Friday, 30 March 2012

The halfling and the barmaid

I've complained a goodly amount about technology and the internet, but in a small attempt to redress the balance, here's something I'm deeply grateful for. 

This is a story of an internet friendship. 

When we met four years ago, I was a barmaid with a suit of chainmail under her bed, and he was a halfling druid with a large dog.  It was an online game (what else?).  Some of us felt bold enough to divulge our real names and befriend each other on Facebook.

Halfling druid

Barmaid.  Chainmail under bed and therefore not visible

A conversation started shortly afterwards which has endured ever since.

Pat and I communicate almost every day.  I've watched him turn his life around in more ways than I can sensibly count.  He's watched me clamber through my various artistic traumas and teaching shenanigans.  We've both tended to be there for each other when the going got really rough at some points. 

Our ongoing conversation has taken us through politics, films, philosophy, gaming, more gaming, his work, my work, family, rules minutae, routes out of depression, character building and recipes.

We've met three times in the flesh.  Pat has come to visit the UK twice and has just walked through the door and felt like part of the family.    My son, who doesn't take to new people easily, immediately felt at home with him.  The home gaming group absorbed him instantly as a player.  He sat in our kitchen and broke up chocolate for brownies and peeled potatoes.

Husband, son and I went to Indianapolis for GenCon last year and met up again for a couple of meals.  As always, it felt like he lived next door and had just dropped by.

This good and lovely man met his soulmate last year, and on Tuesday, they eloped.  I'm using this post to say thank you to the internet for our ongoing conversation and to offer him congratulations and the best of good wishes.  Few deserve them more.  And yes, of course I asked his permission before I wrote this.

I am assured the elopement didn't look like this.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

More A-Z

While doublet making today, I did some forward planning.  A list, in other words.

It's a pretty simple list and it has nothing as elaborate as theme attached to it, but it does cover most of the letters.

K is eluding me at the moment, but I have starting points for all the rest.  No guarantees that any will be used, but they'll be a handy fallback.

Knavery, knife, kite, king, Kwik-fit, koala, kedgeree, kangaroo, knee, Kansas, knight, Knossos ...

Word verification - is it on?

I hope I've disabled it, but I'd be grateful if someone passing through could test it for me.

Trawling the blogs and finding hamsters

In preparation for the A-Z challenge I did a small amount of blog crawling yesterday.

Starting with myself, I just worked my way through as many blogs as I could.  Got to number 300 and discovered some truly fascinating niche markets on the way.

Hamsters.  Who knew?  There is a rich seam of material for lovers of small rodents out there.

Inky the hamster mommy
Animal Tails
Confessions of a hamsterholic

As a former rodent owner, I can empathise.  When I was small, we had a long succession of hamtsers, gerbils, rabbits, guinea pigs and mice. 

Scamper the hamster was inappropriately named.  She was vast and did nothing but sleep.  When doing neither, she bit people.  She attempted to lumber her way to freedom when my sister put her on the sofa and wandered off.  With most hamsters, that  would have been more than enough time to stage an escape, but Scamper's size and disinclination to move far or fast made it easy to recapture her.  The ensuing lecture on keeping pets safe was met with a blank stare.  "You mean most hamsters aren't like this?"

You have to remember that at this point our only connection with rodents as a family had been via Tales of the Riverbank and Hammy the Hamster.  He was also not very representative.

Hammy Hamster's bijou riverside cottage

Later excursions brought us to guinea pigs, via Olga da Polga.

Here, as it turned out, fiction got it right.  Olga had much in common with Blanche and Josephine.  They were a chatty pair, extremely friendly and much the most personality packed of our childhood rodents.  

Since we are currently the possessions of a 16 year old cat who regards it as her duty to rid the world of anything small and squeaky, we don't have any rodents at the moment.  Unless I can finally fulfil that childhood dream and own a capybara.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Chocolate - can there be too much?

With term speeding to an end, most of the things I need to do are becoming manageable. 

Costume construction - under way and continuing.
Play written.
Props list and other stuff for Oklahoma! - underway and continuing.
Rehearsals planned.
Games all running along nicely.

Obviously I need another project and luckily there is one to hand.

In a moment of lunacy back in February, husband, son and I decided to throw an Easter party for no better reason than we hadn't had a party for years.  To the socially ept, this may seem like an easy thing to do.  Allow me to explain that this is not so around our place.

Although I am quite good at making and keeping friends, along with the rest of my immediate family I am petrified of large gatherings.  Parties in particular.  As a teen, I never went to them.  Partly because I wasn't invited to any (extreme introvert and reluctant to leave the safe confines of my bedroom), partly because even if I had been invited, I'd have worked myself into such a state of trauma that I wouldn't have gone.

The family record is not good in this respect.  It is, therefore, a little strange that we decided on a whim to hold a massive Easter egg hunt for what now looks like about 35-40 people on Easter Sunday.  The British weather being what it is, the current warm and Spring-like spell is unlikely to last.  I mention this only because we're planning to hold said egg hunt in the garden.  In the event of rain, it will be inside.

Several challenges await. 

