Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Once upon a time

In which our Diva ventures into the deep, dark forest

As I've been hinting for a couple days over on Twitter and Facebook, I've been sitting on some good casting news. With the green light from production, I can tell you I'll be playing Mother in Rose White, a dark fantasy retelling of "Snow White and Rose Red."  I'm a sucker for that sort of thing anyway, so it's doubly delightful to be a part of it, and if the concept art and promo photos -- which you can see at the official site and also on the film's Facebook page -- are anything to go by, this thing's gonna be gorgeous. (Also scary and disturbing, but those are pluses in my book.)

It's also a kick to be reunited with the lovely, talented, and very hardworking Deneen Melody, whom I met on Holiday Carvings, and who is branching out into producing for this endeavor. There's a great team on board for filming next month, and I'm excited to meet them all!

I always have to be reminded that "Snow White and Rose Red" is a lesser-known fairy tale, as it's one of my childhood favorites. It's in the Fairy Tales and Rhymes volume of the four-book box set of Little Golden Book compilations I've had as long as I can remember, and the Gustaf Tenggren illustrations are clearly imprinted on my mind's eye.  I just pulled it out and reread it for the first time in ages, and was struck by the calm practicality of the two girls, in the face of tantrum-throwing dwarves and unexpected bears. When life throws them curve balls, they do what they need to do. I'm not giving anything away by saying Rose White won't have the bright illustrations or the standard happy ending, but that core idea is very much intact.

It's one of those funny cultural moments, that this project was already in development when Hollywood went back to the fairy-tale well with Red Riding Hood and Beastly, but of course it's not a well that's going to run dry any time soon. (I had to just sort of stare at someone who thought a horror take on Red Riding Hood was something weird and unheard-of. No judgment on the new movie -- I haven't seen it yet, and I'm not a big fan of the "if it reminds me of anything anyone else has ever done it's pointless" mentality anyway -- but, um, that impression would be incorrect.) The impulse to strip away the protective coating from fairy tales and expose their often-dark hearts is a compelling one, fueling films, novels, and notably the long-running Vertigo comic series Fables, in which Snow White (who is also the one with the dwarves) and Rose Red have a very complex sisterly relationship indeed.

Kid stuff, right? ;->

Song for today: "Rose Red," of course. The track that got me hooked on Emilie Autumn riffs on the folk song, which some people interpret as a veiled reference to the Wars of the Roses (for slightly more plausible reasons than the old saw about "Ring Around the Rosy" being about the Black Plague), and which in any case appears to be unrelated to the fairy tale. But I love it a lot, and it's a perfect auditory complement to the stunning Rose White promo art.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Scarlet X trailer

In which our Diva has been looking forward to this

And I'm pretty excited about how it looks. I've had a great time creating the character of Scarlet, and am looking forward to digging in and shooting more this spring/summer. In the meantime, I don't have a date yet for the release of the first webisode (time is the enemy of indie projects everywhere!), but it shouldn't be too terribly long, and I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

I knew who I was when I woke up this morning

In which our Diva is once again thankful for Netflix recommendations

Watched the most unexpectedly extraordinary movie yesterday: Phoebe in Wonderland. It was actually my husband who picked up the recommendation, and the DVD has been sitting on our coffee table for a bit, since we've both been pretty occupied lately. But we finally sat down to watch today, and what we thought was going to be a lightweight tale of a socially awkward little girl finding a place to fit in her school play turned out to be quite a lot more complex. It quickly becomes clear that nine-year-old Phoebe (an engaging and achingly truthful Elle Fanning) is not just awkward, but exhibiting increasingly disruptive compulsive behaviors she can't understand or control. The adults in her life are well-meaning but heartbreakingly, humanly imperfect: The new drama teacher who can relate perhaps a little too well. The mother who hymns the virtues of being "different" and doesn't want her child "labeled." The father who says "we can choose not to do things that hurt other people" to a child who feels that choice repeatedly jerked out of her reach. It's hard to watch at times, with a frightened nine-year-old saying "I need help" over and over again, and so many times I just wanted to grab people by the shoulders and yell, "This is not a neurotypical child! Stop asking her to respond like one!" But it's full of moments of magic, too, and ends positively and realistically, with an actionable diagnosis and a recognition that it's just the start, but already so, so much better.

