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.

Because Turkey Vulture

Will I be getting back to sketchy Wednesdays? No promises. But I built a character for a play by post RPG game t’other day, and he amused me, so I sketched him.

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He’s a half-orc, who in-game are a mistrusted race because one of their parents looked monstery and everyone knows looking like and being a monster are the same thing because Pretty Is Never Evil.

In any case, I found myself into the idea of someone from that kind of background who spent a lot of time trying to rehabilitate the images of other not traditionally pretty creatures.

So, when my ranger-y character went looking for his traditional animal companion, he picked a turkey vulture, because everyone swoons over the hawks and the wolves, and I enjoyed Ladyhawke, too, but carrion eaters get no love, but they are all gonna be thanking their lucky stars when the zombies show up because birdie will be all: Who ordered delivery?

Throwing Coins with the Roses

Venice Theatre (née Venice Little Theatre) has had something of an open secret amongst local community theatre actors and assorted other theatre folk for a while now. This weekend, local critic Jay Handelman outed them:

While preparing to write a story about the upcoming Venice Theatre production of “Oklahoma!” I discovered that the actor playing Curly McLain, the leading male role, is being brought in from New York, provided housing and a small stipend. He’s a young actor just beginning his career and it will be good experience for him.

[...]

Then I discovered that several other performers in the show also are being compensated with what I’m told is nothing more than gas money to help cover the cost of their driving some distance to nightly rehearsals and performances.

None of this is really news to me, or to a lot of people who do shows regularly in our local community theatres (I was rather surprised to hear that The Players in Sarasota has supplied “gas money” to folks; I suppose theirs was a better-kept secret).

The article is generally an overview of the issue, asking each of the Artistic Directors of the three local community theatres (Manatee Players, The Players in Sarasota, and Venice Theatre) if and in what context they’ve provided financial compensation. Handelman poses a host of questions, clearly intending this to be a conversation starter.

Anyone who’s spoken with me much about local community theatre knows I’ve been waiting for that public conversation for a while now.

I may or may not come back to this and take on different aspects from the article, but for now, I’ll try to give this some focus by using Handelman’s questions concerning other volunteer performers. Since, you know, I am one on occasion.

I’ll take them in order, and with the obvious caveat that I can only speak from my own experience, from my own thoughts and feelings on the matter and what I’ve personally heard in a reasonable number of conversations on the topic with other theatre friends. Much as I want to, I don’t have psychic powers; I can’t tell you what everyone in the community thinks and feels.

Some personal context, to whatever extent it might influence your interpretation of what follows: I’ve never received financial compensation for a community theatre show. Venice did arrange for another cast member to provide me with a workout plan when I was Rocky in The Rocky Horror Show, but I can’t tell you if they paid her or not, because I honestly don’t know. At the time I assumed she did it for free, since she was a pretty big supporter of the theatre and the show.

I have been paid for two shows I did through PLATO, the nonprofit started at the former Golden Apple Dinner Theatre. As did every other performer in a PLATO show.

All that out of the way, let’s get to the questions:

Don’t fellow performers become resentful if they realize they’re not getting stipends that others are getting?

Not everyone, and the extent and the target of said resentment will depend on the person, but it would be silly to expect there wasn’t some resentment. Personally, I’ve never taken issue with any of my cast members who were pulling a paycheck. As I’ve pointed out before, doing a show is always hard work. It’s hard work we often love doing, but it’s still hard work. Hard work is always deserving of reward, and every person I know who’s been paid did that work.

But with rare exception, so does everyone else in the cast of the exact same show. It’s incredibly difficult not to take selective payment practices within a cast as an implicit indictment by the theatre of one’s worth as a performer. No one likes to feel de-valued.

What does that do to cast bonding?

I’ve actually never experienced a problem in that arena, but as I said, I’ve never held hard feelings toward my fellow cast members because they were or weren’t pulling a paycheck. And honestly, it’s hard to do a show, to really engage in the work of doing a show, if you’re putting up walls between yourself and cast members. Some casts bond better than others, but I’ve never noticed a paywall, as it were.

Will it mean some performers won’t audition for shows if they’re not going to get compensated in some way?

I can confirm at least anecdotally that this is the case. As I said near the top, Venice’s policy as regards payment has been an open secret among a lot of theatre folks for years. I know of several instances where folks refused to accept roles without compensation. I know people who have walked into auditions explicitly requiring payment in the case that they’re cast. I know people who don’t audition because they assume Venice will just be bringing in paid ringers for X show, anyway, so why bother auditioning?

What talent will we be missing?

From the responses in the article, the argument of Venice and — to my surprise — Sarasota appears to be that we’re missing out on the talent if theatres don’t pay.

I do know a few working performers who actively suggest Venice as a venue from which other working performers should seek employment. I know some directors who, likewise, walk into auditions with the mindset that they can hire in for X roles in a show if they aren’t satisfied with the volunteers who show up to audition. That and the response to the previous question may or may not point to missing talent in the volunteer pool depending your own point of view on the matter.

