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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Oh, by the way…

That database-entry job? The whole medicine test-thingy was canceled. The work I did isn't going to be used for anything, and there's not going to be more of it. When I found out, I wasn't really annoyed, just amused. I wasn't doing it for the betterment of medicine or anything.



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Monday, April 27, 2009

~Imagine, if you will… Nonlinear long-form storytelling

Monday, April 27, 2009

Imagine, if you will…

Nonlinear long-form storytelling

The first episode to be aired on TV is entitled "The Finale", and it shows the huge and exciting climax to many storylines (as well as the final fate of all the characters). The viewer understands the general idea of the story (and it had better be a cool plot), but not the details. You know how sometimes you walk in on the end of something, and you don't really understand what's going on but it seems like something interesting enough to watch from the beginning? That's what this first episode is. And just for the sake of symmetry, the last episode of the entire series is entitled "The Pilot", setting everything up. So that feels like an epilogue, in the sense that it reinforces everything that the viewer already knows in a definitive sort of way. The rest of the show in between these two episodes is in a random order.

Each episode is an hour long, but the show is animated. (It's the only feasible way to pull this off, really.) Any episode, watched alone, is clear enough (and linear enough) in its storytelling that it can be a jumping-on point for the show. But the key to making the series work as a whole is that each episode feels like it's part of a big continuity. The characters are always dealing with the repercussions of events we don't know the specifics of, and many episodes feel like they've got to have major effects on what comes next. So an episode gets the viewer thinking about the bigger picture. The show is a big jigsaw puzzle which the viewer continues to assemble in his head from week to week.

But that's not why the viewer tunes in. He tunes in because every episode is a good story. You are surely familiar with half-hearted stories which exist mainly to get from point A to point B in serialized mediums. Those sorts of episodes exist in every show but this one. If point A is interesting, and point B is interesting, and the writers don't have anything particularly interesting planned in between, then point A and point B will each be episodes (Not necessarily in that order.) but the time in between will be skipped. Maybe somewhere down the line some writer will come up with some brilliant story which happens in between, so until that inspiration hits it's left blank. In general, that's how the show is written. There's no importance to the order the episodes are released in, except that that's the order the writers came up with the ideas in. An episode is only written if its writer really wants to tell that story. And it can take place at any point during the show's timeline- even before "The Pilot" or after "The Finale"! Further, an episode doesn't have an restrictions on how much time it covers. One episode might cover just a few pivotal minutes from many perspectives, and another might cover a single character's entire life! One writer could have a "pet" character which many of his stories focus on- the other writers back off of that character to some degree, to let him chart out the character's course.

No specific time frame is ever given for anything, so that the writers can say as many or as few stories as they like took place in a particular part of the timeline. So each episode written only creates more potential stories to be told, never less. In conventional shows, huge status quo changes are avoided because they prevent the writers from telling the stories they're used to. But here, the writers can always jump back to before the event. This encourages the writers to be more experimental with their plots.

There are many recurring characters, with new ones being introduced all the time. The premise of the show (whatever that is) lends itself to having some characters come and go all the time, on top of the core characters who are usually there. This allows tremendous flexibility in storytelling, not only because it doesn't lock the writers into using specific characters at whatever point in the timeline he's at, but also because it allows them to tell many stories not set in familiar locations.

The entire overall plotline of the show, in general terms subject to revision, is planned out before even the first episode is written. At the end of the day, the first episode needs to feel like it is the culmination of everything seen afterward. This keeps the writers somewhat focused, even as they tell their own little stories, because they always know exactly where they're heading in the long run. Not all the gaps need to be filled, of course. The viewer doesn't need to have it spelled out exactly what the context of "The Finale" is, because he's never going to get the entire picture. There will always be untold stories. But it should seem like the series is more than the sum of its parts. Writing the first episode is probably the hardest part.



...I like linear shows.

Sorry. I'll go now.


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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I love my cat.

Do you like cats?


But they're so adorable and fluffy and cute!

..and evil. Don't forget evil.

Cats are not evil.

Evil, I tell you.

What has a cat ever done to you?

Nothing. A cat hasn't ever done something for me, either. They just sit around all day and only care about themselves.

Then you like dogs, then.

I don't know. Not really.


Yeah, I don't like dogs.

You don't like any animals?

I like people. Do you like people?

