always be in the game

It was one of the most memorable moments in Super Bowl history. When the stadium went dark. Hashtag #blackout blew up on Twitter. And from a virtual pile-up of snarky quips, one company came up with the ball.

Oreo tweeted: “Power out? No problem. http://ow.ly/hthYN.”

oreo superbowl“You can still dunk in the dark.” It spread like wildfire. And it cost far less than the actual commercial Oreo ran on television during the game. A cream-filled cookie became the night’s true marketing champion.

On his blog, Marketing the Arts to Death, arts and entertainment consultant Trevor O’Donnell, asks the question, “Should arts marketers emulate Super Bowl ads?” I commented on his article, but I decided to re-post and expand my response here because I think it bears repeating. My answer: Yes. Sort of.

Sam Ford, Director of Digital Strategy with Peppercomm and co-author of Spreadable Media, suggests in his Fast Company article, “When it comes to content strategy, it’s better to think about spreadability than stickiness.” Arts organizations would benefit taking notes from this winning playbook.

On Trevor’s post, Howard Sherman, former executive director of the American Theatre Wing and a marketing and branding consultant, commented, “While an actual comparison of Super Bowl ads to arts marketing is not simply apples to oranges but apples to elephants, in terms of budget, reach, etc., some companies use the Bowl as a chance to enforce (or change) their brand perception. While arts marketers rarely have the leeway to make their ads anything more than transactional (“Buy now”), there is something to be said for institutional arts marketers finding opportunities to build the qualitative perception of their organization, taking the long view.”

I agree with Howard on the apples to elephants comparison and looking at the “long view.” Arts organizations can do this by embracing the concept of spreadability. The quicker our messages spread, the better chance we have to grow our audience with limited budgets. This approach is essential when marketing plays, operas, art shows and ballets, which typically have limited runs. It also affects a brand’s long term perception by introducing that company to a new audience when it spreads.

The elephants may have the money. But at 72,888 followers on Twitter, Oreo has only 44K more than Carnegie Hall, 43K more than Lincoln Center, 30K more than The Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Cirque du Soleil has 508K followers – seven times as many as Oreo! Arts companies have the reach. But we only impact if we’re in the game. As thousands of underdogs before have shown, it just takes one good “Hail Mary” to win the big game.

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the transmedia of fringe

After five seasons, two universes, and multiple timelines, Fringe ended its run January 18, 2013 on Fox. I’m proud to say I stuck with this show to the very end. More than anything – like other fans – I connected with the cast’s phenomenal performances. When the sci-fi was good, the show was great. When there was more “fi” than “sci,” the actors buoyed the show to the next peculiar portal.

FringeTeam

For those unfamiliar with Fringe, it follows a team of FBI investigators in the “Fringe Division.” Not unlike The X-Files, Fringe had a case-of-the-week structure with a dense, over-arching mythology spawned from most of the cases. At the heart of the mythology was the story of Walter (John Noble) and Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), an estranged father and son who – with the help of FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) – grew to love each other. Add lab assistant Junior FBI Agent Astro…I mean, Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole), and Special Agent-in-charge Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick), and you have the Fringe team. Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), COO of Massive Dynamic, a corporate entity frequently responsible for the bizarre events the team examined, often aided the team in their investigations. Oh yeah. And bald man who wore a suit and fedora observed them. His name was September (Michael Cerveris).

Now that the show is over, I decided to compile as many of its transmedia extensions as I could in one place. Like Lost, another J.J. Abrams production, Fringe created a rich storyworld in which fans delighted throughout its five seasons. From viral videos and comic books to Easter eggs and science education, Fringe stretched its tentacles around numerous platforms.

I’ve done my best to keep story descriptions vague and spoilers to a minimum; however, there are a few. If you wish to keep completely in the dark, proceed no further. And watch the show.

SEPTEMBER’S NOTEBOOK: THE BISHOP PARADOX

Let me start at the end. My impetus to create this compilation grew after I learned Bad Robot, J.J. Abrams’ company which produced Fringe, is publishing a book from the show. Unlike the “The Lost Encyclopedia,” a post-show summary book about another Bad Robot production, Lost, “September’s Notebook” actually appeared in episodes of Fringe.

Throughout the series, a group of twelve bald men took notes about Earth’s history. Named after months of the year, the one called September followed the Fringe team, detailing their every move in a notebook and gradually becoming more attached to them. The Observers were an enigmatic element in Fringe’s mythology, and Fox harnessed that mystique in marketing campaigns, both commercially and virally. Fringebloggers.com has a great history of the Observers’ appearances.

