Thursday, September 27, 2012

Kickstarting My Bro

Although my family looks bigger on paper - mostly because we're spread all over the continent - we're more a collective of sovereign nations than any sort of singular cohesive unit.

My mom lives in the San Francisco Bay area of California. Her family is split between there and SoCal with the exception of a couple of outlying cousins in the East. My father's contribution is out in Ontario, spanning decades within one generation as well as much of the East Coast of the US. My strata in the family spectrum is populated with several medical doctors, teachers ranging from pre-school to university level, engineers, architects... a great variety of careers and pursuits, all with a lot of education to rely on. And although he meets the criteria of higher education, my sole full-blooded sibling is out there treading the boards, living the dream, because, as much as I love the theatre, for him, the play really is the thing.

My brother is based in the heart of La-La Land, having spent three years completing a Master's degree in Fine Arts-Acting at the University of Southern California under the tutelage of the Scorpio Killer himself, Andrew Robinson, and in the company of ten of the finest up-and-coming performers in the industry

As you can read on his website (with lots of other information I recommend you check out): Arthur is an MFA actor currently living in Los Angeles who has worked at many of the premiere theatres across California. Mom is still stunned, I think, that this is the path he has chosen. Extremely proud. But stunned.

In his final year at USC, his classmates put together a Kickstarter campaign to fund their 3 Play Repertory project. Arthur asked that any funds earmarked for birthday/Christmas gifts be pledged to this project. I might've been the only person he asked this of but I did convince some friends to chip in too so it was, ultimately, an effective method of pitching the project. 

The campaign was successfully funded and, from all accounts, the class had a remarkable run of their repertory which included Ibsen's The Cherry Orchard where my baby brother who once looked like this: 

looked like this:

(He's the one in the brown shoes.)

And if that isn't impressive enough (I don't get to brag a lot about the sibling so I'm getting my fix in here) he has a couple of reels on his website. That's , folks. Visit it. "Like" or "+1" or "RT" it. Spread it around. And here, for your viewing pleasure is his acting reel. Somebody really needs to cast him in something (long-running) quick before Mom reconsiders her plan to export him to Asia-based friends and family to try his luck in another language. Which he'd have to learn. Phonetically. Unless it's French.

Demo Reel from Arthur Keng on Vimeo.

And did I mention that he can legally work in Canada AND the States? Hey, Sullivan and Son, over here!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Spoilt and Twisted

Threadless strikes again. There could be many versions of this shirt out there now but this one, ironically, follows the spoiler rules laid out by College Humor.

I'll admit that I am guilty of spoiling (although I have made serious strides to my efforts to not spoil stuff in recent years). I don't mean to spoil surprise endings for folks and I apologize if I've ever done it to you. It is not what I set out to do. I just like answering questions completely and, honestly, why would you ask a question if you DON'T want an accurate/complete answer?  Furthermore, I read a lot of stuff that gets turned into TV shows and movies so that I often know how it (should) end already. Personally, I like a twist ending, especially if it is elegantly executed, but if knowing the twist means that I lose all motivation to see the show, was the show really worth watching?

Of the movies (and one television show) covered by the Spoilt shirt, I haven't actually seen A Beautiful Mind or The Crying Game but knew the twists already. 

Of course, some of the best practical jokes are fake spoilers. Nathan Fillion is rumoured to have phoned his Firefly castmates, Jewel Staite and Morena Baccharin, after screening the final cut of Serenity with Whedon to let them know "In this version, you DIE!"

Anyone got a spoiler story to share? I think my worst transgression was calling up a Vancouver friend one Sunday morning from London, England to discuss the most recent Coronation Street stunner. That's the day I found out that Canada's CBC network runs "Corry" about six months in arrears. :( Sorry, Mary!

Just in case talking about spoilers get your proverbial knickers in a knot, I would love to hear people's reactions to favourite or infamous twist endings whether they are literary, motion picture... and let's not forget series finales... Sopranos, anyone? or St. Elsewhere? (Should've included St. Elsewhere in my crossovers post too... the scene at Cheers is the first time I ever considered sitcom characters in the context of a drama.) 

The ending of George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss is my most memorable text-based surprise ending. I was rushing to finish the book before my 2nd year English class, skimming the last twenty pages or so while sitting at the back of my Organic Chemistry lecture hall. As the final passages sank into my understanding, I uttered a mild expletive only to realize that the acoustics in the hall had amplified my phrase into one of those perfectly timed silences. Didn't pass that class in the end but I don't think the swearing had anything to do with it.