Not so much.

What about your family? You must love your family.

Eh. I don't even enjoy spending time with them. There's no point of relationship.. that's the wrong word. I mean, I can't relate to them.

Like the Calvin and Hobbes strip. "Related to people I can't relate to."

Yeah, that's right.

That's sorta sad.

What about you? What's your family like?

How should I know? You invented me. You tell me if I have a family.

Oh, um. I didn't really think you through that much.

There you go.

That's a pretty lousy imagination, if you ask me. How hard is it to come up with a background?

You know why I love my cat? I love my cat because he jumps up on my lap and rolls over and just wants me to scratch his tummy, and if I do that he's happy. I can't make a person happy.

You're right about that. You didn't even give me a background, how am I supposed to be happy?

Oh, all right.

I'm like, the girl from nowhere. Dropped out of the sky, no connections to anyone. Oh, so tragic a figure am I.

Let's say you're from an alternate dimension where there's three genders.

Ooh, I like it.

So you've got fifteen-and-a-half siblings, and all of them are this third gender which is totally useless here on Earth.

What are their names?

You want names?

Yeah. The oldest is named Frog.


Oh, Froggy. I loved her, I mean it, so much.

I thought you said you didn't like animals.

That's my sibling you're talking about!

Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to offend.

Yes! I am offended. I am devastated by your rudeness.

Right. So you've got three parents, and they hate you

They do not! They love me very much.

Oh, okay. If you want to be all mushy about it.

I insist.

So they sent you off to this dimension, um, because. Hm. The not-hating-you part really messes up your origin story.

Maybe I'm going to college here.

Sure, why not. So you miss them all very much, but every few days you jump right back in your little portal and you all stand around and sing songs and dance.

Okay, that's much too far with the mushiness.

Hey, don't discredit the songs and the dances. I hear your area has the greatest dances in any reality.

You know, I can't dance.

Hey, who's telling this story?

Ha ha! I can dance better than anyone.

Yep. The only source of tension in your family is all the jealousy at how well you dance.

Hmmm. I like that.



Thought I might as well jump by and say hey.
This wasn't half-bad. I still can't say though that I understand your attraction to cats. It might be easy to make them happy, but why on earth would you want to?

I like dogs because they make me happy. I suppose that makes me a narcissist.

My serious thoughts, for what they're worth, are that nobody can make anybody (human) happy. You can make someone feel loved and respected, but happiness is something they have to proactively find themselves. It's what separates us from the cats.

In any case, I'm going to be here, making sure your posting is up to standard. Cheers.

It makes me happy to make Pussywillow happy. So it all leads back to selfishness eventually. But I guess, on reflection, I don't really understand why it makes me happy to make him happy. It might be because I identify with his general laziness and mostly solitary nature. I can't be happy that easily, but I can settle for his happiness.

..or something.

It's good to have you around. Why didn't you tell me you'd started blogging?


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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tapestry Thread: Rebellion Renewed

The Order of the Curve believed that all right angles were evil. Ariel barely made it out of their territory with his life. This series of events might have answered all his many questions: why he could never settle down comfortably, why he had found perfection, maybe even why I had invented such a strange little character. It might have, if he hadn't just then run into more people.
(Everything's so much more sensible without other people.)
And these people were all crying out in unison: "Appease! Appease!" So Ariel's theoretical moment of clarity was just barely out of reach, no closer than the thought of not being a character any more. None of these other nameless people ever had problems like he had. They didn't have to wander around forever serving others. What's so great about this name "Ariel" that he wouldn't rather not even be mentioned in these stories? "The people wanted this.", "The people worked for that.", "The people were happy.". Short stories which didn't single him out as a notable entity- how much easier that would be!

This is how I see the world: as a bunch of stories. I'm blind to details, but I find ideas knocking into each other and say: "This is the big picture!". I say it quite convinced that I know what I'm talking about. In writing the words "Tapestry Thread", I declare that if I were to just fit together enough ideas, I'd see what's real. It's just a matter of fitting everything together. But the perception of ideas is subjective. So maybe these posts say less about the world than they say about me. Maybe I can't know what happens next, because what I'd do in God's place isn't of much interest to God.

