Events

Guest Etiquette – How To Keep Your Con Experience Safe and Happy

There’s been a lot going around about ReaderCon and the results of an individual’s harassing behavior. This post isn’t a direct response to that. It is a post, however, that I’ve been contemplating writing since last year, when several things happened spread across several conventions that have made me uncomfortable or confused. I wanted to address these things, and it seems that now is the appropriate time to post my thoughts, while these discussions are happening.

Image from Tumblr – clickthrough for the link.

*On Being A Guest*
I adore being a guest at conventions. I adore conventions in general. I have been going to conventions since I was fifteen, cosplaying since I was sixteen, and have been panelling since I was twenty five.  I got my first official invitation to be an actual invited guest last summer and it was an absolute thrill to see my hard work and the effort I’ve put into helping support and build my local geek community rewarded in that fashion.

The move from one side of the table to the other has been wonderful, and I am so grateful and lucky that the people I supported in the geek community as a fan are now supporting me as a creator.

I love conventions because it is where my people are. My tribe. My community. My family.

Conventions are where my hobbies and interests are accepted, normalized, and celebrated. It is where my work can find the audience it is most created for, and where we can celebrate it together. It is where I can totally geek out and squee over something and have it be not only accepted but encouraged by the people around me.

It is where I can see what my fellow professionals have accomplished in the past year and pat them on the back for it. It is where I can marvel at the skill and talent of the cosplayers, the fanartists, the gamesmakers and the fanficcers. It is where I can catch up with the people I cherish and only see infrequently.

Its marvelous. And it’s exhausting.

I go back to my hotel room every night completely drained because I have been “on” all day, aware that I am being watched and judged at all times because of the profile of my name. Or, like most con-goers, because I want to indulge and party, stay up late dancing and singing karaoke, and talking with friends.

It also costs money. Unless you’re a very big name guest, you are paying to attend the con, not being paid, or at least having your travel/meals/room expenses covered. Sure, my pass is usually free (and because of the tightness of my pockets I’ve unfortunately had to start turning down any con that won’t give me my pass for free), and sometimes I get two (one for a family member or handler), but I still have to pay for the hotel room, the transportation to the con, and meals. That is money out of my pocket, when I could have easily stayed home that weekend to write books or make films, things that would have put money into my pockets. I’m not saying this to whinge.

I am saying this so you understand that I want to be there badly enough that I’m paying for the privilege, same as the attendees. I want to be there.

And having been a guest of one caliber or another at a good dozen plus conventions, there are some trends and patterns that I’ve begun to notice which I feel need addressing.

This blog post is not aimed at one person or one con specifically, but is a list of suggestions for Guests, Cons, and Attendees to help make everyone’s experience more pleasant and safe, accumulated from several years worth of experience.

*What Conventions Can Do To Make Guests Safer and Happier*
Do a background check on your volunteers. Ensure that your volunteers are not creepy, are polite and cheery, and aren’t rude.  Also, make sure they know exactly to whom they should turn if someone brings them a situation they can’t handle or a question they can’t answer on their own.

Provide a GreenRoom. A ConSuite is a room at a convention where all attendees can chill out, get something to eat or drink, and visit. While in theory, guests should be safe and happy here, it is still a place where the guests have to be “on”. Having a haven of our own is vital for guests; we all need somewhere to decompress, get a cuppa and a sammie, refuel and chill out without the dread or expectation of having to be “on”and, unfortunately, escape attendees who might be harassing us. It doesn’t have to be large or well stocked or a 24/7 party. It just needs to be a place where we can retreat when it all becomes too much. To my mind, this is the single most important thing you can do for a guest at a con.

If you are asking your guests to attend parties, have a volunteer there to keep a discreet eye on things. If a guest appears uncomfortable or an attendee is getting inappropriate, have the volunteer step in and escort the guest to a different part of the party, or back to their rooms if required/requested.

If the guest informs you that they have a stalker/creeper/etc. they fear may appear, take it seriously. They wouldn’t have said anything if they didn’t mean it. If that person tries to buy a ticket, give them a full refund and kick them out. If they somehow get in, kick them out. If they keep trying to get in, call the police and have them escorted off premises. Press charges if necessary.

*What Guests Can Do To Make Their Experiences Safer and Happier*
Remember that you are among colleagues, and you never know who knows who. If you want to gossip, tear down another professional, or complain, do so with close friends in the privacy of your hotel room or back at home. There is nothing less professional than guests sniping other guests, or other professionals in their field who aren’t present. If you have legitimate complaints about how the con is run, bring them to the appropriate people and address them in a mature, discreet fashion.