I'd also recommend the short shorts of Fredric Brown if you're looking for clever twists. I bought the collected works a couple of years ago and although some of the stories amount to detailed dirty jokes, I have found a number of them to be extremely useful in demonstrating irony, paradox, and juxtaposition to high school English students who don't exactly like to read. Brown, coincidentally, did not like to write which is why his shorts are SO short.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Vita Longissima Est

Be careful what you wish for. I shamelessly fished for comments on yesterday's post and then spent as much time, maybe more, reading and responding to your wonderful thoughts on sitcoms as I did on the post itself.

Let's keep the discourse rolling...

Once upon a time, I was a Fringe Fanatic. Not of the TV show or the fashion accessory. Fringe Festivals. Fringe THEATRE Festivals. It started as a fun summer volunteer activity when I was a teen in Saskatoon (where it happens in early August) but even after I moved to Vancouver for university, I sought out the tiny venues, the low-budget sets, the crazy creativity and crazed performers who travel coast to coast every summer hand billing potential audience members, billeting in local homes, launching into impromptu promotions on street corners to drum up that almighty "buzz".

The problem for me with the Vancouver Fringe Festival is that it occurs right when school starts in September.  Not as much a problem when I was a full-time undergrad student and could balance a skipped class against the awesomeness of an innovative live art performance. Way more of a problem now that I am the teacher. I have missed out on a lot of amazing shows in the past 5-8 years.

This August, one of my retired high school teachers from Saskatoon came through Vancouver en route to the antipodean continent, Australia (he's dropping in on NZ too, but I like using "antipodean" any chance I have and NZ isn't technically a continent in and of itself). We spent a few hours sightseeing and comparing notes on theatre, TV and movies. He had fringed it up in Saskatoon earlier that month and told me, in no uncertain terms, that if I was going to see ANY show at the Fringe, I had to see "Fishbowl"

Yes, sir.

And then school started and I missed the whole damn festival. #FAIL

Luckily, I'm on nearly every festival email list in Vancouver and Mr. Ramsden was not alone in his admiration for "Fishbowl". The show was chosen as a "Pick of the Fringe" show and I had the opportunity to see its last Vancouver 2012 performance last Thursday at the Performance Works venue on Granville Island.

I took a friend to the show with me and could only tell him that it was a one-man show with four characters and people I trusted deemed it "brilliant". No idea what the plot, setting, raison d'ĂȘtre was. Just "brilliant".

Mine's special. Mark signed it!

Just "brilliant" indeed. The show is written and performed by Mark Shyzer (whose surname alone already makes him the coolest guy I've ever met at the Fringe - and that includes Alan Cumming) and the characters he portrays are amazing individuals perched on a precipice of change in their respective lives:
- A teenage genius is about to single-handedly redefine the laws of the physical universe and only her fish really understands her work. 
- A sensitive but outwardly apathetic ("whatevs") boy is watching his family fall apart. 
- A terminally ill man contemplates his mark on the world. 
- A world-weary woman regards upcoming nuptials through the lens of her life experience and with an anxious eye on where her path may lead. 

A motley crew of characters. Each perfectly nuanced in voice and posture, cadence and lilt. One man behind it all. A genuinely thrilling exhibition of acting craft. But it was a truly stellar show not only for the execution of the material. The material itself, the script and plot - because there is an incredibly woven plot here, folks - is smart and emotional and deep but funny. Not sitcom funny. It makes you laugh in the delight of discovery, and in self-effacing recognition of everyday mundanities. My first question to producer Sarah Olmstead, who was mobbed by audience members looking for merchandise after the show, was whether they would be publishing the script. It's the collector in me. I may have lots of tshirts (thank the FSM that they had one for "Fishbowl") and hundreds of DVDS, possibly thousands of books but above all, I collect words and language. I love words and the infinite combinations of them and the constantly new uses for them and, especially, the ability to encapsulate and deliver an incredibly complex concept using the simplest of phrasing. (See? simple still isn't easy.)

In every good show, whether it's Fringe/TV/movie/radio, there are moments of gorgeous clarity, hanging in the audience's consciousness like the last ray of twilight highlighting a suddenly still landscape. In "Fishbowl" there were two of these moments for me. One was teen genius, Esther's, explanation of dark matter. Because there is no published script (yet!) for me to quote and because I REALLY REALLY REALLY don't want to spoil this moment for others who plan on seeing "Fishbowl" at some point in the future, I will paraphrase in invisi-type (highlight with your cursor to see):

Dark matter, she states, is like the pages of a book. We do not read the pages, we read the words on the pages. The words, therefore, are like the known matter of the universe but it is the dark matter that holds it altogether. The mass of the book is made up primarily of the pages, not the words, just as the universe is primarily made up of the dark matter not our known matter. Take the pages away and the words lose all their meaning and form and fall apart as a sploosh of ink. Take dark matter away and...

