Monday, September 15, 2014

Vote for Comment of the Week

Voting ends Friday noon-ish.

Student #1 has left a new comment on your post "#Ferguson: Rebuild and Unite":

"Theatre has the ability to serve as the mirror to society, casting an abstract and beautiful light in the darkest situations. Theatre art carries the responsibility of sharing these realities from all perspectives."

I literally felt like these words spoke directly to my theatre practitioner soul, and why I find it, as well as all other creative art forms to be so incredibly important to us as human beings. We have social responsibility in this world. We should care about those around us, and not just those directly in our circles of life. In fact we should take greater care for those outside of our circles. Those people who have extremely different circumstances and walks of life. We should be trying to understand them, and cherish these differences. I feel that art is the way to celebrate life, explore it, and expose it. I have such sadness and frustration regarding the circumstances around Ferguson tragedy. I hope that we as a theatre community, and essentially artists can do our share in documenting this history and helping the world gain insights and exercise their minds to be more invested in social responsibility and change. 
Student #2 has left a new comment on your post "Who Needs Art? There’s Plumbing":
Like Sydney, I actually found it really interesting to read what Melamid's ideas. I didn't feel angered by his words either. I think that a lot of people are going into the arts because it's an easier way out of the "real world". A lot of us are always saying "oh, I would never want to be a plumber" "I would never want to be a lawyer" "I would never want to be confined to a cubicle" but we forget that we need people with those jobs. We need plumbers because they make our daily life so much better. We need lawyers to defend the innocent and help people get the justice they deserve. We need those people with cubicle jobs because they make an impact on our life. Most of the time, art is selfish. Initially, it's a person saying these are my thought and my emotions and my life that I want everyone to see. Of course art is beneficial to the world and we need it, but not everyone needs to be what we define as an "artist". You know, a plumber is an artist in their trade, as is a lawyer, and a cubicle worker. I think everyone and every job is just as important as the next and we should not criticize him for being a hypocrite. These are his thoughts and if he wants to be an artist, let him be an artist. I mean, who are we to judge? I have a lot of friends who started out studying something like engineering or English and now they are artists, costumers, performers, etc. And then I have friends who studied art and work in an office. I think it's up to us to say what is right for us and even if we don't agree with what someone is saying, we should say that we disagree, we shouldn't call them names. That's something I need to work on too. We have our entire life to figure out who we are so even if you're 20 or 50 or 70 or maybe even 90 it's ok to day something that might be a little hypocritical... we're all still trying to figure out who we are! 
Student #3 has left a new comment on your post "Two longtime Elvis impersonators say to know him i...":
It really interesting to see how people got into impersonations. Both of the guys said that people had told them that they looked like Elvis when they were young, but only one of the guys was a fan before. I completely agree that you have to know someone to be able to love them completely. These two men have really gotten to know Elvis on a more personal level than most people would have. It's really funny that Shandor says that the hardest part is staying in shape. Welcome to acting, good sir! So much of today's media is focused on image and not just talent, though being able to sing and dance the part is important too. I guess it is even more important that they keep Elvis's image because he was a real person. They could actually go for older Elvis and get a bit of a stomach when they get older. Now, THAT would be interesting to see: as they age, they age their Elvis impersonation too! That could work out really well for them. He had such a different style from when Elvis was young compared to when he was older.
On the note of impersonations, we should really get some Fred Astaire impersonators! That would take a lot of work too, though it would be great to see revivals of some of his movies. Ginger Rogers would be interesting to see too. They were both such talented people in all aspects of performance. 
Student #4 has left a new comment on your post "Robo-readers, robo-graders: Why students prefer to...":
Based on the title of the article, I was ready to write a rant about how computers could never help a student's education in the way that the teacher does. However, the actual subject of the article really surprised and fascinated me. Of course it would be ridiculous to replace teachers with grading computers (essays are at their heart a way of measuring how well a student understands a topic or how well they can construct an argument, not how well they can write long sentences with lots of clunky vocabulary). However, using computers to help a student write better (while not claiming to address the actual content of the essay) is a great idea. It makes complete sense that students would be more comfortable with having their work proofread by a computer- it makes me nervous giving my writing to my friend or parents to proofread, let alone having a teacher check it. I don't want someone who's opinion I care about to read less than my best work, even if it would lead to it being better in the future. In addition, editing is an awful task for anyone, and I know many students skip that step entirely, preferring to just hand in a less-than-perfect draft. Simply sending it to a computer, which would spit out some helpful comments and corrections with no judgement attached, sounds quite wonderful. If it was available, I would definitely try this program out. 
Student #5 has left a new comment on your post "At Disney and Universal, Musical Theater Fans Find...":
I'm horrified that these amusement parks don't abide by Equity rules. Re: Nikki, I'm sorry that you've had a negative experience with union members. But is the eagerness to work a non-union show a question of how much someone cares about their craft, or how desperately these [likely early-career] performers need a job? I am particularly concerned about the performers in these locations, since Disney theme parks especially have been known for overworking their employees. The union regulations are there to a) protect the actors, first and foremost, and b) to make sure other people in the industry don't justify lower pay and/or fewer protections because "such-and-such production could do it." Though the pay grade for "London Rocks" sounds aaaaalmost close to a small theater role ($414.96/week for a lead doing 42 shows; I believe Equity guidelines for a small professional theater say an actor should get $500/week PLUS benefits for a traditional 8-show week...are my numbers right?), the reality is that these performers are spending way more time and energy than they would in a traditional theater setting because of the "always-on" nature of their work. More the reason to protect them! 
That being said, I had no idea that such well-renowned composers were writing for these shows, and I'm impressed! That in itself is also a lesson in how artists (especially writers/composers/lyricists) need to diversify their portfolios in order to keep working and keep up with the industry.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Worth a Look

