Category Archives: New Genres: I Expect You to Die

New Genres: I Expect You to Die

Pros and Cons of Dying (and Not)

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(Below, left to right) Alexandra, Micha (Me!), Callum, Cat, and Anxin

Pro: When I was bumped from a deeply desired psychology class, I stumbled upon New Genres: I Expect You to Die. I thought, great! The perfect class for me. I love New Things and the expectation that a class will kill me. I approached my don, Shahnaz Rouse, with my choices for alternative registration. Her only comment on this class was, “Angela? Oh, you’ll have fun.” Knowing Shahnaz, this meant that I would most certainly die. I set it for my first choice. Con: I did not understand the entire syllabus or any part of what I was getting into, but assumed I would. Many peers and parents and miscellaneous acquaintances asked what this class entailed, and the best I could muster was “coding. Also James Bond. And theater?”
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An exercise in mindmapping: Odd Job’s character

Pro: In 2013 I quit coding. In 2014 I quit theater. In 2016, I subjected myself to both simultaneously and hoped I would swim. I was extremely anxious for every class, but somehow myself and 20 others swam! Even when I missed two classes in a row, I managed, thanks to Angela’s advice that, at the time, sent the butterflies in stomach to full rage. “Just watch, you’ll figure it out.” Little did I know, that was an excellent summary of the entire class: this wasn’t about any sort of product or goal or anything tangible that could be easily quantified. I Expect You to Die was about the process. The primary process was learning. Learning to code, learning to move in meaningful ways, learning just how many ‘rules’ four college kids could break in an hour before presenting our beautiful abstraction to the class– I was terrified, and learning. img_0302img_0300 Con: At the end of class, David said that he would send out the rehearsal schedule. Suddenly I understood the syllabus. I had accidentally committed myself to a theater production at Sarah Lawrence College. Pro: I loved rehearsal. There was something very pure about the work we constructed. I didn’t understand the class until our first rehearsal, when David asked us to walk around the stage and, together as a group, “die.” From that point on, I realized that I didn’t have to know what I was doing: we would figure it out together. This, in combination with a silly desperation to produce code that I was proud of, helped me to create We Expect You to Talk. folder-soundsThe script started as a simple dialogue, but then grew into what I referred to as “a bad sitcom,” complete with strange noises (see above audio files) in between. With over 200 lines written into the system, I was extremely proud of what I had done. I don’t think I would have pushed myself like this on my own, but every other component of the show felt so magnificent that I wanted to create in the same way. Even better, after presenting it to the group, I watched as my original idea developed into something more fun, better, and eventually a tool that we used to think about the show.
lines The middle of the script, because it looked much more impressive all on one line

The middle of the script, because it looked much more impressive all on one line

Con: We Expect You to Talk in its original form never made it into the show. This did not bother me in the slightest, as it seemed out of place with the show’s trajectory (and I still love my strange little code). Pro: Several of the pieces that I worked on with other students did make it into the show. Every exercise and every scene David had us explore opened my mind in a different way. Between David’s encouraging face and Angela’s confident “why not”s, I found a space that I could truly explore and invent. Some nights I was a dancer, some a coding “expert,” some a folie artist. Every member of our class was as diversely useful and flexible as our out there ideas and not once did I think that my time went unvalued.
A collage of some code I wrote or helped with in the show

A collage of some code I wrote or helped with in the show

Con: Due to medical reasons, there was a significant portion of the pieces I couldn’t participate in for the show because they were too physical. Our dances and running and falling were so beautiful, but I couldn’t guarantee that my body would execute them safely. Pro: That didn’t matter. Angela and David instead introduced me to my new home, the tech table. There I began my swift and terrifying education in projection and QLab. For those who are unfamiliar, QLab is a program that cues queues for sound, video, and picture. I soon fell in love with all the strange mapping, layering, and moving components across our expansive ‘stage.’ We began with one surface and expanded to many odd surfaces to experiment with our two projectors. An entirely new creative outlet was offered at the tech table. Although I still ended up ‘on stage’ for three scenes, my foray into the wild world of projection gave me a very particular joy.
Odd Surface: David's Back