Retreat to the GreenRoom if you need to. Tell people no, if you have to. Yes, you are there for the attendees, but your off time is your off time, and you have the right to an uninterrupted drink or meal. (Of course, we all know the difference between someone who wants an autograph and a quick chat, which is usually most welcome, and a linger-er).  Don’t be afraid to say, “Thank you, but I’m afraid I’m in the middle of dinner/on my way to a panel/on my way out/ need to be somewhere else right now” and go if someone is making you uncomfortable.

Thank the ConCom for inviting you when you get home, and let them know in a nice little letter what you enjoyed and what they did right. Also, make any suggestions you may have to improve next year’s experience.

Bring the GreenRoom attendants something to show your appreciation – whether it’s a large tip, a box of Timbits, a bottle of wine, or a piece of your work, etc. I know one author who gives the security team a free copy of their new book every year, and it gets passed around and read by at least ten people that weekend while they’re bored and guarding doors. Make it clear that you appreciate the space they are providing for you.
Inform the security team if you have a stalker/creeper/etc. you fear may appear,  and make sure they take it seriously. If that person gets in and harasses you, call security and have them escorted off the premises. If the con does not take the concern seriously, pack up and go home. You are under no obligation to remain at the con if you do not feel safe there.

*What Attendees Can Do to Keep Guests Safe and Happy*
Remember that the Guests are probably knackered and/or rushed. Respect their schedules where possible. However, this doesn’t mean never say hello or give them a high five in the hallway or anything like that. Just be respectful. Remember, we guests want to be there just as much as you do, and we’re probably looking to have just as much fun as you. We want to engage with you, party with you, dance with you, laugh with you. Just be mindful of how much attention is appropriate, and at what times. And dear gods, the toilet is never a good time or place to chat, pitch, get a photo or shake hands.

Don’t be entitled. Remember that as much as you admire this guest and their work, they don’t know you. Even if  you’ve met them before, they probably don’t remember you. Even if you’ve sent them a billion letters and they’ve answered every one, these people are not your friends and they do not know you. Keep your creepy sex fantasies to yourself, don’t be handsy or grabby, and be respectful of the guest as a human being. I’m not saying to not write fanfic or make fanart, or have all the sex fantasies and tabloid-fed gossip you want, but be aware that it might be unwelcome in an actual interaction, and don’t push your desires or expectations on the guests. (i.e. Benedict Cumberbatch is not your real boyfriend. Have all the fun envisioning it you’d like, but don’t make a lunge for his lips if you meet him.)

Guests owe you nothing. They don’t have to answer your questions about errors they made in their last book, they don’t owe you a photograph with them, they don’t owe you a hug or a kiss on the cheek or a handshake. They don’t owe you an explanation, or a spoiler, or a chat. Unless you’ve paid for the privilege of getting a photo or autograph, the guests owe you exactly nothing that exceeds their contracted requirements (which usually includes an agreement to be present, a certain number of hours of programming, and attending a certain event at the con, such as a dance or awards ceremony.)  Their job is to create; if you find problems or want to discuss their creations, then please do so in a respectful, non-attacky manner. If you don’t like what they create then… stop reading/watching it. Don’t insult or harass the creator over it. And for goodness sake, please don’t insult a guest’s work to their face. Having particular tastes is one thing, but to call all their work objectively bad to their faces is poor manners of the highest sort. (Guys, we’re already terrified to be there; afraid that no one will want our autographs and that we’re frauds and that we’ll be laughed out of the con. Please be tender with our feelings! If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all.)

*Con Creepers*
Ladies and Gentlemen, you know exactly what I mean by a Con Creeper if you have been around them before. They are the person who behaves entitled around a guest. They are the ones with poor ability to read body language, who don’t know when to lay off or disappear. They are grabby. They are the creepy ones who stare at your tits or your package, who oogle, who linger too long and too close, who make everyone around them cringe.They are the ones who talk to and behave towards and touch guests as if they are the dearest and oldest of friends when they are not. They are the ones who demand things of guests that they have no right demanding. And the biggest problem with Con Creepers is that they usually have no idea that they are Creeping. So here is what you do:

If you know a Con Creeper, call them out on it when they start Creeping. Better yet, warn them in advance of the Con that some people find their behavior inappropriate and hurtful, and counsel them on how better to show their appreciation for the community around them.

If you are an attendee and you see a Creeper creeping on anyone, you come to that person’s rescue. You offer to escort that person to coffee, for air, to the GreenRoom, anywhere the Creeper can’t go. (And don’t expect anything in return for the rescue). If you can’t do that or aren’t comfortable doing that, then you find security and you tell them that you think that someone is the recipient of unwelcome attention and make sure security follows up. At no time engage in a fight or confrontation with the Creeper.

