Saturday, December 3, 2011

Actors Workshop in Second Life

Wytch - Suzy - Corky

“Hey Nazz, want to come check out the actors' sandbox?  It is going on for the next hour. I can TP you?” She asked.

The message had popped up on my screen while I had been shuffling notecards from the main folder to sub-folders, all in a vain attempt at better organization. A losing battle for sure, but I try.  The sender was Suzy Yue I noted as the communications window opened for my response. Suzy is the head of Running Lady Productions, a Second Life video producer and a good friend. Her fingers were faster than mine and the next line popped up just as I’d started to respond.

“It is a workshopseries, weekly.  Actors show their stuff doing scenes and monologues … we invite actors and directors and producers to observe.” She said in reply to a question I hadn’t been quick enough to type out.

I typed in an affirmative reply and when the port request arrived I took it. She greeted my arrival in open chat and asked if I had voice. I replied that I did and slipped the headset on to listen. There were about twenty or so avatars present, including Suzy and the workshop co-facilitators; Wytchwhisper Sadofsky and Corky Mrytle. I scanned the assembled avatars and noted several familiar names amongst the crowd. Some of whom I’d recognized as members of the Machinima community. With the headset on, I picked up the voice of woman who I assumed to be one of the work shop actors. She had just completed a reading and had received feedback from Wytchwhisper. The lady responded to the suggestions with her own thoughts on what she could have done better. With the exchange concluded, a call went out from Suzy as to who would like to go next. I hung around for a while longer and communicated with Suzy via instant message. We talked about getting together for a chat to discuss the workshop. She suggested that both Wytch and Corky be part of the conversation and I readily agreed. We set up a date and time.

“Nazz, where are you?” Suzy asked as I arrived on site.

I took a second to look around at my surroundings and noted in my reply to Suzy, that there was a large wall directly in front of me. When I flipped open the mini-map, I could see that the trio I’d ported over to meet were on the other side of it. In my camera view, I saw a dark blue sofa near to where they stood. So I clicked to sit on it and was soon inside seated comfortably. After a brief round of greetings and the arrangement of a quartet of directors chairs, we each took a seat on one and began when I asked each to make a short introduction.

“Hello, I’m Corky Mrytle, Managing Director at School House Earth. What I’m doing here is actually looking at the implications for education in a virtual world. The work shop that takes place here is one expression of that.” He said after Suzy had suggested gentlemen first.

“I suppose I can go … my name is Wytchwhisper Sadofsky. I’m essentially an artist, but my art bleeds into various areas including facilitating this work shop. I’m an actress, singer, Machinimatographer, designer, dancer … I tend to put my stuff under my brand name, which is essentially all that I do.” Ms Sadofsky said.

“You kind of know what I do Nazz, but to reiterate. I started out directing in Second Life … more like production coordination and acted a little bit before that.  Out of that grew the need for talent management and casting management and that started Suzy’s Super Cast and Crew.” Suzy said.

“How is it that you all and this work shop come together?” I asked.

“How I got involved with Suzy and Corky was that I was hosting the weekly show ‘Look’ for TMU which is part of the TMU Machinima community and we were kind of thinking of connecting with the Second Life community of actors and because the TMU community needs voice actors and actresses and directors. There seemed to be of an imbalance of directors and not as many actresses or actors in Second Life. When Corky and Suzy approached me they had similar issues. So the idea was to join communities so we could share.” Wytch said in reply.

“It came out of Corky approaching me.  This is something that I’d done before in real life, from my background in theater as a director working with actors.  He invited me along to help facilitate the exercises for the actors.  I kind of bought my part of it into it. Setting up the stage, you know putting the atmosphere here which seems to work really well in Second Life. It may not be necessary to have a stage or soundstage or chairs or a green room or anything like that but it seems to help people when they come in and they see those things that are familiar … you know the atmosphere to kind of get into the spirit of it.” Suzy said as Corky commented in assent.

“We should probably talk about the work shop, the particulars of it. It has some very specific purposes that are for the actor … not only the actor but all the people kind of associated with acting in film. But the whole thing centers around the actor which is kind of like a real life thing. No one or very few people tend to care about who is behind the camera or who’s directing the action … the actor is the center piece. So this workshop kind of helps that person develop the skills and at the same time exposes them to what Corky has been adding elements of … training camera people or Machinimatographers I should say and on the back end editing. Then of course the producers and directors that frequently stop by looking for talent.” Suzy added.

“How does doing an actor’s work shop in virtual worlds compare to doing one in the real world?” I asked.

“That’s funny you should ask that, because that’s where we began the actual work shop at its very beginning. We only started doing this in Second Life just about a year ago we sort of branded it the ‘Actors Sandbox’ because it was very appropriate for this domain. The genesis of the work shop was in the Silicon Valley area when we had a production that needed some actors and we wanted to evaluate a number of them that we were aware of and we actually did this on an experimental basis in real life. In fact the next one we are doing in real life is in San Jose. It’s not like an acting class to the extent that people pay tuition and they go to certain sessions and they study with someone and its over in a week and they leave. It’s really much more like magazine style … it’s more a short burst. People come ... they learn from each other as well as what they get from a facilitator … and it’s that kind of culture we’re out to create here … collaboration and collaborative growth.” Corky said in reply.

