Thursday, November 3, 2011

Regarding "Occupy Anonymous"

I've got nothing against movies about Shakespeare. I've also got nothing against Roland Emmerich movies; I loved Independence Day; thought 2012 was ridiculous fun; though Day After Tomorrow was just ridiculous, but still.

Yet I launched a little tongue-in-cheek Event on Facebook called "Occupy 'Anonymous,' to spread the word to impressionable movie-goers that contrary to the beliefs of the creators of Emmerich's new "Anonymous," the works of Shakespeare were, in fact, written by Shakespeare. Having spent a good portion of my life researching the Bard (for one hit play, one self-help book ("What Would Shakespeare Do?") and my novel MY NAME IS WILL - A NOVEL OF SEX, DRUGS, AND SHAKESPEARE, I reckon I know as much about the documentary evidence of Shakespeare's life as most amateur scholars. I've also, out of due diligence, read the most influential Oxfordian theory volumes: Ogburn's SHAKESPEARE IDENTIFIED and Anderson's THE MAN WHO WAS SHAKESPEARE. While there's some interesting and almost-convincing evidence - strictly circumstantial, mind you -- in both of these works, mostly about places Oxford visited that appear in Shakespeare's plays, they fall apart under the weight of the conspiracy theory that had would have to have been maintained to keep Oxford's authorship of the Works secret for decades past his lifetime. They also don't bother to answer questions like, "Well, mightn't Shakespeare have visited those places, too?" It should come as no surprise that there are precious few Shakespeare scholars who think anyone but Shakespeare wrote the Works.

And the worst argument for Oxford is, IMHO, his own poetry. Reasonable minds my disagree regarding the quality of the verse, but to my ear his poems are both unexceptional and unlike Shakespeare.

Anyway, my little open letter, a mashup of Occupy Wall Street and the Authorship "Debate," is approaching 1000 likes and 750 shares on Facebook, so I think I've done my bit for spreading some evidence.

By all means see Anonymous if you wish. It's a beautiful re-creation of Elizabethan London. The set decoration of Oxford's office is worth the price of admission. The confusing story and unmemorable dialogue are not as good as, say, most episodes of The Tudors, but there are some fine performances (notably Vanessa Redgrave's) and it has a worthy message about the power of the pen.

Just don't believe its main premise, that Oxford wrote Shakespeare. It simply ain't true. If you really want to dive into the whys and wherefores, the Shakespeare Authorship site's How We Know Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare has the best compendium of answers for you.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

YouTube vs. Vimeo

I just posted a couple of new videos on YouTube, Vintage Reduced Shakespeare Company stuff. One is a bit of footage from 1986 featuring the rarely-performed Encores to Romeo and Juliet during the period that it was a standalone pass-the-hat act. The other is a 5 minute preview of the 90 minute Reduced Shakespeare Company 30th Anniversary Retrospective.

The Retrospective itself, though, is not on YouTube. Why? Simply put, because it's ninety minutes long. Increasingly, filmmakers are using other hosting services to showcase their long form videos, rather than breaking it into parts to accommodate YouTube's 15-minute limit on videos.  And Vimeo is awesome. Not only does it allow bigger files and longer videos, but it allows you to change your video after it's published -- without losing comments, likes and page views. And it seems to handle more formats and codecs than without the sync problems that often afflict YouTube.

Seems to me that YouTube is losing customers, and page views, by not offering an upgraded hosting plan to allow for long-form videos. Right?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

An Ode to Black Point

Don't get me wrong. I am as sad as the next guy that the Northern Renaissance Faire couldn't stay at Black Point, and visiting the site is an odd, bittersweet experience. But I was comforted by the fact that the valley, despite the homes on the ridge overlooking what is now a golf course, is still so damn pretty. I took a photo, posted earlier, from near where the Main Gate stood. And I found myself thinking back to what the same view looked like during the Faire days. My friend Kathleen had posted comparing that site to Eden... her personal Arcadia. I, with satirist hat firmly in place and way too much Shakesperean verse currently in my head, scribbled this:

