Nov 30, 2020

A Blast in Kranesville

 


For the last several months I have been part of a team of faculty members and students at the college campus I work at who have been colloborating together to create an orginal "audio theatre" project. The project is titled A BLAST IN KRANESVILLE and involves students both in the devising as well as in the performing of it.

I am proud of the piece, even though the student aspects of the piece are a little uneven. I am particularly proud of the aspect of the project I did the most heavy-lifting on: the world-building. I created an entire fictional small town in rural Texas, complete with an extensive history and diverse set of townspeople. I also invented the framework of the story for the project.

The central event of the piece involves an explosion at a mysterous anbandoned factory at the edge of town. Green mist seeps from the ground and a faceless government agency closes the entire town down for weeks. No questions are answered and each citizen grapples with his or her sudden sense of isolation, frustration and confusion.

I wrote a detailed "wiki" about Kranesville. Very much worth a read.

That and the project itself can be accessed Dec 2-9, 2020 ... HERE

It is worth a listen.

The project alone, without the notes, wiki and context, can be accessed... HERE


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Nov 13, 2020

My review of the DAYLAN HILLIS review in TheaterJones.com

I recently collaborated on a project with Jeff Hernandez and Jeff Swearingen. It was called Daylan Hillis in Space. A sort of "digital theatre" project for the 22nd Annual Festival of Independent Theatres. Since the Covid-19 pandemic is still happening, the FIT this year was a "virtual" affair. Projects were recorded and presented online as "on demand" videos.

The FIT lasted October 8 - 31, 2020. On October 28, TheaterJones, the local online journal for the performing arts, released a "review" of the FIT entries. So, to be clear, three days before the festival ended, the review came out. The review was written by Arnold Wayne Jones, an experienced reviewer who often works for the Dallas Voice.

I am putting Jones' review below. It illustrates a major challenge in the arts landscape at the moment. Beyond the obvious producing challenge of trying to present a production digitally that would normally be presented on stage, there is a problem on the recieving end as well. Namely, the dilemma of critical coverage of such projects.

Jones' implicit assumption is that the camera MUST move as if this hybrid project was a piece of cinema. 

Jones was plainly at a loss of how to "cover" such a project. It is not a theatre production, of course, once it is removed from playing in real time in front of a live audience. However, what was presented was also not cinema. Filmmaking was not the goal. This project (notice I don't call it a play) was purpose-built for the online form the presentation would take. The result was a project that falls outside of easy categorization. It is a narrative, sure, but beyond that, the project operates by its own rules. 

After a snarky statement about actor Swearingen being ideal to play "a tightly wound, disappointed, middle-aged white guy with self-esteem issues" Jones states that the director (me) doesn't "know what to do with the camera."

Jones' implicit assumption is that the camera MUST move as if this hybrid project was a pure piece of cinema. This is aside from the fact that the concept of the show was that the main character was addressing the audience through a webcam the entire production. The "static" camera he describes is part of the production concept. It is strange he did not pick up on such an obvious thing.

[Jones] is like a child presented with candy who complains about the wrapper.

On the other hand, the piece was plainly not his cup of tea. Jones' attention was not held the scant 38 minutes of running time (or "35" as he incorrectly states), and that is his to own. I could comment that perhaps, like so many of us, he is unaccustomed to viewing online content over ten or fifteen minutes and has a diminished attention span for focusing on a narrative of any length presented in this way, but that would only be my supposition. 

The "non-descript wall" that he refers to was in the piece by design. The first "act" is set in as mundane and as sterile an  environment as possible. By the way, the second act has the main character metaphorically in the belly of the whale, so it features Daylan's illuminated face floating in the darkness of an alien space craft while the third act sees out titular hero in a colorful, saturated, mysterious landscape on an alien planet. The design of the environments was on purpose. Jones' seems to want something to hold his attention in the background for some reason, instead of focusing on the tale of the central character. He is like a child presented with candy who complains about the wrapper.

As a reviewer, I would hope that he would question and put forth the smallest of analysis about what he was watching. Though, I would hope, as an arts journalist, he would understand the form and content of the project, perhaps he just didn't like the show... and that is okay, too.

As the Latin saying goes, de gustibus non est disputandum ("There is no accounting for taste.")