The film is amazing on its own merits, but also addresses something very close to my heart as an actor and sometime instructor. Several years ago, before moving to Chicago, I was involved with the Columbus Rec & Parks Davis Performing Arts Programs, assisting with costumes and teaching stage combat. (I still love the looks on some people's faces when I quip that the city of Columbus used to pay me to give swords to teenagers!) I'm thankful they're still around, though economic reality has forced them to scale down the class schedule and charge the kids to participate. When I was there, it was still free for any kid who lived in the park district (encompassing some suburbs as well as Columbus proper), and the Davis Center was the social hub for a slew of youngsters, some homeschooled, others just lacking another compatible outlet, as well as the place they learned skills and told stories that for many represented the first time they had done something that felt like it mattered. There are a dozen reasons it breaks my heart to see arts education inexorably chipped away, not only in our schools but in the alternative programs that arose to fill that gap, but this is probably the main one. I think of the kids I knew so well, who've grown into adults with amazing, fulfilling lives, and wonder what those lives would be if they hadn't been there.

Theatre (or sports, or whatever pursuit helps a kid to connect to what will make them a whole adult) isn't a cure for psychological issues, and another reason to recommend Phoebe in Wonderland is that it knows that. But for so, so many people, it is an incredibly valuable building block in an effective coping strategy. And (as the movies sometimes forget to tell you), it's not perfect. I think of the 14-year-old whose impulse control wasn't equal to my one-warning policy regarding weapons safety rules, and whom I was forced to remove from his part in the Romeo and Juliet street brawl as a result. He was still in the show, but he had to watch from the sidelines while the rest of the cast dusted it up to thunderous applause. And that wasn't comfortable for anyone, certainly not me.

I also think of the same kid coming up to me three years later to thank me for not letting him off the hook.

And lest we think it's just about my chosen art as an educational tool: I have so, so many colleagues who are adults with ADHD, depression, alcoholism, autism-spectrum disorders, you name it. Who are the counterparts of those kids, grown up and thriving, the ones for whom the coping tool grew into a vocation. Some of the most mesmerizing, intense performances I've ever had the privilege to witness have come out of people that, in most environments, are perceived as bright and nice enough, but difficult and exhausting to be around. People who might not last a day in the typical workplace. I've watched them take that chaotic energy and focus it like a laser, to create something phenomenal, because something in the way we work as actors has given them the tool they needed to do that.

You don't have to be crazy to be in this business. But sometimes it really does help. And not in the way that means you have to be tortured and miserable, either!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Five things make a post

In which our Diva is kind of a wee bit all over the place tonight, and rolling with it

Watch: Mao's Last Dancer, which I had never heard of until it happened to be one of the movies on my flight back from London. A bit heavy-handed at times, as these things tend to be, but generally an interesting biopic and the dancing is superb and (a clincher for me) mostly even filmed well. The funny thing is, I got about ten minutes into it and went "Wait, everyone is calling this guy Li, and he's arriving in Houston in 1981... OMG, is this about Li Cunxin?"

See, I actually saw him dance Swan Lake on Houston Ballet's tour in 1982, in the midst of my hardcore ballet-baby phase, an occasion memorable for being the first time I saw ballet of that caliber in person. If I'd thought about it when I was older, I would have realized it was almost a given that his life story would be a dramatic one, but I hadn't, and I had no idea. And (unsurprisingly, given that ballet has its politics and mercenary side just like everything else) not all the drama was the fault of the Chinese government.

