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Immersive Theatre 101

This Halloween, I got to celebrate in style — by stage managing/wardrobing a murder mystery dinner theatre production! This format is a classic example of immersive theatre: the audience becomes part of the show and the set is actually the totality of audience’s and cast’s surroundings, not isolated to a stage. Our production, Halloween Moon Rising by Kelby Siddons, was produced by Y-Not Theatre and hosted at the Matheson History Museum in Gainesville. It was my last non-circus production in Gainesville, and it was fantastic. The play’s characters are inspired by historical figures in north central Florida, including Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

Although I had done quite a few immersive shows, this production proved to me that immersive theatre requires a firm camaraderie among the cast and crew. Everyone has to be on board with each other to make it work, in tune enough to fix things when they go wrong. We were all lucky to have actors, crew, and a director with a great attitude.

I also had fun making props that the audience looked at for clues. Imagine my delight when someone picked up on the tiny detail I’d hidden in a newspaper clipping and correctly guessed the murderer!

Overall, a delightful production, and I hope to be able to work on a murder mystery again.

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A Journey With DreamQuilt

Over the past few years, I have dedicated much of my time to building and launching DreamQuilt. After two years of producing independent alternative theatre, including Gainesville’s first “mixed-media variety show,” tribute shows to Jim Henson and Joss Whedon, and a rock musical revue, I had my efforts derailed by the closure of my home venue.

I regrouped and shifted DreamQuilt’s focus to creative team-building and the workshops that were previously housed under the nonprofit project CerridwenWorks. We launched the workshops at the Gainesville Mini Maker’s Faire.

With the help of UF Warrington College of Business’ Big Idea Competition, I developed a business plan, and DreamQuilt will launch in its full capacity this year. I’m excited to have two new business partners and a pilot program that will allow us to finally begin growing.

I also limited CerridwenWorks to its film-related endeavors, and released its first mini-documentary, A Million Moments, last fall, as part of a series on anti-violence activism. The next two films in the series are a reflexive ethnography of the antifa movement and a faux-documentary about intimate partner abuse. I am also working on a documentary about the cirque and puppetry movements.

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2016: A Year of Variety Entertainment

This year, I pushed myself to new limits and began to develop variety entertainment through my company, DreamQuilt. Producing variety entertainment is an exciting combination of theatre skills in action: you’re casting, creating a through-line or theme, writing performer descriptions and occasionally the host’s lines (or performing them yourself), and creating a marketing plan. You also end up doing front-of-house stuff and perhaps a wee bit of stage management. I was lucky to have some great crew managers this year to help all productions run smoothly.

I also firmly believe in giving back to the community, so the majority of this year’s shows were either benefit shows or tied directly to a community organization. After all, the performing arts can transform the world.

Rock Musical Revue (October 2016)

Zombieville (July 2016)
 Well-received variety show that featured burlesque, music, and comedy in an immersive, post-apocalyptic environment that blended with the activities of local LARPing group Dystopia Rising. Also included film fest.

Bizarrelesque (June 2016)

Happily Ever After: Fairy Tale Variety Show (March 2016)
 This production was part of Red Soul Days, the anti-violence festival I singlehandedly produced twice a year between 2014 and 2016. The festival also included a concert, an art show, and workshops.

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Red Soul Days: Two Years of Anti-Violence Events

One exciting part of Alachua County is its annual festivals. For years, we have had the Downtown Arts Festival, the Thornebrooke Arts Festival, the Micanopy Harvest Festival, the Lubee Bat Festival, Labor Daze Fest, Jest Fest, and more. We also have local representation of national events such as V-Day and National Anti-Bullying Month. We also have monthly Artwalk and First Friday events and a weekly Farmers’ Market that includes arts and crafts. In consideration of these artistic traditions and to ground more of these festivals in social activism, I decided to combine several ideas I had for unique and socially conscious events into such a festival, and one that celebrated all types of arts. Thus Red Soul Days was born. While events such as the March for Peace and VFest used music, and the Vagina Monologues spoken word, to benefit anti-domestic violence and anti-bullying organizations, no event addressed those issues through stand-up, dance, straight theatre, or other performance types. Always one to rise to a challenge (and I admit, a workaholic), I decided to do it all.

