Thursday, July 2, 2015

Five Things: Updates from Water by the Spoonful Tech.

I'm in tech for my last show before the big move, which happens in just over a month. I have an Austin "bucket list," though I don't know that I will get to everything on it before August 9. Eleven years here and I've never been to Barton Springs and never seen the bats on the South Congress bridge. And I'm running out of time and weekends to do these things.

I'm also thinking a lot about the things I will miss about Austin and Texas. I've lived here longer than any other city, excluding where I grew up. We aren't leaving for good - I'm already contracted for a couple of designs in Texas next year - so I know that I will be revisiting these, but here are the current top five things I'm going to miss, in absolutely no particular order.

1. Texas summers. This is actually a new love of mine and it grew slowly over the past three or four years, probably since the first time we went tubing. The summers after that have all had adventures of some sort, from a weekend spent in Utopia swimming in the Sabinal, to our trip to Marfa (including the McDonald Observatory and Balmorhea State Park), to swimming in Jacob's Well and getting BBQ at the Salt Lick in Driftwood on the way back. Whether similar experiences can be had in other states or not, these are things that are etched in my brain as being purely Texas experiences, and even thinking about them I can feel the 100 degree heat.

2. The Alamo Drafthouse. How the hell are we ever going to go the movies again? The Drafthouse is now invading many other cities but it started here, and was one of the very first "Austin" things we did back in 2004. I miss some of the recurring events that they used to have when I was in grad school (Super Happy Fun Monkey Bash, I think one was called). But the Drafthouse has ruined any other movie-going experience I could have. I will miss hearing about how Ann Richards is going to take my ass out for using a cell phone before every movie, and all the preshow clips that never included awful advertisements for whatever product.

3. BBQ. It's not just about the food, it's the entire experience of eating it in a particular place, complete with plastic covered picnic tables, a guy with a guitar playing music, lemonade made right in front of you, red plastic cups like Pizza Hut had in the 80s, paper towel racks on the walls, fly strips hanging from the ceiling, and a lack of plates. I'm combining a few different places there but you get the idea. Combine BBQ with the feeling of a not-quite-dry bathing suit under your clothes and a sunburn, and you have the perfect day.

3a. Tex-Mex. I didn't want two entries for food so I'm cheating a bit. I just hope there are decent margaritas in Minnesota, somewhere, because I know that I'm not getting decent BBQ OR Tex-Mex.

4. The Fusebox Festival. I have big dreams of bringing my future students to Austin for the Fusebox Festival *someday* (no idea when/how/if that will ever be possible). This festival really opened the world of innovative and experimental performance for me. Austin's theatre community can be quite insular at times, and having a once a year reminder of what other bleeding-edge artists were doing has been great.

5. Being around people who are REALLY invested in local politics and issues and culture. I know that other places have this, but I haven't seen it demonstrated anywhere else the way I've lived it in Austin. I don't know anyone who doesn't know how to shop and eat locally and isn't at least a little proud of doing so. I know when the Texas legislature is in session and what they are doing. I can name several state reps and senators and tell you who is awesome (and who is not). I can actually talk about ballot measures and I know who to go to for information and smart opinions on our increasing lack of affordable housing and the growing gentrification problems. And I can actually defend Texas to my non-Texas liberal friends who readily dismiss a lot of the nonsense that happens here with a "what do you expect? you live in Texas." I know that there is a much greater diversity of people living in Texas than outsiders often expect. My views on things like immigration, the need to learn to speak Spanish (I still haven't, because I'm a bad person), and what distance is appropriate to drive to receive adequate healthcare have been permanently altered because of having lived in this state.

The short list of things I will not miss: Million-dollar condos popping up everywhere, being priced out of living in Austin by people who can afford said condos, South by Fun Fun Fun City Limits, I-35, the complete utter inability of this city to pass anything that could possibly maybe someday create adequate public transportation, watching arts communities and theatres barely make ends meet because rents are skyrocketing (see said condos), driving in Texas summer in a car whose A/C doesn't work.
Oh crap, which way will have less traffic today??

