Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ingenuity WoyUbu

Well, it's been an action-packed couple of days here in Cleveland. On Thursday, we arrived to discover the basement level space for WoyUbu. After some looking around, we opened a wall and took over an some additional space in the Halle building, creating an absolutely huge performance space. So far, so good. Overcoming power limitations, lights, and Ron's encounter in his faux German accent character with an actual German artist, by 7.30pm on Friday night we were ready to go. The microphones were tested. The robots hummed with palpable excitement, the audiences filled up on both sides of our divided space. And so the show began.

Both sides started well, the spaces looked good and performers on both sides were bringing great energy to the opening moments of the play. Technically, things were also as we would hope. 

And, then...smack. 

That sound, dear friends, is the sound of WoyUbu's unique theatrical experience running smack into the expectations of a tech festival audience on a Friday night. What started as an overly full house on both sides gradually became a sea of empty chairs, as people departed for other events. They were replaced steadily throughout the 90 minute performance by new audience members wandering in, checking out both sides and sometimes staying for a while, sometimes leaving rather soon. A few faithful audience members stayed for the whole thing and a few others freely explored the Woyzeck performance space (during the performance, of course), creating an effect both unnerving and strangely exciting. We've seen and encouraged this on the play side, but it was striking to see it on the watch side.

Working from this experience, we've decided to engage the situation at hand. We've taken down the dividing wall, since people want to wander and this will make the environment more conducive to this kind of freeform viewing experience. We've also decided to accept the coming in and out for what it's worth by using the ever-versatile Ron to work both sides of the room and engage people as they enter the space. To this end also, we'll be getting a new program out, so that people have some key references as they enter the space (and a cool souvenir!).  Most importantly, we've decided to accept that Woyzeck will not be the immersive experience of our prior production, but rather a performance that functions as a kind of live video that loops (3 more times, anyway). We're thinking of ways to construct the viewing positions to reinforce the perception that the actors are not performing live rather than using theatrical techniques aimed at the opposite effect. What happens when we do theatre as if it is television? In some ways the fact that we include and engage with audience on the Ubu side does create the kind of distancing effect on the Woyzeck side. If the actors could hear me, wouldn't they talk to me? After all, they do over there. I admit that I've always taken some theatrical conventions for granted (at my peril), but with the conditioning of television and, ironically, participatory art forms, these basic assumptions no longer hold. At least, not all the time.

So, we're going to try a few different things today. Happily, the combined WoyUbu group are some of the most generous and courageous people to work with, so I'm looking forward to what the day will hold. More later on where it goes, what happens, and how we all survive. At the very least, I will enjoy a fabulous performance.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Robots, Schmobots ....

... It's all about the puppets:

Behold them resting up for their big trip to Cleveland, which commences in 5 short hours.

(PS to roboteers: No, no, it's about the robots, too. But mostly the puppets. Though there are also people in the show, actual human beings. Imagine that!)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

WoyUbu 2.0

It's been a crazy last couple of weeks, but the Intermedia Performance Studio and our good friends in the Real Dream Cabaret and in the Robotics labs of the University at Buffalo and Canisius College have been hard at work putting the WoyUbu monster back together again. And it looks like we'll actually get the whole thing moving again in time for the Ingenuity Festival this weekend in Cleveland, Ohio. (Check out the main festival site for lots of great acts! Once again we'll be blogging and tweeting away for most of the show, so if you can't find us in Cleveland, you can always follow us here, here, here, or here. We'll be hosting audience blogging and tweeting, as well as my directorial updates.

This time, we're working with a few new people on both sides of the wall (or, curtain in this iteration) and it's invigorating to see the show through new eyes (and voices). So far, even with the short rehearsal period, we've been able to get the show back together with some interesting new work. Even if you think you know WoyUbu, you don't know this WoyUbu!

As a director, I find this process perhaps the most challenging as I realize the deep extent to which I attach to my own prior work, namely, the images, rhythms, and patterns of meaning created in the original production. Happily, I'm getting over my rusty nostalgia enough (I hope) to be able to see the new ideas coming from our new collaborators and the ever-unpredictable process itself. Thus, the joys (and challenges) of live performance. As I wrote in my original program note, sometimes you've got to do more, just to do the same thing.

More soon from Cleveland...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Live and in the Flesh

That's right, Ubu-ites! We're back and we're coming to Cleveland, where WoyUbu will be part of the Ingenuity Art + Technology Festival. We'll be part of what looks to be a great festival, and I'm happy to report, I'll be able to reconnect with Tim Miller, who is also performing in the festival.

If you're around Cleveland for July 10-12, please do look us up!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The first night of the last weekend ...

... was nuts on the Ubu side. Absolutely nuts. From looking at these shadowy onlookers near the beginning of the evening--

--you probably would not guess that they would be our wildest audience yet. They took the notion of "play" to unprecedented extremes; several of us seriously worried we might have a riot on our hands. NOT the kind of riot Ubu provoked in its first incarnation, when people thought it went too far, but the kind of riot where they were eager to go even farther than we were willing to. Trust me, the place looked like a frat house after a beer blast by the time we (er, they) were done.