Recall Arcadian verdure in its spring,
Where Porta-potties once, like diadem
Of stringéd pearls, bejewelled majestic hills;
Where, like unto the camp of Agamemnon
Before the very walls of ancient Troy,
Crew trailers did, in Bondoed rusty hues
Assail the burlapped Will Wood-mounted gate,
Whilst from the ridge, stained nylon three-man tents
Spewed forth the reek and rowd of stonéd teens,
(Divers, who knew, below age of consent)
And morning dawned with lusty workman's voice,
Alarum-like, "Get the fuck outta the road!!"
Here now, in what was once a dusty vale
Engend'ring mucous blacker than the Moor,
Republicans drive and wedge, chip and par, 
Boogers for bogeys are exchanged; yet still
Do birdies come anon to bless the day
And eagles, on rarer wings, do soar.
   We curse our Faire-ways missed, our hooks and slices;
   Arcadia's yet green, by whate'er devices.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

RSC 30th Anniversary Webcast - Addenda and Google Map

Still aglow from yesterday's get-together with current Reduced Shakespeare Company mavens Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, and original members Sa Winfield and Daniel (Rover) Singer to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first performance of the RSC's Hamlet, Prince o' Denmark. The webcast took place live (when it wasn't dead), with thanks to and courtesy of Elizabeth Bugg and the fine folks at Stonetree Golf Course in Novato, California. The balcony we broadcast from is visible in the upper left of their splash page photo of the clubhouse.

Here, btw, is the Google Map of where we were.

View Black Point RSC Haunts in a larger map

I'd been wanting to do -- and offered to produce -- an actual reunion performance, featuring everyone and anyone who'd ever done a role appear for a scene or two in a production of The Complete Works. But Certain Quarters in London made themselves unavailable, which made it seem not worth pursuing. But then, by chance, it turned out that almost everyone else involved was going to be within twenty miles or so of the original Northern Renaissance Pleasure Faire site where the first performances went down.

Considering the fact that when we discovered this last Tuesday, we had no plans to get together, none of us had ever done a streaming webcast, and none of us were able to arrive at the location we selected for the shoot (the clubhouse balcony of the golf course that now covers RenFaire land) until an hour before going live, it's amazing it came together at all! Although there were plenty of technical glitches (some my fault, some the server's. I for one will be switching from uStream to for my future live-streaming needs), you can see some of the rough results here. An edited version will come ASAP.

Sadly, the glitches left to a few stories with untold endings and untold beginnings. I demanded "hot towels!" from Sa to clean up all the corn syrup on our hands after the bloody Titus Andronicus. I hoped we'd get to trade injury stories, and show off some scars. Sa was trying really hard to plug Rachel Culp's awesome rock n'roll clothing when I, husbandlike,  interrupted her. Sa also never got to tell the tale of how she and Heidi Metcalf were backstage at the tiny Celtic Lodge at our first Fringe show, and it was so hot and cramped back there that they kept stripping off layers. By the time we were done with Hamlet... well, it was fun going backstage! etc. etc.) But you'll be able to hear that on the RSC podcast, soon enough.

For those of you who tuned in but were unable to see the live chat, I just fired up my laptop for the first time since yesterday, and the last twenty minutes or so of it's preserved:

