Wednesday, December 31, 2008

More with the planets and the unicorns

Isn't the theme song hilariously catchy? Upon further consideration I think this is more of a parody of My Little Pony specifically than unicorns in general. Still I enjoy it. Here are some more episodes:

Planet Unicorn Episode 4:

Planet Unicorn Episode 5:

Planet Unicorn Episode 6:

Have a great New Year's Eve! Catch you in 2009....the Year of the Unicorn.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Show me the funny

"But I am Schmendrick, the last of the red-hot swamis!"

I was reviewing some of my previous posts, and I realize I'm overlooking writing about one aspect of "The Last Unicorn" that is just as important as puppets, sound, or story theater: humor! Yes, the piece has adult themes, and ideally we'll be landing really aesthetically nifty and intense moments- but even the most grimly realistic drama (and this will not be a grimly realistic drama) needs to throw the audience a bone as far as laughs go. Those familiar with the book or the movie of "The Last Unicorn" know what I'm talking about- Peter S. Beagle wants readers and viewers to be able to chuckle a bit too. Humor is tricky to get right, but I'm working on keeping opportunities for laughs in mind as I work on revisions to the script for the stage version. A lot more is going to have to be explored in rehearsals- and the funny bits won't be able to be fine tuned until we're actually performing for you-the-audience. When it comes to comedy, the audience is always right- you can dream up the funniest joke in the world, but if there's nothing but crickets chirping when you finally perform it in front of people you've failed. So in honor of that, here's a series of unicorn clips that will be dearly familiar to some of you on the internet. These short cartoons definitely aren't afraid to explore the humorous aspects of unicorns (and fantasy stories in general):

Planet Unicorn Episode 1:

Planet Unicorn Episode 2:

Planet Unicorn Episode 3:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A little holiday present to myself (and to you!)

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This post contains specifics about the show itself, and how we're achieving certain elements or designing certain aspects. If you want this kind of thing to be a surprise to you when you see it, skip this post!

So last weekend I drove out to Downers Grove, IL to buy myself a little item I found for sale on Craigslist. I'd been keeping an eye out for one of these for a while because it could potentially be part of "The Last Unicorn," but I needed to get my hands on one to know for sure.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am now the proud owner of a cow skull. If I owned a digital camera I'd post a pic of that here, but it'll have to wait for now.

Give you three guesses what it's for in "The Last Unicorn." Okay, I'll just tell you.

Here's the idea: Schmendrick, the Unicorn and Molly Grue get to Haggard's kingdom, which is supposed to be this barren wasteland, right? So since this is a piece of story theater (read: NOT scenery intensive) we're going to represent that by having a cow skull on the ground off to one side. Then, when the Red Bull appears, the cow skull is picked up and becomes the head! Here's a design sketch I did that'll give you the general idea:

I've been going back and forth in my head for a while- would it be better to use an actual cow skull, or to build a puppet one? What if a real skull is too heavy or too fragile? Or what if I get my hands on one and try it out in front of a mirror, and it looks incredibly lame instead of awesome? Because awesomeness is the goal here. But I'm happy to say that 1) the skull is actually extremely light and 2) it looked pretty cool when I was trying it out. I'm still a little worried about how durable it is- it has some cracks, etc., that I'm worried might have happened when I was working with it, and you can tell by holding it that if you ran into something with it or dropped it, pretty much game over. Still, progress! Even if we wind up having to build a puppet head instead of using the real deal, we'll be able to use the real deal as a model or to build a cast.

Pretty cool, huh?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Don't make me brag.

So....the show I'm in with Promethean Theatre Ensemble, Tony Kushner's "The Illusion," has been Jeff Recommended! For those of you not in the know, the Jeff Awards are pretty much Chicago's version of the Tony's. We don't know for sure that we'll be nominated for any awards at the end of the season, but we know for sure we're in the running.

Also, we got a very positive review from Tom Williams, one of the city's theatre critics. Here's a link to the review.

And in the interest of fairness, and not getting too big for my britches, here's a link to another review in the Chicago Reader that has some nice things to say but is decidedly more mixed.

But wait, you say. Where's my unicorn fix for the day? Here you go- A real live unicorn, as shown here:

Saturday, December 20, 2008

We open tonight!!!

"The Illusion" has its official opening tonight at 8 pm! It's been a long road, with a lot of hard work put in by everyone, and I think it'll be one of the best shows our company has done. Here's a link to the show information; I highly encourage all y'all to check it out.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Winter wonderland!?

