Fandom

Yesterday was Impossible Astronaut Day, or, for those of you who don’t watch Doctor Who, the day when a bunch of Whovians went around with tally marks drawn all over their arms to celebrate the anniversary of the airing of the episode The Impossible Astronaut, which introduced a particularly scary monster into the Doctor Who canon (you don’t remember the Silence after you look away from them, hence the tally marks, to keep track of the ones you’ve seen).

So yesterday I drew a bunch of tally marks on my arm. It was fun, and I got some strange looks, and freaked one girl out, and got to explain Doctor Who to a couple people who otherwise wouldn’t have known about it.

The way this became a thing is almost as much fun as the actual event. Here, have a link:

The Post That Started It All

Basically, a fan on Tumblr told a story, and other fans saw it and thought it was a great idea, someone else added a date, the official Doctor Who Tumblr got hold of it, et voila – hundreds (maybe thousands?) of perfectly ordinary people walking around with tally marks on their arms, scaring the shit out of each other.

And this is why I love fandoms, and why the internet is such a great thing for fandoms.

A lot of people look a little askance at fandoms and fangirls, assuming that they are crazy/obsessed/antisocial or otherwise not-good things. I think this is grossly unfair. Of course, there will always be people who take things too far, who are a little over the top. There will always be trolls, and people who like to spread hate and feel the need to bash someone else’s ship or show or whatever to make themselves feel better. People are people. But on the whole, these people are in the minority.

At its most basic a fandom is a community of people who say, “You love this thing? I love this thing too! Let’s get together and talk about it and make fan art and celebrate this thing we love together.” Which I think is fantastic. And with the internet it’s never been easier. Instead of wandering around wherever you live hoping to run into someone else who happens to watch that show you like or read the book series you’ve been obsessed with, you can go online and find a ton of people who are into the same things as you, and who are excited to talk about it. It’s one of the reasons I love Tumblr, despite all the crazy, strange stuff that goes on there–there’s a ton of people getting together sharing the thing they love, and the things they have made–whether fanfiction, fanart, spoofs, crafts, cosplay, a deep analysis of an episode or character–inspired by the thing that they love. For every silly internet meme post, there’s another post of some really fantastic creation someone made based on their favorite show/book/movie/whatever. It’s truly amazing.

As great as the internet fandoms are, my favorite part is when this community extends off the internet into real life–like the Impossible Astronaut event. This sort of thing, much like wearing a Doctor Who shirt or having a sonic screwdriver keychain, is a great way to draw Whovians around you out of the woodwork. One of thing things I love about the Doctor Who fandom, at least in America, is that we are all so excited about it and so excited to meet another Whovian and talk about our beloved show. Maybe this is because for a long time not all that many people (relatively speaking) watched Doctor Who in the US, so when you found someone else who did it was like “OH MY GOD you watch Doctor Who? Let me talk to you about all the things I’ve been dying to talk to someone about!” There’s a feeling of instant connection because you’ve found something you’re both really enthusiastic about. There have been plenty of times when I was sitting around at some social gathering feeling awkward, only to find that someone else in the room watched Doctor Who (or was an Eddie Izzard fan, or a Joss Whedon fan, or what have you), and instantly felt at ease, because we had common ground, we had something to talk about.

I guess my point (if I ever had one), is that fandoms are like any other group of people who get together to share their common interests (think book clubs, knitting circles, bike clubs, sports fans).  We go through life looking for ways to connect with other people, and sharing our love of the same TV shows or movies or books is just one of those ways.

Also, the look on someone’s face when you freak them out with tally marks on your arm or a picture of a weeping angel? Priceless.

Theatre is Weird (and I love it)

Today’s post is brought to you by my rambling, mostly very unintellectual and unorganized brain. Under no circumstances should it be taken as scholarly in any way, or indeed anything other than me recording the thoughts that rattle around in my head while I’m in the booth watching my show.

You have been warned.

As the title may have already clued you in, I recently had a thought while I was watching I Hate Hamlet (and watching the audience watch I Hate Hamlet)–theatre is weird.

Don’t get me wrong. I love it. There’s nothing I would rather be doing than helping a production get on its feet, watching as it takes on shape and dimension and turns into something beautiful, watching people’s reactions to this thing that we have all worked so hard to make the best it can be. It’s one of my favorite things in the world.

But setting all that aside, if you take a step back and look at it objectively, there’s not denying that theatre, like so many things we humans do, is a very strange practice indeed.

