Meeting the Challenge

Earlier this year my employer, Column Five, gave me and two others the great opportunity to work on a project free of many of the typical constraints I as a producer have on a day to day basis. No set guidelines, no lengthy approval processes, and no budget. Now, none of these are outright impediments to creative work. On the contrary, any one of them can spur innovation. You work with what you have and you always come to bat with the goal of  knocking it out of the park. In fact, some of the time not having any parameters can be just as anxiety-inducing as having none at all. Shakespeare gave himself rules for his sonnets; would anyone argue that any of the 154 of them weren’t creative? Parameters are your friend. In cases such as these where there weren’t many to begin with, we made them up as we went along, letting the data and a shared design sensibility inform our visual representation.

The data came from market research giant, Nielsen. Along with The Economist, Nielsen offered a “Data Visualization Challenge” through InnoCentive, an organization that offers a platform for organizations to pose”challenges” for potential “solvers.” Given that data visualization is at the heart of our organization, the team at Column Five was excited to meet this particular challenge. I joined forces with one of our incredible designers and a very skilled developer in order to transform a spreadsheet of data on global advertising spending into something that looked great and would be insightful and enjoyable to navigate for users. The interactive graphic that resulted from our efforts is here.

Today, I’m pleased to share that out of hundreds of submissions, our work was chosen as one of the seven finalists! We are so grateful to InnoCentive and of course, Column Five, for the chance to collaborate on what was largely a blank canvas in order to create something that we hope people will enjoy exploring and perhaps inspire new ways of thinking about our world and the vast amounts of information flowing from it.

MACHINAL

One of the most exciting things about my job as Marketing Director for Columbia Stages, is to be among the first to hear about the new and original work being done by the third year directors and playwrights of the Columbia School of the Arts theatre program. Part of a student’s thesis and the culmination of one’s MFA degree is a fully mounted production of a work of his or her choosing including devised pieces, new adaptations and original written material. Although, these projects are part of a “season” of shows, each director and playwright are given creative freedom in developing their work so what results is often an eclectic run of classic plays, experimental work, international pieces and highly collaborative artistic efforts.

Last summer I had the opportunity to develop the descriptions for these various projects based on in depth conversations with the directors about their respective material. It was a real privilege for me to help craft the language that would hopefully carry their visions with it and entice ears and eyes to come to our productions throughout the year. One of the projects I was working on was a wholly original piece that was to arrive on our stage nearly ten months after we were to nail down a description before there was a real body of art to describe. Part of the joy of writing about something that hadn’t been fully written yet, was the thought that the back and forth tailoring that went on between the director and I might in some small way help tailor the thoughts of the director as she put together her own words as we attempted to establish what was most compelling about the story she wanted to tell.

Sometime between the time of the season’s announcement and midway through this scholastic year, it became clear to the director, Jess K Smith, that this story was not the story she wanted to tell as part of her final bow at Columbia University and had chosen a new project. Everyone involved in the project was understanding of the shift in creative impulse and embraced the new work. While part of me was sad to know I wouldn’t get to explore the world she had hinted at last summer, this new project was perhaps even more thrilling. The show? Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 expressionist play, Machinal, based on the trial of real-life murderer Ruth Snyder.

In our first marketing meeting for the show, there were conversations about target audience, themes, verbiage, the look and feel of the show, etc., but the most awe-inspiring part of the afternoon involved the whole team huddled around a laptop watching five minutes of raw footage of the lead actress in a black box theatre hanging, spinning, twisting, and dancing with the aid of a trapeze. Working with trapeze artist, Sy Parrish, Machinal will employ the use of dance trapeze for several of the show’s segments simultaneously emphasizing the mechanical world surrounding Snyder as well as Snyder’s persistent desire to rise above. The footage was entrancing. We wanted people to see this for themselves. That is now possible thanks to the show’s creative team. A video trailer for the production was launched this morning:

It’s always exciting when someone creates theatre that uses non-traditional performance forms and not just for the sake of being different. Ms. Smith has integrated this physical form of expression into her characters’ journey and has created in the process a visually stunning and emotionally provocative experience for audiences.

Machinal by Sophie Treadwell
Directed by Jess K Smith

Based on the legendary New York court trial of Ruth Snyder in 1927, Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 Expressionist play uncovers the life of a woman who must choose between fulfilling the world’s mechanized expectations and abandoning convention in order to live freely, whatever the costs. Now in 2011, this imaginative production uses aerial choreography and live music with an ensemble cast to illustrate with stunning theatricality the tension between social suffocation and independent breath.

Machinal runs from March 9th-12th at Riverside Theatre near Columbia University between 120th & 122nd st. with a Talk Forward event on Friday, March 11 at 6:30pm.

$15 general admission; $5 seniors; FREE for press and theatre industry professionals and for those with valid student ID.
For more information visit ColumbiaStages.org.

Follow my tweets for Columbia Stages on Twitter @CUStages.
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"How to Receive a Fax"

The other day, we learned about misleading out-of-office replies. Today’s topic is on “How To Receive a Fax.” I’m used to getting calls or having people ask about how to send a fax. “Do I dial 9 to get out?” “Do I put it face down or face up?” and that sort of thing. Today someone called me about receiving a fax. On the rare occasion that I am faxed, I wait for it to be put in my box, or if I know when it’s coming, I wait until it prints.

The following conversation took place between myself and a client in a business-office type setting:

Client:
How will I know the fax is for me?
Me: Um…ask your party to put a cover sheet with your name on it.
Client: How do I keep it private?
Me: Well, you can have them put a cover sheet with it in addition to putting your name on it. Or wait for it to come out.
Client: What if someone takes it?
Me: Um…have them put your name on it.

