Of Chocolate and Potato Landslides: What I Learned on My Journey to Insanity

“I firmly attest that all recounted in this blog is absolutely true. Dora has captured the events of this project with such grace and dignity. This blog is a genuine representation of everything that happened. May it also be noted that there are still remnants of glitter in LAC 124.” -Diego

It happened somewhere around the middle of the semester. We were discussing Machu Picchu in my intermediate Spanish class, and it was decided that my friends and I would explore the land of Machu Picchu. “You could be like Dora the Explorer!” my professor exclaimed.

Mike, Kasey, and I became known as Diego, Boots, and Dora, respectively, in the weeks to come. The ordeal started innocently enough when Dr. Costanzi, our professor, announced that there would be oral presentations instead of oral interviews at the end of the semester. Immediately we turned to each other and said, “We’re going to Machu Picchu.”

We didn’t realize at the time that asking for permission to bring in a fog machine would set off some warning bells, but that it did. While our plans spiraled more and more out of control in the realm of the ridiculous, word was spreading that a presentation of epic proportions was going to happen in the near future. The head of the English department, Dr. Bittel, approached Boots and me one day after our Literary Criticism class, and she inquired about the fog machine. We were surprised, to say the least–I was more surprised if only because I had just one interaction with Dr. Bittel before. We assured her that the presentation would be memorable and walked away hoping we could deliver on that promise.

To begin, we made a Facebook group page so that we could discuss script revisions, staging, etc. It felt like a step in the right direction, but at least in my mind, I felt like delivering a solid performance was somewhat impossible. How were we going to pull this off? We knew two things: we were going to have a fog machine, and we were going to Machu Picchu, dammit.

Time passed, and we got wrapped up in other projects and papers. When it came time for Thanksgiving, we realized that we had more of a dream than a project. Something had to happen, and it had to happen fast. Diego and I put the project first as much as we could, and by the end of the break, we had half of a solid draft, the concept of disco stick transportation, and a vision of a chocolate offering for The Empress. Things were looking up.

We ran into Dr. Bittel more frequently, and after a while we didn’t run into her so much as run to her with more and more details and secrets. The biggest secret we had to keep from Dr. Costanzi, A.K.A. The Empress, was the chocolate, which at first was only going to be a bar of her favorite confection. Diego was charged with the task of the first reconnaissance mission: find out what Dr. Costanzi’s favorite chocolate is. When he reported back that it was Hershey’s, he didn’t miss a beat by following up with, “The Weis in Carbondale has a five pound bar.”

We knew it would happen as soon as he said it, and this sparked a Dora and Diego adventure in itself. We went to Wegman’s, Sam’s Club, and The Candy Kitchen in Dunmore before accepting the fact that we would indeed have to travel to the very sketchy Weis in Carbondale. (But then, what isn’t sketchy in Carbondale?) The cashier was both confused and delighted that we were so jubilant to find five pounds of chocolate, and she only twitched a little when we requested that she take our picture with the enormous bar.

The Empress's Offering: the equivalent of 51.6 normal chocolate bars.

There came the problem of storage. Diego and I both realized that our households would not be trusted with the prize, so they were out. There was my room on campus, but I’m housed in the same building as the foreign language department. The likelihood of a normal set of people running into a single person at a single moment is slim, sure, but when the set of people is a pair of cartoon characters with a huge candy bar, the likelihood gets pumped up on steroids. We didn’t trust Fate, but we did trust Dr. Bittel.

Did we get looks when we carried it across campus? Not as many as one would think. We were stopped more than once in the English department itself, and that is partially why we had an audience including three members of the English faculty during the actual performance.

Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Dr. Bittel was more than happy to store The Chocolate under her desk, assuring us that Dr. Costanzi hardly made her way up there anyway. We knew then that our secret would be kept safe, and it was time to direct our full attention to finishing the script. Right… we hadn’t done that yet.

Because I was an education major at the start of the semester, I had to attend a mandatory weekly observation at a local high school. In one of the classes I observe, there was a silent reading day. Instead of staring at the back of 20 teenaged heads for 45 minutes, I whipped out my notebook and decided to slay the dragon. (Not a drug reference, I swear.) I tapped my pencil on the paper for a few moments, thinking, “Why would a group of cartoon characters leave a magnificent place? Why?”

