claimed to be. I’m literally just a dude with a mustache, telling you my opinion about an issue that affects my community. And if you don’t like that? I would advise you not to read the rest of this! Go do something that relaxes you! Draw yourself a nice bubble bath, light a scented candle, and soak your cares away. We good? We good.

Continue reading “On the Avenue Q Incident and the Firing of Joe Keefe”

The Intoxicating Beverage – a spooky short story by Aaron Lockman

Art by Hsin-Yao Tseng

Diana had loved nightclubs. And now, they were gone.

The irony, of course, was that she had steered quite clear of nightclubs when she was alive. She had hated the near darkness, punctuated with blinding flashes. She had hated the loud music, and having to yell to make herself heard. She had never seen the point of dancing – at least this type of dancing, this random writhing without any precision or grace to it. Add to that her general distaste for both alcohol, and the creepy machinations of the sort of men who tend to hang out in nightclubs, and the whole arrangement seemed bizarre. Bizarre that nightclubs existed, bizarre that someone had even come up with the idea, and bizarre that people liked it.

But then, most humans did things that were incomprehensible to her. There comes a moment when one recognizes that one cannot possibly reconcile the vast majority of human behavior – that empathy, beautiful and necessary though it is, has a bend to it, and a breaking point. And so Diana had stayed in her lane, and sat at home, and drank tea, and read books, and rolled her eyes at her friends who saw fit to frequent such odd places.

After that cold, fateful night, however, something flipped. Many things flipped for Diana, of course. That which she previously had run from in terror now attracted and entranced her. She loved bugs now, for one thing. Where before, a single centipede was enough to send her headfirst into hyperventilation, now she would lie in open fields late at night, look up at the dark clouds, and let the ants climb over her, tickling her cold skin.

Continue reading “The Intoxicating Beverage – a spooky short story by Aaron Lockman”

I Can’t Find the Big Dipper

I can’t find the Big Dipper anymore.

I’ve begun to take long walks very late at night. I do this because I can, and because I no longer have a boss who cares when I get up in the morning. I take long walks because I am free, freer than most, and because no one tells you the dark side of that. There can be terrible freedom.

It is also for this reason that I no longer pay attention to space, or astronomy, or Mars rovers. It only reminds me of everything I’ve lost.

But, you know what they say: You can take the girl out of the planetarium, but some knots do not easily unwind. And what, are the stars going to gaze at themselves? I’m taking the long walks regardless; I may as well look around, make sure the wheel still spins.

At the moment, depending on the time, Jupiter and Saturn are right next to each other on the southeastern horizon. And if I’m out close to midnight, Mars is high and bright and clear, shining an austere copper. The moon tonight is an unsure gibbous moon in the west, fading, slowly backing down and away from its full height.

Chicago is, of course, light-polluted as hell. But this far north, you can usually find your way around the biggest and brightest, and I’ve always been able to find the Big Dipper. You can find it too, probably. That’s the beauty of the Big Dipper, really – that anyone can find it, even and especially those who don’t know shit about stars.

But I’m looking. And looking. And I don’t see it.

I know it must be in the north; it’s literally always in the north. I know it must be low on the horizon because we are in autumn. And I know that it must be right across from Cassiopeia, which I can see ever so faintly, right at the sky’s zenith, the faint white W blinking candidly at me. I look and look and look, growing rushed and unnerved as I draw more and more lines between stars that refuse to cohere into the object of my search. Am I crazy? Have I gone bizarrely, selectively blind? Have I stepped into the Berenstein universe, where the Big Dipper never was? It might be light pollution of course, but I could always find it before! Have the northern suburbs all agreed to switch on their directional lamps, their stage lights, their spotlights and flashlights and stadium lights, and point them skyward just to gall me?