The house must be tidied.  Not simple.  We live in a very large house indeed and it is packed to the gunnels with what can only be described as clutter.  For guests to get through the door without injury, something must be done.  Son has agreed to help.  Amazingly.

Mass catering must ensue.  This is fun and easy.  No problems there.  Except that in my nightmares, all guests decide they have better things to do and don't come.  Always an embarrassing possibility with parties.

Eggs must be purchased.  Also fun and easy, but brings me back to the original title of this post.  Can there be too much chocolate?  Clearly I can live on the stuff and I know I'm not alone in this, but I've got a slight fear that unless we make some kind of uber-spreadsheet, we may well be finding unfound Easter eggs well into next year. 

So far I've got lots on order.  No recent shopping trip has been complete without adding a couple of packets of chocolate eggs of varying types to the basket.

Guilt-free shopping for chocolate.  Lovely.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Interfacing - my new friend

Spent quite a bit of yesterday clearing the sewing machine and piles of assorted half finished costumes out of the dining room.

Not, you understand, because we eat in there, but to make room for the Chessex maps and the dice.  Our dining room is for games.  We managed a short gaming session on Sunday and it was clear that miles of fake velvet, two bags of hessian, several piles of possibly useful scraps and a disorganised sewing box did not mix well with the usual paraphenalia of dice, minis and maps.  Losing the vital packet of sustaining hobnobs under the debris was a bad moment.

Chocolate Hobnobs.  Vital gamer food.

I moved my kit.

Now that I have the dream machine and am no longer afraid to use it, I have been working my way through Sewing for Dummies.  Having dismissed the beginner project devoted to a "cute frilled apron", I moved straight on to the much more tiresome area of sleeves.  These require some actual skill, which I do not have.  Learning fast mind you.  Have to.

Panicked phone call from my co-conspirator on the Malfi costumes means that I recklessly volunteered to do the basic work on three doublets, a padded underskirt and an assortment of hats.  A visit to Caroline yesterday morning saw me returning in hunter-gatherer triumph with a car full of interfacing, patterns, more fabric scraps, 10 metres of black lining, two vast pieces of vaguely brocade and a slight feeling of panic.  Caroline was her usual soothing self.

"You'll be fine.  You're an intelligent woman." 

Agreed, I am, but is mere intelligence enough to get me through making this?  Three times?

Doublet pattern (assembled)
So, yesterday evening, I did the unthinkable.  I got out the ironing board and set it up in my new hidey hole.  I have stated before that I do not do ironing.  Ever.  Drip dry is my mantra.  This however, was ironing for my new friend and subject of this post.  Interfacing.

Fusible interfacing is wonderful.  It does not fray.  It can be cut at the same time as the fabric.  It is then attached to said fabric to reinforce it.  This helps the fabric to stay fairly firm and stops some fraying.  In order to accomplish this, it must be ironed on.

Interfacing.  Fusible.
And it was, dear reader, it was.  I now have the components of two doublets in interfaced bits awaiting assembly.  I've used an iron willingly for the first time in over a decade.  I'm about to go and stare more fabric into submission.

Whether the finished results are worth anything remains to be seen, but I've got interfacing to help me now. 

The costuming world is about to become my mollusc of choice. 

In my head, anyway.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Ultimate slaad

Ah.  This is what I wanted this morning before I was thwarted by Google.

Tony diTerlizzi's interpretation of slaad.
This chap is both hilarious and obviously dangerous.  It was partly his illustrations that made me fall in love with Sigil and Planescape in the first place, so now when I think of slaads, I think of this.

And a swift edit to add another superb image of slaadi - thanks, Chris :)

More diTerlizzi slaadi

Slaadi and artistic rehabilitation

The slaad is much on my mind of late.  Creatures of chaos, lovers of entropy, beings with an unknown (and probably unknowable) agenda, slaadi are enjoyable nutbars.

They come in various flavours, and in the interests of finding a good image for this post, I googled them.  Hilariously, image search came up with the following as its first choice:

According to Google, this is a slaad.
Controlling my hysteria, I now present you with what I had in mind:

Actual slaadi, not actual size
There is something very beguiling about an utterly chaotic creature producing such a very random image. 

They are delightfully dangerous critters.  Part of their charm, of course, is that they look slightly daft.  Indeed, in the early days of DandD, they were regarded as a bit of a joke right up to the point that they infected you with some unspeakable disease.  Later incarnations spent quite a bit of time emphasising their horribleness despite their appearance, with successive artists working on making them menacing.  Largely succeeding as well.

This is a good trick if you can pull it off.  The immortal flumph is still waiting to become truly menacing, despite some good recent efforts.  For those unaware of this dungeon denizen, I present the original incarnation:

Flumph.  It falls on your head.
Not terribly scary.  The main danger has always been that an adventuring party is going to endanger themselves more by falling over laughing.  A more recent incarnation does somewhat better, but even so, the original is hard to shake.

Flumph you might be more worried about.
Returning to the original point of this post, one of my groups has just met a slaad.  We'll see how it goes for them.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

And done

Finished well. 

A good audience to end with - appreciative and prepared to laugh, which always helps.