SeptembersNotebook

Interestingly, the notebook comes from the same writers who created “The Lost Encyclopedia,” Tara Bennett and Paul Terry. Being friends with Fringe executive producer Jeff Pinkner, Tara sent “The Lost Encyclopedia” to him, hoping to do something similar with Fringe. Both Jeff and executive producer J.H. Wyman loved the idea. They assigned Noreen O’Toole, who works as a producer on transmedia projects at Bad Robot, to work on the extension. Together, they imagined several options, and Warner Brothers chose “September’s Notebook.”

Recently, Tara and Paul spoke in-depth with the Fringe Podcast about the year-long creation of the notebook. Most of the details I’m sharing come from that interview, which you can listen to here:

The most exciting facet of the notebook is that it isn’t just a translation of September’s writings. The book includes artifacts September collected and placed inside for safe keeping. The authors are attempting to put the fan in September’s shoes. Touch what the characters touched. Feel what they felt. It is a tactile and interactive augmentation on what fans have already seen to give context to the series.

Fringe’s showrunners always tried to honor the feedback their fans offered. After the backlash from the Lost series finale, it felt as though Fringe creators didn’t want a repeat of last time. With the notebook, they’re attempting to thank fans from all over the world by treating them as Easter Eggs. Fans that used #FringeFridays on Twitter get a special shout out in the book.

That is how you connect with fans. Listen to them and speak with them – not at them. Fringe fans have changed how social media affects the longevity of a show. “September’s Notebook” is a way to thank them for going above and beyond.

THE OBSERVER LANGUAGE

One of the more controversial aspects of the show is the Observer language. Initially created by actor Michael Cerveris, who played September, Fringe eventually imbued the random symbols he scribbled with meaning. The producers frame “September’s Notebook: The Bishop Paradox” as a translation of the language written in the notebook.

Fringe fan Drew Crawford wrote a nice post on his disappointment of discovering that many of the Observer words are gibberish; however, the symbols are still a fun frill on the Fringe mythology.

You can even download “The Observer” font at Dafont.com.

GLYPHS

One of the first big Easter eggs Fringe disseminated to viewers starting with the first episode was the glyph cipher. The glyphs appeared leading into each commercial break. Each had a variation of a glowing yellow dot in one of the picture’s four corners.

FringeGlyph

It took the better part of the first season for someone to decipher the code, and Julian Sanchez was the guy who did it. Each glyph corresponded to a letter of the English alphabet, and together, the letters spelled a word that corresponded to a character or a theme related to that episode.

VIRAL VIDEOS

To prepare its audience for the drastic shift in tone of season five, Fringe released a series of public service announcements…er, warnings…from The Observers. They directed fans to the now defunct rewardwire.org, where they could engage with the story.

The videos also included the hashtag #AreYouDonald?, a reference to an unknown ally of the resistance, and who the Fringe team sought for most of season five.

COMIC BOOKS BY STAFF WRITERS AND CAST

Before the pilot even aired, Bad Robot created content to prep their new science fiction series. The Fringe Preview Comic” is the prequel to a six-part Fringe comic book series that cover stories prior to the series’ pilot. From WildStorm Productions, they distributed it for free at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2008.

The second series of comics “Tales from the Fringe,” was a six-issue miniseries that featured a different main character on the show that added to the show’s mythology.

BeyondTheFringe

The third installment did something unique. The producers let Joshua Jackson – one of the show’s stars – write a series of comics. “Beyond the Fringe,” offered alternate universes not seen on the show. There were 12 individual chapters divided between six ‘A’ stories that tied directly to the show storyline and six ‘B’ stories postulate a ‘what-if’ tale. The ‘what-if’ tale even goes as far as to make Peter (Jackson’s character) into a superhero who protects the citizens of “Boston City.” For real.

RedLanternArrowMockCover

One other trivia tidbit I enjoy: DC Comics published the second and third volumes, and the show carried over a shout out to its red alternate universe storyline on television, in which the “Red Lantern” and “Red Arrow” are DC comic characters.

EDUCATIONAL COMPONENTS

One of the lesser known aspects of Fringe is its partnership with the non-profit organization Science Olympiad during seasons 2-4 in which they offered lesson plans for science teachers. “The Science of Fringe” inspired lessons that use the episodes to teach about hard science.

You can download lesson plans here.

ARG & IN-SHOW WEBSITES

Several seeds planted the series back in 2008.

The Massive Dynamic website of the fictional, monolithic corporation that touches everything in the Fringe universe is still up and running. It offers a peek inside this probably sinister company, including mock press releases you can download. It also led to an ARG that Jonathan Waite covered on ARGNet.

Fringe launched a scavenger hunt at the 2008 Comic-Con in San Diego, and an online sweepstakes began at the now dead, imaginetheimpossibilities.com.

Fringepedia.net. has a detailed list of all the rabbit holes.