As the Carnival Barker, I am partly responsible for the mayhem, because I gave these otherwise innocent-looking folks the very weapons they would soon use against us. (Ever been shot in the face with a Nerf dart?) But I don't think I added that much more to the mix last night than usual. These people just felt like getting rowdy. Spring fever, perhaps? And don't assume it was younguns--the oldest two people in the crowd were the ringleaders.

Ironically, we had originally thought this level of madness might transpire every night, and then when it didn't, we started to take for granted that all future Ubu viewers would be polite and respectful and suss out the unspoken etiquette of our unusual setup. But no!

Me, I thought the whole affair was fascinating as a study in mob psychology. (As Ma Ubu put it after the show, "I've never been on the receiving end of a 'Power to the people!' chant before this.") Then again, I wasn't the one getting pelted with plastic paratroopers and dodging 70 exploding confetti bomblets.

What will tonight's final (and already long sold-out) performance bring? Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

WoyUbian Whiplash

Last Saturday I sat on the Woyzeck side of the show. As I had expected the
the Ubu projections served the Woyzeck play by appearing to be the character Woyzeck's hallucinations. What I didn't anticipate was how jarring the process would be: how over the course of the performance the feeling grew that I was not only wrenched back and forth between two plays but between two mutually exclusive world views. Until I began to hate Woyzeck - because he increasingly personified hopelessness, greyness, death. The Ubu visions burst in defying his relentless life, but he didn't learn anarchic joy from them, instead he found a road to murder. His side crushed life.

I was glad to see him go through the wall and away. But then the Ubuites came out through that same wall, popping into existence right there in front of me. And suddenly, what had been brash and funny, was horrible. They were horrible. They no longer represented life but were voyeuristic, vampiric consumers of other people and their painful lives. They were on the side of the evil dead, and the poor Woyzeck, now staring out of the projection, was the only thing worth nurturing. Whiplash!!!!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Transhumans, tweets, games without frontiers, and the joys of turning in your fellow citizens

Time for another collection of items that caught my attention recently because of their connection to aspects of WoyUbu:

This hourlong episode of the public radio show To the Best of Our Knowledge devoted to computers is a must for anyone interested in the ramifications of techno-culture. I recommend the interviews with Lawrence Lessig, one of the founders of Creative Commons, on copyright issues raised by mash-ups and other digital art; Sherry Turkle of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self on the ways in which we are developing relationships with personal robotic devices; and sociologist James Hughes, executive director of the World Transhumanist Association, on the quest to merge human flesh with computer technology in search of immortality and/or "transhuman" interspecies breeding; plus a couple of quick mash-ups by GirlTalk and DJ Spooky. But the real treat for Ubu-ites is surely the segment on video game designer Jason Rohrer; I have no idea how well known he is among those in the know, but his work sounds pretty remarkable and far beyond the average computer game. (Here's Passage, about mortality, and Between, a game about dreams and "stale evidence" of the Other. And here's Rohrer's homepage, which contains links to more games and all kinds of other stuff.)

•Much of what Rohrer says about games is echoed in intriguing ways in this brief segment from another public radio show on Peg Tyre's book The Trouble with Boys, and specifically its take on violent fantasy in video games (like the one in our Ubu). In a nutshell, Tyre argues that such games can potentially serve a beneficial role as an outlet for natural tendencies. She, like Rohrer, has much to say about the essence of "play" in the lives of both adults and children.

This is the funniest (and smartest) thing I've ever encountered about the phenomenon of Twitter and Facebook status udpates. Three cheers for Brian Unger!

•Finally, courtesy of BoingBoing, an ad campaign from the London police urging citizens to report suspicious activity:

Cory Doctorow notes the "stupidity" of
the idea that you should report your neighbors to the police for looking at the creepy surveillance technology around them. This is the first step in making it illegal to debate whether the surveillance state is a good or bad thing.

Perhaps this weekend I will encourage the Ubu audience to report any Woyzeck spectators they catch staring at the surveillance cameras aimed at them ...

Monday, March 23, 2009

(S)mash it up

Ever since we first discussed an online component to WoyUbu: An Intermedia Mash-up, I've been wanting to include some links to actual musical mashups and never quite got around to it. Most of my favorites are at least 5 or 6 years old--an eternity in internet years--and I've long since quit seeking out new ones. Mash-ups are an odd phenomenon--one portion of society has still surely never heard of them, while a much smaller contingent is surely so over them by now that they must be cringing at the mere mention of the term. (Even so, I've noticed the word popping up in all sorts of new contexts in the last year, in much the way "deconstruction" made its way from architecture to critical theory to People magazine within about a decade. But it seems to me that WoyUbu really does exactly what crafty DJs do, as noted in this preview of the show.)