“Sometimes actor’s workshops go that way in real life … sometimes no so much.” Suzy commented.

“I like to focus on the feeling of being welcome here and it not being a competitive sort of audition type atmosphere. Like I said before, there’s always the possibility of that because of the directors and stuff. The one benefit that Second Life has is they can contact them in instant message. It’s not like picking for a soccer team … WE WANT YOU … in front of everybody else. Then everyone else feels like crap.” Wytch said.

“What’s unique actually, kind of outside my experiences, is that usually a work shop does have fairly well defined ideas about how things are going to go and what the goal is … the goal usually straight forward … education, training or something. In this case what I’m finding … each of us are bringing a different point of view to the approach … what it seems to have done is provide a little something for everyone coming in. From Corky’s kind of encompassing let’s bring a team together with the actor as center piece and bring together all these possibilities for forming production teams. Then from my standpoint it’s a session where actors have the opportunity to stretch and try things … but ultimately with the goal of refining those tools that you need as an actor. Wytch brings into that kind of nurturing point of view that keeps things from going too far … from beginning to accomplished actor making sure that everyone gets the most of it for their own self esteem or sense of worth. And fun … we like to keep it fun and I think we all three bring that … we all have that goal. Wytch tends to really focus on that. I tend to be very focused on task” Suzy said.

“I’m a good cop to your bad cop.” Wytch said and then quickly added; ‘It’s like we have our own version of Law and Order.”

After the laughter died down, Suzy added. “And Corky is like the chief.”

“I want to be inclusive … from noobs and people that are new at it because I remember what that was like. But at the same time I want to challenge existing actors to grow beyond their current comfort zone … to stretch themselves.” Wytch commented.

“Boy does she like them to stretch.” Suzy said which brought a round a laughter from each of us.
“That’s half the fun.” Wytch replied.

“It is … it’s provided a number of memorable moments … to have people try something completely off the wall … some truly amazing performances as well and I think that’s due to the atmosphere.” Suzy commented.

“The key to is that we offer constructive criticism and we don’t offer criticism unless we have a solution. You don’t just sit back and go like … THAT SUCKS … It’s like … if you did it like this it would be better … and they try it and they either agree with us or they don’t.” Wytch said.

“I had a conversation with the folks at the Avatar Repertory Theater group a few weeks back about doing a live performance in Second Life versus real life and they commented on the differences and similarities … like hitting your marks, remembering lines and timing etc. For someone who’s had experience as a voice actor in real life what’s the difference in doing it in a virtual world?” I asked.

“Cheat sheets in the sense of Second Life live performances … you can have your script up on screen while doing your scene. If you’re walking around on stage with your notes in real life you’re going to get in trouble. With voice overs you can have a lot of mistakes … bloopers and things like that … sometimes they get in. Actually the best thing about voice acting is the improv capability. A lot of the time a script can be written and because I like to encourage people to do improv to get into the emotion of it … as more of a scene or a set of lines. Often the improv people come up with is way better than the lines from the director and they’re using that instead.” Wytch said.

“Wait a minute! That’s not always the case.” Suzy commented.

“I didn’t say always.” Wytch replied and we all laughed.

“It happens much to the chagrin of writers who toil over their scripts and like to hear their words. I’m one of the directors who likes to hear my words.” Suzy said and paused before she continued. “When it comes down to film and performance in Second Life, the real challenge is for everybody involved is in understanding their roles and actually working within their role. There is so many one man bands in Second Life … the writer, director, star, supporting cast, builder, costumer can all be one person or two. What we’ve been trying to do is to start defining those roles more carefully and really helping those people who have a specific goal for instance … be a director or an actor … to actually have that opportunity in Second Life. I’m all about that. I think you really need to have actors understand that in the real world you don’t grab a script, read it quickly and then toss it aside and then do your own words … unless you’re Robin Williams or someone like that. It's getting right now that were transitioning from a Wild West attitude as far as filmmaking in Second Life, to something a little more structured and I think that's good. It's really really important I think that if you want this to go beyond ... m goals for my filmmaking in Second Life go beyond Second Life and a lot of actors are finally hip to that here. You've met them in ART and I've had a few in Suzy's Super Cast and Crew who want to take that craft, as a voice actor, and apply the same set of skills and talents here with that goal in mind.”

"I remember when we first talked during the interview we did and in subsequent conversations about your long-term goals. It does sound like you're getting closer to achieving them. One of things that you and I are sharing right now is in being on the UWA IV Machinima judge’s panel." I commented.

"My first year judging that, I'm excited." Suzy replied.

"Going back to your comment about the wild West days ... that anyone could be a Machinima maker, I think that it's slowly starting to fade away. The expectation now is that there is a story or narrative along with costumes and scenery that are consistent with the theme. Part of me is sad about the wild west days going away however." I said.