FAN ART SOLD FOR CHARITY

If you watch or read interviews with the showrunners or cast of Fringe, fans are almost always acknowledged with a heartfelt thanks. Everyone involved with production knows the opportunity to see Fringe through to a satisfying conclusion was a rare and wonderful television event. Often, the showrunners shifted the plot of the series because of fan feedback. This is most evident in season five, where numerous fan favorite episodes made cameos – or became integral plot points, as in the case of “White Tulip.”

g1988_breakingbad_french

“White Tulip” by Anthony Petrie

In January 2013, Jensen Carp of Gallery 1988 curated the “Fringe Benefits” exhibition. Known for showing art inspired by television shows, like Breaking Bad. With “Fringe Benefits” co-creator J.J. Abrams and his team asked viewers to judge 31 episodes. The top six episodes acted as inspiration for artists to create work. Limited edition prints were sold online, and proceeds went to The Mission Continues, which awards community service fellowships to post-9/11 veterans.

Fan favorites are sold out, but a couple prints are still available.

JUST FOR FUN

One of the best things about Fringe was its sense of humor. Typically, Dr. Walter Bishop was the character tickling ribs. Having lost his mind and lived in a St. Claire’s Mental Institution for 17 years, his wild perspective was always fodder for fun. Also, his frequent LSD and THC trips made for some of the series most imaginative and goofy episodes.

During the first season, Fringe was establishing their characters. A wild way to share intimate moments with Dr. Bishop was through silly supplementary shorts in the style of Jack Handy’s famous SNL “Deep Thoughts” called “Deep in the Lab by Walter Bishop.”

ALL FIVE COMPLETE SEASONS

At the foundation of all these bits and pieces is a great television show. If you haven’t checked it out, you can watch the entire series through Amazon. The fifth and final season DVD drops on May 7, 2013. Pre-order it here. Amazon Prime also has Fringe Seasons 1 through 4 to stream online at Amazon Instant Video.

If you’re a Netflixer, you can get disks mailed to your house.

SOURCES

I’m sure I missed something. Over five seasons, there have been tons of bread crumbs scattered across the Internet and real life. If you know an aspect of Fringe‘s transmedia swell I missed, please sound off in the comments.

I must thank all the sites dedicated to this now classic television show. They archived tons – tirelessly writing, recording podcasts and observing Observers in the background of scenes – for five seasons. Kudos for your devotion. I enjoyed your commentary nearly as much as I did the show, itself.

fringebloggers.com

thefringepodcast.com

fringetelevision.com

fringepedia.net

seriable.com

fastcompany.com

wired.com

beyond the surface of things: an interview with lyle kessler and david fofi

This interview originally appeared on Culturadar, an arts listings website for New York City. You can read the original post here.

Entering Rattlestick Playwrights Theater on Waverly Place, I blinked my watery eyes as my face thawed from the blistering cold blanketing the city. I asked for Lyle Kessler and David Fofi, the playwright and director, respectively, of Collision, a new Off-Broadway play being produced by The Amoralists, a downtown company known for raw, in-your-face productions. Neither gentleman had arrived, so I stood at the back of the theater and watched the cast of Collision joke with each other on stage as they relaxed prior to their final preview performance.

After a few minutes, Mr. Kessler entered the theater and immediately saw me. He stretched a sweet smile between longish locks of silver hair. His gravelly voice inquired, “Are you James?”

He reminded me of, Harold, a character from his famous play, Orphans: a smart, old dog with some good lines and a few tricks up his sleeve. I confirmed my identity, and he wondered where “Fofi” was. Mr. Kessler looked at his watch and realized we were both early, so he approached the edge of the stage where the cast joyfully greeted him, like a favorite uncle. It’s clear they like having him around. He’s a likable man, as I soon discovered.

David Fofi arrived right on time; his stocky frame stuffed into a bundle of winter wears. Mr. Kessler joked about it being colder than Los Angeles, where Mr. Fofi resides and is artistic director of The Elephant Theatre Company, also known for hyper-real productions, including L.A. premieres of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ plays.

We settled into the two back rows of the Rattlestick’s house, and the actors instinctually vacated the stage, only to return intermittently to warm up for the evening’s performance. I saw Collision the day before, and I was eager to discuss the play’s development and its themes, including family, violence in America, love and hate.

JAMES CARTER: Orphans is receiving its Broadway debut in March. What’s the difference between mounting a 30 year old play on the Great White Way and a new play with a company like the Amoralists?

LYLE KESSLER: This is very exciting because it’s a new play. We’re on a journey, an adventure in discovering it. I mean, Orphans has been discovered and rediscovered, and been around for a while. Certainly, it’s wonderful it’s being done on Broadway. For years they were attempting to do it. Finally, I’m fortunate Alec Baldwin is doing it.