Here's hoping I make better choices this week...

Ferguson Moments: Artists Respond

HowlRound: The Ferguson Moment is not an organization. It is not an event, a play, a poem, an article, an idea. It has no shared agenda, just a shared community, and a shared desire to respond.

On Saturday August 9, 2014, Mike Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Artists from all over the United States quickly began connecting by phone, email, and social media over the ensuing militarized police action, protests, violence, and reconciliation taking place. Over the weekend of August 22-24, two weeks after Michael Brown was killed, five theater artists traveled from Ashland, Oregon; Boston, Mass; and New York City to St. Louis and Ferguson where they volunteered, created and saw work, and met with members of the community.

Showbiz, Music Industry Jobs Drop 19% in Two Years

Variety: The U.S. economy has seen a steady erosion of jobs in the motion picture and sound industries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Preliminary statistics from the BLS show that employment in those two industries has dropped to 298,000 in August — marking the first time in the past decade that the number has dropped below 300,000, and representing an 8% decline from 324,600 jobs in August 2013, and a 19% slide from 366,300 jobs in August 2012.

California’s efforts to curb runaway production won’t work without changing studios’ mind-set

Variety: On a trip to Vancouver a few years ago, one TV producer surveyed the myriad projects being shot there and labeled the town Hollywood Sleep-Away Camp. Those visitors were drawn less by British Columbia’s natural beauty than by the siren song of its tax credits, along with Canada’s favorable monetary exchange rate.

Robo-readers, robo-graders: Why students prefer to learn from a machine. In April 2012, Mark D. Shermis, then the dean of the College of Education at the University of Akron, made a striking claim: “Automated essay scoring systems” were capable of evaluating student writing just as well as human readers. Shermis’ research, presented at a meeting of the National Council on Measurement in Education, created a sensation in the world of education—among those who see such “robo-graders” as the future of assessment, and those who believe robo-graders are worse than useless.