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Somewhat Off-Topic Rant On Online Personal Responsibility.

 "Turn off the internet, combine all the things that you love in the world, take some time, and you might come up with something special that is lasting." - John Cameron Mitchell, Sunday night's Tony Awards

It's really hard for me to be around online culture these days and not feel that it would be better for me (my heart, soul, mind, health, well-being, creativity) if I wasn't connected at all.

This realization really started with two events last August. The first was Michael Brown's death and the subsequent events in Ferguson, MO. In the wake of that, many voices sprung up online to express anger and frustration (rightfully so) over how our country and our law enforcement handles race. I started following many of them on Twitter. The second was the GamerGate debacle that began maybe a week or two after that. Again, angry voices sprung up, and I followed some on Twitter. My investment in HB2 and the Wendy Davis filibuster in 2013 had brought a lot of online feminist voices into my Twitter feed, and GamerGate added may more. Soon, my feed was filled with a lot of anger and rage - justified in most cases - that I started emotionally responding to. I was angry ALL the time. Upset all the time. Constantly reading things, reading more things, reading comments sections, and just letting that anger and rage spiral.
And I made a decision. I realized that I was actually choosing to interface with the things that were causing me to feel so much anger. My consumption of these things on the internet was voluntary. Was it important? In most cases, absolutely. These were and are important conversations to have. But it was still making me miserable.

This past spring I took on many, many design projects - I did seven shows in the first five months of the year. I was also interviewing for more than one faculty position, something which, if you have never done it, can evolve VERY quickly into something that consumes a lot of time and energy. I had things to do, things to make, and I needed that energy and time, and so I started to pull myself back from these discussions. I unfollowed many (not all) of the people I was reading on Twitter. I started blocking anyone who was remotely adversarial towards me, just so that I wouldn't be distracted. I realize that may sound like I was blocking opposing viewpoints, not hearing/listening to the other side, and if that's what a person wants to believe I'm not going to stop them. I was in non-stop lighting designer mode. It didn't matter.

Some days I spent less time online than others - and most of those days were the GOOD days, the days when I was productive, creative, and happy. There are now days when my husband asks "did you see your sister's post on Facebook?" and I have to say that I haven't been on Facebook for most of the day. Those days kind of feel good.

There are other places in my life where the immersion in online culture and discussion began to feel toxic, and I started feeling the need to do exactly what John Cameron Michell said in his speech at the Tony's - take what I love, turn off the internet, and take some time. And create - whether that's a real life community of people I love, or a new design, or art, or gardening, or cooking good food.

The thing about online discussion, even the kind that I agree with, that I would want to be a part of, is that it gets too extreme too quickly. There are so many people who refuse to consider middle ground in anything. There are subcultures of people who spend so much time in their niche that they forget the larger world bears little resemblance to the one they've created. And the discussion itself quickly turns into something that, in real life, would NOT be helpful to anyone. If we all argued out loud to each others' faces the way we do online, there would be nothing but yelling! I have yet to see anything actually get SOLVED this way, any issue resolved or moved forward, any agreement reached. I do see a lot of people going out of their way to be jerks. Why should I even bother trying to be a part of that?

This is the part where, if it were six months or a year from now, I would quote an entire long paragraph from Neal Stephenson's Seveneves. Given that this book came out only a few weeks ago, that it's long, and that those of us who read Stephenson understand that it can often take quite a bit of effort to do so, I won't do that. It's on page 641 if you're so inclined. It also serves as a great warning for people who use social media without thinking about the consequences it might have on their future selves (*looking pointedly in the direction of someone who shall remain nameless*).

Goodnight Moon
Which brings me to the more trivial part of this post - the concept of spoilers, and the online reaction to them. I'm going to use my one wildcard Game of Thrones/Song of Ice and Fire post (I have just now decided that I get one per year) now to rant a little about personal responsibility. This is the part where, if you're reading for my thoughts on theater and art and design, you might want to stop. Generally when I start talking about Game of Thrones, I'm one heartbeat away from talking about my cats.