What I will mention here is the recent work of internet sensation Kutiman. Like at least 3 million other people, I first learned about him through a friend's email, although the best intro to what he's all about is this recent NPR segment. On second thought, his cut-and-paste videos speak for themselves (albeit in the words and music of collaborators he's never met). Here's one I particularly like:

Got a favorite mash-up? Share the link with us in the comments section.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ubu from the audience's perspective

Tonight's performance was pretty hoppin'--thanks in large part to the crowd. And talk about crowded! We turned away at least 20 people, and crammed about twice as many people into the Ubu/"Play" side as we've ever done before. (If you're planning to attend next weekend, be sure to reserve your tickets ASAP!) Here's a small portion of the Ubu-ites, just before the show:

Tonight I passed a camera around and asked these lovely folks to shoot whatever they wanted. Alas, the batteries died about 15 minutes into the show, but here are a few examples of what they found photoworthy during that time:

Later in the show some of these same folks, and many other Ubu audience members, provided live Twitter updates of what was unfolding before them (or in their sordid imaginations). You can read what they wrote here (I think).

Friday, March 20, 2009

Live from our second Friday night show!

Here we are, live on the Ubu side of the wall, during our 3rd performance. Going well, so far, I'd say. Well, things are not looking so good for Pa Ubu or Woyzeck, but that's none of our concern. Let's hear what the Ubu audience has to say thus far:

FREE CANDY!! - Catherine Willett

Definitely choose the "playing" side... mad fun. - Matt Uebbing

Playing drinking games with my son on the "action"! CHRIS UEBBING

I ... I saw a bear lose its head! - Christopher Schobert

who wants to play Super Ubu Smash Brothers? the playing side does ... Jared Mobarak

You like that don't you? Adam Boyle

Boggerlas is h-o-t-t hot ~Stacey Kromer

The robots are awesome!! Brandon Passno

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Live from the week 2 pickup rehearsal PLUS! We've got Twitter now!

First things first: We've got a Twitter account now, so if you'd like to get a special message from midway through the show (or any other time when you least expect it), just become one of our first followers and we'll tweet you right.

Now, then, bearing in mind John's apology for not including more Woyzeck images in his ever-more-ravishing slideshow, here's a shot (taken about two minutes ago) of the soldier and his captain from a perspective absolutely no one can see during the play proper:

I think it's safe to say that we all feel like the first week of the show was about a month ago, so it's nice to be reuniting for our weekly pickup rehearsal just to make sure we're all remembering who does what and what happens when. On the other hand, it's oddly regressive to be back in an empty room again, sans audience. If you haven't seen the show yet--or even if you've only seen half of it--we looking forward to seeing you in the next 2 weeks!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Expanded Slideshow

I'm sorry these are always Ubu-centric but it's so much easier for me to get shots from the side I'm on.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Opening Weekend & Review

We're happy to report that WoyUbu sold out its second show of opening weekend with reservations filling up quickly for the remainder of the run.  If you want to come, reserve now and if you want to play, come early - this side fills up quickly. 

In case you missed it, there's a preview in the Buffalo News and thanks for the shout-out in ArtVoice from Dan Shanahan of Torn Space (current show: Fastest Clock in the Universe). The review of the show's opening weekend in now available in The Buffalo News. In addition to what's included in the review, I would also add that the extraordinary film and video from Brian Milbrand is another reason to check out the show.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Multiple Personalities: A report from the Ubu Side

Last night I watched he Ubu side of the WoyUbu, and the experience is like being inside the mind of someone with multiple personality disorder. Fully formed personalities exist in there, each striving for dominance. The personalities are crude, often unpleasant, usually infantile - but also smart, conniving, aware, self-aware. The whole media apparatus of creating and managing the images that are projected from the Ubu side to the Woyzeck side seem part of their calculated manipulation of ... their body.

From this side of the wall the character of Woyzeck in the other play appears to be the body that contains all these Ubu personalities. Looking through the surveillance cameras at the action on the Woyzeck side, is akin to looking out of his eyes. He seems to be trying to be a good and unified being. Sitting inside his mind you can understand and even sympathize with his stress as he deals with a cruel world, and struggles with his unruly mind. But its all very far away, minimized, almost unimportant. Meanwhile the life of the mind is exploding in all directions up close and in living color, and you are part of it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Opening night players, live from the Ubu side!

Check them out--what a lovely bunch!

Now let's hear what they think of the show so far...
(We're about halfway through now.)

This is my second time seeing The Real Dream Cabaret, and I always like their act. The characters are wonderfully weird, deranged, but also very endearing. The technology of the production is pretty awesome, the idea of two shows running at the same time. When given the choice between Play or No Play, choose Play. -Michael

As a first time viewer of this show it is interesting to know that you are able to watch the show at a different angle. There are actually two shows at once which makes you want to see both sides of the spectrum, The actors adapt to the changes and audience interaction quite well and are very aware of their surroundings. -Justin


WoyUbu is definitely a new theatrical experience for me. The question: "Watch or play," at the ticket desk really set the tone, and I think it should be seen from both ways. Ubu-world is great fun... But as far as the serious side of things, I have very little idea of what is going on in the other space, and I'm sure it's a completely different experience! -Kelsey

As for those who "play," they get a live experience of the inner workings of WOYZECK's mind, while watching his reality play out. Likewise, those who "watch" get to experience WOYZECK'S reality while watching his mind play out. The "players" get to take part in a nerf gun war, video game action, sword fights, a radio show, on screen filming, while nippling on treats...It's an experience one will likely not forget....


