Monday, November 21, 2011

IWz Dreamz & Visionz Festival Award Ceremony

Follow the link below to read about the ceremony and a list of the winners announced yesterday.

Inworldz Dreamz & Visionz Festival Award Ceremony

Congrats to all who participated and especially the winners!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Conversation with Ballet Pixelle Artistic Director Inarra Saarinen

Ballet Pixelle Artistic Director Inarra Saarinen

A decent sized crowd had arrived before I did at the site of Ballet Pixelle's performance of "Immortal Waltz". It was a Sunday evening and this was the second in a series of several performances planned by the troupe. I pointed, clicked, sat and was presented with a both a playbill for the performance and instructions on the environment set up. It took me moments to complete the latter and I decided to save the former for a review at a later time. I scanned the chat lines which were fairly steady and found the conversation to be both amiable and anticipatory in nature. With a glance at the clock I realized that the time neared for the curtain to rise and I suddenly had an expectation of lights flickering and the soft tone of chimes to let me know that the performance was about to begin. Instead it was a chat line from the master of ceremonies which appeared in the lower left corner of my screen.
MC: Now, it is my great honor to introduce Ballet Pixelle's artistic director, Ms. Inarra Saarinen.
A round of textual applause came from the assembled audience and Ms Sarrinen took center stage.
Inarra Saarinen: My sincere greetings and welcome to our view of the immortal dance of life. Please enjoy. Sit back, relax, and ponder. And enjoy … or else!
With her brief opening complete, she ported out and the master of ceremonies proceeded with an introduction to the “Immortal Waltz.” 
MC: What is life?  Isn't it movement? A constant cycle of movement, no movement, movement … through the ages.  Dance to dance! In Act 1 we see an old lady sitting in a graveyard type watching herself lying in a grave.  Suddenly, the dead lady vanishes and the living one begins moving.   Then other dead people begin to appear and move bringing themselves to life.
The curtain had risen and I’d restarted the music stream as the MC had instructed the audience to do after the introduction. I did and then settled back in both my virtual and real chairs to enjoy the performance. There were four acts to the “Immortal Waltz” and the MC introduced each along with instructions to re-start the stream. There were no scene changes and I found the set well designed, the musical selection delightful and the choreographed movement of the dancers a joy to view. The performance lasted roughly forty-five minutes and the audience showed their appreciation at the end of each act and the finale with a steady flow of textual applause. It had been a few years since the last time I had seen the troupe perform and as then I enjoyed this evening’s performance. With the last curtain call, the MC invited us all to; “Please stay for a Question and Answer session with the cast and crew.” I did briefly and before my departure I message Inarra and we made arrangements to meet. With her schedule and mine, though we weren’t able connect until a few weeks later.
Her instant message and a TP offer arrived at nearly the same time and I took the offered ride over for our meeting. After a brief tussle with bann lines, I arrived in the office to find her seated at an informal conference area. I took a chair next to her and we began.
Nazz Lane: I'm glad we finally had the chance to meet. I've been a fan of Ballet Pixelle for some time. If you’re ready to start we can begin.

Inarra Saarinen: That's wonderful to hear. Yes, I’m ready.

Nazz Lane: How was it that you found your way into second life?

Inarra Saarinen: I heard about furries and this world … that it actually had an economy, back in 2006. Within a short time after I had logged in, I realized I could move, and I built an outdoor theatre … flowers gave out the programs.

Nazz Lane: Are you in the entertainment field in your first life then?

Inarra Saarinen: Yes. I have been a dancer and choreographer my whole life … along with a few other careers -- mostly in technology.

Nazz Lane: So your experiences here are a combination of both dance and choreography along with technology?

Inarra Saarinen: Yes, a perfect blend. So it lends itself to my goal … to explore and investigate the interaction and intersection of physical and virtual dance and blended realities.

Nazz Lane: When was the first scheduled performance by the troupe?

Inarra Saarinen: February 7th in 2007. The company was formed and rehearsing in 2006.

Nazz Lane: Did you find it easy to fill out the members of the troupe?

Inarra Saarinen: It was harder at first than it is now.  There are a lot of demands on being a dancer or crew member in Ballet Pixelle. But with our success has come education and expectation ... and we have learned so much. Now we are overwhelmed with requests to audition.

Nazz Lane: What would be the most important lesson learned?

Inarra Saarinen: Emphasize commitment and time required … this is a professional company in Second Life and real life.  We work to the utmost of our capacities.  That does not come easily.  Dancers and crew often work up to 20 hours per week.  It takes 4 months to create a show. I do this full time.

Nazz Lane: Four month to pull together a production. Is that from concept to the first performance?

Inarra Saarinen: Yes, although I have a lot of ideas always waiting, that is four months from having the idea chosen and conceptualized.

Nazz Lane: Is that comparable to doing something similar in real life?

Inarra Saarinen: Yes it is, although of course that depends on the kind of show and its extent.

Nazz Lane: That would be understandable. What would you characterize as the most challenging aspect of producing a show?

Inarra Saarinen: That’s a tough one. Because I am both the choreographer/artistic director, and director/producer. I have a freighter that I am trying to keep on course. We work with professional composers and set designers now.  So the creative team is now composed of professionals collaborating. The fact that everyone is not doing this full-time can be tough … and of course, now that the dancers are educated to the facts of life … of change … that the creation moves and changes as the concept changes and solidifies in my mind.

Nazz Lane: So as the concept evolves with the first sequences developed along with sets and music, things change and routines are added and or scrapped?

Inarra Saarinen: Yes. I am always telling a story and what I am communicating sometimes is not clear to me at the beginning.  Then I come to terms with what I am really trying to say.  Then on the more pragmatic level, some steps don't work or are awkward or do not transition or do not add to the story … and the same with the music and the sets and the costumes.

Nazz Lane: What kind of things provide the inspiration for your ideas?

