Thursday, January 30, 2014

Unconventional Collaborations.

Next week I head to New Hampshire to kick "Sila" into gear.  The light plot was turned in this week and There Will Be Revisions in the coming days.  The projection design is coming together and has had me exploring things - like animation - that I hadn't expected to be doing a year ago.  It's amazing and exhausting and a reminder of why I do love taking on things that I know will challenge me.

The projection design also gave me an opportunity I had not expected - the chance to collaborate with my nine year old niece.  I love it when a project lends itself to collaborations with unexpected or unconventional people.  This isn't the first time I've asked a child to help out with something - we did that for the projection design in "Transformations" back in 2008, involving a good friend's daughter doing large-scale finger painting.  There is a moment in "Sila" involving a child's drawing.  After a couple of attempts at creating this myself I realized that I wasn't going to be able to capture what makes a child's drawing so unique and awesome no matter how long I kept at it - so, I did what my husband refers to as "using child labor" and called my sister.  I spoke with my niece on the phone, explained what I was doing and what needed to be in the drawing, and twenty minutes later I had a photo of a sketch appear in a text message.  I'm not sure I've ever received drawings so quickly from a professional!

There are elements to this that my non-child brain never would have thought to do - the circles around the stars, the marker strokes in the sky.  My job has been to take this picture and animate it.  My niece made this easy.  Sometimes you need to borrow someone else entirely in order to find motivation to create.

Ever since I got involved with the ActLab at UT Austin back when it was still in full-time operation, I've wanted to work with non-theater artists to create theater.  Having worked in theater and gone through a graduate program in theater, my brain was ready for something much more open and uncertain and risky.  Theater can frequently get very structured.  There's generally a workflow/process that is similar for all shows, even if the details differ.  The ActLab offered a chance to just Create Something, and to do so surrounded by people from every corner of the university community.  I came out of my first ActLab experience with new ideas for creation, collaborations, and definitions of "art" and "performance."  

One thing that has been circling around in my brain for awhile now is the desire to work with people in STEM fields to create art.  Through endless tumblr-ing I came across "Pulsum Plant," a project by artist Leslie Garcia that attempts to use technology to translate the way plants communicate into sound.  And the crazy thoughts begin - could this find its way somehow into opera?  Today I was listening to an old episode of Radiolab, "Musical Language," and was fascinated by a segment with a neurolinguist that talked about the possibility of a universal language in music and sound that is recognized even by newborn babies - the idea that mothers communicate using the same intonations regardless of the words being used when praising or comforting, and as babies we recognize the meanings of those intonations.  Could this be used to create music that goes beyond creating emotions in listeners but actually communicates with the brain directly to produce a specific effect or feeling?  There's something in questions like this that invigorates me and gets me to work.

(And as an aside, this sounds so very similar to the use of language, specifically Sumerian, to program the human brain, in Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash," a concept that has fascinated and terrified me ever since I read it.)

After "Sila," my next lighting design is a dance concert in the spring, and between the two I'm hoping to start work on a new original project with a new unconventional collaborator.  I'm still trying to figure out how that's going to work and am not ready to talk about it yet, but I'm excited.  And now, back to animating my niece's beautiful drawing.




Saturday, January 4, 2014

Five Works of Art Discovered in 2013.

This is a few days late, since we are already four days into 2014, but visiting family, holidays, and working on "Sila" have kept this post on the back burner.  At the end of the year everyone seems to have a list of the Top Ten Whatevers from the year - movies, books, etc.  Unfortunately, I rarely "discover" something the year it was released or created.  My consumption of art and media is such that I'm always randomly finding things a month, a year, a decade, later than everyone else.  Each December I try to make lists of things that *I* discovered for the first time that year, whether they were from this year or not.  These five cover things that I have not written about in this blog in 2013 but which have intellectually or emotionally stuck with me this year.


1.  Shane Carruth's "Upstream Color."

Carruth's previous film, "Primer," was one I watched twice in one night, without even a five minute pause between the two viewings.  It's compelling and frustrating, impossible to understand without seventeen flow charts but still, I couldn't take my eyes off of it.  I was prepared for his second film to be just as difficult, and while there is definitely a challenge to watching "Upstream Color," the film is far more abstract than "Primer" and probably less explainable.  But it's a beautiful experience, probably the most beautiful film I saw last year.

After you watch it, make sure to watch the following explanation (with stick puppets):
It's very helpful.


2.  "Braid" (indie game).

"Braid" is a work of art, a game so beautiful I played it simply for the experience of looking at the gorgeous art and animation work.  I've been following indie games and the "games as art" conversation a lot this year and stumbled upon this game because of it.  The art is gorgeous, and I love the use of color and light in all of the backgrounds.  The mechanics of the game are frustrating but extremely satisfying when solved - it's the kind of game you might play for hours, and then put aside, feeling the urge to give up, and then be thinking about it the next day on the bus or as you're falling asleep and suddenly hit upon the solution to a puzzle.  The other thing that draws me to this game is the rather ambiguous ending or meaning behind it.  I love the unexplained and the abstract.  I love it when art isn't dumbed down for its audience and asks the audience to do a tiny bit of research in order to appreciate it.    There is a quote used in the game's epilogue that turns the meaning of the entire story into...something else entirely, and I had to google it to get to its history and meaning.


3.  Margaret Atwood's poem "Habitation."
I don't have much to say about this poem, other than it's been a challenging year for me, and for those who love me, and this is truth in poem form.


4.  Vienna Teng's "My Medea."

I've discovered a lot of her music this year, thanks to Pandora.  It's achingly beautiful.  This song - personifying depression in order to heal, understanding the link between our pain and the art we create - just beautiful.  "There's a mysterious illness that I carry with me, whose symptoms flare up from time to time, though they're mercifully rare these days. It's not a medical condition, I don't think, but it feels like a disease to me: sudden bouts of grief and anger, completely out of proportion to the events that trigger them, and a frightening desire to dismantle anything good I've built."


5.  7 Towers Theatre's production of McDonagh's "The Pillowman."
I know I'm biased, but this production wasn't seen by nearly enough people in the Austin theater community.  It was, I think, Travis Bedard's best performance.  The design was beautiful and exemplified many of the things that led me to write this piece for HowlRound earlier in the year.  When I compile this list I look for things that moved me in surprising ways.  Parts of this play are still stuck in my brain, clattering around my dreams and disturbing my sleep.

The good life.

Recently I asked my first year students the following question: At this time, what constitutes the "good life" for you? What per...