In every planetarium show, the Big Dipper is the first shape you discuss. It is the starting point, the orchestra’s tuning note, the A at the beginning of the alphabet. To find Boötes, the herdsman, you must follow the arc of the Dipper’s handle, and arc all the way down to Arcturus. To find Leo the lion, you must imagine the Dipper’s bowl as a casserole dish; you must then poke a hole in the bottom and imagine the tomato sauce drip, drip, dripping down onto Leo’s back, and Leo does not like this one bit because deep in his heart he’s just a big old cat. If you want to point yourself north, you must go to the front of the bowl and follow Merak and Dubhe up, up up up to the middling, twinkling Polaris, the axis on which the whole great wheel turns.

The Big Dipper is the light, the hope, the drinking gourd. And it’s gone. It’s gone, it’s gone, it’s gone, it’s fucking gone.

Or at least, I cannot see it.

Or at most, it has been obscured from me.

Each day I wake up, thinking that I have finally let go of any illusion of stability. And each day, what little ground I didn’t know I still had is ripped out from under me, and I am tumbling, tumbling. The Big Dipper is gone, and what can we do about it? Is there a senator I can call? Is this how I am to spend my evening walks? Ambling aimlessly in wide amorphous loops? Connecting dots that aren’t there? Searching ceaselessly for a semblance of sensation in a sopping, sloshing, sickening sea of senselessness?

The sky is still spinning, slowly, and steadily.

That must be something.

There must be meaning in that.

Polaris, that great axis, faint yet powerful, is still up there. I cannot see it either, but this does not cause me as much concern. As the only unmoving star, it does not need to shout as loudly to let its work be done.

There is wisdom in that, I think.

And there is wisdom in the cool autumn wind, and in the slowly reddening trees, and in the cool, wet grass that gives, ever so slightly, beneath my sneakers.

Steven Universe Guides

Aaron’s Steven Universe Guide #6 – Cat Fingers


And the Season One Weird Phase™ continues with “Cat Fingers,” in which we must again ask the Crewniverse, “You were seriously intent on showing this to children?!?”

“Cat Fingers” is a weird beast because it feels like a step back in terms of complexity; I find it almost completely void of anything to analyze. But in terms of the horror movie imagery introduced in Frybo, it feels like a TERRIFYINGLY ENORMOUS STEP-UP. The Cronenberg-esque monster that Steven transforms into by the episode’s climax is so genuinely disturbing that it actually makes my skin crawl. 

Mostly, this one baffles me. Let’s get into it!


As Steven and Greg are doing some father-son bonding at the car wash, Amethyst shows up and joins in, shapeshifting into various forms. Steven wishes that he could shapeshift, and Amethyst responds that, being a gem, he probably can. This is backed up by Pearl back at Steven’s house, who explains that all gems have shapeshifting abilities. 

Amethyst attempts to teach Steven how to turn into a cat — and while he can’t shift his whole body, Steven does manage to turn one of his fingers into the head of a tiny cat. Excited, Steven runs to show everyone in Beach City. Along the way, Steven excitedly cat-ifies more of his fingers, until all ten are miniature cats. Unsurprisingly, he soon realizes that this is a rather inconvenient way to live, as picking things up is now much more difficult.

As the Crystal Gems are piling into a small boat (called the Gem Sloop) to go and fight a “living island,” Steven attempts to join them, revealing his feline finger problem. Pearl wants to stay and help Steven, but Garnet insists that the mission is more urgent.

Steven attempts to shapeshift back to normal, but only succeeds in making more cat heads sprout up all over his body. As his condition worsens, he runs back to his dad at the car wash. By this time, Steven’s body is very nearly consumed by a riptide of yowling cat heads. Thankfully, Greg and Steven discover that the cat heads absolutely hate water. When a spray from the hose isn’t enough, Steven goes through the car wash and is mercifully returned to normal. Back at the beach, Steven greets the Crystal Gems as they return from their mission, and the episode ends with a delightfully bad string of cat-based puns.