Inarra Saarinen: Travels! I am constantly travelling and love cultures and languages. I love trying to communicate with people of different lands and to understand their beliefs and structures. I am also spiritually involved in many countries.  Those stories, and how they are "seen" by me, are often found in my ballets. "Living Goddess" is about a real child living goddess who is worshipped in Nepal who I met while in Kathmandu, for example. "Shuzenji" is a real place in Japan but the story was one I created; I live in Tokyo and Hawai’i.

Nazz Lane: What about the current show, "Immortal Waltz" was it a place that inspired it?

Inarra Saarinen: That was one of the few where I think the idea came first, but the set reminds me of some of the fascination with places and feelings I had as a young girl.

Nazz Lane: When you had told me the name of the production, I immediately thought of Vienna. I was surprised at first by the opening in a cemetery.

Inarra Saarinen: Aah … well surprise is good.

Nazz Lane: Yes it can be and I did enjoy the performance.

Inarra Saarinen: Thank you. We are very glad you did!  We do it for our audience.

Nazz Lane: I know that IBM has reduced their Second Life presence, is this still an IBM SIM?

Inarra Saarinen: No, this has always been our space.  The theatre that was sponsored by IBM that we had was IBM 9 and IBM 10 SIM’s. So this is our home theatre.  At one point we had the two locations, now we are back at this one. We have auxiliary storage space and a creative development space in another SIM as well.
Nazz Lane: It was most gracious of IBM to support the arts in Second Life and in particular the ballet. Are there other real life companies who've provided support now or in the past?

Inarra Saarinen: No, not now.  IBM was our big sponsor and we are very grateful to them.  We worked very well together. Now we depend on a few anonymous donors ...  very few.

Nazz Lane: After Immortal Waltz, what comes next for the troupe?

Inarra Saarinen: We will be doing our famous "The Nut" for the holidays starting at the end of November. It is the only ballet we do that is not completely original with original music … we pride ourselves on always presenting original ballets. We call it "The Nut" because it contains only the essence, the dancing, of the Nutcracker Ballet … and while the dancers are rehearsing and performing that I am working on the next new ballet. You'll have to join the group or subscription list to get the news on that one.

Nazz Lane: Have you explored doing this in any other virtual world?

Inarra Saarinen: A little.  At one point we looked at other virtual worlds, however, they really did not have the sophistication of Second Life.  One of the reasons why we renamed the Company Ballet Pixelle … it was Second Life Ballet … was to allow the change to other worlds. It was also when Linden Labs was concerned with branding, but we wanted to broaden our name and image. Also, as I think you know, we do not use "poseballs" or "HUDs" or synchronizing scripts or any artificial devices. The dancers truly dance with each other and the music. That is difficult to get in other worlds as I know it now … but let me know if you know any!

Nazz Lane: I recall hearing that the dancers create their own animations ... and I will if I see any virtual worlds that would be capable of supporting and sustaining something as you have here.

Inarra Saarinen: I create all of the animations for Ballet Pixelle. I use various software packages outside of Second Life, import them, and then choreograph using them as "words" into "sentences" … those are "gestures" in Second Life-speak. Then the dancers have a taxonomy system for labeling them and dance with each other and the music.

Nazz Lane: So the creating the animations is the essence … the combination of your experience as a dancer and choreographer with the "technologist"?

Inarra Saarinen: Exactly … one of the reasons our animations are so correct is that I spent years learning and teaching classical ballet.  So they are technically correct. Or that is the aim … also, Second Life allows me to work past limits of gravity and of body joints so I am able to turn limbs in different directions than they are capable of … or to keep turns spinning endlessly. Those are some of the things that I am exploring -- but all to tell a story

Nazz Lane: And artistically presented in the performances I’ve seen.

Inarra Saarinen: Thank you … you'll see heads that rotate and arms that twist to give an eerily non-human appearance in "Immortal Waltz" for example. I often sound more confident than I feel when developing a work. I go through a lot of sleepless nights believe it or not.

Nazz Lane: I can understand that ... the spell one succumbs to when creating.

Inarra Saarinen: Exactly! And these voices in my head!  They just drone on and on...

Nazz Lane: I know it’s getting late for you. Do you have any closing comments or thoughts you'd like to share with my readers?

Inarra Saarinen: I hope that everyone can come to see us … We have a Euro-friendly performance time now,  Wednesdays at 2pm and Sundays at 5pm … and remember, if you have the chance to sit it out or dance … Dance! Dance with us into the digital future ... we really do it all for you, so join us in some magic.

Friday, November 18, 2011

"1000 Avatars" Reaches a New Milestone with Second Volume to be Published


Are You Your Avatar?
2000 avatar portraits explore identity in online environments

The largest ever documentation of Second Life® avatars has reached another milestone.

Gracie Kendal, Los Angeles artist, Kristine Schomaker, in real life, has photographed her 2000th avatar and she has declared the project finished, at least for now.

Begun in October 2010, the 1000 Avatars Project is part of Gracie's ongoing examination of online identity and anonymity. Her inworld exhibition space on Coyote is stunning and humbling with its complexity of portraits of avatars from all corners of Second Life.

“In the portraits, I explore the representation of the avatar as a construct, distinct from any traditional notion of the self,” says Gracie. “I examine the sitter’s identity and probe below the avatar surface to reveal and comment upon their character, personality and their diversity.”

In June of this year, Gracie released a fine art book of the first thousand avatar portraits. 1000 Avatars Volume 1 was well received by the Second Life community and now Gracie is preparing to release the second and final volume of the series.

In volume 1, avatars are shown from the back, the way we view our own avatar in most situations, but also expressing the desire for anonymity in our virtual environment. In volume 2, however, Gracie has shown avatars in the traditional front view.

It was after the publication of 1000 Avatars Volume 1, that the Google corporation inadvertently set off a battle for online anonymity, the so-called “nym wars”, with the release of Google+. Both Facebook and Google+ were cancelling “fake” accounts of  persons choosing to use avatar representations of themselves online.

“I realized I needed to show these people as strong, brave souls who are proud of their online identity,” Gracie says. “I felt showing each avatar in full front portraits was a way to stand up to these big online companies who are trying to take away our privacy."