If you are with the ConComm, ensure that your security knows that they must take reports of this nature seriously. Brushing it off because the person receiving the unwelcome attention is in cosplay, or because they’re a guest, or because they’re a cute boy/girl/gurl/boi/etc. is not okay. You wouldn’t tell a person who’s about to be raped that it’s their fault for dressing like a slut; so don’t support this sort of behavior by not engaging with it, not stopping it before it gets worse, or someone gets hurt.

Have an absolutely iron clad system of responses on paper and ready to be implemented if your staff or volunteers end up in a situation where they have to deal with a Creeper. Call the police if you/your staff/volunteers cannot handle with situation. Press charges. Let the world know you are serious about the safety of everyone at your convention.

People who make others fear for their safety do not have to be a way of life at cons. We all know people who have come away from an extremely unpleasant interaction, complaining of harassment or molestation, or inappropriate comments, only to have someone else say: “Yeah, but that’s just So-and-So. He’s socially inept, but he’s a good guy. He doesn’t mean anything by it.” <– That? That right there is totally invalidating someone else’s right to police their own comfort and bodies and that is not okay. And there are people who go to cons and do it every time and the community turns a blind eye, because Creepers are a fact of life at Cons.

Well guess what, folks? When that person finally stops taking “no” for an answer, because people have never stopped him or her before, never told him or her that their behavior is unwelcome, and assaults someone, it will be partially your fault. Because you didn’t make it clear that you will not tolerate that behavior in your community. Report these people. Get them kicked out. And follow up to make sure they’re never allowed back in.

 

So that’s my list. Seems a bit grim, but a lot of it ought to be common sense. In the end, I just hope that everyone remembers that everyone is there because they want to be, and they have the right to have a good time without fear of harassment, stalking, groping, rape, or physical harm.

This is your con, and your community. Take pride in it, and protect the people who are a part of it, including yourself.

Any more suggestions, folks?

JM FreyGuest Etiquette – How To Keep Your Con Experience Safe and Happy
Read more

Review: “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark” 2/2

Previous Post here.

Blog Post Two: “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark” – Overall Impressions

View some more incredible footage of the show and some indepth behind the scenes interviews here.

The Plot:

Peter Parker, boy genius and high school student, gives a paper on mythology to his class. He tells the tale of Arachne (“The Myth of Arachne”), a mortal woman in ancient Greece whose pride and arrogance at her own skills at weaving caused her to challenge a goddess to a weaving contest. So sure her own skill, she wove blasphemy into her tapestry to taunt her competitor, and was punished for it. She was turned into a spider, the first spider, and was forced to live forever, in the darkness, hated and feared by human kind (“Behold and Wonder”).

After the paper, Peter accidentally reminds his teacher that there’s an essay due and the other students beat him up for it (“Bullying by Numbers”) Flash, the school jock, is especially annoyed with Peter for spending time with his crush Mary Jane Watson, the girl Flash wants to be dating.

Peter walks home alone (“No More”/”Anywhere But Here”), miserable at his lot in life. Unbeknownst to him, Mary Jane is equally miserable in her life.

The next day, the students of Midtown High are on a field trip to Oscorp. Emily and Norman Osbourne, the owners and lead scientists of Oscorp, discuss their regrets that they’ve never managed to find time for children, but are proud at their achievements in genetic manipulation.  They also speak briefly of the financial troubles plaguing Oscorp, and the scientists who are quitting because he can’t afford to pay them.

When the students arrive, Norman takes special interest in Peter, and together they describe Oscorp’s goals – to create ways for human kind to splice their own genetic material with that of animals, and that way survive the natural disasters and wars they see looming on the horizon (“D.I.Y. World”).

Flash and the other bullies release the only female spider in Oscorp’s tank with their roughhousing, and it bites Peter (“Venom”) When the spider’s absence is discovered, the building is locked down. Peter flees, ill.

Peter wakes up several days later clinging to the ceiling. He discovers the spider has imbued him with super powers (“Bouncing off the Walls”). He decides to use these super powers to impress MJ, and enters a wrestling competition to win enough money to buy a car. As he’s at the competition, a thug kills his Uncle Ben and Peter, distraught, hunts down the thug and turns him over to the police.

Horrified by his own selfishness and plagued by thoughts of Uncle Ben, Peter hallucinate/dreams that night that he is speaking to Arachne. She tells him that she has chosen him to become her child, her Spider-Man, in order to do what she could never do – swallow her pride and use her gifts to help humanity (“Rise Above”).

Peter becomes Spiderman and begins to fight the criminal element. He and MJ graduate from high school and Peter becomes a photographer at the Daily Bugle, under J.J. Jamison, who hates Spiderman.