Hey everyone-
Tech week for Promethean's "The Illusion" is making good progress, though we did have a bit of a hiccup last night- the city of Chicago was hit by a rather sizable snow storm during rush hour last night, and since I was in my car, the drive from work to our performance space, which usually takes a little less than an hour, instead took two and a half hours!!! I know that technically winter doesn't begin until this Sunday, but she's decided to be unfashionable early. Basically, here's what last night was like (go to 1:20 for the full effect):

(Tenuous connection, I know, but I had to keep this Unicorn related somehow...)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I may be away for a bit

I'm about to go into tech week for Promethean Theatre Ensemble's production of "The Illusion," which means that I'll have very little free time. We open on 12/20- for more info you can click here. As I said before, the play has got romance and wizardry in it, so it's a great chance to see us do our thing prior to "Unicorn." But it's going to keep me crazy busy for the next week. In the meantime, know that (as a song I'm sure all of you know well states) "I'm aliive, I'm aliiiiiiive....." Aw shucks, I'll just post a clip.

P.s.- I just want to remind everyone I'm doing a stage adaptation of the novel, not the movie. Which means that though I (like many of you) am a drooling fanatic about the movie, references to it and clips from it won't appear here very often. Enjoy this one!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

We're zeroing in on a space...(and geeking out about Tim Curry.)

Hey gang,
"The Last Unicorn" is in the process of picking a performance space, and dates are TBA. As soon as all of the details are completely hammered out you'll be able to read about it here. For now, know that we're on the case, getting ready to make this production of "Unicorn" the awesome event I know it will be. In the mean time, here's a clip from another really important movie from my childhood that had Unicorns in it (be warned, it be spooky):

Plus this clip actually has the bad guy use the phrase "the last unicorn...." We'll save her though, won't we folks? : - ) Tim Curry (yep, that's him under all the red body paint) is awesome- he has personally redeemed many awful movies, and is an accomplished stage actor to boot. Speaking of less-than-life-changing movies that Tim Curry redeems, here's another fun little clip:

Sunday, December 7, 2008

More cool cannibal music

Remember how I said that the cave scene from Ravenous has awesome music? Actually lots of the music in that movie is awesome. Here's another music clip that really has gotten under my skin. I love how this piece starts out really repetitive and simple and then adds layers of depth and complexity as it continues. The clip also shows scenes from the movie- watch out, some of this is bloody and intense. I'd say it's still PG-13 or extremely mild rated R, though. But you see how much music and soundscape can enhance a story?

Ok, that's enough inflicting horror movie music on you for a while. I promise to be back on Unicorns and theatre related stuff again soon.

UPDATE, 2/19: The previous video got zapped by a copyright claim, it looks like. I embedded a different video so you can still hear the music I was referring too.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Wish me luck!

I applied yesterday for a grant from the city of Chicago to train with a master mask and puppet craftsman. He is Jeff Semmerling, and he is awesome. The reason I want to train? "The Last Unicorn" will be using some masks and puppets, and I'd like to build them myself. Wish me luck and hope I get the grant! I took some puppetry building class while I was at Northwestern, but my skills definitely aren't where I'd like them to be to accomplish that. They're not too shabby either, though. Meet Mrs. Beasley:

I built her for my puppetry class final at NU. She's a character in a story by John Collier, titled "Incident by a Lake." I'm a huge fan of John Collier's stories, and I've adapted some of them to the stage before. One of my big dreams (after "The Last Unicorn" is done, that is) is to stage an entire evening of his stories strung together.

P.S.- Hey gang! Wanna see one of my design sketches for a mask I want to build for "The Last Unicorn?" Here's a peek:

It's not set in stone yet, but it's a start!

Friday, December 5, 2008

My brothers and sisters in arms

I guess I ought to tell you more about the company that is producing the stage adaptation of "The Last Unicorn" in 2009. They (or I should say we) are Promethean Theatre Ensemble. You should get to know them- these are my brothers and sisters in arms, and together we'll be working our butts off to make "The Last Unicorn" as good as it possibly can. Also, we're (I say this with all modesty) pretty nifty. Right now, we're getting ready to perform another play- it's a fantasy piece, with a magician and magic spells, called "The Illusion." It's by Tony Kushner- that's right, the same guy who wrote "Angels in America." We think it's awesome- it's adapted from a Corneille comedy (for those not familiar with him, his style is similar to Moliere), so it's got really funny situations, occasional rhyming couplets and a classical feel, but it's also been brought up to date, made more poetic and given deeper themes by Kushner. Here's the production info:

