Friday, February 27, 2004

Academy Awards
Drama! Performances! Gaming! Spectacle! Competition! The Academy Awards have it all. What's your favorite part of the drama of this year's show, or Academy Awards in general, or award shows in general? Or what fails to excite you about the drama of award shows? How would you compare the Academy Awards to the Superbowl? Who gives the best performance at this year's show? How or why is it that we turn acting into a competition with other actors? How would you characterize the "game" of the Awards show? How do you win or lose, what strategies do people employ, who are the players? What is the proper "script" for the acceptance speech, or are there multiple scripts? Look at of these amazing questions we can ask about the Academy Awards.... post your thoughts before, after or even during the event! GO PETER JACKSON! GO JOHNNY DEPP! boooooooooo Renee Zellweger..................

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Mafia as Performance
Okay, mafia members. angels, and villagers-- time to report on the spectacular highlights and disastrous low points of your performances in our game. Please answer the following questions in the comments.
1) What was your officially assigned role?
2) Did you perform any roles in addition to that role? (e.g., you were Mafia and pretended to be a villager, or you were a villager and pretended to be an angel) If so, why? What was your strategy?
3) Describe your performance(s). Use theatrical terms if helpful.
4) How successful would rate your performance(s)? What would you change about your performance strategies in future games?
5) I'm interesting in thinking about similarities between dramatic scripts and rules for games. How much did you "stick to the script" of Mafia? In what ways did you diverge from "the script"? (Interpret "the script" however you want. This is a very open-ended question, and everyone might have a different idea of what the script for Mafia is.)

Also, Chris would you to interview some of you more in-depth about your experience in this game and other Mafia games you may have played in the past. If you're up for some class participation extra credit (a great idea for those of you with lots of smart things to say but who tend to be quiet in class!), give Chris a shout-out here so he can contact you with the details.

Araynfest described as "Rennaissance Fair Gone Over to the Dark Side"...
A New Times article (no registration required) describes a disturbing, but fascinating, event called Aryanfest 2004. From the article:

"The atmosphere inside Aryanfest was that of a Renaissance Fair gone over to the dark side, with "Heils" in place of "Huzzahs." Costumed attendees wore Iron Cross medallions and black bomber jackets emblazoned with swastika patches instead of studded leather armor and princess dresses. A Nazi memorabilia dealer hawked SS patches and framed photographs of Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and Rudolph Hess in the parking lot. Next to the stage was a picnic pagoda, serving as the Aryanfest day-care center, where little white children in skinhead clothes colored in white power coloring books. Directly next door to the pagoda was a tattoo booth, where the incessant high-pitched buzz of a tattoo gun sounded from behind a blue tarp curtain."

Clearly, these white supremacists came "to play", with picnics, rock bands, and other assorted festivities. The article also suggests a strategic dramaturgy behind the event's production. How, and to what ends do you think this group is using play and performance? How do other social or political groups use play and performance to their benefit?
Shakespeare on Ice
In a Slate article, (no registration required), a theater critic reports on a production of Macbeth in the indigenous Scandinavian language of the Sami, and staged at an ice hotel in Sweden. The critic describes:

"The blue light shifted to white as the witches appeared in stiff skirts of felt woven to resemble frost rime or spider webs. Terrifying. It didn't matter that the well-known words were absent; the fact that the witches spoke another tongue heightened their strangeness. That and the sight of vapor issuing from their mouths as they hissed. This was a shortened version of the play: two acts of about half an hour each with a 20-minute intermission to warm up.

By the end of Part 1, my toes and fingers were numb, but I was riveted. Somehow this production was the most Shakespearean of any Macbeth I'd ever seen. The bitter cold had something to do with it. England was a snowier country in the 1600s. Flaming torches and thick furs would have been common onstage and off.

The male actors in their rough but cunningly designed garments of fur and skin, with bone and iron ornaments, moved around the stage with heavy grace, while Lady Macbeth, a sexy beast of a woman with a long mass of dark curls, wore a red leather bodice in the first act. The icy steam coming from her red lips seemed, again, perfectly and scarily appropriate."