This is a play that I wrote a few years ago…the first draft of it…and I was sort of was rewriting and developing sort of privately because I didn’t have any productions of it. I had a relationship with Dave Fofi at The Elephant because I lived out there for many years…my wife and me. He directed a play of mine called Robbers, and they called me and said they were going to do it. And, then I began going to the Elephant Theater, which is really kind of a cutting edge theater in L.A. It’s terrific. It’s like the Amoralists or Steppenwolf or Labyrinth. So, I would go to see all his plays…all of Steve Guirgis’ L.A. premiers.

So, we had a relationship, Dave and I, and so that when Collision was going to be done…David Van Asalt was going to do it…Terry Kenney connected to it for quite a while, and then he got offered a Broadway play of Neil LaBute’s, you know. Then David gave me a list of directors that may or may not be possible to come in…and many of these people were all booked up and I wasn’t crazy about some of the people on the list, and I thought to myself, “Oh, shit.” You know? And then I thought, “Why don’t I call Fofi up? I mean, I know he’s got this fuckin’ theater, you know, in L.A….

Mr. Fofi laughs.

…and he’s probably booked for the whole year.” And it turns out that they had taken a little a…a…

DAVID FOFI: Hiatus.

LK: Hiatus. And they were going to start in February, March, and he said, “Hey, I’m available. Send me the play!” So I sent him the play and this is how it happened. He read it, and flew in…without much preparation.

They both laugh

DF: That’s the best way to do it.

JC: Down and dirty?

DF: Not too much time to over-think everything.

JC: You’re a writer, too, right? Or, you have written?

DF: I’m primarily a director, but I do work with a kind of…I guess I would say…most of the time I seem to be working with new scripts. I don’t write scripts myself, but I’ve a lot of experience working with writers in development.

JC: And you like working on new plays?

DF: Yeah, that’s what I wanted to do, you know, when I really got started working on theater in Los Angeles downtown after school back in ’95…’96. I kind of got into theater late, as some people would say…in terms of it wasn’t something I did in high school. So, when I did get involved it was actually post military.

JC: You were in the Navy, right?

DF: Yes, I was in the Navy. And I was really attracted to this contemporary new stuff. And though I appreciate…have an appreciation for classics and all of the different kinds of theater people do or revive, my company was started primarily as a new theater company.

DF: That’s part of the process for me is just telling stories that reflect the completely complex and insane world that we live in. You know? So many topics…so many things that touch our American lives or abroad. We like to do stuff…like Lyle’s stuff, too…that’s very kind of visceral…very down to earth. Not that everything has a realism, but it’s definitely something that approaches people on a level of this is something that they either relate with. Or, it is part of our fabric and it is something you should be aware of. Whether it’s something that has comedy or tragedy or both…a little bit of both, that’s what we’re attracted to.

JC: There are some great performances in Collision. Nick Lawson and muMs were especially beautiful. How have the actors influenced the development of the play?

DF: They had probably a series of readings over the past year…or something like that…with Terry or with maybe various actors in and out. But, I think that once we got started, Lyle was really willing to and wanted to open it up and really mine it for everything he could kind of find in there. Of course, anytime you get have opportunity to use the actors…I mean, just to have human beings to hear how things sound, how they would feel about it…especially with the youth involved. Because I’m older. I’m an old guy.

Laugher.

DF: I always think it’s good for Lyle to hear that stuff. Obviously, he’s the writer. Anything I can do to facilitate not only hearing different things…the opportunity to look at it from different angles, hear different ways…hear how it comes out of actor’s mouths…and also just from a generational stand point of what type of feelings they may have on it.

In the amount of time that we had, it was definitely kind of a workshop/rehearsal process that was pretty impacting. A lot of work got done.

LK: My plays are allegories. Orphans is a parable, really, though the emotions are very true. You know, I try to find a certain basic truth by not going into a realism kind of thing…although everything is real in terms of intense emotions. But, in this piece, which is much different than most of the plays I’ve written because of the…it’s like a fable…it’s like an old, Medieval morality play with extremes of behavior. The play has gaps in it because I didn’t want to write it naturalistically. And, to try to mine the truth I was trying to find in it, it had to move in certain ways and things would happen and would change.

So, Dave’s involvement has been essential to the links of each of the scenes so the audience can follow to a degree and go with the journey. Dave was bringing in certain kinds of reality issues that needed to be put into the play, you know…and the play needed. As we said, this was like a brief…this would be way out of town now…in Baltimore…we’d just be developing the piece. It’s like a pressure cooker here doing it so intensely. Trying to discover with the set and the music and everything…so, I’m very happy with the production Dave’s done.

JC: Both Collision and Orphans have similar themes – especially that of family and redemption. What does family mean to you?

Mr. Kessler laughs.

LK: Well, like my character [Grange] says, “I’d never put them on the wall. I’d have nightmares.”

We all laugh.

JC: It hits close to home.