This is the first episode we’ve discussed that I can safely say I dislike. Apart from my general bafflement at the body horror, Cat Fingers borrows a great deal of its structure from the preceding episode, Frybo. Namely, Steven discovers a bit of magic, makes reckless decisions with it, gets into a sticky situation, and then has to get himself out of that situation. As with Frybo, the conflict stems entirely from Steven’s immaturity, and as with Frybo Steven doesn’t seem to learn very much by the end.

However, while Frybo is hardly deep, it does manage to sneak in some surprising and insightful observations while it’s having its fun. The purpose of “Cat Fingers” utterly eludes me. Is it perhaps a story about Steven learning to ask for help, rather than floundering to find solutions to problems he can’t solve on his own? Well, no. While it perhaps takes him a little too long to realize the direness of the situation, when he does he asks for help immediately — first from the Gems, then from his dad. Is it a story about learning to control your own power? Well, no. The solution comes not from any sort of self-control, but from the application of water, the most abundant liquid on the planet.

Garnet manages to give the proceedings at least the hint of an arc: when arriving back from the mission, she tells the other Gems “It just goes to show, you should have a little more faith in Steven.” Here she is the only Crystal Gem expressing any sort of confidence that Steven can figure out problems on his own. However, this still falls short for me because it is no more than one interesting line in a largely inane episode.

One could make the argument that this episode is important because it introduces in full the concept of Gem shapeshifting. There are two things to note here:

  1. Whenever Amethyst shapeshifts, you can see that the purple gem on her chest (from which she summons her weapon) doesn’t seem to change in size that much, and is always on the chest of whatever she shapeshifts into.
  2. Although Pearl discusses shapeshifting, she does not do any shapeshifting herself.

These are both interesting details that will become important later — but we will see them repeated many times before they do, in better episodes.


Aside from some amazing comedic moments, I’ve never been able to find much to love in this episode. I have been spoiled, I suppose, by later episodes of Steven Universe that are much more interesting, heartfelt, and ripe for analysis. “Cat Fingers” still very much has the feel of a goofy kids’ show, with low stakes and easily resolved escapades. I think it’s valuable for helping to create that facade, which later episodes slowly strip away. However, if you’re still not quite convinced about the series, I’d give this one a skip.


  • Favorite lines: 
    • “It just goes to show: always listen to me, and never listen to Amethyst.” 
    • “Eh, that’s fair.”
  • Peedee is working the fryer now! Good for him, I guess?
  • We never see the Gem Sloop used again (though it does appear one more time), possibly because it seems a terribly inefficient way to get around. Surely the warp pad would be faster? Or, I don’t know, a motor boat?
    • Also, sailing nerds on the Steven Universe wiki have informed me that the Gem Sloop is not actually a sloop, but a cutter. Who knew?
  • Speaking of the Gem Sloop, we never see the “living island” that the Gems go out to fight, in this episode or in the future. Without spoiling, I’ll say that it’s therefore unclear how this particular monster fits into the series’ mythology.
  • This is our first sighting of Mayor Dewey! We don’t like Mayor Dewey very much.
  • SLIGHT SPOILER: Okay, so considering one particular fan theory about Steven Universe: Future that’s been making the rounds on the internet, could Steven’s horrifying transformation this episode be considered foreshadowing? Only time will tell, I suppose. Spoilers at the link, obviously.
Steven Universe Guides

Aaron’s Steven Universe Guide #5 – Frybo

Season 1 of Steven Universe is a strange beast. The most interesting thing about it, as I’ve said before, is its unique style of worldbuilding — slowly giving the audience tidbits of information over the course of nearly fifty episodes. The purpose of this is to ground the story in Steven’s perspective, so that the audience learns about this fictional world in the same gradual manner as a real-life child learning about the real world. Season 1 is, in many ways, a perfect simulacrum of childhood.