Opening Night

Preview last night; opening tonight. There's a nice preview entitled, "Plugged In" in the "Gusto" of the Buffalo News today. Many thanks to all who helped articulate the concept for the show. Looking forward to seeing it again tonight.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Opening night, 1896

From a MilkMag detailed story on Ubu's creator and the notorious opening-night (and preview-night) responses to the play:

On the evening of [December] 9th, [1896], friends, intellectuals, and fellow supporters gathered to see what sort of monstrosity Jarry had created. Many of them had already read the play [...]. What was a little unnerving though was Jarry's curtain speech. Rachilde had tried to talk him out of this, but he insisted following the fashion of the day. In front of the curtain a table was placed. Jarry appeared and walked over to it like an android. He was dressed in a "baggy black suit" and his hair was "plastered down like Bonaparte." Beaumont describes him as looking like a "circus clown in a white shirt with a huge starched front and an enormous bow-tie" and his face white from fear. The speech was "delivered in the clipped tones of Ubu." Jarry thanked many of the critics in the audience and followed with what I believe to be quintessential pataphysics.

[...] He then made a number of apologies as to the final state of the production. He claimed there was not enough time for rehearsal, and that this had resulted in certain cuts to the script―including "several passages indispensable to the meaning and equilibrium of the play.". He also admitted that "he and his celebrated scene painters (which included Toulouse-Lautrec, Sérusier, and Bonnard) had been 'up all night' painting last minute props" and that the grand orchestra had to be reduced to a piano and a drum. He ended by saying, "as to the action that is about to begin, it takes place in Poland―that is to say, nowhere." He bowed awkwardly and left.

In front of a restless audience, Ma and Pa Ubu took to the stage. Playing the title role was the "magnificent actor Fermin Gémier, on loan from the Comédie Francaise." Most accounts claim a riot began as soon as Gémier spoke the first word of the play. This is not true of the général. The performance actually went along without any real interruption until Act III, Scene 5. The scene involved the newly crowned King Ubu visiting his former friend Bordure at the Thorn prison. "Here in place of the door of the prison cell, an actor stood with one arm outstretched; Gérmier 'inserted' a key into his hand, made a clicking noise, and turned the arm as if opening a door." "At that moment, the audience, doubtless finding that the joke had gone on long enough, began to shout and storm.". Everything halted, until a furious Gérmier hit upon the idea of dancing a jig. "The audience broke into laughter, and the performance was able to continue, although further periodic interruptions occurred until the end."

The premiere, the following evening, was a different matter indeed. In attendance were "all the leading in the worlds of politics, journalism and letters." Grémier once again spoke the opening 'Merdre!' ('Shite'). The audience immediately burst out with a roar. Grémier was "unable to get a word in edgewise for the next fifteen minutes." It was the first time that someone had spoken such a word on the modern stage. Gémier tried to silence the audience by blowing a tramway horn. Many people left the theatre. A fight broke out in the orchestra pit, while Jarry's supporters yelled, "You wouldn't have understood Shakespeare or Wagner either!" Others shouted, "Can't you see that the author is taking us for a bunch of damned fools?" When Grémier had finally gotten slight control of the audience, he spoke the second word―another 'Merdre!' Needless to say, the audience started to howl once more. They shouted at the stage and at each other. When things quieted down again, the play proceeded as planned. Smaller outbursts continued throughout the performance. In the days that followed, the violent battle for and against Ubu Roi would move on into the Parisian press.

Live from Thursday night

Meet the first three audience members to sit on the "Ubu" side of the theater, during a moment when we weren't asking them to "play." I'm backdating this post so it appears to have appeared online during tonight's sneak preview (which really felt, to me at least, more like an opening night than the final final dress rehearsal it really was) even though I ran into some technical difficulties and couldn't post it until a couple of hours later. But I took the picture during the show, so that still counts, doesn't it?

Their names are Nick, Ian, and Courtney (not necessarily in that order, although that might actually be right), and they were all phenomenal tonight in the roles of (among many others) soldiers, other soldiers, nobles, judges, financiers, and--in a bravura performance--three show-saving bears. Couldn't ask for three better guinea pigs--ah, if only they could come back every night!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ron's Robo-Roundup

OK, so these aren't all technically robot-related items, just things that I've been bookmarking during the past few months of my stay in UbuLand and might not have paid much attention to were it not for my involvement with those wacky IPS folks and their various virtual worlds, security cams, and bearbots:

1. From BoingBoing, news of a Christian fundamentalist lawyer taking a brave stand against human/robot intermarriage.

2. From Gizmodo, a story about how Decatur, GA is creating a virtual version of itself. (Holy "Synechdoche, NY," Batman!) I find two aspects of the report particularly intriguing: the emphasis on commerce/capital, and the notion of "marking" referred to here:

Virtual Decatur is only in the planning stages, but designers have already listed a number of MMO-type qualities they'd like to see implemented. There would be custom avatars and chatting, like there is in any number of MMOs today, but in Virtual Decatur the residents, non-residents and government officials would bear certain marks, so that they'd be easily distinguishable from one another.