Bruce Greenwood with a British accent (as artistic director Ben Stevenson) is a little blink-inducing, but once you get used to it he works well. Of the three actors playing Cunxin, it's actually the middle one, Chengwu Guo -- covering his teenage years in Beijing -- who impressed me most, as both actor and dancer.  It gets a little on the soapy side, but nobody (except maybe Madame Mao, who was kind of a living caricature anyway) comes off as either a saint or a villain.  It's a collection of flawed people with their own goals and agendas, some of whom happen to dance gloriously.

Eat: Ancho Chili BBQ Burrito at Qdoba. Ridiculously good. And reheats well, which is important, since it's one of those burrito-as-big-as-your-head places, so the thing is easily two meals.

Read:  The "Walker Papers" series by C.E. Murphy. I've been doing pretty much all research reading lately, and it's great stuff, but I picked up the fifth book, Demon Hunts, just in time to have some lighter travel reading for the trip to England. Joanne Walker has all the most fun "standard" urban-fantasy-heroine traits -- notably a very hard head, in both the literal and figurative senses -- and a few that are very much her own.  Plus an interesting cosmology, a great support structure of interesting characters, a personal life that's engagingly complicated without crossing the blurry line into paranormal romance, and (at least so far) nary a vampire in sight. Which, as you know if you read much urban fantasy, is worth noting. Not that I'm not demonstrably quite fond of the fangy types in a variety of flavors, of course, but it's nice to have a universe that does things a little differently.

Do?: Spring fever has hit me early this year, partly because -- due directly to the wicked cool stunt work you can catch a glimpse of in the Resonance trailer -- I'm having an attack of see-something-cool-and-want-to-try-it with respect to parkour. Which may or may not be practical (given my schedule, dodgy knees, and questionable upper-body strength), but I've been watching Jump City on G4, reading articles and watching videos on GirlParkour.com, and eyeing the mentions of beginner jams on the Chicago Parkour site. For all that it looks pretty outside most days, of course, it's still too chilly for me to want to actually be out there if I can help it, but I can smell spring, darnit!

All this is proving once again that part of me is still the slightly reckless eight-year-old who was prone to things like taking a friend's big brother's go-cart (the old-school home-built kind you may have heard about from Bill Cosby) down a rather steeper incline than it was, strictly speaking, intended for. Suffice it to say the cart and I parted company well before the bottom, and I arrived there with noticeably less skin than I'd started with. (And yes, this coincided with the hardcore ballet-baby phase. I'm a complex creature. *g*)

Listen: I'm always behind the curve with pop music -- I have no patience for commercial radio, and most often find music I like because it appears in movies or TV shows I like, or because it's used for fannish music videos -- so I only recently downloaded Paramore's Brand New Eyes. The first track, "Careful," is getting a lot of repetition on my MP3 player because I've mentally adopted it as the theme song of a Chicago-based Resonance character. (I'll tell you who when she goes public, and you can decide for yourself how well it fits.) But it's "Brick By Boring Brick" that has the video I keep rewatching.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

You have no idea who you are

In which our Diva has a resonating good time in London

"Something is happening." Tantalizing words on the front page of the Resonance website, and the name of the event held in London last Friday to celebrate what we've been building for months (or longer, for a few of the core team).

Annie, Dorina, Phil Marriott, Barry Pilling and I enjoy the
party. Thanks to Dorina for the photo!
Various "cells" of the project came together at Paramount, 31 stories above Soho, to share glimpses of their work. The beta version of a smartphone game app that will draw real-world locations into the
Resonance world (and which involves the "bee" graphics that now include the one I customized to represent the Chicago story, with the four stars of the municipal flag). The first comic story (yeah, eventually I'll accept that everything's a "graphic novel" now, but in my old-school fangirl brain that term still has a more specific definition, and I'm not quite there yet). Language and history background pointing up the global reach of the narrative being built.  The first live-action scene featuring ancillary characters created and fleshed out through the process that, now that the framework is created and tested, will soon be expanded to new communities.