"The Illusion"
by Tony Kushner
December 19-January 17 (official opening is Saturday December 20 at 8 p.m.)
Presented by Promethean Theatre Ensemble at City Lit Theater (1020 W Bryn Mawr Ave in Chicago)
For ticket reservations, call (773) 305-2897; tickets are $20 (but let me know if you want to see it but are strapped for cash; maybe I can get you a deal)
Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
Additional 2 p.m. Saturday matinees on 1/10 and 1/17
Additional 7 p.m. Sunday show on 1/11
Also, we give the audience free hot cocoa on Thursday nights and at Saturday matinees.

What's it about? Basically, this rich lawyer goes to this wizard's cave to find out what happened to his son- it seems the son ran off/got kicked out by his dad years ago, and now the lawyer wants the wizard to use magic to find what happened to him. The wizard conjures up a series of Illusions (thus the title!) of the son's life.

Oh, and by the way- I'm in it and having a blast at rehearsals. I get to play the wizard's creepy servant.

What hump?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Why I'm not a graphic designer

I had this idea for a poster or promo for The Last Unicorn and cobbled it together as best I could with Microsoft Paint (No hablo Photoshop ni Dreamweaver.) Pretty neat, huh? She's coming, Chicago. You know what? I think I just made an image for the top of my blog.

"They will stare, unbelieving, at the Last Unicorn...."
(yeah, I know, this is a stage adaptation of the book, not the movie, but hey, I grew up on the movie! Gimme a break.)

Inspirational(ly Creepy) Music, part 2

It is 2005. Once again, I am watching a movie (though a different one) that is scaring the bejeezus out of me. The story: a young American girl goes to study ballet at a prestigious German ballet academy. But strange things are happening. The same night she arrives in Germany, a young girl who had recently been expelled from the ballet academy is found murdered in a shockingly vicious fashion. The teachers at the academy seem to slip away to some secret place within the school at night. There is a mysterious Directress of the academy that is never seen. As the body count piles up, the girl happens upon the truth: the ballet academy is actually a front for a coven of witches, who use their magic to spread their hate and malice and amass vast personal wealth. Eventually the girl wanders through a secret fairy tale door into a place more deadly and horrible than Narnia or the Wonderland on the other side of the looking glass. She must be brave and face down an ancient with power beyond her comprehension. And did I mention that the score is creepy, compelling, and gorgeous? Here's a taste:

I love that subliminally soft demonic voice that tonelessly begins to 'sing' la la la along with the music at various points. And I love the fantasy and fairy tale aspects of Suspiria's story- a young innocent girl is journeying into a dangerous world of black magic, where she must challenge an ancient evil. In some ways this is similar to the journey Amalthea must make. But does this music have any place in the stage production of "The Last Unicorn?" If so, where should the music go? Or is the film source of this material too easy for people to recognize? I had never heard of this movie before I saw it, but I'm not exactly a cineast. Any thoughts, commenters?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Inspirational(ly Creepy) Music

It is the year 2000. I am watching a movie that is scaring the bejeezus out of me. The story: several soldiers during the Spanish American War are stationed at an outpost near the Rockies. A shivering, starving and half crazed man stumbles down from the foothills, telling a horrifying story of murder and mass cannibalism in a cave up in the crags; he was part of a party that was led astray by a devious and flesh-hungry soldier who intended to get the travelers stranded and then feast upon them. So the soldiers send a group (including the wanderer who told the tale) up into the mountains to investigate- to kill the cannibal soldier, and rescue anyone that can be rescued. So after some time they reach the cave. And this is not a little recession in a cliff. This is a deep, dark cave- the kind of cave you'd imagine not just bears, but yeti or dragons would nest in. They leave the wanderer and a couple of other soldiers outside to stand guard in case the cannibal is away from home and returns while they're searching. Pulses pounding, every nerve on a razor's edge, the rest of the soldiers slowly creep into the cave with weapons at the ready. The silence is oppressive- nothing but vague rustles and the echoing drips of moisture. They reach the back of the cave without encountering the cannibal soldier...and they find the bodies. They're convinced that the cannibal must be out wandering...but then one of them counts the bodies. There's one less than in the tale told by the half-crazed wanderer. And one of the corpses is wearing a soldier's uniform- that's right, the crazy cannibal was the wanderer who told the tale. And he's tricked all of the soldiers into coming up in to the mountains so he can feast on them as well.