Just got to collect the garden furniture this morning and then that's it.  All done.

Still feel slightly ambivilent about my own performance, but I've seldom felt better prepared for a show. 

I've enjoyed Maria a lot.  She's poisonous fun to play and in the course of the run, developed a kind of demented high-speed waddle on and off stage which I hadn't anticipated.  It's been a really good cast to work with as well, packed with talented people.

I won't miss it, but I will enjoy the memory.

The business of not missing a part or a play is important.  I spent far too many years being devastated by the ends of shows and finally schooled myself to let go.  This, I may add, was a huge improvement on the month- long grieving period I used to find myself indulging in.  Now I can put it down at once, smile or wince at the memories and move on.

A situation which makes me considerably easier to live with post-show.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Minor fluff night

Bigger audience.

This was the night when just about everyone had a minor line burp.  Generally speaking, these are corrected so fast that nobody notices - including other cast members quite often.  It's an odd thing.  The line is in your mouth and one word comes out differently to the one you expect.  Frequently that wrong word is from the next sentence.  All that needs to happen is a swift transposition.

Mostly we do that on autopilot and the moment passes unnoticed except by the speaker.  The speaker is left with a slight nag of frustration and an minute break in flow.

Mine was mixing up "contemplative idiot" with "notable contempt".  Not a problem, but we nearly all had something similar.

Feedback has apparently been good.  Always nice.

Odysseus makes it home

Done.  Play written.

Sirens at work, by Herbert James Draper (link below)
Picture is by Herbert James Draper - another Victorian artist.

Note that our costuming will be significantly less revealing.

Anyway, I have managed to turn almost everyone into a girl.  Including the crew.  Also included are Circe, a siren, several songs, some offstage Cyclopes, Penelope and an invented maidservant, Poseidon and Aeolus.  We'll have a read this afternoon and see how it works.

Had enormous fun re-writing the words of "Poor Unfortunate Souls" and "Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree."

Probably will need a re-draft, but I'll test drive it first.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Second night

Small but appreciative audience.

I think it's hard on a small audience to be honest.  They don't really have the confidence of a large crowd and the laughs come slowly.   We have to work harder as well to keep the pace going and try to find out what they're enjoying most.

It was a good show though.  Felt fairly tight and no major catastrophes apart from Sir Toby's facial hair not sticking properly.  This is an issue only because the one thing you don't want to have to do on stage is worry about anything mechanical. 

There are few things more un-nerving or likely to put an actor off than a slipping moustache or a failing piece of elastic. Actual physical pain or feeling ill is much easier to deal with because adrenaline kicks in and does most of the pain relief for you.  Not so with elastic.

Odysseus in full flow

I've mentioned before I need deadlines.

Play needs to be at least in workable state by tomorrow afternoon.  As often happens, the sheer terror of that thought has opened the floodgates.  Play progressing nicely now and have appropriate numbers of parts for likely cast.

Will need to track down some bloke with big boomy voice to do offstage cyclops, but easier by far than trying to use a child.  Although -- childlike cyclops might also be good?

Details, details.  Get the words down first.  Fiddle with mechanics later.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012


Decent first night.

Pace OK, and will pick up. 

Nice audience and decent feedback. 

Memorable moment:  late arrival of Sir Toby forcing Feste to take longer than needful putting on clerical disguise outfit while making up rhyming couplets.  Impressive. 

Heads up for any of my players

Any players in any of my games checking in here - I am not abandoning you, I just can't get into the site.

And here we are at last

First night tonight.

As I've already got a bruise from climbing up a ladder and whacking my head on a projecting metal bar, I'm quite happy to forgo the traditional "break a leg".

There is no sense of foreboding, but little of excitement either.  The show feels extremely well prepared and very competent, but I have no sense of how it will play.  That sounds ungracious, given that Maria is a part I've wanted to play for years and this is a dream cast - but it isn't meant to be a criticism.

As a cast member, I'm absolutely not the best judge of what is interesting and funny and what isn't.  Particularly with a comedy.  It is notoriously hard to know what will and will not travel to the audience.

As I've mentioned before (at some length), all live performance is collaborative.  We've done all we can now, so it's time for the audience conversation to start.  From the little I've seen from the front, it is a visual treat.

With luck, will try and get some photos up later.  I haven't taken any (being a dumbo with a camera for one thing, and on and off stage like a yoyo for another), but several people have and I'm hoping they'll upload some for your delectation.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Odatink Heiroing

Irritating as word verification is, I like their latest effort.

This has a bit of a ring to it, I think.  As others have pointed out, sometimes in their efforts to get us to prove we're not robots, Google comes up with a goodie. 

Odatink is a character waiting to happen.  I am starting to see him.  A slightly querulous dabbler.  A mage of some kind - it's not a name that screams "I have biceps and I'm not afraid to use them" - although I suppose he might be. 

"My parents gave me this stupid name and I've spent my whole life proving I'm packed with testosterone in response."

Who or what is Odatink?

Yes - I am procrastinating as I work out the opening scenes of Odysseus.

Otyughs - unsung heroes of garbage disposal

I've always had a soft spot for otyughs.

