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Poster progress

First rehearsal for Trust No One went very well! I am so looking forward to working with the amazing cast I’m blessed with.

But that’s not the only thing I need to be working on. There’s also the poster. The poster is, I’ve decided, going to be a picture of a “conspiracy wall” — that cluttered, chaotic collage of disparate information, linked with yarn or string, that every conspiracy theorist seems to have on their wall in movies and TV shows. Here’s an example, from something called Primeval:

Primeval Conspiracy Wall

I mocked up a poster using that photo. Tweaking the size of the image a bit, I believe that I should be able to take a photo of the wall at a size ratio of 3.5:1 — every inch on the postertranslating to 3.5 inches on the wall. That would make the total image area about 5 feet.

At first I had a lower ratio in mind, as I wasn’t sure little things could be seen at that size. But using the above image, I determined that yeah, details could be made out if I use a good enough camera. I’ll have to get one of my friends with a full-frame to shoot it.

Anyway, since I live in an apartment and don’t want to tack things to my actual wall (and I also want this installation to be portable), I went to Home Depot and got two sheets of 4×8′ foamcore insulation. Because eight feet is a little too tall for my living room, I cut them both down to six. Then I nailed them to the wall.

Here’s what they looked like then:

The pink stuff on my wall

The next thing I did was paint them an eggshell white. I think it’s a bit too white, so I resolved to cover the thing completely with material.

Tonight the plan is to take my own camera and shoot what I’ve got so far, checking that at the correct size, text is legible. We’ll see just what the limits of my Rebel XT are. I predict we’ll want a much higher-res camera to do this justice.

We’ll see.

The works of last year’s man

End of the year! A time for reflection. Overall, it doesn’t feel like a great year. I didn’t feel great in 2013. Things happened at the end of 2012 that left me really depressed, guilt-ridden, and hating myself. Thanks to my friends, my therapist, and improv, I still managed to be pretty productive, however.

In 2013, I…

  • performed my first improv show in a foreign country. In May, ¡ZARZAMORA! traveled to Tampere, Finland, for the second annual Finland International Improv Festival. We were the sole American troupe among a contingent of English-speaking improvisers from Finland, Belgium, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia, the Netherlands, and Israel. I made a lot of great friends and ate reindeer and moose.
  • returned to Rhode Island to headline, again with ¡ZARZAMORA!, the Providence Improv Festival.
  • was in a mainstage show, The Next Chapter, at the Institution. Directed by Justin Davis. Speaking of Justin…
  • started a new troupe! Justin Davis, Ben Masten, Ryan Hill, and I are Century, a monoscene troupe that I’m having a lot of fun being in. It helps that we all like each other and hang out together anyway.
  • joined a couple of troupes! Your Dad’s Friends and Taxicab Impressions are more ad-hoc than my other troupes, with members playing or not as needed. I have a blast playing with them.
  • lost a troupe. Goat sort of withered in 2013. We’re on a break right now, possibly to return at some point in the future.
  • really shaved my head for the first time, for my turn as Locke in a one-off improvised Lost at the Institution Theater.
  • was tapped to direct my first improv show, Trust No One, which will be produced at the Institution Theater in April and May of 2014.
  • was cast in my second Hideout Theatre mainstage show, an as-yet-untitled improvised samurai story. Kareem Badr and Shannon McCormick will direct it. I’m really thrilled to be returning to the Hideout’s mainstage. These shows are always top-notch, and I make it a point to audition for them whenever I can. (The sole exception was A Bedtime Gorey, during which time, I was doing the following…)
  • was in Macbeth! After a quarter-century of waiting, I finally had the opportunity to be in my favorite play. Although I did not play the lead — still something on my bucket list — I played three roles and had a great time, also making some very good friends.
  • got to be a part of the 44-Hour Improv Marathon — not one of the core eight (that was a bit of a miscommunication) but as part of  Franz & Dave, who had an absolutely killer hour of weirdness as we unveiled our Pine Falls format.
  • started playing D&D again. I played when I was in middle school and high school, and this year was a part of a game headed by Mike Nystul (of Magic Aura fame). The game started out as a casual game geared toward improvisers, but soon became a little less casual than I wanted, but it was a lot of fun when I did it.
  • opened my home to travelers. Ryan Millar and Chiara Millar from Amsterdam, Kofi Thomas from Boston, and Robbie Ellis of New Zealand, all made use of my guest room.
  • finally officially came into possession of the creepy Liz Phair painting that Gary Burnett painted in 1995. It hung in my living room from ’97-’99 and I have a soft spot in my heart for it.
    Liz Phair

Yeah. In the words of Tori Amos, it was a pretty good year. In fact, I’ll just go ahead and leave you with that.