1000 Avatars Volume 2 includes essays by virtual reality researcher, Garrett Cobarr, and Point Park University photography professor, Patrick Millard, who place the project in social and art history context.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Inworldz Dreamz & Visionz Festival Update

By all accounts the Inworldz Dreamz & Visionz Festival which has been underway all of this week has been a huge success. I spoke briefly with Jeri Rajha and Quadrapop Tree, the festival organizers who are pleased with how the festival has unfolded with 30 plus teams of artists vying for one of four top prizes. The judges have begun their judging and the participants are awaiting the decision which could come as early as this Sunday. Along with the art on display, there is also entertainment galore arranged by the magic of Sunbeam Magic. Both Jeri and Quad are pleased with Ms Magic's efforts in coordinating the calendar of events and in picking up the reins after her predecessor had left the team unexpectedly. The details on the entertainment can be found on the festival site.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Peoples Choice Vote: GRAND FINALE UWA 3D Open Art Challenge

The announcement below came to me via JJ at UWA and I'm passing it along in the event you hadn't heard about it yet.  This marks the end of the UWA 3D Open Art Challenge and give you the art patrons of Second Life the opportunity to participate in the event by making your selections known. After reviewing the list along with a stop at the site to see many of the pieces, I can guarantee  that it won't be an easy task. But it will be a fun one and the chance to see the work of some of Second Life's finest artists.


We've come to the end of the MONTHLY rounds of the UWA 3D Open Art Challenge and now we're looking for the People's Choice Grand Finale winners!!!!

To have your say in who you think should win, all you have to do is choose between the art pieces listed below.

There are two categories to be decided;
            *Overall Winner
            * Best Non Scripted Artwork

3 Lucky voters will win for themselves L$5,000, L$3,000 & L$2,000 respectively  + Special RL UWA packages posted out to you!
(Full Prize List at Bottom of NC)


To make your vote count, we ask that you:

    * Submit a notecard entitled 'People's Choice Vote UWA (YOUR NAME)'
    * List your top 10 preferences for EACH category IN ORDER.
    * Send your entry to both Jayjay Zifanwe and FreeWee Ling by the 30th of November 2011.  


1) Everyone can vote (with some qualification - see next item)
2) If you, your alts or your partners work is part of the Grand Finale, you will still be allowed to vote, but you cannot list your own work or that of your partner in your top 10



The 59 finalists for UWA 3D Open Art Challenge. A list of the works in the running:

1. FLY WITH THE WIND by Josina Burgess
3. THE GLOWING SERPENT by Ginger Alsop
4. LAZER BALLS by Betty Tureaud
6. IL PLEUT SUR MON COEUR COMME IL PLEUT SUR LA VILLE ("It's raining in my heart, as it's raining in the town") by Cherry Manga
8. PARANORMAL FROTTAGE by Misprint Thursday
9. THE ILLUSIONIST by Gleman Jun
10. LIGHT TOWER by Betty Tureaud
11. TURNING THE TIDE by Nish Mip
12. CHOOSE YOUR BLOSSOM by Suzanne Graves
13. SYMPHONY IN THE BARREL OF A GUN by Arrow Inglewood
14. PLANET CENSORED by Anley Piers
15. STRANGE PLANT...UGLYNESS & BEAUTY by Claudia222 Jewel
16. THE RHYTHM OF MOOD - Lea Supermarine & Jarapanda Snook
17. DIGITAL GLOVE by Misprint Thursday
18. THE WILD WILD WORLD OF ILLUSION by RazorZ  & Olga Soulstar  
21. SHATTERED by Ginger Alsop
23. SPANISH BULL by Silene Christen
24. TROIS PETITS TOURS ET PUIS S'EN VA (Three little turns and it goes away) by  Josiane Sorciere
25. JUNGLE CHALLENGE by Dusty Canning
26. THE DOCK SPIRIT by Scottius Polke
27. ULTRA VIOLET by quadrapop Lane
28. THEATRE OF WAR by Miso Susanowa
29. VENUSTRAP by Claudia222 Jewell
31. UNE HORDE DE CORDES by Aristide Despres
32. 5x8 COMPUND CUBE by Wizard Gynoid
34. THE HUMANICAL FROG by Lollito Larkham
35. HERE COMES THE SUN by Sledge Roffo
36. TV MORNING EXERCISES by Dusty Canning
37. PIUME DI PAVONE by Nino Vichan
39. HARMONIES IN C GREAT (+) by Artistide Despres
41. LIVING FRACTAL by June Clavenham
42. THE MATTER OF IDEAS by Gleman Jun
44. DOWN ON THE DATA FARM by Miso Susanowa
46. OMNIPOTENT by Pixels Sideways
47. THE CHASM by Oberon Onmura
49. THE ABANDONED DAUGHTER by Eliza Wierwight
50. YOU CAN'T TOUCH HEAVEN by paleIllusion
51. AUTUMN by nexuno Thespian
52. THE CROSSING by Nish Mip
54. PRIMSCAPE DREAM by Sledge Roffo
55. 99% by Harter Fall
56. BLACK SHIRT by Misprint Thursday
57. IN DREAMS by Blue Tsuki
58. SWALLOWED UP BY THE CROWD by Fuschia Nightfire
59. L'IMPATIENCE by Josiane Sorciere


The 24  finalists for the Non-Scripted Imagine Challenge are located at the above LM. Here is a list of the works in the running:

1. THE COPPER BEECH by soror Nishi
2. LOSS by Gingered Alsop
3. MISS N by Suzanne Graves
4. DAUGHTER OF THE WIND by Fae Varriale
5. GECKO ON THE GEKKO by Yooma Mayo
6. SHATTERED by Ginger Alsop
8. TRIBUTE TO GOYA by Silene Christen
9. MARIONETTE by Haveit Neox
10. HISTORY IN CREAM by Haveit Neox
11. FATA DANZANTE by Daco Monday 
12. SPATIAL by Sledge Roffo
13. SPRING BOX by Cherry Manga
14. TRUST by spirit Radikal
16. HURDLE by Corcosman Voom
17. BEHIND COLUMNS by Harter Fall
18. BIRDSONG by Cherry Manga
19. YOU CAN'T TOUCH HEAVEN by paleIllusion
20. STILL LIFE by soror Nishi
21. 99% by Harter Fall
23. USED PIECES by Secret Rage
24. SMALL PIECE OF HELL, The Suicide Forest Infested by Harpias by Rebeca Bashly


3 Lucky voters will win for themselves L$5,000, L$3,000 & L$2,000 respectively

Overall 1st Prize: L$100,000,  L$75,000 (2nd), L$50,000 (3rd), L$20,000 (4th), L$10,000 (5th) and L$5,000 each for 6th - 10th.

