Idea Blog

Vacation

Posted on: March 11th, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Rebecca Bernard

I found myself in Niceville, Florida. It was a place I’d written about a while back. Then I was there. We had the top down and the sun was on us and all the surrounding earth.

In a movie I was watching, the camera would pan to the side sometimes. It would show desert and land and sky and the effect was a calming thing. It said: Here is also what is happening. It said: The world is outside of this particular frame, too. Look, it keeps going.

In Niceville I scanned the strip malls for my character. I knew he was either in a bar or outside of one. I knew he was thinking about the heat in the asphalt under his feet. I didn’t see him. I knew I wasn’t going to.

A sign on an overpass spelled Will You Marry Me Wilma Jane in white solo cups. It seemed like a big deal. We said, Isn’t that something. We agreed it was.

I wanted to ask him if his father’s deserting the family was really so bad, but because he’s a character it would be like asking myself.

I liked how quiet the scenes in the movie were. A desolate place in Spain or the like. I wondered if it was still so dry there. If wind was still blowing open white curtains. The characters stuck in time and space. Not moving for fear of dying off.

Our lives are built of frames for seeing the world. With the right light things are one way. Lose the light and you’re somewhere else. Only it’s the same place.

We watched the sunset on the beach. It was cold but I kept thinking–a photo would make this something else. The world could be warm in a photo. In a photo it could be anything. Perhaps, we too, are in Spain.

On the drive home there was a new sign on the overpass. A birthday message. We realized that what had seemed one way was actually another. Too bad.

For a minute there, it had all felt pretty special.

Sunset

 

An Unstaged Reading

Posted on: March 10th, 2013 | 0 Comments

Looks like this.

by Aidan Carr

Looks like this.

There have been a couple historical models for developing new musicals. In the so-called “Golden Age,” shows grew via the out-of-town tryout—a month or so in New Haven or Philadelphia where changes would be made by gauging audience reception. The first number of Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, “Comedy Tonight,” emerged from frantic out-of-town revisions. (This anecdote contains a valuable lesson in musical theatre craft that further entries will investigate.)

The main idea here is to introduce the work-in-progress to the world and see how it does—where do people tune out? Where do they sit on the edge of their seat? Are they laughing and in the right places? Worse, are they laughing and in the wrong places? When musicals made lots of money, an entire production in a separate city was worth the capital to put it up, despite it being an experiment: now, musicals are like films, costing millions of dollars, and producers are much more skeptical to throw millions of dollars at an untested product. Cue the reading.

A reading has the same goals—watch the audience, tweak as needed—as the out-of-town tryout, but none of the window dressing, both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because it is cheap; fantastic sequences of, say, dancing dolls and malfunctioning sewing machines, can be left to the imagination. A curse because the imagination can provide more than just window dressing—it is easy to fool oneself and say “this will work with costumes and lights” when it really won’t. The pros outweigh the cons—out-of-town tryouts still occur, but typically after dozens of readings, each more ‘produced’ than the last.

An unstaged reading is the very bottom of the reading totem pole. Actors sit on stage in a row; when they are in a scene they stand, and sit otherwise. They memorize nothing: the scripts are in front of them on music stands. Someone even reads the stage directions.

Readings can come together very quickly—at NYU, the musical theatre writing program mounts unstaged readings of new work with actors that show up the morning of the performance and piano players who have never seen the score before. (Due to some last-minute drama, these actors read an entire ten minute script of mine, in front of an audience, that I handed to them as the performance began.)

Readings put material into the world, and for this they are invaluable. They are what catches the attention of investors, of producers, of other writers, of the press. More than this, though, they are crucial in finishing what it is you wish to share—they are the taste test before the Michelin chef adds a dish to his menu. And so it must be polished, elegantly and cleanly presented—even though you threw it together in a week. I have many ideas on how to polish my reading—look for them shortly.

 

What A Bookwriter Does

Posted on: March 10th, 2013 | 0 Comments

The blueprint.

 

by Aidan Carr

The blueprint.

If a musical is a house, the bookwriter is its architect; he also shares interior/exterior design duties with the composer and the lyricist. Most of the spoken language of the piece (most) falls under his jurisdiction, but he also shapes the story itself, places the songs, cuts pages and scenes.