Who Needs Art? There’s Plumbing It tickles Alexander Melamid, a 69-year-old conceptual artist and provocateur, that his Chelsea landlord has printed his name on the building’s tenant listing board as “Melamid’s Healing Shrine.” But so much amuses Mr. Melamid, a Russian-born painter with a ready cackle and a fondness for bear hugs, whose past provocations have included deep-frying photographs of artists like Andy Warhol, Picasso and Marcel Duchamp.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Once Again Encouraging


So, the deck is done.  Now all we need is furniture, lighting, address numbers...  Steelers games on Thursday nights really put a crick in the week...  By the time I tuned in to listen to the President the speech was over.  Almost makes you miss Clinton...  I was going to try to jam together two PPP classes today, but instead I decided we'll just wind up a week behind...  The fantasy season didn't start out too well for us.  If it keeps up maybe I won't pay after all...  Manhattan is a pretty decent TV show.  If you're not watching you might want to check it out...  FIOS is making a huge deal about matching upload speeds to their download speeds.  I think I'd rather just have faster download speeds...  That new iPhone is pretty attractive.  Not sure I'll pony up the cash for the watch though...  Seems like every time we decide to turn off the air Pittsburgh decides to turn on the sauna...  Six months in and the baby is pretty reliably making it through the night.  That's a nice thing to have...  I'm working on a theory that says grief is like bad clams...  Still can't seem to kick the driving to work thing.  Really should...  My upper level class is trying to design a machine we really want but can't seem to find for purchase anywhere.  There's part of me that thinks there's probably a reason for that...  Going to see the Cubbies this weekend.  Might have to go incognito...  The schedule changes around the baby have pretty much broken my MSNBC addiction - well that and they never seem to really update the Roku channel...  I have to remember to mask out the bottom of the screen if I am going to watch FIBA tape delayed, otherwise you get the final score of the game you are watching every 3-4 minutes...  That ISIS talk really shut down most of that immigration talk didn't it?  Things like that make you believe in conspiracies... 

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

0-1 Sad Trombone

And yes... I left enough on the bench to win.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Vote for Comment of the Week

Comments close Friday noonish...

Student #1 has left a new comment on your post "‘Throwback Thursday’: 1960 Stagehands at Work":

As soon as I saw that it was 13 minutes long I grabbed myself some lunch and plopped myself down. By far the best idea I had all day. What a delightful and informative video! I feel like I actually learned so much.

Some general comments I had while watching:
1. Road cases have not changed since 1960. And really, why should they?
2. The clove hitch and the bowline really are all you need to be a stagehand.
3. Theatre crews smoke just as much today as they did in the 60’s. (no surprise here)
4. If you’re a camera guy filming someone raise a flat, don’t stand under the flat.
5. If you need to build a show you need to hire a carpenter, electrician, rigger, propmaster, etc… Or you can just hire “THE STAGEHAND”. Seriously, that guy can do it all!
6. Running a light board in the 60’s takes more coordination than brain surgery. #somanylevers
7. An average show in the 60’s used as much electricity as a small town. Todd, tell me we’ve fixed this. Please.

Overall I actually really enjoyed this video. I sat there thinking why there was nothing like this series anymore. I would love to see a day in the life of the average American worker in every industry. Then I remembered about Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe.
Student #2 has left a new comment on your post "It's pretty, but is theatre any longer necessary?":
I believe Schneider's assertion that theatre has become "something merely decorative" is unfair. I think it is important to note that the value of theatre really depends upon how much one is willing to invest in it. If someone goes to see a show as a way to kill some time on a Saturday night, then yes, Schneider's assessment is true. But many people (on, off, and behind stage) actively choose to dedicate their life to theatre, and in that regard theatre today is still essentially the "ancient institution of high purpose" Schneider spoke of. Instead of discussing the absolute degradation of theatre into something purely ornamental, I think we should be discussing the broadening spectrum of how people interact with theatre. That interaction, after all, is what truly generates theatre's value and necessity. 
Student #3  has left a new comment on your post "Syrian Artists Denied Visas, And A Voice In The U....":
The last two paragraphs make a very strong point about what is being lost in this conflict between the State Department and these Syrian women. Our sources of perspective on global issues are more limited than we realize in this country and here is an opportunity for new outside perspective. From a very personal stance, I find it hard to believe that these women would abandon their families and children once they see all that the United States has to offer. Having lived in the US my entire life, I know that I cannot even begin to understand how fortunate I am to live here, especially in contrast to the horrors that these Syrian refugees have faced. But I feel that most mothers would be disinterested in a life in the United States if their children were still suffering in Jordan. 
Student #4 has left a new comment on your post "florentijn hofman floats huge hippopotamus down th...":
Is this art? Design? Or just whimsy?