Meanwhile, Oscorp’s loss of the spider has sent the business into a financial tail spin. The lead scientists on the project have jumped ship. Norman Osborn is being pressured by Viper Worldwide to take a contract creating super Marines for them; they believe Spiderman is his work, and that one of his scientists stole the technology and created Spiderman for a rival. Osborn slowly becomes convinced of the same (“Pull the Trigger”).

Determined to recreate the Spider-man experiment, Osborn convinces Emily to help him manipulate himself. Reluctant, Emily agrees.  At the same time, Peter confesses his love to MJ, but not his deepest secret (“Picture This”.) Osborn’s experiment backfires and Emily is killed. Overcome with grief, Osborn blames Spiderman and vows revenge.

 

Act 2:

It is now several months later. Osborn has mutated himself over and over again in an effort to have the abilities to gain his revenge and is now The Green Goblin. He has lost all of his humanity and is fuelled only by his rage and his desire to get Spiderman. He has tracked down and abducted the six lead scientists whom he believes betrayed them and mutates them into the Sinister Six – Swarm, The Lizard, Electro, Kraven the Hunter, Carnage, and Swiss Miss (the truly awful “A Freak Like Me Needs Company”.)

Meanwhile, MJ has become concerned that Peter has turned secretive and always seems to run off to go take photographs for work. She asks him to spend just one night with her, without running away, and Peter agrees (“If the World Should End”).

The Green Goblin and the Sinister Six attack New York City (“Sinestereo”).

Horrified by the carnage when he comes into the Bugle the next day, Peter goes out to try to stop the Goblin, cheered on by New Yorkers (“Spider-Man!”) Spider-man battles each of them but cannot seem to gain the upper hand. The Green Goblin calls the Sinister Six his children, and begins to refer to Spiderman as his First Born Son. J.J. picks up on this and soon is printing stories about how Spiderman and the Goblin are a team.

Now hated by the citizens and pursued by the police, Peter decides being Spiderman is too difficult and wants to quit. As he sleeps, Arachne tries to convince Peter that he’s making the wrong choice, (“Turn off the Dark”) and he fights her out of his dreams. Peter is then late to the premier of MJ’s theatre debut. MJ threatens to leave him if she doesn’t tell him whatever it is that he is keeping from her, and is keeping him from her (“Say It Now”/”I Just Can’t Walk Away”).In the end they stay together. Galvanized by his victory over Arachne and desperate to keep MJ, Peter quits being Spider-Man. He turns his suit over to J.J. (pretending he found it), who pins it up in his office as a trophy.

Peter takes MJ dancing and impulsively proposes to her, but the club’s TVs are hacked by the Green Goblin, who is broadcasting threats to Spider-Man’s loved ones all over NYC if Spider-man doesn’t show himself. Realizing that not being Spiderman doesn’t mean his loved ones will be protected, (“Rise Above, Reprise”) Peter finally accepts his fate as a Hero and knows it’s up to him to stop the Goblin (“See the Boy Fall From The Sky”).

He steals his suit back from J.J. The Goblin kidnaps MJ and tells Spiderman to meet him at the top of the Chrysler Building, where is his waiting and playing a slime-green baby grand piano (another ‘dear god, what were they thinking’ number called “First I’ll Take Manhattan”) and taunting the audience.

Spiderman arrives, and the Goblin reveals that he knows that Spiderman is Peter Parker, and has known since he learned that Peter had fled Oscorp ill that long ago day. That is why he calls Peter his Firstborn Son. He entices Peter to join him, to finally have a father and be part of a family, but Peter rejects the offer and they fight. Peter rescues MJ, and the Goblin plummets to his death off the side of the tower when, in a fit of pique, he tries to shove the piano onto the people below – Peter had webbed the piano to him in an effort to keep him from doing just that.

MJ reveals that she knew he was Peter Parker all along, New York City is saved, and J.J. Jamison hires Flash to be the new staff photographer, firing Parker because he never showed up once during the epic final battle between Spider-man and the Green Goblin (“A New Dawn”).

The Theme:

 

 

 

 

 

Believe it or not, when you breakdown the themes of the show, it’s actually quite clever. I think that Taymor is fantastic at high concept, and perennially bit rubbish at actuating her high-concept. She half develops something and then jumps to the next shiny thing.

That said, I don’t know if this was McKinley’s doing or Taymor’s, but framing the show as a Greek Tragedy-slash-comic book-film was genius and it really worked.  The whole show was about hubris and the monomyth Hero’s Journey: Arachne’s, Peter Parker’s and Norman Osborne’s.