Seriously, I think I felt my brain implode as it all. made. sense.

The other moment belonged to goth-ish Ravyn (aka "Don't call me Francis") describing his love, maybe need, to sit in the dark. (Again, I'm paraphrasing. The actual scene is scripted far more tightly and perfectly than my recall allows.) He theorizes that when we have the lights on, we are all in different places made obvious by our surroundings but when we are in a true pitch dark, we are all in the SAME PLACE, the SAME DARK. Dark is the same wherever you are. It connects us spiritually. And maybe, he hypothesizes, we're all DISconnected spiritually these days because we all leave the lights on all the time. 

The t-shirt (btw, *newsflash*: American Apparel unisex is NOT as stupidly sized as their women's tees) sports the phrase that I've yoinked for my post title "VITA LONGISSIMA EST" under the fishbowl/globe (which puts us all inside, looking out, if you think too much about it) It's Latin, meaning "Life is very long", a reference to another Ravyn line in which he responds to the adage "Life is short" (and I THINK this quote is accurate)

"Hyah, whatevs," he scoffs,"Life is the longest thing I've ever done."

Monday, September 24, 2012

Zazzles is a Kick-Ass Cat Name

The sitcom is nearly a lost art these days. Or maybe it is that television comedy has "evolved" into a new species. According to the Wiki, sitcoms evolved from variety sketch comedy shows, the identifying trait being that sitcoms maintained a regular cast of characters and setting, and employed "running" jokes.

One of the only true sitcoms I watch anymore is The Big Bang Theory (aka TBBT). From the first notes of its Barenaked Ladies theme song ...

... to the final punchline of its stinger scene, the geniuses of Pasadena never fail to entertain. And for a show that began with a central foursome of men, Bill Prady and his dauntless team have created some fabulous female characters to balance the gendering of the show.

A running joke in TBBT is that when someone is sick, according to Dr. Sheldon Cooper, they get to have "Soft Kitty" sung to them like his MeeMaw did when he was young. My friend Lesley found this t-shirt for me on ThinkGeek (see, everyone I know shops there eventually) and it's one of my favourite shirts to wear to bed or on a do-nothing-feeling-sick-read-a-book-or-hope-for-a-TBBT-marathon day. Today was the first day of the first "Spirit Week" of the school year - PJ Day. Since I rode transit to work today, I split the difference and wore this as a salute to sleep shirts.

What I left at home, silent and deadly, on its shelf with my other talking toys, is my singing Soft Kitty Doll. Press its paw and you are immediately regaled by a full volume, slightly off-tune, low-quality recording of Kaley Cuoco's Penny singing the lullaby. Merchandising, thy will be done...

So, reader participation time! Topic: SITCOMS

What qualifies as a sitcom in this day and age of television? What criteria, if any, would you set? Does it have to have a "live studio audience"? A catchy theme song? A token ethnic minority? Does it have to be funny? endearing? moral? surreal? What is your favourite sitcom memory? Mine is probably watching "Three's Company" with my mom. And I'll argue that the most brilliant season finale ever was Newhart which managed to create a running joke between TWO completely different sitcoms, from totally different decades. Any takers on that debate? And while we're on this generalist topic? Does M*A*S*H count as a sitcom? or Modern Family even (that one hour format eliminates it for me)? Where are the parameters today?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Music-T Friday: Somebody I Would Never Have Known

There is a lot of music out there and a lot of musicians finding success making that music. How they get there, whether it's via industry design, a competition like American Idol, or YouTube "discovery", the result is basically the same. They're on our radio, TV, Internet, sometimes in the news if they have the quirkiness to be deemed worthy of coverage.

Occasionally, a musician has a more interesting backstory than the norm. I'm sure all of them would claim they do but it's a subjective thing and, for me, most of them don't. Yes, being discovered is awesome. Yes, getting to perform with a long-time hero is inspiring. But unless you were discovered performing while Rome burned or your long-time hero was someone long-dead and brought back in a non-holographic manner to jam with you, I still feel that this is a typical music industry narrative.

Today's t-shirt is, as promised, music related and a musician with what I would judge to have been and continues to be an interesting backstory. I am far from an expert in Amanda Palmer but I do know how I came to know of her and that, in and of itself, is interesting enough for me to blog about. Subjectively speaking, that is.

