Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Adventures in Edinburgh: Lula del Ray, Red Bastard, The Kelpies

Manual Cinema - Lula del Ray

I can't explain to you how HAPPY seeing three overhead projectors on stage makes me! I've seen a couple of shows using overhead projectors (and created one for my thesis way way back) but this was just stunning. Manual Cinema is a group out of Chicago, which means I can drive 6 hours to see their work, and I just might do that now that I know it exists. Lula del Ray reminded me of Kid Koala's Nufonia Must Fall - very similar in how the actual *making* of the performance is a part of the performance itself, all musicians and technicians onstage, and the audience can watch the creation of the "movie" on the overhead projectors, just in case they forget they aren't watching a film. Which, if you just watch the screen, you can do. It's beautiful, seamless, and stunning.

Austin people, they are coming to the Long Center, you need to see them.

Preshow, with overhead projectors ready!


Red Bastard - Lie With Me

So, it's been a day since I saw Red Bastard's show at the Fringe and I have some complicated thoughts.

First, this was an odd show for me. As a rule I tend to stay away from comedy and also from clowning, but everyone in the Transmission company recommended this highly, so I bought a ticket. And, it was funny, as long as you were ok with having someone REALLY mess with the audience, in a pick people out and put them on the spot in front of 200 people whether they liked it or not kind of way. If you don't want to be put on the spot, don't sit in the first few rows of his show. Also, because the subject matter...eventually...became "relationships," and my views on relationships don't line up with "normal" views (Travis's words) a lot of what was funny to some was just bewildering to me. As in - people really think that? Wow.

My main issue was with language that he used, confusing its meanings. The show is called Lie With Me, and moves from showing the audience how they are all liars to a discussion about love and the so-called rules of love. The two are linked, in this discussion, because he talks about cheating and gets a few people to admit to cheating. He then asks who knows the definition of "compersion," and four people, including me, raise their hands. This ultimately turns into a story about his own journey to "rewrite the rules of love." But compersion as I understand it has nothing to do with lies. And linking the two together gives the wrong impression to those 196 who didn't raise their hands. Compersion - the feeling of joy at someone else's joy, usually linked with polyamory - requires openness and trust and honesty and NOT cheating. It sounded as though he was endorsing lying to one's partner because he was rewriting his own ethics because love.

My second issue was the last bit, where he waits for someone to come up onstage and be his partner, insinuating that it could be for a minute or for....however long. He is open to...? Yeah. And this is probably just MY issue. Or my issueS. Because first, are you serious about this? That seems, at the Edinburgh Fringe, like a plausible way to end your show. And second - you're going to have this courtship in front of 200 people?? Eventually one guy did stand up and we watched as it was uncomfortable and cringe-inducing and awkward and oh god make it stop. I couldn't watch, because I can't watch those things without FEELING how I would feel the entire time, which is that there are 200 people watching me, and I don't mind being in the performance but I mind the audience. So if you're NOT serious, then this whole ending is about feigning that seriousness, which is embarrassing to the person who got up onstage, and that's not ok for me.

So, yes, funny show, but...I don't know.
Also, thank you JaneZero, wherever you are, for teaching me about compersion, 16 years ago.

Trip to the Kelpies

My last day in Scotland called for something special, so I got up early and a couple of us took a train to Falkirk ("those men...who bled the ground red at Falkirk..." sorry that is constantly in my head when I hear "Falkirk!"). There's a public art installation there called The Kelpies, by artist Andy Scott, and honestly more than Arthur's Seat, more than Edinburgh Castle, I've wanted to see this. Going first thing in the morning meant that there were very few people, and it was sunny. We beat the rain, had a great time, got out of the city for a couple of hours and took beautiful photos.

Just stunning

The Kelpies, as we approached

That is me, for scale

Tonight, we head out as a company to a couple of pubs and tomorrow I head to the airport to fly home. I'm really ready to go home and see Travis and the kitties. I've loved Edinburgh and had the best time here at the Fringe but I'm so happy to be seeing them tomorrow.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Adventures in Edinburgh: Baby Mama, Lies, and Seance

I've been awful about writing and I've seen 15 "shows" or "events" (edited at the end of my trip to show total of 18 shows):

