Internal Conflict

Venice Theatre, whom I last mentioned when their open secret of paying some but not all performers went public, has decided to modify the script some more. They announced a move hinted at in the previous Jay Handelman article on the subject of payment–acting internships:

The chosen actors will get housing and a small weekly stipend. They also will be expected to audition for several mainstage, Stage II or cabaret shows, where they will compete against other local performers. [Producing Director Allan] Kollar said there are no expectations that the interns get leading roles. Auditions will remain open to all interested actors.

The interns will also take part in a variety of outreach programs, presenting brief shows at community and retirement centers and schools in the area.

The first few times (that I know for sure) I was in a Venice show with a paid performer, those performers were Equity actors. It was a pretty solid line: union received paychecks, and had their names marked specially in the program, making their status clear. It wasn’t until later that I discovered non-union volunteers were receiving paychecks in some cases, as well, which is where things start getting incredibly muddy.

On one level, I think this new program is perhaps meant as an attempt to re-establish that “professional” line. Over here are the people who will be paid. They went through special criteria to get on the books. They are, effectively, staff. Or, at least, they’re meant to be regarded as such.

I’m especially interested in the comment about the roles interns will play in shows. In what I’m assuming is a bid to assuage volunteer fears and head off attrition, the theatre wants to make sure folks know that interns aren’t guaranteed any kind of lead roles. They’re auditioning just like everyone else. And I’m sure most directors will try to be fair about that kind of thing.

Of course, it seems like it would speak especially ill of either the applicant pool or Venice’s choices if their interns aren’t the kind of performers who are going to be in contention for significant roles throughout the year. Especially when they’re picking the interns knowing full well their performing needs for the season.

Even tossing that aside, it’s hard not to expect that interns won’t be used regularly, lead or no. Not using them would seem to be a rather horrible ROI, after all. If they aren’t the leads, then it only stands to reason they’d be filling out the ensemble of Venice’s larger shows. Which brings us to the same, chafing situation as has happened before if you’re paying ensemble members and asking your leads to do it all for free.

Let me stop right now: ensemble is hard. It’s exhausting and frantic and often filled with the kind of nightmare quick changes and whiplash shifts in character that no featured role outside A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder will experience. This isn’t about belittling any of that.

However, if we’re talking about teaching folks about professional theatre: barring hazard or specialty pay, in professional theatre, isn’t ensemble remuneration lower than that of featured performers? Not only, then, might that situation wind up rubbing featured performers badly; it seems to be actively working against the stated intent of the internship, which is to prepare the interns for the reality of a professional career.

I’ll give a thumbs up to this inasmuch as this program, on the books and publicized, provides the kind of transparency that I think a community organization should have. It’s out there and everyone knows about it. Or, at the very least, folks would have a hard time pretending anyone was hiding it.

Of course, this kind of publicity is also one of the continuing frustrations. You know, hooray for bringing it out in the light, but I’m not sure this does much of anything to change the message to volunteers or the frustrations I outlined last time.

It’s also hard not to notice this announcement rather neatly sidesteps questions about how much other hiring might still happen. In any event, I’ll be especially interested to see how this inaugural class shakes out, both in the way Venice implements and uses the interns, and the way volunteer performers respond to them.

Apparently, Myths About Them Breed Quickly, Too

A couple of stories I’ve been working on pull heavily from stuff you’d classify as Tall Tales: Paul Bunyon, Pacos Bill, that sort of thing. Because I don’t just want the people to be over the top, but also the wildlife, I’ve been doing some research into animals that I think would be appropriate in the same kind of story. It didn’t take long at all before I figured jackalopes would fit right in. When you have giant blue oxes wandering around, a rabbit with antlers doesn’t seem too silly. Or, maybe it is silly, but it’s a silly that’s in keeping with the other silliness, right?

Anyway, so I start bouncing around (ha!), trying to figure out what there is in the way of “lore” for the jackalope. I was pleasantly surprised to find all sorts of crazy details I could use, but also more than a little bemused to find that the jackalope is just one of what seems like an oddly widespread range of rabbit hybrid critters.

