This blog has entirely morphed into “Jason talks about theater” it appears.
I’m going to be directing another show! I’m heading up the Millennium Repertory Company’s production of Little Shop of Horrors. We open in late January, so rehearsals and such will be over the holiday season. I’ve got an amazing cast:
The biggest challenge for this show? The puppets. Look for a lot of build pics over on Mastodon or PixelFed.
Tennessee legislators in the State Senate have voted to move forward SB 0003, a bill which will criminalize performance in drag. The bill is not particularly long nor difficult to understand, so I’m going to include the relevant bits here:
SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 7-51-1401, is amended by adding the following language as a new subdivision:
"Adult cabaret performance" means a performance in a location other than an adult cabaret that features topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, or similar entertainers, regardless of whether or not performed for consideration;
SECTION 2. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 7-51-1407, is amended by adding the following language as a new subsection:
(1) It is an offense for a person to engage in an adult cabaret performance:
(A) On public property; or
(B) In a location where the adult cabaret performance could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.
(2) Notwithstanding § 7-51-1406, this subsection (c) expressly:
(A) Preempts an ordinance, regulation, restriction, or license that was lawfully adopted or issued by a political subdivision prior to the effective date of this act that is in conflict with this subsection (c); and
(B) Prevents or preempts a political subdivision from enacting and enforcing in the future other ordinances, regulations, restrictions, or licenses that are in conflict with this subsection (c).
(3) A first offense for a violation of subdivision (c)(1) is a Class A misdemeanor, and a second or subsequent such offense is a Class E felony.
SECTION 3. This act takes effect July 1, 2023, the public welfare requiring it, and applies to prohibited conduct occurring on or after that date.
How many plays and musicals are going to be outlawed due to the insane TN legislature? It’s obvious that the law is designed specifically to target the drag and trans communities (because of course it is), and I’m absolutely in opposition to it solely for that reason. However, I have another reason to be wary of this law…I’m curious how many prior restraint first amendment issues there will be in non-profit community theater.
I’m on the Board of Directors of a community theater here in middle TN. Could I lobby for the theater to perform Rent without fearing for the safety of our actors and the organization? La cage aux folles? White freaking Christmas? Twelfth Night? Rocky Horror? The list of theater that includes dressing across gender identity is very, very deep, and the lines of “prurient interest” are notoriously fuzzy. What about casting women as men when there aren’t enough men who audition?
In my production of Cabaret last year, there was an obviously prurient dance number with a male-presenting member of the cast dressed in a drindl with some frilly panties dancing in ways that were intentionally obscene. Could I put that on stage now? Could the non-profit organization allow the risk of that being on their stage?
Hey lawyer pals: is there a prior restraint 1st Amendment case here?
Also, TN citizens…elect better people, and tell the Governor to veto this bill.
Now that I’ve almost entirely removed myself from Twitter, I’m looking around at how to…well, do whatever it is I want to do now. I’m definitely going to stick to Mastodon for awhile, and now I’m playing around with adding this old blog to ActivityPub and auto-posting to my Mastodon when I write here.
I’m hoping this incentivizes me to do more of that writing here, and less in platforms that I don’t own or control. To that end, I’ve installed ActivityPub here on the blog to give me a fediverse end-point, and will be thinking about what other ways/things to incorporate. I’ve got a BookWyrm account that I’ve only sort-of used, but maybe I’ll take a look at incorporating it as well.
Any suggestions as to what I should play with in the fediverse these days?
I sometimes describe myself as a ‘Maker’. In online parlance, that moniker places me in the realm of 3d printing, hobby electronics, laser cutting, and the like. That’s definitely true, and I do have and use those sorts of tools regularly for a variety of things, but my reason for using the term is more personal. For as long as I can remember, from the time I was 7 and discovered that with a small screwdriver I could take apart my GI Joe figures and put the head of one on the body of another, I’ve had the instinct to take the things inside my head and make them real. From radically customizing my toys as a kid, to learning computers and sitting for hours programming my Commodore 64 as a teen, to the early web of my 20’s (my first ‘real’ paying job after university was as a “webmaster”), there has always been this continued drive to imagine a thing, consider it inside my head, and then figure out how to instantiate it in the world so others could see it.
In another life, with a few different initial conditions, this might have driven me to be an engineer. With yet different conditions, maybe an artist. Over the course of my nearly 50 years I’ve scratched this itch through writing poetry and fiction, webpages, scholarly articles, two academic books, creating two different technology products (LibraryBox and Measure the Future), mucking about with Raspberry Pi’s and Arduino’s and software to make everything from halloween decorations to props for musical theater productions. In my “workshop” I’ve got a laser cutter, an electronic soldering station, more 3d printers than I’d like to admit, a wood lathe, and a variety of parts and pieces that would allow me at any time to spend a day building whatever pops into my head, and I have an Etsy store where I randomly add things that I think up.
