Thoughts on Theatrical Jenga

Jenga 3Happy New Year everyone!

I hope you are all well and taking the opportunity for the next calendar year to accomplish a new and established set of goals and achievements. Of course, time is a human construct and you can make goals at any time, but it’s always a nice marker to play by.

It’s been strange, but I haven’t had the clarity that I had of last year in terms of my creative work. I had a plan of some sort and I draw out scenes, acts, characters and tropes by simple sentence synopses. I still write longhand in notebooks and manage to get through so many in the process (I have abnormally large handwriting, as some of you will know). I usually have a notebook for one or two plays specifically (originally called “play books”), where I will dedicate its entirety to ideas, scenes and timelines.

However, I’m becoming increasingly scatterbrained, which I hoped last year wouldn’t happen. It’s nice when ideas come, but they shatter the illusion of confidence (that I know what I’m doing, where this is going, that it feels consistent-ish to the characters and their intent) and the play becomes unrecognisable. It happened to Cuckoos and Chrysalids, it happened to Newshound and I’m a little scared that I don’t take the transitions as well as I had hoped. I often chop and change my writing projects and it isn’t as fun as I thought.

The theatrical Jenga of the title though, is from what I’m “researching” for my critical work. Theatre has been seen as notoriously hard to create a world only for it then to be disrupted later in a way that the audience can identify and run with as soon as the piece has been taken away and the structure compromised. Would we be able to see the piece from all angles? Do we have to wait for someone to gasp and cry “Oh no! The puzzle has collapsed!” or the equivalent in SF pulp literature? I’ve been looking at it, however, through the anthropological theories of Tim Ingold’s taskscape and how patterns of behaviour can build up this picture, punctuated by the dialogue.

I’m working on a few creative projects at the moment – but these descriptions are going to be incredibly vague. One play is about a character who is unable to focus on the present moment, instead dwelling around past and future, unable to see how people have changed around her (it’s to do with memory development and enzyme reactions). Another is dealing with virtual representation, mass hive-mind juries and A/B testing. Another is to do with the transition between mind transfer and living in another skin, monologue style (which I’m hoping to structure in a similar way to the amazing production of There has been an Incident).

It’s taking me longer than expected to hone these theatrical sculptures, but it could be a good sign. I feel that I’m taking more risks with the writing I’m producing, which can only be a good thing at this stage.

It’s that time again…

So it’s nearing the end of 2013 – a fast year in many respects! It feels like it’s been an eventful year for me (of course, that’s subjective) but I feel that I’ve learnt a lot – and through doing that opens up another network of chambers to explore. Highs and lows, definitely.

The overriding theme of the year is that I feel that I’ve gained confidence in a lot of things – not nearly as confident as I’d like (huh) – but it’s gotten there. I’ve taken on things that I wouldn’t have thought myself capable of doing this year and have benefited from doing so. I can’t believe I gave a talk at my first conference that happened to be about my supervisor, for one! I also managed to give creative writing workshops on Science Fiction to 14+ pupils, which I never thought I’d be able to do previously. I also tried my hand at directing too for the very first time and have gained some more experience since then. And a play! I’m so glad I had a chance to act in something I’d written that wasn’t a monologue or poem! That will be up on Youtube soon enough.

I have realised, though, that I’ve found it increasingly harder to stay on one particular piece to the end. I’m not quite sure what that is – I feel now that I try to wrap too many concepts up in one package, which makes the project harder to steer. Back to the drawing board, make clearer plans – and well, bloody get on with it, I presume!

Wish you all the best of health, happiness and success – hope you have a great time in 2014! x

A quick Fiction Friday!

Hi everyone! Just a quick Fiction Friday here to let you into my Youtube Channel *gasp!* Yes, I do have one, which I’m not sure is a pre-requisite now for Google Plus users (although I’m still ignorant as to the whole circles concept). Anyhow, I have uploaded some videos on there such as snippets of my plays and so forth. A bit bare, but I’m working on it!

Let me know what you think!

My Youtube Channel

NB: I’ve also added a post on Newshound along with the uploaded video!

Gravity – a review

What is this? You may ask (Fortasse requiris – sorry, that structure always reminds me of Catullus). She’s reviewing film!? Yes, yes I am. Because I can and because it’s a set up that would work very well in a theatrical sense.