LK: You know, I love the fact that Fofi comes from a military background. His father was a lifetime career…his brothers were all career. This great family. We all come from different families. I use a lot of extreme emotions with my family.

Family, you know, I guess there is…I never try to connect the two of them as themes, but I guess the first one is…in a way…a positive family. Orphans becomes a family. In a way there’s a redemption there. He brings the two brothers together and they live their life.

This one, is a different journey. It’s probably the reverse of it. But it’s a family. The people — in both aspects — need family. I think this is what’s happening in America right now with the families…the macabre families of violence and needs and lost people…are looking for something and not getting it and striking out.

I never intended it to be a play about guns. It just accidentally happened I was writing a play about these characters and it turned into this family that he [Grange] brings a family and exerts his power. It’s open to interpretation whether he comes into the room and wants to do that from the beginning. Or, as he starts to observe his power it starts to see more accumulates and ends up where it’s ended. I love the fact that there’s laugher, and then suddenly the audience doesn’t realize…it turns on a dime, really. “What are we laughing at?” It’s a black comedy, but it’s extreme emotions. So…we’ll see what happens.

DF: Family to me has always been very important. Four boys in my family. Military. Different than a lot of people I know. Like I said, my family’s very strong, male, you know, kind of ideals. But, you know, I think we had a kind of intense and at the same time loyalty and a lot of looking out for each other.

I think the thing here when I approached at the top was human beings or people have an inherent need for that. Whether it’s an actual biological family or the family that you choose. The family that you fall into. Sometimes you don’t choose it, you just find yourself involved. Whether it’s a gang…whether it’s a theater company…a musical group. Whatever your cabal or click that you happen to find. We’d all like to think that people are all just so secure and strong and sound by themselves. But people like to be part of something. And to me that’s an extension of family.

I think, when people don’t have that…and whether it’s even good or bad…I sometimes think apathy is even worse than sometimes coming from a rough family. Rough father…or rough family…at least there’s an impact there. When there’s a vacuum, something’s gonna fill it. And, I think in some of the young people, there’s a vacuum out there today. It can be filled in various forms. Whether it’s media, or whether it’s other people…and, unfortunately, they become very susceptible to with going with the group. Until you find yourself face to face with, “What are we doing here?”

This [Collision] is an extreme version. Obviously, it’s very extreme. From here to here. But, I can name a myriad of instances where people find themselves part of a group and then find themselves face to face with the decision, “Do I even believe this group is doing?” And it doesn’t necessarily mean something this intense.

I think people are always searching for that.

JC: You’re tackling very controversial and current issues, including atheism and violence. Did the Newtown shootings influence the development of the play?

LK: When I wrote the play, I had these posters that were going to be put up. And one of them was Heath Ledger as the Joker. I didn’t realize. We had it there and took it down. Somehow, in my…I don’t know how I intuited this character would be drawn to this kind of violence. And then, this kid that did that in the movie theater had the same thing.

I wasn’t doing it terms of controversy. Hopefully, it’s about what is happening now. I always intended to try to discover what the nature of… Fascinated by all the books about Hitler to try and identify at what point did he become a crazed racist and a psychopath. And then you read this thing that he was a poetic soul in the beginning. His buddy…I have a book that that they went on the mountain, and they talked about music…and Hitler had a “yearning disposition.” The guy became the worst mass killer in history.

And nobody could identity where that is. Nobody could identify what the kids at Columbine…why they would want to commit suicide…why they would want to kill people.

I don’t explain it in the play, as you know. To go naturalistically, and say, “He did this because of that,” is just a lie. It’s an assumption that I don’t…I’m trying to go for bigger fish. I’m trying to attempt to leave it to the audience to understand that these people…I’m trying to make them human. That hopefully they’re not so far from us. And maybe to disturb that way. They become this family, they need each other, and they’re manipulated. And they need each other. It happens. I don’t try to show the naturalism of it.

DF: The news…I heard about it in this theater from the stage manager, who was online. Obviously, it affected me in a strong way. And it wasn’t something we wanted to go, “Okay, we’re gonna rewrite things.” But I think it affected me in terms of, “Okay, what are we doing?” I think going into it I took it from the level of, “I’m directing a play…is it a dark comedy? How far do we want to go with it? Are we going from this parable…maybe this graphic novel kind of feeling in my head to…”

You know there are particulars of just staging it and not thinking about them. I don’t ever go into something thinking about repercussions. You know? I don’t choose that kind of theater. If I was worried about it, I wouldn’t do it.

I remember this [Newtown] happened on a Thursday or Friday. That weekend I was kind of going through something. I needed something to be really passionate about this. And in the midst of that initial, kind of, “Oh, shit. This is one of the most horrific things I’ve ever heard, and here we are doing this play. How can we continue to do this?”