Odd Surface: David’s Back

Con: By our 10 hour tech day rehearsal, the projectors and QLab were so strangely broken that we could only click and drag video to approximate where it should be on our stage. Pro: Our incredible stage manager, Michelle Hernandez, and our tech expert Ti somehow had everything fixed and running perfectly by Monday. Over the course of the week and a half where the projections weren’t working, I also learned QLab and our projection maps much more intimately, to the point that we could run the show even without everything functioning. At no point in the semester did I stop and say “hey, I can handle this.” Part of I Expect You to Die was always staying on your toes and adapting to new directions. Whether it be a new stage direction, more clips to add to scenes, or even projecting a moving car across two thirds of the stage (thank you Ti!), Angela and David kept pushing us to further refine our piece as a group. Incredibly, we ended up with a show that had meaning, depth, and beautiful harmony between technology and human bodies. Con: We still had to perform it.

(The Tech Table Pre-Show Pump Up, X Gon Give It to Ya by DMX)

Pro: Performing it, as it turns out, was the least scary part. Our four shows operated much like a group trust fall: yes, there were a million ways that the show could go horribly wrong. However, we had to trust that our entire team (Michelle, her assistant stage manager, sound tech, the runners, actors, and yes– tech table) would operate smoothly and together, always listening to each other and holding on tight. Between all four shows on all three nights, I think I breathed twice: once at the beginning, once at the end. Never have I witnessed such intense unity and composure as I did while watching our show. Every moment was terrifying, but that was a part of the thrill. Our show was 21 students on a boat with Angela and David at the helm, telling us to find a paddle. We used spoons, planks, and stove tops to bring us to a place where we felt that we could say, “this is it. This is what we are saying.” Con: As we cleaned up our shoes and pants in the costume room Saturday night, it sunk in that this wild ride was over. There were hugs, well wishes, and gentle threats about not staying in touch. After the show, my formerly impossible weeks felt empty. Once you become a part of a group, a machine, an idea, it’s terribly hard to become an individual again. My brain was ripe with all sorts new ways of seeing that I had been taught and that I had exercised for weeks on end. Suddenly, my life was very normal. Pro: We still had one more class.
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(Left) Callum, engaged and ready to act
(Right) Me, Micha, ready to start a cardboard aviary

Our final class was two weeks from opening night, exactly. Somehow, those two weeks felt like two months. As each person stumbled into our room in the lowest floor of Heimbold they were greeted by smiles, hellos, and a few inside jokes that had developed during the show. It was a sad, sweet reunion that allowed us all to debrief the semester. There were talks of opening our own strange theater company and pursuing “weird theater” here at Sarah Lawrence. Perhaps our legacy of experimenting and playing will live on. Honestly, I am still unsure if I was in a theater production or a fever dream for the last month and have not fully processed either reality. Regardless of whether or not I constructed this entire fantasy in my mind, I loved every part of it, especially all the wonderful humans who made it happen. If you had told me last semester that I would be participating in the world’s greatest game, I probably would have laughed. I would likely laugh now as well, but for a different reason: now, I’m ready.   With Love, Micha  