Doesn't sound like much, does it? Better horror movie premises have failed. But what makes this scene a horror classic is the incredible music used during that scene, that skillfully supports the story and plays on the emotions of the listener. Here's the music piece in question (titled "The Cave," naturally):

Why am I talking about this on The Last Uniblog? It's a classic example of good sound design and scoring doing an excellent job of supporting the telling of a story. And while we still haven't finalized who will be sound designing the production, I'm hoping the designer will consider using this music in a scene or scenes, or at least I'll be able to refer him/her to this music as an example of the feel/mood I'm striving for. Also, this production of "The Last Unicorn" is not children's theatre! It will be mostly kid-friendly but we are exploring not just a cool story, but one with intense (and sometimes violent!) scenes, and grown-up themes.

I love how the music starts out unsettling and almost childlike (up until about 4:14), while perfectly evoking in music the natural sounds of the cave- you can hear weird echoes and what might be the flapping of bat wings or the scuttling of some small animal. Eventually, strings start to perfectly capture the sound of water dripping down into some puddle or small pool in the cave. In "The Last Unicorn," I'm wondering if this music, or music like it, might have a place in the Midnight Carnival scenes- especially when the Harpy is first revealed, or Mommy Fortuna disguises herself as Elli. Then at 4:14 things get really interesting. I think the percussion that starts there is initially meant to represent the pounding heartbeats in the ears of the increasingly terrified soldiers as they proceed deeper and deeper into the cave. Then more and more echoing and ominous percussion keeps being added on top of it- you can feel the horror build as the soldiers find more and more evidence and come to their horrific realization (while outside, the crazy cannibal has slipped his bonds and is already digging for his buried hunting knife...) This music (I mean 4:14 to the end) is the kind of thing I'm thinking about for the first appearance of the Red Bull, or maybe when the Harpy escapes. Speaking of the Harpy, fans of the movie version of "The Last Unicorn" might recognize the electronic guitar licks that happen at 5:44 and again at 6:15....coincidence? I think not.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Here she is.

See my previous post; I found this image online that is essentially what I'm considering (pretend the rose is white):

Much better than a horsie head, no? Not to get all Puritan on you (though if there ever is a time to get all Puritan, right around Thanksgiving is it, I guess), but...simplicity is a virtue.

Monday, December 1, 2008

On creating a Unicorn for the stage.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This post contains specifics about the show itself, and how we're achieving certain elements or designing certain aspects. If you want this kind of thing to be a surprise to you when you see it, skip this post!

"The Unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone...
She did not look anything like a horned horse...possessing that oldest, wildest grace that horses have never had...unicorns are immortal...they are a little vain, knowing themselves to be the most beautiful creatures in all the world, and magical besides."

Nifty, right? This description of the nature of unicorns comes from the opening pages of Mr. Beagle's classic. How do you represent something as (as Rukh would put it) "Universal as the unicorn" on stage? This is a creature that is supposed to be the most beautiful, graceful creature in the world. Therefore, I believe that the way to represent it on stage is NOT to do something like THIS:

I know, I know, the kid is adorable, but what about this costume captures the wild immortal beauty that unicorns are supposed to possess. I think that where people go wrong when they try to represent unicorns on stage (in productions of Children of Eden, for example, or Griffin Theatre's stage adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Stardust) is they try to be too literal. The last way to represent a unicorn effectively onstage is to stick an garish and ungainly headress or a white unitard on them! I think that we're shown the way by such story theatre pioneers as Mary Zimmerman and Frank Galati. So, instead of trying to literally represent the animal and her horn, let's come up with imaginative and evocative ways to represent that to the audience.

First, the Unicorn in the story is supposed to be gorgeous and graceful. The key is, we want something that will be gorgeous and graceful to the audience as well. So, instead of a pretty young actress in a unitard and headdress, hows-about we just go with a basic pretty white dress or frock? Something that breathes and that she can move in freely, with the additional ripple of fabric to help evoke that grace we're talking about, instead of something skin tight that bunches up in inappropriate places. Just say no to spandex, kids.

Next the horn. We want something that is a symbol of the Unicorn's immortality, and that can be used by the actress in the same ways that the Unicorn has to use it in the story- i.e., she needs something that she can touch to things to heal people. My current best idea: a long stemmed white rose that she carries with her:

It's important to me that we see her strength as well. I'm thinking we'll also give the Unicorn a silver dagger to have with her to symbolize her horn when she has to fight things with it (Harpies, for example...)

What do y'all think?