For me, it was really digging down and saying this is why I decided to do theater. It’s not to make everybody happy all the time. It was to tackle things. Issues. That are happening. Not to be a shock artist. Just to take on topics that need to be discussed. For me, the passion of it became maybe more clear. Obviously, I just wanted to hold it to a lot more reverence and respect to the play and to the characters…to the process. That this wasn’t something to be done…not that it was ever lightly…but it was even more paramount that this was important. To basically go, “This has become a part of the fabric of our society that we’ve chosen to ignore a lot of.”

LK: These people [the characters in Collision] are nihilists against existence, really. I don’t know if they’re atheists. I think they want to kill off God. I mean, their rage…they need the gods because they’re so enraged at existence and whatever existence did to them. Whatever failings… And I have a feeling that a lot of these killings and a lot of these people…that it goes beyond revenging their families or things that happened… I think there is a feeling in a sense like a baby striking out against everything and everybody. That’s what Grange says to provoke them. He asks them, “What do you hate?”

They see themselves as revolutionary nihilists against existence. Whatever that entails.

JC: Today is Martin Luther King Day, and I happened to come across this before I came over here to see you guys. He said:“The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or love?”

I was already going to ask you this question: What do you hate?

Laughter all around.

DF: Extremists!

More laughter.

JC: On the other hand…I also want to know: what do you love?

DF: I love a lot of things. I love my family. I love freedom. I love honesty. I love good people. I love generous people. I love grace. I love forgiveness. I love creativity. I love loyalty. You know, I love…a lot of things.

What do I hate? Ignorance. And not the kind of ignorance that can’t be helped. The kind of ignorance where…you should know better. Or, you just choose not to. Extremists just refuse to be open-minded to anything.

Obviously, I hate murderers, killers, rapists. That goes kind of without saying. But on a bigger level, I hate the idea that we, right now – at this time in America – seem to focus on the most sensationally unimportant things. You know? News stories that just dominate the airwaves that are so inconsequential to anybody’s lives. Some celebrity lied about something. Somebody said a politically incorrect term on the radio. God forbid! We sit there and argue about that while, you know, stepping over some human laying in their own pee to spit on someone wearing fur. That’s the mentality right now. Social activism. It just seems to be a fashionable way of thought right now. Rolling with that, instead of really…really looking at what’s around us.

Millions and millions of dollars are wasted arguing about something that half of that money could have probably had a solution for. I don’t know what the answer is to that. I probably become more disgusted by our political process and our elected leaders representing their party and not this country.

JC: (to LK) What do you love?

LK: You know, I love the theater because it encompasses everything that Dave was talking about…family, love…I mean…coming together. It’s what brought me back to New York, really, from film, which doesn’t have the same feeling. Theater is amazing because it brings up family and how people deal in family…and how you have to resolve issues. And, also, you’re creating something greater than yourself. It’s something to live for, and it’s why we’re here. Not just the everyday things…eating, sleeping and making a living.

And what do I hate?

I hate the idea that people take things at face value and don’t see beyond the surface. They jump to conclusions. I hate that people don’t think for themselves. If people thought for themselves, they wouldn’t be able to be controlled by a situation like this. Or, by Hitler…or, by Stalin. They would think for themselves.

As she [Doe] says: “Stand up and fight,” she tells the professor. But, he says, “Well, I can’t because my wife would destroy me.”

So, I think, look for people who can see the world and make decisions based on what they’re looking at rather than what is usually the case. It’s all a knee jerk reaction to the surface of things. I hate the surface of things because it’s untrue.

JC: Well, thank both very much for hanging out today. It may not be exactly what you expected. I don’t know what you expected.

Everyone laughs.

But I appreciated it. It’s fun to talk about deeper stuff, I think, than the surface of things in life.  

_____________

Collision runs through February 17 at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
224 Waverly Place, between Perry and West 11th Streets
(866) 811-4111; collisiontheplay.com

PHOTO CREDITS
Middle image (L-R): Craig ‘muMs’ Grant as Renel, James Kautz as Grange and Anna Stromberg as Doe. Photo by Russ Rowland

Bottom image (L-R): James Kautz as Grange, Michael Cullen as Professor Denton, Nick Lawson as Bromley, and Anna Stromberg as Doe. Photo by Russ Rowland.

peaking at the new frontier

Sometimes, things just work out.

That’s how I felt Saturday night as I fell asleep on the red eye departing from Salt Lake City. My wife and I just completed a week vacation with her parents and brother skiing in the mountains of Utah, and we capped it off with my first visit to the Sundance Film Festival. We scheduled the vacation with short notice, and it was only after setting the trip’s dates we realized its tail end would overlap with the start of Sundance. We didn’t have tickets to any films, but I knew I wanted to visit New Frontier, the social and creative venue that showcases media installations, multimedia performances, and transmedia experiences.