This production is just one example of the powerful effects of context, whether it is the setting or the language, on dramatic interpretation. Have you ever experienced a performance that made use of the setting or environment to create a dramatic effect? What about someone who adapted a work to a new language to great dramatic effect?

Comments also welcome on the Ice House as a work of art. Could we think about the Ice House as not just an art object, but also as a performance of some kind? How so, and what kind of performance? What would we gain by thinking about it as performance?

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

First formal writing assignment... questions? Problems? Rants?
Hey everyone-- just wanted to open up a space for questions, problems, or rants related to the upcoming first formal writing assignment due next Wednesday. Good luck-- I'm really looking forward to reading them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

A different kind of performance
New sports/music reality tv show: Sports Idol. Sounds crazy. Read the full details in this call for contestants... definitely a different kind of performance going on in this show than its reality brethren.

ALSO: How do you "squeeze the last drop of performance" out of exhausted, starving soldiers in the theater of war? Wired covers performance-improving strategies by the military. Similar to the local scandal over borderline-legal performance-enhancing drugs... what connections do you see between these kinds of performances and, say, the cinematic performances over which A.O. Scott rhapsodizes? (see two posts down)

Saturday, February 14, 2004

If I were doing a research project on The Cryptogram...
I would center it around the epigraph to the play's printed edition: "Last night when you were all in bed/Mrs. O'Leary left a lantern in her shed" ... who is Mrs. O'Leary, why does the play text begin with this ominous (if you know the origins) couplet, and what might it reveal about Mamet as a playwright, or The Cryptogram itself? Think of "The Wind Chill Factor" when you read the following explanation of the O'Leary legend, vz.a.vs. the night Chicago burned:

"In any case, the more intriguing issue is not the unresolvable one of whether the legend has any basis in fact, but why it has had so much continuing interest, why to the present day the story of Mrs. O'Leary's cow is above all others the one "fact" that almost everyone near and far recalls about the Great Fire, and, for that matter, about the history of Chicago. The O'Leary story, true or not, has had such appeal because it offers a clear and specific cause for this otherwise overwhelming event, an imaginative handle by which people can take hold of it. Regardless of the inconclusiveness of the official investigation, at the time it also enabled people to blame someone in particular for what was a matter of collective responsibility and misfortune. "


The New Golden Age of Acting?
Film critic A.O. Scott (one of my favorites) makes a bold claim: Sean Penn's role in Mystic River and Charlize Theron's in Monster are "the most dramatic evidence" (interesting use of the term 'dramatic') of a new golden age of performance on screen. Check out the article-- interesting arguments about changes in what has been valued in acting on screen over the decades, and what we want from actors' performances today.

What do you want from dramatic performances on the big screen screen? Is it different for male actors vs. female actors? Is it different on the big screen vs. the small screen vs. off-screen?

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Barbie and Ken split
Okay, I have to post this AP story in its entirety (don't sue me, AP). Any connections to the "real life" game review we read earlier this week? What do you think is the purpose, or effectiveness, of writing this "real" press release about a couple of dolls? Why is the real media playing along? Plastic drama, anyone?

"Feb. 12, 2004 | NEW YORK (AP) -- Just like J.Lo and Ben, the romance is over for Barbie and Ken.

After 43 years as one of the world's prettiest pairs, the perfect plastic couple is breaking up. The couple's "business manager," Russell Arons, vice president of marketing at Mattel, said that Barbie and Ken "feel it's time to spend some quality time -- apart."

"Like other celebrity couples, their Hollywood romance has come to an end," said Arons, who quickly added that the duo "will remain friends."

Arons denied that there was any truth to rumors that the breakup was linked to the Cali (as in California) Girl Barbie, arriving in stores now. To better reflect her single status, Cali Barbie will wear board shorts and a bikini top, metal hoop earrings, and have a deeper tan.

This new style already has attracted a new admirer, Blaine the Australian boogie boarder.

Barbie -- the most popular fashion doll in the world, according to toy maker Mattel -- met Ken on the set of a TV commercial in 1961, and they have been inseparable ever since.

Arons hinted Wednesday that the separation may be partially due to Ken's reluctance to getting married. All those bridal Barbie dolls in toy chests around the globe are really just examples of Barbie's wishful thinking, he explained.