I started reading these books in 2002. Granted I didn't wait in real time for the first three to come out, but I definitely sat through the waits for books 4 and 5. I am as hard core of a fan as you can get without being someone who also runs 17 ASOIAF websites and has the time to read all of the boards. In the past 13 years I have passed these books onto a ridiculous number of friends and have been discussing them in depth with everyone I could. Then, the show starts, it explodes in popularity, and we are at the moment we're at in online culture.

I've seen the crap that people can pull on the internet when they REALLY want to spoil something. My husband was halfway through Half-Blood Prince when he went online TO CHECK THE TRAFFIC one day, and someone had posted a comment that said "SNAPE KILLED DUMBLEDORE." On a traffic blog/site. If people want to be jerks and ruin things, they will find a way.

However, I still fully believe that it's my responsibility - and ONLY my responsibility - to remain unspoiled. Case in point, last night was Kacy Catanzaro's qualifying run on American Ninja Warrior, something for which I've been waiting a long time. I couldn't watch it in real time so I started about an hour late, and had the internet and twitter opened on my laptop. When it became clear that some of the ANW people I followed on twitter were talking about the current broadcast, I made a CHOICE - I closed twitter down until I had watched the whole episode. I didn't scream at everyone on twitter for spoiling something that I hadn't watched yet.

For people who have read the Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) series by George R. R. Martin, the TV show is at a point where we have to make choices. The show Game of Thrones (GoT) is about to surpass the books, and in a few instances has already done so. The sixth book in the series hasn't been published but the show has caught up to the rest. Unless it comes out before next June, if I watch season 6 of the show, I will possibly be spoiling the books for myself.

My point here is, we make choices about what media we consume, but it seems like for MANY people they don't think of these as "choices." I choose to read Facebook, Twitter, Winter Is Coming, Tower of the Hand, various ASOIAF podcasts and the ASOIAF reddit board. I know that I have a weird relationship with pop culture and that could possibly explain this, but if I chose to avoid those things starting June 15, I would remain unspoiled about season 6 (and book 6) provided I didn't have friends who were jerks and went out of their way to tell me things. I can walk away from Monday morning discussions of the show. I can NOT click on Buzzfeed articles. I can unfollow people who, like me, fervently and excitedly talk about Sunday's episode on Monday. Those are all things that are within my control. As is watching featurettes like the "Inside the Episode" thing that HBO puts out - this week, one of the two showrunners for GoT let slip a possible future book spoiler. Given that they've received so much (deserved) backlash for violence and sexual violence in the show, given what they were showing in this past Sunday's episode, "The Dance with Dragons," I can completely understand why they wanted to deflect some of the criticism that was undoubtedly going to come their way by saying what they said. But, that's another post on online empathy.

Suggest to people that the consumption of social media is a choice, and they will go out of their way to prove you wrong. Most of the time the argument is that their job requires them to be online. While I can believe that there are jobs that require access to Facebook I absolutely refuse to believe that there are jobs that require you to access Facebook on the same personal account with which you talk with your friends. Some jobs require you to comb through Buzzfeed articles. I don't think those are most jobs. I don't think there are many jobs out there that require employees to follow the #gameofthrones tag on twitter or spend half their day browsing the reddit threads on the subject. I've worked in software and web development. I *still* could have stayed entirely away from these things and done my job. And that was when LOST was on - if you think the GoT online community is a big deal, you should have seen what that was like.