It would be foolish of me to say that the following sentence contains spoilers – the visuals are *stunning*. That goes without saying – the amount of work and the size of the team working their technical wizardry has paid off. It basically has to be seen in 3D. Mindboggling. The variety of long shot and close-up to contrast between the sublime and the claustrophobic are really done masterfully here.  I could basically look at that for hours, without any plot. This leads me neatly to my next point.

The set up is rather absurdist. Not absurdist in the “Haha! That’s absurd!” sense, but in the Beckettian notion of shouting into the void (quite apt in the realms of space). Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and their crew are attacked by debris caused by a satellite explosion, which causes a chain reaction of chaos, confusion and a chain of incredibly bad luck as they try to find their way to each other. Ultimately though, it’s about Sandra Bullock’s story of survival and her means to overcome the losses that she has experienced on Earth. There are no aliens, no monsters (except in our own heads), no other civilisations – we are the only ones kicking in this universe. The overriding message is: there’s nothing to see here, folks, so enjoy the view.

There is an extended metaphor of birthing, which isn’t new when it comes to art dealing with the representation of space. Think of the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, for example. I also dealt with this Russian Doll effect in Cuckoos and Chrysalids (although it’s about how people will use technology to privatise and conquer both spaces – the womb and space itself). It’s very apparent in one scene whereby Sandra Bullock floats in a fetal position, having escaped near death by another debris shower, enjoying what peace she has (unsurprisingly, it’s short lived). It’s tense, repetitive and ultimately meaningless, but it’s her story that gives it meaning. There is a scene where she shouts to the radio, where the crew replies in Chinese. She sings along with them, enjoying this connection that transcends the language barrier; only to find out that they’re singing to a child and not to her. There is a spiritual essence in the strength of her character in the face of almost certain imminent death and no hope of rescue – her escape will ultimately be a re-birthing, to emerge from the void once more.

And yes, Gravity is sexist, quite strongly so. I do realise that Sandra Bullock is inexperienced in the mechanics of space flight and George Clooney is the veteran, but even when she’s a brilliant medical doctor, he advises her when her oxygen is low, to “breathe slowly. You’re inhaling CO2 now, which will make you feel dizzy”. Patronising much!? Even I could tell that! There even is a segment whereby Bullock mentions on several occasions that she never manages to park correctly on the simulator, and has to rely on the instruction manual. Really? Really, guys? A lot of screen time is also taken up by her being tethered around by Clooney, who flirts with her rather oddly, but hey – it’s George Clooney. And Bechdel Test!? What Bechdel Test?

I’m not going to say much, because I can’t really without giving the ending away (I could tell you the whole plot in a sentence without leaving much out) that in terms of visuals –  it’s an absolutely stunning experience. I saw this film with a friend whose background is in Artificial Intelligences and Physics and he is basically the most intelligent person I know – when he says it’s pretty much accurate apart from a few issues here and there, I’m inclined to believe him.

On Strong Characters/Characterisation

What sometimes bugs me is how this term is used. Strong characters – are they ones who are dominant, in charge of the situation? The ones who have the most presence or even more superficially, the most lines?

I disagree (did you see that coming?). In my opinion, strong characters or what I prefer to say strong characterisation, is a character that has strong AND weak moments in the situations they find themselves in. The oscillation between the two merely highlight the peaks and troughs of the situation. It can help us to understand the character more and therefore the presence of him/her/it/them/et al resonates more strongly. That for me is a strong character. Regardless of who they are and what they are. 

No situation (in my opinion) should be totally in favour of one side (unless maybe you’re going in for that strong didactic flavour), and most often ones orchestrated that way leave the “strong characters” vulnerable from themselves, from being in that position. 

(P.S  you know when a repeated phrase loses meaning after exhausting it in writing and speech? Strong character – what does that mean? Haha!)

Writing news!

 

So, on the 1st November I performed Object Meet Subject as part of a collaboration with Lucy Harrison, a Composition PhD student, with the voice acting expertise of Helen Durnell. It’s been years since I’ve done anything off-book and performing to a recording was like doing a sprint without doing a warm up. Really enjoyed it and I think it went well! I’ve written about it here and as an added bonus, you can see the video clip of me performing it!

Object, Meet Subject

In other news, Newshound has been in rehearsal, which I’m really excited about – it’s the first play I’ve done which has quite a lot of movement so it’s been really interesting interpretation in practice! It will be staged on the 10th November at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre!

I’m also giving a talk on SF Theatre for RHUL on the 8th November, making a case for why it should be staged, why it should be presented and why it should be recognised. I’m also going to be talking about how it’s informed my creative work and rehearsal process. 

