Tag Archives: drama

My Poland Journal: Index

Today is June 15th.

Exactly 1 year ago today, I left on an airplane with the rest of my drama class on a 15 day trip to Poland.  We saw the country, and we saw the theatre.

I took photos and wrote notes the entire time.

Over the course of the year, I’ve sporadically been putting those notes and photos online.  I find it appropriate, if not entirely coincidental, that my last entry should be published exactly one year from the day of our departure.

You’ll notice in my entries that I switch sporadically between past-tense and present-tense.  This is because half of the time, I’m quoting directly from my journal, and the other half, I’m quoting from memory.  I know that’s a writing faux pas, but I’m not planning on fixing it. Sorry.

So, without further ado, here is the index to My Poland Journal:

So there you have it.  It’s done.

And that’s all I really have to say about that.

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A Few Things Drama Can Bring to Computer Science

So, yesterday I wrote:

[W]hat can Drama bring to Computer Science?

The easy one is presentation/communication skills.  A CS student might be brilliant, but that doesn’t mean they can present or communicate.  And if an idea can’t be communicated, it’s worthless.

But what else?  Any ideas?  I’m going to think about this for a bit, and I’ll see if I can come up with any more.

I posted the question on Twitter, and on my Facebook.  I was quite surprised by the amount of feedback I got back – apparently, quite a few people are interested in this topic.

Thanks for everybody who posted, or who came up to talk to me about this!  Let me summarize what I heard back:

  • Without a doubt, work in Drama hones movement/body senses.  It also trains us to use and take care of our body, and voice, like a musician would take care of a musical instrument.  Spending too much time hunkered over a keyboard can have detrimental effects on the body over time – I can personally admit to having absolutely awful shoulder tension, no doubt to my constant typing.  I only became aware of this tension, and how to deal with it, thanks to my work in Drama.  The dichotomy between body and mind is, in my humble opinion, a Western myth, and when you stop separating them, and get them to work together, amazing things can happen.  Just ask any contact improviser.
  • Drama is also emotional work.  No, this doesn’t mean we sit in a big circle and cry, and get credit for it.  Emotions are something that we study – how to mimic them, how to summon them out of ourselves, how to describe them, and abstractly represent them.  This is where Psychology, Drama, and Human-Computer Interaction might have some overlap.  In particular, it must be remembered that theatre is a communications medium between the actor(s) on stage, and the audience.  A webpage is also a communications medium.  Perhaps the theatre can teach a website a thing or two about communication.  I wonder what Marshall McLuhan would have to say on all of this…
  • Drama folk are creative, and are used to doing impossible, unreasonable things.  If you ask them to fly, they’ll figure out a way of doing it.  It’ll probably be abstract, and involve crazy lighting effects, but they’ll do it.  Production Managers are used to getting crazy, impossible requests from Directors all the time.  In my opinion, that’s what Directors are for!  Sometimes (usually due to time constraints), the Production Manager just says no to the Director – usually, though, they just go ahead and make impossible things happen – like building a triple layered reflection box.  This thing was a beast, and used a ton of computing power for live, context sensitive visual effects. I’m proud to have been a part of that.
  • In Drama, if the project is no fun, the end result suffers.  I’m pretty sure the same goes for software.  Drama students have a way of finding the “game”, the “jeu”, and the “play” (that’s why it’s called a “play”, people!) in what they’re doing.  The best actors are the ones who are clearly having a great time on stage, and are sharing this with the audience.  I believe this is applicable to software development…
  • If you want to think about complex systems, think about the stage.  At any given moment, n actors are on stage, interacting with various bits of set or props, interacting with each other – and each has their own motivation and personal story.  It can’t be a coincidence that the I* modeling language orients itself around terms like “actors” and “goals”.  It also can’t be a coincidence that many adventure game engines refer to in-game sprites as actors…

But now I want to hit the big one.  There is one thing that I really think Drama can bring to Computer Science.  Drama students are very good at it.  From what I can tell, Computer Science students rarely get exposed to it.

That thing is collaboration skills.

I already know that a few of my fellow Drama students will laugh at that – and say, “there are plenty of people in this department without collaboration skills”.  Yes, this is true.  But they tend not to do very well, or produce anything too interesting.