Like houses, the architecture behind a musical must be rock-solid, or else it will collapse. Structural design is less glamorous than aesthetic design, more conceptual, and considerably more difficult; bookwriters don’t get paid more for nothing. Not only are they relatively ‘behind-the-scenes’ as far as creative staff goes, since they theoretically contribute nothing to what musicals are all about (the songs), but they are frequently the first to blame when a show is lackluster—‘it’s got book problems.’ Not for nothing; structure is hard, and even professional Broadway shows frequently cannot master its design.  Spider-Man had an entire number in which an invented spider deity sang of her charmingly-wicked adoration for mountains and mountains of shoes—cue $500,000 dollars in innovative costume design for highly trained ballerina-spiders, Loboutin heels on all 8 legs. This went on for five minutes.

Bookwriting—thankless, vital, at times (Arthur Laurents, Hugh Wheeler) elegant. More to come.

Music is Sculpture

Posted on: March 10th, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Aidan Carr

Writing music before the 20th century was a lot like painting—you had certain colors and certain brushes, and you painted certain things. Like painters, composers outgrew these boundaries—painters stopped painting things, composers stopped writing tonal music, etc. But we still think of most music as having a pretty narrow set of ‘brushes’ or ‘paints’—the Beatles used guitars, classical composers write for the symphonic orchestra, Miles Davis played the trumpet.

You’ll notice I’ve neglected electronic music. This is for a reason. Electronic music and the thinking that produced it does not work this way. It does not have a palette; its palette, rather, is sound itself, the physical vibrations that make noise in your ear. Electronic sound is not paint; it is clay, clay under the hands of the most impossible alchemist, capable of morphing into literally any substance imaginable. Writing music on the computer is not painting, it is sculpture.

More on this to come, but for the time being, absorb this ‘sculpture’ by a British artist who produces under the name Four Tet. Like the work of Michaelangelo, its detail is pristine, exact; every sound is there for a reason, every detail contributing to the whole. It repeats, endlessly—accept this. Let what sounds the same wash over you—I promise you, if you do so, it will not be boring, it will be beautiful.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYXdeFm2jfc

 

What’s Being Adapted

Posted on: March 10th, 2013 | 0 Comments

 

May title.

by Aidan Carr

Opening credits.

The film I’m adapting is called MAY. It is has a cult reputation of sorts—it frequently makes pop “Top 10 Horror of 2000’s” List, a horror-hipster favorite. This is actually how I discovered it—on such a list, the author ranked MAY as his second favorite of the decade, remarking that it was “not so much scary as sad,” which intrigued me.

“Sadder than scarier” is a fair assessment; unlike most contemporary horror films, MAY focuses on the monster and not the victims. It has this (and more, as you’ll see) in common with Frankenstein—a difference of purpose, more about why terrible things happen than the thrill of them happening.

MAY was written by Lucky McKee when he was a film student at the University of Southern California, and it is a lonely film—the eponymous monster/heroine is in nearly every frame, and half of these by herself. May cannot hold a conversation. Even animals become suspicious of her. As a member of the outside world, such a withdrawal is unsettling, disturbing, a harbinger of something darker and perhaps dangerous. Disordered social interactions point towards inner instability, and this frightens us. Pariahs scare us.

I saw a man in a park late at night in Barcelona pace in tiny circles, reciting a mélange of Arabic and Spanish syllables with no connection, and I stayed away.

Imagine this from the inside. That man pacing in circles was speaking, trying to communicate, and yet all his faculties for doing so were broken. All he can muster are the short-circuits of syllables. How terrifying this must be; more than terrifying, how lonely.

Super lonely. Super lonely.

This is May’s problem, though it is not as pronounced and all the more insidious—her signals too are broken, but they take on the illusion of order and coherence. They trick people for a time, herself included. May is fascinating—she makes her own clothes, she works for an idiomatically-challenged Eastern European veterinarian, she has an elaborate collection of fine porcelain dolls—for a time. Soon her obsessions—stitches and sutures, needles and scalpels, dolls—are no longer fascinating; they are dangerous. When her newfound ‘friends’ sense this danger, they too run away. Her own realization that she scares people is her anagnorisis, and nobody survives it.