Or take it first because you’re standing right in front of the machine.

Also, I would also be open to offering a tutorial on “How To Leave Voicemails that A) Don’t take three times to listen to in order to get all the info B) Don’t take five minutes to listen to in the first place C) Don’t exist-ie. email me.”

In related news, the usefulness of voicemail is fading according to The New York Times. I tend to agree.

Out-of-Office Reply

This is a real out-of-office reply I just received from someone whose last day with my company was earlier this week.

“I will be out of the office starting 04/02/2009 and will not return until 01/01/2014.”

Okay, I guess, uh…I’ll just leave a voicemail.

"If you’ve reached this message, I’m probably in the ‘verse."

Since I came back to Seattle from my holiday jaunt abroad, I jumped right into a new job, another Concierge position, though far more involved and rewarding. I get to excercise my creative talents designing and writing flyers for a variety of events and the atmosphere all around-aesthetically and otherwise is just fantastic. I feel tremendously valued and every day is interesting. A real good change to say the least. And the free food is definitely welcome!

In the other hours of the day, I have been almost entirely immersed in the Whedonverse-although, I would say I’m in that state a great deal of the time anyway. I am still working on a Firefly paper with friend, co-worker, colleague and co-author, Kj, for the Southwest Texas Popular Culture and American Culture Association’s 30th Annual Conference in late February. (Unlike SC3 for Slayage, this conference makes for a significantly longer acronym SWTX PCA/ACA). The paper focuses on Shepherd Book and his (in)ability to carry out the duties one would expect from one in a shepherding/pastoring position.

It has been a perfect project for us, I with my Christian upbringing, an academic conference on my resume, English degree with unofficial pop-culture emphasis and Kj with her enthusiasm about performing arts, film television and her pursuit of a Masters in Divinity at a local school. That and we get along-I can’t imagine doing this kind of thing with an arbitrarily assigned classmate-though I’m sure that will come about either in grad school or my professional career.

We’ve been divying up responsibilities, watching episodes of Firefly over and over again-with commentary, without commentary, waxing theological over sliders, Guinness and Mountain Dew at Happy Hours and reading loads of essays, books and comics. We’ve both been experiencing the fun of homework. A few of the recent additions to the bookshelves from bookstore runs and Amazon orders, Finding Serenity edited by Jane Espenson, Firefly: The Official Companion Vol. 1 & 2, Serenity Official Visual Companion, and Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Science Fiction on the Frontier edited by my advisory-peer-academics Rhonda Wilcox and Tanya Cochran. And if you fancy yourself a fan of Firefly, you need to check out the graphic novel, Those Left Behind. With a script written by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews, it does a great job of bridging the television series and Serenity and it has been an invaluable asset in telling the overarching narrative as Kj and I conduct our character research.

Also keeping me fresh with the ‘verse: multiple visits daily to Whedonesque. A highlight from this morning that’s worth reading if you’re an Angel devotee is by Jake from The Armchair Critic. There, he offers his take on the 25 Best and 5 Worst episodes Angel.

I still anxiously await every issue of Buffy Season 8 and Angel: After the Fall. This past week brought us the comic debut of Harmony Kendall in the Jane Espenson penned “Harmonic Divergence” where Harmony gets a reality show and in the process brings vampires to the forefront of public awareness. Tons of pop culture references and wit. Harmony must be a blast to write for.

She also makes a brief appearance in the recently released first of three issues of Angel: Smile Time, a comic book version of the Angel episode from Season 5. Also in the works is an adaptation of the very last episode of Angel, “Not Fade Away.” Each adaptation features expanded dialogue and creative use of the “camera” that sometimes deviates from the original framing.

While I’m in the Whedonverse-dishing-mood, some upcoming dates:

Dollhouse premieres February 13, 2009 on FOX

Buffy Season 8 “Swell” #22 February 04, 2009 Satsu and Kennedy team-up in Japan.

Angel: After the Fall “Riot Control” #16 January 28, 2009

Angel: Blood and Trenches March 25, 2009 An ancient evil calls Angel to return to Europe during World War I.

Angel “Not Fade Away” April 2009

Illyria: Before the Aftermath Release Unknown

Angel: Aftermath Mid 2009

If you’re aching for original and canonical Buffy material, you’re not too late to get into the rich text and art of Buffy and Angel in comics!

Not After Midnight

Gremlins is one of my favorite movies and if I kept a list of favorite Christmas movies it would surely appear close to the top.

Before the Furby and Tickle Me Elmo, there was:


and the dreamy Zach Gilligan as Billy Peltzer.

Gerald: If it isn’t Captain Clip-On. Guess who almost signed for unemployment today?
Billy Peltzer: I give up.
Gerald: You… But Mr. Corben had second thoughts. He gets so sentimental around the holidays.
Billy Peltzer: Imagine that.
Gerald: If it was up to me, I would have fired you in a second.
Billy Peltzer: Well, a merry Christmas to you too.

If only real businesses worked that way. I was laid off early this month just in time for Christmas, but thankfully, I was offered a new and exciting job this past weekend. I hardly had time to celebrate before heading off to France! Champagne when I return to the US of A!

In The Industry

Today has been a rather stressful day at work, hence the frequent need to escape in the form of sweet poetry and all other sorts of fun-filled blogging practices.

My frustration in poetry form…

Hospitality:
May find it necessary
To pack a sharp shiv

Speaking of shivs…

Inmates have even
Sharpened the ends of pork chop
Bones to make weapons.