As a sworn robophobe, I hear "certain marks" and immediately think, "Yeah, of the BEAST," but in a less apocalyptic sense I'm also reminded of our discussions early on in the WoyUbu planning about how to cue audience members off as to which avatars/puppets/standins signified Pa Ubu. (Jarry's original drawings of Pa's spiral logo became the main indicator almost right away.)

3. From NPR, a profile of one-eyed documentary filmmaker Rob Spence, who is having his empty eye socket outfitted with a tiny camera. I can't seem to find a direct link to the interview where I first heard Spence discussing his project and the ethical implications he intends to raise, about both documentaries in general and about our surveillance-cam culture, but those same issues are bound to come up in just about any story on this "Zero Dollar Man," whose website is a treasure trove of media coverage. (Who watches the watchmen? Why, this guy, of course!)

Here's a video from the site that encapsulates the current status of his project rather succinctly. (Not for the squeamish--but if you're more freaked out about synthetic eyeballs than the very real ones that are surely tracking your every online move right now, suit yourself.) Theater and/or Mr. Show geeks, insert your own "I am a camera" pun here.

EYEBORG-- The Two Week Trial from eyeborg on Vimeo.

4. I have already written about Platform 21, a fascinating Dutch art/design collective here (and about another of their many projects here, but their "Checking Reality: A Real Show About the Virtual" practically has IPS/WoyUbu written all over it. Like all their endeavors, this one has many components grouped around a common theme (in this case, the politics of virtuality, you might say), including a 3D printer, computer-generated real/artificial jewelry, a trippy water feature that just might send Woyzeck off the deep end, a "CITY_KIT" game from Hybrid Space Lab that puts Virtual Decatur to shame, an audio-art DJ set using "natural" sounds and another "WiiJ" who uses WiiMotes to DJ, a dating service for avatars, and oh so much more. Parts of the "Checking Reality" description sound like they could describe WoyUbu as well:

Envision the world as a computer game in which your clothes are 3D projections and the GPS system tells you the position of an object. Imagine yourself as an avatar, flying through future cities and simulated landscapes. Now picture this virtual world in the real world. What will it look like then?

... Our use of digital media heavily influences the way we experience, test and create reality. Virtual alternatives are often so convincing that they not only augment reality but seem to replace it. It’s as if ‘virtual seeing is believing’.

I love these folks' sense of humor, particularly the fine line that separates actual objects/actions and conceptual pranks in their world. More, more, more, please!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Expanded Photo Slideshow

I'm taking Ron's advice and reposting the slideshow with additional images. I waste money, time, gas, water, food, electricity, effort, and let's be frank here, my entire life, but for some reason I'm worried about saving space on the Internet.

More Photos

Instead of making a new slideshow I just added to the one a couple of posts down.

Hey! You got chocolate on my peanut butter!

I can't tell you what an odd feeling it is, performing in a play which is really two plays at once: two very different plays with separate casts, distinct performance styles, and wildly different tones. (All of this is by design, mind you, but theory and practice are not always the same.) It may actually be less odd for me than for my fellow cast members, since my character (who was actually lifted from one play and inserted in the other) is the only one empowered to cross over from one set to the other at will, but even in my case it feels like we Dream Cabbers are doing one show while Joe and Kate just happen to be in another one in another theater next door. Sometimes when rehearsal is over I ask them, "So how did your play go tonight?" (Granted, the feeling is heightened by the fact that some of us in the Cabaret have been collaborating for about 5 years now, while we're just meeting Kate and Joe for the first time.)

Even so, it never ceases to surprise me how smoothly--to me, at least--the two plays work together in spite of/because of their differences, to the point that I think I would feel cheated now if I saw a production of one without the other.

Early in the rehearsal process, when we Ubu-ites started getting used to playing to a camera, I grasped the irony in the situation: "our" play allegedly celebrates/bemoans anarchy and freedom, yet our actual blocking has to be meticulously worked out so it reads onscreen. "Their" play depicts a man with no freedom, yet Joe and Kate have a vastly larger playing space to work with. We measure our movements in term of inches, while they have feet or yards in which to feel ... trapped.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Live from Tech

So, we're here in the middle of tech and I have to say that so far, it looks pretty good. The security cameras give a great perspective on the space and from what I've seen of Brian's footage, it's going to be beautiful in that, you know, totally creepy kind of way.

We've built a wall of video on the Ubu side, including games for audience members and actors to play; surveillance cameras of the Woyzeck action; and all sorts of other goodies (think Nerf guns. Hmmmm...corporate sponsor?).

I've been working on a post detailing some of the key ideas that I've been working from in the show, both in the conceptual phase and in the physical staging of the piece, but tech has been interfering with my writing. So, for now, here's the update, but look forward to more soon!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Man vs machine, again

Driving home from last night's rehearsal, I was listening to a podcast collage of various talks by Krishnamurti, a writer I've heard both revered and reviled over the years, although I really know very little about his teachings. I was only half paying attention when this fragment, out of context, jumped out at me, triggering a number of only loosely connected responses:
We are so conditioned, so programmed, like computers, that we cannot learn something new. The computer can, but we can't. You see, the tragedy is that the machine that we have created, the computer, can learn much faster, infinitely more than [we] can, than the brain can. And the brain which has invented that ... ultra-intelligent machine ... hae slowed down, because we have [become conformists].

