Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Book filling stamp

If you have never used one, I have to recommend that you purchase one or more of these stamps. 
brush on some paint (or ink from a stamp pad)
and press down into the book.
We wanted to leave the book blank in places so that the actors could write in it during rehearsals and fill pages with drawings, but it's a big book to fill.
A couple of stamps every few pages went a long way toward helping the book look full.
The process was also helped by my heat gun. I was able to stamp, dry and turn the page quickly and easily.

This project was for a show my fiance is working on, but I'm glad that I got a chance to use the stamp. I have a project coming up in the summer that is going to need a messy journal, I am thinking I might buy a second one (the craft stores sell multiple varieties) to get some length and width variety to the passages.

Monday, February 14, 2011

How theatre changes the world

I believe that arts can change the world. That is why I do what I do (besides having a ton of fun doing it). I believe that the arts are important. After a conversation with a friend tonight though I have decided that there is a need for me to further articulate that idea. It is no good for me (and my fellow artists) to just talk about whether arts make a difference; we have to specify how  they make a difference.

The scientific basis for my thoughts comes from a psychological research tool called an implicit association test (or IAT). These tests ask people to group sets of words as quickly as possible. For example I just took an IAT that asked me to click the "e" if I was presented with a "male" word (father, son, uncle, boy, etc.) and the "i" key if I was presented with a "female" word (mother, daughter, aunt, girl, etc. ). I was then presented with a series of words that were either liberal arts or sciences. Finally I was asked to do the two sets of words in conjunction; press "i" for male or science and "e" for female or liberal arts. Later the combinations were switched with female and science grouped together and male grouped with liberal arts. The idea is that by measuring how quickly I complete each task and how many mistakes I make, assumptions can be drawn about how closely I associate women with the arts and men with the sciences. In other words, to reveal my subconscious prejudices. This gender study is only one of many IATs looking into opinions about race, ethnicity, age, culture, sexuality and lots of other cultural markers. If you would like to learn more about these tests, or take a few, you should check out Project Implicit.

In one of my classes in college (I can't seem to recall which specifically) we were discussing implicit association tests and the professor told us a story of a man who took a test on race and was upset at his results. The results told him that he had a strong association of Caucasian with good and African American with bad. He took IAT over and over again trying to improve his results and had no luck. Then one day the results changed, and his score improved. In reflecting on what could have changed that day to alter his score he noted that he had spent most of the day watching the Olympics. All day long he had been seeing positive images of African American athletes overcoming challenges, working hard and succeeding. After that influence it was much more natural for his brain to associate African American with good when he was asked to do so.

I believe that arts can change the world because art can change people, but I don't think this change happens radically or quickly or even noticeably (at least in most cases).  I think the arts change people by exposing them to new ideas, foreign places, and unknown cultures. I believe and hope that the people who come see the productions that I am a part of, leave with just a little more understanding of the people and cultures and ideas that piece of theatre explored. I doubt that the change would be dramatic enough that the people in the audience would notice it, but if their metaphoric IAT score changed by just a point or two, that's progress.

My vision of a better world is based on the golden rule of treating others as you would like to be treated. I believe that treating others with respect comes from tolerance of difference, and tolerance comes from knowledge, and knowledge comes from exposure. The theatre is a place where we can be exposed to foreign ideas in a safe environment. Hopefully, eventually, that exposure leads to more tolerance worldwide and the ability to work together with respect and kindness to create a better world.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Lessons about Polaroids

Recently I worked on a show that calls for a Polaroid photo to be taken in the final scene. There really were no shortcuts available either to get around spending the money on the consumable prop of film for each performance. The photo is taken in full view of the audience and then one character is immediately asked to sign the bottom of the photo after the camera spits it out.

I acquired a working 600 land camera (popular in the 70s and 80s) and then started trying to find film. Turns out...way harder than you would imagine.

First, Polaroid stopped making film for its instant cameras in 2008. Fujifilm has since taken over production of some instant film, but as far as the camera professionals I talked to could tell me, they don't work in older Polaroid cameras and are mostly just for Fujifilm cameras.

To get the film you have two options. The first is ebay, where bidding is competitive for old expired polaroid film. I thought that this would be a good option for me. I figured the chemicals for developing the photos in the expired film might have degraded over time, but since I didn't need a quality image, I should be fine. The problem is that the battery in old Polaroid cameras is part of the film pack and the battery had degraded over time as well. After spitting out half of the photos in the pack, the battery went dead and the remainder of the pack had to be thrown away.

A second option is the-impossible-project, a company made up of former Polaroid employees working in an old Polaroid factory in the Netherlands. For the past few years they have been working to combine their knowledge to reinvent instant film. Their products are still growing and developing (for example they don't have the peel off guard old Polaroid film had. You have to shade the picture immediately as it is being spit out of the camera to avoid over exposure). Typically a downside of this film is the time it takes to ship, but I was lucky (I thought) to find a local camera store that buys it and keeps it in stock. In the end, the impossible film I purchased from the local store had the same problem as the ebay film. It had been sitting too long and the battery went dead after only taking six out of the eight photos in the pack. I would be interested in how film direct from the Netherlands would have held up.

So for future reference, plan on spending around $4 per photo if you need Polaroids, and allow plenty of time for ebay bidding and overseas shipping. If I had to do it again I think I would take my chances with the impossible project as I imagine their products are only going to get better with time.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Soap Cake

In The New Electric Ballroom, the script calls for a beautiful coffee cake to get smashed every night of the show. I was looking for a way to do that cheaply without having to bake three cakes per weekend (at $3 per cake with mix and eggs that can add up quickly). I had read once about people making snowballs from shaved soap and thought I might be able to use the same technique.

I bought cheap yellow bars of soap, then used my cheese grater to shred the bars into a bowl.
I carefully poured the shavings into my pan and packed them in, but they weren't packing very tightly. They still seemed very grainy and loose in the pan
I turned it over and sure enough I was right. the shredded soap didn't hold together at all and I just had a pile of flakes. 
I decided to add some water to make the soap stickier, so I packed the flakes in again and poured some water into the pan. TOO MUCH. 
I ended up with a gooey sticky mess that I had to throw away. Turns out the water thing requires a much lighter touch. 

My next solution was to spray the pan with water and then periodically spray the soap as I was filling the pan before packing another layer. I thought that the water on the outside would help the soap be especially sticky on the shell of the cake where I needed it to be. As is turns out, the water on the outside just made the soap especially stick to the pan.
The final solution was Pam to make sure that the soap didn't stick to the pan. 
and then slowly adding water to the mix (with a spray bottle this time) until the soap was ready to stick to itself. 
As a side note, you can see here why people use this method for snow balls, they ball up perfectly and I'm sure they would explode on impact.
I packed the soap into the pan again
and then turned it over and hit it with one good whack on the pan to release it
This one cracked a little getting it out, but you get the idea. 

This cake ended up getting cut because it was hard to clean up after being smashed in the middle of the floor, and because someone in the company offered to make a cake every night for the run. It's a really cool trick though and I think that it might have lots of applications in future shows.