Tonight, a totally different sort of Making comes into existence. Over the last 4 months, I’ve been spending my evenings working as a Director at the Manchester Arts Center in service of the Millennium Repertory Company’s production of the musical Cabaret. I could talk about Cabaret for hours (and, unsurprisingly, I have). It is my favorite musical, and one of my favorite pieces of art of all time. It is weird, and hard, and full of comedy and horror and sadness, and I love it to death. When given the opportunity to direct it, it was an almost overwhelming sense of “oh, yes…now I can finally get these images, this story, out of my head and into the world”. I had nearly the whole show fully formed inside my head from the very beginning, themes I wanted to work in, stagings for various bits, new ideas for how to handle specific scenes and character interactions.
The only problem? I had never directed before. In fact, I’ve never been on stage as an actor, either. I had worked many local theater production in all sorts of different technical roles, but if you wanna talk about imposter syndrome…I knew I had the show in my head, but whether I had any clue as to how to make it happen onstage remained to be seen. Compound this with continually second-guessing myself (I kept reflecting on the quote “grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man”) and knowing that I really hadn’t earned this role in the traditional ways and there has been lots of internal conflict and reflection over the last 16 weeks.
Tonight is opening night.
To see this show come together has been one of the best creative experiences of my life. The reasons are complicated, but mostly boil down to the fact that in almost all of my other “making” endeavors, it’s just me. I have the idea, learns the skills to make it happen, and then do it. That’s just not possible with a theater production, as it takes so, so many people to make it happen: the cast and their onstage talent, the production crew and their originality and creativity, the backstage crew and their logistics and planning, the tech crew and their knowledge and skills. In just this small community production there are over 30 people involved in putting this show together. None of my previous making involved anywhere near that number of creative partners, all of whom bring their own ideas and talents to things.
It may be a cliche to say that I learned more from all of these individuals than they learned from me, and it could never be more true. I am grateful beyond words for everyone that had a hand in making this real, and I’m going to miss creating with all of you like mad. These people have helped me bring together so many things to create what will ultimately be just five performances of the show, five opportunities for this thing that’s been inside my head for years to emerge into the world from the stage, full of light and sound and joy and sadness.
Tonight is opening night.
It’s nerve-wracking and exciting to anticipate how the audience might react, what sort of feedback we might have. It’s a hard, emotional, edgy show, and I’ve chosen to incorporate modern fascist imagery and video into it in ways that could be extremely controversial. Doing this show here, in Middle Tennessee? As far as we can tell, Cabaret is the first show on this stage to have a same-sex kiss on it…much less a song about threesomes and choreography to match. Between the sexuality and the critique of right-wing extremism, the show doesn’t pull any punches. But the theater that I love is the stuff that takes your heart bodily out of your chest, makes it hard to breathe, and then stomps in flat before returning it to you. So that’s what I’ve tried to create.
Here’s a presentation I delivered this summer on the near-future of AI and Machine Learning systems and services for the 2021 IDEA Institute on Artificial Intelligence. I discuss how ML systems “create” things, two types of ML systems that are popular right now (CLIP and GAN), how they might be used in the information world, and what sorts of things I continue to worry about as these systems become more prevalent.
A few weeks ago, my workhorse of a 2012 Honda Civic was viciously attacked by a deer on a dark road.
It was (and still is overall) a great car…it was purchased just before I started work at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga as an academic librarian, because I needed the highest mileage vehicle I could find. After nearly 180K miles, it’s still running like a top. But the deer slammed into the driver’s side door at full speed absolutely destroyed the door, broke the outside handle, and bent the door frame away just enough to be annoying. After getting an estimate from a body shop that was 40% of the value of the car, it looked like maybe it made more sense for me to look around at a “new” car for myself.
In 2021, what’s that look like? I started with the presupposition that I’d prefer to buy an electric vehicle, at a minimum a hybrid, but that it didn’t make sense to get a fully internal combustion engine (ICE) car for the sort of driving I do at this moment in time. Most of my driving is inside a 90 mile range of Middle TN/AL/GA, and doesn’t involve hours and hours on the road at a time. After looking around at options in EVs, it was quickly apparent that there weren’t a ton of choices right now, and that also there would be a metric ton of choices in the next 2 years.