For me, the best, most exciting stuff comes when I’m with a group, and we’re not sure where we’re going with a project, but we just try things. We all throw a bunch of ideas in the middle, and try to put them on their feet.  The most unexpected things can happen.

Two years ago, I took a course in Experimental Theatre.  We were broken down into groups of 3 or 4 right at the beginning of the term, and given this challenge – show us what you like to see in theatre.  Show us what you think good theatre looks like.

That was it.  A blank canvas.  No script.  No “spec”.  Just each other.  It felt hopeless at first – we’d improv things, trying to get a feel for what our group wanted to do.  Nothing would happen, it’d fall flat.  We were lost.

But slowly, something started to piece itself together.  We found some material that we wanted to play with (The Wizard of Oz), and a subject that we liked – “home”.  What it means to be home, why people leave their homes, why we miss home, why we can’t stand home, what if we can’t get home, etc.  We divided the work up into 4 sections – 1 for each of us:  Dorothy, Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, Tin Man.

It’s really hard to describe what we did.  The characters and structure from The Wizard of Oz was just a playground for a huge meditation on what “home” meant to different people.

And, wouldn’t you know it, the Robert Dziekanski Taser Incident happened just a week or so before we were to present.  It integrated perfectly into our piece.

When we finally presented it, some people were incredulous, others nauseous, others outraged.  Some were crying.  We had a huge class debate on whether or not it was appropriate to include the film clip of the Taser Incident in our piece.

But a lot of people really got something out of it.  And I believe a bunch of people from that class went to a protest rally about the incident that took place only a few days later.  I heard a lot of really positive things.  We were so excited by it that we almost took it to the Toronto Fringe Festival.

In my opinion, that was one of the most interesting, educational, horrifying, and rewarding art pieces I’d ever been involved in.  And it all started from nothing.

When are Computer Science students grouped up, and told to make whatever they want?  When are they given total freedom to just go crazy, and come up with something beautiful?  Something unique?  When are they given the frightening prospect of a blank canvas?  Maybe I’m being naive – but where are the collaborative creativity assignments in computer science education?

Now, I can imagine someone shouting – “but what about those group assignments!  What about CSC318, or CSC301?  Those were collaborative!”.

My friend, thanks for trying, but there’s a distinct difference between group problem solving, and collaborative creation.  In my mind, for collaborative creation at its best, the ensemble starts with nothing and must create something from it.  It’s the difference between having a script to toy with, and not having a script at all.

And don’t just tell me that an independent study fits the bill.  The word “independent” sabotages the whole idea – the key word is collaborate.

Oh, and did I mention that Artful Making sounds like an excellent book? Why don’t you go to their website, and read the forward by Google’s own Dr. Eric Schmidt.  I found it very illuminating.  I think this is going to the top of my to-read list.

Thanks to Blake Winton, Veronica Wong, Cam Gorrie, Jorge Aranda, Neil Ernst, Peter Freund, Jennifer Dowding, and Yev Falkovich for their input on this.  Yes, those little conversations made an impact!

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What Can Drama Bring to Computer Science?

Yesterday, a bunch of Greg Wilson’s grad students had dinner at his place.  We got to meet his wife, his daughter, and eat some pretty amazing food.  It also gave his new grad students an opportunity to say an official “hello”, and introduce themselves to everybody else.

After introducing myself as having had an undergraduate degree in Computer Science and Drama, somebody made some remark about what an interesting combination that is. Greg replied by saying something like “That’s why I chose him”, and told a story about how one of the best programmers he ever knew was originally training to become a Rabbi, and got into Computer Science because he was working on some translations of ancient texts.

This got me thinking.  When I started focusing on both Drama and Computer Science, I remember always finding ways where Computer Science could help Drama.  I can easily rattle off a bunch of examples:

  • Better, more flexible sound cueing software (QLab is nice, but I think we can go deeper)
  • Communication tools for production teams, to help coordinate stage managers, directors, production managers, etc
  • Interfaces for movement artists to communicate with computers with their bodies in real-time, which in turn can drive things like sound/lighting cues, or other stage effects
  • Tools for doing cool, advanced projections – check out Lighttwist for example
  • Programming environments / domain specific languages for production crews who have to program lighting, sound, and video cues.  We used Isadora at the UCDP, which is like PureData with more of a GUI.  But…again…maybe we could do better.