Non-Scripted 1st Prize L$15,000, L$10,000 (2nd),  L$5,000 (3rd), L$3,000 (4th), L$2,000 (5th) and L$1,000 each for 6th - 10th.

People's Choice 1st Prize (Overall): L$15,000, $8,000 (2nd), $5,000 (3rd)
People's Choice 1st Prize (Non-Scripted): L$8,000, L$5,000 (2nd), L$3,000 (3rd)

* With thanks to our sponsors, MidnightRain Glas, Philip Vought, Patch Thibaud, Aino  Baar and TheDove Rhode

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Avatar Repertory Theater Presents “Through the Looking Glass” in Second Life

The cast and crew of Through the Looking Glass 

It had been a quiet evening and while I prudently pruned away at a bloated inventory a little blue box in the upper left corner blinked on and told me that an inventory offer had arrived. Momentarily distracted at its arrival and gratefully that it had, as inventory clean-up is one of my least favorite activities, I clicked on it to accept. I waited while it loaded in the open window and noted the sender’s name, AvaJean Westland. When it finally did load the first sentence caught my attention;
“Curiouser and curiouser, through the looking-glass, where things look the same, only the things go the other way. . . .”
The Avatar Repertory Theater (ART) presents “Through the Looking Glass” and it opens on Saturday, November 12th at 3 pm. The notecard went on to explain that, “Alice finds herself moving through a large chessboard, where the Red Queen gives her lessons in royalty, Tweedledum and Tweedledee battle and rattle, Humpty Dumpty sits on a wall, and the Red and White Knight try to fight for her.” I like to think that a fair number of us who’ve experienced life in a virtual world, I can empathize with Alice after she had crawled through the looking glass and explored the virtual reality created by the author, Lewis Carroll. AvaJean and I chatted that evening and I expressed an interest in meeting the cast and crew. She graciously agreed to make the necessary arrangements and we set a time and date.
I’d met several members of the Avatar Repertory Theater on a previous assignment where I’d interviewed Ada Radius, the founder of New Media Arts, Inc. prior to their performance of Howard Barker’s “13 Objects”. The article had appeared in Avenue Magazine. ART is a non-profit group and a project of New Media Arts Inc. Since its inception in 2008, the group has thrilled Second Life audiences with productions like; Alice in WonderSLand, The Real Christmas Story and recently the Greek Classic, Oedipus Rex. Their stated mission is “to develop graph­ical, theat­rical, lit­erary, library, and other fine and prac­tical arts in online and virtual real­ity plat­forms”. Their web site contains a wealth of information on the group, the cast, crew, past productions and links to videos of several of them. As they are a non-profit, there is also a mechanism for those so inclined to make a donation.
I arrived at the set of the looking glass after accepting a teleport request from the plays director, MadameThespian Underhill. While I waited for the sight to come into view, I engaged in conversation via chat with the several members present. After I connected my headset and turned voice on, our chat turned into live talk.  I did note that the text chat seemed to continue nearly unabated the whole time I was there. Some of it was in character, other times not and it was all good natured. It was obvious they knew one another well and were comfortable in their working together. I asked if all were ready and told them I would be recording the conversation.
“If you each would take the opportunity to introduce yourselves one at a time, tell me a little bit about yourselves and your Second Life. Let’s begin with MadamThespian.” I suggested.
“Hi, I'm MadameThespian Underhill. I was an original beta tester with Second Life, I started in 2002. Previous to that I was a beta tester for other 3-D worlds, so coming into Second Life was a natural step for me. I was mainly a builder when I first came here because building had been a thing that had always attracted me to virtual worlds. But I am an actor and director in real life. I did act professionally years ago and was a union actor in Chicago. I thought when I was getting involved in virtual worlds like this that theater wasn't possible. We didn't have voice at the beginning and for those of us who were kind of interested in theater we were miffed trying to figure out how we could do it with without voice. And then all of a sudden voice came in and we can now do theater … so it had sparked my interest after that and building went to the wayside after I joined the Avatar Repertory Theater … but it's been fun.” She said.
“Ada, would you like to go next?” I asked, swinging the camera view to my left.