*****

In the end, mileage on all of this is going to vary. No one wants to put on a horrible show. If that costs a little extra money, maybe that’s the price of admission (and, hey, if you can defer the cost of your avocation, most folks aren’t inclined to say no). On the other hand, every dollar spent bringing in a paid performer to fill a perceived shortcoming in the volunteer talent pool is a dollar that can’t be spent expanding volunteer outreach and visibility, which may in itself mean a smaller available volunteer talent pool, and then we’re heading into Ouroboros territory.

Multiple Homicide Cake Is Everyone’s Right

For Valentine’s Day, Kansas lawmakers decided candy hearts weren’t enough, so they’re pushing for a whopping big anti-gay bill instead:

Any government employee is given explicit permission to discriminate against gay couples—not just county clerks and DMV employees, but literally anyone who works for the state of Kansas. If a gay couple calls the police, an officer may refuse to help them if interacting with a gay couple violates his religious principles. State hospitals can turn away gay couples at the door and deny them treatment with impunity. Gay couples can be banned from public parks, public pools, anything that operates under the aegis of the Kansas state government.

They’re protecting our sacred religious rights, you see. Helping to maintain Important Community Values. In Kansas, apparently, the most egregious threat to life itself is The Gay. I mean, I assume that, since this law does nothing to give religious folks the right to refuse services to, for example, convicted felons. Because, look, murder and rape are no reason to judge a person. They’re certainly not nearly as dangerous to society as two men kissing!

“Congratulations on your parole after serial rape” cake? Awesome sauce. “Congratulations on entering a mutually consensual, loving relationship” cake? Oh my god stop this before they assault the capital!

It’s sweet, really, the way Kansas lawmakers are working so hard to uphold solid community values and keep us all safe.

You know, I may be jumping to conclusions here, though. After all, looking at the wording in the official bill, we find it covers the “sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender” in regards to doing any of the following:

[...]provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement;
(b) solemnize any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement; or
(c) treat any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement as valid.

Man, you know, I don’t know why I was worried. This is totally a religious freedom issue, and Kansas is ready to take a bold stand.

So, when I decide to declare myself a Shaker, I won’t have to serve anyone with a wedding ring, or whom I suspect might be in a sexual relationship. My business will have so much more money, since I also won’t have to provide spousal benefits to any employees, because my religion is against all marriages!

Oh, and if I join a fundamentalist order of some other religions, I don’t even have to provide services to women, since my strongly held religious beliefs tell me that women shouldn’t be out in public interacting with men in the first place. Damn, Kansas, when you take a stand for religion, you go hard core.

What? It says any sincere religious belief regarding “sex and gender,” doesn’t it? You don’t want to trample on my hard-won religious freedoms in those areas, do you?

You know what, I don’t care if you haters do, because Kansas has my back.

Said Inigo Montoya to Vezzini

I live in an area which is fairly unique in the way its community theatres run. Shows are on 5 to 6 days a week, sometimes putting on shows twice in the same day. Production staff who work at the local Equity houses likewise direct and design for the community set. There’s a much closer amount of crossover than I’ve ever experienced, at least. Which may be why there’s so much tension around the word “professional” hereabouts.

There has semi-recently been the start of a discussion about what “community theatre” means, so to steer clear of that particular murk, I’m going to be talking about volunteer actors and paid actors. It’s a cleaner line to draw, especially as regards where this is all going.

Back on the professional front, however: yes, absolutely professionalism is not limited to paid professionals. Volunteer performers still need to have respect for one another, still have to take pride in what they’re doing. There are noses and grindstones which need introduction. Anyone who wants to have a six week picnic would, in all cases, do best to find something other than theatre–community or otherwise–upon which to spend time. So, yes, “professional isn’t just paid.”

It is, however, willfully wrong-headed to believe and expect that volunteer actors make their show decisions the same way as someone who pays his or her bills through acting gigs. Professional (as the -ism) is not the same thing as professional (as the job).

It is professional (as the -ism) to avoid responding to directors’ casting rejections as insults. Rejection in this context isn’t personal: they don’t hate us, they just feel the show they want to make would benefit from a different choice. That’s the job. It’s not the director’s job to make everyone happy.

Mind you, it is only fair for directors to accept that the reverse is true: the responsibility of a volunteer performer is to choose shows and roles he or she finds fulfilling. It is not the onus of any given volunteer to ensure a director gets the cast he or she prefers. That’s not personal, either, and a volunteer’s choices are not stupid or wrongheaded just because they hamper a director’s desires. Nor, more importantly to my point, are those decisions necessarily going to align with the expectations of a professional (as the job).

It is professional (as the job) to accept good, paying gigs when they’re available, because this is one’s career. There are career path considerations to be made, of course: the prominence of the venue, of the role, of the production personnel, and a host of others I can’t begin to guess. But–again–you’re making them as part of the job.1

Volunteer actors don’t have to make those considerations. Or, at least, I don’t believe anyone should treat us as if we do. We are professional (as the -ism), not professional (as the job). The ONLY payment a volunteer actor receives are those ephemeral whatsits which drives us to be in a show. For some people, that’s solely the camaraderie of having a communal experience. For others, it’s the last bow. Or it’s the cathartic release of harsh emotions in a drama, the air of lightness and laughter from a wonderful comedic turn, the giddy moment when you hit that money note and everyone is listening. And any one of those things might simultaneously be something another volunteer actor wants to actively avoid.