I tend to think of art as expressing a theme or asking a question or challenging a perception, but mostly fulfilling a need to express that, for the artist, is central to their way of existing in the world. It is an invitation into a conversation the artist is having with herself, and the impetus is internal.

Design, on the other hand, concerns itself with form (again, a personal definition). Here, the impetus is external: the designer solves a problem. In so doing, she engages with the defining characteristics of an object, is an alchemist toying with the underlying mysteries of geometry and color and space, manipulating these qualities to produce something worthy (or not) of admiration. Objects of design, at their best, invite us to admire how beautiful or complex or simple or chaotic or finely honed the world can be.

Whimsy is un-needed and uncalled for. It is derived from neither a need nor an admiration, but a desire, a fancy, a whim. Its value is based in its very unnecessary-ness. It need not have been born in the furnace of artistic expression, nor must it be overly-well defined. It exists for us in a moment of distraction to remind us that not everything is so serious or so necessary, which has its place too.
Student #5 has left a new comment on your post "Touring Life and Motherhood or How You Can’t Have ...":
I read this article a while back, and while I'm not an audio engineer, a lot of what Kerrie Keyes writes about hits home. I would like to have a family one day, not anytime soon of course, but later, and I don’t like the idea of having to end my career for my kids. While this dilemma is one that most parents (and let’s face it, mostly women) struggle with, I definitely think that the stupid hours and crazy schedules of theater make it an important issue for all practitioners in our industry. What do you do during 10 out of 12 tech days, during performances, tours? I suppose this is where teaching comes in, but what if you don’t want to become a teacher? I think that the balance and rules that Keyes and her husband established are a great solution to the problem, but I can definitely see how hard it must be at times to maintain that, to feel fulfilled at work and present at home.

Worth a Look

Here are a few posts from last week's Greenpage that might be worth your time:

Mathematician Posits Magic Formula for Broadway Hits

Variety: Any Broadway producer will tell you there’s no magic formula for Broadway success. But that doesn’t stop some people from trying to find one. Particularly statisticians. Suspecting there’s a golden ratio that might help explain “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Lion King” or “Wicked,” mathematician Marc Hershberg gave it a go, crunching the numbers as part of his graduate studies in the Department of Organizational Behavior at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Miranda Wright and Practicing Performance in Los Angeles

HowlRound: Miranda Wright doesn’t want to be pegged—not yet. “I’m definitely not interested in what theater is supposed to be,” says the founder and artistic director of Los Angeles Performance Practice. “I'm really interested in breaking those walls down.” She also doesn’t want to be known as the producer of experimental work in Los Angeles, a reputation that is starting to follow her. Her ambitions are for Los Angeles live performance, which is also frequently pegged—the biggest cliché being the independent showcase production by actors trying to attract movie and television casting directors. Wright wants Los Angeles to be known as a place where experimental performance is thriving. Because it is.

Syrian Artists Denied Visas, And A Voice In The U.S.

NPR: The Trojan Women, by Euripides, is a Greek tragedy written 2,500 years ago that war keeps timely.

It's about a group of women who struggle to survive in Troy after the town has been sacked. When one of the women cries out, "Our country, our conquered country, perishes ... O land that reared my children!" it's hard not to hear those words echo today, through Syria, in Iraq and in Ukraine.

