13 June
ibrews

A-

Summary: Gloriously epic production of Macbeth staged unlike anything you’ve ever seen. With a few minor distractions.

 

Disclaimer: I worked on the seating of this production. Here’s the model I made, which I enjoyed comparing to the reality using my Kindle Fire version.

 

Hoo-rah!

  • Goosebumps the moment I walked into the room. Nothing (including my 3D model) prepares you for how the transformed Armory space hits you. As you progress to your seats in a beautifully long procession, the witches crawl around in the darkness on the floor. The floor was made into a field complete with rocks, dirt, and an overgrown stone path.
  • Everything was staged and blocked to take full advantage of the unique stage and set– two Stonehengey nodes connected by a dirt runway.
  • Rain, fire, mud, all used to great effect.
  • The lighting was surprisingly understated (not a lot of color), but worked wonders on the set by what it highlighted, what it made soft, what it sharply cast in shadow. In this way it was easy to imagine the same set as everything from a battlefield to the the witches’ lair to a castle.
  • Breathless staging moved swiftly from one scene to the next with little or no downtime. The two hours flew by!
  • Macduff had a ferocity behind him that I was consistently compelled by.
  • Loved the way the witches’ cauldron was done, and the progression of Banquo’s lineage that emerged from it.
  • The wide open field was used beautifully only twice–  once during a Macbeth vision (understated lamps) and once when the soldiers progress using their foresty shields in a sequence that hit me like the Battle of Helm’s Deep when I first saw The Two Towers.
  • Lady Macbeth performed her hand-washing monologue superbly– I cringed throughout it but was also unable to look away.
  • I thought Branagh as Macbeth was pretty good– there were times when I felt he was too controlled in his descent into madness. My wife thought it was a strong performance, full of nuance and showing a clear progression of Macbeth from loyal servant to his king, to remorseful killer, to paranoid tyrant.
  • End swordfight between Macbeth and Macduff was excellent. Well-choreographed with some great high-energy moments.

Blech…

  • A late start to the show, which I think can be attributed to the clever but unnecessary act of dividing the audience up into clans before marching them into the drill hall.
  • Throughout the show we could hear stagehands/actors? rustling behind the seating.
  • Some actors handled the size and reverb of the space better than others. Lines were lost.
  • The opening swordfight was, frankly, disappointing. Despite the rain and mud and perfect lighting, it was painfully clear all of the extras were progressing through exactly the same swordfight choreography.
  • The seats were bleacher-style, and with no intermission, it’s easy to have back pain start to distract from the show as it progresses.
  • Tough to follow action that progressed along the runway. I made the seats as tall as possible, but because of the nature of the stage, there’s still moments when you can’t quite look between the heads in front of you.
  • My wife thought Lady Macbeth was too consistently crazed the entire show. I didn’t feel that way at first, but after discussing the specifics, I see her point. There wasn’t enough of an arc.

RANDOM THOUGHT: What if the witches aren’t actually psychic? What if they’re like Petyr in Game of Thrones and have all sorts of spies that allow them to plant seeds in the hearts of those they know to be easily corruptible? After all, would Macbeth have done anything if he hadn’t met them?

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16 May
ibrews

I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me over a month to write about this. WHAT KIND OF THEATER BLOG IS THIS IF I CAN’T KEEP MY THEATER LIFE UPDATED?!
 

In addition to Dystopiapiapia being part of the Thespis Theatre Festival in July, (HOW DID I NOT MENTION THAT?! MORE YELLING!!) I wrote another short play around the same time, called something like “The Last Man” or “If You Were the Last Man (on Earth)” or “Man Lasts on Earth for Last Time” or I don’t know. Title isn’t important.  My good friend and Warehouse Architecture Theatre co-founder Danton Spina decided to run his own little festival in Philadelphia from  June 16th-22nd. The theme is ‘the end of stuff’, and so he wrote a one-act and he has a couple other great little one-acts scheduled and he’s directing it all. Anyway, hopefully I’ll have the chance to post something about it when we get closer, but for now, here’s a great little compare and contrast on the rewrite process in a bite size serving:
 

So in like a day, I wrote the first draft of this play having the simple idea: what if there was an end of the world scenario where two people ended up being the last two people on earth, but they didn’t know it, and so when they decide not to reproduce it’s a much bigger deal than they thought? I knew I didn’t want to be heavy-handed about anything, and even thought it could be fun to not specify that it’s the end of the world (kind of Waiting for Godot-y). After a little back and forth with Danton, I realized I was being a little too obtuse, and it would likely just confuse people. I also fixed some potential copyright pitfalls.
 

Anyway, here’s the two scripts. Hopefully you’ll agree the second one is stronger:
 

Download (PDF, 804KB)

Download (PDF, 806KB)

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14 March
ibrews

C+

Summary: I love Bryan Cranston so so much, and while I know he prides himself on only working with well-written material, this story simply did not feel like it needed to be told.