Red Soul Days, named for the color of an aura that is angry, aroused, wounded, or proud, was an extraordinary week. I was blessed with a variety of artists who wanted to participate in the events, and with several exceedingly generous venues who opened their doors to us for free or for a steep discount. Our incredible roster for 2014 and 2015 included:

  • A burlesque show at the Jam—a packed house brought in several hundred dollars for our charities and great tips for our performers
  • Two variety shows at Market Street Gainesville–incredibly passionate artists and a generous, adoring audience each time
  • An art show at the Midnight–profoundly cathartic and socially emotional event sharing the art of survivors of violence
  • A girls rock concert at High Dive—woefully underattended, but with amazing artists
  • A movie night at High Dive—also underattended, but with a very responsive audience
  • A comedy show at Rockey’s—The guest comedians were champs who made the audience pay them—and by extension our beneficiaries—for offensive jokes
  • A punk show at 1982—more amazing women performed to raise money for our beneficiaries
  • Guest speaker Jen Moff—a friend of mine from undergrad who has become a successful motivational speaker

I chose the beneficiaries, out of the many organizations dedicated to stopping school bullying and intimate partner abuse, based on their local activities, variety of services, and multigenerational/multicultural approach. To fight bullying, I chose PFLAG Gainesville, the local branch of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, which addressed both the challenges of coming out and the risk of suicide for LGBT youth. To fight intimate partner abuse, I chose Peaceful Paths, which provides shelter, counseling, legal assistance, health information, and dozens of other services for abuse and sexual assault victims. And to fight teen dating abuse, I chose Break the Cycle, which provides information and services to help teens identify unhealthy relationships and to stop abusive and bullying behavior while the perpretrators are young.

Although Red Soul Days could have been better attended, raised more money, or gone more smoothly at times, it was a groundbreaking start, as a cohesive, multifacted event that raised $897 for our beneficiaries. It was an emotional journey for me, for sure: I began work on the project, which quickly became a second, unpaid job, in April of 2014, while recovering from intimate partner abuse, and I put up a week’s worth of entertainment while caring for an ailing pet who died during the event. I am eternally grateful for my colleagues and friends, Jill Dumas and Jennifer Vito, both of whom are extraordinary artists and activists, who worked hard to ensure Red Soul Days was successful. Our full week of entertainment, the money raised, and connections forged was an amazing springboard to what I plan to be a new Alachua County tradition.

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Dearly Departed: A Postmortem on Directing a Delightfully Dark Comedy

In June of 2014, I directed (and also designed sound, costumes, and publicity for) Dearly Departed at High Springs Playhouse in High Springs Florida.

I was invited to direct this show by talented Gainesville playwright-director Leroy Clark, with whom I had worked on his challenging and emotional play Outburst, based on the experiences of gay rights advocate Rodney Wilson. At the time it was offered to me, I had no idea how many personal challenges I would experience in the year between my accepting the offer and beginning work on this show. This tale of a dysfunctional family dealing with their patriarch’s death is surprisingly realsitic, but laced with dark humor and darkly situational comedy. Authors Jessie Jones and David Bottrell satirize Southern hospitality and modern materialism while tapping into the deep-seated fears and taaumas associated with death.

The play was produced at High Springs Playhouse, which I had worked at previously, but I knew very few of the regulars, and had to cast a show with ages spanning 20 to 90 and persoanlities as different as night and day. I was thrilled to have a splendidly ethnusiastic group of women audition, and as usual, it was difficult to say no to any of them. Yet the ones who landed the roles were so breathtakingly similar to how I imagined the characters when they read, that the show basically cast itself.