Like childhood, then, there are some. . . shall we say, weird phases. In particular, Season 1 has a decent stretch where it seems to have gotten really into horror movies? Like a child developing a new obsession that will be gone in three months, it suddenly leans sharply forward into images and concepts that are genuinely creepy even to a supposed adult like myself. Often, these episodes are presented with the shocking, straightforward enthusiasm of that weird kid on the playground who’s ridiculously proud of this dead bird he found. And in the past, I haven’t been able to make much sense of them. What kind of tone are you trying to go for, Steven Universe? Are you a fun, goofy kids’ show, or a terrifying parade of nightmares?

“Frybo,” therefore, has never been a particularly re-watchable episode for me, as I think it’s emblematic of the Crewniverse still floundering to find the show’s identity. But upon re-watching it for this guide, there are some interesting observations in here. Let’s get into it.


We open on Steven’s house, where Steven is looking for his pants. Pearl, meanwhile, is looking for a dangerous weapon, a small white jagged object called a Gem Shard. In a hilarious moment (which gives us a surprisingly informative download I didn’t think we got this early in the season), Pearl explains that each Shard contains a partial consciousness that can possess objects and follow orders, and thus can’t be allowed near clothing — but Steven’s 

mind wanders and he doesn’t take in a word of it. Pearl leaves to go look elsewhere, and Steven spots his pants walking around by themselves. He puts them on, and removes the Gem Shard from the pocket. 

Steven heads outside to give the Shard to Pearl, where he runs into Peedee. Peedee’s dad runs the local fry shop, and is forcing him to walk around wearing Frybo, a creepily happy-looking mascot shaped like a bucket of fries. When Peedee wishes that the costume could just do its job without him in it, Steven comes up with the idea to put the Shard inside. 

Frybo wakes up and starts following orders, even spouting new legs seemingly made of fries. Peedee tells him to “go make people eat fries,” and he and Steven set off to play at Funland Arcade. However, they are quickly interrupted in their fun by distant screams.

Running back to the fry stand, they discover that Frybo has taken their orders much too literally, and is force-feeding fries to multiple Beach City citizens. Steven attempts to fight it and is thwarted — and even when Pearl shows up, Frybo starts spouting powerful jets of ketchup, throwing Pearl backward and letting loose all the other Gem Shards she had been carrying in a bubble. This gives Steven an ill-advised, yet surprisingly effective idea; he immediately takes the Shards and puts each one in a different piece of clothing. His pants, shirt, sweatshirt, socks, boots, and even underwear all take up arms against Frybo, and Steven is able to successfully remove the Shard from the Frybo costume. The ruined Frybo is given a Viking’s funeral, and the day is saved.


This episode is about. . . capitalism? Yeah, I didn’t really expect that either. 

With the introduction of Peedee, we are given our first episode that comes under the subgenre of “Steven has a solo adventure with a human friend.” These episodes are going to be very important moving forward, and they serve two purposes. First, they let Steven forge connections from people outside his family unit. Steven’s human half is just as important as his gem half, and learning lessons from both humans and gems is going to be an essential skill for him.

Secondly, human-centric episodes often allow the Crewniverse to make comments on real-life issues that they simply can’t with gem-centric ones. Gems, as the more fantastical beings, are often at the center of stories that must deal in metaphor, symbolism, and the figurative. But here in Frybo, for instance, we can get very literal, very quickly, about the horrors of capitalism. Let’s look at this scene in Funland with Steven and Peedee:

PEEDEE: This seahorse [ride] used to make me so happy. Now, it’s just giving me whiplash.

STEVEN: (shaking on the jellyfish ride) I just feeeeeel tiiiinglyyyyyyy!

PEEDEE: You’ll understand when you have a job.

STEVEN: I do have a job! I protect humanity from magic and monsters and stuff.

PEEDEE: I mean a real job, that you get paid for. 

STEVEN: I’m paid in the smiles across the town’s faces.

PEEDEE: I don’t see anyone smiling. You pick up a job to buy a house, or raise kids. . . or to impress your dad. You work away your life, and what does it get you?

STEVEN: Smiles on faces?

PEEDEE: No! You get cash. Cash that can’t buy back what the job takes. Not if you rode every seahorse in the world.

