Friday, November 18, 2016

Inaction gets us nothing.

On December 19 the Electoral College convenes to cast its votes for president.

They don't have to vote for Trump. They can vote their conscience. It's called being a faithless elector.

The Electoral College was created specifically for this - it's up to us to make it happen.

Today I wrote to the electors from the states who are able to do this (in some states they are legally bound to vote for the winner). This is my letter:

***

Dear Elector,

I am writing to urge you to exercise your right to not vote for Donald Trump in the Electoral College. You currently represent a state that does not bind an elector, and I am urging you to take advantage of that fact.

The Electoral College was formed with the understanding that the electors would help decide a sitting leader who was “capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice." There are many examples from this election that indicate that the Mr. Trump does not fulfill the criteria.

But moreover, this election experienced an unprecedented level of interference, including:

· Interference from a foreign government, with Russia and Wikileaks hacking private emails and admitting to wanting to interfere with the electoral process

· Director James Comey potentially breaking 5 U.S.C. § 7323(a)(1) of the Hatch Act

· Allegations of voter suppression in key swing states, including North Carolina

· Incidents of voter intimidation, strongly encouraged by Mr. Trump

Additionally, Mr. Trump has made it clear through the selections he has made for his cabinet and transition team that he has no intention of leading all Americans or in serving the people. If there is ever a moment to consider your role and responsibility in shaping the future of our nation, it is now. I am asking you to do the right thing, and to change your vote.

Thank you for your time, your service, and your consideration.


Warmest regards,

Megan Reilly
224 Vernon St.
Saint Paul, MN 55105

***

For more information:


The Electoral College was Designed to Prevent Trump. You Can Make This Happen.
Flip the 37
Time to Get Shit Done

I will update this post with any responses I receive.

***

Edited 11/18/2016 7:03pm:

"Founding Fathers wanted to make sure highly populated cities didn't have total control of the election. We have proven their point. If not for Electoral College, candidates would only visit large cities and the rest of the country would have no say.
No, I am required by my pledge to uphold the voter's desires, which means more than your personal request. If we went that tour, why have an election. The electoral college was put in place to keep areas with large populations from controlling the election. The people have spoken, whether or not you like it, and that vote should stand.
Perfect practice makes perfect performance."

From Bill Conley - South Carolina


Edited 11/20/2016 12:51pm:

This email came in to me today from jrsampson@gmail.com - interestingly enough this is NOT someone that I emailed and as far as I can tell NOT an elector - if you can show me otherwise I'm happy to edit this. Am I now going to be harassed for politely asking people to do their jobs?

"Its time for you folks to sit down and shut up. Nobody cares about your feelings. Instead you should be calling for an end to violence that has erupted in the cities across this Nation. Hate will not trump Trump.

Jack Sampson

p.s. Ad hominem attacks are the FIRST refuge of scoundrels. If you choose to reply, don't be a scoundrel. Scoundrels will be ignored."

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Dear Mr. Trump - A letter from the "real world"



Dear Mr. Trump.

You don't know me, and you've done absolutely nothing to show me that you care about me or that you intend to be "my" president, should you actually somehow win on November 8 (Nate Silver seems to think that's highly unlikely right now). Seeing as my blog only averages 200 hits on a post that is related to The Tension Experience, which this is not, or is found by people looking for the location of Hecate's ring (by the way guys - I don't think she hides it anymore, you can stop looking), I doubt you'll see this at all.
FiveThirtyEight.com - looking pretty blue

But your "apology" really enraged me - the one you read off a teleprompter, the one that sounded more like a threat leveled at a woman (your opponent) rather than anything contrite. Yes, the tape was from ten years ago. When you were 59, not 19. See, normally when we say things like "he said that ten years ago" we are referring to someone in their 20s, 30s, or 40s, when the maturity difference of ten years actually means something. You don't really have that excuse. You're a grown-ass man.

It enraged me because of one line in particular - the part where you said "let's be honest, we're living in the real world." I also found it telling that, in the 50 seconds before that, you didn't once mention any of the problems that women face that could actually stem from or relate to what you said and did ten years ago. That, plus the real world comment, speaks volumes. It speaks of an insane amount of privilege - the privilege of someone whose "real world" doesn't include the possibility (or rather, probability, perhaps) of sexual assault. But for the rest of us, Mr. Trump, that is an EVERYDAY REAL WORLD problem, much more so than Isis or any of the other word salad vomit that you spew out and call "sentences." The same day that you debated Hillary Clinton and at the height of your classiness paraded victims of sexual assault in order to try to intimidate her, I was alone on the second floor of my building on campus and a man walked into my office - not stood at the door, walked INTO my office - and started talking to me like he had every damn right to be there. When he saw the look on my face that clearly read "I'm calculating how many things I have that will make a dent in your skull when thrown at you," he laughed and said "I'm just being friendly" before turning around and leaving.

