Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Oberon Onmura’s Wave Field at LEA

Overhead View of Wave Field

The opening of Oberon Onmura’s “Wave Field”was on Sunday, the 18th of December. I’d received an invitation but had been unable to attend with first life commitments. Oberon and I had met a few years ago when we were both guests on an episode of the Brooklyn is Watching podcast. I’ve enjoyed seeing his work over the years, most recently at Burn 2 and earlier this year his memorial to Sabrinaa Nightfire at Split Screen. We’d run into each other now and then, most often at an opening where we’d inevitably chat about the art and where he was at with his work.  He’d given me a heads up that night that this opening was near. When I logged in on the 18th, I pulled open the notecard and grabbed the landmark.

I arrived at the entry point and took what the notecard givers offered while I waited for the site to rezz. It finally did and I was about to move the virtual me around for a closer look when I saw Oberon arrive, he’d just logged back in.

Nazz: Howdy Oberon. How's it going?

Oberon: Hey Nazz … not bad … although at the moment I see myself as smoke … hang on.

Nazz: You’ve rezzed for me.

Oberon: Ah … here I am … all dressed up. I'm having video problems the video I capture with Fraps doesn't play in Windows media player it plays in Winamp perfectly - but UPSIDE DOWN!!

Nazz: Bummer … I thought the fraps vids only played in Quick Time

Oberon: No, Frap captures are avi files

Nazz: How'd the opening go?

Oberon: Not too bad, it got a little laggy for a while, but everything kept working.

Nazz: You got the whole SIM right?

Oberon: Yes! It's very exciting. What did you want to do, you mentioned something … write a piece or make a video? I even dressed up

Nazz: My video skills are non-existent, so write a piece.

Oberon: Excellent, slightly less ephemeral.

Nazz: How long was Wave Field in the making?

Oberon: Oh I'd say about three months … not that it's finished yet, but three months to this point. These things somehow always get tweaked.

Nazz: Is this your first full SIM build?

Oberon: Oh no … let's see … fourth or fifth I think. This grant from the LEA amounts to thousands of dollars in SIM tier.

Nazz: What was the inspiration for wave fields?

Oberon: I've always wanted to see if I could create a sense of ... liquidity ... using solid prims … a liquid surface. I'm not sure this is quite there yet, but often ideas start out one way and then take their own form as they develop.

Nazz: There’s nothing under the water as you had at split screen then?

Oberon: No … only the fun part of looking up through the water. If you can enable water reflections, the effect is very nice.

Nazz: Your own scripting?

Oberon: Yes ... I always do my own scripting. I can't afford to hire anyone and for me it's central to the art, so I sort of have to do it myself.

Nazz: The scripting is an essential component ... are you're planning to do your own machinima then?

Oberon: Nazz, I'm not much of a video maker plus, my system isn't working now anyway … so I'm hoping some good person will want to make a terrific video of this

Nazz: How was it working with the LEA?

Oberon: Amazing, everyone has been very supportive, nice, and helpful. It couldn't be better.

Nazz: That’s a good thing to hear. As an entity it seems to have struggled to get its bearings.

Oberon: If you talk with someone who didn't get one of the SIM’s this time, you'd probably get a different answer … anything done by committee is difficult … add in time zones, different cultures, languages.

Nazz Lane: As I understood it, you had to submit a write up for consideration ... how long did that take?

Oberon: Yes … not long. It basically said "I want to develop a new SIM wide piece ..." Plus some documentation of previous work … a bio too. Pretty standard, no surprises … fortunately, we didn't have to submit a project budget! I don't know how many applications they got, but they chose 14 full SIM winners.

Nazz: You've a fairly well established reputation in Second Life and I’m thinking that we met the first time at Brooklyn is Watching.

Oberon: Yes, I think so. The "good old days"… I really developed my chops there under the influence of many terrific artists.

Nazz: There were many who were there that were ground breakers in the virtual arts.

Oberon: Yes, although I'm not sure about the term "virtual art".