Here is what Jones had to say:

Review: 22nd Festival of Independent Theatres | Festival of Independent Theatres | ONLINE


FIT to be Online

This year's Festival of Independent Theatres brought six short films from familiar and new groups.


published Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Jeff Swearingen in Daylan Hillis in Space | Photo Credit: Audacity Theatre Lab


Dallas
 — Even though the pandemic has now dragged on for seven interminable months, we are still — as audiences, as theater presenters — struggling to figure out the acceptable contours in translating live in-person performances for “virtual” theatrical experiences. Some companies have done live shows via streaming platforms (or socially distanced in parking lots); some have released previously-recorded performances for current consumption; some have created Zoom readings. The actual post-COVID productions recording a traditional performance have been few (notably, WaterTower Theatre’s full-on version of the solo show I Am My Own Wife). The Festival of Independent Theaters’ crop of shows seem to eschew theatricality for more exploratory visual language, and, well, it’s not always a good fit.

Daylan Hillis in Space (Audacity Theatre Lab) by Brad McEntire and Jeff Hernandez has a one-man show tailormade for its single cast member, Jeff Swearingen. He’s the title character, a mid-level security guard in a top-secret government facility. He’s angry with Susan, who started the job the same time as he but has been promoted faster (most of the play is a series of monologues to her) and who gives him the crappy shifts. But when Daylan investigates a disturbance in a secure room … well, it’s right there in the title.

Swearingen is the natural go-to for the role of a tightly wound, disappointed, middle-aged white guy with self-esteem issues. He modulates the monologue’s pacing and levels well enough to keep us amused. And that’s not always an easy thing. McEntire (who also directs) doesn’t seem to know what to do with a camera. The first half of the play is the same medium-closeup of Daylan in front of a nondescript wall. The setting moves twice, but the single-shot concept never does, making it feel static and confining (Swearingen’s performance often exceeds the borders of the frame). Without varying the image much across 35 minutes, we grow restless and bored. And without an audience to play off of, the jokes land on silence and don’t live in the moment as much. It’s cute, and fun, but it overstays its welcome.

Original post... HERE

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Oct 10, 2020

DAYLAN HILLIS in Dallas Art Beat

Jeff Swaeringen in Daylan Hillis In Space by Audacity Theatre Lab

FIT Festival Series, Part 1: Audacity Theatre Lab presents "Daylan Hillis in Space"

By Cristee Cook


For the first time in Dallas’ Festival of Independent Theatres' 22 years of operation, the FIT Festival will be virtual. Streaming on-demand October 8 – 31, this year’s program offers 6 performance companies in a variety of genres including dance, comedy, drama, and new work.

Dallas Art Beat was approached about a media partnership for the festival, and we were excited for the opportunity to highlight new, independent works in Dallas. We’ll be offering short, get-to-know-you featurettes with each company in the festival in a 6-part series throughout the month of October.

First up, here's a fun chat with Brad McEntire from Audacity Theatre Lab. Co-written by McEntire and Jeff Hernandez, Daylan Hillis in Space is about a security guard who feels underappreciated in his job at a top-secret government facility. When a normal, mundane shift is interrupted with strange intruders, Daylan Hillis gets a chance to prove what he’s really capable of. Directed by McEntire, this “digital theatre” piece features Jeff Swearingen.


Can you give us some background on your project for the FIT Festival?

We were approached by [FIT Festival Producer] David Meglino about the idea of a Virtual FIT. I suggested we'd be interested, but only if we could create a purpose-built project - essentially, online and recorded. He agreed, and we started brainstorming ideas. I came up with an idea involving a security guard with insecurity who is leaving webcam reports for his boss. The idea kind of grew from there. I brought in co-writer Jeff Hernandez and we fleshed out a script. The idea was to use the limitations of the webcam approach and see how far out we could push it. That idea finally became Daylan Hillis in Space.

What positive changes have come out of the pandemic time in regard to your work - creating what is traditionally live performance for a virtual audience?

This has been tricky. First, we had to acknowledge that we are, technically, no longer doing theatre. Without a live audience watching live actors onstage in real time in the same location, it is, by definition, no longer theatre. But if that is the case, what is it? It isn't necessarily film or video. It is not simply a recording of a stage performance (thank goodness). It was interesting to work in this new space, creating this weird little hybrid project. I mean, it kind of oozes through the cracks of any easy categorization. Then actor Jeff Swearingen came on board, and suddenly it was like getting the old band back together, which has been positive in this time of social distancing. We did a lot of catching up before we got down to work.