Is it foolproof? No. There's no guarantee in life that you won't run across complete jerks. Or even that people who aren't jerks won't accidentally spill the beans. But no one - NO ONE - has the responsibility of making sure that YOUR media consumption is tailored in any way to your specific wants or needs. The creators of the Game of Thrones show have in no way signed a contract with book readers that says they won't spoil what's not yet published. People in online communities don't have any agreement that states they will remain reasonable and civil at all times, and refrain from inflammatory discussions. We have to choose to reduce the chances that we will run into things that upset us. Or, perhaps, decide that the thing to which we are exposing ourselves is important enough to risk the consequences, and understand that even then, we aren't absolved of responsibility. I stuck around the online feminist discussion as long as I did because it's very important to me, and I believed that I *should* be aware of what was going on. I now think there are healthier, more productive ways for me to stay involved and informed.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


Travis and I have already announced this in a bunch of places, but this week it became officially official - this August we will be moving to St. Paul, MN where I have accepted a position teaching performance design at Macalester College!

I'm very excited for this job and for us to begin this new chapter in our lives (the cats aren't all that excited). But, there are many things that I will miss about Austin. This town has been my home for nearly 11 years. I don't know how we will go to normal movie theaters or where we will eat barbecue or Tex-Mex. Austin has changed so much in the time that we have been here, though, and lately I've been sounding like a Get-SXSW-Off-My-Lawn veteran Austinite.

It is our plan to continue the relationships we have in Austin and to come back as often as possible for creative work. It would be a dream come true to be able to call both cities our home bases (except live full time in the one where the cost of living isn't quadrupling every five minutes). Later this summer I'm sure I'll have plenty "Five Things I Will Miss About Austin" posts and am already coming up with my Austin Bucket List - things to do before we leave town. But, we have been here a long time, far longer than we were in San Francisco, and I am definitely ready for a new adventure.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Five Things: Notes After All of the Techs.

I have had a crazy three and a half months and have hit a three week window of lovely downtime. Catching up on reading, research for upcoming shows, games, hanging out with the cats, remembering that I have friends, and planning a very huge, very exciting, very SOON next chapter in our (Travis's, mine, the cats') lives.

1. Today is 4/8/15, and 4:23 flew by without me realizing the significance. In recognition and celebration of this auspicious day, which won't happen again for another 100 years, I direct you to Javier Grillo-Marxuach's "The Lost Will and Testament of Javier Grillo-Marxuach." It's an absolutely lovely piece about the show's early process and the creative process in general, and a sort of answer to those people who want black-and-white, who want to know yes-or-no, did you make it up as you went along? Because art doesn't work that way. LOST has a huge part of my heart. LOST reminds me of grad school, and inviting people over for pizza or chicken curry on Wednesday nights and bonding over this crazy show, and of the summer I interned at Cincinnati Opera and the company manager had to replace my TV on the night of the season 1 finale. For me, there will never be another LOST. There may be better shows (and there are, and have been - "Breaking Bad" was as close to perfect as a series can get from beginning to end) but they won't share the love, significance, and sentimentality in my life that this one did. Learning about how that was all created, the passion that went into it, the mechanics of it - beyond words fascinating and so familiar, even if I haven't been a part of a massively popular landmark television show.

2. Even though I have time off, I am unable to get back to the gym and unable to go running. Since January, I have teched and opened five shows, and my entire self-care routine has been disrupted. During focus for "Crime and Punishment" in March, I misjudged a step on the many-leveled set and went down about 12" landing on the side of my ankle. It was a pretty bad sprain, still swollen a month later. I had already decided to skip the Warrior Dash on March 21 (I signed up awhile back) and thankfully never registered for Tough Mudder. But I would really, really like to be able to manage the stress again, and my one attempt to work out this past Monday demonstrated that I still need to take it easy. AND. Since I have a couple of weeks off I am going to commit to strategizing diet & exercise for the next round of non-stop tech fun. This is an ongoing battle for me, figuring out how to eat, how to keep exercising when my usual routine is gone.
My foot, the day after.

3. I recently had a piece published on HowlRound, about the design process behind our January show "Deus Ex Machina," which was an enormous success. You can read the article here.