The day after, 11th November, I will be reading as part of the Purpureus Writers with Liza Klaussman (writer of Tigers in Red Weather). The reading is most likely going to be The Russian Doll Case, and if you’ve read it you will know what a challenge it will be to perform!

In other news, here’s my review of Override, a play by Stacey Gregg at Amazing Stories!

http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2013/11/theatre-review-override-stacey-gregg/

 

Sonic the Texthog

So, in a long history of the franchise – Sonic 1 coming out in 1991, I believe – we have yet another offering to its legacy – Sonic Lost Worlds, which some of you may be trying out today. It’s spawned so much outside of the games as well; we’ve seen plushies, gamebooks, comics (yes, I used to read STC as a kid), TV shows and so on. What I’d like to get at the heart of is what Sonic is truly about.

Sonic from the beginning

Like most franchises, there is an illustrious, ambiguous and most often many contradictory accounts to the characters’ conception (just have a look at Hyrule Historia – nuts!). Sonic is no exception. I’m going to be a little technical [read: not] about Sonic’s history as it’s the particular one I read as a child.

Robotnik/Eggman/whatever was initially written as a peaceful character; with the rather original name Kintobor (yes, it is Robotnik backwards). His affinity for using animals as tools is shown right off the bat; with an underground laboratory in Mobius, he tends to “upgrade” animals for his own bidding; but in this way, for good. His main aim is to neutralise “evil” on the planet Mobius (if it came in a physical form, who knew?) using the gold rings scattered around Mobius (so that’s why he’s collecting rings, right!?) to transfer this “commodity” into receptacles he coins as the Chaos Emeralds in the ROCC machine (Retro-Orbital Chaos Compressor). I only studied Chemistry to GCSE, but I know the carbon structures of diamonds are understandably tight, given the pressure needed for this transformation. Not so sure about emeralds, but that’s by the bye.

Where does Sonic come in, you ask? He tumbles into the laboratory, without his trademark blue colour and his red and white sneakers (I have to be American here) by chance and a relationship grows between him and the doctor. Using this highly specialised treadmill, he hits the speed limit, somehow altering his outward appearance, changing him cobalt blue. The sneakers, you’ll find, were given to him by the doctor so he could attain these insane speeds with minimum discomfort (look, this is fantasy, alright!?)

This is all in aid for the final emerald to be found (which, we later discover, is in the possession of Knuckles the Echidna on Floating Island) – the Grey Emerald. There are 7 altogether (lucky for some) and this is the elusive prize that Kintobor requests Sonic to procure.

Now, I’m not going to debate over whether he spilt soda or typed something wrong or tripped over  or he was preoccupied with a rotten egg (If only I were joking at this point), but let’s say the ROCC was unstable without this final piece to the puzzle and misfires, transforming Dr Kintobor into the abomination (in many ways) that Robotnik becomes. The chaos emeralds are scattered, Sonic is attacked by his newly birthed rival, and the rest is history.

As we know, Robotnik now enslaves animals to do his bidding, but in a different sense; they are now encased in robot suits to take down their fellow creature, Sonic. They also help him in Industrialising the level too; we see animals encased in moles with drills digging out cliff faces and mountains, installing all sorts of armaments. We see the skies ravaged by savage turtles (these always fascinated me, the robot offspring is the product of an encased animal, riding on its mechanised parent. Bizarre much?) and oceans of oil are protected by animals operating seahorses. What is interesting is why Robotnik created this hyperreal animal – a copy of a copy, but the true animal resides inside. This has chopped and changed due to the series, but the overriding design is that of an animal, like a deranged Kinder Surprise Egg. It’s surprising that he now has completely robotic cohorts to aid him, yet the animals are still used as a commodity or tool by him. I guess animal labour is cheaper, given of course the abundance of animals and the less cost-effective method of building the robots. I wonder if the animal actually has agency in the machines or that their brains are overriden. How much of themselves are compromised? It reminds me a little of the Secret Invasion storyline of Iron Man.

What we must realise is that Sonic as we know him is ultimately created by Robotnik. He has created his solution and ultimately, his own problem. In fact, I remember in Mario Galaxy, that Bowser actually mentions to Mario that he’s glad to have found a rival who has equalled him. Is that what this is all about? Does Robotnik ever wonder, if this little band that has escaped being imprisoned mechanically (one that is ever increasing – where do they come from) became mechanised or destroyed, that he would have nothing to do? He ultimately has Mobius under his control if not for this spiked crusader, but that clearly isn’t enough for him.