First, we went to another venue to see if we could get tickets to a documentary, but it (like all the other films that day) was sold out and had a very long waitlist queue in which we would need to stand for over an hour before getting a number to hopefully be selected two hours later, when they assessed open seating and called off numbers. Needless to say, it didn’t sound like our idea of a fun day. We headed over to the New Frontier venue.

WelcomeToNewFrontierSandwiched between one of the park-and-ride lots and The Blind Dog sushi bar is The Yard, a 100,000 square foot multipurpose space that houses the New Frontier venue. Divided into three parts, the main area features a gallery-style space featuring the New Frontier artists. The other two spaces offer a theater specially designed for the venue and a bar/lounge area for press interviews and parties. I spent most of my time in the gallery and saw two short films during our visit.

We arrived at noon, which is when the venue’s doors open. Immediately, I asked for the box office because I knew Coral: Rekindling Venus screened at 1:00pm, and I hoped we could get on the waitlist. Being the first to arrive, we got on the waitlist with no problem. While we waited, the New Frontier volunteer staff helpfully explained the photographs of coral hanging nearby trigger an augmented reality app that takes you “inside” the photograph, animating it as if you are under the sea.

coral2     coral1

You can download the iOS app here or Android here and use the pictures I took to try it out. Click the thumbnails for larger images.

An hour later, we were lying down on mats and beanbags in a small planetarium, which reminded me of a yurt one might find at Burning Man. Inspired by the first collaboration among the international science community to witness the celestial transit of Venus in 1761, Lynette Wallworth’s Coral: Rekindling Venus is designed to nurture an emotional connection between a global audience and the planet’s endangered coral reefs. It has a trance inducing effect as one reclines, opening to ocean animals, including sea lions, deep sea bio-luminescent creatures, and of course, stunning time-lapse coral shots.

Prior to the screening, Evans & Sutherland, the company that created the planetarium, offered a demonstration of the numerous projects using their technology. The demo was almost as interesting as the film, for it included examples of real time, interactive tools for teachers. My mother-in-law, a retired junior high school science teacher, looked like a kid in a candy store and marveled at how this technology will change how we teach science. Way cool.

Next to the planetarium was a wall scrawled with graffiti and donning a poster of a large rock. I immediately recognized the rock as the handy work of Yung Jake. Prior to our trip to Utah, I visited the Sundance New Frontier website to check out the artists. I discovered Yung Jake’s E.m-bed.de/d, a wild, truly innovative music video that takes over your browser. Seriously, click on the link above, hit play, watch the video, and then come back and read the rest of this.

yoongjakerockAfter I found Yung’s work, I followed him on Twitter and shared E.m-bed.de/d. Yung DMed me and offered a beta test of the app he’s premiering at Sundance. It’s a trippy, 3-D, interactive music video that plays on your phone or tablet called Augmented Real. You can download the iOS app here. (No word on Android.) Point your device at the rock image above and press play.

I’m only sad we left town before Yung played his live performances. He performed a sold-out show last night. If you caught the gig, let me know how it was. He has one more show tomorrow, January 24. It looks like there are still a few tickets left. You can buy them here. According to L.A. Weekly, Yung Jake, may very well end up being the breakout star of Sundance.

MoreFingerprints

Pulse Index, by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Pulse Index is an interactive art piece that does what I love most. It makes its audience into the art. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s installation records the heart rates and fingerprints of participants and displays them in a Fibonacci pattern. You place your finger into the custom-made sensor, and your fingerprint appears on the largest cell of the display, pulsating to your heartbeat. Your print then travels down the sequence to join those of all the others who have visited the room. The mosaic of pink prints cover the walls of the room, constantly shifting the energy of the space. It’s breathtaking.

PamChristyHundredsOfFingerprints

My wife and mother-in-law cheesing amongst the pixelated prints.

My favorite piece at New Frontier was What is He Building in There? Inspired by the Tom Waits song of the same name, Ricardo Rivera and the Klip Collective transformed the front facade of the New Frontier venue into a 3-D, projection-mapped parable. Lately, I’m a sucker for 3-D projection-mapping, and this Kafkaesque, existential concoction of live action and animation blew me away. On the surface, the building looks like the outside of a factory, but throughout the film, walls dissolve away and windows slide open, showing the never ending toil of a solitary worker building…something.

“What’s He Building In There?” Sundance 2013 New Frontier documentation from Klip Collective on Vimeo.

One of the best parts of this was when a woman approached the entrance of the building and she waited for the projection to “open the door.” When it “opened” and she tried to walk through the door, she discovered the actual door still blocked her way. A true testament to the projection’s precision.