Think about it. You are at the theatre, surrounded by people, most of whom you have never met. You sit in a small, often uncomfortable seat, in close quarters with a bunch of strangers, and you wait. Sometimes there is music, or a preshow performance. Sometimes there is a set to look at, an abstract structure oar a facsimile of a real place. You read the program. By mutual agreement, no one talks too loudly or eats popcorn or slurps soda (at least, in most theatres). After a while the lights dim, and once everyone quiets down. You sit in the dark, and the lights come up onstage, and people–ordinary people just like you–come out and perform what amounts to a very elaborate game of make believe.

Some of these things also apply to many types of performance or art–a movie theatre, for example, has the same surreal quality of a bunch of strangers gathering together to watch a made up story. But there is something about the theatre in general, the fact that the performers are right there, in front of you, that the story is happening in this precise moment, that gives it an immediacy unmatched by any other medium (even live music has a different sort of vibe). The audience sits, and watches, and listens. No one talks, no one heckles, no one jumps up onstage and tries to join the action.

Of course, this wasn’t always the case. For a long time theatre was a form of popular entertainment much like sports games are today–vendors sold food, and people shouted responses at the actors, and ate and talked and paid attention when they felt like it. Somewhere along the line something shifted in the way society views the theatre, and it became an almost sacred space, with a set of rules and manners that you violate only at your peril. I leave it to someone much more learned and intellectual than I do discuss whether this is a good or bad thing–there is certainly something to be said for participatory theatre. But the fact remains that nowadays, when one goes to the theatre one is expected to behave a certain way–and the sort of amazing thing is that, for the most part, people do.

<liberal arts student disclaimer>

I should mention at this point that when I speak of theatre in this context, I’m really just talking about “typical” Western, modern theatre. There are as many types of theatre as there are different human cultures, and a good many of them are very different from this description. But I am but one blogger and I can’t address all of them, so I’m just addressing the theatre I’m familiar with.

</liberal arts student disclaimer>

The process of theatre is no less strange from the creator’s point of view, and perhaps stranger. My mom asked me the other day whether it made me sad to have to tear down a set that we spent hours and days and weeks building just a few weeks before. It can be sad, I said, but it’s part of the job–you know that nothing you’re building is going to last forever. That’s why you take pictures. And it can be fun to smash apart something that was the bane of your existence while you were building it.

But I digress.

When you think about it, it is exceedingly strange that we spend all these many hours working and rehearsing, building and painting, stressing and sweating and possibly crying, to make this thing that will only exist for a few weeks or months (or possibly years, if you’re on Broadway, but that’s a topic for another day), and then be gone forever. Theatre is the definition of ephemeral art, surpassed only perhaps by cooking. It would seem that we would have every reason to despair at the thought that all this work will disappear, and that possibly in a year’s time no one will even remember that it happened.

That can be a depressing thought. But I think the thing that keeps us going is the hope that someone will remember. The goal of reaching out, through a performance of a made up story with made up people with made up problems, and touching someone, a real person with a real story, and real problems, and somehow making them better, or changing them in some small way, or even just giving them a really fantastic evening to look back on and warm themselves with on cold grey days. Certainly working on a play, especially a really powerful one, can change you, make you think of things you never considered, see the world a different way. And the culmination of the process is to share it with other people, to share what you have learned and felt.

The sharing is crucial, because theatre is one of the only arts that cannot be practiced in isolation. You can always draw for yourself, write for yourself, play music for yourself, even dance for yourself, but it is very difficult to put on a play for yourself. The audience is the whole reason the play exists, and it isn’t considered “finished” until it has been performed for someone else. In order to tell a story you have to have someone to tell it to. Thus not only is theatre ephemeral, it is also by definition communal, an art that depends on shared experience. It’s one group of people (very rarely is everything done by one person) working together to create something to show to another group of people, saying, “Look at what we made for you. Let us share this little snippet of human experience”.

I think that’s why people sit so still and so quiet when they watch theatre. If it’s any good at all, there’s something about the immediacy of the presentation, the direct connection between the performer and the audience as they share their story, that inspires a sort of reverence. ( This makes it sound like all theatre is grandiose and serious, but of course there’s farce and comedy and clowning and a lot of other kinds of performance that have nothing reverent about them. But even they are about connection with the audience, picking the right things to make them laugh, so I think they can be included in this idea of theatre as a communal form.)

If you made it this far, bravo. Thanks for reading my rambling thoughts about the theatre. In conclusion (if there is any conclusion to be made), theatre is a weird thing, but it’s a pretty fantastic weird thing, and I’m incredibly grateful to be able to be a part of it.

My Recent Life in Pictures

Usually these sorts of posts are “the week in pictures” or “the month in pictures”, but I think it’s silly to put such time constraints on things, don’t you? Why exclude perfectly good pictures just because they weren’t taken this week?

Basically, I finally got around to transferring a bunch of pictures from my iPod to my computer, and I found some that I would like to share.

ANYWAY.