My first fleeting thought was, ugh, I still suck at learning lines. It's the bane of my existence! (Turns out at least three people have dreamed recently that I fucked up the show by forgetting my opening and closing speeches--the 4 paragraphs which constitute 98% of my scripted contribution to the show.) Then I recalled Sarah's blogpost about her first experience rehearsing with robots, who never "forget" what they are supposed to say or do; on the down side, they tend to shut down rather than make the most of a situation (like, say, creating new lines until they can find their way back to familiar turf and/or the next cue for somebody else). Is it even accurate to refer to robots or game characters as "actors"?

I also thought about the way that, for all of us in one way or another, WoyUbu is either a big or small step outside our personal comfort zones into "something new." It's easier for me as a performer to slip into the skin of a character if I can think and speak spontaneously as him or her than if I have a set of lines to memorize (which is the major reason my solo performances and Cabaret roles have been mostly improv for the last couple of decades, with a few exceptions now and then to keep me on my toes).

Somewhere in there I also made a connection between Krishnamurti's comments on the possibilities and limits of humankind and Buchner's, as expressed most directly through my character in the show. ("You are created of dust, sand, and shit. Why must you try to be more than dust, sand, and shit?!" The unspoken answer: Because the compulsion to transcend our humble origins is precisely what allows us to transcend them--what separates us from both monkeys and computer-driven robots.)

And while this has little to do with his actual point, the Krishnamurti quote also makes me think about how I've always heard it's harder to master a new language after you reach a certain age--an age I have clearly reached, although I really do want to learn one for the first time since high school. I also wonder if it's too late to get my brain to handle the large chunks of dialogue I could in the past (at one point in my mid 30s I somehow managed to memorize a trilogy of my own monologues--a whopping 4 1/2 hours of material!--and now I keep fumbling over 4 paragraphs). Clearly the brain is a muscle that requires and responds well to exercise, or else actors far older than me would be out of work.

If I were a computer, you could feed page after page of text into me and I would recite it exactly the same way, night after night. Only where's the fun--the challenge to conformity--in that?


Since we've been using this blog to provide a play-by-play account of the creation of the show, I thought it might be interesting to provide some of the backstory, as best I can remember it. (Apologies in advance if I've jumbled up some of the details--if you know the real story, by all means post it in the comments below.)

About 2 1/2 years ago, Josephine, Dave, and Sarah approached me about the possibility of collaborating with the Dream Cab on a project. They knew some of our work, and we knew some of theirs, and several of us Cabbers got together at UB for a demonstration of the possibilities of VR by Dave, Josephine, and Stuart. (The main thing that struck me that night was not the possibilities in the creation of virtual worlds, but the weird interplay of levels when someone walks in front of a projector or something else jars the viewer out of the illusion and back into, ahem, "reality.")

Sometime around this point, Sarah proposed two plays we might want to consider working with in one way or another. So the rest of us went home with scripts of Jarry's Ubu Roi and Bruchner's Woyzeck. The original idea was to pick one, given how different they are in terms of history and tone, but we ended up discovering all sorts of points of contact between them and decided to create a mash-up of the two, much like smartass DJs have been doing for the last 10 years or so. One crucial commonality was the fact that neither play exists in a definitive version, inviting all manner of rearrangement. Early on, we toyed with all kinds of approaches, the most radical of which would have involved cutting up the scripts and pulling fragments out of a hat, or improvising scenes as they appeared on a Wheel of Fortune-style spinner. Another early idea was to have the Ubu cast appear only on film, or have the Ubu-ites be performing a carnival watched by Woyzeck and his wife. One thing we decided quite soon was that Ubu was practically written for the Dream Cab, and that "real" actors should handle Woyzeck.

A year or more went by, during which both collaborating groups went on with other projects of their own, and two "teams" formed to adapt the plays. (Sarah and Josephine worked on Woyzeck, and Holly on Ubu with feedback from Brian.) When we regrouped, we did several table reads of the two separate pieces, weaving them together in a fairly instinctual way. (This photo is from a bit later in the process, but you get the idea. Add in some more comfy furniture, lots of junk food, a few cats--one violently insane--and you're there.)

As I recall, our first stab at the mash-up was not too far from what we've still got now--I remember how amazed we all were at how easily certain pivotal events in the two works lined up. We moved one entire character and two minor walk-ons from Woyzeck to Ubu, but the rest stayed largely the same. Somewhere in here IPS did a staged reading with actors (none of whom are in the current production) and some VR elements (ditto, I think) during last summer's Infringement Festival.

Once we had the two scripts compressed into one, we brainstormed ways to stage Ubu: the premise became starting off with live actors and then moving deeper and deeper into various media--a TV sitcom, Eyewitness News, a slasher film, a PowerPoint presentation, and so on--until there was no human presence onstage by the end. Logistics have led us to fudge that a bit, but it's still more or less the basic concept.

