Trailers? I has dem.

There comes a time in the life of every performer when they’re asked “Do you think you could hit the gym before this project? You’re playing a barbarian.”

OK, no. That’s not true. At least, not for Dwayne Johnson. I think he walks past a rack of weights and just becomes a paragon of human physical training and development. (Love you DJ! I indeed do detect that which the Rock is in process of composing in the kitchen; it smells glorious.)

However, I did in fact visit a weight room and physical training edifice local to my place of dwelling, and the results, well, are now on film for good or ill.

This project is in the late stages of post-production, I’m told, with things like digital effects and color balancing being applied to footage at a torrid pace.

Enjoy!

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Renegades, Assemble!

Ok, so that didn’t come out quite right.captain-battletech

Or did it?

SO, THIS IS BASICALLY THE STORY OF THE LAST YEAR. OF GAMING. FOR ME.

It all began after GenCon 2016. Wait. Not really.

It all began when I saw Harebrained Schemes was crowdfunding a new computer game based on the Battletech tabletop game, in conjunction with Catalyst Game Labs and Battletech creator Jordan Wiseman.tech-readout-3025

Ok. Ok. It REALLY all started when I saw a 3025 Technical Readout for the Battletech Tabletop Strategy game in a comic shop in Idaho Falls, Idaho, tagging along with my dad as he made his weekly run to pick up the new issues, circa 1992.

Battletech: Giant stompy robot war machines piloted by humans locked in an ongoing struggle for dominance of the galaxy. When you’re a 12-year-old kid who’s been fed a strong diet of comic books, TransFormers, GI Joe, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Monty Python, I ask you: What’s not to love?battletech3rdboxset

I saved my yard-mowing money until I could afford the basic boxed set of the game, and thus was an addiction born. I began playing the game with anyone who had the patience to read through the basic ‘quick’ simplified rulebook. I painted my miniature plastic BattleMechs with my mom’s acrylic craft paint. I saved for and purchased more books, more miniatures, and as friends fell away from the game, I even relieved them of their neglected troops.

I should say at this point that Battletech, like most of the things that hold my creative imagination and attention, is so much more than just the battlefield combat, and the competition of out-thinking and out-fighting your opponent. There’s LORE. There is a HUGE story involved. It’s the story of a humanity that spread out among the stars, but even with the interstellar distances involved in a galaxy-spanning human society, the universal stories of Greed, Ambition, Bravery, Cowardice, Valor, Skullduggery, Hope, Desperation, and all the crap Shakespeare and Michael Stackpole wrote about have continued to shape the human experience. . . on worlds as yet unexplored and in the depths of SPACE. It’s great stuff.

And then, like many others have before me, I discovered sports, the fine arts, and girls. School provided so much extra- and co-curricular activity, I’m amazed looking back that I had time to sleep. As a result, the disciplined warriors of House Kurita and my mercenary band of roughnecks collected dust in a cardboard box. But, every once in a while, I would flip through the Battletech Compendium of rules, just to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. The years passed: college, Chicago, grad school, Tacoma, working, marriage, kids.

After a while, I got back into tabletop games. My parents moved nearby and I reclaimed my old gaming gear from the basement. I thought to myself, “Maybe when I have time, I should get back into Battletech. Man, I used to love that game.”mwo-grasshopper

A couple more years passed, but what was no longer out-of-sight was also no longer out-of-mind. I started looking online at Catalyst Game Labs’ website dedicated to what has become “Classic” Battletech. (Nothing is quite the same after something you loved as a young person becomes “Classic”. Classic Rock, for instance. When did R.E.M. and U2 become classic rock? But, I digress.) Once again, the itch to sit in that command couch, strap on my neurohelmet, and pilot my 70 ton instrument of battlefield dominance to victory was as overwhelming as that February day in that comic book shop I can’t remember the name of so long ago.

I never really thought I’d get as close as I have to living that particular dream.

You see a year ago, a Seattle-area game developer, Harebrained Schemes, Kickstarted the aforementioned Battletech computer game. It would be a turn-based, third-person, top-down strategy combat game, with all the flavor and many of the mechanical aspects of the Battletech tabletop game (but, like, with 3d ‘Mechs and terrain, and environmental effects, awesome lighting, sweet weapon animations, voice acting, an open-ended single-player campaign mode as well as a PvP gameplay aspect as well).hbs-logo

I totally backed the heck out of it when time came to crowdfund the production of the game. (If I’ve piqued your interest, and you’re interested in backing the game yourself, just follow this link.)