Here’s the last whatever of my life as seen from my iPod.

FOOD

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Adventures in cooking continue!IMG_0030 Salted Caramel Brownies Take Two was a success–as you can see, the caramel was the right consistency! Huzzah! It still left some craters in the brownies, but I don’t think anyone will complain if more experimentation occurs. And in more savory adventures, I discovered that spinach quiche is the easiest thing ever (especially with pre-made crust, which, while it might possibly be chef-sacrilege, I think tasted really good), and that homemade pizza is crazy delicious (and when you can make a really delicious sauce by throwing tomatos, oil, vinegar, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper in a food processor, it’s even better). Also, carrot soup is officially my favorite way to eat carrots.

THEATRE

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IMG_0066The I Hate Hamlet set is gorgeous and wonderful, especially in Act II. Fun fact: the fireplace is made from an old footboard that our set designer found in a dumpster. And he made the throne partly using the footboard. Also, the bricks were made by marking out a grid in tape, spreading plaster over, the pulling the tape off to make the grout, so they actually have texture! In short, our set designer is awesome.

FUN AT WORK

So as you may know, I work in a toy store. Admittedly, it is not all fun and games, but sometimes (more often than perhaps I should admit), stuff like this happens:

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The best part is that I am encouraged to do this sort of thing on a regular basis. When we got our new marble run display, my manager and I spent at least twenty minutes play–I mean, stress testing it (among other things, we tried to see if we could get all the marbles in the run at once). I love my job.

And finally…

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I leave you with a picture of the view from my front door, taken some time in February. The tree in the background suffers from chronic seasonal confusion; it kept its leaves all through fall and began turning red sometime in December or January. I think it’s forgotten about spring completely.

And on that note, Happy April! See you next week.

Book Review: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

And now for something completely different.

Okay, not completely different, only sort of different. I’ve spent most of these blog posts writing/complaining about me and my life, and today I wanted to talk about something else. And, being me, the first thing that popped into my head was this book that I just finished:

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

This book is the sequel to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (and yes, the anticipated third book will have a title just as long), and both books are, in short, amazing. Someone recently told me they sounded “Neil-Gaiman-y” and that’s a pretty apt description. Valente has the same sort of dark touch to her fantasy, without ever losing touch with the enchantment of it. If you love fairy tales with a twist, if your favorite narrator is the kind that engages the reader directly and is full of dry wit and has a Fondness for Capital Letters, if you like your fantasy to be fantastic and colorful and exciting and glorious, but still sometimes a little dark, then you will love these books.

Fairyland has it all: magic, witches (who only tell the future, everything else is done by other magical folk), a Wyverary (a Wyvern whose father was a Library), herds of bicycles (properly called velocipedes), a province where it is always Autumn, and Pandemonium, a constantly moving capital city that relocates according to the needs of narrative. It’s fantastic and whimsical and not a little dangerous and I totally fell in love with it. In this second book, you get to meet its shadow: Fairyland-Below.

When we left our heroine, September, at the end of the last book, she had just returned from her first adventure in Fairyland, having made some friends, defeated the tyrant Marquess, and lost her shadow. Now, a year later, September is eagerly anticipating her return to Fairlyland, where her friends will be wating for her and, of course, all will be well. She’ll have adventures and explore and not have to worry herself about Local Politicks. It will be a grand time.

But of course, nothing is ever so simple in Fairyland, and September’s shadow has been busy. She’s become Halloween, the Hollow Queen, ruler of Fairyland-Below, and is intent on doing anything she wants, and damn the consequences.

This is an excellent sequel in that it builds on the framework the previous book established, further developing characters we’ve already come to know and love–although, this being Fairyland-Below, where everything is slantwise and upside-down, the people there are not always quite what they seem. The book is darker and more serious in some ways than its predecessor, because September is growing up. She’s thirteen, and she’s beginning to develop a heart (in the first book, she, like most children, was Somewhat Heartless). She has to deal with the consequences of her actions and clean up the mess she–and her shadow–have caused in Fairyland, both Above and Below. September comes to Fairyland this time around thinking she knows how things work, since she’s been there before, but she quickly realizes that’s not the case. Even though she has friends with her, in some ways September is much more on her own during her Quest in this book, and it’s great to watch her deal with each twist the story throws at her, and roundly tell off anyone who tries to tell her that she can’t do things for herself.

Of course, even with all the darkness of Fairyland-Below, there’s plenty of enchantment and fun as well, with lots of new quirky characters and bits of Fairyland trivia. The ending is clever and unexpected and somewhat heartbreaking and utterly wonderful. In short, I loved this book just as much as the first one, and if you are even slightly interested in fantastic literature or fairy tales, you should read both immediately.