I’m missing about as many reasons as there are people, as well as their various combinations, but the point is: our individual, ephemeral reasons are the sum total of our compensation. They are, without qualification, our reasons for being here. And because that is what we’ve decided we’re after (for whatever value of “that” we personally choose), because we have eschewed traditional payment or career pursuit but are nonetheless still here, the choices of professional (as the -ism) volunteers cannot and should not be judged using the same measures and gauges as one uses for professional (as the job) performers.

It’s all well and good to play this game of qualitative comparison between community and professional (as the job) theatre, but I think the real fracture between folks from one world and another is a far more fundamental paradigm shift. Comparing the choices of a volunteer performer to those of a working actor is comparing apples to Martian plutonium, folks.

“That’s the lead,” “That’s a big role,” “That’s a huge opportunity,” are the kinds of things you say to someone trying to make a living as an actor. They’re the kinds of things which should always hold influence in that context. But for volunteers, if that lead happens to be comedy relief when our personal pay scale requires drama, if it’s something we’ve done a hundred times before when our bottom line needs variety, outside our comfort zone when we act for comfort, if it’s older or younger than we want to feel, if it’s too many costume changes, not enough costume changes, difficult or easy music … for whatever reason it doesn’t trip our triggers, it doesn’t matter how “big” a role is, how “brilliant” the show is. It won’t be enough. It is impossible to pay us enough to do it because we aren’t getting paid money.2

Put in another context, I don’t often hear anyone clamoring that folks are uppity for not auditioning for a given show in the first place (my own heckling notwithstanding). Those just aren’t our shows, and that’s okay.

How is that qualitatively different from thinking that bloke in the corner who has one brilliant-but-short moment is more interesting than the whiny lead role whose actor gets the last bow?

So, yeah. It would be ever so lovely if we could start parsing our professional definitions for context. For some of us, it’s not a job. And there’s nothing wrong with that if only because, if it was a job for all of us, the community theatre personnel would be out of theirs.

1. None of this is meant to minimize a paid actor’s love of theatre, or the existence of dream roles and beloved shows. My point is, however, that a true, working actor can rarely ever make decisions without also taking far more concrete concerns into account.[back]
2. There’s a clear exception to be made for those folks — and there are more than a few in the area — who mix volunteer and paid gigs. I drew that very thick line between paycheck and no paycheck for a reason, though. Even those people will only volunteer for shows and roles which meet their volunteer pay scale. That they have a second job as an intermittent paid performer doesn’t negate the point here; rather, it makes it. You have to put them in another category of performer to get them into something that doesn’t meet their volunteer needs.[back]

Who Drood It?: Posterized

Yes, I disappeared. I don’t know how widespread the term “Hell Week” is when discussing the week and change leading up to a show opening, but, well … yeah. That’s where I’ve been. I did, however, manage to put together all those D(r)oodles I’ve been doing and take another crack at some marketing materials. Wonkery to follow, but pictures first (click each for zoomy biggerness).

I tried a horizontal layout (around legal paper size) first, as I wanted everyone more or less on the same level:

Then, because normal paper is easier to print on, I tried vertical:

I started with the scanned sketches, pulling them all into a layered document and shuffling them around until I had two groups of four that I thought fit well together. I wanted to make sure I got everyone’s face and his or her “weapon of choice” visible. I used masks to chip away elements that other characters would cover without losing my lines if I changed my mind (which I did several times). That also helped when I switched layouts, since Drood covered different bits then.

Durdles was originally meant for the right side group, but I realized when I started piecing things together in the mockup that he and Princess Puffer had almost identical body lines, which looked repetitive in that context. One of them was going to have to move. I needed/ wanted to keep Puffer’s knife sheathe exposed, since I feel that’s what gives her weapon character beyond “pointy stabby.” It was easiest, then, to flip Durdles, since his raised shovel made it a lot easier to slot him in behind the other characters without losing him and his. Bonus points for their mirrored body lines providing a bit of a frame for Drood.

Since I knew I wanted multiple layouts, but that the groups of four would be the same either way, I made three documents for inking: the left group, the right group, and Drood on his own. Then I pulled those into Manga Studio to have another crack at vector inking. I think I’m getting a better handle on some workflow, though I’m still not sure on line weights. The thick lines seem heavy handed, but thinner ones have a tendency to disappear when I go light on the pressure for variance. Learning curve and all that, I suppose. Still, for the most part I think things cleaned up reasonably well.

The inks got exported back to raster for compositing, where I scaled things around, then did some text skewing and reshaping until I liked something for a logo. Then I added a sepia toned layer on top in burn / color burn, eh voila: Victorian postery stuffs.