“I'm Ada Radius and I've been in Second Life since 2006. I originally trained as an opera singer and sang in a professional chorus for about 15 years and I then lost my voice for medical reasons and eventually found my way into Second Life. Not that the two were related. I'd also been doing work in real life as an artist and when I discovered Photoshop, texturing and building in here that’d been wonderful.  A year or so later voice came around and I found I could get back into theater and do it for my home. We started the theater troupe in 2008, Sodovan Torok and I, because after doing theater production in other groups we came to the conclusion that a successful metaverse theater company needed to be highly technical. We realized that we must have people with big-time tech skills. You just can't do it … you also need  wonderful actors of course, but in order for the actors to have a place … you need audio support,  wonderful costumes and sets along with using SIM resources effectively ... Without it’s not going to happen. This is the most technical of the productions we've done so far … the sets the animations, the props everything you see has been designed by somebody in the company with very few exceptions.” She said in her introduction.
“I recall the conversation we had prior to the production of Barkers ‘13 Objects’. It’s good to see you again Ada.” I commented and then asked Kayden to go next.
“Kayden Oconnell here, I've been involved with theater in Minnesota for number of years ... directing and producing. I was attracted to these crazy people with the idea of just doing theater here. This is much like doing real-life theater … we still have to hit marks and move around. It's an amazing experience … people doing a production from all over the world. I've only been in Second Life since 2007 so I'm kind of a newcomer. I'm an assistant producer helping MadameThespian and I'm also playing the part of Tweedle dee.” He said.
Before I could ask the gentleman to the left of Kayden to begin, the resonant voice of Thundergas came through my speakers.
“Thundergas Menges here, I have a background in video and audio and a strong technology background.  I came in Second Life looking to do machinima but it seems I first got roped into DJ'ing. It was easy to do and then somehow I met up with his gang of folks and started putting on these live productions which is not quite what I was thinking when I got into Second Life for … but it's been very enjoyable. Part of the thing is that I'm teaching everybody about sound because I think it's one of the most important components … but it has been some of the worst aspects to the live theater I've seen Second Life. The sound is just usually been miserable.  So my mission is to make it vibrant and happy. I've been teaching Ada how to do audio editing.” He said and I then suggested Rowan should go next.
“I'm Rowan Shamroy and I live in Australia as you can probably tell by my voice. I've been in second life since the end of 2006 and am one of the early members of the group. My background is that I make costumes and props for theater and so it was a natural transition for me in doing it here ... So I do props, costumes and animations. I've been in Second Life for a while now and this group … it has given me a real sense of community … and also the regular patrons who come to our performances. There is really a great sense of community.” She said.
“Judging from your costume, can I assume you are you the red Queen?” I asked.
"She has a voice for the queen that's why I cast her as the Queen for both productions." MadameThespian interjected.
"I think they've type cast you." I commented which drew a round of laughter from the cast. After it died down I added, “Alice, would you introduce yourself?”
“Hello, Pipsqueak Albatros and I'm from the UK. I have been Second Life since 2008. I joined  the theater after doing an audition for Through the Looking Glass … this is my first performance with the troupe, although I've been with them … in the audience week after week … I've been enthralled with what they can do … that they can make animations and sounds is just amazing. They started me in a small role as you can see … Alice has been an incredible learning experience for me. Before I joined them I’d done two seasons with the SL Globe Theater … ‘Twelfth Night’ and with the Rochester University Theater. Every minute I've been with these guys has been a learning experience for me and it’s been great. You must tell people to come and see … the show is incredible.” She said.
“I will do that and am looking forward to seeing it myself.” I replied.
“Would you like to see some of the sets Nazz? If you just stay seated we can cycle through them for you.” Ms Underhill asked.
"The audience will stay in their seats the whole time … it's automatic that people will go into their camera view." Kaydan said, by way of clarification.
“The first set is the parlor in the real world. It begins here and you can see that the fireplace has its back to us. You'll be able to see Alice climb right through the mirror there. Alice can you get up there and show him? We have a green room up above where the actors stage from, they'll port down to the set at various times.” She explained to me as the set rezzed into place. After Alice had gotten herself into position on the set, MadameThespian continued her commentary; “Now Alice gets up from a chair here and then she decides she's going to crawl through the looking glass. By the way that animation was created by Rowan.”
As the automatic camera control wasn’t functioning at this time for this particular set, I zoomed in with my camera and watched as the diminutive figure of Alice climbed through the looking glass. The movements in the animation were highly articulated and shortly, Alice was through and on the other side. With the animation complete, MadameThespian mentioned there would be several small chess pieces moving across the bottom of this set during this scene.
“Ada worked on teeny tiny little avatar chess pieces that run around and around.” She further explained.  
“They are absolutely incredible ...they are fantastic I love them!  I want to take them all and keep them in a little cage on my desk.” Rowan interjected.
“We'll go to the railroad car ... Don't stand up but you'll want to go into mouse view probably and then turn your head around. There's a whole scene in the car here and then we go to the tweedle's. A sign appears at one point in the scene and that's when we see Tweedledum and Tweedledee. And then a toy store scene comes into view. Oh, there’s also a garden after the parlor … there's a beautiful garden scene. And then there is a scene in the toy shop … Evie Fairchild created this one by the way. Then all of a sudden in this toyshop a boat appears and they go off for a ride … Alice with the white queen who was turned into a sheep … and then the boat starts rowing and then goes away. After that we have all of a sudden an egg appear on the desk and then trees come into view ... and so the egg transforms into the egg man and humpty dumpty appears.” MadameThespian explained as the several scenes appeared and then disappeared in a smooth succession.

“Are you using a HUD control for running the sets?” I asked impressed at the smoothness of the transitions.

“Actually we’re using this simple rezzer system ... This is one that can switch out a whole room ... It's a simple rezzer program and you can nest objects within each other. But someone has to keep track of what's what and where it's at ... The controls are in those chess pieces you see off to the side.” Ada replied.

“The ability to change scenes appears to be dynamic. It makes the special effects easier to do.” I commented.

“The special effects here they're still tricky to do but they can be done faster and cheaper than in real life. Obviously the flying for example … having someone hovering off the ground in a real life production of Peter Pan or Spiderman would be … instead of installing an incredibly expensive pulley system in the theater.” MadameThespian said.

“But here it’s still a headache … you have to do a lot of work in Photoshop and 3-D programs and animation software … all of the graphical assets have to be built to put this together.” Ada interjected.

“I read in the press release that the scenes and the characters were based on the drawings of Sir John Tenniel. How did the drawings influence the design?” I asked.

“What we wanted to do was have Tenniel influence the design. It wasn't so much that we're trying to get in exactly a photocopy of Tenniel drawings but the Tenniel influence and the costumes. Ada, show him some of your costumes.” MadameThespian said.

As the cast begin to shift into their character costumes, the good-natured back-and-forth between them continued and it was obvious that they comfortable and worked well together. Somewhere in the middle of the change and I didn’t catch who said it or a view of the character. One of the two gentlemen present said in a very deep voice. "I am not a Petunia I am a daisy". This brought a round of near hysterical laughter from all of us present and lasted for quite some time.

“The tweedle's costumes are a combination of the collaboration between Ada and Rowan. They've been working together for 3-4 years now.” MadameThespian commented as the laughter trailed off.