The rehearsal process was driven by my Pirandello-influenced approach to character creation as a feedback between a living character and a living actor. I asked the actors to share what they thought abut their characters, and to tell me what the important things were that they said and did. I discovered this process somewhat organically, as I felt very invested in the play and very fond of both the characters and the actors. After the first couple of rehearsals, I received these emails from a couple of cast members:
“I really enjoyed the practice today. Thank you so much for your input and your direction. I’m certain that you are aware I have never done this before, and I am open and certainly appreciative of anything that you can tell me, and any advice that you can give me to make this production be what you want it to be. Since I am the new kid on the block, I am honestly open to whatever I need to do, and what things I need to do to be a good actor.”
“I was telling [folks] tonight how much I liked the rehearsal today: the direction you gave, the chance to discuss my thoughts about my character, and the food for thought you gave me. I think it’s going to be a fun run.”

As part of my philosophy for CerridwenWorks, I wanted to add a dimension of social consciousness to the production that had a real-world effect. So I recommended to the Board of the theatre that the show proceeds go to benefit a hospice, and to offer talkbacks after each Sunday matinee. We ended up raising several hundred dollars for Hospice of the Nature Coast.

I met several challenges through this process that were essential to my learning, if painful to deal with. I had a cast member take offense to some of the textual content given by the playwrights, and had to balance my desire to do right by the playwirght with my concern for the actor’s comfort. In the end, I changed a couple of curse words but did not change a racist comment; you can adjust the language more than you can adjust the character.

I had spite and jealousy emerge among some members of the theatre, and found it more heartbreaking than the usual clash of egos. While sarcastically appropriate for a show with dialogue that is primarily bickering and passive aggression, there was a certain weight to these incidents that reminded me that the otherwise magical theatre cannot solve these human foibles simply by its inspiration to get along. I very much learned to not “take it personally”—even if it was at times.

I was very grateful to have a pleasant production team that got along…however, I could not find a costume designer or sound designer, or marketing director, so had to wear all those hats. Previously, I had cherished the opportunity to show all that I could do, and gladly wore multiple hats. In this case, doing all that while directing and feeling both internal and external pressure to prove myself was exhausting, and put me in the uncomfortable position in which, as all the productivity and entrepreneurship bloggers note, I appeared to be more of a big-hat director than a team player. Even though the show turned out beautifully and I did get “all my stuff done,” I knew I would never again be able to simply take on an extra role if I couldn’t find anyone else. Volunteer-run theatre should not have to impose such demands on any one person (nor should any theatre).

All the same, I wept with happiness at both opening and closing, and at each of our (many) full houses). I don’t plan to direct another show soon, as I want to develop the applied, multi-genre, and educational aspects of my artistic endeavors, and at this time, I am more interested in avant garde or experimental theatre, cabaret-style shows, and new play workshops.

 

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Coming Up: Red Soul Days Gainesville

Red Soul Days, a passionate, homegrown multimedia event to raise awareness about inequality, violence, and abuse based on sex and gender issues. So named for the color of an aura that’s deeply in love, aroused, angry, and survivalist. So named for the

CerridwenWorks is building a fantastic and huge feminist multimedia event for August. We’d like the launch event to be a topical play addressing gender, sex, and/or LGBT issues. To heighten creativity and celebrate Gainesville’s abundance of talent, we’d like 2-3 writers to work together to produce a play that can be staged with the capacity for audience interaction. Humor encouraged! Email me at filmafic06[at]gmail[dot]com for details.

Other events include bands, burlesque, empowerment speakers, open discussion, and comedy. Feminist activism, in applied anthropology, means building dialogue in cultural ways, and digging down to find the root causes of inequality and structural violence and instrumental violence. This event aims to do so by targeting all audiences, not just the affected populations, and using the creative input of all concerned people, whatever their sex, gender, or orientation, to build a dialogue. During Red Soul Days, as we should all year, we’ll celebrate a multitude of positionalities and a complexity of expressive content.