4:21 rabidpsycho: YES COME BACK TO LONDON
4:21 rabidpsycho: Well, yes, not right now
4:21 Parrarie: yeah, I saw them during the low countries tour twice, in two days :P
4:21 actormanager: Have youplayed Ashland or any of the other Shakespeare festivals?
4:21 KyraSoleil: oh boy here we go
4:21 KyraSoleil: no sound :(
4:21 itzmechrisb:  ooooh  exciting  lets see??
4:21 reduced: Can you hear us talk over the pics?
4:22 actormanager: no sound
4:22 itzmechrisb: no
4:22 rabidpsycho: Nope, 'fraid not
4:22 reduced: Jess in tights
4:22 reduced: Yep, that's Jess. Ooh missus.
4:22 rabidpsycho: I envy your shapely legs, Jess
4:22 reduced: That's 15 min Hamlet from UC Berkeley.
4:22 MiaVee: Gotta scoot guys, but I've enjoyed it so far, looking forward to catching up with the whole thing once it's up :) and thank you for ten years of laughter and counting that you've brought me x
4:22 KyraSoleil: nice face
4:23 rabidpsycho: See ya, Mia!
4:23 reduced: Jess at ren faire doing the sneeze bit
4:23 reduced: with Danial as Polonius
4:23 ruccha: am I missing sound, or is there no audio?
4:23 reduced: Barbara as Ophelia!!!
4:23 reduced: Adam in black wig - the new Ophelia!
4:23 reduced: There's no sound.
4:23 ruccha: thx
4:23 reduced: Jess and Daniel
4:23 reduced: Jess and Yorick
4:24 reduced: Southern Faire
4:24 reduced: Probably 1986 now.
4:24 reduced: Ah the Pikes!
4:24 reduced: The caravansery stage
4:25 reduced: A rare clean-shaven Daniel
4:25 reduced: Beards were in
4:25 KyraSoleil: Beards went OUT?
4:25 reduced: DEath of pOlonius
4:25 reduced: LA Fringe Fest!
4:25 reduced: Reed Martin, ladies and germans
4:26 reduced: This was staged reading of Revised script in 2007
4:26 reduced: Still have 28 viewers!
4:27 KyraSoleil: whoo!
4:27 reduced: Welcome back to the sound portion!
4:27 rabidpsycho: Hurrah!
4:27 reduced: sound of screeching brakes
4:27 KyraSoleil: Blah
4:28 KyraSoleil: commercial
4:28 kirane0212: where'd it go?? :(
4:28 KyraSoleil: back
4:28 rabidpsycho: I seem to never get the commercials
4:29 kirane0212: they need to be louder, i can barely hear
4:30 KyraSoleil: THANK YOU. :)
4:30 kirane0212: thank you!
4:30 kirane0212: i love y'all, i'm attempting to direct the complete works of shakes in the fall (after i buy the rights of course)
4:31 KyraSoleil: no!!!!!!!
4:31 rabidpsycho: Worst time to go off air, in the middle of a melted spine story
4:32 KyraSoleil: back :)
4:32 reduced: The whole story will be uninterrupted in the audio podcast version.
4:32 rabidpsycho: Hurrah!
4:32 kirane0212: yayyy
4:32 KyraSoleil: yay
4:33 KyraSoleil: Ouch!
4:36 KyraSoleil: Sing! Sing! Sing!
4:39 rabidpsycho: (Psst, bring Sports to the UK, if just 'cause my Dad keeps asking me what it's like)
4:40 hesherman: So, what have I missed?
4:40 actormanager: still can't hear Jess
4:41 reduced: Would love to bring SPORTS to the UK!
4:41 cutypie12-1: just came back, did i miss too much?
4:41 Parrarie: Hop over the Channel to the Netherlands and Belgium then as well :)
4:41 actormanager: naked showers were fun
4:42 hesherman: Is nuclear fission ocurring behind you? Nothing but bright white light
4:43 actormanager: sunshine too bright
4:43 reduced: Welcome back HE! Just sunshine.
4:43 rabidpsycho: Sunshine?
4:43 rabidpsycho: You'll have to run that past me again
4:43 rabidpsycho: (Though, to be fair, it's 12.43am here)
4:44 hesherman: have u ever tried to reduce material and been unable?
4:44 actormanager: yeah Todd!
4:48 cutypie12-1: you should copyright reducing :)
4:49 KyraSoleil: What was the scariest moment on stage for you guys?
4:50 Parrarie: Question: Besides the Complete works: abridged, what are some of your favorite Shakespeare adaptations? (from any medium, film, theater, literature, etc.)
4:50 reduced: I remembered!
4:50 Parrarie: :)
4:50 KyraSoleil: :)
4:53 hesherman: I once saw radically cut HAMLET where R&G didn't die, just disappeared
4:54 reduced: In a puff of smoke?
4:54 hesherman: Just never spoken of again
4:55 hesherman: Hamlet in that production was Chris Walken
4:55 reduced: So they doesn't happen in the real play? :)
4:56 KyraSoleil:  Cheers!
4:56 KyraSoleil: Salu!
4:56 cutypie12-1: may there be 30 more :)
4:56 hesherman: L'chaim!
4:56 rabidpsycho: Congratulations, you guys
4:56 Parrarie: Proost!
4:57 actormanager: drink, drank, drunk
4:57 rabidpsycho: It's our honour
4:57 KyraSoleil: Yay for new generation
4:57 hesherman: Meadlowlark Lemon is gone, but the Globetrotters go on!
4:58 mclepus: Congrats! Sweet 30!
4:58 itzmechrisb: and the rest IS silence
4:58 reduced: Yes, we're the reduced Globetrotters!
4:59 rabidpsycho: I look forward to the non-skipping recording
4:59 reduced: Thanks so much y'all....
4:59 rabidpsycho: Thank YOU for doing this, rather!
4:59 Parrarie: Thank you, RSC, for reducing expectations since 1981!
5:01 Ustream-Bot: [Ustream-Bot leaving] Need assistance with Ustream? Type !help to join the live Ustream help channel.
5:02 Parrarie: I'm going to bed now, it's two in the morning over here. Good luck rehearsing tonight!
5:02 rabidpsycho: Beats my 1am - sleep well!
5:03 Parrarie: you too!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