Obviously that has changed now, once he has for some reason enlisted this nasty team of what I can only describe as demons, to do his bidding. We know his skills-as-Iago, having convinced Knuckles the Echidna that Sonic was the enemy to be destroyed – his karmic punishment afterwards is to be the perpetually poked figure of fun; seen as both dim and relentless. Poor chap. However, the power may change hands in Lost Worlds, as Robotnik has often succumbed to; watching Sonic and Knuckles – (whom he had physically and mentally changed) get their revenge. The Frankenstein argument is frequently referenced in the Sonic series – Shadow is created to be, as he believes, the Ultimate Life form (in the shape of a hedgehog no less) by Robotnik’s grandfather, Prof Gerald Robotnik (yes, I realise this makes no sense if we’re to believe Robotnik started out as Kintobor, but I didn’t write it, mmkay?)but this is implied to not be the case – he is merely a a step below the prototype of the Biolizard in Sonic Adventure 2. Shadow is often plagued with insecurity as to his destiny and purpose, and is of course not thrilled to believe he is in second place to this reptilian rival. Strangely enough, when the beast is awoken, the Dark and Hero sides team up to vanquish the foe.

Of course, there is an overriding theme of Man vs. Nature to further this relationship between the exploiting force and the exploited, how the animals rebel and rescue their captured friends.

There’s a rather tired feeling in his attitude in Lost Worlds which may address this continually – I know he’ll be looking at the Deadly 6 sideways, just waiting for the revolution to happen (as often we see his creations backfire or turn upon him; the slaves having power over their master rather than a means to an end) – but it’s done very humorously. If it’s one thing that this SEGA franchise does best, it’s comedy. I was laughing until I was crying last night watching this. It laughs at the loopholes and carries it all off with aplomb.

Yes, I always wanted to write about Sonic rather than just reviewing it as a game. If I had more time, I’d write a lot more I imagine.

Fiction Friday!

So, after what seems seconds, we suddenly shift into the cold/rainy season of Autumn/Fall. Another term of Uni starts and the reality starts to sink in like the elusive quagmire that is time/truth – that I have to submit a thesis.

However, I’d like to let you have a smidgeon of an inside scoop as to what I’ve been up to – it seems fair to let you know as I haven’t been as active as I was once on the blog!

As some of you know, I’m now a blogger at Amazing Stories http://www.amazingstories.mag (you can see my profile here http://amazingstoriesmag.com/authors/susan-grey/). My latest post investigates the nature of Science Theatre, and how its immense profile has left SF Theatre backstage. You can find it here – http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2013/10/science-stage-vs-science-fiction-theatre/.

I’m also going to be performing one of my monologues/one person show Object Meet Subject at the Creative Centre of Collaboration as part of a… collaboration with Lucy Harrison, a PhD student in Music Composition on the 1st November.

I’m also scratching one of my short plays, NewsHound, which deals with the pitfalls and upsides of social media at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre. I will give you more details on that when I can.

I recently had my first ever full length play read by KDC Theatre, Opening Pandora’s Box. It was great to revisit it and immerse myself in the context of when I wrote it, and how different I feel now. It’s only been 3 odd years since I started it but I feel like so much has happened since then! Thank you to the team; I look forward to revising it and experimenting with it! Plus, it’s nice to return to my comedy writing. A member of the group called it Pygmalion meets Blade Runner, which I must use for the strap line!

I also had my play Fishbowl read by the Otherworld Theatre Company in Chicago. Tiffany Keane, the artistic director, has given me some fantastic notes and I’ve been very eager to redraft this one (it’s been my favourite to write by far, actually!).

I’m also planning to have Terra Firma read by the end of the year, which I’m very excited about!

I will also be writing some reviews – I saw There has possibly been an Incident at the Soho, which was a stripped back, bare, brutal and thrilling performance – the monologues were so powerful and emotional. I also saw as part of the Ideal World Season Override, which was very interesting in the way the boundaries of identity, human augmentation and how consciousnesses are projected. Another one to review.

That’s it in a nutshell. I’m still waiting back for news from plays and am preparing for the Stage the Future conference with Christos Callow Jr. Will let you know more as soon as I can!

 

On Boredom

It may be strange to admit that boredom (the concept around the act of being bored) is a topic of fascination to me. Not so Heidegger-ish that I could write reams on it, but, it still interests me nonetheless.

