Saturday, March 25, 2017

Lust Experience Adventures Begin

The Lust Experience has begun - two incredible events have already taken place and I have already been blabbing to every performance studies person I can nail down to a chair for twenty minutes about what is transpiring.

As Amy Guerin said last year, "time to performance studies the shit outta this!"

The Book Release

On March 15, a book release party was held for the commemorative glossy behind-the-scenes book about The Tension Experience at the OOA compound. This was seemingly advertised as a party and a last chance to say goodbye to the place where the immersive piece was held, and to socialize with old friends and cast members. Which is exactly what it seemed to be, in the beginning. I wasn't there, because my impromptu trips to Los Angeles will be curtailed somewhat this year (see last blog post) even if Travis doesn't entirely remember the last one. I saw friends posting photos of themselves seated on the stage (where I was sacrificed my first time through Ascension). Many people talked about conversations with the actors and exploring spaces in the warehouse they hadn't gotten to really see before.

At a certain point everyone was gathered in the main sanctuary space and Michelle, a character introduced close to the end of Tension last fall, walked in. The character, not the actor. And, well, here's what happened:

The man she slaps is Darren Lynn Bousman, Tension's creator/director. And with this, what was a party was suddenly a performance. Everyone was pushed out of the warehouse, confusion ensued, and in the confusion someone said that Darren did not make it out. For several days after that it seemed as though he was mysteriously missing.

And in the aftermath several participants recounted stories of talking to actors that they suddenly saw in a different light - as in, they weren't talking to actors, perhaps, but to the characters.

Again, I am so fascinated by this and the ongoing discussion about consent, and what one can or can't consent to. I don't believe for one second that the group of people in that room were ones to be concerned with at all in this area - they all have long since acknowledged they wholeheartedly wanted to take part in this craziness. But as in other areas of life, there are always people who want to step in and dictate where the ethical line is. Tension has always pushed against that and I love it (but I've loved exploring lots of areas in life that have pushed against that line).

Think about other areas where consent is involved - can one give blanket consent? Or do we have to consent to individual acts and incidents? What is the definition of "informed consent," and does it apply here? I know that this probably seems like an extreme comparison to some, but for a lot of people experiences like Tension really skirt the "extreme" line, and even Sleep No More occasionally pushes the boundaries of consent. Is it ok to invite people to an event under the pretense that it is one thing, and then have it actually be something else - something that involves violence and the threat of MORE violence?

Personally I have long maintained that when we all signed up last year the website made it very clear what we were getting ourselves into, and we jumped in knowing that. We WANTED that. These are thrill seekers, after all. I want to be able to say "I'm an adult, I want this experience, I consent" and accept the consequences. I want to believe that everyone else is with me on this - of course that's not always the case. There are always people who will take issue, and that makes creating art like this inherently risky. The fact that they DO it just makes me love it and want to support it more.

First Encounters & Blackmail

A week later, participants Bryan & Lia were set up on meetings ostensibly with self-help alpha-male guru Noah Sinclair on the same night. Noah's website is the only real revelation of Lust so far, and we all jumped right in to sign up. Some of us have been told we have what it takes to join his "system," some of us - myself included - have been told unequivocally that we are "losers." My email also had a nice love note specifically for me referencing the chip on my shoulder, which makes me wonder where "my story," if there is one, might head this time through.

Bryan was in Austin, TX at SXSW with the Tension crew when they did their panel and was supposed to meet up with Noah there, but that fell through - instead he had a meeting on Wednesday. You can see his recap here, on Periscope. Simultaneously Lia had her meeting.

I don't know Lia at all, but Bryan is a good friend. And Bryan's approach to interacting/playing is so...amazing. I could spend an entire year just watching him, and make THAT an entire study in performance. See, I think what I learned at the end of last year was that the thing that I don't do - perform - is what a lot of people ARE doing more often than I realize. They may have the original jolt of fear (when the phone call turns out to not be their best friend, for example, or something else disturbing happens), but reality soon sets in and they realize it's Tension...however, because it's fun, they keep playing that fear. All last year I sat there and thought you can't seriously be THIS scared, you know who is doing this. Bryan's "jolt" lasts much longer. He stays in that moment where things are "real" for longer than others do and maintains the illusion without. When I say that I want to not know what reality is - that's what I'm talking about. For a period of time I think he really believes that what he is experiencing IS actual reality, and he is NOT performing. For someone who is incapable of performing (me) that just sounds amazing, and completely unattainable.