At the seder last week, my father asked why God had to bring the Jews to Egypt. And I answered (while struggling to find the words, as my conviction was stronger than my argument) that otherwise we wouldn't have the story to tell. Without Pessakh telling us where we'd been, we couldn't know who we were and where we were trying to get to. And if we hadn't been there, then we would be no one and we wouldn't be trying to get anywhere. We were slaves. That's our story. One of us thought he could fit into the Egyptian hierarchy, and we ended up doing their work for them. We're not supposed to fit in. We tell the story every year, and we're supposed to believe as we say it that we ourselves got out of Egypt. Because for the rest of the year, we're still there.

We were in a land that wasn't ours. Well, we still are. Just, the concept of "land" is totally different now. Israel is ours, sure. But we only got Israel when the world was starting to become one land, when globalization was starting to make the actual borders a moot point. In this new age, we're all living in the same gray "land", with the same laws and ideas. And that's not ours. So each year, we need to remind ourselves what our place is. We're not nameless members of the human race, we're a character in our own right. We're Jews! We have the right and the obligation to be Jews!

Now, take Lieberman. I'm really glad I voted for him. Fifteen minutes after he was officially declared our foreign minister, he was already standing up to the world. Our policy of appeasement is only going to lead to our own destruction, and he knows it, and he doesn't care if the entire world hates him for it! So I don't care if he is a scumbag politician- that's the kind of Jew I can root for.

I don't know if I can be so proud of myself, though. As an actor, suddenly I'm doing what I'm told. The reason I can find for those oppressive rehearsals is that I can direct that frustration toward being more rebellious in other areas. An identity is something I'm going to have to continually find in myself, it's not something that's otherwise there.



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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Different Approaches to Directing

1776 ended its run on Thursday. Thirteen performances, and I kept getting better the whole time. I kept adding in little touches all over the place, which I'd remember afterward and repeat in subsequent performances. By the final performance (to a large audience), the other actors were complimenting me on how I played one of the scenes. Which is not to say I was totally satisfied- I could still have been much better. But it's time to walk away.

Now I'm free to be part of Oklahoma. As of the end of 1776, they'd been rehearsing for over two months and I'd been to exactly one of those rehearsals. I told Binder (the producer/director) as soon as he sent out the schedule that almost all the dates coincided with performances (or rehearsals) of 1776*-------
(It's not all the rehearsals which were scheduled badly- just the ones for the male chorus members. If I'd been a lead, I think there'd be less of a problem.)
. I said to him, "This is going to be a problem.". To which he responded: "I suggest that you attend those rehearsals that you can and fill in what you've missed after your other show." Well, he's not quite as calm about it now that he understands just how many rehearsals we had to miss. (I'm not the only one from 1776 in the cast.) As a matter of fact, he's rather furious -though he covers it with a very diplomatic attitude.

Let me tell you something about Binder. He knows exactly what he wants from every person on stage at every moment. In the rehearsals, he says to random people, "You stand there, you're doing this, you say this.". And then we're expected to do that and move on. (None of us lowly chorus members have scripts, which would aid us in understanding the context.) I have no doubt that the end result will be very professional and impressive. But, y'know. It's not any fun for me.

Another problem I have is that the cast of Oklahoma is so ridiculously huge (more than fifty people) that half the time I'm just trying not to get trampled upon. I hate crowds.

1776 had many speaking parts (They were all speaking parts.), but no extras. And we all had fun.

Let me tell you something about Batsheva, the director of 1776. All she cares about is the realness of the performances. We started out just saying the lines to each other, rather than putting any kind of "acting" into them, so that we could internalize what we were saying and exactly why we were saying them. Once we knew the lines, not so much by heart as by understanding, she'd give us general ideas about who our characters were supposed to be. -------
He's a respectable man … he's seen every kind of person before … you're being too rude.
Batsheva really didn't have any idea what the end result ought to look like. But she trusted that if we understood the characters, we'd figure it out. And we did. We didn't deliver a flawless rendition of the script, but most of us got to the essence of the characters and gave our audiences a great show.

Oklahoma isn't the same kind of acting experience. There's no creativity or self-expression involved, there's no exploring possibilities. It's just doing what Binder says efficiently. One fellow cast member who quit the show to join another one summed it up quite well: "It feels like you're a cog in the machine." For me, it's all just an exercise in hitting my cues. So I get the sense that there are many opportunities for me to screw up (Some of which I have already discovered, to my shame.), but no opportunity to excel.



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