Another possible factor is Barbie's career. The doll who was "born" Barbie Millicent Roberts in 1959 has been everything from a rock star to military medic, and she's currently marketed in more than 150 countries. According to Mattel, every second, three Barbie dolls are sold somewhere in the world.

So where does that leave Ken? Said Arons: "He will head for other waves."

Monday, February 09, 2004

Dramatic love stories... performing your patriotic duty (in bed)...
NY Times has a fascinating article on current efforts by various government PR teams in Singapore to encourage more dating, romance, marriage and sex among the 20-somethings in their country. Apparently, the birth rate in Singapore is too low to sustain the population, and the government blames lack of interest in dating and poor skills in the "game of love." The article caught my eye not only because (warning: random personal aside) I was just invited to give a talk in Singapore this June (yay!), but also for the way it demonstrates how a statistical problem like birth rates and population decline can be dramatized and made personal. It also represents a funny (but not unusual?) way of thinking about relationships and love as play and gaming. For instance, consider the following government-approved dating advice:

"Great Expectations: Exercise 'expectation management' in all first date meetings! The rule of engagement in this game is to nullify all lofty matrimonial ideals. . . 'Getting to-know-you' is the name of the game at this juncture, and nothing more."

ANOTHER DRAMATIC LOVE STORY: Also, consider this advice column, in which the person seeking advice laments: "Sometimes we'll be lying together late at night, and I get this frustrating sense of aloneness. That there's a whole entire person and mind next to me, yet all I can sense in the end is me. Like she's a character in my drama, not that we're acting this out together."

AND FINALLY: Will love toys help sell more XBoxes? Wired looks at oversized pillows imprinted with sexy game characters as a marketing tool.

Since Valentine's Day is coming up, this seems like a great time to look at romance and dating as play and performance. Feel free to comment here on the NY Times article, or any aspect of how drama, games, everday roles, etc. influence dating in contemporary society.
New games for pens and pencils (and goggles? erasers? farm animals? big bouncy things?)...
Okay, spontaneous game designers. Please post a brief description of your game (what gets done by who to what end, just so we get the basic idea of how to play it), and then list each element you've included in your customized game definition, with a sentence or two about how your game embodies each element. Please remember to list your group letter! Everybody, be sure to read each others' games, so that if any of them are coherent enough (I hope!) to play in class, we can.
***And thanks everyone for your enthusiastic and creative effort in class today-- it was very interesting to hear your plotting and brainstorming in process. Good work.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Surveillance Camera Players
In our reading on performance in everyday life last week, Schechner suggested that the increase in surveillance cameras creates more opportunity for unintentional performance, or behavior that might be analyzed "as performance." But is there "is performance" for surveillance cameras? Check out these scripts for surveillance camera theater by the Surveillance Camera Players.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