Touring Life and Motherhood or How You Can’t Have it All

SoundGirls: After the birth of my daughters, I took some time off and did not work at all. As reality sunk in, I came to realize that touring was going to be difficult if not impossible. I thought about going back to school and getting a teaching degree – still one of the professions that allows for a schedule to be with your kids. I eventually returned to Los Angeles and took on a general manager role at Rat Sound – which really was doing a bit of everything, similar to what I did before but kept me off the road.

‘Throwback Thursday’: 1960 Stagehands at Work This week’s “Throwback Thursday” feature takes us back to 1960 in an AFL-CIO film that goes backstage for a close look at the work the members of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) perform from “play in” to curtain up.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Summer Playdate Lego Project

We finished the airport today.  Take a look...

Well, not quite finished.  The next playdate will be the grand tear down.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Here We Go Again

This year my brother-in-law's fantasy league is a cash league, so naturally I slept off food poisoning during the draft.  Looks like I drafted ok though.  Guess we'll see.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Vote for Comment of the Week

Voting closes Friday noonish...

Student #1 has left a new comment on your post " Here's What Sin City Looks Like Before They Add A...":

I'm always torn when it comes to movies that are shot mostly in green screen and are essentially made from bits and pieces in post production. On one hand, I think that it does take away from all the traditional film jobs that aren’t needed in this process. Most of the art department, stunts, “real” special effects, etc… see their roles get seriously diminished or even completely disappear. I imagine that it’s less rewarding for the actors to portray their character in the nebulous world of green screen.

On the other hand, it allows for a whole other set of artists and technicians to make the movie in another way. While some film professions are on their way to being considered antiquated and quirky, many other jobs are being created and there is a whole VFX industry that is now able to flourish and grow. I guess it really depends on how one feels about that, and which aesthetic they prefer onscreen. I think that both have merits and that we’re at a really great place in film right now where many movies are using entirely new techniques, while others are making a conscious effort to uphold traditions and do it the old-school way. The green screen approach is definitely appropriate for “Sin City” because the whole concept is that it looks like a comic book, something that is harder to achieve without extensive work in post.

In the end I think there is one thing to keep in mind. This is how movies are made. Piece by piece, shot by shot, in no particular order other than the one that is the most convenient. Often, what happens during filming looks very different from the final product. I spent a month as a PA on a film set this summer, and I honestly had no idea what the movie was actually about until I read the script a couple weeks in. Making movies is weird, disconnected, and post production is a very important part of the process. As such, it’s not that strange to see that phase becoming more and more dominant in certain movies. While I personally really appreciate seeing movies where the original footage is basically the final product, CGI has its merits and uses.
Student #2 has left a new comment on your post "Aurora Theater Should Have Predicted Mass Shooting...":
It's hard to imagine the grief that survivors of the victims of a tragedy like Aurora must feel. It is likewise difficult to imagine the audacity of the lawyers who would work to convince those survivors that a specious lawsuit and a bunch of money will make any of it better. This is clearly a case of the litigious streak in our society going after the entity on this grim scene with the most money. The worst thing this judge's ruling does is give the families involved hope that relief from their pain may be forthcoming, because it isn't, even if they were to win.

The argument that we should all conduct our lives and businesses as though the worst case scenario is inevitable, and be held accountable when the most unlikely events occur, is, as MS. Skenazy correctly points out, "not rational." It's the same reactionary argument that the 2nd Amendment lobby tries to make in support of everyone carrying guns all the time. The thing is, the more you think you need a gun, or armed guards at movie theaters, the more likely an event will occur when it seems like you need them. When armed guards are strutting down the aisle to shush unruly teenagers instead of zit-faced, butter-bespattered ushers, we are creating a power imbalance that will eventually lead to a tragedy. We know this, or at least we should by now. Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Michael Brown. And these are just the shootings that have caught the media's attention. Gun violence in this country is rampant, on both sides of the law. More guns, especially wielded by mall cops, is not the answer.