iMovie Madness: Our Turkey Video

I spent a week or two trying to sift out my online media strategy. Cuz, you know, I have two blogs, (this one and LA Food Crazy), a personal Facebook page (where I have never not-accepted a friend request), an Author Facebook page, a Twitter account, a LinkedIn page, a website. Sure, I have one or two followers in each place, but you start adding 'em all up and it might add up to what in the biz is called a "platform."

I decided that each has its place, so I kept them all. Thankfully, I have Hootsuite to help make multiple posts to multiple places. Hootsuite, btw, is utterly awesome. Create one post and send to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, all at once. Add the "Hootlet" menu bar button, and you can easily share any Webpage you're currently looking at to any all with a couple of clicks.

But still, I sometimes I feel the need to "personalize" the posts to the platform. Who the hell wants to see hashtags in a Facebook post? And if this was Facebook, the post would already be too long. I'd have to change it to a Note. Zuck you, Fuckerberg!

Anyway, here's a video, or short film, I made in iMovie 11 of our trip to France and Turkey last year. In case you didn't see it posted on a million other Jess Winfield platforms... enjoy. And FYI, this is the one place where I will speak the real truth, about everything, in as many words as I damn well please.

I ended up both loving and hating iMovie 11, by the way. Perhaps that is the subject for another post. Has anyone tried the hated Final Cut Pro X? I'm curious.

Jess and Sa Winfield in France, Istanbul, and Cappadocia from Jess Winfield on Vimeo.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hello To An Old Villain: Anthony Munday!

I had one of those small yips of joy that come when developing a new novel today. One of my favorite characters in MY NAME IS WILL is Anthony Munday, the spy and hack playwright/pamphleteer who, it is hinted, helps rat out William Shakespeare as a Catholic to Queen Elizabeth's spymaster Francis Walsingham, leading to the arrest of Shakespeare's Arden relations.

Munday was a late discovery in the writing process. I was looking for some source material for the Robin Hood pageant that William's rustic theatrical friends would perform in the forest of Arden, and came upon Anthony Munday's clumsy text for "The Death of Robin Hood." Looking for a little bit of background on the playwright, I discovered that he was not only a playwright but a (probably) anti-Catholic spy or double-agent who spoke at the hanging of, and then wrote pamphlets about, the hanging of Edmund Campion which I knew would be a centerpiece of my story. Bingo! My only regret was that because he was a late entry, I wasn't able to make as much use of him as I'd have liked.

Well, I've been doing some due diligence and reading Mark Anderson's SHAKESPEARE BY ANOTHER NAME in preparation for both my next novel and an article I hope to write about the "Shakespeare Authorship Controversy." (Anderson's book is, to my surprise, well-written and compelling, and although I'm still unconvinced by his premise, I may soften my tone somewhat about the Edward de Vere "Oxfordian" theory, which I ranted about in an earlier post.) Regardless of the authorship question, it is an excellent biography of the 15th Earl of Oxford, who will likely play a part in my next book.