Going viral

On Sunday, I met with Tom, Asaf, and Sarah Marie of the Institution Theater, to get the schedule locked down for my directorial debut. Auditions for Trust No One will be held on January 26. That’s a lot of lead time, and a lot of opportunity to drum up interest.

Now the question is… how the hell do you do that? I do not have the mind of a marketer. I glaze over when you talk about “branding.” I’m in over my head here. What I want is not to market the show — that will come later — but to create buzz in the improv community, so people are interested in being part of the show.

First idea: A website! I was thinking about what goes on in conspiracy circles, what I can send up, and InfoWars came to mind. That led to the brilliantly punny “ImproWars.” Maybe I could register that domain — it’s available — and set up a parody website. Then reality set in. Since when do I have time to not only craft a website, but populate it with content (initial and ongoing)? I do not.

Second idea: Twitter! So maybe not a website, maybe just a Twitter feed. But the username @ImproWars is, inexplicably, taken. So do I want to be @ImproWars1? Will the joke be as strong? I decided that no, it will not. If I’m going to take to Twitter for this undertaking, I’ll need to think up a new, hopefully equally clever, name.

Third idea: Facebook! This kind of goes without saying, but in what form should I craft a Facebook presence? There’s a group that talks about Samurai movies, in anticipation of the samurai-themed show that Kareem and Shannon are directing at the Hideout. Would such a thing work for the conspiracy themes of my show? Or would it be better to create a page, straight-facedly sending up conspiracy sites? I’m vacillating.

Fourth idea: Movie night! One thing I have done is start a series of (hopefully) weekly screenings of conspiracy movies. I’m starting with The Conversation and plan to show The Parallax ViewThe President’s Analyst, and Three Days of the Condor at a minimum. Maybe Z as well. So far the people who’ve signed up are mostly the same people who came to the Woody Allen screenings I had before Manhattan Stories auditions. So we’ll see if there’s any interest beyond that.

Not really an idea, but I did come up with a visual tag for the show, incorporating the Institution logo with the Eye of Providence, a common conspiracy icon:

The ViewMaster of Providence

I think it’s pretty nifty, if I do say so myself.

So I’m wracking my brain trying to figure out how to drum up more interest in this show. I do not have the mind of a marketer. Hopefully something will come to me.


Does the Hideout really cast the same people over and over?

Auditions for the Hideout Theatre’s first 2014 mainstage show, I Love You So Much, have come and gone. And with every Hideout audition comes a spate of criticism: That the cast looks a lot like previous casts.

It’s not hard to see why. With only six shows a year, if a particular person shows up more than once or twice, it starts to look like a fixed company of performers rotating through different permutations. Not to mention the fact that the mainstage shows are not the only things going on at the Hideout; between Fancy Pants, Pick Your Own Path, and Maestro, it’s likely you’ll see lots of familiar names keep popping up.

So how true is it, then, that the Hideout casts are mere rehashings of what has come before? If only there were data.

You forget what an obsessive asshole I am. There’s totally data.

As I see it, the question is: For any given show, how many people were cast that have been in several recent shows? Say, within the past year. So I found out, for all the shows of 2013 plus the most recent one. Here’s what I found:

A graph of Hideout cast's previous experience

This is how many shows cast members of each 2013 show (and ILYSM) were in, in the year prior to that show.

Here’s how to read the graph: Each show’s line shows how many members of that cast were in either zero, one, two, three, four, or five shows in the year prior to being cast in that show. So for I Love You, for example, you can see that a quarter of them were in no shows in the preceding year. One cast member was in five shows in the preceding year. (By the way, all fours and fives are the same person.)