I didn’t get to check everything out. I heard Eyjafjallalokull, a three-dimensional, audiovisual mapping, optical illusion installation inspired by the 2010 Icelandic volcanic eruption, was wonderful. We couldn’t get tickets to North of South, West of East which wraps the film around the entire room in a 20-seat theater with swivel chairs. And Cityscape 2095 placed spectators on the observatory deck of a skyscraper, where they take in an imaginary city as it glitters over the course of one day. It was super cool, but I couldn’t stand there all day to watch it change.

Cityscape 2095

Cityscape 2095 by Yannick Jacquet, Mandril, and Thomas Vaquiée

We arrived at Sundance on a wing and a prayer, and as luck would have it, we enjoyed most of the New Frontier exhibition. If you’re in Park City this week, I highly recommend checking these exhibitions out. It’s not a crowded as Main Street, the volunteers are more than happy to help you explore the interactive aspects of the art, and you might just have your mind blown.

It was definitely a high point of my week in the mountains of Utah. The only thing I’d do differently next time? Plan ahead and schedule more than one day at the festival. So little time. So much to see!

the lost children want you

Yesterday, I officially began blogging for Culturadar, an arts listings website for New York City. Here is my first post, which you can also read here.

Have you ever wondered what it is like inside a cult? I mean a true blue, alien believing, doomsday cult that blindly follows a single man anywhere he leads. How do they vet their members? What do they share with their inner circle? What is real, and how do they manipulate science to attract followers to their bizarre beliefs? And, what happens to someone after she is violently extracted from the cult in which she is deeply embedded?

In the 1970’s, if you had a loved one embedded in a cult, a man named Ted Patrick was your go-to-guy. He forcibly broke doors down, tied people up and kidnapped them from cults. The police couldn’t legally do anything about the brainwashed members inside these cults, so they let Patrick get away with it. This went on until the 1980’s when laws shifted, making Patrick’s actions extremely difficult. That’s when kidnapping convictions and lawsuits landed left and right. But that didn’t stop families from hiring extractors to rescue brainwashed loved ones.

EVIEIn the 1990’s, a young woman joined a cult, and her family hired a professional like Patrick to extract her. He forcibly kidnapped her and put her through a rigorous deprogramming process. She tricked the extractor into believing she was deprogrammed so she could return to the cult, but the cult rejected her because they believed she had been deprogrammed. The woman lost all her friends and grew exceedingly lonely. To deal with her loss, she sued her own parents for destroying her life – and won.

Inspired by this true story, director and story architect Mark Harris wrote The Lost Children, a film that tells the tale of Evelyn Hamilton, a party girl turned would-be messiah of the secretive Lost Children cult that believes they are aliens from another world and their mothership, hidden within the Tioga Comet, is approaching Earth. The film follows Evelyn’s journey from The Lost Children, to the hands of obsessed cult deprogrammer Jared Allen Tyler, a character inspired by Ted Patrick.

Once Harris completed the film, he decided to dive into the themes of belief and faith. He expanded the story world of the cult through a live, immersive event in which the audience moves between two spaces. The first space offers a fictional cult recruitment session where some audience may be targeted for advanced psychic testing. The second space is an interactive science lecture in which authentic scientists discuss the nature of comets, as well as the real possibilities of alien life in the universe.

CONVERGENCE

On January 22 and 28, Harris will fully realize his plans when The Film Society of Lincoln Center presents the New York premiere of both the film and immersive theater extension of The Lost Children in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center’s Amphitheater.

Bouncing between cult mythology and hard science, the audience will see two sides of this strange world before viewing the aftermath, which is the film. When I spoke with Harris, he shared his hopes for the New York premiere.

“I kind of want this big argument going on in everyone’s head,” said Harris. “More importantly, I’d like the argument going on in person. Then, they kind of come together in the film with that argument in their head already.”

When finding distribution for the film became challenging, Harris sought a way to get people’s attention. The film doesn’t show the inside of the cult, so he turned to immersive theater to tell that story. By putting the audience in the position of the protagonist, they discover a unique perspective that deepens their experience. The live event also helps with marketing the independent film, which doesn’t have the big PR budget of studio movies.

“I didn’t want my movie to get lost,” said Harris. “You can’t compete. I wanted to do something really unique to make it stand out.”

UntitledDepending on the event’s reception, Harris might return for more showings in the spring. There is a possibility of digital distribution of the film, but he anticipates he will retain the theatrical rights, which gives him control over the live experience and allows him to pop up cult recruitments wherever and whenever he wants. For now, there are only the two showings at The Film Society of Lincoln Center. If you want to find out what it’s like inside a cult, Mark Harris is offering a limited peek at the secrets of The Lost Children.

Just tell your family where you’re going, so they know where to send Ted Patrick if you disappear.

The premiere of The Lost Children is now sold out.
filmlinc.com/lostchildren

thelostchildrenmovie.com