It’s quite hard to put my finger on it – it’s a moment in time where we either can’t connect to the topic at hand or that we actually become exposed to actual “existence” as it were, not following what we believe to be at the time the orchestrations of life that’s going on around us; that we’re thrown out of the loop. Or is this ennui? It seems a much stronger term to me.

I’m inclined to agree with Schopenhauer on this; seeing boredom as a vanity trait in humans, one who have the privilege as it were to have the time and security to disconnect and find a dullness within existence. Of course it is not clean cut as this, but I think he was on to something there.

Don’t get me wrong, I have felt bored at times (obviously), but as I grow older it becomes much harder to bore me (I’m not taking that as a challenge!). It seems to be a complex condition (or maybe it isn’t so? I’m undecided). What interests me is the claim of people being “bored easily”. Does this mean they have a certain threshold that concepts or people must adhere to to capture their interest for a considerable amount of time or something else? Part of me thinks that it’s our response to our fast access to many sources of information, that our brains have developed to take in quick swipes of information. I can see positives and negatives in this.

Rambles on SF and Sense of Self

NB: This is a condensed version of what I scribbled at 6am this morning – I had these thoughts in my head and wouldn’t leave me alone. It’s like the mental version I’d imagine of having a small child when they classically jump up and down on the bed because they can’t sleep.

What arguably defines SF and Fantasy from other genres can be made on many levels – but one I will deal with here is the sense of self and the way in which the concept is presented. Arguably many genres are about human agency, characters that are shaped by what they do to others. Of course, this is a symbiotic relationship – reactions and actions are cycled in the background of many well known plots. Romance is often battling against obstacles to find “true love”, placing the power in the protagonist’s hands – often they don’t realise this at first, or most novels would indeed be flash fiction instead. Puzzles are pieced together internally and externally, but with the spotlight on the (usually) two characters. Crime and Thrillers thrive on us working out the puzzle – obstacles are placed in our way – an epistemological mode of fiction. SF, I argue, is an ontological form – one that deals with world view specifically in a way that other genres generally do not deal with (of course, genres are often blended, such as Romance and SF, Crime and SF, etc. and it’s fascinating to see how these modes can work with and against each other).

In other words, what is evident in a lot of SF texts is the distancing from the sense of self that other genres emphasise and highlight. Space is not just about outside of the Earth’s atmosphere – it’s about the sense of space inside us, between individuals, between groups, societies, singular and collective identities (as well as the ones our virtual spaces have increasingly encroached on our daily lives). It can often be seen as a metaphor of remoteness – those who close themselves up and ones who grasp for others. The sense of the alien can be a metaphor for the self/other, and how we can define ourselves in a species that for some time now has enjoyed the top seat of the food chain. To have species that rival us – often the Fermi Paradox is lifted and we become the magnet for extra-terrestrial life for artistic license, allows us to view humanity at a distance (I’m at once reminded of the convex/concave mirror that the narrator views the people with in HG Wells’ In the Days of the Comet – he is really fond of ants, isn’t he?). Of course, we have the infamous Solaris with the frustrations that humanity has to be unable to view things outside of our sphere without anthropomorphising everything – our filters of perception blocks out the fully realised idea of the world, let alone the ones outside of ours. The famous Moorcock quote – the only true alien planet is Earth – is an effective way of summing this up. The trope of Robots is similar but a little different – they are our timesaving devices, in effect our slaves, but by that reason alone our dependence on them makes them our eventual masters. Very often do you get a text with robots as the main trope as a warning!

For this reason and more, Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke is one of my favourite texts of all time. The introduction of the overlords and their eventual plans for humanity – the ending can really give you future shock – not only on the literal level, but of a metaphor of the next generation, our children, outliving us. They are our genetic saviours, a token of our own humanity and by extention, frailties. I’ve also been thinking, how The Tempest by Shakespeare is seen as an SF play – and that could be evident of the way humans are at the mercy of the supernatural (but then again, I thought, isn’t that the case with A Midsummer’s Night Dream?). It could be why SF and comedy are so compatible – seeing humanity from our distance and seeing our foibles from far away.

I’m reading Metzinger’s Being No-One and it’s really enlightening to me in the way representata are built collectively and experienced by us in such a heavily coded way – that the constructivist world view exposes the human self as an illusion in itself. It’s mind-blowing and well worth a read (I’m hardly finished, mind). I also love the fact that it comes with equations – I tried to formulate Possible World Equations earlier on this year to great amusement. I might leave it up to him.