And that's part of the problem, isn't it? That his "just being friendly" is my "fight or flight" response. There is no such thing as "just being friendly," Mr. Trump. For most women (because I am not going to speak for all), all unknown men (and many known men) are seen as Potential Rapists. We walk around with that awareness all the time. It's never NOT in our awareness, it's in the way we walk, the way we carry ourselves, the way we think about ourselves and each other. And it stems directly from people like you who insist that talking about women the way that you did on that tape is harmless "locker room talk." That "locker room talk" and us dismissing it for more important "real world" concerns is exactly why we have Brock Turners and Elliot Rodgers. This is why my husband referred to you as an "attempted former Stanford swimmer," because we don't refer to Brock Turner as a rapist.
Good thing he's not a rapist

"But Megan," I hear you say, "women like you take risks all the time that basically make complaining about things like this hypocritical. Why you, yourself, met a strange man at a bar this summer and let him buy you a drink." And to that I say, "Why, Mr. Trump, I had no idea you were reading my blog, I'm flattered. But again, you have not a single idea what goes on with women behind the scenes of things like that. What I didn't write about were the many precautions I took that night to make sure people knew where I was going, and who was responsible, should anything happen." When I made that choice I knew that I had just left dinner with one of my closest friends, and left her with the name of the person who had likely sent me there (something I shouldn't have known at the time, but did), that Periscope had a record of where I'd physically been (because I had livestreamed from a Starbucks upon arrival), and that one other person knew exactly where I was because he'd been there right before me (he had called to give me the location).  I took some flack for that decision after from several women that I know, because they would never have met an unknown man alone at a bar, never mind had the drink. Just as I took some flack for not letting the security guy walk me home from the theatre building on Sunday after the strange man walked into my office (security was called). There is never a moment where we make choices without weighing those risks to some degree. Because men like you have decided that your "locker room talk" is harmless, and the risks that it engenders aren't "real world" problems, we have to take care of ourselves, even if that seems extreme at times.

I noticed that in your list of people you'd been humbled to meet along your campaign, you didn't list one victim of sexual assault. Perhaps you should. I am fortunate - I have never been one, though men have been claiming the right to invade my personal space against my will for decades. "Your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions." What you (and other men) claim is "harmless" banter is not. It plants the seeds for the actions and thoughts that follow.

Sincerely,
Megan Reilly
(another Hillary Clinton supporter)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Immersive Adventures in Los Angeles: TENSION: ASCENSION, and mirrors held up to ourselves

"This is a mirror being held up to a person. It's an art installation. It's a living, breathing thing that you interact with. And it will only be unlocked based on how far you're willing to go."
- Darren Lynn Bousman

"None of you understand. I'm not locked up in here with you. You're locked up in here with me."
- Rorschach

Two quotes that, combined, encapsulate my experience on Friday night at The Tension Experience: Ascension.

This is going to take some explaining, and it's going to get personal.

Recently I had a surreal conversation with a friend from high school who made a confession to me that took me completely by surprise. A confession that he could have made twenty years ago when it mattered, but now comes twenty years too late and no longer DOES matter beyond fond memories and ego stroking and reflections on how stupid we all are at that age, how limited our perspectives on our selves and others really can be. After the confession he also said that he wished we were closer friends now, and that we were more regularly in touch now. I thought to myself, dude, we are 40. Not 80. Unless someone isn't telling me something - and that happens regularly, so it's a distinct possibility - there is no reason why we can't be closer friends now, and be more regularly in touch now. But shortly after attempting to do this it became clear to me that he wanted to discuss high school, and sit in the past, and think about those times and those memories, not talk about the 20 years since, or what's going on today.

Normally I would not write something personal about someone else publicly, but in this case I'm 99% certain he is not going to read it, because he isn't interested in who I am. He's interested in who he WAS.

Moments like these highlight a profound difference in how I interact with people and it hits me like a fresh ton of bricks every damn time. People do make me uncomfortable. Please don't read into what I'm about to say that they don't. But I think in many ways that I often make THEM more uncomfortable than they make me.

I engage with the world as myself all of the time. This causes pain and stress because it's difficult for me to move from the role of Megan the Wife to Megan the Designer to Megan the Professor to Megan the.....whatever. I'm not any of those things, I am Megan. And I'm in the process of trying to put up Big Beautiful Walls in my brain between these parts of myself so that I can partition different selves off from one another and interact in more productive ways with people. But in the meantime, it can be difficult. I hide my feelings to the extent that I feel an adult should hide her feelings and I am able to do so, but that's it. I will react to things, truthfully, painfully, joyfully. loudly, quietly, tearfully. When people I care about hurt, I hurt for them. I cry when talking about the situation of women's health care in Texas because it's important, it's THAT important to me, and that's the right response to things that are important. I also can frequently get emotional when talking passionately about anything or anyone I love. It can be really freaking annoying to be in the middle of a conversation with someone and have to stop and say "no my eyes just leak water like that for no reason."

So when it comes to that mirror that Tension put in front of me, I don't know that it reflected back to me what the creators intended, but it did reflect something back. This past summer, the mirror showed me that the words "friendship" and "community" have different meanings to me than they do to others, and moving forward I need to remember that next time I engage fully in an online world. Who I am does not read well over 1's and 0's. My intentions have repeatedly been misconstrued and I am not blaming anyone for that except myself - I'm in Rome, not doing what the Romans do. And I've been here for nearly 40 years, still not doing it.

More accurately, I'm in Minnesota, doing what a New Hampshirite/Texan hybrid does. And there's no translator microbe on the planet that will help with that. Shortly after moving last year, I was actually having small moments of panic where I would repeat entire conversations to people and ask them to tell me what they meant. Because Minnesotans don't say what they mean. And I was assuming they did, because I do.