As you can see from the picture above, they are a kind of ambulant octopus/Venus flytrap hybrid.  Ecologically speaking, they're very useful.  There is nothing an otyugh can't eat.  These supreme scavengers can survive almost anywhere and are suprisingly common in urban environments. 

I have this mental image of tiny otyughs being given as gifts and then flushed away when they get too big.  The fantasy equivalent of alligators in the sewers, but more useful.  Maybe somewhere there is a society that works to rehome outgrown otyughs.  Or, as is the case in my version of Freeport (City of Adventure!  City of Thieves!  City of 1001 Surprises!  City of Pirates! - yes, Ankh-Morpok in a parallel universe) - in Freeport, the humble otyugh holds an honoured place.

If ever a city needed municipal otyughs, it's this one.  So Freeport has GarbageBeGone.  This is a highly respectable firm which makes a decent living hiring out otyughs as mobile garbage disposal units.  Each otyugh is accompanied by a team of handlers.  The creatures are trained to an extent (they are not completely unintelligent) and with patience can be taught to devour specific types of matter.

While GarbageBeGone prefer to get their otyughs young and train them up, they do have a capture and rehabilitation programme for feral otyughs.  Given sufficient time and patience, the otyughs will bond with their handling team - helpful when one considers some of the places a garbage disposal team might end up. 

Monday, 19 March 2012

Back to Odysseus

I love this picture.  I can't tell if Odysseus is exasperated by some idiocy committed by his crew, slightly perturbed by something just out of eyeshot or merely having an "I wonder where I am now?" moment.

Saw some very good auditions indeed from the Bowes children and now need to finish writing the play to accommodate them all properly.  Lots of potential among this cast including a couple of rather useful singers.

Am toying with getting sirens to sing "Poor Unfortunate Souls" from the Little Mermaid.

Starting to enjoy this now after a serious block.  Possibly enforced absence from this script has helped.

Just discovered what Odysseus is looking at:

Circe en grande tenue.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Back to the games and other trivia

Ah Crivelli.  One of my favourite artists.  His fruit obsession is a source of joy.  Anyway, an image of a Mother for the day.  One who bears precisely no resemblence to me.


I should be at the theatre and will be in about half an hour.  Overslept.

However, it is Mother's Day.  I am a Mother.  Therefore it is decreed that as a  Mother I can have on this day an hour to do what I want.  Which is update games.  So I did.  So there.

And where are they now, those brave gamers of mine?

Well, it's all fairly exciting.

Tombs I are embarking on the epic fight against their fully-equipped, fully-rested evil selves.  From experience, this is a very tough one.  See here for why. 

Tombs II are busy concocting an elaborate and wondrous plan to raid a Gith pirate ship.  This involves incompetent mercenaries, a small band and a missing otyugh.

Lost City are dealing with Trignotarb succession issues on the one hand and a gigantic spider with nasty young on the other.  In both cases, the tool of choice is violence.  Team Spider are also getting to know the oklu - as strange servitor race with interesting powers.

Den of the Slave Takers have met the Slave Takers and are trying to get far enough into the nasty temple of Torog to rescue the prisoners. 

All normal stuff in fact, but I am happy to be back to more regular updating.

In other news, my Twelfth Night costume does not make me look like a light-fitting.  It is made of upholstery fabric and feels suitably heavy and good although I'm dimly aware that I may resemble a short, fat armchair from the back.

Today I learn to climb stairs in a long, full skirt, up a vertical ladder and down again.   This will be entertaining.  Or not.

Awardage went hilariously awry.  Many of my nominees were also nominated by other nominees leading to a sort of knock out effect.  It doesn't help that Google has taken it upon itself to prune my reading list.  Apologies to all concerned.

Saturday, 17 March 2012


The wonderfully named Armchair Squid has passed an award on to me.  I'm very honoured.

Naturally there are provisos to the accepting of such awards, which are the following:

Here are the instructions for the lucky recipients:

1. Nominate 15 fellow bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award.

2. In the same post, add the Versatile Blogger Award.

3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.

4. In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.

5. In the same post, include this set of rules.

6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.

Points 2, 3 and 5 are now covered.  Now for the rest of it.

I am aware that some of those listed below may already be lucky recipients.  If so, accept both my apologies and the admiration that getting another nomination implies.

The DM's Screen   
The Book Scorpion's Lair
Midlife Farmwife
Exclamation Point (!)
The Dungeon Dozen
Scribbles From Jenn
The Semi-Retired Gamer
From the Sorcerer's Skull
Quickly, Quietly, Carefully
Based on the Books
Pearson Report

There should be another three on this list, but I've discovered something worrying - my reading list is dissolving.  I know for certain there were many more and they have gone.  I know not where.  I mistrust Google at the moment.  It's doing strange stuff.

Seven random factoids
  • I met my husband in Budleigh Salterton.  I was carrying a tray of sausage rolls at the time and walked into a window frame.  He rescued the sausage rolls, decided I was someone he should avoid, and proposed a week later.
  • I am accident prone.  I don't usually break anything, but rare is the week I manage to avoid some kind of bruise or abrasion I can't account for.
  • I spent a lot of my childhood traveling.  One of my earliest memories is looking up at the underside of an airport table and being fascinated by the many colours of left over gum stuck there.
  • I do not do ironing. 
  • I am a very fast reader.
  • I hate having my feet touched.
  • I know many recipes for things to do with beetroots and still can't stand the things.