So what does this tell us? It tells us that Hideout auditions are indeed more open that a lot of us thought. Some are more open than others (Fakespeare, in particular, cast a staggering nine people who had not done any mainstage shows in the previous year).

Now, does that take the sting out of not being cast? No, not much, of course. But it does help to understand that the deck is not quite as stacked against you as you may have thought.

(Oh, and someone needs to just straight up murder Marc Majcher. But we all knew that anyway.)

Replacing Facebook

So lately I’ve begun to worry about Facebook, and the way my community relies on it for nearly everything. All communications among troupes and shows goes through Facebook. All events are planned on Facebook. Most interpersonal messages are sent through Facebook. I have one major concern about all of this: Facebook, as a for-profit entity, will do whatever it feels will maximize its revenue stream. It will enact policies (for example, relating to privacy) which many users may find intolerable… and it feels like keeping troupe interactions limited to Facebook prevents those people from discontinuing the service. Already there are a few people in the Austin improv community who’ve expressed their desire to cut the tether to Facebook.

So I feel there needs to be an alternative. Something not controlled by a for-profit company, something which is divorced from the status updates, photos, relatives, and other stuff that might constitute a privacy concern. Something for the planning and execution of the improv projects in our lives, that can stand on its own.

I believe the software should have the following features:

  • Each project (troupe or show) should have its own space, containing:
    • A forum for project members to discuss
    • A blog kept by administrators, for announcements
    • Email updates by which announcements can go out to members
    • A calendar of events, both public and private
      • This should hopefully be Gmail- or iCal-compatible. Something that can be subscribed to
    • A space to hold documents for members’ information
  • Searching in a project should turn up all of those things — calendar items, forum posts, blog posts, blog comments.
  • Each project could have a public space as well, serving as the project’s web page.
  • Users can be designated as administrators of a particular project, with the ability to admit and banish other members
  • There could be a centralized space for discussion unrelated to a project
    • (This may be redundant; there’s the AIC forum for that sort of thing.)

That’s what I can think of right now. Now: What software can do all this? Drupal, maybe? I sort of want to roll my own, but that brings up a lot more questions, such as what language or framework to use, and also where am I going to find the time?

So that’s up next: Find, or figure out how to build, a software package that meets my needs. Open to suggestions!

Who are these people?

I’ve been getting more spam, lately, a lot of it of the “lonely hearts” variety. I’ve gotten pretty quick on the draw with deleting it, but today I paused and took a moment to actually read a couple.

I’m fascinated. Here’s the text of one:

Good time of the day!
It’s always pleasant to feel that someone is caring about you.
I wish I could send this letter to someone who loves me.
I will dream of my honey when he is  away, his soothing light will make me feel better anytime I’m down.[URL]
I know that very soon I will fall in love with him, my Right Man.
I want to offer my man  a helping hand when needed and to become his second half.
do not be shy, send me a message

Now I feel like I have to know: What kind of person does this appeal to? I’m trying to get my head around the psychology of a person who would read that email, believe that it is sincere, and click on the link? It’s just so far from my own experience I don’t know where to begin.

Dream: Bagel Sandwiches

My dream last night was quite realistic and oddly easy to remember. Along with my father, I was at a Breugger’s Bagels somewhere out in the world. He instructed me to order him something while he went to take care of something outside, possibly parking the car. It’s difficult to tell how old I was in the dream. I decided to order him a turkey sandwich on a plain bagel. I myself wanted ham. When the counter person, a woman roughly in her thirties, took my order, I ordered two plain bagels, one with turkey, one with ham, both with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion. She stopped me and I assumed it was because that was put too confusingly, so I started again. One turkey sandwich on plain, with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion… no, she said she couldn’t do that. Eventually, after failing to communicate a lot, I figured out she was telling me that she could not do lettuce, tomato, and onion — she could do only one of the three.

Needless to say, I found this difficult to believe. I asked to speak with her manager. I waited at the counter while customers came and went — it felt like hours — until finally a jovial, black Al Roker type poked his head out from the kitchen and said “Did someone need a manager?” I said I did, and he motioned me back into the kitchen. By the time I got there, he had been recast as a chubby, moon-faced white guy.