So, while I was at the UCDP, all of these ideas rattled around in my head. I’ve now come to the realization that this has been completely one-sided.

So let’s switch it around – what can Drama bring to Computer Science?

The easy one is presentation/communication skills.  A CS student might be brilliant, but that doesn’t mean they can present or communicate.  And if an idea can’t be communicated, it’s worthless.

But what else?  Any ideas?  I’m going to think about this for a bit, and I’ll see if I can come up with any more.

UPDATE: So here’s what I found…

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Hello Graduate School

Well, it’s official.  Today, I handed in my acceptance form for Graduate Studies here at the University of Toronto in the Computer Science Department!

Now I just need to keep my cGPA above 3.2…

Assuming that I get my B.Sc. without incident (because who knows, maybe the University will fight me for it…citing missing courses, insufficient credits, etc.  I’ve checked all of this with New College and the Drama/CS departments, but I’ve been here too long not to be ready for bureaucratic tom-foolery…), I think I’ve got an interesting year or so ahead of me.

This summer is already looking quite busy, but here’s what I’m looking forward to next year:

Interesting Courses

I’ve been leafing through the Graduate course calendar, looking for courses that sound good and fulfill my breadth requirement.  Here are the courses I’ve underlined as “interesting”.  Note that I haven’t checked the timetable at all to see if these conflict with one another.  They just sound interesting:

  • 2125H – Software Development Tools and Practices:
    This course is an introduction to software consulting practices. Students will be paired with clients whose problems require advanced knowledge of computer science to solve, and will then work under the direction of the course instructor to develop and deliver useful results. Topics will include requirements elicitation, scope negotiations, deployment concerns, and disaster recovery.
  • 2412H – Computer Algebra
    Algebraic theory that underlies symbolic and algebraic manipulation by computer. Chinese Remainder and interpolation theory, fast algorithms for computations with integers, polynomials and power series. Newton and Hensel iteration, polynomial and integer gcd algorithms, factorization of polynomials, the fast Fourier transform, solving systems of polynomial equations, Gröbner bases. The Maple computer algebra system.
  • 2426H – Fundamentals of Cryptography
    Rigorous definitions of security for pseudo-random generators, digital signature schemes, secure hash families, and public-key encryption.. Methods (including number-theoretic conjectures) for constructing these secure cryptographic primitives. Methods for using secure primitives to achieve secure session-key exchange and secure sessions.
  • 2511H – Natural Language Computing
    Introduction to techniques involving natural language and speech in applications such as information retrieval, extraction, and filtering; intelligent Web searching; spelling and grammar checking; speech recognition and synthesis; and multi-lingual systems including machine translation. N-grams, POS-tagging, semantic distance metrics, indexing, on-line lexicons and thesauri, markup languages, collections of on-line documents, corpus analysis. Python software.
  • 2529H – Computer Animation
    The primary focus of this course is on kinematic and dynamic techniques for character animation. Topics include physical modeling and simulation, motion planning, control and learning algorithms, locomotion, motion trajectory optimization, scripting languages, motion capture, and motion editing. Students will implement algorithms and interactive animation tools and then use these to produce motion for animations.
  • KMDI1001 – Fundamental Concepts in Knowledge Media Design
    Knowledge media are systems incorporating computer and communications technology that enhance human thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration, and learning. Examples include the Web, email, instant messaging, knowledge management systems, digital libraries, collaborative virtual environments, video conferencing environments, and webcasting systems.
    This course reviews the emerging field of knowledge media design, and the use of digital media for communications, collaboration, and learning.

I’m also looking into the possibility of hopping (back) over to the Computer Engineering Department to see if I can take ECE568H1 – Computer Security.  My general dislike for engineering courses notwithstanding, this still sounds like an interesting possibility.

(Note to self:  the word “notwithstanding” just felt right to put there, but is that correct usage?  I have no idea…)

Thesis

Well, it’s no surprise – a Master’s student is expected to produce a paper in order to graduate.  I have absolutely no idea what I’ll be doing my thesis on, but the number of possibilities is exciting.