Everyone knows Tesla, and as much as I love their technology and they are still the clear leader in EVs in the US, they are out of my price range and I’m largely annoyed by the cult of personality that seem to follow them. After reading and watching a LOT of reviews of the non-Tesla options, I was very intrigued by the Chevrolet Bolt EV. Less expensive, good size, and with enough range that I never really have to think about it (250 miles on a full charge), the Bolt fit in the sweet spot for me.
Once I’d narrowed the search that far, I discovered that it was a VERY opportune time to be shopping for a Bolt. With enormous dealer incentives, external incentives (Costco had a $3K member incentive to purchase one), and the fact that it was the end of the quarter and the beginning of the 2022 season for cars, with new models expected to start arriving over the next few weeks, dealers were very eager to make sales and get the existing cars off their lots.
So I bought one.
What’s Electric Like?
I had ridden in electric cars before this, having had the opportunity at CES in Vegas some time back to attend a press demo of electric vehicles and ride in a whole bunch of early versions. Obviously I’d done a ton of reading about the differences between EV and ICE vehicles as far as driving them goes. But after a week of this being my daily driver, I just gotta say that this car is fun as hell to drive.
Super peppy, corners like a boss, power exactly when you want it, and nearly silent otherwise, this thing is a blast. It has great sound, Apple CarPlay, a ton of safety features that my previous car didn’t have (lane warnings, 360 camera, camera rear view) that make it just easier to relax while driving. It’s fun in a way that no car I’ve ever driven is, and it doesn’t hurt that I feels a little like I’m piloting a spaceship.
But What About Charging?
With a 250 mile range at full charge, I can go nearly a whole week without really stressing about charging. Right now, there’s a few options for me when I need to charge, though. The first is that the Bolt comes with what’s called a Level 1 charger that is effectively a fancy extension cord for a standard 120v outlet. This is the slowest of all possible options, as there’s not a lot of oomph in a standard US 120v outlet. Plugged in this way, the car will gain about 4 miles of range every hour that it’s plugged in. If you plug it in overnight for say, 10 hours, you can bet on roughly 40 miles of range being added to your battery.
My plan is to eventually install a Level 2 charger here at home, which uses 240v outlets similar to an electric dryer. With one of those, I can add 25 miles of range for every hour spent charging, and so can top the entire battery up overnight whenever needed. This will cost me a couple hundred dollars for an electrician to install, and will be well worth it long term (and has a tax incentive attached to it that allows you to claim 30% of the cost as a write-off).
In my immediate area, I have a handful of charging options not at my house. The town next door to me (10 min drive) has free Level 2 charging at their municipal building, where I could park and charge for free if needed. A town slightly farther away (30 min) but where I spend 3-5 nights a week because of various classes and rehearsals has a commercial DC Fast Charger station (Electrify America) which is the most expensive but also fastest way to charge your car…with it, you can add 100 miles of range in about 30 minutes. The charge for that charger is .16/minute, so for under $5 I can add 100 miles of range anytime I have a few minutes after dropping my kid off at dance class.
I’m thrilled, so far. Cautiously so, because this seems too good to be true and I’m sure the cruel hand of fate is waiting to smite me because if 2020 taught us anything it taught us not to assume good things about the world.
This thing is super fun, charging it requires a little forethought but is really not that big a deal, and I live in an incredibly rural area without a ton of infrastructure for EVs. I expect that will improve over time, and my experience on that front will get better and better, and people in more dense population centers will have an even easier time.
This is _brilliant_. So many possibilities, esp since we know that voice assistants can be controlled via subsonics and other audio trickery. Middle-manning them in this way is an amazing technical feat, but will be easier and easier over time.
Alias is a teachable “parasite” that is designed to give users more control over their smart assistants, both when it comes to customisation and privacy. Through a simple app the user can train Alias to react on a custom wake-word/sound, and once trained, Alias can take control over your home assistant by activating it for you.
After years of hype, the Magic Leap One is finally available for purchase…at least, for those developers lucky enough to live in certain parts of the US. They are limiting purchasing for now to certain geographic areas (you have to enter your ZIP to see if you are in a lucky area). The headsets start at $2295, so they aren’t cheap, but given the promise of AR and the hype behind Magic Leap, I think they are worth looking at for libraries that are getting into AR.
Check their “experiences” page to get a better idea of the sort of craziness that is coming with AR.
The new Aibo is available to pre-order in Japan today and will go on sale on January 11th, 2018; there aren’t any plans yet to release it outside of Sony’s homeland. It costs 198,000 yen, or about $1,700, as well as the monthly subscription — but what price can you put on cloud-powered robot companionship?