* * *

When others say that they are looking for the experience found in "The Game," the 1997 Fincher film, I think what they are saying is they are looking for a cool experience. And what I am saying is I'm looking for a real experience. A better comparison is to John Fowles's The Magus, which many believe was ripped off by "The Game." If you are familiar with "The Game" and not with The Magus, just stop reading this right now and go read that, because there is something wrong with you.

(Incidentally, while trying to come up with a thank you gift for the creators of Tension, I came across a signed first edition hardcover of The Magus. $1600. No, I did not buy it, but DAMN.)

It's been a very long time since I read the book, but the difference is in the level of reality the protagonist believes he is in. I don't care about spoiling a book that's 50something years old so...there is a point in The Magus where a character who committed suicide in the beginning of the book, before any of the crazy shit hit the fan, before "the game" starts at all, steps out of a car in front of her ex-boyfriend, the protagonist. It's messed up. Beyond messed up. The game that the protagonist endures in that book causes him to fall in love, to believe he's saving lives, to really live and to feel in the moment. What he is put through in that book creates real emotions, real reactions, not theatrics and acting.

When I say I want what's real, that is the feeling I'm talking about.
When I had my first encounter with Hecate, there was a part of me that fell in love a little.

Repeatedly over the past several months I've had real emotions and been laughed at for it. That's fine, it's not the first time and won't be the last. I've had people who've known me since breakfast commenting with authority on what I can and can't handle. Lovely. I have listened (read) and listened (read, because it's the internet, not actual physically present conversation) to participants having difficulties with other participants, to participants having difficulties with creators, and even to creators having difficulties with participants, and I've tried to step through several of those problems in different ways, hopefully with empathy and logic at the same time. Those conversations meant something to me, though I'm not really sure if that was reciprocated.

One of the major touchstones that the creators have come back to repeatedly with the themes of Tension is the subject of presence in an age of digital communications and social media. And from my experience, there is so much to unpack there. I remember the June Echo Park dead drop distinctly, and coming back to Terami's house afterward to find that she had been on Twitter when my Periscope went up, and she'd seen the whole thing. I sat down and told her about it, my phone on vibrate (because it's never on) in my purse. And at some point the conversation shifted from that to books to art to pottery, and she said one of the most beautiful things I'd ever heard, I'm going to get it wrong (sorry Terami) - that pottery was the "recording of a gesture." Which brought tears to my eyes, still does. And we talked and talked and talked for maybe two or three hours about art, and life, over tea, with Steve the cat.

And then I realized my phone was vibrating.
I had a TON of messages. People wanting to know where I was. Why I hadn't logged on to Slack after the Tension dead drop. Why hadn't I logged on to the forums. Tension wanting to know why I hadn't gone to the forums to share things. Friends wanting to know if Tension had thrown me in the back of a van after the park. I was so frustrated that I spent the rest of the evening  passive-aggressively asking for people's permission to leave my computer or phone and go do a thing somewhere else (yes, I do learn a few Minnesotan tricks).

Later in the summer I had an unfortunate moment where I called the creators of Tension out for something publicly on the forums. I deeply regretted doing it, but I have to admit that even months later I'm not entirely sure what other reaction they had expected me to have to what they were doing, given the claims of feeling like they "know" me. Regardless, I apologized, and then got really emotional. But I wanted to turn it into something positive, so I tried to channel the emotions that I was feeling into some sort of positive change for myself and went back to the forums as supportive enthusiastic Megan, even though inside I was tearing myself apart every day. That's one thing that no one has ever really understood about the years of work I've put into myself: I haven't gotten "better," I've just gotten better at pretending that things are fine. I've gotten better at making others comfortable. I have never managed to figure out how to actually be kinder to myself.

* * *

There are Ascension spoilers going forward, you have been warned.

Some things about immersive/interactive theatre are set up for me to fail. Ascension places you in a group of 8-9 people and I knew none of the people with whom I was seeing it - they all knew each other. I was the only "Apostle of the Beginning" in my group, one of the players from the summer. It started off beautifully, when I had the most agency. My favorite moments were in one of the earliest rooms where I interacted with several different actors, including Emilie Autumn, and because I am me, tried to engage personally with them, and to some extent succeeded. Except there was one member of my group who just kept saying "what are you doing? what is she saying? why are you talking to her? what does this mean? how does he know your name?" I snapped at that guy a few times, came very close to explaining to him that in New Hampshire we don't talk to each other and I prefer it that way. Engage with the work, not with ME. Engage with the characters, with the actors, not with ME. I can NOT be the most interesting thing in this room to you, dude. If that's the case just give me the $125 you spent on this ticket, because that's what it's going to cost for me to put up with your annoying questions.

Next room, there was a moment where I thought I saw how screwed I was. As has been discussed I am not good with being told what to do. And when I get angry in a situation where I need to shut up and be compliant, I do with with a lot of rage in my eyes that I don't consciously put there. The man in the next room, I think, saw that, and he locked eyes with me and said something like "just give in, trust me." Those words have meaning to me, and impact.