”It's hard to tell where ones work starts and the other ones stops. But for a lot of them we're literally handing Photoshop files off between each other via e-mails or building together.” Ada said and then added. "Oh the Knights were so much fun and a collaboration between several of us … it's such a team effort it’s hard to separate where one begins and another one starts. We know what each other is good at. We've had several brilliant people working with us over the years and for some of them it was a difficult concept ... to wrap their heads around ... that someone might change your work."

“With all the sets and the changes of costumes, has lag been an issue in the past and do you expect it to be so for this production?” I asked.

“It's always been an issue. SIM resource management is most important and because of the rezzers we can limit the number of primitives that are out at any one time and I keep a close eye and that. And the texture sizes … pretty much before every show I will have gone through each of the textures and counted all of the pixels making sure that were using as few as possible. We have some gadgets that shove textures onto the viewer side that helps things load a little bit faster. By the time we get 40 audience members each of whom is wearing elaborate costumes … we know how everyone loves to dress up for the theater … we will have problems we can count on it.” Ada replied.

“And don't forget about griefers or forget that we have crash backups if someone is having problems with lag or crashes … someone is right there to step in to take over.” Kayden interjected.

“How do you deal with griefers?” I asked and was greeted with a chorus of ‘Eject … Eject … Eject.’

“We have a house manager for the show and she's very good at it. One person who is not in the show they’re out herding avatars. They simply sit in the audience watch the audience, help people with problems, get their sound adjusted or if they've a new kind of trouble with the interface. They also keep their eye for griefers or for people who accidentally leave their microphones on … which is very disruptive. She's very effective at doing so, she politely IMs and then ejects someone who will not comply at being an appropriate audience member.” Ada replied.

“When did the production of ‘Through the Looking Glass’ begin?” I asked.

“A year ago, our first production meeting was last May, although Ada had done the adaptation way before that in December and I started costumes last December.” MadameThespian replied.

“So is been in the making for nearly a year now?” I asked

“It took us two months to get Alice figured out because we didn't want to do Disney and we didn't want to do what we had done before. It was a wonderful idea but we didn’t want it for this show, we were working off detailed drawings and then I came across an edition of Alice in Wonderland. An edition that was in color from about 1875 and that's where we found out that the original concept was that Alice was red haired and wore a yellow dress. That's what drove the set of decisions. One day we spent three hours just working on the shape of the face. It's hard to do children. It is very difficult to do children with the character rigging Linden labs uses for avatars at this point. Eventually we'll have mesh rigging and be able to do it but were not quite there yet.” Ada said in reply

“Are you using any mesh for any the sets or the costumes?” I asked.

“No, we were afraid that not everyone would be able to see it.” Ada said and then added. “So much has to be taken into consideration when you're building new sets … all the different viewers out there and what people can see. We always have to take the lowest common denominator in building and texturing making sure that we’re thrifty with our texturing … using the smallest texture that we can get away with that looks good on the object. Lots of thought has to go into it.”

“Over the years I've been to a fair number of productions … plays, musical performances, fashion shows and dance. It seems that larger venues have at minimum two SIMs, one for the audience and one for the stage. I noticed that there is only one here, how come?” I asked.

“It's better for voice to do it one SIM. Once you start splitting it up it gets kind of funny.” Thundergas replied.

“Every single member of the troupe who is in the show is going to be expected sing a little.” Ada said which drew chuckles from several of the members. She then added, “It's not a musical, don't get us wrong its transition music and in some cases setting the environment for some of the scenes. There is a dance that the Tweedle's do … they do a version of Here We Go Around the Mulberry Bush.”

“You do your own animations for the shows right?” I asked

“Rowan is responsible for all of the animations.” MadameThespian replied.

“There are a few walks and stands that I didn't do and I think I counted it … we’re up to about 60 animations.” Rowan said.

“If you look up and over and back using your camera move around the green room. There's a costume board there with all the boxes for the avatars, so the people in the company can go into their costumes. There's about 50 or 60 boxes and each of them is filled either costume elements or prop elements for character. Most of us are playing more than one part in the show.” Ada said.

“The technique of acting in Second Life is very unique. It's a combination of voice acting and being able to manipulate your avatar, which is a puppet. You have to be a really good puppeteer and do voice acting at the same time and this is something that is not easy to do. There is also the other thing we have to factor in, because of the voice lag as you are probably aware that when I'm speaking you're not really hearing it until about a couple of seconds later. In theater when an actor is speaking, another actor has to come in right on top of them or even cut them off. You have to jump in ahead further in time then in real life. It's very counterintuitive for an actor to do this … it’s a very difficult skill that a lot of us have taken a number of years to learn. When you're speaking your lines you actually have to come in and say it on the last two or three words of the previous line of the character who is talking so it sounds right when the audience hears it. If you do actually come immediately afterwards you get … line … pause … line … pause … line … pause.” MadameThespian said.

“As MT said, you're also moving your avatar … you're hitting your marks and animations and triggering things that keeps you busy. In particular when I'm running sound, I have four windows open and I have two monitors on my primary system … I have my media player, my sound effects into a playlist and Win Amp. I have my script and a sheet with sound cues so that I can follow along with what's going on in for the sound effects as they are needed. I have a physical mixer where I can run all the sounds and I do stuff like this …”  Thundergas said and then demonstrated via a drumroll.

“Second Life acting in real-time is very hard to do and look good. Machinima is a little different because they can plug-in the edits later … sound and all that but this is all happening at the same time real life and you just got to go with it.” Ada added.

“All that sounds incredibly complicated and this is a general question for each of you. At the end of the performance are you tired?” I asked, of which generated a good deal of laughter and then phrases like … I'm hungry and I'm thirsty and I'm tired popped up from the cast.

“All of this is experimental and no one else is doing it the way we are.” Ada commented

“I like to consider myself a well-traveled man in the metaverse and I don't think I’ve seen anything like this before … other than perhaps Virtual Shakespeare. I can't think of anything comparable.” I commented.