For a very long time, the show was purely hypothetical, until some very generous funding allowed the IPS folks to rent a rehearsal/performance space on Main Street near Lafayette, at which point things started rolling pretty fast. Our core group of six or seven expanded to incorporate computer science folks, robot designers, and, eventually, actors. Before we knew it, we had performance dates, and discussion-based meetings gradually evolved into rehearsals.

And now, somehow, opening night is a mere eight days away. So, back to real-time updates.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Pataphysics & music

Just a quick note on pataphysics and music. According to Mike Barnes in The Guardian, Alfred Jarry's unique brand of philosophy known as pataphysics has a distinct following among musicians, including not only the groups Ron noted a couple of posts back, but also Paul McCartney (thanks, RJ). The relevant post is here.

As for our own work, it's a bit of a small work rehearsal tonight: some tinkering with Woyzeck & Ubu scenes, particularly the ending. But then tomorrow, it's all guns blazing. Sometimes it's a bit tricky to keep focused on the big picture with all the little problems, but based on a few moments last night, it should be pretty interesting.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Status, or finding funny things in a show about a bummer

A couple of observations that hit me tonight during what was (mostly) a tech rehearsal. 

Tonight, one of our Woyzeck actors injured her neck and upper back. Nothing serious (I hope!), but she couldn't turn her head. Somewhat limiting, but the upside was that as the Captain she didn't look at Woyzeck. It's amazing what power *not* acknowledging someone can have. Though cautiously underplayed to protect her neck, the scene moved in a new direction as Woyzeck was now genuinely trying to get the Captain's attention. My good colleague, Rob Knopf, has talked about status in acting work quite a bit, but it was quite powerful to see it in action. Also, in keeping with  lot of gender studies, particularly in drag (e.g., Diane Torres), the lack of movement made the performance much more masculine.

I was also struck by how many levels there are in Woyzeck. All the zingers are there, but we're going to spend the next week trying to find all the other points on the spectrum. Get ready for Woyzeck, the comedy (just kidding).

The robot war begins to take shape

One thing new to all of us (as far as I know) with this production is the integration of robots and human actors. Personally, I'm trying to encourage bitterness and animosity between the two camps. (Me: "Those sons of bitches are only in the show for 5 minutes, tops, and they're total primadonnas.") But the humans who tend the 'bots are all lovely people. I'm sure they're only trying to ingratiate themselves with their future overlords. Fat chance, suckers!

On the bright side, we fleshfolk typically don't have to show up till half an hour after the robo-scum, so I shouldn't complain too much. When we unionize, I'm going to demand that we, too, get 45 minutes to boot up every night, and at least one crash per rehearsal. Also, when I forget my lines (a nightly occurrence thus far) I am going to spin around in circles for 5 minutes until I'm ready to give it another try.

Product placement

We are so over the whole hippie-anarchist not-for-profit shtick now, people. Those computer games and robots don't pay for themselves, you know.

Exit, pursued by a bear


Details behind possible show-stealing moment revealed below. View at your own risk.











Roboteer and director in conference:

A man and his dream:

The creature in all his unvarnished ferocity:

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sunday Filming

We filmed the "Ma Ubu and Gyro get chased by an angry mob" scenes today at the Connecticut Street Armory. Brian wisely asked permission beforehand, and the police officer who pulled up almost immediately to ask just what the hell we thought we were doing ended up sticking around for the duration of shooting. The combination of a small, strangely-dressed crowd, rolling video cameras, lit torches and police cruisers outside a military facility probably made passers-by think it was a poorly-timed political protest. Brian and Holly might disagree but I thought the shooting went quickly and smoothly, which is a very good thing because it was cold, especially after the sun set. We got several takes of each scene filmed. At one point, while running toward the camera to escape the angry mob, I heard a loud "whoosh!" behind me. It turns out that one of the tiki torch wicks had launched a good twenty feet into the air like a rocket. The air between the cannister and the holder had heated (and expanded), creating enough of a pressure difference with the outside air to launch it quite a distance. Fortunately the torch had been upright at the time. Any chances of it being a fluke were dispelled about a minute later when two of the other torch wicks launched simultaneously. That's when Holly put safety first and decided there would be no more running with tiki torches. I wasn't needed for the woods scenes so I watched from inside the heated car as they filmed Ma Ubu running from the still-angry mob. It looked great from what I could see and I think the finished video will be a lot of fun.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Long live Pere Ubu!

(Note! That's not our set!)

Like a lot of people my age--easing from high school to college as Pistols-era punk rock evolved into post-punk--I first became aware of Ubu Roi through the legendary avant-noise rock of Pere Ubu. The band is still around, more than 30 years later, albeit with an ever-changing lineup, and it's kinda surprising that it took them until 2008 to get around to actually staging Jarry's play.

The production, described here, sounds pretty interesting--and quite far from our own handling of the same material. Visual elements are by the Brothers Quay, and lead singer/songwriter/play adapter David Thomas performs as Pa Ubu himself--the role he was obviously born to play. Here's a sample:

(You can download a free MP3 of the same song here, or buy the whole album shortly.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

I'll drink to that

Can we have robobartenders in the "lobby" before the show, Uncle Stuart? Can we can we can we?