(Sorry, Bryan, this will be the last blog post about you.)

One last thought - and I had this because I tried to give some thought as to what could possibly cause me to have the experience that he had that night, and I realized what could do it. Over a month ago there was talk of some people expressing concern over people being too bothered by the language on Noah's website and personal issues it could trigger. I think it may just be an automatic cultural response now but it surprised me, because it wasn't something that came up at all last year, not once. Those of us who do this choose to do this. This is meant to be emotionally challenging, possibly devastating. The creators talk frequently about destroying us. Only one of us is a delicate flower. I think that it's quite possible the second timers might feel a little nervous because we were dumb enough to do this once, and they now have the ammo they need to be incredibly effective this time around - we're still here anyway. It's like there's a sign that reads "you must be this tall to ride the ride" when you sign up for Lust. My self-esteem is as fragile and fractured as they come but I weigh that against the experience and make the choice for myself that this is worth it - and there's the possibility that I might even be better for it on the other end. Not all experiences in life and in art are about beauty and rainbows and pastoral scenes and mothers and children and kittens and stuff. Or even social justice issues and fighting for a better world. Some of the ugliest, most uncomfortable experiences in life and art can cause the most profound and personal changes, if you let them and are open to them.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How much does a heart attack cost? And what does that have to do with NEA cuts and iPhones?

I have really and truly wrestled with writing this post. Two friends of mine in particular asked me to write it when I blew up at someone on the internet in a dumb internet moment a couple of months ago because I started spouting the numbers, and they said it would be important for people to know exactly what happened to us, and why, and what it cost in actual dollars.

What this is NOT

This is not about politics, about Obamacare, about Trump or anything like that. This is about what happened to my husband and myself as a result of our choices. If you feel that you're in a position to pass judgement on us, please go right ahead. This is also NOT a plea for money. AT ALL.

What this IS

If you're a person who thinks that this is something that happens to other people and it can't happen to them...you are wrong, and you need to stop. We spend too much time assuming that this happens to *not us* because we are (fill in the blanks: hard working, responsible, stable, whatever). You are not impervious to this.


On November 23, 2016, my husband, Travis Bedard, suffered a major heart attack at age 41.

He was outside clearing snow and slush from the walkway outside our house. He wasn't outside for long, and his sister found him quickly enough and started CPR while I called the ambulance.

The ambulance took him to the best possible hospital for him and we, of course, drove first to the wrong hospital. Eventually we made it to the right one (note: don't navigate in times of urgency using Apple maps), and we were ushered into a small triage area, curtain closed. Eventually a doctor came out and talked to me. It wasn't good. They were trying to get his heart restarted, but weren't able to yet. I knew that he was preparing to give me bad news. I believe the phrase that he used was "basically not alive."

We were ushered into another waiting room and friends of ours - Mark and Trish - showed up to wait with us. I was pretty numb through all of this. I know Mark was making calls to let some people know what was going on but I couldn't think of anything other than I can't do this I can't do this I can't do this. Mark kept telling me over and over, because apparently I was saying that out loud, that they would be there to help me do it. Eventually a very nice Greek man came in and told me that they had gotten his heart restarted. It had only taken two hours. He was still very sick, and on life support, and Dr. Greek wanted to do *something* involving putting him on bypass and then a bunch of OTHER stuff which I don't really remember (like, hypothermia for 24 hours, then 24 hours of slowly bringing his temp back up, then other stuff, then more other stuff, and then eventually seeing if he'd wake up). He needed my permission. I didn't understand what was being asked. Eventually I said "if I don't say yes to this, he dies, right?" and Dr. Greek said yes. "Then yes, do whatever, yes." He asked if Travis had a DNR. "I couldn't find his fucking driver's license you think he has a DNR?" was my answer. Travis had not made it easy to find identifying documents for the ambulance.

It started to dawn on me that I was the one who had to make decisions until he woke up. Like, that was my job. This is what being an adult suddenly feels like.