The manager asked me what the problem was. I told him the lady behind the counter had told me they couldn’t put more than one topping on a bagel sandwich — which I thought sounded absurd. He listened to me talk about lettuce, tomato, and onion, how they just go together, how I’m sure nearly everyone orders them together, and how I believed there could not be a reason for this woman’s intransigence except for some inexplicable animosity towards me. The man looked downcast, said he understood what was happening, and went to have a talk with the counter staff.

I went back to place my order again. This time, the new counter person, a younger woman, told me they had figured out how they could add more than one topping to the sandwich — the problem had been a technical one. There was exactly one button on the register for each topping, and you could only push one. I ordered my sandwich, began to wonder where my dad had gone, and the dream ended.

Using an obsolete scanner under Mountain Lion

With every new version of an OS comes a bushel of surprises. Some time ago, when I installed Lion, my old Canon N670U stopped being supported. Canon was not updating the drivers anymore. Fortunately, I didn’t have anything that needed scanning.

Later, when I did, I downloaded a trial of VueScan and used that. But that was merely a trial, and the product is $40. I must be able to do better, I thought. I was aware of a set of open-source drivers called TWAIN SANE that I’d used in the past to support a Mustek scanner for which no OS X drivers had ever existed. But, at the time, there was not a version of TWAIN SANE for Mountain Lion.

Now there is. So I’m going to install it and we’ll see what happens.

First, I go to the TWAIN SANE website. The first package to be downloaded and installed is libusb. I chose the binary package, as I don’t see any need to compile from code. Installation was successful. The libraries were installed, it seems, in /usr/local/lib.

The next package is the SANE backend. This package also installs into /usr/local/lib and /usr/local/bin.

Now I need to figure out which backend supports my scanner. I go to http://www.sane-project.org/sane-mfgs.html and look up the Canon N670U. The backend is plustek.

OK, so keeping that information bookmarked for later, I test the scanner by typing, at the command line:

scanimage --format tiff > ~/test.tif

It takes a very long time for the scanner to exhibit any sign of life at all. But eventually it does scan. The second attempt goes faster, which I take as a good sign. Only a small section of the scanner’s bed is scanned, which I suppose is a neutral sign. I didn’t, after all, give it any parameters or instructions. I suppose I expected the entire bed to be scanned in the absence of those. Ah well.

The next thing to install is the SANE preference pane. After that’s finished, I fire up System Preferences and take a look. Sure enough, there’s a prefpane labeled “SANE” with the kind of godawful icon that only an open-source project can get away with.

Clicking on the godawful icon gives me a list of drivers. I find “plustek” in the list and hit the Configure button. What I see is basically a text file, with a number of configuration options. I have no earthly idea what to change, if anything. I’ll leave it alone for now.

So now what? How to actually scan anything? Back when I used TWAIN SANE before (on an earlier OS and with an earlier version of Photoshop), I could fire up Photoshop, go to File->Import, and see TWAIN SANE as an option. Not anymore.

But it pays to read the FAQ. According to the TWAIN SANE FAQ:

Default installations of recent versions of Adobe PhotoShop are not TWAIN compatible, but require a TWAIN plugin to be installed. For more information about this see Adobe tech note 405072.

So I follow the link and download a package called “Optional Plug-Ins” which contains not only the TWAIN plugin, but also some others whose function is unknown to me. The Adobe tech note, by the way, also carries this dire warning:

In Mac OS, you can use the TWAIN plug-in to scan when running Photoshop CS6 (Photoshop CS6 only runs in 64-bit mode). Not many scanner manufacturers have released 64-bit versions of their scanner drivers, so you may not be able to use TWAIN. Contact your scanner manufacturer for more information.

If your scanner manufacturer does not support scanning in 64-bit mode, or you have issues scanning with TWAIN, you can scan into Photoshop CS6 using Apple’s ImageKit technology, which is built into Photoshop CS6, does not need a plug-in to be installed, and provides access to a large number of scanners.

So maybe I’ll look into that if this doesn’t work.