 

The Actors:

(I’m just going to review the principals or we’ll be here all night)

Peter Parker/Spiderman: Matthew Wilkas. He was the Understudy, and I was uncertain if this was good or not. Sometimes the understudy is a much better artist than the cast-because-they’re-a-name principal, but sometimes they’re the understudy because they’re just plain not as good. Sometimes I prefer to see the understudy because they’re better rested. Well, all I can say was I really, really liked Wilkas. He sings the very first line of the very first number in a spot and the minute he groaned out the first line I felt all lovely and shivery. This is definitely a man who could sing the phone book to me and I would melt. And he was consistently excellent for the whole show. I never saw him lag, or look down his nose at the camp, or anything.

Arachne: Katrina Lenk really had the “exotic Greek sound” down.  I don’t know if that was her natural singing voice or an affectation that she was asked to put on, but her voice was hauntingly crystal and filled with all those beautiful trills and back-of-the-throat ululations you hear in tradition Greek music and it really, really worked. I have nothing but the highest praise for someone who can infuse their voice with such evocative emotion while strapped into a heavy silver bug-suit and suspended twenty feet off the stage. I never once felt she was wooden or constricted.

 

Mary Jane Watson: Rebecca Faulkenberry was totally phoning it in. I don’t know if it was because it was an off day, or because she was acting opposite Wilkas instead of the headliner Reeve Carney (if so, shame, Ms. Faulkenberry, that’s not very professional), but I just thought her whole performance was too small. Perhaps she’s spent too much time acting for the camera? I don’t know, but I wasn’t impressed. She has a decent voice, but I didn’t think her range and style suited the music she was given at all.

Norman Osborne/ Green Goblin: What a  freaking professional Patrick Page is. He has been everything from Henery VIII to Lumiere, been the Grinch, Decius Brutus, Richard II and Iago, and he brought the gravitas and the whimsy of all of it to Osborne. I think he was very well suited to the role: serious, strong, fanatical and beautifully insane when he’s snapped.  However, as I said above, I think the second act was a hot mess and this was mainly because they took all that lovely gravitas of Page’s and twisted it itno tongue-in-cheek disco. Camp only works if the participants take it deadly serious, and Page did his very best to take the dreck Taymour, Bono and The Edge shoveled on him in the second act. In the end though, his consummate silver-foxiness was ruined by the club anthem “A Freak Like Me (Needs Company)”, which is an utter shame. He was too incredible to waste that way.

The Music


In general, the music sounds like a U2 concept album. If you like how Bono and The Edge write music, you will like the musical, simple as that. Some of it is more rock, some of it is more standard musical theatre some of it is more radio-ballad, and there’s even a few club anthems, and it all generally works together and flowed fairly organically from one song to the other.

More importantly, the songs appear in the right places in the narrative.

In musicals, the songs are meant to come at moments of extreme emotion – the characters literally feel so much that they can no longer put into words their thoughts and must burst into song and dance. In the first act, every song was right where it should have been and the whole act just ran smoothly and wonderfully. In the second act there were too many numbers and some of the songs were the wrong kind of songs in the wrong places, which really stuck potholes into the pacing – especially as there were too many monologues and moments of rest between them.

The only thing I would have liked was a bit more clever lyrics. I adore Wicked because the words are so flibberty and filled with innuendo and doublespeak. The lyrics in Spider-man oscillate between really clever, with double meanings (especially when the same lyrics are sung in tandem or in reprise by different characters), and really freaking first-year high school.

For example, Peter and MJ are declaring their feelings for one another, singing “is this love?” while on another part of the stage Norman Osborne goads his wife Emily into strapping him into a machine to try to replicate the Spiderman phenomenon (which obviously goblinifies him), also singing “Is this love?” MJ isn’t sure that what she feels is what people call Love; Emily can’t believe that she’s doing what she’s doing, and if doing it means she loves Norman still.

All in all, nothing special, but very listen-able. I only wish the soundrack was in show order with all the songs and correct actors performing them.

 

The Set

 

 

 

Now this was damn cool. The sets looked like they were drawn, just like in comics. There were big, black graphic shadows, primary colours, and really clever visual tricks to make 3D objects look like 2D objects drawn to appear as if they were 3D objects. It was all very skewed-perspective, with extreme horizons and vanishing points. The best part was how it all moved and unfolded like origami and paper to create not only the settings but motion within the show. The set changes were a spectacle in and of themselves, and the whole theatre gasped in wonder when the Empire State Building flew in from the rafters upside down and unfolded itself into an incredible extreme, vertigo-inducing platform for the final show-down.

 

 

The Costumes

Like the sets, the costumes were bright and simple and coloured to look like comic book pictures. It took me a while to realize it, but what I mistook initially for tiger stripes on all the clothing was actually the folds and shadows in the fabric drawn in, like you would in a comic panel.

Once I figured out what it was supposed to be, it was really neat.