Six months later, Em and I were invited to GenCon Indianapolis, where I knew there would be a chance to play a super-early build of the game at the Harebrained Schemes booth in the exhibition hall. I played the heck out of that demo, too, and came away super impressed and, well, wanting way more.hyperrpg-logo

Also at GenCon, I made a brief connection with Zac Eubank of Hyper Rabbit Power Go!, which is a Twitch channel. (More on Twitch here) Not only is HyperRPG a Twitch channel, but they’re affiliated with Harebrained Schemes and producing a weekly broadcast of a hybridized Roleplaying and Tabletop Battletech series, played on a large scale gameboard with huge, 3D-printed Battlemech ‘mini’atures. The name of the show? “Death From Above”. Cool. Super cool.dfa-logo

So, there I was, at GenCon with Zombie Orpheus Entertainment as a ‘booth dude’, and I thought to myself, “Hey, I should make sure and get Zac’s card and see if I can make some kind of connection between these two companies because they’re both in the Seattle area and in the same sort of entertainment biz and maybe we can bring them some of our audience and we can get some more exposure for ZOE. . . everybody wins?”

EVERYBODY WINS. YOU WIN . . . and YOU WIN!

I handed off Zac’s card to Ben Dobyns and he handed off the networking to Chris Ode, who thought it would be a super good idea to leverage all the improv comedy talent in the ZOE stable to help create content for HyperRPG. And thus, history was made, and a rag-tag collection of actors became the Renegades of Death From Above.dfa-banner-ad-hyperrpg

As a way to introduce us to the HyperRPG audience, and give the original cast of “DFA” a break (They’d been at it every Friday for five months.), the kind people at Hyper RPG put us right into their prime Friday 6pm spot, and I was so graciously asked by the one and only Chris Ode (chosen by the top brass to be the gamemaster for this little circus of improv and Battletech) to be the first “Bad Guy,” of this interim series. I would get to be the first obstacle to the other characters’ goals, the first speedbump on their path to success . . . or maybe I’d end up killing them all off in the game.

One of the interesting aspects of this episodic ‘game’ show is that when a player’s character is killed in the game, that actor is done. Finito. Not asked to return. So, if you want to come back and play again, there are some significant stakes to the survival of your character.

I was called on to play a tough bounty hunter character who is after the price on the head of our plucky hero (played with some drunken elán by Christian Doyle), and Chris thought it would be fun if he had some kind of dialect. I remember trying a few out on him over the phone, and somehow we settled on Russian. That was basically my brief for the evening, with a couple plot bits thrown in for good measure. Not only did I get to create a fun character, but hey, my character survived! And I didn’t kill off any of my opponents, so, in the game, and after the combat was over, our characters all decided to go out for drinks together to celebrate living to fight another day.

Another of the more interesting parts of this experience was discovering the community that this show had generated. Wow, are they a great bunch of people! They were so welcoming and really seemed to enjoy what we brought to the gaming table and into the room as these new characters came together in this established show.

To elaborate: the followers of this show are able to chat online with each other while watching the show, and this chat is essentially part of the action (and through contributing $$ to the channel during the program, they can affect the course of the game).  They chat with each other and comment on the action in a way that the audience of an improv show can’t. It was entirely novel to me, and the richness of the interaction was something I was totally unprepared for. During performance, there’s no way to really keep track of what they’re commenting on, but it was possible to see what they enjoyed/liked/didn’t like so much when I watched the Video On Demand of the episode with the Chat visible. It was easy to see that this was truly a remarkable group that was really enjoying our work (play).

To top it all off, the audience enjoyed me enough as the Russian from space, the good people of HyperRPG and ZOE invited me back! I got to play in four of the eight episodes of the “DFA: Renegades” run, and I had an absolute blast as the Space Russian Bounty Hunter: Nikolai Sokolov. It was such a pleasure to work with both the ZOE and HyperRPG teams, and I really hope I get to do it again!

And THAT’s the story of how I got to play Battletech in front of the ENTIRE INTERNET.

(Want to check it out? The episodes of “Death From Above: Renegades” are available on YouTube and for Twitch subscribers (VOD streaming with chat visibility) at the HyperRPG Twitch channel.)

A love letter to Taproot, on its 40th season:

Dear Taproot Theatre,

I know this imperfectly conveys my feelings about you, but I’m hoping there is grace enough to take my incomplete thoughts and perfect them in your mind. In the words of someone far more eloquent: “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you”.

-Matt

Today I had the great pleasure of seeing a matinee performance of the musical Big Fish at Taproot Theatre as part of their 40th season as a theatre company. As a milestone, it’s astounding, and as a work of theatre, Big Fish is a terrific piece with some standout performances, and the cast, crew, directors and designers all deserve the accolades due them.

The continued lines of relationship in our lives, parent to child, form the backbone of Big Fish’s story of self-discovery. How we tell that story to those closest to us shapes those lines of relationship, and gives us a wonderful gift of perspective.