As for the movie theatre and its responsibility to plan for every disaster, that's what we do to an exhaustive measure every time we build a public space in this day and age. Effective planning for a mass shooting, as awful as it may sound, should be no different than planning for a fire. Get people out as quickly and in as many different directions as we can to minimize exposure. Hey, and while we're at it, why not try to make guns at least as difficult to obtain as a driver's license.
Student #3 has left a new comment on your post "Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre offers up eclectic ...":
How encouraging to read about a theater actively supporting the needs of its community. Especially in a city like Pittsburgh that experiences artistic "brain drain," as young people pour into the city to study the arts and then leave for bigger cities, PPT's commitment to cultivating local playwrights could help make Pittsburgh a more attractive place to establish a theater career. Furthermore, PPT's support of Pittsburgh playwrights becomes particularly vital in a national theater climate that favors New York- or LA-based artists. These productions can help Pittsburgh playwrights earn credits and experience that they might have trouble finding in other regional theaters and cities.
I'm so curious about the eventual demographic makeup of the One-Act Festival's playwrights. If the festival were only open to minority playwrights, the playing field would be relatively equal in terms of which playwrights deserve an opportunity to be produced. By allowing white playwrights to submit work to the festival as well, PPT may face some resentment if they ultimately produce (a) white playwright(s). White writers already are more widely-produced in American theater than minority playwrights, often for various socio-economic reasons within the structure of our industry, rather than outright racism (which would take much more than a short Internet comment to articulate). At the same time, the inclusion of white writers is vital to their philosophy of bridging divides between all ethnic groups through the festival. Will audiences and fellow artists accept a diverse festival of writers when "diverse" includes white writers, who could be seen as taking opportunities away from minority writers?
Student #4 has left a new comment on your post "Fab10 – What If The Future We Want Is Built by Us,...":
I have to say that my favorite part of this article is the part about kids. Looking at the world like a kid opens up many different possibilities. I miss that ignorant phase where all the wonders of the world were mysteries and we could go on for hours describing these crazy contraptions. I remember going on about all the features of a "Fire Car" (kind of like a spaceship and the bat-mobile in one). It was totally made up but I went into so much detail that I started to believe it existed! Where I'm going with this is that as we get older and we learn about how things work and what things really are and our imaginations begins to shrink. I don't know about others, but I worry a lot that I'm forcing my imagination to DO SOMETHING and it's because I know things. There is a famous composer in South Korea (I don't remember his name) and he's known to be one of the best composers in South Korea. He was asked what makes him such an amazing composer and he answered "I don't listen to music". Alexander McQueen said that he never looked up to other designers to inspire him. They looked at their passion with a child's mind and they created art. So yes, I think if we use our child-like imaginations, the future would be made up of our true desires rather than the ones that we learn are socially acceptable for everyone.

I hope I didn't go off on too much of a tangent... I can go on forever about this because it's something that my friend and I love discussing!

I also like that their getting kids involved! (GET THEM WHILE THEIR YOUNG! Just kidding... but seriously, fascinate them when their young and the future is forever in their hands!)
Student #5 has left a new comment on your post "I understood gender discrimination once I added “M...":
I wish I could say this was eye-opening, but sadly I am not even surprised by this article. Discrimination in the work place is very real, be it against women or minorities. While I myself haven’t applied to enough jobs to have noticed any discrimination against me because of my gender, it has come up in circumstances other than job searches and never fails to anger and bewilder me. Whenever I think about the future, the ways in which our society and the entire world are going to keep evolving, I can’t fathom us going toward a positive course when so many people are still made out to be inferior because of their gender, ethnicity, origin, beliefs, etc…

I believe that it is so important for the performing arts industry, be it film, theater or other art forms, to use their extraordinary potential to reach out to people in a conscious, positive way. It is important to create plays, make movies, write books that not only include people from all walks of life but also tell stories where we see those people in roles or situations that are unusual, unconventional, unexpected. And having a token stay-at-home dad or successful business woman just isn’t enough. Little girls who want to be engineers can’t be a TV show’s claim to diversity anymore; they need to be characters of their own rather than quota requirements. I realize that we have come a long way in means of acceptance of diversity, but current events and continuing issus prove that there is an even longer way to go.