So guess who has just shown up as de Vere's new personal secretary, at about the time Shakespeare will be coming on to the scene in London? None other than Anthony Munday! The plot thickens! I'm not sure how yet, but it definitely thickens!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chuck Versus Sherlock

Zachary Levi, Chuck
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock

When I was on the book tour for MY NAME IS WILL, my wife Sa coined a new phrase. She's not a big reader, so she was a little panicked about going to lots of book signings and after-parties with bigwigs of the publishing world, and trying to keep with the Vassar/Yale MFA chitchat. So she came up with this stock response to the ever-popular "So what are you reading?" and "Who are your favorite authors?" icebreakers: "I don't read. I watch television."

She speaks fairly truly when she says that, although she was kind enough to read my book and like it. We do, in fact, watch a lot of television. For the past couple of weeks we've been catching up on Chuck, (still in the middle of season four, so no spoilers, please!), and also watched the three ninety minute episodes of the BBC mystery series Sherlock. I think Chuck is extraordinary, and I found Sherlock somewhat disappointing, and I've been trying to assess why.

Each show is an updates of one of my childhood icons. Chuck is essentially Get Smart meets Charlie's Angels meets 21st century geek culture, a post-Cold War retro spy comedy/adventure show that plays out in the interstices of a big box electronics store, with lots of pop culture references (the supercomputer at the nexus of a take-over-the-world control center looks exactly like an old Mac Plus computer; one of the shady front corporations in a season three episode was "Vandalay Industries." You have to know your Seinfeld to get that one) and badass, scantily-clad-chick-on-scantily-clad-chick martial arts sequences. "Sherlock" takes the classic Conan Doyle characters and simply inserts them in modern-day London, Holmes and Watson still ensconced at the fictional 221B Baker Street and solving crimes, but doing so with computers and cell phones and ready explanations that no, they're not gay. The cast in each show is terrific. Chuck features two sexy leads that have made their way onto Sa's and my respective "lists" -- you know, that list that spouses keep that provides a marital get of jail free card if the opportunity should ever arise to be unfaithful with one of five listed celebrities -- in Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski.

Guest spots are perfectly cast with an eye toward both geek cred and great comedy, from Scott Bakula and Linda Hamilton as Chuck's parents to Fred Willard and Swoozie Kurtz as a bickering old married spy couple. Sherlock features an obsessive, asexual, exasperating, Aspergers-y Holmes in Benedict Cumberbatch, and the always lovable (and Bilbo to be Martin Freeman as a redoubtable and almost-clever-enough-to-keep-up Watson. Both shows are smart, clever, fast-paced, and alternately funny and action-packed.

The difference is in the story arc. Sherlock, because of its ninety-minute episodes, had a chance to do something like a movie trilogy, with long-waveform plot development, an evolving relationship between Holmes and Watson, and doing some deep diving into that most enigmatic of questions: what makes Sherlock Holmes tick? But after a promising opening, in which Holmes and Watson are cleverly introduced and Holmes makes his usual almost-perfectly accurate eductions about Watson's past, the character relationships are left largely unexplored. Instead, the second two episodes simply feel like a more-intelligent CSI episode, with multiple dizzying plot twists and breathless deduction, but almost nothing in the way of emotion or character development.

Chuck, on the other hand, manages to constantly surprise and innovate, both moving the story forward and spinning out the compelling backstory mystery in nearly every episode. Standard sitcom tropes like the Sam and Diane/Ross and Rachel "will they get together?" storyline between civilian Chuck and his handler and superspy Sarah Walker are handled deftly, with a thoroughly contemporary edge, and so much chemistry between the two that you find yourself rooting for their relationship out loud. Characters and relationships evolve at a rapid pace, yet manage not to jump the shark of unbelievability. Every episode ends with a cliffhanger--usually an emotional one between Chuck and Sarah or Chuck and his family--that makes for long nights of three-and-four-episode marathon viewing.

I just learned today that the upcoming season of Chuck, its fifth, will be its last. If you haven't been following, I highly recommend catching up. Seasons 1-3 are available on DVD, with the fourth no doubt coming soon.