And then it hit me like a sack of potatoes: an avalanche of Machu Picchu’s most important crop. (Which, as the pun would have it, are potatoes.)

The horrible first draft/first page of the script ending, complete with my 8:00 AM spelling of "mountain" and my new Spanish word "sinmigo."

The end of the saga poured out of me like delightful lava. How we were going to simulate it was beyond me, but that was a very small challenge compared to what we had already accomplished. Diego and I spent lunch that afternoon going over the final portion of the script, making revisions, and starting to figure out how in the world we were going to stage this.

A series of phone calls and Facebook message threads occurred. We figured out our epic soundtrack, set up our PowerPoint visual aid, and went over the blocking of the skit before we even set foot into the practice space. We wanted no room for error, because the more that time trickled by, the more that interest was piqued all throughout our two departments. Expectations were at an all-time high, and we wanted so desperately to meet those expectations. It was do or die, and we weren’t lying down.

Who needs math when you can discuss serious things like what song to play during a fake potato landslide?

The day before the presentation was dubbed–and rightfully so–Rehearsal Day. Diego and I walked with at least twenty pounds of equipment each: pillow cases, glitter, cameras, tripods, a makeshift disco stick, stereo speakers…

We set up camp in my room before trying to secure our rehearsal space, but then the unthinkable and unacceptable happened: there was a class in our rehearsal space. Obviously they didn’t get the memo that a very important and life-changing production needed this very special classroom. The nerve! We wandered around for a half an hour or so before we saw the trickle of students filing out of LAC 124. We peeked our heads in to see Dr. Reyes of the Spanish department heading toward us. He informed us that there would be a class coming in within half an hour.

Thirty minutes to rehearse the project of the decade? We were, understandably, concerned.

We didn’t have long to fear, though; Dr. Reyes offered to move his class to the room next door, and it took all I had not to drop to my knees and kiss his feet. (I get really worked up about little things, okay?) We split up and ran off in different directions. Diego went to retrieve the chocolate while I got the rest of our equipment from my room. We met back at home base in less than fifteen minutes, and we began the set-up.

We used a closet for storage. The closet in question, as Diego likes to say, smells like the 80s, so it’s needless to say that it’s been out of commission for quite some time. We moved the instructor’s desk, set up cameras and projectors, and pumped up the Lady Gaga. We ran through the script once or twice sans Boots, and then we had to face our first sacrificial decision: class or no class?

Diego and Boots had Modern Belief, and I had Math in the Liberal Arts. Seeing as how I’d already skipped math about seven times that semester, I couldn’t afford to show up again, so I stayed planted in the LAC. Boots, however, could not afford to skip out on Modern Belief, so she took the fifteen minutes her professor allowed her and ran through the show with us twice.

We had seven different script drafts/files, and there were even more than that printed. Not excessive.

Brooke, our “AV Slave,” as Diego so affectionately deemed her, stayed with us while I directed all of Dr. Reyes’s class to the room next door. We began to set up our props, and it came to our attention that stuffing pillows with Diego’s performance clothes in order to simulate sacks of potatoes was a terrible idea. We needed another material with which to stuff, but what?

I had a choral concert that night, so I was wearing knee-highs and heels. I kicked off the heels and went sliding down the hall toward the English department. Jill. Wonderful, omniscient Jill, the secretary of the English department, would surely be able to solve our problem! On the journey, my big toe decided to make a surprise appearance straight through my knee-highs, but it was worth getting to run around Marywood sans shoes.

We ran up to Jill’s desk breathlessly, and she didn’t even bat an eyelash when we said we needed newspaper in order to make fake potato sacks. She told us with a frown that she did not have newspaper, but if we were up to it, we could check the basement of Immaculata for paper shredding.

We entered the forgotten lands of the Immac dungeon, and the man we encountered was very confused with our request. He regretted to inform us that they had just gotten rid of their shredding, but a janitor was kind enough to disappear down a long hallway in order to check for more. I like to think that he went into Narnia, ’cause he was gone for a really long time. So long, in fact, that Diego left in order to fill out a course evaluation sheet for Modern Belief.

