Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Writers: Play Some D&D

It’s been pretty well established by this point in my life that I am a nerd of many sorts. Theatre, sci-fi, fantasy, board games, video games, math, logic, philosophy, mythology, religion… there’s a lot of nerdy in me. So it shouldn’t come even remotely as a surprise that I have played a LOT of Dungeons & Dragons in my day.

My first introduction to the game, though it was ultimately not an accurate representation at all, was back in the summer after my 7th grade year when I was 12 years old. It was, I believe, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition… I don’t remember much of it at all, but again. Not very accurate. Still, somewhere in my room right now is the first character sheet I ever had.

Since then, I’ve played 3e, 3.5e, 4e and am currently in a group playing the D&D Next edition. I’ve been the Dungeon Master for two different (ultimately falling apart) 3.5 campaigns. I’ve played Pathfinder, Iron Kingdoms and even a d20 system a friend of mine created. I’ve done some role-playing online and have oodles and oodles of ridiculous stories to tell about the various campaigns.

Most people find the game to be instantly associated with the nerdiest of the nerdy. I suppose that’s a little fair… while high fantasy and the like have been becoming more and more acceptable over the years (just look at the successes of Peter Jackson’s interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” books, as well as HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), it’s more acceptable to observe fantasy, not attempt to live it out. D&D and other role-playing tabletop games are predicated on the notion that one designs a character with a story and interjects themselves, via that character, into a fantasy world. Granted, not every tabletop RPG is set in fantasy, but that’s where D&D began.

Even so, despite it being “super nerdy,” it has seeped into our culture just a bit. You have the people that seem to think D&D is something where people learn witchcraft and are members of the occult… As well as the people that know how laughable that is and like to point out how sessions of D&D usually go. Season 2 of the absolutely wonderful TV show “Community” has a fantastic, hilarious and kinda accurate episode titled “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” that is well worth the watch (you need Hulu Plus for that link, sadly).

The point is, though, whether you think it’s crazy nerdy and has some ridiculous stigma on it or not, if you’re a writer… I think you would do well to play this game.

I realized the other day, when writing the background for my character in the current campaign I’m playing, I’ve written more detailed character story and background for some of my D&D characters than I have for some of my characters in my stories and scripts. That’s not to say that I don’t have good backgrounds for the non-D&D characters… I just don’t tend to write them out and consider all the aspects of their previous lives. However, in D&D, I tend to tell very detailed stories about their pasts and how they came to where they are now.

It’s a really good writing exercise, especially when you limit yourself. As someone that tends to prefer the classics of poetry and art, where the product must conform to a certain style or limitation, I feel that talent, skill, creativity and thought are more thoroughly applied and utilized than in styles where slapping anything together counts. Anyone can buy three blank canvases and call it art or take random paragraphs from random books, tape them together on a page and call it poetry. But how many people can write something truly heartbreaking and moving with only 140 syllables in 14 lines of iambic pentameter and a rhyming scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG? I refer of course to the sonnet, of which some guy named Shakespeare wrote several.

It’s not easy to make something conform to limitations. But it is certainly an exercise worth trying, especially if you find your characters lack depth. Here’s my suggestion, as these are the ways I’ve found the most character work: Find some people to play D&D with. Find other writers or friends that know what they’re doing. You can do a preset campaign or let yourself/another writer write a story/world for you all to play in. But when you’re making your character, give yourself restrictions. In most versions of D&D, you can give your character flaws, which detriment your character but allow for extra benefits to balance it out. A lot of people will do this to make ridiculously powerful characters, but don’t focus on the game play so much as the character. People are flawed. How does that affect your character? Alternatively, ask your DM if you can bend certain rules, so long as you get a good story out of it.

For example, the current campaign I’m playing is in D&D Next, which is still basically in beta, so there’s a lot missing. My favorite class, the cleric, only has three domains to choose from at the moment… and none of the gods of Faerun in the domain I want to use have the right alignment for my character. I could have just changed my character’s alignment, but I decided to write a story behind it. Why would someone that disagrees with a certain deity’s way of life be a priest for that deity? And so, my story was written.

You don’t necessarily have to play D&D or any tabletop RPG to pull off this exercise. But I think D&D is a good template with a lot of creative options you may not consider… and playing the game will let you see how honest you can be to your character and keeping him or her consistent in certain situations. Plus… D&D with the right people can be LOADS of fun. 🙂 Give it a try some day.

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Breaking The Leg – “Coriolanus” By Improbable Fictions

Theatre season in Tuscaloosa is kicking into high gear in February, with several shows opening quite close to one another. I’ll try to see and write about all the shows that I know of, but today, I’m just going to talk about one show I won’t be able to see. Mostly because I’m in it.

Improbable Fictions is putting on a free staged reading of one of Shakespeare’s perhaps lesser known plays, “Coriolanus.” The Facebook event can be found here, and tickets can be reserved on this website. We’re having people get tickets since seating is limited.