My only gripe was that the Green Goblin looked almost exactly like Scar, from the Lion King (except that he was slime green). Both had the lines of a tuxedo jacket with tails. I don’t know if this was deliberate or not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And most importantly…

How Spidey Did His Spidey Stuff

Webs – these were really neat and come straight from Taymour’s obsession with Kabuki. They are called “Kabuki Throw Streamers” and they are essentially a dozen little crepe-paper rolls that unfurl and intertwine as you throw them into the air while still holding on to one end of them. They don’t cling and Spidey couldn’t pull on them, so they were more symbolic than useful, but it was a great visual, to see the paper settling over the baddies. I especially liked these because Spidey threw them all over the audience, too. I was picking webbing out of my hair and took a handful home as a souvenier.
Webslinging – the rigging used to move Spidey and the Green Goblin through the air was reverse engineered from the rigging that moves a film camera over a football field . The rig was attached around Spidey’s waist, and he flew on two wires at his hips. The wires were painted white, to look like webbing, and Spidey would grab first one and then the other as he swung to the opposite side, to mimic the webslinging we’re familiar with from the films, comics, and TV shows.
Clinging to walls – this was a combination of the fly rigging and just grabbing onto handholds built into the walls and sets. It was neat when the set was inverted or set at a super steep angle and he just crawled along the floor and the skewed horizon line made it appear as if he was climbing upwards towards the audience.

JM FreyReview: “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark” 2/2
Read more

Review: “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark” 1/2

While in NYC last month, my editor Gabrielle and I decided on a whim to go into Times Square and see get rush tickets.  We wanted to see a show that we couldn’t see elsewhere (I in Toronto, here in San Francisco), which eliminated a bunch of the productions that were currently touring or would eventually do so.

The centre of the Venn diagram depicting tickets available and shows that met our criteria fell firmly on a single show – Spider-man: Turn off the Dark. I am, and always have been, a Marvelite (I spent a lot of the trip to NYC pointing out locales from Marvel comics), and Gabrielle was game, so off we trotted to the Foxwoods Theatre for the Matinee showing.

We were seated in pretty much the dead centre of row R in the orchestra – smack dab in the centre of the bottom and the perfect place to look up and watch the stunt performers wail on each other. There were also platforms hanging off the edges of the balcony like eyries; clearly where our favourite web-head was going to perch. I was quite excited to be there, and the theatre was filled with lots of young boys and girls who clearly felt the same. I’ve never seen so many Spidey pajama sets in one place before!

Gabrielle studied music in uni, and I studied theatre – I also averaged two to three community theatre musical productions per year (or at least, theatre productions with music in them) from the age of four to the age of eighteen. I say all this to explain where I’m coming from with this review.

And because of this, we had just as much fun peering up at the actor’s monitor screens as we did watching the show. The woman sitting beside us did not understand why we kept craning our heads around to stare at the front of the balconies, and once we explained, she didn’t understand the appeal.

Theatre geeks, you just can’t take us anywhere.

Now, before I get into an in-depth analysis of the show I feel I should talk a bit about Julie Taymor, the widely publicised accidents and problems, and some of my thoughts on the overall production.

I didn’t see anyone get hurt.

The stunts are extremely difficult and require an immense amount of coordination to not get tangled in each other’s cords but to land in the right attitude in the right place at the right time in the music, so I am not at all surprised that the rehearsal ran long and performers were injured. The stunts were extremely impressive and well done and really added to the show.

Yes, the lead actor was rarely the same stunt performer who swung through the air, but sometimes he was, and usually he was singing at the same time which was damn impressive, so I am more than happy to give him a pass for the other major fight sequences for which he is not trained.

I know a lot of people were really peeved about the character Taymor invented and added: Arachne. But trust me, she is both necessary and an awesome addition.

People were also peeved that Taymor added extra villains (beyond the Green Goblin, some of which were her own invention) and here I agree that it was excessive and unnecessary. As cool as the “Sinister Six” sounds, the plot could have easily made do with the “Terrible Two” and it would have saved time, costumes, budget, and my headaches.

Julie Taymor has what we fondly called Artistic ADD when we studied her in university. She has fantastic ideas, but she piles concept onto concept onto concept instead of just developing one. Her visual vocabulary is constantly shifting, which throws the viewer off. As soon as there’s an unspoken social pact established between audience and play about the vocabulary of the visual conventions of the design, she bloody well shifts it and you spend half of the scene trying to parse what you’re looking at instead of paying attention to the narrative. Or, to put it in less poncey academic terms – too many ideas, all of them half-developed.

Generally, a Taymor production runs about twenty minutes too long. Spider-man was no different.

Act One was phenomenal and fantastic. I would change very little about it. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that after my toilet break during the intermission, I immediately bought the soundtrack.