“Thank you Nazz. This has been a really hard-working amazing group of people and it's been a great experience. On the whole this is such a nice and diverse group of people and some of us have been together for three years now and it's been a great experience for me.” MadameThespian said.

“Has there been any thought to take this into any of the other virtual worlds that are popping up?” I asked, which elicited a chorus of yeses.

“I think our eventual goal is to be able to take all of the sets and pack them into something like a second inventory and then take the show on the road as it were. I think that's our eventual goal.” Kayden replied.

“It was something that this set was built for in mind of the permission system here, it is so difficult but a lot of it I'll be able save to XML files the prim structures … certainly not the scripts … won’t be able to take them to the other places.” Ada commented and then added, “I don’t know about the animations, we may have to upload them … and we have all the textures on somebody's hard drive. One of my jobs next week will be to save XML files. Of the worlds that we've explored each one of them has a deal breaker … like they're not doing voice or they don't allow XML imports which would mean having to rebuild from scratch which were not committed to do. So eventually there will be a way of doing it so that we can store something on our hard drives bring it up and within a couple of hours have something going in another virtual world in but it's not there yet … but were building everything with that in mind at this point.”

“What's next after student looking glass?” I asked.

“A break!” They all replied in near harmony and then after the laughter trailed off, Ada said. “We’ll continue doing our Friday shows … it’s kind of experimental … we do everything from old radio shows to Shakespeare. We’ve talked about next year but have not nailed anything down … possibly more Shakespeare … everyone loves to do Shakespeare and we’ll probably do Antigone because we already have the sets and costumes from Oedipus. A couple of other book adaptations that we've talked about and everyone wants to do original stuff which is very hard to develop or get original material we can use and most of us want to do a little bit more machinima … mostly because it's so much work to do a live production and will probably shift our focus especially now that we have Evie Fairchild who is primarily a machinima producer.”

“Can I get you all to circle around the table and get a picture of the entire cast for the article?” I asked after I’d noted we’d been together for slightly over an hour by this point in time.

They each begin to move their avatars away from the audience seating area to find a spot at the table. Then MadameThespian suggested that they get into their costumes which took a little time. As they did the teasing and good-natured ribbing continued and I was impressed at how well they really knew each other … this diverse group of avatars from the US, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. When I finally got them settled into their seats, I zoomed in with my camera controls to snap a picture. Then someone suddenly yelled “food fight” and before I knew it there were prims being tossed about along with peals of laughter. I had to assert an almost parental like control by admonishing them with … BEHAVE … before I joined in with the laughter.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

IMAGINE PeaceFest 2011!!!

Festival 11-13 November 2011

You're Invited!

IMAGINE PeaceFest is about people working together across international boundaries, using virtual and real-world venues to promote the amazing work of real-world organizations.  We work together for a better world, with a focus on peace, human rights and justice for all.

As in years past with PeaceFest, all donations will go to three non-profit organizations that the team has selected:

RAWA works  to address human rights abuses against women in Afghanistan, and have been doing so since the 1970's.  This is a well-established organization that was established by women to tell the difficult, brutal stories of abuses, and to work for political and social change.  More about RAWA: 

- The Rural Economic and Agricultural Development Agency (READA) in Cambodia; This group of 15 people are working to  address the needs of the poorest people in rural Cambodia.  Education, sustainable farming techniques, hygiene and methods to secure clean water are all part of their effort to empower people to escape poverty.

- the One Laptop per Child initiative, providing key hardware and software to provide education to those who need it most!  Their mission is to empower the world's poorest children through education, and they have a very interesting program of providing low-cost, low-power laptops with learning games and content to communities around the world.

This event is brought to you by The IMAGINE Network and the Peace Train Charitable Trust (a 501 c 3 public charity in the U.S.)

Use this link to get the latest information on the IMAGINE PeaceFest 2011!!! Schedule 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

1000 Avatars and an Interview with Gracie Kendal

The book had arrived in the mail and I eagerly slid the sharp edge of a knife into one corner of the large brown envelope. It opened easily and I retrieved the paper bound book from inside and opened it immediately to flip through the pages. As I did, I realized that it had been a while since I'd spoken with Gracie Kendal (aka Kristine Shomaker) and I made a mental note to look for her the next chance I was in world. I then continued my exploration of "1000 Avatars". I was pleased with what I saw of the book and doubly so that I had been able to participate. I scanned the list of names and saw many friends and numerous acquaintances. I found the virtual me in the last third of the book and recalled the good natured banter the day she’d snapped the picture.

The next time I logged in, I did reach out to her and we set a date and time to meet. On that day after I'd just logged in Second Life, a message appeared from her and a teleport request soon followed. We exchanged pleasantries when I arrived at her Second Life home. She offered to give me a tour which I accepted and when complete, we found a spot outside to sit and chat.

"When I got the book and after I read what you'd written as you'd autographed it, I had a big smile on my face ... thank you for the kind words." I said.

"Awwww cool, I'm so glad." She said and then smiled.

"Then I searched for Nazz's backside." I commented.

 She laughed and said, "I hope you found it."

"I opened the book again the other day and paged through it ... the diversity of avatars astounded me. One thousand av's and not two looked alike." I commented.

"Yeah ... which is interesting considering so many people shop at the same stores ... like Truth etc." She said in reply.

"It did seem that most of the male avi's wore jeans."

"True ... well what else would they wear? I guess just like real life." She said with a grin.

"Yup." I said and then added, “Then the women ... from the girl next door to ... the purely sultry and exotic looks."

"Yeah and everything in between." She said with a laugh.

"Have you gotten much feedback from the first 1000?" I asked her.

"Hmmm ... well I hear from people all the time how much they like the project. I have actually done about 1580 so far ... or do you mean the book?" She asked.

"On the book, yes." I replied.

"Yeah, everyone who has received it has really loved it, which is a huge relief. There was literally a lot of blood sweat and tears put into it." She said.

"I bet ... so you've started back up with taking pictures?" I asked.

"Not yet ... I just moved in real life a week ago, so settling in, but planning to start shooting again in a couple weeks."