Why do you want to tell this story now?

The silver lining of the current situation is that it offers different opportunities, like FIT. During normal times we would be working onstage, with the usual hustle. Now, we have a chance to question the form and break out of old patterns. We have a chance to engage audiences in new ways, even if it is only temporary. If it wasn't for the hot mess that the world has become recently, I doubt this project or anything like it would have even been on the creative radar here at Audacity. In a way, we are creating art that speaks to the times we are living in.

I know watching "theatre" online is not for everyone. There will, however, be those that dig this sort of thing and will like our show. For those that watch and this show blows their hair back, I say thank you. And your hair looks better now anyway.

How are you keeping yourself sustained during this time of uncertainty?

As far as day to day living, I am an adjunct college teacher. I teach theatre and cinema classes. Everything has moved online and looks like it will stay that way until at least next summer. Working from home is a mixed bag of pros and cons. The teaching is not quite as fun, but the commute is better. Now that the weather has stopped being so oppressive, I have returned to my budding midlife crisis activity of hiking and camping. I try to get outdoors as much as I can. That is keeping me sane.

____________________

Audacity Theatre Lab’s Daylan Hillis in Space by Brad McEntire and Jeff Hernandez is available for streaming (on-demand) October 8-31, 2020 as part of the 22nd Annual Festival of Independent Theatres.

Purchase a two-show block for $12, or a festival pass with access to all shows for $30. Find the complete program listing, tickets, and more visit: ​festivalofindependenttheatres.org.

Get to know Audacity Theatre Lab at AudacityTheatreLab.com.


Original article... HERE


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Oct 4, 2020

DAYLAN HILLIS IN SPACE at the 22nd Annual FIT

I am not a superfan of "digitalizing" theatre. I realize a lot of theatres have embraced recording and streaming, or even live-streaming, theatre events since the Covid-19 pandemic shut down venues starting back in March.

Some colleagues in Oklahoma who mounted a "digital fringe" this year in order to keep their event going, contactd me and asked my thoughts on things. I wrote back:

"As a maker of theatre, I acknowledge it is, technically, not theatre any longer. It is a new thing. Not cinema, really, either. The hybrid newness of it I find appealing. The silver lining of the times we are in is that we can step back and question the old ways. If there ever was a time to do a few virtual/digital shows and get away with it, it is now in the hot mess we call 2020.

As a viewer of theatre, I'd sooner poke flaming Doritos in my eyes than watch a damn Zoom play reading. Shows I might have seen in normal times (is that a phrase any longer... "normal times?"), I have no inclination to see as a recording or a live stream. I'd sooner wait everything out and see that production when I can eventually sit in a real audience again."

It is the novelty of the moment, however, that lead me to round up a few friends and create a show for the 22nd Annual Festival of Independent Theatres. The FIT went "virtual" this year. When producer, David Meglino, approached me to participate, I offered to custom-build a show for the constraints of the moment. The result is a very entertaining piece called DAYLAN HILLIS IN SPACE. Here are the details...

Jeff Swearingen in Audacity Theatre Lab's
DAYLAN HILLIS IN SPACE [credit: Audacity Theatre Lab]

DAYLAN HILLIS IN SPACE

By Brad McEntire and Jeff Hernandez
Featuring Jeff Swearingen
Directed by Brad McEntire


Security guard Daylan Hillis feels underappreciated in his job at a top secret government facility. One night his otherwise boring shift is interrupted by an encounter with strange intruders and a chance to show what he is really capable of.

Audacity Theatre Lab is thrilled to offer this digital "theatre" piece
as part of the 22nd Annual Festival of Independent Theatres.


Available for streaming October 8-31, 2020
Two Show Block Tickets - $12
Festival Pass for all Shows - $30
For tickets or more information visit: ​festivalofindependenttheatres.org/

​Running time: 38 minutes
NOTE: This production contains some strong language (PG-13-ish)



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Sep 17, 2020

I was a Guest on the Welcome to Jaymesville Podcast

 


I was delighted to be interviewed by old friend and all-around artistic guy Jaymes Gregory for his podcast Welcome to Jaymesville.

He asks some pretty good questions. Give it a listen... HERE

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Jul 8, 2020

Shakespeare and The Rock



Back in April I recorded a Cultivated Playwright podcast episode where I drew comparisons between William Shakespeare and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. I finally threw it up online. 

Give a listen... HERE


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