I’ll stop right here and make it clear: I’m no folklore expert (or medical expert in the case of Shope papilloma). What follows is just what I’ve gathered from link clicking and googling. There will be no Grand Unified Theory of Lepus here, just some amateur compiling.

First, because sometimes reality is a whole lot more messed up than anyone’s taxidermic fantasy, there’s the likeliest source for all these horned rabbit myths (aside from, of course, “bored taxidermists with spare parts lying around”): The Shope papilloma virus. Shope papilloma causes large, horn-like tumors to grow on rabbits’ skin. Usually around the head. The pictures I found were both terrifying and heartbreaking at the same time: what looks like big, nasty horns and fangs can eventually become so large that the victim is no longer able to eat, so the rabbit starves to death. Don’t google that one if you’re at all sensitive, folks.

One upside of the disease is that apparently research on affected rabbits and the virus itself was part of the model used to help develop the HPV vaccine. So, there’s that. But you’re not here for medical realities. You’re here to read about crazy hybrid rabbits, so let’s get to them.

We’ll start with the skvader. Apparently the Swiss were less impressed by horns, so their taxidermic experiments in folklore grafted wood grouse wings onto a rabbit. Now, not only did you have to worry about rabbits burrowing in under your fence to steal your vegetables; they could just fly over the bloody fence.

Completely unsatisfied with either / or options, Bavarians spliced both antlers and wings onto the wolpertinger. Also, because flying, antler-goring attacks weren’t enough, they added fangs. Which makes sense, really; it’s not a good, Germanic fairy tale creature if it can’t eat you, now is it? See, you thought Monty Python was just pulling that man-eating rabbit out of thin air, but actually, we now see they just did better research.

Hybrid / mutant rabbits don’t appear to be an exclusively European construct, either. While I have a lot harder time finding actual sources on it, there does appear to be a hybrid rabbit creature in some Islamic poetry, too: the Al-mi’raj. This one only has a single horn, which is usually drawn as straight and tapering. So rabbit-narwhal, I suppose. Or rabbit-unicorn, depending on your preferences.

So, you know, maybe Bullwinkle wasn’t pulling the wrong thing out of his hat. He was just grabbing another hybrid variant.

Non-Binary Digital Debates

I have to give a lot of thumbs up to the points John Scalzi raises in his recent essay on the Amazon-Hachette public negotiation troubles. My favorite quote:

This is where many people decide to opine that the cost of eBooks should reflect the cost of production in some way that allows them to say that whatever price point they prefer is the naturally correct one. This is where I say: You know what, if you’ve ever paid more than twenty cents for a soda at a fast food restaurant, or have ever bought bottled water at a store, then I feel perfectly justified in considering your cost of production position vis a vis publishing as entirely hypocritical. Please stop making the cost of production argument for books and apparently nothing else in your daily consumer life. I think less of you when you do.

It’s one of the things at the heart of digital pricing: the specter of production costs, and the impact these sorts of arguments have on the perceived value of content itself. I won’t for one second pretend there’s not a discussion to be had about the value of content. It’s just that sometimes “lower production costs” winds up as a stand in for “this didn’t cost you anything to make,” which is both not true and tends to overshadow any other discussions.

Favorite sound bite notwithstanding, the biggest reason I’m linking Scalzi’s post when I’ve not really pointed at anything else I’ve seen on these sorts of negotiations is because the essay as a whole actually sounds like an opening for discussion. Just about everything else I see seems to declare that either the publisher or Amazon is Evil and Trying to Screw Us, and by comparison the other party is Totally On Our Side.

Scalzi rather directly makes the point that BOTH Amazon and any given publisher (1) are not evil, but (2) are on their own sides. If you want to have a debate about which position is best for authors and/or readers, I think that’s vitally important. The binary ideology here is a trap, and winds up shutting down real discussion in favor of one spin or another. That in turn retards real progress that helps the people at either end of the production chain, instead of just the corporations in the middle.

Sliding Backwards

I don’t know that I have a whole lot to say about the current, final season of True Blood, but a tiny little detail in this past week’s episode gave my process-brain a bit of a tickle. Don’t worry, this is completely non-spoilery.