Next room, drill sergeant guy spends a LOT of time an inch from my face, yelling at me. I think moreso than the others, though they probably felt the same. And it was probably, again, that I was locking eyes with him and not backing down. And the more he yelled at me, the more I locked eyes, and the more he yelled...and again, I thought, I'm so screwed. Because this was playing directly on ME and things specific to me, reactions I specifically have. And I thought, was this going to be 2 hours of THIS, until I broke and cried? How long would that be? Most people give up before they get me to that point.

I had been given a mysterious key and ended up with a thing in my hands as a result. This thing (I don't want to give details here) ended up being a trick that didn't work, but the way that I read it was that it was a trick INTENDED for me to not work. And I even mentally filled in the blanks, I really thought I'd fucked up, I'd broken things, and then thought no, they did this to me to make me think I did. And, again, I thought - I'm screwed. They're playing directly on me, my fears of messing things up, of missing out on things.

After that, though, my sense of alienation from the rest of my group set in because I saw just how much I was Other. I wanted to engage with this piece of art deeply and seriously, and I think they wanted Legends of the Hidden Temple. They wanted a puzzle box to figure out and I wanted catharsis.

There's another thing that deeply informs my experience of Ascension that I can't really get into here, but suffice to say that I know very, very well how to endure pain and discomfort in order to get through an experience. There isn't a part of me that questions whether I will safeword out of something like this due to physical distress. It has to be psychological. There comes a point in this where you are made to drink something. I was the last person in my group to drink, and heard the reactions from everyone before me. At that point I knew, I just had to do it. It was an ordeal, and that was all. But in that moment, I'm no longer in the moment. I'm completely in my head, putting up the defense mechanisms necessary to do this thing, accomplish this task, and get through it. Right after that there was something we had to eat that was being sold to us as "flesh" of some kind, and the girl three people down from me didn't want to eat meat. I felt bad for her, and wanted to say to her, just do it, it isn't meat, it's going to be fine. Of course I didn't know what it was, still really don't, and don't really care. It wasn't a live caterpillar, that's what was important to me. But again, I don't think I was mentally and emotionally where they wanted me to be - I was with her, wanting to help her.

Regarding the Rorschach quote - at one point I was handed a cup and told they needed a sample. The man then turned his back on me. And I didn't know what to do. I asked him if he really wanted me to pee, not because I was uncomfortable for myself but because I was uncomfortable for him, and for the people backstage I knew were watching. I was willing to do it. I'm not locked up in here with you. You're locked up in here with me.

And, at the end, when I was being sacrificed to Anoch for the cult, I couldn't see but I could hear the cries of people trying to save me. I could hear their voices. And I could tell that they didn't believe I was really dead/dying/hurt/in danger. And again, I thought back to The Magus, and my brain starts going...what do I have to do to make them FEEL those very real feelings? Not to act like they're feeling them, but really to feel them?

And what do I have to do to make myself feel them?

I still don't know the answer to that question.

* * *

Afterwards in a bar over drinks one of my friends said "yeah, Megan, what you're looking for is out there - it's called snuff." I know he was joking but part of him wasn't, and it was an exaggeration of the truth, but the experience that I'm thinking of does not exist.

So. What scares me?
At one point I was seated in front of a camera and told to say my goodbyes to the world. In that room a man was standing facing the corner. Was he there because someone knew of my panic attack during the final scene of Blair Witch Project in the middle of the movie theatre in 1999?

I think what I've concluded from this is that, surprisingly, shockingly, what scares others simply doesn't scare me. I don't know why. And maybe people *are* only interested in playing pretend, and going along with something, and I come along and ruin their fun by pointing out when things are obviously fake. It goes back to a first day in grad school when we had to go around and talk about ourselves, name one thing that scared us, and they got to me and my answer was "climate change." And the room kind of just died. Because they didn't mean FOR REAL. They meant for fun.

So what the mirror has shown me, Tension, is that what I am is still outside of others' comfort zones. And I still don't really know what to do with that. I don't know if that makes me an impossible audience member/participant or not. Maybe I just need to come to some terms with that and keep going.

Let's set one thing straight here: I did not hate the show.
And I really, really dislike grapevine gossip.
I would really, respectfully, like to ask everyone associated with Tension - creators, participants, everyone - to talk TO me and not about me.
Other things transpired last night that made yesterday a very difficult day, and finding out that there was a rumor going around that I "hated" the show and had "very negative reactions" to it was upsetting.
My oldest friend's father died. I've known him since I was three. I have a vivid memory of my friend and her mom holding each other at my mom's funeral nearly 30 years ago, and I can't be there to do that for her.
On top of that, another friend tried to kill me with Bernie Sanders laser beams in his eyes because I have not bought into a carefully constructed narrative about Hillary Clinton that I've been sold for twenty years.  Because I'm not fucking stupid. And another friend told me that my dreams were impossible and I should give up. (cue Locke, in his wheelchair, screaming "DON'T TELL ME WHAT I CAN AND CAN'T DO!")
If you can't take the time to have a conversation with me about the show, then don't bother having a conversation about my reaction to it. I have put a lot of time and love into this, and effort in pushing it out to communities beyond the haunt community. I believe wholeheartedly and enthusiastically in this work and still do. That hasn't wavered one bit. This is really, truly a case of "it's not YOU it's ME." YOU are locked in here with ME. Just like I have been for 39.9 years.
If my reaction and opinion matters it has to matter in conversation with me. I am allowed, as a human being, someone who has had no sleep, who has been stuck at an airport with a demon horse from hell, someone who had a two-Relpax migraine yesterday AND all of the above stuff happen, to vent emotionally to people.
If you are one of those people to whom I vented emotionally, you're right, I should have been more discerning in my choice of friends. That is a thing I need to work on and have needed to work on for awhile. I have poor judgement when it comes to moments when I'm tired and emotional and passionate about something, and there's a person who is asking me "so what did you think?????????" I own that mistake. There is no need to go running back to someone to report on what I said.