  1. Theatre Conspiracy - Foreign Radical 
  2. We are Jane Doe/Zanetti Productions - Jane Doe
  3. Doughnut Productions - Speaking in Tongues
  4. Mariah McCarthy - Baby Mama: One Woman's Quest to Give Her Child to Gay People
  5. Agent November Productions - Agent November: Major X-Plow Shun
  6. Malaprop - BlackCatfishMusketeer
  7. Ontroerend Goed - Lies
  8. Binge Culture - Ancient Shrines and Half Truths
  9. Darkfield - Seance
  10. Auld Reekie's Haunted Underground - Ghost and Torture Tour
  11. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society - Dram is Worth a Thousand Words
  12. Tidy Carnage - Shame
  13. Mr and Mrs Clark - (FEAR)
  14. Theatre Voliere - Evocation
  15. Quote Unquote Collective/Why Not Theatre/Aurora Nova - Mouthpiece
  16. Joanne Ryan - Eggsistentialism
  17. Manual Cinema - Lula del Rey
  18. Red Bastard - Lie With Me


Originally I had wanted to write about everything I saw, but there are of course some things that I just *don't* end up enjoying or have nothing to say about and therefore writing about them becomes a chore. Instead, here are a couple of the ones that really stood out.


Mariah McCarthy - Baby Mama: One Woman's Quest to Give Her Child to Gay People

Mariah has been a friend of Travis's for awhile and I've heard a ton about her. I finally got to meet her recently, and FINALLY got to see this show. And it was incredible. Moving, funny, beautifully put together, I am so thankful that I got to see it while I was here. Unlike Jane Doe this one woman show DID pull me in and did engage me. I didn't know the story, knew vaguely how it ended only because I knew her. But there's something about the way she tells this story that demonstrates that no matter how many times she has performed it, Baby Mama still cuts through Mariah with all of the emotions every time. I nearly made it out of the theatre without crying, but I didn't, and that is RARE for me.



Ontroerend Goed - Lies

By the way, this piece isn't called Lies, but I don't feel like finding the right combination of keys on my keyboard to actually pull up the correct spelling, so just go to their website to see its real title. This was the second immersive piece I saw at the Fringe that blew my mind. It was executed beautifully, from the moment the doors were opened and the audience members were greeted until the very end. The first thing that struck me was how completely designed the space felt - not something I had seen much of in Edinburgh but they had managed to do it. Dimly lit wooden tables were scattered about and we were instructed to sit at them in groups of six or seven. Each table essentially represented a country, and each of us represented a bank. The "show" was really a "game" in which the banks invested in different products, starting at first with tangible things like steel, but slowly working towards riskier, less tangible investments.

Lies did the impossible - for one shining moment, I understood the financial collapse. I couldn't possibly explain it to you now, but I got it, and understood bailouts, and why they are necessary, and how we have built this system on fake money and fake investments that is going to fail every time. It was absolutely fascinating and a TON of fun. This is the kind of show I would see over and over and over, to get a sense for how to play it, whether having any strategies at the table would change the outcome, or postpone it (assuming the show wasn't confined to 90 minutes). However it's sold out through the rest of its run (tickets may be available at the door, that happens with some shows if you go early enough and for this it's worth it).



Darkfield - Seance

Last but definitely not least, for now, the third immersive piece that was so good. Seance is a 15 minute piece inside a shipping container. I've touched a bunch of times on my inability to suspend disbelief and how knowing too much about the workings of theatre has a lot to do with that. Sound design is an area I know NOTHING about, and it made up about 80% of this show (the remaining 20% being kinetic - vibrations felt through the seat and table in front of you). Seated in pitch black, the only things defining the space for you for those 15 minutes are the sound that's coming through your headphones and your memory of the inside walls when you walked in - and it's so very easy to believe in the one that is happening now, and asking you to believe now, rather than the one that is in the past and unreachable. I was actually able at times to let go and believe that the space I was sitting in was different than the one I had walked into

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Adventures in Edinburgh: Foreign Radical & Transmission Opening

I've been in Edinburgh, Scotland for about a week and a half now - about half my time here is gone. The festival opened yesterday and our show, Transmission, opened today. I'm not going to go into how many pages and scenes and hours of video and number of hikes up Arthur's Seat and broken feet and podcast episodes and renders and Skype meetings and bottles of Scotch and resubmissions of the app to Apple have gone into this. But I feel so fortunate to have been a part of this project and look forward to where we go in the future.


I am in love with this city and this country.

Theatre Conspiracy - Foreign Radical

My first Fringe show was today - I bought a ticket to the performance of Foreign Radical that was right before Transmission's first performance. The description was the only thing I knew about it: "Thirty participants are invited into an intriguing theatrical game exploring security, profiling, privacy and freedom of expression in the age of cybersurveillance. Mobile throughout the performance, the participants collaborate, compete, investigate, debate and spy on each other. Depending on personal and group responses, participants witness different perspectives on the action, gathering evidence from dramatic scenes and documentary media that colour their views and how they play the game." Really, it's subject matter is the ease with which a person can be marked a "terrorist" or be placed on the "terror watchlist" in the US, making it difficult to impossible for them to travel.