All you need to know is that, in the episode, Sookie is reading aloud from someone’s diary. At first, I thought it odd, since she’s trying to find out recent information, but the entry she starts with is from late in 2010. Then she flips to entries near the end of the diary, and those are from 2011.

Then I realized what was happening. You see, with two big exceptions, True Blood has no time gaps between its season finales and its season premieres. In fact, quite a few season premieres happen mere seconds after the finales, even though it’s a year–or more–between seasons.

Like I said, there are two exceptions to this. There’s a gap of a year that occurs at the start of season 4 (though even this feels like it’s immediate to at least one character), and then, the end of last season involved another jump, this time of 6 months.

Honestly, I’d not thought much of it. I suppose I might just be used to corporate super-hero comics, where the exact When of things sort of exists on a sliding scale. Otherwise, Spider-Man and Batman would be ready for retirement.

But, yes: if we assume that Bill and Sookie met in 2008, when that episode first aired, then the active structure of the narrative really would build up several years’ worth of lag behind the present.

I guess the interesting thing to me about this past weekend, then, is that the writers chose to raise their hands and draw attention to that gap. It wouldn’t have been particularly difficult to have Sookie say “this entry is from October of last year … this one is from last month.” Actually, that likely would have caught my attention less than the way they chose to structure it.

Clearly the dates weren’t accidental. Someone had to sit down and work out a timeline there so that the diary entries synched up with at least a rough approximation of the progression of time in the series as presented.

Given that it seems like a fair amount of effort to do that calculating, I wonder if there’s more purpose to it. I wonder what’s happened between then and now that might effect the writing. Are they trying to avoid one or more developments in the world? If they’re keeping track of dates like that, does it make pop-cultural references more difficult? Is that also something that’s being vetted?

It’s possible it’s nothing more than the writers waving to the audience and saying “yes, we’ve been paying attention. Have you?” I just found it an interesting choice for the writers to draw attention to the discrepancy, to effectively announce that the series takes place in the recent past. And I wonder how that does or doesn’t impact the writers and the production choices being made.

Something like The Newsroom is intentionally designed to take place in the recent past. It’s been that way from the beginning. True Blood, though, has sort of slowly slid its way into that temporal space, and I’m curious to see if there are any other noticeable effects still waiting to crop up as the season progresses.

Comparatives vs Absolutes

As happened the last time I went on to talk about cultural issues like this, I had a friend post a Tumblr entry to Facebook. This Tumblr post, in fact. It’s a brief, witty post about several of the contradictions in the messages the US government sends and the actions it takes as regards pay, education, and parenting. It’s short enough that you should just go read it all, then meet me in the next paragraph.

As with the last time my friend posted a link to a Tumblr entry like this, someone took offense at the line that higher “education will be inaccessible to most disenfranchised people and skewed in favor of the financially stable and white people.” (emphasis mine).

At least a few people balked at the very notion of white privilege, because their lives had not been easy. They had worked, and struggled, and many people like them had to go through major hardships. Being Caucasian, therefore, hadn’t proven a magical cure-all, and thus the notion itself is flawed. I weighed in once, but realized that how much I want to say constitutes a thread hijack, and that Facebook comment threads are rarely the best forum for making this kind of case, anyway.

I do, however, have an oft-neglected blog, so let’s make use of the personal soapbox, shall we?

I’ve talked before about how feeling like they’re being lumped in with racists can be uncomfortable for people who consider themselves open-minded. Likewise, I think a lot of Caucasian (or male, or heterosexual, or cis-gender, etc) folks find the term privilege unsettling, as they feel like it suggests they’ve had things easy. That, to me, is where the communication breakdown lies.

Privilege is about easier, not easy. The kind of privilege we’re talking about here isn’t an absolute, but a comparative. At nearly any point in the race (demerits for the pun), a member of a given minority is going to have one extra strike–at least–to contend with than a peer who falls into the given, privileged category.