Twelfth Night

As one goes, the next thing rises.

This weekend - Twelfth Night get in.
Monday - Technical.
Tuesday - Dress.
Weds-Sat - run of show.

It all feels very well prepared.  Ready to unleash my lack of coordination on the general public.

Get to see costume today.  I'm assured that it is very nice - which sounds good.  I like period costume on the whole as I tend to look more human than not in it.  The real exception is Regency.  That straight down cut is great for the slender, but makes anyone with a bust look like a light-fitting.  Luckily, this production has taken the Georgian option, to match the theatre, so all the women should be fine. 

Will find out this evening.

Friday, 16 March 2012

It's written in American ...

Somewhat belatedly, Amazon have delivered my copy of "Sewing for Dummies."

My imediate reaction was "what the hell is a Notions counter?"  Images of some kind of inspirational tick box were swiftly dismissed as the next sentence mentioned "sergers" and light dawned.  The book is written in American.

I can adjust to that.  I spent a lot of my childhood in the US.  I'm versatile.  I understand that "pants" in American is "trousers" in the UK.  I no longer suffer boxer-shorts imagery when I read about the construction of pants and the selection of fabric needed for such.

I'm also retrospectively very glad indeed I didn't read this book before embarking on Antigone costume hell.  If I'd read through chapters 1-6 as recommended, I would never have impulse-bought a sewing machine at all, still less constructed 17 more or less useable sets of random pajamas.

Not that the book is bad.  Far from it.  It is very good.  Relentlessly cheery and full of useful information, it has inspired me to make a duvet cover and matching pillow cases.  It will give me the toolkit I need to make normal things.  It will educate me in the proper use of a sewing machine and offers handy tips on fabric choice, needles, corner turning and other basic mechanics.

What it won't do is tell me how to make costumes.  For that, I am turning to this:

Janet Arnold looks like a kind of goddess to me.  Her books combine beautiful illustrations with simple patterns and from these I will work to make wonders out of old curtains.  I will start simple and work up.  In theory at least.  The temptation to make a set of boot overlaps is nearly overwhelming.

The Notions counter?  It means Haberdashery.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Source of much inspiration

Bolton Castle in Castle Bolton

Ah, Yorkshire Dales, how do I love thee.

We've lived here nearly ten years now, and I'm still stunned everytime I drive up into the Dales.  Yesterday, Castle Bolton was my destination.  I narrowly avoided being late for lunch with the Swaledale Festival team due to taking the wrong road out of Richmond and ending up going to Castle Bolton via Marske and Marrick rather than over the Bellerby tank road.

As it happened, that turned out to be a good wrong choice.  Coming down off the tops, there was just enough mist left over for the whole of Swaledale to be semi-hidden behind a kind of ethereal cloud.  This sounds (and is) fanciful, but it reminded me of exactly where the notion of Mikelmerck as a border country came from. 

Purpose of visit - to scout the place out as a possible venue for some kind of awesome community drama project for 2013.  Said project is the combined brainchild of me, old mate Chris and the artistic director of the Swaledale Festival

Bolton Castle (confusingly situated in the hamlet of Castle Bolton, which mostly consists of one small church and the castle), has a ton of potential.  Most conveniently, a lot of it is still intact.  Even more conveniently, the intact bits include some large rooms linked by corridors.  There is potential here for a wonderful promenade performance of something.

Swaledale's event organiser and I hopped from room to room squeaking with delight as we discovered plentiful power sockets and handy niches suitable for suspending lights, hiding cast members and generally setting up some blissfully immersive scenes.

Before long, we'd conjured the mental image of the audience walking through a ship wreck as drowned sailors and ship rigging whirled around them to the accompaniment of a sung lament.  To be followed by arrival on a sandy beach where they would be greeted by rambuctious fisherfolk salvaging the wreck.  To be followed by them being met by the king of the island and welcomed to a feast and a tourney.

We must looked have a right pair of idiots.

Now to get to work on some serious plans.

I want it to happen.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Dress rehearsal

Despite a last second cast change (really last second, the decision was made on Thursday), the technical and dress runs for Antigone went very well.  I'll go down tomorrow to put some detail on the set and work through the lighting plot, but it looks ready for an audience.

Just as well, as it gets one tomorrow and Tuesday.

There is much to be proud of here and many firsts to celebrate.

For a lot of the cast, it's their first show in a professional environment.

It's the first time their director has directed.  She's done a beautiful job and said this afternoon that it looked the way it had appeared in her head when we first discussed her taking on this job way back last summer.

It's the first time I've mentored anyone through that process.  I really hope I haven't driven her nuts.

It's the first time I've made an entire set of costumes from scratch.  None of them have collapsed yet, although two pairs of trousers need attention due to inappropriate sitting.

It's the first time our Youth Theatre has been in a position to present a double bill of shows directed by our students for other students. 