Act Two was a hot mess and I feel like if the new director, Philip McKinley gave me a morning with the script and an afternoon with him, I could probably fix it.  It’s not unfixable, it’s just garbled, and all the attention is on the wrong stuff. It needs, I think, a set of eyes and an exacto knife that aren’t attached to anyone involved closely with the production.

The soundrack CD I bought is also a mess – clearly an attempt to recoup as much money as possible by spending the least amount of money on it as they could. The quality of the songs are fine, but it’s not in show order, some of the best numbers are absent, and some of it is sung by Bono instead of the actors. Now, I know when they released the Wicked soundtrack, they purposefully omitted  Nessa’s song The Wicked Witch of the East in order to maintain the secrecy of one of the plot twists. But there can’t have been such forethought with this CD, I don’t believe it. And it’s a shame, because my favourite song of the whole show, Bullying by Numbers, was one of the ones omitted.

The show is not High Art. It is entertaining as hell, which is all that it is meant to be. It is a rocking good time. And, somehow, they jammed some really great Classic Greek Theatre values in as well. It was like this fabulous smushing-together of Aristotle and Stan Lee.

Next up on the blog: the Overalls – Theme, Plot, Costume, Performance, Set, and Music. Excelsior!

JM FreyReview: “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark” 1/2
Read more

Announcing – the MSFV Success Story Blog Hop!

Hello, readers!

Guess what? We’re just about to begin what will hopefully be the first of the Annual Authoress’s Success Story blog tours!

Authoress Anonymous has built a strong and supportive community on her blog Miss Snark’s First Victim: a community of writers, critiques, hopefuls, agents, editors, and readers. There, writers can participate in contests designed to help them practice giving and receiving critiques, polish their hooks, spiffy up query letters, and gain exposure to literary agents… and, in the case of some writers, get offered representation or publishing deals!

Over twenty professional authors now owe some part of their successes to Authoress, the incredibly generous people who participate in her contests, and her blog. Those of us who have owed our publishing successes to MSFV have decided to come together to celebrate both MSFV, Authoress, and to help cross promote each other’s work.

Every day in the first two weeks of August, a different author will be posting an interview of one of our fellow Success Stories. There might even be some giveaways, so don’t miss a single blog post! Make sure to tune in to everyone’s blogs from August 1st to the 15th, and to follow the hash tag #MSFVSuccessStory this month for more details, tidbits, and info. See you there!

Name Website Twitter Posting Date
David Kazzie http://wahoocorner.blogspot.com/ @davidkazzie 1-Aug
Leigh Talbert Moore leightmoore.com @leightmoore 2-Aug
J.Anderson Coats http://www.jandersoncoats.com @jandersoncoats 3-Aug
J.M. Frey www.jmfrey.net @scifrey 4-Aug
Elissa Cruz elissacruz.blogspot.com @elissacruz 5-Aug
Amanda Sun http://amandasunbooks.blogspot.com @Amanda_Sun 6-Aug
Kristi Helvig www.kristihelvig.blogspot.com @KristiHelvig 7-Aug
Leah Petersen http://www.leahpetersen.com @Leahpetersen 8-Aug
Monica Bustamante Wagner www.monibw.blogspot.com  @Monica_BW 9-Aug
E.M. Kokie www.emkokie.com @emkokie 10-Aug
Monica Goulet http://monicagoulet.blogspot.com/ @MonicaGoulet 11-Aug
PeterSalomon www.peteradamsalomon.com @petersalomon 12-Aug
Sarah Brand http://www.sarahbrand.com/ @sarahbbrand 13-Aug
Angela Ackerman http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com/ @angelaackerman &
@writerthesaurus
14-Aug
Tara Dairman http://taradairman.com/  @TaraDairman  15-Aug

 

JM FreyAnnouncing – the MSFV Success Story Blog Hop!
Read more

Random Acts of Kindness BLITZ

A smile. An encouraging word. A thoughtful gesture. Each day people interact with us, help, and make our day a bit brighter and full. This is especially true in the Writing Community.

Take a second to think about writers you know, like the critique partner who works with you to improve your manuscript. The writing friend who listens, supports and keeps you strong when times are tough. The author who generously offers counsel, advice and inspiration when asked.

So many people take the time to make us feel special, don’t they? They comment on our blogs, re-tweet our posts, chat with us on forums and wish us Happy Birthday on Facebook.

Radom Acts of Kindness Blitz

Kindness ROCKS!

To commemorate the release of their book The Emotion Thesaurus, Becca and Angela at The Bookshelf Muse are hosting a TITANIC Random Act Of Kindness BLITZ. And because I think KINDNESS is contagious, and I’m participating too!