And it’s at times like anniversaries, milestones, that perspective seems to come more easily, personally and publicly.

Taproot has meant many things to many people, and like most robust theatre organizations, has left its own unique stamp on its audience, and the greater theatre community in Seattle. I have had the distinct honor of joining with Taproot in their mission to bring stories to their audience that “brighten the spirit, engage the mind and deepen the understanding of the world around us ” as a cast member in several Taproot productions.

In my time working as part of Taproot’s company, I’ve seen amazing things happen on stage, in rehearsal, and in people’s lives offstage. I know most actors have, regardless of what theatre they’re working in. Actors, by and large, are a sensitive breed of people. We notice things, listen closely, read between the lines of voice and movement.

Producing theatre can be extremely hard. Emotional risk and vulnerability is an essential part of the journey we as performers take with an audience. An audience which sometimes might not want to come along with us. Time with family and friends is forsaken as we prepare for performance. Sacrifices are made in the hope that the end result, the experience for the audience, will allow something new to be born in their minds and hearts. And after all that, we fail in our goals at least as often as we succeed.

An element of faith is involved in this work. And maybe it’s not religious faith. To quote Stoppard: “It’s a mystery.” Maybe it’s the faith we can have in each other, that we’ll be supported by our colleagues and friends. That if we fail, we all fail together, and that if we succeed, everyone is responsible for that success.

I have always felt that kind of support working at Taproot. I have always believed that my work was valued and that I was an integral part of creating something that would bring a group of people together and open their minds and hearts to something new. I am so proud of my friends and colleagues at Taproot, and I wish them success as they continue to pursue their mission to “inspire imagination, conversation, and hope.”

Exit 133- It’s almost uncanny.

ali-seatac-commuteExit 133- It’s about Tacoma. And while I’m not primarily a Tacoma blogger, I think my recent dip into home interests makes my sharing this applicable:

Exit 133 – Finding the right Job/Housing Balance for Tacoma

While it starts primarily rooted in the economics currently at work in Pierce county, the above article really strikes at what’s going on in Tacoma: do we want to be a bedroom community for Seattle, or can we stand out in our own way, and be a unique urban center?

I think it directly resonates in our Arts community, as well. Discuss?

Stealing from KC

Steve Jobs (may he rest in peace) loved to quote Pablo Picasso: “Good artists copy; Great artists steal.”

picasso_the_owl

Now, whether or not that’s what Picasso actually said, or even further, what he actually meant, I can’t be bothered to wrangle. However, I came upon an article online in American Theatre magazine about a theatre that has rooted its identity in its community, and found a way to support artists within that community to do outstanding work FOR that community.

You can find the article here.

Go ahead. I’ll wait until you’re done reading it.

No GO AHEAD. It’s short.

You’re done already?

Quick reader.

Okay: I have some thoughts.

First of all, I think that collective decision making can yield great benefits for a company, and in this case, community. Embedding the theatre in the fabric of the community, not just in its decision making (composing the board of half community members) but by fostering local talent almost exclusively gives a unique sense of ownership. Their partnerships with local business, individuals, non-profits, schools, and city government sink their roots deep into where they’ve been planted, and have allowed them to grow and bloom.

There is no dedicated artistic leadership other than the company members. No artistic director, administrative staff, or theatrical home. Many of their works are produced in ‘found spaces’ in the greater KC area. One of the major complaints I’ve heard, and one of the major hurdles I’ve understood to creating a theatre company, is that there has to be a ‘boss’, there have to be staff members, there has to be expense and overhead to keep the lights on in a building that the theatre needs to own or rent. KCAT has found a way around that. Community partnerships allow it to find space when needed. It allows its artists, dedicated to a consensus model of decision-making, to pull the artistic strings needed to select a season of theatrical works, uses committees to do the work of a dedicated staff, while also giving them the flexibility and autonomy to continue their work of making theatre (acting, directing, designing, etc.).

A theatre grounded in it’s community is something Tacoma could get behind. So many of my fellow Tacoma residents are fiercely loyal to their community: the people and places that make Tacoma a place we choose to live. A theatre that’s as loyal to them might just be something worth supporting.

 

 

 

I need Tacoma to need theatre.

Tacoma Skyline by spacedonkeyI live in Tacoma, Washington. I love this town. The jewel of the South Puget Sound, the City of Destiny, Thrice All-American: Tacoma. Fabulized in song by local girl Neko Case and the Steve Miller Band. We have an arena covered by a dome. We have a revitalized downtown, light-rail, a convention center, fantastic restaurants, safe neighborhoods, wonderful public parks including a Zoo and Aquarium on beautiful Point Defiance. We have professional sports (Go Rainiers!). We have culture: The Museum of Glass, Tacoma Symphony Orchestra, Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, Tacoma Art Museum and, for the love of Mike, a THEATER DISTRICT.