More defining, here, as I think it’s also important to take peer into account. Just as people seem to think privilege is an accusation that life is a walk in the park with no stumbling, they similarly seem to insist that those who subscribe to the notion that privilege exists have hard-line stratified society: Things for any single member of the class with privilege are universally easier than they are for any single member of a minority outside that class. If that were my intent, then by all means: slap me upside the head and call me a moron. Thankfully, it’s not.

Are there minority individuals whose lives have been easier than some Caucasian individuals? Of course there are. To insist there are no examples of that would be as bone-headed a presumption as insisting all dogs are larger than all cats. It completely disregards reportable examples and oversimplifies everything to the level of a Dick & Jane story.

There are plenty of people who struggle and work and suffer and despair who are members of any given privileged class. That’s humanity. It’s not that there are no obstacles in the lives of those with privilege; it’s that there is an absence of a very specific set of obstacles, and that absence is generally so integral to our culture that it’s hard to notice if we don’t make an effort to.

Being the societal default, for whatever value we’re looking at here, means you’re already meeting part of someone’s expectations. It doesn’t mean you automatically win, doesn’t mean there are no obstacles, no hardships, or no flat out horrors in your life. It means that, on top of whatever other crap you have to deal with in your life, you don’t have to deal with being off from “the norm.” No one is consciously or unconsciously adjusting expectations or re-aligning a mental image upon meeting you. Sometimes that’s merely a small, barely-detectable scratch, others it’s a massive wall you need to get over with no handholds. But it’s there, and insisting that it isn’t only helps keep it there.

There seems to be an inverse assumption in a lot of the objections to claims of privilege, as well, that acknowledging privilege as a problem means that we all think the solution is to make Everything Easy Forever for minorities in the comparison. Once again, we’re picking at the wrong terms. The paradigm of privilege is a bad one. Inverting that paradigm doesn’t seem like an especially effective means of fixing anything.

Subverting it, on the other hand, is something I’m all for.

Related: I’m pretty sure more than a few bits of this are inspired by this excellent discussion of discrimination by John Scalzi. Since he’s likely doing it better, do take a look if you’ve got the time.

ETA: I also just ran across This excellent post on privilege by Jessica Price that does a really good job of flipping the discussion in an effort to better make the point.

You Have to Stick the Landing

You can blame Laura for this one. She egged me on.

Until a few months ago, the sum total of what I knew about Switched at Birth was what channel it was on and that two girls discover the eponymous event as an inciting action to the series. I’ve certainly followed my share of high school / college dramas, but I tend to need them to hook on some of my other interests (usually sci-fi / fantasy elements), so I never really thought much about it.

Then Max Adler announced he had a recurring role for the then-upcoming (now finished) season1. I’ve had a giant soft spot for him since his turn as Karofsky on Glee, a high school show which for several seasons bypassed my usual spec fic requirements by appealing to my musical theatre geekery instead. So, I took a shot on the latest season. As an added bonus, I discovered that half the characters in the show are Deaf, and nearly everyone in the cast signs to some degree, so I was hitting two of my geek fascinations at once2.

Here’s the thing: I like a lot of the performances on this show. And the plots are actually ambitious in more than your standard “our teenagers think about and have sex” kinds of ways. It’s just that I feel like there’s a lot missing in the execution of those plots and / or the fleshing out of characters, so much so that I often found myself wanting to shake the show by the shoulders and yell “stop short-cutting this and wasting your potential!”

Spoilers for the just-completed season, by the by. If you watch on DVD, or you’re backed the heck up on your DVR, you may want to turn away. There’s just no way for me to talk about what I want to talk about without spoiling.

Also, This is likely to go on a bit

Sometimes You Just Need a Steampunk Scotsman

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Another RPG character. Had fun playing with a lot of elements just for the heck of it. There isn’t actually a Scotland for him to be from in the setting, but honestly, there aren’t nearly enough RPG characters running around in kilts. Then, because he’s a tinkerer type, and also slightly mad, I wanted to do something mildly steampunk / clockwork inspired, but which wasn’t really polished or symmetrical at all. He cobbled together the armor from a lot of random randomness.