Hours later, I got to see him, hooked up to a million tubes, on bypass, on a ventilator, freezing cold, but alive, barely. Two very large tubes ran up his legs to his abdomen and appeared to be full of blood. That was keeping his heart going. Dr. Greek kept reassuring me that he didn't need the machines, his heart was beating on its own, but that they were there to give his body a rest and to let it heal. There were so many of them, though, it was difficult to believe that he didn't "need" them.

The GoFundMe

I was adamant that nothing about this go on Facebook or anywhere else online. I've found out about things through Facebook before, things that I would have preferred to learn about in person, and I didn't want that happening to others here. Travis and I have lived all over the country and have kept in touch with friends from as far back as 20 years ago, and lots of people wanted to start a Caring Bridge page and a GoFundMe page. They wanted to help. And I understood but...this was private, and we still didn't know which way things were going.

48 hours later things started looking a lot better though, once they had warmed him back up and tried backing him off the bypass. Eventually he went into surgery and they took out the big bloody tubes altogether (we played Dominion in the waiting room while this happened). Everything went smoothly, his heart was beating normally and the doctors said it looked like he hadn't even had a heart attack. But he was still on the ventilator. On Monday after Thanksgiving I called his work to let them know what was going on. Up until that point I wasn't really aware that he wasn't insured yet. Every job I've had for the past I don't know how many years had my benefits starting on day one - I just assumed his did too. But, when I spoke to his HR department, they told me that that wasn't the case, and that's when I learned about the December 1 date. And that was when I realized that private or no, we were going to have to accept help.

Trish launched the GoFundMe - I wanted to remain detached from it. Actually I wanted to remain detached from everything. We were trying to set things up so that I would be texted or called a minimum number of times but that didn't seem to matter - no matter how often we said "please contact these people for updates," my phone never stopped making noise. I eventually just shut it off. Trish set the initial goal for the GoFundMe at $10,000, and I was floored, utterly, absolutely floored, when it reached that in under 24 hours. I knew it wasn't going to cover the hospital bills but it would cover his lost income at least, and maybe a bit more. But really, seriously, who has friends like that?? I couldn't believe it. The damn thing was shared hundreds of times.

Travis's GoFundMe page as of 1/8/2017

I met with financial counseling at the hospital and the woman was very nice, and willing to meet with me as often as I wanted, but limited in terms of how helpful she was. At first it seemed really hopeful - there was this program, MNSure, and she felt certain that we would get that one week covered through that program. We filled out the application and I thought that was that. A couple of days later, she called to let me know that we were not approved. As with everything, our income was too high to qualify. I met with her to discuss next steps. She assured me that she had seen the total number we owed, and she showed it to me, and said that because we were uninsured we were going to be given a 49.4% discount off that amount.

Notes from that meeting

The total as of that date (this was early December) was:

$293,346.36
-          49.4%
---------------
$148,433.26

That number, $148,433.26, was what we could expect to owe for the week of uninsured care that saved his life.

Now, there were a couple of caveats added to this. One, there would probably be a couple of other bills that we would receive separately, such as one from the U of Minn Physicians, or another from radiology. Two, once his insurance kicked in there would be his deductible, however, he was likely to hit that within the first 15 minutes of coverage on December 1 (I think this would add something like another $5000). She said that once we received the bills, I needed to call to receive the discount, and that payments could be negotiated.

Honestly, at first, that number seemed ok. I was expecting something around $900,000, and so seeing $150,000 felt doable. Possible. I hadn't done any math, I just felt alright about it.

Other people balked at the number though and I found myself reassuring them from a place of having no knowledge.

Once we had the number, Trish raised the goal amount on the GoFundMe, and it continued to raise funds, but I really felt that we couldn't expect any more generosity from our friends - they had already shown us so much.

At 3:00am on November 30, the hospital called me to tell me that the breathing tube had been removed and he was awake. By the time I got to the hospital he was already sitting up in a chair. He was having difficulty talking, it took a lot of effort, and holding anything was impossible. I fed him ice chips. Within 24 hours though he was talking a LOT (if you know Travis, you know what he's like). His recovery actually went very quickly. The one thing that didn't recover as quickly as the rest of him was his kidneys. He needed several rounds of dialysis, and we weren't sure if that was a temporary thing or if it would be a permanent thing. Everything actually was really nebulous. When they first told me that his heart was beating again, way back in the beginning, they told me that "this will be a marathon, not a sprint," and I should expect a 4-6 week recovery period in the hospital after he woke up (if he woke up). But he seemed to speed through that much faster than expected and was out of the ICU relatively quickly. The original thought seemed to be that he would be discharged to inpatient rehab, in another building, where he would receive intense physical therapy until he was ready to go home. But eventually it seemed that he wasn't even going to need that. He was having difficulty walking, but was improving. The only thing they were waiting on was his kidney function. Finally on December 15 they took out the dialysis catheter and said that his kidneys were fine, and sent him home. That is a MUCH faster recovery time than anyone expected!