The way May’s compulsions finally play out is this; all of the people she meets through the course of the film possess a body part that May finds particularly attractive. One man’s hands, a woman’s neck, another’s legs, et cetera. May has long since outgrown dolls and needs human company, hence why she meet all these people who rejected her in the first place. Nobody wants May’s company, so she resolves to fashion someone who does, out of all of the best parts of the people she knows. The creation of this new doll, ‘Amy,’ ends the film.

A strange subject for a musical, you’d correctly think. One key aspect allows room for music in this story,  even begs for it. May holds unspoken conversations with her doll Suzy that drive her emotional arc; these conversations are full of the kind of desperation and yearning and pure desire that sings onstage, and dolls are an inventive and unusual instrument with which to sing those desires. Sewing machines, too, have their own strange and strangely beautiful music, akin to the musique concrete of Edgard Varése or the minimalism of Steve Reich. Out of this kernel—musicalizing May’s emotional interior life, accompanying it with the sounds of the real world like the sewing machine—I’ve developed a sort of musical vocabulary that underpins all May’s movements in the world. Several other implications follow from this central conceit, many of them structural—they will be discussed in the posts that come.

A bottom line: MAY will be a musical like Sweeney Todd, that follows a monster through her emergence as such; it will be a musical like Cabaret, with a nagging discomfort that sprouts into full fledged dread; and it will be more, an electronic aberration, a show soaked in samples and synthesizers and stitches instead of trumpets and saxophones, something funny and uncomfortable and uncomfortable because it is funny, something sadder than scary. (All this, I hope.)

Making Musicals: An Introduction

Posted on: February 27th, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Aidan Carr

For the next two months, my writing here will document the process of creating a new work of musical theater. This process is lengthy and not particularly glamorous: indeed, much of the groundwork and infrastructure for the project that this creative diary follows has been in development for nearly two years. It is the final portion of the working, however, the tail end, that is most interesting; myths of frantic out-of-town tryouts and hotel rooms covered in scribbled-over drafts abound in theater circles; any given episode of NBC’s Smash inevitably invokes the trope. These myths are hyperbolic iterations, but they stem from a real and palpable creative excitement surrounding musical theater work nearing completion—an excitement that I hope to communicate in the postings that follow.

Musical theater typically is a most collaborative art form—there is a composer, a lyricist, a book writer, a director, producers, a musical director, an entire orchestra and ensemble of singers/dancers, and a host of other design staff, every single person contributing to the aesthetic of what the audience experiences. My project is somewhat unusual because, by its nature as an academic thesis, I am required to assume the first four or five roles by myself. Normally, this would be more than problematic, it would be fatal to a production; hence, a lowering of ambitions is in order. The end result of this process is to be what’s termed an “unstaged reading.” A company of actors with scripts and scores on music stands will take the stage, stand when they are in a scene, and sit down when they are not. Two or three musicians and a narrator to read stage directions will accompany them.

The work itself is an adaptation of a horror film called MAY, directed by Lucky McKee. It is a macabre fairy-tale of sorts, an amalgamation of Frankenstein, Faust, and The Bell Jar (at its heart), and its two most distinctive features are an ensemble of singing imaginary dolls and the extensive and intricate employment of electronic music.

Thanks for reading. Now let’s get started.

Students at the Oscars

Posted on: February 27th, 2013 | 0 Comments

beasts-of-the-southern-wild02

by Harvey Burrell

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal explored a group of students at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University and their contributions to the Academy Award Nominated film “Beasts of the Southern Wild”.Beasts” was completed for 1.5 million dollars, an impossible low sum of money by Hollywood standards. It took home the  Grandy Jury Prize at Sundance and received 4 Oscar nominations. 33 students volunteered to as many as 40 hours per week. All of this was accomplished in a “class dubbed Studio 400A, an advanced elective wherein students offer free visual-effects work for low-budget films.” This model places students in meaningful roles on film sets. It is likely to catch many independent producers’ eyes. It is an amazing way to cut costs and give students a chance to express themselves creatively. However, it can also turn the corner and become an easy way to exploit tuition playing students. In the case of “Beasts” it worked out for the students, many of whom have received job offers from VFX studios. It can be a fine line, but when walked carefully everyone wins. It is an interesting model to consider as things develop here at the Media Lab.