STEVEN: Whoa. You wanna try the jellyfish?

Here, Peedee is explaining, however involuntarily, a common philosophical critique of capitalism. Many minds smarter than mine have pointed out that dependence on a wage for survival can restrict individual freedoms, even in an ostensibly free society. This is sometimes called wage slavery, and it has psychological effects as well as economic ones. As Olly Thorn of PhilosophyTube recently put it, “If you work a job you hate just to make money for somebody whose job is owning stuff, then are you free? Just ‘cause you can choose what color socks to wear and what to have for lunch?”

It’s easy to see that Peedee feels trapped within this system, even if he doesn’t fully understand it yet. As a child, he doesn’t yet need to work for survival — in place of that, we see that he took the job to impress his dad. But he’s already seen the endless push and pull that capitalism can work on your desires. He can work hard to get fatherly approval, but how much can he savor that approval when the job itself makes him miserable? And even when Peedee attempts to briefly escape his daily grind by supernatural means, he is roundly punished for it. The horrifying scenes of Frybo attacking the townsfolk could easily be seen as a metaphor for the chaos when you deviate from the norm, even a little bit, while working a low-paying job. If you show up even slightly late, or attempt to take a vacation, or say something even slightly off to a rude customer, your attempt to find any scrap of solace can backfire, even affecting the people around you.

Peedee eventually reaches an equilibrium with his father, after Mr. Fryman (thinking that Peedee is the one in the Frybo suit attacking people) tells him that he truly values him, and apologizes for pushing him so hard. Ominously, though, he expresses Peedee’s value to him not as his son, but as a “valued member of Fryman Brothers Incorporated, and all its affiliates.” Much like an executive using quirky team exercises to foster a feeling of staff unity, Mr. Fryman is addressing the aggression, but not its underlying cause. Even their final conversation as they send off Frybo, while it has all the gestures of a filial reconciliation, fixes nothing under the surface.

Steven, of course, is blissfully unaware of all this. He is separated from Peedee’s world not only because he is part gem, but because he is seemingly much less invested in impressing his own authority figure. 

Pearl — the only Crystal Gem to appear this episode — briefly attempts to act as Steven’s mentor by explaining to him the history of the Gem Shards, but gives up rather quickly when Steven seems unreceptive. This is the first episode so far in which the entire conflict stems from Steven’s immaturity; if he had listened to Pearl in these opening minutes, or exercised some caution with the Shard, all the destruction and chaos to follow might have been avoided. And troublingly, he seems to learn absolutely nothing from this. He resolves the conflict with the exact same technique that he used to start it — namely, putting Gem Shards into articles of clothing. 


This lack of growth from Steven is the main reason why I label this episode as skippable; it presents no forward movement in his character and thus feels quite static. 

There are some interesting revelations, and the show continues its masterful slow burn of information — this time, concerning the Gem Shards. What are these things? Given that they are called gem Shards, did they once used to be part of an actual ‘gem’? Is that why they only have partial consciousness?

The introduction of the Fryman family conflict could also be considered important, but they remain minor characters throughout the series and are better utilized in later episodes. Frybo is fascinating for its horror elements, and it’s charming in a bizarre kind of way — but if you’re trying to get hooked on the series, I advise you to plow forward and come back later.


  • Every person in the Fryman family has blonde hair that looks exactly like French fries. This imagery is very deliberate, and is important to the series’ symbolism — let’s put a pin in that.
  • Is there a Mrs. Fryman? I don’t believe we ever see or hear about her.
  • Favorite line: “THAT’S UNUSUAAAAAAAL!”
  • The cartoon birds on Steven’s rain boots look less like ducks, and more like doves. Is this meant to evoke Noah’s Ark imagery? Or perhaps foreshadow Steven’s peacekeeping role later in the series?
  • Here we have yet another monster that can not only occupy organic matter, but seemingly create more of it out of nothing. This is also the second time that Pearl is defeated by food.