You should probably be aware, going forward, of what you're getting when you ask me questions like "what did you think of this thing I created?" or "what's your greatest fear?" I really, really wish - you have no idea how badly - that I knew how to not tell the truth, or how to "play," or how to not just be brutally honest and kill all the fun in a room. I come from a close-knit community of theatre artists that DOES NOT ask my opinion on their work unless they really and truly want it because it's in a venue where having that opinion is valued and respected highly (this is most often true in the immersive/gaming/interactive realm of theatre). Unless your name is David Bowie, I will not ever respond as a "fan." I am a theatre artist with two decades of professional experience. This is what I do. I will respond critically, honestly, always, because I care an amount you can't even spell, and I want to find out if we can answer questions about performance and immersive theatre and games and all of that fun stuff together more than anything in the world.

If you're asking what I'm afraid of you're going to get genuine fear, not things that go bump in the night. Be prepared to hear that I really don't think the environment can be saved. Know that there are lots of things I keep to myself in order to make YOU feel a little less uncomfortable.

If you want to play Two Truths and a Lie with me...well, you don't. Let's just say that. If I had been asked to play that in that room I think the show would have just fallen down around me.

And if you are some guy who decides after 20 years to tell me that 20 years ago you loved me, don't follow it up with talk about how you wish we were more in touch and closer now. I am here now. And when I say I am willing to be friends I am ALL IN. But I'm not interested in who we were then. Or in what songs by The Cure you thought were the most awesomenest. I'm interested in You. Me. This moment. Here. Now. The recording of a gesture while the clay is still wet, not the dusty thing sitting on my bookshelf half-forgotten that I made before I knew what art and life even were.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Shifting of the gaze.

On Tuesdays I have my students bring in images they find compelling, and we discuss each one of them in turn and why - attempting to keep the discussion to elements of design, or the storytelling that might be going on in the image. (Thanks, Laura Eckelman, for this exercise!) Sometimes that can be difficult - why THIS IMAGE, not the movie it's advertising or the book that it's from or the memories it evokes, but the image we are looking at on this paper. It's also challenging to get students in both a digital world AND an increasingly environmentally conscious one to work with actual paper. I love that Mac students are as aware as they are and as enthusiastic about making change, but it can be a challenge for art and design classes where resources are consumed.

Recently one student brought in this image:

I don't actually know the story behind this image, where it's from, who to attribute it to, and I will be happy to do that if someone can tell me. The discussion that it sparked was interesting though, and has had me thinking on several different tangents since that day about this culture we find ourselves in, the direction of our "gaze" and what that means.

Given that I know nothing about the image I'm about to make all sorts of egregious mistakes and my art history friends will start shaking their heads at me and petitioning to take my MFA away, but here goes. What I'm seeing when I look at this is either a Greek or Roman or Renaissance-like statue, or one intended to be taken as such, which is supposed to depict a woman perhaps dancing, uninhibited, unaware of her self. The gaze through which we are seeing this is not her own but the artist's, presumably male, but the point is that it's someone else's. Through the addition of the cell phone the gaze turns inwards - now, instead of dancing or being uninhibited, she is extremely self-aware. She is watching herself, photographing herself, possibly even not dancing but arranging her hair to get the perfect selfie. We aren't really looking at this through someone else's gaze anymore but seeing her simultaneously through another's and through her own.

And here's where there is a cultural shift that I can't quite reconcile. To many, this shift is seen as a positive thing - instead of being trapped by the presumably male gaze, she is now admiring herself. And I get that, I really do. However I wonder if we are too quick to equate the motivations behind the sculpting of the human body during these periods with the obsession we have today with objectifying the female body. Not all art depicting nudity is the same, it's not all bad, it's not all objectifying, and it's not all done through a leering male gaze. Much of it was a celebration of the beauty of the human body.

At the same time I wonder if we are too quick to defend the selfie culture. I don't really have a problem with selfies, though I frequently have a hard time understanding the need to take them (other people take much better photographs of you than you do if you hold the camera out at arm's length, you know). I've seen defenses of it that talk about wanting to see people post positive images of themselves, which is great, that's much better than the swirling negativity I live with inside my head vis a vis myself on a daily basis. It could be said that a selfie celebrates the self in a way that Renaissance art celebrated the human body. But how much do we really need to celebrate OURSELVES?
I don't think it's unknown, but good try.
The above quote is on a sign that hangs behind the counter at the art supply store near my house. It's within walking distance which means I spend too much time and too much money there, and see this quote far too often, and each time I do I think the same thing - what if life just isn't about yourself at all? Forget finding yourself, creating yourself, celebrating yourself. We are wrapped up in so many issues today that revolve around the self and we forget just how privileged we are to even be able to think about those issues. We are so wrapped up in celebrating ourselves that we even have a tendency to vilify anyone who wants to celebrate another person - see: the male gaze regarding the above statue. I'm not talking about sexual harassment and women learning to take catcalling as somehow a "compliment" - that's gross and ridiculous, and obviously unwelcome. But we even have two presidential candidates that exemplify this - one who has spent her life in the service of others, and one who has spent his life in the service of himself, and she is being cast as the villain.