 

Hoo-rah!

  • I learned about the passing of the Civil Rights act in a manner slightly more interesting than reading a textbook.
  • Actor playing Martin Luther was phenomenal– great speaker and captured his essence.
  • Made me feel like I need to watch Lincoln, so I guess it put me in a historical-dramatization mood.
  • The ensemble handled the 60-some-odd roles they needed to play well; rarely did I confused multiple characters played by the same actor, so props also go to the makeup and costumes department. And the props department!
  • Great set and use of projections– minimal in some respects, but captured the sense of all the places LBJ visits.
  • Bryan Cranston got to repeat one of his iconic Breaking Bad lines in this show “You’re goddamn right it’s my party.” For some reason people also cracked up at a line about ‘the walking dead.’

Blech…

  • I learned about the passing of the Civil Rights act in a manner slightly more interesting than reading a textbook.
  • Unlike something like, say, 1776, there was no charm or fun to this.
  • I never felt a sense of stakes– you already know the Civil Rights Act will pass and LBJ is going to get elected, and none of the obstacles dramatized in the play feel particularly insurmountable.
  • Didn’t feel like I learned anything meaningful about Lyndon Johnson; there was a surprising lack of distinction between his public and private life.
  • At times, the characterization of LBJ had a caricature-y quality, bordering on Foghorn Leghorn.
  • Sound could have been used to greater effect, particularly to emphasize the bigger moments. The only music I recall was at the beginning of Act 1 and the beginning of Act 2… and it wasn’t particularly memorable.

Tales from the Stage Door…

Bryan is an incredibly sweet guy. He hung outside for at least 20 minutes talking to fans, signing things, and taking pictures with them. He might have stayed longer– I don’t know! I left after he took care of me. Here’s some fun moments:

  • Me: Bryan! I watched a ton of Malcolm in the Middle growing up. You were like a second dad. Bryan: (looks hard at me) I’m pretty sure I’m your real dad.
  • Guy: Bryan! Can you talk to my dad? He’s on the phone. Bryan: (on the phone) Are you this young man’s father? We’re at the police station. He’s been arrested for indecent exposure. Please come pick him up.
  • Couple: We’re a couple because of Breaking Bad! Bryan: Breaking Bad made you a couple? That’s terrible. So you’d watch the show then have anxiety sex?
  • Young Girl: This is my first Broadway show and I’m just starting to realize I’m in love with acting. Any advice? Bryan: Always attach yourself to well-written material. It’ll never fail you. When I was your age I always dreamed of being on Broadway. I took work where I could find it, but always made sure I believed in what I was performing.
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4 March
ibrews

A few weeks ago, a childhood friend recommended a book to me called Red Rising. I read it, and liked it, but couldn’t help but feel like there was nothing particularly original in it. Nearly every character, plot beat, and twist instantly conjured to mind another book or movie that had done the same thing, usually better. It felt like going to one of those New York City cafeteria’s like Bread & Butter, where nearly every food you could ever desire is available, but at a lower quality, and once you’ve consumed all that sushi and pasta and chicken wings and fruit salad to your heart’s content, you feel a little ill. By the end of this giant mashup of The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Tooth of Crime, Star Wars, Divergent, Game of Thrones, and Red Faction, I felt like my imagination was left woefully unstretched.
 

But really, I enjoyed it. In that tub-of-ice-cream-kind-of-way (what’s with these food analogies?? I should go eat lunch… no wait, finish this.) The writing was fantastic, the exposition minimal, and the world-building was vivid. Heck, I’ve been thinking about it so much I even created my second tumblr just as a place to create memes about it. My reaction is similar to how I feel about The Hobbit films— deep inside there is something brilliant just struggling to get out, but man, it’s just not there.
 

Anyway, why am I talking about a book I read to preface a new play? Well my friends, inspired by my new-found hyper-awareness of common plot beats and character archetypes across dystopic tales, I wrote a satirical play making fun of it all. I tried to keep the sarcasm to a minimum and have the play come from a place of genuine love for these kinds of stories– I hope I’ve succeeded. So far the common word I’m hearing from my readers is that it’s “fun.” Good adjective, that.
 

The last time I wrote a ‘parody play’ was my very first, La Salle d’Or, playing with the way stakes get pumped up in even the simplest stories. I took the story about a boy asking a girl to a school dance and morphed it into a larger-than-life quasi-musical about saving the world.
 

Nine years after that first play, I’ve decided this is both a comfortable and fruitful territory for me, so expect more genre send-ups in the future!
 

Dystopiapiapia was written and edited in a mad rush of 3 days (15 rough pages in one day, even dealing with a puppy foster dog!). It’s timely completion was aided very much by Nick Douglas at Slacktory in a Thursday evening of mutually-assured-writing. As I have every year since 2012, I used the deadline of the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Festival to force myself to produce something new. No dice for the last two years, but maybe the third time’s a charm?
 