At any rate, I copy the plug-in to /Applications/Adobe Photoshop CS6/Plug-ins and fire up the app. No good. Still nothing listed under Import. It’s possible that it’s the 64-bit issue mentioned on Adobe’s site.

So putting aside Photoshop for the time being, I try opening Image Capture. No sign of any scanners. The FAQ had some words to say about that as well:

Image Capture uses the TWAIN Bridge application to talk to TWAIN data sources. This is a really weird application. Firstly, it does not — like normal TWAIN capable applications — let the TWAIN data source try to find a scanner it supports by itself. Instead it requires a list of vendor and product IDs of all supported scanners to be present in the TWAIN data source’s property list (/Library/Image Capture/TWAIN Data Sources/SANE.ds/Contents/Info.plist). So the first thing to do is to check if your scanner’s IDs are in this list and if not add them. See Apple Technical Note TN2088 for details about the format of this file. If you succeed with this let me know, and I can add the numbers to the default list for the next release.

There is a link in that paragraph on the FAQ, but it goes nowhere, the Apple tech note apparently long since destroyed. And the folder listed in these instructions (/Library/Image Capture/TWAIN Data Sources/SANE.ds) doesn’t exist either.

Oops, it looks like I skipped a package. The final package to install (and the first on the list of packages on the TWAIN SANE website) is the TWAIN SANE interface itself. It installed without a hitch, but also without any indication of where. No sign of it in /Applications or /Applications/Utilities.

Aha! It’s not an app at all. Remember how I said /Library/Image Capture/TWAIN Data Sources/SANE.ds was missing? Now it exists. So I dig into the package and open up the Info.plist file.

It’s a plist all right… and without that tech note I’m not entirely sure what it’s looking for. But what the hell. I search for my scanner’s product ID (which I got from the backends list and is 0x220D) — not found.

So I add the following section, hoping that it works:

    <key>device type</key>

Nothing seems to have happened. Image Capture and Photoshop still show nothing.

Well, since Photoshop and Image Capture are out, perhaps there is an app that will work? Doing a search for “TWAIN SANE Canon N607U” I came across this article and downloaded an app called SNAC.

SNAC — also with a godawful icon — launched OK, but when I hit “Preview,” it thought about it for a while and returned the error “scan image:setting of option –mode failed (Invalid argument)”

That was easy enough to figure out. The manpage for scanimage shows the options are gray, lineart, and color. The preferences for SNAC called gray “grayscale” so that’s that issue figured out. That was easy to fix in SNAC’s preferences.

So now I hit “Preview” and… success! There’s a little greyscale image on the screen. I can select the relevant area, change the scan mode to Color, and hit “Scan.”

Looks like I've forgotten which way documents go in my scanner.

Looks like I’ve forgotten which way documents go in my scanner.

After the progress bar completes, it asks me to save my file. It saves as a TIFF file by default. I save it, and open it up in Preview… boy, that’s low-res. But I did select 50 dpi. Let’s see what it looks like at 300. I’ll also check the “Open in helper app” button to get it to load the file in Preview. That should give me more options for saving. (SNAC’s only two supported formats are TIFF and PNM.)

Image quality? Well, that’s hard to discern. I now see that the text on the card is embossed, which probably played havok with the scanner’s sensor. Wish I had some kind of known-good reference image to scan and compare. But at any rate, I got the damn thing to come to life and put an image in my computer, which is all I’m looking for at the moment.

So, is it worth it? For minimal scanning, maybe. If I did a lot of it, I might want to invest in VueScan just to gain the ability to scan into Photoshop directly. The professional version even allows ICC profiles, but I’m nowhere near sophisticated enough for that sort of thing.