The other thing to remember about the selfie culture and social media in general is that we are NOT celebrating ourselves. We are celebrating a carefully curated version of ourselves. To say that who we are on Facebook is genuinely who we are in real life is a joke. We are all politicians online, all of us making sure that our "image" is what we want it to be.

Today I'm going to attempt to not think about myself beyond the necessities and practicalities. I'm not going to worry about who likes me, who doesn't like me, whether anyone finds me funny or reads what I write or likes what I post online, who respects me or my work, whether I do anything of any importance or not, what my "identity" is and if I've stayed true to it and if others have violated it. Or - whether I've been too emotional and have put off people with it - that's a big one for me. I'm just going to get my work done and try to be a good person.

I would like to be uninhibited by all of that, unaware of myself.
It really doesn't matter what I do, my cats won't respect me anyway.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Immersive Adventures in Chicago: "Learning Curve"

This is going to sound like a review, and I don't mean it to, but I need to rave about this show.

I was in Chicago from Thursday until yesterday for the 2016 ATHE conference (Association for Theatre in Higher Education) and I had put myself on the waiting list for tickets for "Learning Curve," the immersive theatre collaboration between Third Rail Projects, Albany Park Theatre Project, and the Chicago school district. It's been getting amazing reviews and its entire run has been sold out but there's an option to add yourself to the wait list for any given performance, which is what I did, and I got lucky. Actually, because the tickets were only $40, I ended up getting three because I had expected to pay over $100 (I just bought tickets to "The Grand Paradise" and they were over $100, as are tickets to "Then She Fell," and if they're not $100, tickets to "Sleep No More" are close). I found two other people two give those tickets to at the conference hoping to give someone an amazing experience. I'm the type of person who will buy everyone she knows a copy of her favorite book - Imajica - just to make sure they get a chance to read it, so now I'm also the type who will buy friends tickets to immersive theatre, in the hopes of creating new obsessions.

"Learning Curve" deals with the issues surrounding high school, both from the perspective of its students and its teachers & administrators. What makes it incredibly powerful is that it's all performed by high school students, who are incredibly vulnerable and effective, and really took me back to my own years in high school. It also helped that THIS particular school probably hadn't been renovated since I was in junior high, and it reminded me of Elm Street Junior High School before its renovation in the early 90s. Aside from metal detectors, the presence of security guards, and constant reminders that cell phones exist, nothing had really changed in the last 20 years.

I was extremely lucky to have three moments of incredible intimacy with characters - similar to "Then She Fell," the audience is on rails during this performance (though slightly less so - it's a bit more random, and the audience is larger). And as intimate as the "one-on-ones" that I've had in "Sleep No More" and "Then She Fell" were, this is key: nothing beats the "one-on-one" with yourself from 20 years ago. Aside from the angst of being in high school there was also the relationship this project had to its city and its particular school district. For me, the realities behind this - and the fact that the performance was taking place in one of the closed schools - combined with the near universal truths of being in high school, make this a far more emotional and effective piece than any other immersive I've seen up to this point.

One of the people I brought with me was David Kaye, who was a professor of mine at UNH when I was in undergrad. He had never been to an immersive theatre production before and this, I think, blew his mind. Afterward we talked with one of the students, who was really excited to learn that we were theatre professors in Chicago for a conference. He asked a ton of questions about our respective schools.

I feel like every time I see something extraordinary I say "this is the best theatre I've ever seen." And it becomes silly after awhile, so I don't know that it means anything to say that anymore. This is light years better than "Sleep No More," better than "Then She Fell." If you live ANYWHERE near Chicago or if you're going to be there before November 20, put yourself on a waitlist or twelve. There are no witches or raves or stunning scenic pieces or secrets to unlock, but the emotions it creates are real and inescapable, because we've all been through them. I'm incredibly glad that I did this, it was the highlight of a very full weekend.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Another Tension Experience Update (& Meta-ish Thoughts)

Yesterday something pretty amazing happened within the world of The Tension Experience and I wanted to write about it even though it didn't happen to me. To me, this event represented a significant step forward in the [whatever-this-experience-is] because it did NOT happen in Los Angeles.

Early evening central time, Tension started broadcasting on Periscope from an unknown park. It took everyone awhile to figure out where this park was located, because it wasn't local to LA - most of the time the ones in LA they are able to figure out quickly, because the bulk of the participants live there, and the videos usually zoom in on a landmark or sign identifying the place. This video began with a close up of a photograph of this statue - which is in Kansas City. I should also mention that the video was addressed to a specific participant "M." M., like me, is located in the midwest, actually fairly close to Kansas City. As the broadcast went on, we saw a path through a park and eventually a letter drop inside a cement block. We ALSO saw The Tension Experience logon to the broadcast and demand that whoever was filming stop immediately - indicating that this was NOT sanctioned by them. Curiouser and curiouser..