At my little table, my Yank accent and I gave a peek into the wiki set up for my team to facilitate collaboration on the story we're building, a mystery at the nexus of Chicago politics, business, and organized crime, which will stand on its own as well as linking into the central narrative of Resonance and the trail of the mysterious Object.

Funny thing about explaining things to other people: it's often a great way to clarify things for yourself. What began as simply the best tool for the job -- a centralized place to develop characters and story elements -- has become a microcosm of the "open source narrative" philosophy of the project. And not just because the MediaWiki engine it's built with is open source software.

With each person's contributions, and especially the links between them that are so easy to create in the wiki format, the framework of the story grows stronger, the picture more complete. At more than one point in the afternoon presentation, I watched someone's eyes light up in comprehension, as they realized why a concrete notion of what Resonance is has been so hard to come by, that the nature of the project is that it is becoming more concrete through the contributions of the community.  Up to now, there's been a relatively small team, creating and testing a framework that will allow for the right balance of creative freedom and coherent storytelling. The framework into which we'll soon be inviting the wider community to come and create with us.

But there was more than that to talk about, in a room that buzzed louder by the hour with the energy of people from disparate disciplines, with a myriad of skills and resources to bring to the table, if they choose to help. Some arrived confident in what they had to offer and needed only the right place for it, like the virtuoso of simulated documents whose artistry I hope we'll be able to make use of for online clues and filming props.  Others didn't realize their own potential, a little stuck in workaday notions of "what I can do" or "what's useful." ("You have no idea who you are." K might mean something else by it -- or does she? Give the trailer another look and you tell me -- but the line keeps running through my head in multiple contexts, both within the story and with the real people I meet.)

It's this latter category who particularly interest me, and who I'm convinced will ultimately form the backbone of the Resonance community.  I talked a bit about it a few days later with the project's creator, Tom Hill, over Starbucks before we each rushed off to our next appointment, about how easy it is for talented people to get lost in the shuffle in the conventional entertainment-industry way of doing things, and how this project represents another way.

I mentioned a while back that my particularly eccentric and eclectic background has turned out to be more tailor-made for what I'm doing than anyone knew when I sent that first email -- and I don't just mean the stuff I'm qualified to do for a living. Gaming and fandom and a DIY mindset are no less important ingredients in my perspective than acting and writing.

Our story centers on a force that has inspired human accomplishment for millennia. Accomplishment comes from the recognition and development of potential. Which is also a darn good way to go about telling a big collaborative story. Pretty cool, huh?

There have been a lot of people in my life who helped me (not all of whom are still with us), whom I was in no position to repay directly. But that's not how it works, is it? The people who give what we need aren't usually the ones who need anything we have. But someone else does.

Helping to build the Resonance community gives me the chance to put others in reach of opportunity. That's as exciting to me as the storytelling work itself. I hope they take that opportunity and run with it, as far as they can, to a place where they can offer opportunity to the next bundle of potential. It doesn't get any better than that in my book.

It was quite a long day and evening coming straight off an overnight flight. By the end of the party I was cracking that I hadn't been in a bed in long enough that I couldn't do the math, which wasn't entirely true, but across six time zones I certainly didn't want to do the math!  With the buzz in the air, though, and all the warm cheerful bodies right in front of me who'd previously only been names online or faces on Skype, I hardly even felt tired until close to midnight.

Hate to disappoint the railroad folks,
but I don't think he'll fit in there.
The rest of my week in Britain was a bit of a whirlwind, but not as intense as that! And of course the rest was vacation, all visiting with friends and exploring museums and sights. Though there was still room for a chuckle at spotting our hero's enigmatic moniker on an electrical junction box. More proof that Resonance is everywhere! ;-D

Do you believe?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hey nonny nonny

In which our Diva is safely home and reacclimated to Central Standard Time

A few things I need to accomplish before writing up a proper blog post (or three) about my UK trip.

In this meantime, there's this.

Yes, I cried. I'm a sap. Deal. :-)