(found here)

Actually, I think being subjected to such humiliations as producing alcoholic beverages through one's simulated genitals and parroting whatever naughty talk intoxicated humans demand may well be what leads the roboslaves of today to rise up against us tomorrow.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Roombas of Doom

Several of us humans were talking about this clip from a recent Daily Show, which makes our own Robot War scene seem like a glimpse into the near future:

PS. Having trouble seeing the clip? You can also click here.

Robots reprise

Did I say that robots can't improvise? Well, once again I was terribly wrong. Somewhere there's some excellent footage of just how...uh, spontaneous and impassioned robots can be. Next time, I'll bring little, mechanical cigarettes.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tuesday night's rehearsal--live!

Here, simply because I have the technology and the spare time, is a live report from tonight's rehearsal. (I probably got the idea because just now we were running the "Killing of King W" scene, in which my barker character is a newscaster giving a play-by-play account of Ubu and McNure's fight with Wenceslas and Boggerlas.) It's almost 9 PM, and the Ubu cast has been rehearsing some of its greenscreen scenes sans Pa Ubu and the Woyzeck cast.

I've been out of town for most of the last 2 weeks of rehearsal, and am still dead tired from my travels, but all the scheming and battling (mostly Pa's, as I've been filling in for him tonight) woke me, and all of us Dream Cabbers, right up.

As Holly (Ma Ubu to you) put it earlier tonight, the more somber and (for lack of a better word) dramatic the Woyzeck play becomes, the bigger and more carnivalesque we Ubu-ites need to be. Ours is a very physical, over-the-top production, which is tricky given that our scenes are all performed for the camera in a very limited space--so it is taking a while to figure out how to make things look interesting onscreen to the audience watching from the other side of the wall. (I'm fairly convinced that the bizarreness of us acting for the rectangular frame of the camera will be intriguing for audience members who watch on the Ubu side of the wall.)

In the photo above you see Holly (Ma) and Josh (Boggerlas/Tail) on the Ubu side of the wall, Sarah (our director) in motion, and Dave P (I forget his title, but I think of him as master of technology) setting up video projections on the Woyzeck side. As I've been typing this entry, they've all been talking through the tech of future greenscreen scenes; the Woyzeck cast has arrived, and after a brief break we're back to business.

Words cannot express how unlike a conventional Dream Cab rehearsal all of this is (learning lines a month before we open?! blocking?! character motivation?! preposterous!), but that's in no way a complaint. It's very exciting to be finding a way to work with "real" theater artists (and equally real robot designers) while still retaining our essential Cabaretness.


My first time rehearsing the robots. Much fun; much of people typing and looking at robots moving. I do love the fact that I can set blocking and the robots remember it (mostly). I only wish robots could improvise. Most likely, though, we'll be able to create an environment in which both the robots and the actors take cues from each other, though inevitably we'll rely on the actors to improvise around the robots as necessary.

As a side note, and not unrelated, NPR ran a story about the potential for computer images to replace live actors in films, such as the digitization of Brad Pitt in the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. One of the people in the story commented on the sense of relief when the "real" Brad Pitt emerges on screen, a reaction I also had. But I wonder if we would have such a strong reaction if the actor in question weren't already so well known to us. If we, like the character of Daisy (Cate Blanchett) saw the young image for the first time, occurring as a revelation, rather than a memory.

In terms of WoyUbu, I return to the central question of the tech "wow" factor in live performance. Does the digital image foster a sense of relief when we encounter the flesh and blood being? Will the rise of digital realism on screen, as one of our group speculated last night, return us to the arena of live performance? Or, are the two becoming so entwined that they will not be easily separated?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Human Rehearsals

After a couple of weeks of rehearsal on the Woyzeck parts of the play, last night we started putting the physical parts of Woyzeck with readings of Ubu. Despite the radical differences between the two plays, there's something oddly resonant between them. I'm still not quite sure how it will all hang together, but it's a pretty interesting process watching it unfold.

Two questions, as I'm thinking about the show:

1) How to make Marie's role clear, both in terms of Woyzeck's construction/fantasy of her.

2) How to make Woyzeck's relation to the Ubu images clear. There's a great line in the doctor scene, in which the Doctor identifies Woyzeck as having an aberratio. In the most basic medical sense, this is literally a diversion of the brain. Right now, we're working on the idea that Ubu is an evolving series of hallucinations and psychotic breaks. I'm not sure this is totally clear.

Also of note, is our rip-off of...I mean, homage to Pina Bausch in the violent pas de deux. Still in progress, but promising. On Friday, we'll start to put all the pieces of the show together to see where the gaps are.

3D Scene

One scene is to be performed in Unreal Tournament. Today Dave M. and Tao showed me the castle Tao designed in the game engine. In the scene Ubu and Ma regally receive a message. At the moment UT bots kill them within seconds. But it looks GOOD. By rehearsal Dave will - we hope - have stopped those bots spawning and killing.

Wednesday Read-Through