What works for me
Here's my best secret for writing papers and articles: I always lead off with a story or anecdote or provocative detail. I pick something very specific and juicy, and then I write it up as succintly and dramatically as I can. I usually do this very early on in the research/writing process; it structures my thinking and gives me a frame for all of the rest of the work I need to do. I let the story lead me. I always pick my juicy anecdote or detail before I figure out what my thesis is going to be and use the process of writing the anecdote to help me figure out what my central question and arguments are. I let the evidence tell the story; I don't start with a point of view or goal. I start with what captured my imagination. I find this to be more persuasive and more interesting to the reader, the more specific and detailed the better, and if I can't think of a specific, detailed, juicy example or anecdote, I know my topic is a bust.
You guys have plenty to read, but I think that examples help, so here are two of my most successful articles. I think they've been well received in large part because of the way they start: in one case, it's a personal anecdote ("One day I screwed up a public lecture and accidentally said something brilliant in the process"; in the other case, it's a third-person juicy example over a larger phenomenon ("a bunch of online gamers decided they could solve 9/11 by treating it like a game"). They're different in a lot of ways, but similar in that they dramatize the research topic and ground the paper in a specific, interesting example THAT IS FULL OF DETAIL. If you want to check them out, I recommend reading just the introduction (first page or so) of each to get a sense of what I mean by leading off with a juicy anecdote or example.
The third-person juicy example introduction
The personal ancedote introduction
How could a juicy anecdote help your research project? I want to know hear you excited about some detail you've dug up. Work on this; we'll be discussing in class soon.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Friday blog challenge
By 5 PM Friday, please post your response to the following challenge in the comments section.
Thinking ahead to your own research project, please identify a specific play-and-performance related topic that you potentially could focus your research project around. (You can change your mind later, of course.) Some great examples that have come up in our idea parties include dramatic media coverage of mad cow disease, actor and non-actor performances in _Lost in Translation_, player performance in Mafia the game, the dramatic structure and reception of co-op murals, and Mike Tyson's athletic performance vs. his celebrity persona performance. (If those were your ideas and you've since changed your mind, no worries!, just tell us your new one...) ***Please be sure when you phrase your topic that it has a clearly stated relevance to the themes of the course: drama, theater, play, games, and/or performance.*** If you have absolutely no idea what your research project will focus on yet, feel free to pick any drama/play/performance-related topic to practice with in the meantime.
After you have stated your topic (one sentence will suffice), please list and describe at least 5 specific potential "primary objects" that you could find or create to help you research the topic. When it comes time to write your paper, you might only use one or two primary objects, but for now it will help to have many ideas. This may require you to think quite creatively; see the "Challenges of Researching Performance and Play" handout for ideas. Please make your response as specific to your topic as you can. (If you just barely rephrase or repeat what the handout says verbatim, the blog monster will get you.)
If you have other ideas or questions about your research topic that fall outside this particular challenge, please feel free to add them at the end of your comment!
Good luck!

Monday, February 02, 2004

The most convincing performance award
Okay, guys: Time to vie for the Most Convincing Performance Award. Here's how to compete: Add a comment to this blog post (any time between now and Monday!) with as vivid a description as you can of your "dramaturgical strategies" for a particular (real life) role that you have played in recent weeks. From costume to props to gesture to set to choreography to narrative to dialogue to .... (what other dramaturgical strategies can you think of?)... tell us how you put on your most convincing performance. This title is at least prestigious as Thunderstorm Champion, so put your game face on and tell us how you perform -- as pretty boy, angry ex-girlfriend, enthusiastic student, good son, or ...? -- in everyday life. Remember, to win the Most Convicing Performance Award, you have to tell us not only what the role is, but also all of the unique performance elements that make up the part. If the competition is strong enough, I'll even throw my own entry into the mix...
A dramatic exit in a real-life tragedy
There is a very interesting article in New York magazine this week about the disappearance (and suspected suicide) of New York actor Spaulding Gray, who was a lifelong friend and frequent collaborator with Richard Schechner. (There's even a picture of Spaudling in the Schechner article you read for today.) The article tells the story of Spaulding's spiral downward into depression and eventual disappearance as if it were a "drama", using terms like "...but his family followed the script" or "He wasn't just 'being dramatic'." Also, just before he disappeared, Spaulding saw the film _Big Fish_, and the article speculates as to the impact the film may have had on his decision to disappear (or commit suicide). It's a serious article and a serious issue, and not something to trivialize by studying it as drama... but I think there may be a lot to learn from, and say about, the story as it is told in this New York magazine article, in relationship to the Mamet and Schechner reading we have been doing.... just so many intersections and overlap of the ideas and people and perspectives. Your comments and thoughts on the story are welcome!
Wind chill, meet Puxtatawney Phil...
It's February 2, and that means... it's Groundhog Day! (I know at least 50% of you are hearing the radio announcer's voice from the Bill Murray movie as you read that, right?) Here's a basic rundown on what happened when the Groundhog went out to look for his shadow this morning. Bad news for people who don't live in California, where there is no winter... looks like there will be six more weeks of cold miserable weather, because Phil "saw his shadow" (whatever that means; kinda hard to tell, don't you think?) According to the story:

"The prediction drew boos from thousands who gathered in 17-degree weather to witness the 118th annual weather prediction.

The spirited crowd, some clad in furry groundhog hats or even full-length costumes, chanted 'Phil! Phil! Phil!' after fireworks and a long night of rock music drew to an end and the hour of the ceremony neared."

After our Mamet reading on the Wind Chill Factor, I am sure that you guys have some interesting things to say about the drama and spectacle of Groundhog day!

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