Not in Los Angeles!
What followed over the next 12 hours was nothing short of amazing, and took me back 15 years to - you guessed it - Cloudmakers. Because this wasn't about a bunch of people in the same city working to attend the same event or solving the same puzzle or trying to get to the same location, it was a bunch of people all over the country working to get one thing accomplished TOGETHER. One of the truly revolutionary things about The Beast back in 2001 was that it required a hivemind and we didn't have much of an infrastructure for one yet - we had the internet obviously, but no social media in the sense that we have today, no built-in community for solving it. We formed our own group and we were just one of many working on it. There was no central forum set up for us and (unless I'm forgetting something) absolutely no contact with the puppetmasters, only in-game characters through occasional phone calls and emails. No guidance. Difficult puzzles were put out into the world, puzzles that very, very few individual humans had the capabilities to solve, but groups of hundreds or thousands stood a chance and DID solve. The game required teamwork. Last night, The Tension Experience did as well, even if it wasn't intentional at first.

Cloudmakers Yahoo Group - next time I need to view messages in this group, sort by date...
The problem that caused the need for teamwork was that it turned out to not be as simple as M. simply getting into a car and getting to the location - he was in the middle of a family event, and his circumstances just weren't going to allow for it. A second Periscope video suggested using Uber, and several people on the forums offered to pay for one, but the problem was not transportation. At first, it seemed like, because this was something intended for M. and only M., we weren't going to see the letter at all - a third Periscope indicated the letter was now unavailable and "some clues weren't meant to be found," but shortly afterward M. received a phone call. He was given a 24 hour deadline to pick up these documents, and as a group we set to work helping him solve the problem.

I offered to pick them up and deliver them to M. as a last resort - I live 6.5 hours away, but I also have the luxury of...what's that thing...oh right - SUMMER. I mean, I have a trip that's two days away and a show that techs next week in Texas but a road trip for a secret immersive experience/game/cult/thing-I-can't-explain? Why the hell not. I live for things I can't explain. Let me be clear here - this was only to provide a courier service (albeit a long one) between the location of the letter and wherever I could hand deliver it to him, and only because it appeared I might be the second closest to the letter and I had the resources to do it.

But another participant had a better idea. Michael posted on craigslist and on reddit, hoping to find a brave person willing to do something that sounded nuts for some compensation, and he got a few bites. This is the part where I went to bed, so everything that happened next, happened after dark, and I read about it the next morning.

Would you respond?
Apparently a guy (I will now refer to him as Reddit Guy) made the trip to the park and retrieved the letter. He didn't Periscope the journey as we'd hoped but he DID get it. However, when he got there, there was someone waiting for him - a person described as "a very old man, in a suit, smoking a cigarette." Smoking Man asked Reddit Guy what he was doing there, and wouldn't leave him alone, and followed him back to his car after Reddit Guy retrieved the letter. Reddit Guy, terrified, asked Michael "what the f--k did you get me into??"

Oh, Reddit Guy. I am so insanely jealous of you right now! Here's why.

You HAD the uncanny experience that pulled you out of the meta - I live for finding that and probably never will. Because of who I am and what I do I always look for seams and see behind curtains into how things are made, it's second nature, because I also make theatre. It's honestly made it VERY difficult to see and enjoy any theatre at all in the past 15 or so years. Every once in awhile - very rarely - I get to experience something that pulls me out of my self and into its own world. Otherwise, my own brain doesn't shut up. I look at the details, the lights, the set, how it's built, what's going on backstage (and yes, I am still looking at Tension through the lens of it being theatre, so find the analogies to those things where you can). I need something truly special to keep me from doing that. My first visit at "Sleep No More" DID THAT, and it was intoxicating - second and third did not, it had worn off, and I saw the mechanics. My one visit to "Then She Fell" did, and I'm hesitant to go back, because it was such a perfect experience that I'm not sure I want to remember it any other way.

And I get that you did not ask for this, you're amazing for having taken this on last night and we're all so grateful that you did. I hope that this didn't terrify you to a point that you're scarred for life and can't see it as some sort of bizarre adventure, or even get involved now that you've heard this exists.

None of that is a slight on any of those shows I've seen or experiences I've had - my brain works serious overtime, and it's not an easy thing to get me to lose the rational thinking that knows when something is scenery versus actual real living room on stage. On the other hand, I get completely absorbed in books all the time. Part of why I'm drawn to Tension and to finding or creating experiences like this is because I'm curious to see what *does* manage to do this, if anything. I'm fascinated by the experiences people have at "haunts" and am considering going to Heretic this fall (if I can get tickets), just to see if my reactions actually line up with what I think they'd be. When I was in LA and had my Echo Park adventure, I was definitely *partially* pulled out of myself and into the right headspace for the rest of the afternoon and evening, but most of me was still able to rationalize that I was not in fact being followed. It was a weird place to be, part of me freaking out, and part of me saying "you're an idiot, why the hell are you freaking out?"

We're now all waiting for the news of the letter getting to M. and finding out its contents. This whole entire thing - being in a location so far from Los Angeles, bringing together everyone & requiring teamwork, the ingenious use of craigslist and reddit to find someone willing to do the legwork, involving and completely unexpectedly scaring the daylights out of Reddit Guy when he arrived in person at the site - completely brilliant and unexpected. Bravo, Tension.