"I don't know that will ever necessarily go away. What's happening here is that there's an opportunity for learning and making productions amongst potential media creators.  There will still be people that show up and do the whole thing themselves from going to get themselves some bots, then that person will take the camera and zoom around for 2 1/2 minutes and then put music behind it. What people here are now learning is the traditional production practices so that they can apply that to the creation of media and take it out into the mainstream for various purposes." Corky said.

"I think you're right, that it's not going to disappear. I don't think it should disappear ... that it should go away. I think any time you have a person who discovers a camera and that they want to make something from it … that is a fantastic thing. That's how it gets started. That's how a person discovers that they want to do this." Suzy said.

"I suspect that the use of Second Life as a medium is still in its infancy and that we'll probably have the Wild West days for a while longer anyway." I said.

"A lot of the time people use a medium like Second Life to do things that they've always wanted to try in real life but don't quite have the courage to do so. It's just easier for them to try it in here. If they can do it in here then maybe they can take it back out into real life." Wytch commented.

"I was just thinking … that there are so many cases of people coming in Second Life and creating films and putting them out there. But I've yet to see a Second Life video and this is a very frustrating thing for me, that gets significant hits on YouTube. If somebody can point one out to me I really like to see it." Suzy said.

"That's one of the things that I've seen and it has been about distribution. It’s something I've really been studying for years because it has implications for mainstream media as well. The truth is that you get something like a guy shocking his cat on an electric fence and it gets 2 million hits ... yet a well-crafted story from one of the top Second Life Machinima people and it only has 150 hits ... mostly from his mom. That's just a cruel fact about understanding distribution." Corky commented.

"A lot of it … is that they have to do promotion. Like you can do a response to a video that has been heavily marketed … heavily hit videos then they'll get more hits. People like to see responses. I encouraged Pooky Amsterdam to do that with her ‘I'm too busy to date your avatar’ and to do it with the original Guild video because of their own marketing. It was kind of like a response … it would have been appropriate to tag it as a response and gotten the hits … that’s my opinion." Wytch said.

"What about the educational impact of what you do here Corky. Is it your goal to expand using the media for education?" I asked him.

"Absolutely it's sort of an undercurrent or subsurface motivator. There is an overt education goal and that's achieved by us having the workshop ... people learn. But the reason why we created workshop is to draw actors together so we can see their work and put them together with projects." Corky replied.

"I'm going into the chat history and looking for something Wytch said earlier ... 'My perverted humor at improv' ... Tell me about how you apply that in the workshop?" I asked.

“I use it to relax people. I know it sounds weird but I'm completely serious. I use it on the radio show with the same effect … if they were nervous at all, I would throw out something perverted and once I'd done something like that they're like  … wow I can't do anything that's going to be that bad … and they get all relaxed and that's good. That’s the idea … what I wanted to accomplish which was put them in a more relaxed state." She replied.

"Kind of a distraction from being nervous." I commented.

"That's right ... but don't tell them my secret." She said which caused Corky, Suzy and I to laugh.

"A general question to each of you, where you see the workshop in six months to a year?" I asked.

"I kind of think it's evolving on its own, because even from where we originally started it is changed to something we didn't expect. People are getting things out of the workshop we didn't expect them to be getting." Wycth replied.

"That's really true. It's really hard to predict because how it works is any changes are being driven by the conversation the three of us have about the experience as we watch people here in the workshop. I don't personally expect any kind of radical shift because I'm one of those people who believe strongly in the value of practice and it doesn’t count as practice to do something different every single time. Even if you do, part of the idea of practice is to repeat it until it becomes second nature. What I do hope to see is our veteran players up their level … see some of them season and mature. What happens now is people tend to be really reading a script rather than performing a scene I would like to see a lot more of the performances where people have internalized the script and are really acting … that is where I'd like to see it pushed forward." Corky replied.

“I think I'd like in six months to a year to see a natural evolution of what's happening in general and filmmaking in Second Life in particular. The craft of acting is going to continue and the sandbox is actually setting the example of focusing on the craft and on the art. I imagine in the same way that the art shows or the sponsored events kind of helped … and actually it gets us focused on how we do this better … breaking down the components of that is the next step. One of those things … what I saw a few years ago that was the attitude of the Machinimatographer was that actors were just in the way." Suzy commented.

"We have directors that think that." Corky commented which caused a round of laughter.

“That's true but it has evolved where they've begun to see the necessity … it used to be that there wasn't an acknowledgment that it was ever possible." Suzy responded.

“We do seem to be drawing more directors that are more appreciative of the actors as well … about how much the actor contributes to a production." Wycth commented.

“The sandbox helps in that by bringing in observers who see the work that goes into getting it right. At the same time what Corky is saying is true … practice … repetition … standards and to a certain extent ritual. It is a part of making it better. Actors in particular should know … should understand or be taught to understand the real necessity of that and to internalize those processes."  Suzy said.

My last request was for them to get closer together so that I could get a good picture, which they did easily enough. I snapped the picture and after a short exchange of good byes, I ported back to my place on Book Island and logged out. 

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