Bills Start to Come In

The bills started coming in while all this was going on however, and I started getting anxious. Three of them came in right away:
This is from the Saint Paul fire department, for the ambulance.
This is the anesthesia bill (obviously).

This is part of the U of Minn Physicians bill - the total is at the top.

I called the two larger ones (not the ambulance) and while they were willing to arrange payment plans, sort of, they wanted the bills to be paid off within six months. At this point, my big plan was to get my student loans deferred for two years, giving me an extra $500 per month to devote to these bills, and I was trying to figure out if that was going to be divided up somehow between each of these. But it became clear that these just needed to be paid - especially the UMP one. That one, if paid off within 30 days, would be discounted 20%. So, I took the money from the GoFundMe, and wrote the checks:

Saint Paul Fire Department -    $1875.40
Univ Anesthesia Providers -     $7281.59
Univ of Minn Physicians -       $5173.60
                                                ---------------
                                               $14,330.59

A second round of bills came, including a second Univ of Minn Physicians bill and two small Fairview Hospital bills:

Fairview Hospital -                  $289.46
Fairview Hospital -                     $96.49
Univ of Minn Physicians -     $5000.36
                                             -----------------
                                               $5386.31

These bills took the rest of the GoFundMe, all of our savings, and my tattoo money (my 40th birthday present to myself, which I'd been planning for years and the appointments were made way in advance). I canceled the tattoo appointments, and made the choice to postpone it until next year (hopefully) because obviously every time I put money aside for it that money was going to be used for medical bills. (See, Jason Chaffetz? Sometimes it's NOT about iPhones...it's about tattoos.)

The other one, the hospital bill...this one took a long time to get finalized. For the longest time, the website showed an amount that I could only hope was not going to be what we owed in the end:

Screenshot from the bill pay website as of 1/8/2017

While I was at USITT the itemized bill FINALLY arrived, and the discount was applied. That bill is 25 pages long. I'm just going to share the final part with you:
The final page of our itemized FINAL bill

This shows that the grand total cost for his hospital care - not the rest of the bills that we've already paid, just the hospital portion - was $446,724.06. Health Partners covered everything after December 1, and the uninsured discount was applied, which brought that down to $149,663.46. There's another Fairview Bill for "professional services" that you don't see here but it's shown on the site, minus $300 I already paid towards it:


Screenshot as of 3/2/2017

So, here is what a heart attack cost us - mileages obviously vary:

12/5/2016   Univ of MN Physicians      $5173.60
12/6/2016   Univ Anesthesia Providers $7281.59
12/6/2016   St. Paul Fire Dept.              $1875.40
11/23/2016 Fairview Hospital               $  289.46
1/12/2017   Fairview Hospital               $    96.49
2/6/2017     Univ of MN Physicians      $5000.36
3/10/2017   Fairview Hospital          $160,336.70
                                                            ---------------
Grand Total:                                      $180,053.60


The Big "WHY" Question

You should know, in case you don't, that no one prepares for a heart attack at age 41. There are a million things I wish we had done now, in retrospect, but they were choices made based on information we had at the time. The big one was that Travis was uninsured.

And yes I now hear the sounds of a million well-meaning people asking "why was he uninsured??"

Travis and I are working theater artists. I'm a designer, he is an actor. For years we have both worked full time desk jobs while maintaining simultaneous full time artistic careers - meaning typically 8 hour work days followed by 5+ hours of rehearsal or work in a theater for little extra money. We moved here in August 2015 so that I could take a job with Macalester College. This job represented a HUGE step up for us in terms of income and possibilities and future. This state boasts and insanely low unemployment rate. Travis is very skilled, has a great resume, great references. We honestly believed that he would be working in no time at all. When I enrolled in benefits for my job, we discussed putting him on my insurance but decided against it. Surely, we thought, he'd have a job within a matter of weeks. We'd both always been insured separately at our own jobs, and the cost of putting him on my insurance was significant. We took the chance because we didn't think it was going to be long at all.