Because of this, I had to carry a giant, bright green sack of paper shreds up a flight of stairs and through a main academic building. Did I fit through doorways? Not exactly. Did I get a lot of looks? Sadly, yes. Was it worth it? You bet your papas-loving ass it was.

I came back to find Brooke hiding in the closet lest her professor come to check for her. Diego and Boots soon came in, and rehearsal could finally begin in earnest. Diego made the sacrifice of skipping Psychology, but it was the only way.

Your kingdom is everything the light touches, Simba.

Diego and Brooke went to get food. It was a bad idea to leave Boots and me alone with a container of glitter. Obviously, we won the hearts of the entire janitorial staff by grinding little flecks of glitter deep into the carpet.

Edward Cullen was here. Pictured: sparkles, Boots, borrowed ears and tail from Dr. Bittel, a papas sack, the sack of shredding, speakers, tripod, camera bag, command station, everything epic.

We really did rehearse when Diego and Brooke came back. When I had tired of dramatically throwing myself to the ground during the landslide scene, we decided to call it a night. We stashed our props in the closet (most of which are still in said closet) and walked away feeling like this was the most insane thing we could ever dream to accomplish.

The Morning of Machu Picchu dawned like a ray of awesome. I missed my alarm and ran out of my house in my pajamas, thinking that if a late start was the only snag in our production, I’d be more than happy. I had to pick up Justyn, my “son,” and then Diego before arriving at Marywood.

Campus was dead. Anyone I saw was frozen in time. You know how the animals become still right before a stampede? Exactly.

I changed into my costume in my room while Diego went to retrieve the chocolate. We stored it in Dr. Bittel’s office overnight just in case someone conveniently rediscovered the Lost Closet. He returned with the chocolate bar and a tiara. I didn’t ask questions. Everything was set, and the most excruciating thing we had to do was wait.

No big deal, just three Nikons.

I don’t think I ever became nervous. We carried three Nikon cameras and a giant bar of chocolate down to our classroom with calmness and dignity (lies). We attempted to get the fog machine to work, but not without nearly suffocating/poisoning everyone in the right wing of the first floor of the LAC. Whoops. In the grand scheme of things, the fog machine didn’t matter much, but it was necessary in our planning stage to set the tone for the presentation and to get people interested in what we were going to do.

I had to literally sprint to my room twice to get things we forgot. Have you ever seen a nineteen-year-old Dora the Explorer run around a Christmas tree in the middle of an academic building? Neither had the people sitting around the LAC Rotunda that morning, but luckily I made their dreams come true. You’re welcome, unsuspecting Marywood students. You’re welcome.

My heart almost dropped straight out of my body when a girl from the group scheduled to present before us was late. “We might have to have you present first if she’s still running late,” Dr. Costanzi said.

No. No, no, no. Everything revolved around our being last. We had three professors from the English department coming to witness the all-Spanish spectacle. Gracias a dios for Dr. Costanzi, who was gracious enough to do some final exam review while we waited for Melissa to arrive. Luckily, she didn’t take more than five minutes, and everything was back on track.

Our trusty cinematographer with The Children.

Everything went according to plan, and I couldn’t have asked for a better performance. We did the unthinkable–we went to Machu Picchu on a disco stick and escaped a potato landslide. I felt invincible, just as if I were high in the Andes Mountains.


It was a few days after our epic adventure, and Diego and I were watching the annual Christmas tree lighting. Dr. Bittel had brought her lovely daughter to see the festivities. Her daughter was a fan of the cinematic rendition of the Machu Picchu adventure, and we were told that her favorite part was the potato landslide. We gifted her a genuine papas bag from the skit, a decision that, despite the savage beatings that followed, we do not regret one bit.

The landslide comes alive.

Diego relives the trauma in a PTSD moment.

And so I will end this reminiscence with a humble “thank you” to all involved, and the ominous reminder that Dora, Diego, and Boots are not through with their adventures just yet.