"I saw in Facebook that you'd moved recently." I commented.

"Yeah ... to a place called "The Brewery" it’s an old beer brewery built into artists’ lofts."

"Speaking of Facebook, do you have a page there for the book or any of your projects?" I asked.

"Hmm,  no not really. I have Wordpress blogs for the 1000 Avatars project and the My Life as an Avatar project but that is it. I didn't really want to make separate pages for those." She replied.

"When we last spoke, which was shortly before the book release, you'd mentioned two projects that were near to starting. The ‘Body Project’ was the first mentioned. Has that begun?" I asked.

"No, that one has kind of been put on the back burner for now." She replied.

"The other was called 'Open House'. Did you start that one up?” I asked.

"Now that one has actually changed and that is one of my next big projects actually. I was accepted for  a solo show in a gallery here in LA. The title of the show I proposed is, 'And one man in his time plays many parts'. It is going to be a mixed reality installation with an opening night performance and using portraits from the 1000 avatars project. It is going to be a simultaneous opening in real life and second life ... the video feed will go both ways." She said.

"When is it scheduled?" I asked.

"The opening is May 5th." She replied and then added, "So luckily I have plenty of time to get it together."

"Open house was also going to be a mixed reality event ... where you were going to spend 2 days in a gallery ...sort of an open house in both virtual and non-virtual. Has the concept changed?" I asked.

"Well, for this show yes ... and maybe open house will come back eventually... but for now it is also on the back burner. I don't really want to give too much away for the new show ... I always do that ... I'm trying to keep it more hush hush until it gets closer." She replied.

“How have the book sales gone?” I asked

“They have been great. I have sold about 72 so far … in fact I have 7 left in my own inventory to sell.” She said and then added with a laugh, “I mean my real life inventory. “

“It's available on demand though, so if someone wishes to buy it they can right?”

“Oh yeah, it is published through Blurb so anyone can go and buy it anytime. Once I finish the next 1000 avi portraits I’ll be publishing volume 2 … and who knows how I’m feeling, maybe I’ll go for volume 3.” She replied.

“What has been the one thing about the project and book that has made the biggest impression in your mind?” I asked her.

“Oh gosh ... hmmmmmm … Although there are several things ... I'd have to say how genuine everyone seems. For a medium where anyone can be anything they want, roleplaying various roles whether female or male ... with everyone I have met, I still get the sense of each person. If that makes sense or maybe it’s just me being naive.” She said in reply.

“A sense of who he or she is in real life?”

“Well ... not 'who' they are necessarily ... but.” She said and paused.

“Their personality perhaps?” I asked.

“No, I guess just that each person has been themselves to me. Even though the project is about anonymity ... In a way I have seen each and every person for who they really are.  You can hide all you want here, but your true spirit and yes personality are still there.” She replied.

“I've always had the idea that one's personality is harder to hide in second life then in real life. We all wear masks in real life ... be it at our jobs, or school or at home with spouses and or significant others … in here the anonymity seems to draw out the core of us sooner.” I commented.

“Oh yeah, absolutely … in a way it removes the mask. That is how we learn who we really are.” She said and then after a slight pause added, “I know I have. Or I'm still learning.”

“One of the other thing we'd talked about last time was you were going to do a talk on ‘My Lifeas an Avatar: The Gracie Kendal Project’ in real life, as you’ve done several times in Second Life. Have you and how has that been received?”

“In real life it hasn’t been received as well as in second life of course. The identity politics of the project are easily understood, but at first viewing, avatars are part of games, and gaming still carries negative stereotypes that people still carry or people still consider. I have had some of the portraits in a couple of shows and I do get asked about them occasionally ... but they are harder to understand. That is something I am working on, trying to make the portraits and my projects more accessible to a wider real life audience.”

“That’s a good idea, I've spoken to few artists and photographers around here about second life and I get the blankest of looks.” I said.

“Yeah exactly, I do think though, that it is getting there, just slowly.”

“Going back to the idea of a mixed reality event, what characteristics of a mixed reality will you strive for?” I asked.

“Well, duplicating the real and virtual space is one idea and just bringing people together from all over the world. I love that … to be able to have a room full of people communicate with people online from different parts of the world is so fulfilling … and makes the world seem less small. I believe in the Universal. That is what I love about second life.”

“It is one thing that is difficult to replicate outside a virtual world. Have you attended a mixed reality event on both sides?”

“Actually no, I haven't had the opportunity to yet, so will be interesting to do it for this project.” She replied.

“I know you'd used the micro finance site, Kickstarter recently in an attempt to fund your project ideas, how was that experience?” I asked.

“Well, it didn't go through. I didn’t devote enough time to it and should have planned it different. Plus, I realized I am just not a saleswoman ... I am not the type to go asking people for money. I hate that. So decided I just couldn’t do it. I had a really hard time with that.” She replied.

“Besides Facebook, what other social media do you use?”

“Well I started Google+ but not really on it much, and twitter, but also not on it much. I mostly use Facebook and Plurk, which is mostly second life people.”

“Do you have any second life exhibits planned?” I asked.

“Not at the moment. Not for myself anyway. I am working with California State University Long Beach... one of their classes, Art 110 is doing a project using second life. They are creating galleries in second life and curating the galleries with different real life and second life artists. Some of my friends and fellow artists are involved, Trill, Miso, Douglas, Desdemona and Alizarin. It is going to be a lot of fun working with fresh young minds and molding them.” She replied.

With that last question asked and answered we chatted briefly and she then took her leave to have dinner. I ported back to my booth on Book Island and flew up to park the virtual me on the roof. After I’d moved my notes onto a notecard and saved it, I reached for my copy of the book. While thumbing through it this time I came across a quote from Sabrinaa Nightfire. She had her picture taken for the book, but unfortunately had passed away before the book published. Her quote read;
Life is short.
Break the rules.
Forgive quickly.
Kiss slowly.
Love truly.
Laugh uncontrollably.
And never regret anything that made you smile.

Thank you Sabrinaa for the sound advice … and thank you Gracie for showing us who we are.