But it was long - it was almost a year before he started working, and that was in a temp-to-hire position. That job became permanent in October, and the heart attack happened November 23. But his benefits weren't set to kick in until December 1. If he had waited eight days to have the heart attack, I wouldn't be writing this right now. I found out about the lack of insurance when I called his work to let them know on the Monday after it happened - I didn't realize until then that his insurance hadn't started. He hadn't even woken up at that point.

A couple of things to note here. One, it was just one week of no insurance. Even if we had put him on my insurance...that easily could have happened to anyone. I went without insurance for two weeks between Austin and Minnesota jobs. There are so many ways any one of us could have fallen through that crack - you don't need to have gone without for an entire year.

Two, we are incredibly, INCREDIBLY lucky. Our friends raised $14K for us on Gofundme. My family chipped in. His mom flew out. His employer helped out. We also don't have kids. And yet. With all of that, and two stable jobs, we were STILL screwed. So many people don't have those resources at all. Because of all that help we received, the first $20K in bills were paid in cash with little stress. And the big big bill is now on a payment plan - we are currently paying a smaller amount but hope to increase it significantly once my credit cards are paid off in two years. My math has us out of debt in eight years with this plan - no bankruptcy needed.

Three. We have worked our asses off. We have been insured for nearly all of our adult lives. We have been tax-paying citizens. We made a mistake, and we will now be paying for that mistake for the rest of our lives, at a time when we really want to be making good on the hard work we've put in to our careers at artists.

Travis is a non-Equity actor who works primarily in classical Shakespeare, has produced quite a bit of indie theater and does a not insignificant amount of arts advocacy. I've been designing professionally since I got my MFA in 2007, but it's largely been for experimental and indie theater in Austin, TX. I've been paid anywhere from $150 to $5000 per design - mostly between $300-$500 for Austin work. Some years I've made a couple thousand as a freelancer, and it has slowly grown to over $10K per year, which coupled with a full time job is great. But. We still struggled for several years and frequently lived paycheck to paycheck. Austin grew more and more expensive to live in. It takes a long time to build a portfolio and the connections that will get you the better paying jobs or the teaching position like the one I have now. I made the decision to start looking for teaching work because one, I knew it was time and I was ready to start teaching and building the program I was envisioning, and two, I was tired of office work and investing 8 hours a day in something that wasn't my passion. Once I began looking for a teaching position it took 3 years of applying, interviewing, investing in the process, traveling to interviews, before I finally got the dream job. In the Twin Cities, we both have access to so many  more opportunities in theater than we did in Austin and it's been huge for us.

So What Does This Have to Do With The NEA?

I think I mentioned that I'm in some significant credit card debt, and that the plan to pay off the medical debt basically involves rolling over my credit card debt payments into the medical debt payments once the credit card debt is gone.

Well, I do have a steady job, but that job relies on tenure. And me getting tenure is not a guarantee. I need to continue to work as a professional theater artist as part of that process.

Furthermore, the difference between paying off the credit cards in time to pay off the medical debt so we can keep to this timeline and...NOT...relies on extra income. Normally that isn't a problem. We can safely rely on a certain amount of freelance income for me each year because, for the past several years, I have been working regularly enough that it's been stable - basically all that extra income would be going straight to the credit cards.

Of course, the White House released its proposed budget this week, and it has a lot of people very upset. There are a lot of good reasons for that, many of which are MUCH BETTER than my personal ones, because people are in much worse situations than us. Cutting Meals on Wheels is absolutely disgusting. But to be honest, the only way it affects me is in affecting several of my friends who volunteer with the program.

Cutting the NEA, however...

Today I looked at the complete list of companies and projects receiving funding from the NEA in 2016. It included:

The Fusebox Festival
The Rude Mechanicals
The VORTEX
Forklift Danceworks
Texas A&M University
Mixed Blood Theatre Company
Open Eye Figure Theatre
Red Eye Theater

These are all companies that have paid me money to design for them in the past. Two of them last year. One of them right now. In short, the NEA is funding my design fees, which are helping to pay Trav's medical bills.