“Coriolanus” focuses on a Roman soldier, Caius Martius. Martius is very stubborn and proud, and strongly supports the order of governance: Nobility, via senators and consul, rule the commoners. After a victorious battle in the city of Corioli, won almost single-handedly by Martius, he is given the name Coriolanus to mark his victory. Still, as a soldier and a brash man that refuses to play politics or not speak his mind, Coriolanus finds himself with many enemies.

I like to think of this play as almost in complete opposite to “Hamlet.” In “Hamlet,” Prince Hamlet is fighting conflicts internally throughout the entire show, constantly soliloquizing to the audience and revealing his mind to them. Externally, he often commits to non-action. Coriolanus, on the other hand, very rarely speaks to the audience, closing his mind to them. He is a soldier and fights his wars physically, refusing to even do the sneaky underhanded shadowy games political success requires. He speaks his mind without filter, though the inner thoughts are often closed away.

I really like this play. Not just because I’ve been given the wonderful opportunity to play as Coriolanus, my first definitively leading role… I think the play has a surprising amount of emotion attached, surprising because you don’t expect it when it hits you. Politically, it has some interesting ideas presented as well.

Anyway, it’s a totally free show, and I think it’s good to support art when possible. If you’re in Tuscaloosa or Northport, come see us perform “Coriolanus” tonight and tomorrow night at the Kentuck Georgine Clarke Building at 7:30 both nights. Please don’t forget to reserve a ticket, too. I hope to see you there.

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Feeling Sick Is The Worst

Okay. Not literally the worst. I know there are worse things than stomach cramps and nausea.

But it’s definitely not fun.

After staying up until 5 a.m. or so via a theatre party (second time in a row I’ve done that…), I thought exhaustion was the thing I’d feel today. And I have, definitely. Almost got a good nap in there at one point, but I’d’ve missed a script reading for a stage adaptation of a Terry Pratchett novel, “Wyrd Sisters.” For those that don’t know, Pratchett is a brilliantly witty and quirky British satirist (though his earlier stuff is mostly just quirk), author of the Discworld series of books, among others. Such as a co-authored book, “Good Omens,” written with Neil Gaiman. “Wyrd Sisters” is a parodying of the story of the Shakespearean play “Macbeth,” and it’s wonderful. As is the stage adaptation. Good fun. We hope to do a staged reading of the show sometime in March or April of the coming year, I believe.

So, that’ll be fun. Here’s hoping they keep me in the cast. I got to read the part of the Actor-Manager.

…With my several stage managing credits, I couldn’t possibly understand how I got that role…*

Anyway, after all that was done, I came home, ate food… and now I feel a bit ill. AND exhausted. It’s pretty terrible. So I’m holding off on any legit posting for today. Hopefully soon, I’ll get to explore the world of racist sandwiches.

Should be fun.

*I’m not nearly as funny as Pratchett, no joke.

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Fund The Arts

Yeah. Politics. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

In an article written for The Huffington Post last week, Lucas Kavner discussed how a focus of Mitt Romney’s potential term in office as president would be to completely defund the arts, federally. Apparently, this is all part of his attempt to balance the federal budget. Econ/Math 101, spend less and earn more if you owe money. That’s how you get money back (assuming that it’s as simple as balancing one’s checkbook). Fine. That’s fair.

In a deficit of $16 trillion, with spending of about $3.5 trillion a year (and only $2.3 trillion in income) (all according to a couple of charts on last year’s money), what would cutting the funding to the National Endowment for the Arts, the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio net us?

About $2 billion.

Put that into perspective, that’s 0.0125% of the deficit, and 0.057% of how much we spent last year. In smaller money terms, that’s only taking off two cents from a $160 debt. Meaning you still owe $159.98.

So how is this a priority for Romney? Sure, cutting a bunch of tiny things can add up… but maybe we should look at the bigger spenders, like the defense budget, which spends hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars on projects that are often cancelled or failed in some capacity.

But it’s not enough to argue that cutting funding to the arts is ultimately a pointless pittance when budgetary slashes should find focus elsewhere. No, instead, it would help to think about what the funding brings people.

Now, is everyone going to be happy with their tax dollars being spent on the NEA, PBS and NPR? No. No one will be totally happy with how their tax dollars are spent. Ever. It just won’t happen.

But there are some things that benefit the tax paying populace at large more than others.

Public schools and libraries. Roads. Police and firemen. The TVA. The FDIC. And, of course, the NEA, PBS and NPR.

See, the arts are about more than some sort of random, indiscernible painting locked away in a museum that you swear your five-year-old could have painted with their bare butt. It’s about education and discussion, looking into the soul of humanity and our nation and forcing people to better themselves.

When we think of great people in history, who are inevitably some of the names that pop up? People that had major, long-lasting impact?