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CerridwenWorks Launches with Interactive Art Show

I selected a name for my applied art and theatre production agency, discussed here. The namesake is the Celtic deity of creation and education, Cerridwen. I find the name appropriate because Cerridwen, like all Celtic deities, defies the dichotomous associations of light and dark that shape the Judeo-Christian tradition. Elements of light and dark, birth and death, pain and joy, are needed for the act of creation. These collaging processes have always been appealing to me, as you might have guessed by the work of a set decorator and collage artist. Moreover, the very illusion of theatre and its deception to tell the truth has important educational qualities, which are all the more apparent to me the more I learn about the processes of enculturation and socialization.

So, the best solution for someone who loves art, theatre, film, and anthropology is to combine them all in a swirly goodness akin to the magic brewing in Cerridwen’s cauldron. I’ve participated in some events that blurred these lines, such as Galileo of Gainesville at the ART and Tom Miller’s Tabernacle of Hedonism. What I long for is an event with an explicitly activist and  educational purpose, and thus, considering the success of the first event, I re-brewed TigerMonkey Extravaganza.

TigerMonkey Extravaganza 2.0, at the Civic Media Center on Oct. 4 from 6 to 10pm, will be focused on the intellectual, artistic, and social exchange among artists and guests. Experience the beautiful work of gifted visual and performance artists and share via open mic.

Both our guests and the participating artists have the opportunity to share their artistic experiences via open mic. Participants and guests are encouraged to share their stories about art, beauty, and inspiration, respond to an artwork in the show, or perform spoken word. Too often is there a gap between the art and the appreciator, whether it is anonymity, unfamiliarity, or the distance between the stage and the audience. In Gainesville’s thriving artistic community, the gap is small, but can still be bridged by allowing guests and artists to switch roles in an artistic dialogue. Moreover, all participants and guests work together on the “collaborative canvas.” Acrylics, pastels, crayons, charcoal, and pencils will be available at the event so that all may contribute to the development of a large, unique work of art.

I’m very excited about this event. Most of CerridwenWorks’ events and outreach will not be of this nature, but I expect all its fundraisers to be. I’m still working on the full business plan for tax filing purposes, but I expect to register as a Sole Proprietor until the agency expands to include its core staff, at which point we will reapply as a 501c3.

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Summer o’ Theatre

This summer was a particularly fertile one for theatre in Gainesville, and proved to be a major portfolio boost.

Stage Manager

On May 24, 25, and 26, the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre hosted the new Gainesville Shaw Society‘s production of George Bernard Shaw’s Geneva. My friend Krsnaa Fitch loves Shaw’s works and asked me to be her stage manager. The particular demands of the piece—even an abridged form, as we did—included furniture and costumes appropriate to the late 1930s and an approximation of three major political leaders of the era: Adolf Hitler (fictionalized as Battler), Francisco Franco (fictionalized as Flanco), Benito Mussolini (fictionalized as Bombardone), and Neville Chamberlain (fictionalized as Sir Orpheus). We partnered with the Hippodrome Theatre again and also enlisted the talents of Gainesville costume Jason Bendure to develop the costumes. Ken Brown of the Hipp worked on our set, and under short notice.

Once again, I found myself on stage as well as managing the show. In a delightfully meta twist, I assumed the role of the Secretary to the League of Nations, who is revealed to have conned the assembled dictators and plaintiffs in the final act. Calling the shots in the plot and backstage!

The most important aspect of the Geneva experience was that it revealed my capability as a production manager (and my ability to do a Swiss-French accent), especially under a short deadline. I am an excellent stage manager, but sometimes, due to a busy calendar, it’s better for me to coordinate a production team than to record rehearsals or be on-book. And I have increasingly more professional connections to get the supplies, loans, and donations that the designers need.

As such, my initial role on the Acrosstown board as Design Manager (aka master of the Props/Costume dungeon that no one else braves) was combined with this new role, as Production Manager. I also was encouraged to take on the role of Board Secretary, since I instinctively take copious notes.