Three of those are Minneapolis companies with whom I would like to continue working - what do these cuts mean for those companies? And subsequently for the artists they hire? We aren't volunteers - we are also workers, and while I may be one who has a graduate degree and is teaching at a private liberal arts college I can guarantee you that's not the majority. Many of those companies are hiring electricians, carpenters, painters, stitchers, as well as designers, actors, and other artists who work very long hours.

Why is our labor less valuable?

About that iPhone, Jason Chaffetz

By the way, I'm waiting for my iPhone 7 to arrive. It will probably come while I'm at my appointment with the neurologist, where I will have to explain that once again, all the circled dates on the headache calendar are stress-induced because of Trump, bills, internet fights, and now NEA cuts. And so I won't have my phone, because I need to sign for it, and the cats won't. Because they don't love me enough.

My last iPhone purchase was in 2014. I remember it VIVIDLY. I bought a phone ONLY because I dropped my previous one on the pavement while on my way to meet Liz Fisher for lunch to discuss Deus Ex Machina. That phone, the one I broke, was my first iPhone, which was bought in 2011.

The one I bought in 2014 is an iPhone 5. I didn't get the 6 because I broke the damn thing before the 6 came out, and the 5 was cheaper, and I don't really care. Today, this phone may or may not recognize my thumbprint. Or respond when I touch it. The other day I dropped it in the snow and it shut off for several hours. The battery lasts about 6 hours before I need to recharge it and that's only if I get a good night's sleep the night before, because if I'm up all night then I'm probably on my phone trying to distract myself. And, most importantly, every time Third Cat does something stupid and I go to take a video of it, I get the "there is not enough space" message.

Not having a cell phone isn't really an option for me anymore. I wish it was. I was one of the last people on the planet to get one (I waited until 2006, and then only because Travis made me before I left for Cincinnati for the summer). I don't think I need to go into why, but I will lose income if I can't take calls from directors.

Also?

Monthly cost (to me) for health insurance:                                     $158.89
Monthly minimum payment for Trav's bill:                                    $300.00
What it would have cost monthly to put Travis on my insurance:  $482.58
What it would have cost monthly to put Travis on Obamacare:     $313.34

Monthly cost of new iPhone:     $36.58

Dear Representative Chaffetz: I think you're buying your phone in the wrong place. You might want to look at that - they're charging you WAY too much.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Ontology of Bryan (sorry, Bryan)

First of all I should say this discussion happened without ANY vodka. Really, it would have gone on much longer if vodka were involved.

Ever read Jeff Vandermeer’s “Annihilation?” Read it (and the rest of the Southern Reach Trilogy) before the movie comes out this year, trust me.  I read the entire trilogy on a cruise ship while my husband and his friend went and did cruise ship things (including making fun of me for just reading).  It’s about a group of scientists who investigate an area of land where strange things have started happening and then more strange things happen to them. And a certain amount of the “strange things” happening have to do with a self-annihilation, a negation of the self and becoming something other. It’s honestly terrifying.
Me, on a cruise. Doing Megan-Cruise things.

I was discussing The Lust Experience today with a colleague of mine who is a performance theorist, and I was telling her specifically about the book release party, the events that happened after, Clint Sears and clint-sears, Darren’s disappearance and then reappearance, the insistence that everything was fine, except it probably wasn’t, and the appearance on the forums of multiple Larrys, multiple Russells, and multiple Bryans.

We began to refer to this as “The Ontology of Bryan.”

Ontology is the study of being, becoming, or reality itself – basically saying “what does it mean to exist?” or “what IS?” We deal with it all the time in theater, this concept of reality – where the play begins, where it ends and “real life” begins, when an actor stops acting and reverts to being himself. And reality is truly what we are dealing with several thousand times over here too of course, in an “alternate reality game” (which I don’t believe is a game at all but that’s another 33 page paper, trust me). I was reading about how this applies to set design – how we frequently ask designers to construct realities and ask for different realities – realistic, or naturalistic, etc. – and occasionally we think we’re extremely brilliant and say things like “I want this to look like it’s taking place in a theater.” And so the carpenters build a set that looks just like a theater. In a theater. Or they don’t, and it’s staged in the theater – and the critic refers to the “set” as being “well designed” and perfect for the script (but it was just the theater). The theater, then isn’t a theater at all but a set  - a different reality.
An "actor" on a "set"

So, taken a step further – what was I doing when I was in Echo Park last June? Was I looking for an envelope in a bush that contained answers to our questions? Or was I playing a game? Which is the reality? Because, in my head, I was looking for a letter in a bush – that is what I was doing. But to anyone in the park who saw me, had they known, I was playing a game. My husband was watching that Periscope. He would have told them – “my crazy wife is playing a game.” Different realities.