The last is the real kicker for me.  If we can inspire our students to work to that level and enable them to do so, we might be doing something right.

Good luck to them all.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Just another normal weekend

Classes today.  This means Faustus and I really want to get the ambush scene sorted out for good and all.

Also got some of the Malfi cast coming in to work on a couple of specific scenes.

Antigone is built and looks great.  Now it just needs some paintwork applies - which I'll deal with today as well.

9am tomorrow sees the Antigone crew sorting out the technical elements - i.e the background projections (sample below) and the sound and light cues.  10am cast arrives and we test out costumes and makeup under said lights and they get their dress rehearsal.

2pm tomorrow I attend a Twelfth Night run.

When that finishes, need to finalise any costume issues at home.

Quite looking forward to all this.  It feels productive.

Friday, 9 March 2012

It's all about passion.

Looking down my blog list this morning, I came across this interesting question from Charlie Warren, over at The Semi-Retired Gamer.

What follows isn't really an answer to his question, it's more of an early morning rumination on RPGs, why they appeal to me and what they attempt to do.  There is the slight proviso that  this has relevance to me as I'm attempting to add another setting to the towering heap in the form of Mikelmerck.  Let's leave the slowness of that process out of the equation for now.

RPGs are about drama and interactivity.  Communal story-telling, in short.  In order to tell a communal story, you need a shared world for that story to happen in - which is why there is such a plethora of game settings.

In the case of Mikelmerck, I don't yet have to make any really hard decisions about how much information is too much.  It's still evolving.  I am simply finding bits of intriguing story and putting them out there without much of an attempt to impose a system on them.  Looking at the work so far, what I have for the most part is a series of adventure seeds.  These are places players might go, people they might meet, events they might encounter and creatures they may run across.  Any of them could lead to a story.

If I was in a position to GM such a game, that might well be all I'd want.  I respond to story rather than system.  In fact I usually ignore system in favour of whether or not I like the setting.  It was designed for Runequest rather than 4e?  So what.  If it has images I like, people and places I want to visit, something I can feel passionate about, I'll use it.

Heading back to the original question, I'm slightly surprised to find that I don't need or even want that much information as a player or a GM.  What I do want is passion.  Information is just mechanics.  Mechanics can be got.  Imagination, passion and desire to be part of a world is something else. 

That's what I want.  There's a lot of it out there.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Splitting the party - everybody's doing it

Suddenly I'm not running four games.  Now I'm running seven.

Since the Lost City party decided to split up, the Tombs II team have followed suit.

There are valid reasons for those choices, but I now find myself attempting to run consecutive combats for Lost City.  This morning I made a crucial error when I thought one party member was dealing with Trignotarb royalty when in fact he was supposed to be several miles away fighting a spider invasion.

So far I haven't stuffed up the Tombs II  group who are mercifully  not in combat right now.  They however, have upped the ante yet again by splitting themselves into three groups.  Again, they have valid reasons.

At this rate, multiple personality disorder may be beckoning.

If the Den of the Slave Takers party decide to follow the trend I'll really worry. Luckily Tombs I have no good reason to split that I can see, but I may be underestimating them.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012


This is silly.

I'm up to my neck in stuff that must be done.

And yet ... and yet ...

The craving will not leave me.  My head is bursting with games I want to play in and games I want to run.  These are some of my current yearnings.  They're in no particular order.  Most likely the prospect of running or playing in any of them is very slight, but you never know.  Don't ask, don't get.

The Shab-al-Hiri Roach
This one is a charming tale of academic possession.  Players are staff and students of a university.  All are prepared to use any means possible to get ahead.  If that means ingesting a demonic bug, so be it.  I love this whole notion.  I grew up in a highly academic family and spent a lot of my childhood at various cybernetics conferences.  Believe me, the Roach is mild compared to the real thing.  Also more fun.

Castle Falkenstein
And here we have a wondrous swashbuckling mix of steampunk and romantic heroism set in an alternate Europe.  As a passionate advocate of Anthony Hope and all his works, how can I not want to play this?

Chronica Feudalis
Ah, Chronica Feudalis - you bonkers re-imagining of life in a 12th century monastery where monks gather in the cellar to play covert games.  The book is a thing of joy.  Beautifully presented, elegantly written and with an interesting rules system.

Dogs in the Vineyard
From the fertile mind of Vincent Baker comes a West that Never Was.  In stark contrast to some of the others on this list, players roam the country bringing the Word to the unknowing and rooting out injustice.  Injustice leads to unrighteousness and pride and that way lies doom.  Think of it as "The Crucible" with added patchwork coats.

A Christmas present from my old friend Chris (find him over at Bladesharp).  This is a box of unalloyed crazy and is begging to either be played or incorporated into something else.  Possibly both.  I mentioned I have a Sigil passage coming up for one of my groups.  Maybe, just maybe.

Houses of the Blooded
John Wick's world is one I've wanted to play in ever since I first read about the Ven.  In common with a lot of these, the book itself is a beautiful thing.  Immersive, wonderfully illustrated and with a glorious level of dottiness with the annotations attached to the illustrations and the quotes from old Ven literature.  Also appealing is the notion that players must operate within this world and by the rules of this particular society in order to survive.