It’d be nice to somehow merge Drama and Computer Science into a thesis – and I think it’d be an appropriate finale for my career here at UofT.  It’s something to mull over while I have time, anyhow.

Launching OLM

OLM is going up in the fall.  Whether or not I work on it this summer, as a TA, I’ll probably be using the software to mark and return student code.  “Eating one’s own dog-food” might be appropriate here – though I prefer, “eating the sandwich I just helped to make”.

Drama

A lot of my friends from the Drama department are either graduating in June, or staying on for one more year.  A bunch who are graduating are staying in the city, and the prospect of doing some work with them outside of school is exciting.

We’re all very spoiled here at the UCDP – modest budget, multiple rehearsal spaces, etc… working on our own stuff outside of school might be a very humbling experience.  Humbling as in, rehearsing in alley ways or rooftops, and using an audience holding flashlights instead of our own lighting grid.  Cool.

Operation: Party Mansion

This one is still in the works.  Some buddies of mine from highschool (who are also my roommates) are looking to buy some property in, or around downtown Toronto.

This may sound ambitious, foolhardy, and naive, but we’re serious, and a lot of legwork has already been done in order to get this moving.

Ideal scenario?  Next year, I’ll be living in a big house with my highschool buddies.  And isn’t that living the dream?

Anyhow, as I was saying, my Grad school papers are in, so my brain is going to put that on the backburner for a while.  Now I have to focus on my CSC301 midterm for this Wednesday, and an evidentiary analysis on CIA/JFK Assassination links for INI304.

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Memorizing My Lines

In all of my performance classes, without fail, I’ve had to memorize lines at some point or another.

This year, in Voice class, I had to memorize an edited version of JFK’s “We go to the moon” speech.  I was the one who edited it, and it came down to about a little over a page of text.

And I memorized it, fluidly, in about 3 days.  Not bad.

So, here’s how I normally go about memorizing my lines:

  1. If there is an original recording of the speech, or lines in question, avoid it at all costs.  Do not taint your performance with someone else’s interpretation.
  2. Understand the text.  This is the most important part.  What am I saying?  Why am I saying it?  Who am I saying it to?  Why do they care?  Why do I care?  What is causing me to speak?
  3. Examine the text for clues.  What is the key word, or idea in each sentence?  Look for rhetorical devices, like metaphor, repetition, etc.
  4. Break the text into “argument” sections.  These are usually just paragraphs.
  5. Record myself speaking the lines, without any “acting” – just speaking them normally, and adding the appropriate pauses and breaks for punctuation.
  6. Break that recording up into the argument sections, and put the individual files on my MP3 player in speaking order
  7. While I’m walking in between classes, play the sections.  Listen to myself, pretending I’m the audience.  Ponder how to deliver what I’m hearing.  Ponder how to deliver any rhetorical devices.
  8. Start to speak the lines with the recording.  For me, this is the kinesthetic learning bit.  My mouth and lips learn the “dance” of the speech, so that if I happen to forget a line, my mouth and lips know where to go for the next line, which may remind me what my next line is (understanding the logical structure of the argument also helps to pull out of forgotten lines – if I need to get from A to C, of course I need B…)
  9. Repeat repeat repeat.  Keep playing the MP3 player, and speaking the lines to myself.  Go section by section.
  10. Play the MP3 player even when I’m working on other things, so that it’s playing in the background.
  11. Sleep (without the MP3 player playing).  It’s amazing how, in the morning, all the stuff that I’ve been repeating in my ears and with my mouth is still there, and comes faster and naturally.
  12. Now I’m ready to try to rehearse this thing.  If I have scene partners, I get together with them and just give it a shot.  If I’m doing a solo performance (like with the JFK speech), I try delivering it aloud to an audience of friends.
  13. Practice practice practice.  Rehearse.  Don’t get stuck in a delivery pattern.  I try new things:  I dance the speech, yell the speech, whisper the speech, seduce with the speech.  I get playful.  I put the story of the speech at higher priority than my performance; what is absolutely necessary is that the message/story gets across.  The “acting” is secondary.

And that’s how I do it.  Nothing special, and it works for me.

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