Perhaps the most important role is the development of ARTiS, which I will discuss in a post to come.

Then, I partnered with George Steven O’Brien to develop the set for A.R. Gurney’s A Perfect Party, which played June 14-30. The set, a den-turned-family-room-turned-study, as described in the set, required a specific combination of swank, comfort, disillusionment, education, and artifice. You can see photos of the work here. As the theatre’s Production Manager, I agreed to serve as Production Stage Manager, but ended up getting more than I bargained for when one of our actors had to take medical leave and your trusty stage manager, the eternal understudy, had to take the stage! Now I’m experiencing a resurgence of the acting bug, and will appear in adaptations of W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw ” and Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” as part of the ART’s Fright Night play festival.

Producer

It has long been my dream to run an agency that combines the production & distribution of documentary films and socially activist plays with the development of workshops and curricula that use audiovisual media. This idea first germinated when I was considering career options and asked myself what my ideal job was. When my keyword searches ceased to generate results, my collage mind saw the potential in such an agency, and I began developing its model and mission statement.

However, I had never produced a show or handled any business aspects of a production. As fortune would have it, Mr. O’Brien’s company, TigerMonkey Creations, needed a boost, and I had met many talented people who I believed to deserve exposure. With the help of the Alachua County Rapscallions, I organized 14 performers and 5 artists for a multimedia variety and art show, with a silent auction and raffle, to benefit TigerMonkey Creations.  Along the way, I adopted Dragon*Con’s model of providing short parody skits to entertain the audience as performers set up; to do this, I, with four other people, created SketchyYeti, an improv and sketchy comedy troupe that parodied infomercials, drug commercials, and reality shows. We also performed a couple of live skits.

The show was a relative success, although I had stretched myself too thin. The show launched SketchyYeti and gave Gainesville poet Charles Ely an opportunity to demonstrate his choreography (with yours truly). It raised about $270 for TigerMonkey Creations. I was thrilled with the outcome and realized I had successfully organized over two dozen people (including organizers and staff) to create a socially engaging multimedia event! I was a producer, and I could make the agency happen.

Costumes and Makeup

And finally, I returned to the Hippodrome for their production of Avenue Q, as wardrobe manager. Needless to say, it was an unusual experience to be dressing both puppets and humans. The show is a particularly ripe combination of satire of American society, parody of children’s edutainment, and musical delights, and was a joy to work on. The songs, however, were quite infectious.

To bring the design work full circle, I did skull makeup on the lead singer of Braineaters A-Go Go, a Misfits tribute band, for their debut performance at the 1982 Bar in Gainesville. Considering the aesthetic of Teatro de los Muertos, this seemed a good sign of things to come.

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A Year of New Beginnings…

Whoa, 2012 is over! Here’s a look back on my year, which I think I might call a point of no return.

UF Graduate School in Anthropology: Semester One
Anthropology of the Media (Dr. Ieva Jusionyte): I began my anthropological investigation of bullying with a media studies project, in which I analyzed the lexical and semantic content of 75 news articles on the topic. The process was tedious, but enlightening: my initial reading of the articles, which dated back to 2005, revealed trends in the pragmatic focus and rhetorical tone of the articles. Although I had to work with a small sample and without an independent coder, I found that my initial observations were supported by the analysis of semantic elements, which I analyzed both by time and against each other. I found that bullying has been reified in the news media, and increasingly portrayed as a disease. The paper will hopefully be presented in the graduate colloquia by next summer.

Other work from the class is partly represented on our class blog.

Film Analysis (Dr. Robert Ray): My other class, not including my requisite proseminar, was a film analysis class which spurred some of the thoughts you’ll find on my new blog, Confluey. Although our discussions were lighter on the history and heavier on the formal analysis, the exposure to classic film and my newfound understanding of their social undercurrents are essential to my study.