With Tension/Lust we have this “alternate” reality. We’re supposed to believe it’s not ACTUAL reality, of course, but that depends on how we’re defining reality. My cat Sansa’s reality is completely different from my own – she lives in a reality where she rules this house and we are her servants who just don’t do our jobs fast enough so she has to yell at us constantly because otherwise we’d forget that the food is in THAT CABINET THAT CABINET THAT CABINET. My cat Ygritte’s entire reality is whatever small space she has crammed herself into today and is ruled over by the Angry God Travis. Asha…who knows. Anyway. If I choose for a period of time to invest myself in the reality of the OSDM instead of the reality of – god help us all – Trump, who is going to tell me it’s not reality? Trump creates his own reality every day, and until someone stands up and tells him it’s bullshit I don’t see how this is any less valid. So, the term “alternate” reality aside, it’s another reality.

I’ve said that for me the lines between reality and “game” didn’t really blur back in Tension. A lot of that is because I’m not physically in Los Angeles so it couldn’t affect me the way it did others. A lot of that is because I don’t “buy in” the same way others do. But god, I wanted it to, so badly. I’ve wanted to lose myself and my sense of reality and in many ways that’s what theater does…but not for me. Until January. YOUARENOWHERE did it. And after I saw it, I cried for about two straight days. I wrote to the artist and explained to him what his work did to me, explained about my husband’s heart attack, and how closely his work resembled Synechdoche, NY and how they both resonated so strongly because no we don’t have a lot of time left. Mostly I cried because for a period of time in that theater I had no idea how an artist had done something impossible and I was so deeply disturbed by it.

But lately, as I was telling my colleague (back to the Ontology of Bryan) the Lust forums were beginning to really and truly blur that line. Because we had Clint Sears, and then we had clint-sears. (Shadow Clint, we called him) Darren was “missing” after the book release party but then Clint (or clint-sears?) said he wasn’t. But Clint couldn’t reach him. But Bryan got a text saying he was fine. Except the text, from Darren, said “Darren is fine.” Then, larry-meyers appeared (a second Larry, we already had one). Shadow Larry appeared to be a sort of tongue-in-cheek version of Larry, as though telling us not to overthink things too much in our theorizing. And then a Shadow Russell, and a Shadow Bryan. And…we know it’s a “game” (right). We know it’s an “alternate” reality (#1) but is Shadow Bryan part of alternate reality #1 or is he part of alternate reality #2 – meaning, is someone else fucking with us? Because this could easily, EASILY be the work of another participant, another player, or an outsider being like “guys…GUYS…if I do THIS…they’ll think it’s the GAME…” And suddenly we don’t know anymore what is in game (alternate reality #1) and what isn’t (alternate reality #2) and what ISN’T isn’t (actual reality?)
 
True immersive theater
And there is a part of me, going back to annihilation, that wonders about Shadow Bryan (or any of the Shadows) and imagines Shadow Bryan replacing Actual Bryan in the “real” world (alternate reality #3). How long before Miranda noticed?


How long before we noticed?

How long before I keep vodka in my desk?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Five Things: USITT Road Trip to St. Louis!

1. Last week I drove three Macalester students to USITT in St. Louis, Missouri - an eight and a half hour drive which became about ten hours by the time we got there (taking in breaks, gas stops, etc.). What we learned along the way: the route that Google Maps claims is the quickest route may also be the scenic route - we basically toured America's Heartland, and didn't see an interstate for most of the drive. This may have been the fastest way but it was also a very frustrating way to go. Also, after years of Travis making fun of me for being "stuck in 2006" for using I-tunes and actually storing media on my phone, I used Spotify for the drive's long playlist...and, of course, lost reception somewhere in Iowa. However we FINALLY got there (there = Holiday Inn Downtown Convention Center which was right next to, you guessed it, the Convention Center), found food and crashed for the night.
Before the long drive