Be sure to check out this awesome behind the scenes video from “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=4iRDz8ccJi8#!

How to Pet a Shark

Posted on: February 20th, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Rebecca Bernard

You have to use two fingers when you pet a shark. You line them up side by side. Then gently place them in the tank. Let the shark come to you. It will avoid you if you reach for it. Show no desperation.

Most humans spend time growing inside the body of another. Eventually, we surface for air. It is complex and not complex at the same time. The sharks rise to the surface and feel the fingers, flat and together. Often, our mothers hold us, we the newborn.

I am thinking of a story called ‘How to be Kind.’ The plot, naturally, includes mostly unkind acts and regret. There is much sighing and quiet and longing. The characters ask to be held.

At the aquarium in Kentucky, we saw sharks. Some in tanks, some in great pools. They swam and mingled. Later, I was upset or maybe you were. The memory becomes a swarm of the feelings made at the time. They too, swim and mingle.

It is good to see faces in the mind. In that space I might make them any way I choose. We are born giving pain. We are born without memory. Our mothers hold it for us. The pain and the memory.

At the bottom of the tank there are not jewels or colored stones. It is empty. No plant life. At night, sharks sleep and drift. When the tanks are dark and the groping hands are gone, does peace exist? Nearby, the jellyfish glow.

The sensation is both smooth and violating. I find myself empathizing with the sharks. They swim past, waiting to be touched. Not a Shark

Make Space – How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration

Posted on: February 13th, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Harvey Burrell

How do creative people share space?

This is one of the biggest issues when designing a multi-purpose space. The book Make Space draws upon the experience of the Stanford d.school and design consulting firm IDEO. Both of these firms have been heralded as leaders in fostering creativity. The book raised a lot of great questions about space and challenges designers to think beyond the cubicle. It also offers a hands on approach to building a space. Building a space is also a way to build a community. The people involved then become “invested owners rather than entitled users”(31).

Questions to be Answered:

How do we define thresholds/ transitions into new spaces? How do we signify this change?

How do we balance the need to keep storage secure with the desire to have it visible? (Visible tools tend to foster creativity)

What is the attitude or ambience you want your space to create?

How do spectators enter the space? Can they observe quietly and engage when interested?

How do you account for a variety of learning styles in one space?

Ideas to Borrow:

Casters in unexpected places. Allow furniture to move and be reconfigured as needed.

Idea generation happens in a space separate from where we share our ideas. If you share an idea too early it can be squash

Labelled water bottles are an easy way to reduce impact and foster community.

Clear signage. Labeling cabinets and hooks makes it easier for new users and ensures things end up back where they belong.

Headphones = do not interrupt. Have them available.

Put writable surfaces everywhere you can.

The take away message from Make Space is that creative minded individuals need to work in a space that has a “bias towards action”. All the elements that go into a space need to be there to foster creative ideas.

 

P.S.

It is worth noting that even companies as large as Facebook and Zappos have started designing offices that follow many of the principles outlined in Make Space. http://bit.ly/YJnCqI

Frames

Posted on: February 12th, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Rebecca Bernard

We are filled with bones. We carry them with us, daily. The mind changes. The bones change too. But the change is not quite the same. In aging, some bones become hollow. Does this make us bird-like?

As a child, I disliked birds. I preferred dinosaurs. Did the one evolve from the other? We are animals moving thickly forward in space and time. My niece forms castles from rocks. Things remain the same, but perspective changes. Dinosaurs become birds. The brontosaurus never existed. A pile of stones is a pile of stones is a castle. I have a collar bone. Once, it was broken. In mirrors, I see it reflected. Everything is cyclical, but nothing feels cyclical. Each day is new so how might it be seen as being like any other? How close must we look? In gestation did I have a collar bone or did my mother, briefly, have two?

Yesterday I wanted X. Now I want X.  What is constant if all things are variables? The changing nature of change. I sit in the mush of my own brain. Has the mush changed over the past five years or is it the outlook? It would seem that life follows an imperfect circle. The tree it forms keeps growing. It is still a tree, not a bird. It is round and wide.

Time is happening. I must hold onto my bones. They remain inside.

Castle