This is my RANDOM ACT OF KINDNESS. It is for Ruthanne Reid, author of The Sundered. (June 29th, 2012 from 4th Floor Publication)

Harry Iskinder knows the rules.

Don’t touch the water, or it will pull you under. Conserve food, because there’s no arable land. Use Sundered slaves gently, or they die too quickly to be worthwhile.

With extinction on the horizon and a world lost to deadly flood, Harry searches for a cure: the Hope of Humanity, the mysterious artifact that gave humans control over the Sundered centuries ago. According to legend, the Hope can fix the planet.

But the Hope holds more secrets than Harry knows. Powerful Sundered Ones willingly bow to him just to get near it. Ambitious enemies pursue him, sure that the Hope is a weapon. Friends turn their backs, afraid Harry will choose wrong.

And Harry has a choice to make. The time for sharing the Earth is done. Either the Sundered survive and humanity ends, or humanity lives for a while, but the Sundered are wiped out.

He never wanted this choice. He still has to make it. In his broken, flooded world, Hope comes with a price.

*

I met Ruthanne in the early 90s on the Dracula: The Series fanfiction yahoo mailing group. I think this list probably pre-dated fanfiction.net, if only by a few months. I was in junior high school at the time, and a very few households in my small town had the internet. I used to hang out in the library to use the internet.

I had no ambition to be a writer at the time. I just wanted to read some stories, and I had already consumed everything that had been branded with “Dracula” in our local library, my school library, and at the book store. When I discovered something called “fanfiction”, I was in heaven. An endless supply of stories!

Some where awesome… some were less so. And when I signed up o the mailing list, it all came as a handy digest of emails that went straight to my private email, so I could load up the email at my parent’s house, then shut off the dial-up and read.

There was a particular writer whose work I really loved – this was, of course, Ruthanne. Eventually we started to talk, when I got up the courage to email her some fanmail, and eventually we accidentally sort of started a round-robin-of-two fanfiction between us. I had never really written anything before, aside from school assignments, to working with Ruthanne taught me a lot, straight from teh get go – paragraph and dialogue structure, how to spin a narrative, spelling…

From there we created alternate worlds, had long in-character RPs to help decipher motivation and character development, had long conversations about writing, ecah created epic length fanfics that we beta read for one another, and then, when I began my first original novel, Ruthanne helped me by writing out paragraphs for scenes that I could envision but not describe, and letting me bounce ideas and characters off her.

By then I was in university and Ruthanne had become my mentor, my hero, my very good friend.

What I’m trying to say is this: Ruthanne Reid taught me how to write.

She taught me the importance of tweak, tweak, tweak. She taught me how to edit, how to be judgmental of my own work, to step back and appraise it, without loosing my passion for the story I’m telling, the people I’m creating. Ruthanne taught me how to build a plot arc, embed clues in a narrative, and pull my  hero/victim along on a journey. Ruthanne taught me not to pull my punches, to mix the tender with horrific (Oh, Ruthanne, your Trieze will always be my bad-guy template) and force my characters to engage with themselves and their world in a realistic manner.

Ruthanne has always been the first to comment on my fanfics. Ruthanne waved all the pompoms while I was doing my academic work. Sometimes we NaNo together, sometimes we don’t, but she’s always ready to smack me or hug me, as required.

Ruthanne never says no when I ask for a beta read. Ruthanne is always ready with a suggestion, or a joke, or a smack-down, or whatever I need to be able to get there with my books.  Ruthanne is generous with her time, her praise, and her help.

Did you know, Ruthanne is also the one who designs my marketing materials and my website? And she never charges me enough, too.

Marvel at the bloody talent of this woman.

One more thing: I’ve never met Ruthanne Reid.I can’t wait until our convention circuits bring us into each other’s orbit. I’ve been waiting to hug this woman for twenty years.

FOR MY RANDOM ACT OF KINDNESS:

I am ashamed to admit that there’s very little that I can give to Ruthanne that I haven’t already given her. I throw business at her all the time – I recommend her for everyone’s websites and marketing design work. I talk up her books constantly. I praise her to the high heavens all the time.

The one thing I wish I could do more of is help her get her book out there. It is a fantastic book. It is brave, it is genre-blending and innovative, and the characters make genuinely hard choices that left me shaking and panting when I finished reading it.

I want to shout from the top of the world. I want to tell everyone about how AWESOME this book is. And I want people to buy it, and read it, and love it, and love and hate your characters as I do.

So, Ruthanne?

For my random act of kindness, I’m going to give you a blog tour from Goddess Fish Promotions.

Email me, Ruthanne, and let’s get this party started!

Also: Becca and Angela have a special RAOK gift waiting for you as well, so hop on over to The Bookshelf Muse to pick it up.

JM FreyRandom Acts of Kindness BLITZ
Read more