Iowa has square donuts
2. Wednesday I attended a really amazing session called "Sketchup in the Classroom: Extruding the Bar Higher." It was led by Owen Collins, Delbert Hall, Robin Jaffe, and Shawn Evans. This session is THE reason why I go to these things - I left SO FREAKING EXCITED that I told a friend I was going to be up all night, just playing with Sketchup. The speakers covered techniques on using the program in both set and lighting design classes; the set design ones were great, simple and effective ways for getting non-majors who had never designed before building 3D models quickly but the lighting design ones really and truly blew my mind. I will be looking into them this summer (basically using Sketchup and a program called Capture Atlas to mock up lighting designs using ETC console software and an imported light plot) to see if it's something we can use in future lighting design classes, because it can be difficult to really get that visualization of your design in lighting design classes. We leave the blackbox as a classroom 1/3 of the way through the semester and it's paper projects & drafting for the rest of the time. This makes me so excited for the possibilities.

3. Wednesday night I met up with Kathryn Eader, a long time friend and former mentor from Austin. I used to assist her way way back many centuries ago at UT, when I was a grad student and she designed at the Butler Opera Center (which of course was NOT that long ago, according to the way she explained it to her students). We went out for dinner and talked a LOT about theater, and while I'm not going to go into details it was so wonderful, and so meaningful, to reconnect with her. Sometimes I just really need the support from old friends and people from home. This is the first year with no planned time spent in Austin since 2003 and I'm missing it hard.
The bar where we ate dinner - gorgeous "future set design"
4. Oh - the holograms. I did attend the session on Musion Eyeliner and was so excited but honestly was disappointed. Because, as Travis said last week, I am always disappointed by life. Seriously though, it was because while I definitely appreciate that this technology and this conference are many things for many people - and obviously all these people are earning their livings in different ways - I want to see the possibilities for this in live performance. Until I can see it onstage with a life performer in front of me, not in a video clip, it's really just a projection. And they didn't deliver that. I understand why, I understand how hard that would have been, but I hope that they can also understand that no matter how incredible the tech is, it's just going to be "meh" to me until I can see it interact with a human being live. I'm less interested in whether or not you can make the CEO of your medical company beam in to the seminar and more interested in whether we can use this as a solution for the witches and ghosts in Macbeth.

5. Escape Room Design!!! I was so excited to see this session on the schedule. The panel consisted of a set designer, an escape room designer & owner in St. Louis, and two former defense contractors (think DARPA) who began developing interactive tech for use in escape rooms (think Star Trek or Minority Report). I was literally bouncing on the edge of my seat the whole time and nearly knocked everyone in the room down to talk to them afterward. They also fielded some questions that made me want to jump up and say "NO THE TENSION EXPERIENCE DID THAT!" I really hope there's no online video of that session. Anyway. The point is, every student in that room was so WITH THEM, and some were even asking things like "you mean I can use my theater degree to design video games?" And the panelists said "we aren't storytellers - we need you guys." It was honestly inspirational. And had the escape room down the street not been booked up for the evening (I have a feeling it was the people in that room) I might have taken my students there.

Oh - things I didn't cover - the floor. The floor seems to be lots of people's favorite part and is almost never mine. I walked it with Mac's TD, Tom Barrett, and Paul Whitaker from Schuler & Shook, who is designing the theater in our new building at Macalester next year. We looked at gear and talked about different options for the theater but I have always been almost regrettably more interested in telling stories, creating experiences, building worlds, theory, concepts, and pushing the boundaries of what we can do than in the technology we use to do it.
The floor - where things were flying, exploding, and being set on fire, but my students were interested in a drill.

I did finally get to connect with Ian Garrett - we are working on a really exciting immersive/augmented reality project this summer - and ended up in a conversation with another woman (whose name I cannot remember right now) about the escape room design workshop, whether such things could be incorporated into performance, at which point I said that YES, I have experienced it, and she said she knew where I was going, and suddenly we were both talking about the Los Angeles haunt scene. It was kind of hilarious. We also both agreed - for those in LA reading this - that y'all are nuts. And I mean that in the most loving way. I also said that I fervently believed that you are representative of the kind of untapped population of possible audience members that theater artists are always talking about needing but never having (blah blah dying art form), and perhaps we need to start actually seriously making art specifically for you, because it was obvious that you wanted it.

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...