New Genres: I Expect You to Die

It’s strange to think that when this class started, I did not think I was going to enjoy it at all. I thought I would struggle through it and, possibly, end up doing next to nothing for the production. I dreaded performing and most of all, I feared being a failure and ultimately dragging the rest of the performance down in some way. However, I chose to enter with an open mind because, who knows? Maybe I was going to love it. And strangely enough, I did – but for reasons I did not necessarily expect. Goldfinger itself was not really a film I found myself completely invested in. Truth be told, I found it boring. I wondered how anything worth talking about could be collected out of the film, remixed, and put to the stage. Every character from my point of view was flat and without meaning – but I realized that meaning would not have to come from within (i.e. myself) but from those around me as a collective – we’d have to create not a meaning, but a feeling and a series of themes. Meaning was irrelevant. The group and the process of mining data from the film was more the focus than analyzing the film itself, at least from my perspective. Coding: screenshot_3 The image above is what happened during the coding process – I had some trouble working with Processing despite having minimal experience in HTML, but I still wanted to create something that had some sort of ulterior “meaning” and that could put a twist on simple regurgitating a segment of the Goldfinger script. I basically did not want to keep sticking to simple, uninteresting script programs that just shot out lines from the film. So I wrote some notes to myself to explain what it was I was doing with the code and what I ultimately wanted to get out of it. It was supposed to be a play on how repetitive a scene in the script is, where one of the Bond girls, Jill, repeatedly turns on her back and front on a lawn chair of some sort. I found her movement hilarious and decided to emphasize them. Therefore, the algorithm was in place – I just had to reveal and exploit it. Here was what I actually managed to create, an example from running my program: screenshot_4 While it is not perfect by any means, it was probably the most complex array I’d done my entire time in this class (which is probably a bit underwhelming). It took a lot of work to rip lines and place them into different categories. But what comes out is actually something pretty amusing, in my opinion, each time you run the program. In that example, the Bond theme was pulled twice!  Interestingly, I believe this helped with a discussion about the misogyny present in the film, specifically with how the script treats women, which eventually led to the Barn Dubbing scene. Truth be told, I don’t believe anything I coded made it into the show, though some of my ideas did. Namely, an idea way back when rehearsals first started – Google Translating the script. I will talk about this later, though, since it has nothing to do with coding. csa-psswgaadsci One of the things I enjoyed doing was finding unconventional ways to deconstruct the film into themes that we would use to construct our scenes using coding/algorithms that were present in the film. The image above, my mind map, was how I first saw Pussy Galore in Goldfinger back in September. Coupled with my algorithm regarding the Jill and Bond meeting, there is a difference. I believed Pussy Galore to be a strong woman, different from the other Bond girls, until I fully realized what was going on in the subtext once the group started deconstructing the film to its fairly ugly roots. I think looking back from how I perceived the film then to now is fascinating – I believe it truly came out during the rehearsal process, actually. Because that was when things began to “click” into place for me. There was something deeply wrong with the film at its cultural/social core, and it was in many ways our job to figure out what those were and effectively tear them apart in a way that would make our audience “feel” rather than understand. Sure, they could perhaps grasp themes of misogyny, racism, and male empowerment and ascribe some greater meaning to them, but there was something else to be said about what the ultimate goal was. I have trouble wording this, but I think what we wanted most of all was to create something that remixed, but also had heart to it, a heart that was representative of a collective consciousness. The scripts and ideas we generated from that collective consciousness is what ultimately formed the show, from golf scenes to “trick pool tables”. That would probably be what the process represented to me – something that was outside myself and the conventional definitions of what “meaning” might imply. In a way, we also took what was so harmful in the film and made it fun, amusing in fact – there was a lot of hilarity to our process. Something enjoyable and almost communal – everyone was granted a voice and most everyone’s ideas somehow made it into the production, be it in some evolved form in some cases. We reclaimed things and made them our own. Rehearsals, Performance, and Sound Design: I believe it is necessary to discuss my feelings about the rehearsal process, since I believe this is when a turn formed in my head as to whether or not I would enjoy the class as much as I ended up doing. Firstly, I did not want to be a performer – I felt my place was not on the stage and I felt I had less of a chance to mess up if I was on the tech side of things. Specifically, I wanted to do sound design, since I believe sound is a vital part of any production. I got my wish, and became one of four people who manned the tech table towards the end of rehearsals. But before this, I was an accomplice in helping discover the heart of our piece through