Dream: The Franz & Dave show

Franz & Dave had a show at Hancher Auditorium, or rather, the equivalent in Austin, which doesn’t exist in the real world. I suppose it could have been the Long Center, but that phrase was never used. But anyway, I took the #30 bus to get there, but left my wig on the bus. I was bummed, but not too fazed. However, Ceej was running late, which bothered me more. He finally met up with me at a fast food restaurant not too far from the auditorium (and campus; like Hancher, this auditorium was on the river and on campus). For some reason we went to or were at the English building. It’s possible we took a class. At any rate, outside the building, we sat on the grass for a bit while we waited for time to go to the venue. When we got up to leave, I left my phone sitting there, and didn’t notice until we were almost there. Ceej and I got into an argument about whether we should go back and look for it. There wasn’t much time left. Ceej’s idea was that we would call someone to go grab it for me. I reasoned that I didn’t know anyone’s phone number. The idea of using Ceej’s phone never came up. I decided that I had no choice — I ran back, consulting everyone I encountered about the location of the English building. Finally I found it, and found my phone sitting where I left it in the grass. I made my way back to the auditorium, where a large spread of cold cuts awaited us as performers. The dream ended before we went on stage.

Dream: Nuclear Apocalypse

Last night’s dream: This was a very long, very trippy dream. I will share the parts I can remember.

First off, it was a nuclear holocaust dream, inspired in part by Miracle Mile. There was a giant luxury housing complex, like in J.G.Ballard’s High Rise, only mostly underground. Something happens, and sirens sound… everyone understands this means nuclear attack. The complex’s outer doors lock permanently. There are a few foyers and vestibules which are made of glass (presumably shatterproof) and there were a few scenes of people on the outside begging to get let in. Children, sometimes. We were assured (by urban legend, I guess) that women were far less likely to break the glass than men. Most of the adults begging to be let in were women.

Inside, a variety of characters had scenes, some of which were individual dreams, between which I woke. They were all in different styles. In one, I befriended an old independent animator, who showed me some of the work he’d toiled at on television, which no one appreciated and which had been quickly canceled. I believe he was based on Ralph Bakshi or John Kricfalusi. Part of the dream was made up of one of the cartoons he’d done.

At one point, a rich man and I (I could never determine my exact role in this society; I believe I was an outsider, who happened to be in the complex when it got locked down) went for a drive in the underground world. I don’t recall what happened.

What I do recall is the last dream. There was a pedophile. This part of the dream was shot like a 60s or 70s science fiction movie. This guy had henchmen who would bring him children, and he was British and spoke very floridly. He was dressed a lot like Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. There was a little meta overlay on this scene where, watching it, I was thinking of it as a 70s sci-fi movie, and imagining how I’d shoot it if I remade it today. So there was the foppish, creepy unspoken-pederast from the Michael Anderson version, simultaneously existing with the homeless-looking, darkness-dwelling nightmare of the 2012 version.

But anyway, an old man, played by Michael Caine, learned of this pederast’s activities, and decided to kill him. I tagged along as he used his connections to obtain permission to travel. Somehow he was able to communicate with the outside world, but still no one was certain whether an attack had taken place; whether the world outside was irradiated, etc. But we got in his hermetically-sealed car, and left the complex’s airlock and traveled across the countryside (past the slums filled with those not fortunate enough to be let inside our complex) to another underground complex, where Caine met with a man who would sell him poison.

The dream, although certainly not flawless, had been mostly coherent up to that point. very few surreal elements. And it stayed that way for a little while, as I pleaded with Caine not to go through with this. He told me he had to do it. For the children. For the future.

So I made a speech. There is no future, I said. (following is close, but not verbatim) “There’s no twenty years from now. That concept is obsolete. The closing of the doors, the shelter in the darkness, that’s a lie. A temporary reprieve. You think anyone wants to emerge, into the world that’s left up there? Ever? It’s done. There’s only us, and our present, and our consciences. This guy [the pedophile] figured that out. He’s using the end of the world as an excuse to act how he wants to act. He thinks no tomorrow means no rules. I think it means we do the right thing more than ever. Because this is it. This is what we got. There’s no redemption. What we have weighing on us now is what we’ll go to the grave with. We don’t get a pass. We live how we’ve always lived. And we DO. NOT. MURDER.”

I really liked that speech, which is why it was disappointing that the cohesion of the dream crumbled while I was giving it. By the end, Michael Caine was the Hulk and the She-Hulk came in through a door and beat me up. Caine’s friend, the one who sold him the poison, grabbed me and took me into another room where his cult sacrificed me. The story continued, though. The sirens turned out to be a false alarm, and eventually the locks were opened and everyone was left to venture out into the light of day with the knowledge of what they’d done during the end of the world.