Nazz: Who did you draw the most inspiration from?

Oberon: Selavy Oh.

Nazz: A good choice … her exhibit “State of Formation” at the IBM SIM was one of the most amazing that I’ve ever seen.

Oberon: Well, she continues to lead the way conceptually and technically … that piece crashed every viewer I tried. I don't know why … but I never could stay there more than a few minutes … nothing else has ever done that. I don't know why it happened, it was very odd. Selvay has the SIM right here touching the corner behind us.

Nazz: “Wave Field” is here until mid-January?

Oberon: Yes … I think maybe even to January 31st. I want to develop one more piece in the rest of the time, if possible.

Nazz: Should be fun to do.

Oberon: Definitely … if I have enough time. It takes 3-6 months usually, for something like this.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Spirit Dance Company Presents "Echoes of Love"

Christmas Gala 2011

In what's being billed as a gala performance, the Spirit Dance Company will present "Echoes of Love", in Second Life. The dance troupe will perform on both the 17th and 18th of December. The event on both days will begin at 11:30 am PST/SLT and it is something you won't want to miss. I spoke briefly with Caryl Meredith, co-founder of the troupe and choreographer, and she told me that, "The company continues to grow not only in our ability to perform but also in our ability to shift and adjust to the many technical challenges that we face when pushing the envelope. We are thinking big and accomplishing the unexpected. I am very proud of the members of our cast and crew on what they have achieved. Please come and see us, we welcome your being part of our audience."

The following is from the invitation that Caryl had given me and I wanted to share the sentiments expressed.

Echoes of love

Each season allows the Spirit Dance Company to work on another show. Another way to lift spirits and bring a chuckle or tear to those who attend. This season is not different. As a collective group we have worked hard to produce an inspiring as well as artistically beautiful show. It is our 'Echoes of Love' that we extend to you. It is love energy wrapped in an artistic format it is our hope that those who come to see it are inspired to pass this energy along.

Love from the heart

Take it. Share it with others in your own personal way. At this time of year there is always talk of Peace on Earth. In holiday greetings cards the 'wish' for a better world is been the focus as long is I can remember. There may have been tiny steps toward that end. But what comes to me as I write this greeting is it the peace we seek comes from within. How we feel about who we are. And our actions toward others is a bedrock of a new world --- a safe peaceful place where we can walk our path unimpeded by negativity. It is up to us to create it.

So at this Holiday Season we wish you peace. We wish you love. We wish you to experience love deep in your heart that you can feel and share. And may that echo through all your relationships in dealings so that we will all be richer for the experience of sharing of the experience of sharing yours.

Echoes of love

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Inworldz Dreamz & Visonz Art Festival Book

It had been shortly after the award ceremony that Velazquez Bonetto had contacted me about collaborating with him on a book about the Inworldz Dreamz & VisionzFestival. We chatted briefly in instant message about the festival and the project. It didn't take much persuasion on Vela's part to convince me and I eagerly accepted. He spent the next several days and took pictures that capture both the dreams and visions of the many fine artists who participated had portrayed in their works. While he did so, I contacted Jeri Rajha and asked if she would be willing to contribute the forward to the book. She readily acquiesced and went off to work on her thoughts. While Jeri and Vela were doing so, I wrote the piece on the award ceremony which was to serve as the announcement of the winners.

A week later, Vela sent me his first draft of the book. I had expected this initial draft to be well done, as I had seen previously in the multiple volumes he'd created of work done by his group in Second Life, CARP/Diabolus. I was not disappointed as I paged through the volume. The pictures speak volumes of what had been created and on exhibit. All that remained to complete and publish were the forward and a few revisions to the text I had posted on the festival site a day after the awards had been announced. This last piece to the book arrived from Ms Rajha and I passed it along to Vela to complete the book and publish it via Issuu.

With our special thanks to the artists and the team who'd made this festival the success that it was, we hope you enjoy this commemorative book.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Actors Workshop in Second Life

Wytch - Suzy - Corky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.