Mythic Russia
I found this at UK Games Con about three years ago.  Love at first sight.  I have a lot of Russian blood and a long-standing love of all things Slavic and this takes me right back to my childhood and my mum telling me Russian fairy stories she learned from her father.  "Once upon a time, east of the sun and west of the moon, there was a different place, but not too different ..."

Any takers?

Monday, 5 March 2012

Doublets and trousers and boots, oh my

Not one of the actual doublets, but roughly the same style.  In fact, if you imagine a mini-ruff poking out at the neck, the exact same style.  These are currently being created on someone else's sewing machine, for which I am duly grateful.

Given the state of tizz I got myself into making 17 sets of pajamas, the potential for disaster in anything this complex is ...  I can't think of a suitable word.    Just fill in the blank which whatever seems most appropriate to you.

These creations will appear in Malfi, but will then be added to the ever-growing stock of costumes and will undoubtedly be re-used in many productions to come.

Trousers are being attacked as we speak.  Another 5 pairs to find and fit.  These are easy.  Charity shops sell many pairs in suitable (i.e. dark, heavy) fabrics.  Nobody is an odd size.  Consider that a done deal.

The crisis point there is boots.  In the interests of creating a kind of house style with internal consistency, we reckoned boots would be the best thing for all the people playing men to wear.  Note that phrase.  "All the people playing men" includes a large number of girls.  Male and female legs look rather different, hence boots.

We've messed about with the notion of using strap on boot flaps.  They look like nothing a person would wear.  We've experimented with slip over boots.  "Slip over" is the exact term as it turns out.  The simplest step becomes a death trap of slippage.  Not viable.  Especially not on a raked stage.  Some of the tension will go out of this lovely piece of revenge tragedy if the cast spend all their time sliding inexorably towards the audience.

More charity shops.  Or possibly riding boots.  If anyone knows of a good source of free non-rubber boots, let me know.

Getting my cookery mojo back

Made a chocolate cake yesterday. 

It was (and what remains, still is) delicious.

The only reason this is important is that I needed a confidence boost. 

I enjoy cooking and I'm good at it.  So, when I made some vegetable soup last week and it turned out to be as interesting as dishwater, I panicked.  It also looked like dishwater.  This is not how it works.  I can make vegetable soup - done it many, many times with uniformly great results until this one epic failure.

Instant crash of confidence.  If I could not make vegetable soup, using the same ingredients and whatnot that I've always used, who knows what else might fail?  Possibly I would no longer be able to make cake.  This was a tormenting thought.  Cake has ALWAYS been my thing.  Failing with cake would be unthinkable.

When confronted by a crisis of this nature, I did what I always do.  I procrastinated and let my inner self nag me.  Surely it was better not to make cake than make cake and fail? 

"We're talking about cake here.  You've been making cake and cooking regularly since you were 10 years old.  And let me remind you, that is now a very long time."

"Gee.  Thanks, inner self.  You really know how to give a person a boost."

"It's not meant to give you a boost, moron.  It's a reality check.  Get that butter out of the fridge and BAKE."

My inner self has these dictatorial tendencies.  I cringed away and whimpered.  And got the butter out of the fridge and baked.  In a blur.  On auto-pilot.  In exactly the same way that I'd made the failed soup that started this whole confidence crisis.

It worked.  I feel better now.  I still don't know what went wrong with the soup, mind.

This probably has wider applications, but I'll take being able to cook again for now.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Maria is a bitch and other thoughts on characterisation

Twelfth Night rehearsal today.  We're into the last three weeks now so things are moving along pretty swiftly at this stage.  We're mostly over the line-learning agony hump.  We're mostly over the "urk, which entrance is this one?" issues.  We're mostly over the mechanical problems of remembering to bring stuff on and take it off.

In short (and I can only speak for myself - I've got no idea how anyone else approaches this), I've suddenly got room to think about Maria.

Now the thing is, I love playing her.  And when I'm playing her, I love her.  I love her sass, her bossiness and her single-minded determination to marry Sir Toby and make Malvolio into a laughing stock.

If I met the woman, I'd want to smack her.  Hard.  She's a lot of things I actively dislike and work quite hard to avoid.

One of the big games we all play with drama is the taking on of character.  It is also one of the hardest lessons that any performer learns.  You are not the character.  You are just the vehicle allowing the character to live.

Case in point.  A cast member yesterday at my Faustus rehearsal is playing a cardinal.  She hates it.  She hates feeling she's a laughing-stock.  She hates being smug and pompous and being made a fool of by Faustus and Mephistopheles. 

She is still at the stage of feeling that a character with negative qualities (perceived or otherwise) is a reflection of her.  We all do it.  Some actors never really move away from that and have real difficulty playing unsympathetic characters.  The key thing is, that if you can do it, a huge barrier falls away.

Once you're made that leap from "I am the character" to "I am portraying the character" a whole world opens up.  The freedom is immense.  You can find your inner clown.  You can use all the negative, non-permissible things you spend your whole real life denying.  Freedom.