I’m actually quite happy with Dystopiapiapia and would love to see it get a production, so I’m going to pursue as many one-act competitions as I can. Ideally, an existing theater group would produce it and I could just enjoy watching it come to life, but honestly, I’m interested enough in making this happen that I would happily produce it through WhAT (like my Sims play) if the opportunity arose. Take a glance and let me know what you think!
 

Download (PDF, 821KB)

 

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10 February
ibrews

I mean, I’ve made videos and stuff (check the Slacktory videos on my media page), but this is the first one I’m taking (somewhat) seriously. But I know your first question: why am I posting stuff about a film on my theatre page? Good question friend! Two answers: 1) Because the film is based on my play, ‘The Following is Based on True Events (from a Video Game)‘, and 2) Because I don’t really have a better place to write about this. Sure, I could put it on my media page, but if you look at it, well, it doesn’t really want anything text-based.

 

A little background: from the day I finished writing this play, I thought it could work as a short film. There were a lot of things that that we did in the play with the projector and, well, Dan pretending to be a mouse clicker, that are quite simply better-suited to post-production. I didn’t pursue this for a while, but then one day brought it up to my good friend Alex Schmidt (who introduced me to Nick Douglas at Slacktory), and he said that he’d be thrilled to help me make it happen, so he set off to try to find a director. There were a couple times when it looked like it might happen, but then something would go wrong and we were back at square one. Then in December, something silly happened: Nick Douglas sent me an e-mail with the jist: ‘hey, I love your Sims play. Would you mind if Slacktory made a short film out of it?’ Alex Schmidt and I had to laugh a little; why had neither of us thought to ask him in the first place?

 

Fast forward to Monday January 27th. I’ve recast TJ Clark and Mike Finn who played Mortimer Goth and Bob Newbie, respectively, in the original play. We’re in the apartment of a friend of Nick’s who has a sizable green screen. Nick is running sound. I’m directing and camera-operating. Alex Schmidt is there doing every conceivable other task, from operating B-camera, to fixing falling green screen, to running to Wendy’s to get burgers (for the burger scene). We filmed from 10 AM to 2 PM and everything went great (I think).  We worked out a SAG New Media contract, used two $100 Panasonic Handycams, and I’m thrilled we were able to use nice audio equipment (audio is always the quickest way I’m able to tell if something is professional or not). The only real problem was lighting, since the apartment wasn’t really set up to handle greenscreen so we relied on a skylight, providing inconsistent lighting.

 

Anyway, I’ve got a ton of lead time on this– it’s going to be a 5 minute-or-so sketch video, and doesn’t need to be done until The Sims 4 comes out sometime in the Fall. Since I can take my time and really do this right, I thought it would be neat to chronicle my progress; I’ll articulate my thoughts, problems, and questions as I progress through the post-production process, and hopefully you’ll give me your advice and ask me the kinds of questions that will lead to a better product. It’s also nice to imagine that many of the struggles I’m bound to go through in the coming months will be common ones, and hopefully solutions we find to my issues will be helpful to others as well.

 

Here’s some things I currently know very little about that I’m going to have to learn a lot about:

 

  • Color grading
  • Camera tracking/stabilization
  • Chroma Key (I made this Breaking Bad Parody for my office’s Holiday Party a few weeks ago, but that’s about it)
  • Inserting virtual 3D models into real-life footage
  • Simulating fire/explosions/smoke
  • Simulating stuff appearing and disappearing out of nowhere
  • Matching shots of this with shots from the actual Sims video game
  • A whole host of things I don’t even know that I’ll need to know about yet

To start, I’ve decided to upload all of my footage at private links on youtube so that I can peruse what we captured at my leisure and use youtube’s comment section to call out anything from takes I like to issues that will need addressing. If you’d like to make such comments, you’re more than welcome!

 

Footage from Camera A

Footage from Camera B

Random Photos

 

Here’s some of the software I’ll be using:

  • Adobe Premiere CS6
  • Adobe After Effects CS6
  • Adobe Photoshop CS6
  • Audacity (never really liked Adobe Audition)
  • 3ds Max 2014
  • Vray 2.0

If you plan on following this, thanks~! I look forward to your feedback and hopefully teaching each other a few things. I’ll also be charting these posts over at Filmpunch. So what am I doing right now? Watching all that footage (obviously), but also watching lots of tutorials regarding After Effects and Premiere Pro.

 

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

 

AfterEffects:

  • don’t use AfterEffects for Camera Tracking. Use Mocha.
  • don’t use AfterEffects for Rotoscoping. Use Mocha.

Premiere Pro:

  • use the shortcut keys while editing to seamlessly switch between ripple edits, sliding edits, double-sided edits, etc.
  • delete that pesky cuda_supported_cards.txt file in the Premiere Pro directory to make everything a thousand times better. Geezum crow how did I not know this?

 

More soon!

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