And yet, to continue my work in the arts, I need to drive at least 35 miles each way (as the crow flies) to Seattle. This commute isn’t a joke. I-5 is a mess. It’s dangerous. Due to the irregular hours required for theatrical rehearsal and performance, often I’m travelling through daytime rush-hour, or late at night, through all kinds of our lovely local weather.

Tacoma, despite having a THEATER DISTRICT, cannot apparently support professional actors. (Let’s not now get into a fight over what makes one a ‘professional’ actor. We can do that, but I’ll win. It’s my blog.) Tacoma did, at one time, support local and regional actors through the work of the lost and lamented Tacoma Actor’s Guild. However, since its closure, Tacoma has been without professional theatre. I know I’m not alone in my current mode of work. There are, I’m sure, more than a few of us making the journey to professional opportunities in Seattle. In fact, one of us living in Tacoma is not only one of the workingest actors in Seattle, but he’s artistic director of one of Seattle’s more ambitious musical theatre companies.

Both he and I are (proud) members of the Actor’s Equity Association, the professional union of Actors and Stage Managers. We are not permitted, outside of certain exceptions, to work at theatres who are not able to provide for union contracts for their actors. These contracts provide for a living wage, pension contributions, give eligibility for union healthcare, and stipulate safe and fair working conditions. They’re important. Unions. Living wages. Pursuit of these things has forced local Tacoma talent far afield, or forced them to accept less than suitable compensation for their hard and valuable work.

Are there theatres in this town? Absolutely. There are community theatres. They’re all thriving to one capacity or another. Tacoma Little Theatre has been around for nearly a hundred years. Lakewood Playhouse has thrived thanks to tireless artistic directors and a devoted audience. And Tacoma Musical Playhouse continues to appeal to its audience. Sure, there’s a whole THEATER DISTRICT. Are any of the proud edifices in this district housing local Theatre Companies? Troupes of actors and creatives seeking to tell stories that resonate with the local populace? Reaching out into the community to foster the importance of narrative, theatrical storytelling as an agent for change, reflection, discussion? Nope.

Is that a problem? Depends on who you ask. Theatre just isn’t some people’s thing. They got dragged to some godawful production of Arsenic and Old Lace when they were in junior high, and have never stepped into a theatre since. I don’t blame them. I’ve seen theatre change people’s minds and hearts. I’ve seen it entertain. I’ve seen theatre that uplifts those with their souls weighed down through repression, through trauma. I’ve seen theatre set prisoners free, if even for a few stolen minutes, from the confines of their cells. Storytelling has power. It is one of the primary ways we instill values, and one of the best ways to present our ideas; ideals. When we tell a story to a group, and that group shares in the experience, in the same place, at the same time, breathing the same air: revolution of thought, outrage, healing, laughter. So much becomes possible.

I’m tired of commuting to be a part of the social work of theatre in someone else’s community. It’s wonderful work. It’s valuable to the communities in which it’s present. It adds another vibrant strand to the fabric of the artistic community of this neighborhood/city/state/nation/planet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to have to travel to do it, and I’ll enjoy my time in rehearsal and performance, and I’ll be happy to join with arts organizations to make a difference in Seattle, tell stories, and get people to feel and think. I just want to be able to do it in my home town. To bring my talent and passion to my neighborhood, and not starve in order to do so.

Fair warning: In the coming days and weeks, I might be writing more about this.

 

A Farewell to Becky

Farewell, old friend.

Farewell, old friend.

A professional life in the performing arts is by no means necessarily a glamorous one. Yes, when you finish your task each night before an audience, if you did well, there is at least courteous applause. However, the strain, work, and stress prior to, and often during a run of performances can become burdensome. Our lives outside the theatre do not cease to exist. We still must pay bills, tend to our physical needs, and for those of us with families, ‘keep the home fires burning’ as it were. Each of us deals with these difficulties in our own way.

I was fortunate, during the run of John Walch’s “In The Book Of” at Taproot Theatre, in that I was presented with a bosom companion: faithful, if tousled and nearsighted, and above and beyond the call of commiseration. An imminently perfect listener, and constantly able to reflect back to me the more hopeful parts of my day, the successes on the boards; I found in Becky a friend without judgment, whose acceptance I came to rely upon, day-in and day-out.

With the closing of “In The Book Of,” I know that the vacuum created by the absence of my colleagues at the theatre will be filled by the activities of daily life, and while I will miss their presence I know that soon I will see them again. The theatre community is one of partings and reunions. In my parting from Becky, however, I feel there is a space in my life that may never again be made whole. Farewell, old friend. Farewell.