This is why I love performing so much.

Saturday, 3 March 2012



One of my favourite words.  I love the way it describes so exactly that level of sound which is just ignorable (probably not a word) for a precise length of time before it bores into your skull and drives you mad.

This at least is how I apply it.

It's a great word for adventures, setting up an impending uneasiness as a strange not-quite-identifiable sound builds around a party.

It's also grounds for homicide.

I had a rehearsal today with a full cast.  Practically unheard of.  Most excellent.  We got to run two long and complex scenes from Faustus with all the relevant bodies for once.  Except that our rehearsal space is not large.  Pack it with a cast of 22 plus an additional 5 crew and a couple of bods just waiting for their own session and you have susurration in spades.

The problem is that nobody really means to be making a lot of noise and individually, they're not.  It seems unreasonable to keep asking for deadly silence so I can hear the cast.  So I try to ignore it.  I fail.  I yell.  I look at the sea of offended faces all thinking "Well, I don't know why she's screaming at me, I wasn't talking".  I apologise.

10 minutes pass and the pattern repeats.  For two hours. 

Someone grant me tin ears.

Irritatingly, as I finish typing this, I realise I've wasted a perfectly good post for the letter S.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Mikelmerck - Beasties and beastie marks

Some places call them boogey men, but in Mikelmerck, they are beasties.  They are the dark things everyone tries to ignore in the hope that they will in turn be ignored.  They are the things all children know are real and most adults hope are not.  They are the meat of tall tales told in the long winter evenings by the fire to chill the blood.  They are things that are heard at night, when the house is quiet and before the comfort of dawn arrives.  When the floor creaks or a roof tile shifts, a beastie is moving.

Some families have their own beasties.  These are not the familiar ghosts who protect their kin.  Ghosts can do little against beasties, being of the same substance.

When first spotted, a beastie appears as an enormous crouching shadow and most people run from them.  For the courageous who hold their ground, however, the sighted beastie starts to shrink.  Continuing to stare at them is the surest way to remove a beastie, but there are dangers in that.

Some believe that looking too long at a beastie allows them to mark the observer.  Such a person is regarded as fearsomely unlucky as it is believed that they may give birth to a beastie themselves.

Fortunately, there is a simple charm to remove the beastie mark.  A toad must be wrapped in rowan leaves and buried under the doorstep on the night of the full moon.  Each day, for the full lunar cycle, the afflicted one must stop on the threshold and ask the toad to remove the mark.  When the toad is dug up, if it lives, it will take the mark away.   If the toad does not survive the process, the beastie marked will surely have warts.  Nor will the mark be removed.  Whether the toad lives or dies, the wrapping leaves must be carefully burned. 

Just about there

It may not seem like it, but I've been fairly incommunicado for the last couple of days. 

That's clearly a relative term as I've posted a lot on this blog, but (and this is very unusual) I have been deliberately offline for chatting.  Partly because I've been running from rehearsal to rehearsal, but also because I've needed to keep my fingers focused on writing some actual script.

Success is imminent.  I nearly have enough to let the Drama Club test drive it today.  Even more important, enough to let them take bits away and look at it prior to auditions next week.

Finding enough readily pronounceable Greek girl's names has been a challenge and I'm still not sure about Omphale.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Where the worlds meet

The more I write about the mechanics of drama, rehearsals and gaming, the more I become aware of how close they are.  I am sure this should be obvious, but like many things, the realisation has come to me quite slowly.  Piecemeal, at least.

GMing and directing have an enormous amount in common.  In both cases, when it works well, you are facilitating creativity.   When it doesn't work, you are basically a tedious nagbag.

Naturally enough, I prefer the first option, but accept that part of the job will consist of doing the second.  My aim is to try to do as much facilitation and as little nagging as possible.

The only problem with this revelation is that I'm now quite likely to start demanding the players know their lines and telling casts to roll a save v daze.

This could go badly.

Antigone - so nearly there

The Antigone team are heading into the final, final stages of preparation now.

Their last two rehearsals have been on the stage proper and it's been an enormous benefit to them.  For the first time, they've seen and worked in the space and realised what level of projection they need to use.

One more rehearsal next week, then their dress and technical rehearsals and then they're performing.

It dawned on me abruptly that this was an extremely inexperienced crew in many ways.  Which is dumb, as I've known from the outset, but never really put it together - so bear with my idiocy.

Of the seventeen cast members, only six have any significant performance experience.  Now, of those six, they've clocked up a lot of on-stage hours in the panto, the local Operatic Society and some Youth Theatre shows, but they've never done anything quite like this before.  Of the remaining eleven, about half have not really performed at all.

Their director is one of our senior students and she has never directed before.  Their mentor is another senior who has never mentored before.  I am the technical crew and costumier and while I can do the stage management without worry, I've never created seventeen costumes before.  As regular readers will know to their cost.

We are, between us, putting on an intense, passionate tragedy lasting one hour in which most of the cast never leave the stage.


Except ... it works.

They did a really good run yesterday.  While there are still some dodgy corners, we all know what they are and how to remove them. 

I am so proud.