Edited 8/30/2016: This post has received some attention due to the Daily Beast article, "The Biggest Mindf*ck in Los Angeles." Out of sheer stupid pride I feel the need here to say that several of us figured out (with the OVERT help of Tension themselves) on July 4 that this was actually the work of a plant. This incident also sparked a discussion between myself and Steve Peters at Storyforward about the ethics of experience design (not gaming journalism) and I believe the plan is that I will be joining him on his podcast in a few weeks to talk about this.

Edited 10/13/2016: And here is the link to that Storyforward podcast episode on Ethics & Immersion. There have been a lot of discussions lately on this topic and it is important as more companies and individuals begin to create work and add to this form - consent is everything. The Tension Experience works for the individuals who signed up because we specifically consented to an intense, deeply personal and possibly invasive experience. Tension themselves did an excellent job of keeping the darker aspects of the narrative and performance away from the general public, and in regards to this particular incident should be commended if anything for observing that the game was about to go "out of bounds" and stepping in to make sure no one was unintentionally affected. I do believe there is an important and much more interesting conversation to be had regarding the ethics of the participants involved, given that recruiting off Reddit and sending a stranger into the park was wholeheartedly supported by the group and I'm not sure that anyone to this day feels that it was wrong.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Day WE Shook the Capitol

June 25, 2013 - The day I posted 76 times on Facebook over the course of 7 hours from the same seat in the Texas senate gallery. I took my seat sometime around 5pm and there came a point where they locked the doors - if I got up to pee, get water, eat, I wouldn't be allowed back in. That, of course, was nothing compared to what Wendy Davis was going through. She had been on her feet the entire day, filibustering SB5 (which later became known as HB2). This bill ushered in some of the most draconian, restrictive measures to abortion access in the entire country, and the gallery was full of women wearing orange who were there to support Davis in her efforts.

She just had to talk until midnight.

Filibusters in Texas are more of an ordeal than elsewhere. More rules to follow. More difficult. This wasn't a case of Davis opening up the phone book and reading until the clock ran out. She had to stay on her feet, on topic, without assistance, without leaning on her desk, without......

The rest of Texas would like you to think we accomplished nothing that night. The filibuster failed, the bill passed, it was just spectacle, "just theatre," Davis was a one hit wonder. And every single one of us that was there, three years later, still feels so connected to that day and are still so energized to fight. One result of that night was the mobilization of democrats in Texas - not an easy feat. Another was to get people across the country to wake up to the TRAP laws that weren't just happening in Texas but which were soon to happen - and which are now happening - in every state.

I was sitting just above where Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was standing, over his left shoulder. I was facing Davis as she spoke most of the time. What I can tell you (especially for those who think this was "just theatre") is that this was the most riveting 7 hours of storytelling of my entire life. There was NEVER a moment when I was bored, NEVER a second not spent on the edge of my seat. We knew the stakes, they were high, and in the years since Texas has since seen an increase in the number of self-induced abortions, the number of women crossing into Mexico to obtain care, and of course the closure of over half the state's clinics.

I don't really have a huge social media presence - I leave that up to Travis. But that night friends were FOLLOWING my facebook page, refreshing it for new content. It was an amazing feeling.


At one point I posted that protesters (outside the gallery) were in need of food - and my high school drama teacher in New Hampshire ordered pizzas.


The filibuster eventually fell apart and other Democrats in the room began attempting to run out the clock. I was so anxious, counting down minutes that were left as they tried desperately to cram the vote in.

I was in that seat when Leticia Van de Putte spoke the words that turned us from restrained gallery audience members into stars of the show - the Unruly Mob, as we were called the next day. "At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be heard over the male colleagues in the room?" It was our permission to be outraged. And then WE ran the clock out, by screaming until past midnight.

At that point my laptop was dead and I was posting via my phone - I had messages coming in that just said "LOUDER." These were from Austin but also OUTSIDE Austin - friends of mine were watching the filibuster live on TV, and were cheering us on, telling us to be louder, drown out the vote that was now attempting to take place.

I got home after midnight, after the state troopers were called in to remove us. When I got home, Travis told me that the bill had passed. What I didn't know until a few hours later was that the protesters who were NOT in the gallery had stayed, and the senate had stayed, debating the bill and whether or not the vote had taken place, and the conclusion was eventually reached that it hadn't happened before midnight. For a brief period of time, we fought and we won.

I had thank you messages on facebook the next day from people who had been watching my feed.



On Monday the Supreme Court is expected to rule on Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt, which is a direct result of the bill that eventually, unfortunately, passed. Pay attention, because this one is important. If the court deadlocks on it, my understanding is it confirms the lower court's ruling and the law stands - we want 5-3. I think in the last three years that so much has happened nationwide, Texas is no longer the worst state in the country in terms of abortion laws and access to women's healthcare. How much worse is it going to get?

In the meantime I can't forget why Texas is an especially difficult situation for bills like these. Its sheer size means that driving times to the few clinics that remain are long, and those clinics are located mainly in the larger cities, which are centralized - giving people who live on the border fewer options. The relative availability of an abortion for a woman depends heavily on where she lives, how much money she has, what kind of job she has, whether she has children already. I knew that for me, the law was not going to prevent me from receiving the care I needed, should I ever need it. I had resources, and options, and money, and I lived in Austin. That is NOT the case for most Texans.

When we left the capitol that night we knew that this was eventually going to the Supreme Court. And the day of that decision is almost here.