Community Theatre

Acrosstown Repertory Theatre: As discussed here, after Galileo of Gainesville, I immediately jumped on board ART’s double feature production of a one-act Hamlet and a one-act parody, The Prince Formerly Known As Hamlet, by Bruce Kane. As usual, I began as stage manager and did what I call the “magnet sweep, “which causes the various vacant production roles to stick to me. Thus, I was Stage Manager, Properties Designer, Props Master, and Zombie Makeup Consultant (the parody went interesting places). The show was a hit.

After a summer hiatus filled with dreary retail work, I reprised the sickening household set (although the level of filth accomplished in Prima Donna was not possible in a stage production) for Come Back, Little Sheba. Through some careful thrifting on a shoestring budget, I managed to approximate the period (sadly, not perfectly, due to budgetary restrictions) and establish the neurotic personality of the lady of the house.

The theatre has also developed new committees: I sit on the Facilities Committee as Design Manager—meaning I facilitate the production teams by getting the resources and people to the theatre, keeping the theatre organized and safe, and maintaining our props and costume closet.

Next spring I will be stage managing Outburst, written by Gainesville playwright Leroy Clark. It is a drama about a gay teacher’s job and relationship troubles after he accidentally outs himself in his classroom.

Professional Theatre

Yes, I went pro! For the Hippodrome’s production of A Tuna Christmas, by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard. The show has been done several seasons alongside the Hipp’s annual production of A Christmas Carol, and requires two actors to play 22 characters. The Hipp performs a slightly edited version, with only 15 characters—but still. Because of my stage management experience, I was hired to manage the wardrobe and the dressing team for the run. The comic pacing of the show + only two actors = a lot of quick changes. I was essentially an ASM/run crew head specifically for wardrobe. The entire process was delightful…well, maybe not the laundry. I was very excited to add this adorable satire to my resumé. In addition, while one has less a sense of “building” theatre when working pro, the available resources and possible efficiency lend an incredible sense of camaraderie and family. However, whether the theatre is educational, community, street, or pro, the sense of making magic is both integral and inextricable.

4x4x4

Although I am sitting on a few plays waiting for the best opportunity to submit for production, I kept my playwriting muscles in shape with a 7-hour writing binge as part of the 24-hour play festival called 4x4x4 (the number of playwrights, directors, and actors per play, respectively). My 20-minute play, Empower Play, was produced the following evening for the festival, hosted by the Civic Media Center on August 11. Because of time constraints, the play could not be accurately memorized or produced with any allowance of specificity or fanciness. However, as a writer, it allowed me to gauge the flow, naturalness, and efficiency of the script by how easily it was produced. I was pleased to see that the director and actors were able to stay true to it.

4x4x4 was repeated at the CMC on October 13, on which I was one of the directors. While for writing, I can easily get into flow, and for a short work can usually ride the wave to fruition, so to speak, having one day to direct a play was unusual and problematic. Doing all of the prep work, teaching the actors blocking, and helping them memorize lines and refine their characterizations within 12 hours seemed an impossible task. To make it worse, my playwright had given me an absurdist post-apocalyptic dark comedy, the most difficult style, setting, and genre (although some of my favorites as well), all in one! Amazingly, we pulled it off to the delight of our audiences.

Collages
Updated:More about PopConcoction
I decided to embark on a different sort of pop culture investigation. Rather like Claude Levi-Strauss deconstructing myths, I decided to deconstruct American cultural icons. Rather than making extensive charts, I used images from advertisements, surrounding the icon’s face with a collage of associated and representational images. The first sets of the two series, TV Icons and Divas, showed at the Civic Media Center in the July Artwalk and on the UF campus in October as part of a student art exhibition sponsored by the Inter-Residence Hall Association. The next sets in both series will be shown at the January Artwalk at the Civic Media Center.

Certain projects, such as my music, the revisions of my screenplay, and my fandom study were necessarily reduced to allow for these other projects. However…I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Next year I look forward to Death of a Salesman at High Springs Community Theatre, the aforementioned Outburst, my foray into the documentary portion of the anti-bullying project, research presentations, and who knows what else.