(It's also Shakespeare-related which is another WIN for this shirt.)
This is a story in parts:

Part One: With the exception of his early teen love affair with the Barenaked Ladies, my brother and I haven't shared a whole lot of music interests. While in high school (?), he became a fan of the "dark cabaret" duo, The Dresden Dolls, which I hadn't heard of and didn't really take the time to investigate. The Dresden Dolls were/are comprised of Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione.

Part Two: In my first year of teaching in Richmond, I struck up a friendship with sister geek and bibliophile, Mitch, and she quickly remedied a huge gaping hole in my literary consciousness by lending me the audio book recording of Neil Gaiman's "Fragile Things". I took the recording with me on a bus trip to the Okanagan soon afterwards and fell in thrall to Gaiman's wordcraft, imagination, and voice (He often reads his own audio books but I would probably pay to listen to him read a phone book.)

Part Three: Twitter happened. I joined in early 2009 so I can't really call myself an early adopter. I think I joined after seeing Biz Stone on The Colbert Report. In Vancouver terms, I think I was probably part of the earliest group using Twitter regularly. I base this on the fact that in the first six months I was using Twitter, I won nearly every Twitter contest I entered for the Vancouver area. I started following Gaiman on Twitter as he was both an interesting and prolific Tweeter. That year, he and Palmer announced their relationship and, since they had the most endearing Tweet-versations (still do) but one must follow both to be privy to the convos, I started following her as well.

Part Four: In 2010, Palmer came to Vancouver with Jason Webley to perform as Evelyn Evelyn a set of troubled but talented conjoined twins with a dark traumatic history. I attended as a photographer for the Vancouver-based website (known then as Guttersnipe) The Snipe News. My galleries for both the Evelyn Evelyn and the Amanda Palmer (solo) portion of the evening are still online.
Probably my favourite concert pic (that I took) ever
Part Five: Neil and Amanda got married and decided to tour together as "An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer", Kickstart the whole shebang, and included Vancouver in that tour (Nov 6, 2011).

Backtracking to Part Four-Point-Five: In the spring of 2011, Mitch underwent a liver transplant. The operation and the period of time that followed was a frightening time for her, her family and her friends, with whom I am honoured to be counted. When I reached out to Mr. Gaiman over Twitter to garner a well-wish for her, he responded immediately. When she came through, we let him know and he cheered with us. When the Kickstarter offered a chance for supporters to meet him and Amanda backstage before the show, I bought the Starry Night level and had my Early Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Hurrah-She-Has-A-Working-Liver present for the year at the ready. (Of the things I am able to do on the bus with my iPhone on the way to work in the morning, shopping is probably the most dangerous. In this case, though, I kow-tow to the gods of technology)

Part Six: Great fun was had at the Vogue Theatre. Mikala (aka Backstage Rider) was in the house and has an incredible gallery of photos to show for it. Mitch, husband J, sister D and I were all seated in the front few rows for a show that clocked in at over three hours and, although Mitch was tuckered by the end of it (it was her first big outing since the operation, after all) that crowd would've blissfully hung onto their every note and word for another three. I wore my Evelyn Evelyn t-shirt to the show and Amanda signed me afterwards (still have that shirt but not sure it still fits) and brought an issue of Sandman that Jeff didn't have yet and Neil signed it for him.

So every once in a while, I peek in on Amanda's website and see what's out and about. Loved this t-shirt and bought a couple of them, not just for the Shakespeare, not just to support her, not just for the fact it says something coming AND going. I like the main sentiment. Haters suck and deserve to be bear food. Yes, she's made her career on "dark" images and inspirations but I find AFP's approach to Life, music, love and art intensely positive. She is arguably the poster child for crowd-sourcing which spawns from her life-lessons as a street performer and a belief that music and art belong to the people. She offers her music on both a FREE and PAY AS YOU WANT basis on her website with a clear and concise mission statement:

(To be clear, her newest album is entitled "Theatre is Evil" but "SPREAD THE EVIL" is a heckuva tag line for any campaign.)

Recently, there has been a controversy in AFP country. To be sure this isn't Palmer's first controversy, but this one, involving a request for fans to come perform with her voluntarily, seems to highlight the divide between the "business" and the "art". It's not a debate of right or wrong. It's a difference of world perspective. So however it hashes out in the end, I don't think that it'll change where people sit on the issue of creativity versus monetizing. I have a ticket to her next show in Vancouver on Sept 29. I paid money for it and some more money to Ticketmaster (speaking of evil...). And I'm going to have a a grand thievin' evilly good time. And THAT is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help my *Asian-born-Canadian* a$$.