The Beatles. Shakespeare. Beethoven. Elvis Presley. Michelangelo. Leonardo da Vinci. Mozart.

Artists. Musicians. Wordsmiths. They created permanent beauty, messages that carry on thousands of years later, things that bind the human race together in experience. Things we would be worse off without.

And the NEA, PBS and NPR do more than that. They educate. They inform. They shine a light on the dark plague that is the ignorant masses.

Just think about PBS. If you’re my age and watched PBS as a kid, you likely watched “Sesame Street,” “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” All of these shows did more than entertain or distract. They taught. They gave children vital information to the foundations of their adult intelligence. For all we know, Bill Nye inspired some kid to be the next Albert Einstein. “Sesame Street” may have encouraged someone to be a teacher, a teacher who guides that young Einstein through school. The possibilities are endless. These are sources of good for our nation, our culture, our children.

Romney needs to start taking a look at the value of the things in America. Not just the monetary spending, but the actual value of them. The arts can and will survive without federal funding… but not unharmed. Think of Shakespeare. There was only one of him. If there had been an NEA in his time, maybe there would have been three or four. Perhaps technology would have advanced faster.

It’s all hypothetical, I know. But there’s one thing I know isn’t hypothetical. Defunding the arts will do nothing but harm America’s potential. We should be treating them with respect and reverence, honoring and lifting them up instead of casting them aside.

Think on it.

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Breaking The Leg – “All’s Well That Ends Well” By Improbable Fictions

Tonight, I finally got back into the theatre scene of Tuscaloosa since moving back. I went to see the opening night of the theatrical troupe Improbable Fictions staged reading of the Shakespearean play “All’s Well That Ends Well.”

And all was well, as well it ended.

I’ve got to be honest: I’ve never actually been to a staged reading before. Nor have I ever actually read “All’s Well That Ends Well.”

Shakespeare can be tricky that way. As you may have guessed from what may be your perplexity about this play, it’s not one of the commonly performed plays. Theatres tend to stick with Shakespeare’s more dramatic side via “Hamlet,” “Macbeth,” “King Lear” and “Romeo & Juliet.” When they do try out a comedy, it’s either the really dramatic “comedy”/problem play “The Merchant of Venice” or the ever famous “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Six plays that theatres around the world lean on like a cane as they attempt not to stagger and fall. And why do they lean on them? Because, frankly, they’re some of Shakespeare’s most compelling, gripping stories. That have been told over and over and over again.

And that’s the Shakespearean catch. Most people think of Shakespeare as “old English.” Most people would be wrong. Shakespeare wrote in modern English. Just really OLD modern English, filled with “thee”s and “thou”s and references several hundred years beyond the common man’s understanding. But with the stories that have been told and retold in a “to death” fashion, everyone knows the story going in. They can follow the story because they’ve already followed the story.

So, while fresher Shakespeare is more welcome amongst the more theatrically based patrons, theatres and troupes tend to shy away from it for fear that it wouldn’t be as popular and easily followed as the other shows.

Frankly, it won’t be. But don’t let that stop you. Because, if done right, people will get it and it will be good.

After all, the man wrote 38 plays. It’d be nice for people to visit the others.

So I was already happy to see the play being performed was not one of the typical Shakespearean standard bearers. And, having worked with about half of the cast in some form or another at one time or another, I knew going in that there was good talent. And I wasn’t let down.

Improbable Fictions is a decently new troupe, if I’m not mistaken, run by the English grad student Nic Helms, whom I’ve worked with before in the other main Shakespearean troupe in Tuscaloosa, The Rude Mechanicals. This was my first Improbable Fictions show (since they do staged readings and this was my first one). Fortunately, if you missed it, there is one more night. Tomorrow night at 7:30 at the Bama Theatre. It’s free to get in, but they don’t turn down $1 donations to the Bama Theatre Restoration Fund.

To review the performance… Perhaps the most standout characters were Parolles, played by Seth Panitch, and Bertram, played by Joey Gamble. Panitch artfully draws out every last ounce of comic relief from the cowardly, egotistical Parolles using very precise motion and speech. Unsurprising as he is very much a veteran of Shakespearean acting and teaches both Shakespearean acting and stage movement at the University of Alabama. Gamble, whom I have not worked with before, very adeptly plays off the somewhat douchey, player wanna-be that is Bertram, unwilling to be wed to the woman the king has betrothed him to due to her lower station.

That’s not to say the other performers were not excellent in their own rights. Each had their moments of triumph. Stacy Panitch playing the smitten and spurned Helena had one of the more humorous scenes of the play early on, bantering with Parolles about virginity.

The play is well read, well acted and well worth the while. It takes about two hours out of your day, two and a half if you come in at 7 p.m. for the musical pre-show. There’s not much else for me to say, because I don’t feel like coming up with synonyms for “quite enjoyable” and “really good”.

Go on and see it. Expand your Shakespearean universe and have a little laugh.

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