coding, discussion, and group work. As unpleasant as it was for me at first, I found myself basking in the warm atmosphere that David and Angela provided for us as a group, and became more and more inclined to give my opinion during group discussion. While I still did not speak much, I admit that I enjoyed sharing my thoughts every once in a while. I preferred listening to people though, since I felt I ultimately did not have much to add. One of my ideas that I mentioned above, the Google Translate idea that was picked up and evolved throughout the course of rehearsal, actually made it into the show known as Lost in Translation. It spit out the I Expect You to Die scene’s lines in garbled English, Korean, and German, creating something intriguing yet horrifying at the same time. I worked in two groups during two periods of rehearsal time where the Google Translate idea was at its infancy and at a breaking point. By infancy I mean its inception, and by breaking point I mean it’s “breakthrough” or “ahah!” moment. It was amusing to hear the speakers play the terribly translated script – but it was also quietly subtle and eerie to hear it played over David’s number station loop at the end of the piece. I am definitely happy that made it in! screenshot_2 Sound is probably where I felt the greatest change in myself and my confidence in contributing to the project. Those are some of the sound files I ripped from the film among two actual clips I cut for the in-ear scenes. I started my contributions by chopping up as many sound effects and dialogue snippets as I could. Unfortunately, very few of them actually got used, but instead concepts I thought up evolved into distorted loops, and outside song choices added more to the production than I originally thought possible. In many ways, I’m thankful a lot of these ended up being archived – the ideas I was considering while ripping them were used for bigger and better things. So this was “new” – having myself be heard in a group and ultimately leading a scene or two with my sound choices. Very invigorating! In terms of my “greatest achievements” for this production, I’d say the Flying Circus scene for example – I am most proud of that (among the Algorithm Dance/Barn Dance/Goldfinger Monologue scenes) because I was allowed to experiment with four random songs each night of the performance. It was a lot of fun to witness both the actors and the observers enjoying themselves or laughing at what a spectacle it was. I enjoyed contributing to that in my own way, and I was so thrilled to have my idea be executed in real time. It should also be worth noting that being the sound person, despite its perks, was a very difficult experience. It was my first time operating Q-Lab, and quite a few scenes relied on sound (though arguably video was far more important). It was stressful to think about how much my job actually mattered in the long run, and perhaps how vital it was in giving feeling to a scene (in my point of view at least). In addition, I’m certain I drove our stage manager crazy with how many times I misfired sound cues, accidentally muted the computer, or was ahead of her by a few cues. When it came to performance time, I managed to correct myself and get it (mostly) correct with nothing noticeably wrong with the sound side of things. What a relief! In terms of things that could have worked “better”, I can’t say I have any serious complaints. I believe the environment was welcoming enough to do what I wanted while also compromising with both David and Angela on the sound side of things. Admittedly, I wish I’d done more coding or kept most of my sound choices in (like my Jem and the Holograms choice for the Algorithm Dance), but of course those are executive decisions that, ultimately, I agreed with in the end. Takeaways: I was really surprised with how I came out of this class feeling as though I learned quite a bit. I found out how it was to be a sound technician, compromise with directors rather than make my own work (as in the concept was no longer an abstract but a reality during rehearsals), and become a better coder. This was a class not about the conventional “meaning” of the piece, but the emotional group core. What did we, as a group, think it needed to be? How did we approach it? And ultimately, what did we feel while making it? These things and more were ultimately more important than the final product, which was something I did not expect to feel this far down the line. It is incredible how perspectives can change over time – I was worried our production would fail, but it did anything but that. It soared, and I’m proud to have been a part of it. As someone who takes writing very seriously, and storytelling equally seriously, I admit I was surprised with how nonlinearity was actually more appealing to me than the traditional structure. Stories do not need to stick to rules – I’ve always felt this, but I think it was invigorating to see it in practice outside of my own work. Truth be told, I’ve been quite terrible at sticking to that idea myself. Suffice to say, I want to write more unconventional things down the line, even if the process is perhaps not as much of a group one as this piece was. I believe my work can only improve from here. I can be bolder! I am thankful for choosing to go through with this class and meeting those that I did along the way. So… It was a pleasure, and honestly so much fun, taking this path less traveled and meeting all these like-minded people along the way. I’ll conclude with this unrelated, but perfect image that properly demonstrates what I can’t put into words about this piece and the positive emotions that went along with it: 741pooricorio   Thank you a thousand times over for this experience – I can only hope something like it comes around again!