4. Travis and I went to see "It Follows" on Friday night. This led to a discussion and ongoing brainstorm (in my own head) about horror films, what is "scary," what "being scared" even is. I had expected (because of what I'd heard about the film) to be scared by the movie and really wasn't. There was one moment towards the beginning where I jumped, followed immediately by the thought "I am so tired of seeing women mutilated on-screen, even if it IS a trope and they're making use of it." I am not sure if the intention was to make me jump out of my skin, or to dramaturgically analyze the film, but I'm pretty sure that I can't do both at the same time. I have thought about what movies have scared me in the past, and there are two that I can honestly say scared the ever-loving s*** out of me, not only on the nights that I saw them but for years to come, and those movies are "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "The Blair Witch Project." In both cases it was the unknown, unexplained, ambiguous story/plot/endings that had me. At age 14 I wasn't really able to deal with a movie as non-literal as 2001, and not knowing what it meant - and you have to admit that the music and imagery are very ominous - kept me up at night for years. (I think my dad deeply regretted ever showing it to me.) "It Follows" had moments that tickled the same part of my brain that was terrified back then - there are several times when your eye catches someone in the background of the film and fixates on that person rather than on the actors in the scene, and that's pretty unsettling. The ending of Blair Witch is what had me in hysterics when I saw it in Augusta, Maine in 1999 - it's just a continual ratcheting of tension and suspense right up until a final image that took me awhile to digest and understand. That summer, I was an electrics intern at the Theater at Monmouth and my room was in an attic, in a house in the middle of nowhere. Walking up the stairs that night was terrifying - to get to the attic I had to pass a floor of the house that resembled (to me) the house at the end of the film, and for weeks after I was running up the stairs to avoid seeing that space. "It Follows" has one actually scary element in its mechanics, and that is the knowledge that once cursed in the movie, there is no escape, there is only putting off the inevitable gruesome ending as much as possible. THAT tension could have scared me. But by and large, "horror" movies don't. Travis believes that what I actually am experiencing is what he calls being "disturbed," not scared. Literal imagery doesn't do it for me, gore and violence doesn't, and knowing the resolution/entire plot/meaning of it all doesn't - take away those things, and you might be scaring me. Other movies that have scared me a bit: "The Others," "The Orphanage," Maya Deren's "Meshes of the Afternoon," "Picnic at Hanging Rock."
This will stick in your head for awhile.

This, to me, is different from how I feel about the absolutely revolting "body horror" movies. My reaction to the trailer for "The Human Centipede" was well-known for a number of years, and recently hearing Filmspotting's review of "Tusk" had me nearly reliving that. I haven't seen either film, but I know that I would not be ok if I did. Is that being scared? I don't know. Is it being disturbed? Oh yes, deeply, though it's not the same. It's not haunting. There's nothing there that is unclear, nothing that I don't understand, I am just very much not ok with those films.

To the people at Monmouth who dressed the blow-up doll in a flannel shirt and stood him in the corner of my room in the attic, I still haven't forgotten or forgiven. That was dirty.

5. Why do I keep reading post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction? I'm currently in the middle of "Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel and LOVING it. I am beyond excited for "Seveneves" to come out next month. And David Mitchell, oh David Mitchell, you have unseated Haruki Murakami and become my favorite writer and it's largely due to this sprawling metaverse you're creating in your novels that extends through time, through the fall of mankind and its aftermath and is so spot-on that it feels like YES this is what is going to happen. It's a running joke with Travis and me now that he picks up a book I'm reading, reads the description on the flap and doesn't get past the words "dystopia," "post-apocalyptic," or somethingsomething feminist/exploitation of women.

And speaking of post-apocalyptic fiction, LOST and being unsettled, disturbed, and scared - the Southern Reach Trilogy is another recent read. I devoured those books in a couple of days and I don't know that they will ever leave my head.

Notes from Dublin: Rambling, Emotional, Barely Coherent.

This has been a strange two weeks to be in another country, especially one that isn't a major world power. Ireland doesn't have the ...