I feel like I say this ten times a year but - I see a lot of immersive theatre. And I absolutely love it when I see something that does something different. I feel like so much of what I see does the same damn thing as something else. The number of shows I consider "good" is not large. I've actually started really winnowing that list down to a small handful, and that doesn't even include Sleep No More at this point in my life. Learning Curve is on it, as is The Tension Experience (ARG included), The Day Shall Declare It, and Biography of Physical Sensations, and now Foreign Radical. Those five shows are radically different. They all do different things.

There will be spoilers for Foreign Radical in this blog post, so if you are planning to see it then don't read any further.


Early on the audience is introduced to the format of the show as a "game" with a "host." It's all flashy pink lights and fun and the host is wearing a white tux. He starts asking questions of the audience, after learning their names, and the questions start to divide them into quadrants - things like "if you change your passwords regularly, walk to this side of the room, if not, walk to that side" and then "if you use a messaging app that's secure, walk to this side, if not, that side" so that the entire audience is now in four different corners. Then, pointing to the corner of people who answered "yes" to both questions, he tells the rest of the audience to point to the one who looks the most paranoid. That person is called out and separated. This happens a few times. And then it was my turn, and I was labeled the radical. This was based solely on my answering yes to two questions, and - in all likelihood - the army green jacket I was wearing.

An hour later, the audience has played the "game," and decided the fate of one man, whether he's been placed on the watchlist or not. And it's then that a disheveled, not-having-fun-anymore host walks in, in complete silence, with a chair. He puts the chair down on the stage in a square of white light, and then stares at it. Silence.

And then my brain put it together, and just as it was putting it together and saying "wouldn't it be crazy if - " the host says:

"Megan, have a seat."

Immersive theatre has made me do some dumbass things. And I have a feeling that isn't going to let up with whatever The Lust Experience might do with me. The thing is, for all of the times I've gone to a show with shocking moments (Tension or Biography, for example) I was mentally prepared. I knew that something was going to happen, if I didn't fully know what. I knew to be guarded. This, I had no idea. None. No guard up, no preparation of sarcastic things to say, no control in the situation at all, just...."Megan, have a seat." Quietly. Without looking at me. No eye contact, no drama, just this chilling silence.

So I sat, and for ten minutes or so I was questioned by the man who had previously been the suspected terrorist. He didn't ask anything awful, or anything terribly prying, but it didn't matter. I hate being in that position, having to talk about myself in front of an audience, especially when it's seemingly inconsequential stuff. At one point I stopped the conversation and said "why are you asking me questions about Minnesota?" and he responded "you brought up Minnesota, you're the one who wants to talk about it." This was worse - way worse - than answering questions in the processing room in Ascension because I knew those were coming. Worse than being called out for things I had written while wearing nothing but my underwear. I might not have known that exact scene was coming, but I knew enough to know something would happen and I could prepare for it. Plus, it's a lot easier for me to stay removed emotionally and mentally when I'm being asked questions about things that most people find uncomfortable but I don't. Start asking me the personal intimate questions about things that matter, and I will look for a way out as soon as I can. Especially if I think that I'm doing it wrong ("are we supposed to be talking about Minnesota or did I mess that up?").

I did not expect to be sitting there at this piece, being questioned. Having to name a battle I'm fighting, or explain my feelings about Minnesota, in front of all these strangers, in a bright white spotlight. I was only sitting in that chair, I'm assuming, because I was labeled a "radical" by the audience, none of whom know me. They gave me that label based on two pieces of information they had with no context whatsoever, and more than likely my army green jacket. Because of those things, at the end, I was in the spotlight.

Ding ding ding - that's the point, right? To have seemingly harmless acts be the ones that end up hurting you?

Later my friend Michelle would say to me "I would *never* call you a 'radical.'" Nope. Never. Angry? Absolutely. But my actions and decisions and even the clothes that I was wearing had context, and once explained, that context would probably remove that edge. Of course there's one thing that couldn't change and that's the the fact that I'm white / not a middle-eastern male. It's much easier to give a white woman's actions context and explain them away in the face of fear than it is to do the same for someone perceived as perpetually "other."


Transmission Opens

We opened officially today, which means the app has been launched, we had our first mission briefing today and our first public performance of the window dance scenes. It was pretty great to see a crowd gathering to watch the actors perform in the windows of our hostel (as if they were the windows of the characters themselves).

I do need to take a day just to experience our show the way it's meant to be experienced, walking the city with the app and discovering everything. I've been so focused on my small corner of it that I haven't stepped back to fully take in the scope of the entire work. I do hope that we continue with this piece and move forward to the next stage  so that people in the US and Canada can see what we've been up to.

My first Edinburgh Fringe, first show seen, first show opened.


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...