"All sorts of entertaining" - Elizabeth Seckman

"Michael and his pals make me wish I lived in Adelaide" - Cherdo

"If I had a daughter, I'd send her to Australia to meet him (and marry him)" - Robyn Alana Engel

"An Australian version of me. Only younger. And Talented. And better looking. Okay, nothing like me." - Al Penwasser

"Whom must I fuck or pay to get a quotation at the top of your blog post?" - Janie Junebug

Sunday, 23 February 2014

New Experience Challenge Week 7: Being a Stage Manager

I was involved in a play for this year's Adelaide Fringe Festival! What was I doing? Well, it's debatable. I was brought in to run the lighting for the stage production Square Peg. It was a great show about forging your own path through life. It featured a live band that played snippets of songs in between scenes and at important moments in the play. I hadn't had much experience in lighting - basically all I've ever done is turn up at the Crown & Anchor hotel every second Tuesday and turn the house lights on and off for the comedy show they do there. But one day I got a call from Andrew Cooper - one of the play's directors - who said 'We found your profile on StarNow. We'd love to have you on our team.' So they gave me their script to read over. That was exciting to begin with, but then we had a meeting with the professional lighting technician I was to work with on play nights. He was a large man named Stephen who'd been working in the business for decades. As we discussed the layout of the lights at the Royalty Theatre, it became clear that my job was kind of redundant - you don't need two people to work a lighting desk. But I didn't want to lose my spot in the play, so when I took Andrew aside, here's what I said...
'I'm thinking that you don't need me to run the lighting as well. I'd just get in Stephens way.'
'So I'm thinking I should be in charge of creating the layout of the lights and then Stephen can run them on the night.'
'Yeah I agree. That would probably mean more money too.'
'More than the $100 a night I'm getting now?'
'Well, if that's what it takes...'

So that became my new role. I spent the next few weeks pouring over the script with a bottle of soda water with lemon and lime juice by my side, figuring out the best lighting to use in each moment of the play. I knew I shouldn't do too much, because otherwise the lights would be too distracting. But then too little and it would be like performing in a high school auditorium. Stephen had given me a bit of an introduction into what was available - spot lights, shaft lights, corners, washes, dappling... and he showed me what's now become my favourite thing in lighting - chasers. That's when all the lights go off and start flashing in a sort of chaotic explosion. In my first draft of the lighting layout, I had about six scenes that involved chasers. I reluctantly had to cut them down to two. But no matter, because I've started incorporating them into the comedy show at the Crown and Anchor. So that's where I get my fix.

I ended up grouping most of the scenes of the play into six lighting scenes. There was an indoor scene, a night-time scene, an outdoor scene, an outdoor scene on a bright, sunny day, a bar scene and a restaurant scene. Then there were other once-off lighting effects that we needed to intersperse here and there. There wasn't much I could do beyond that, so once we'd sat down with Stephen to create those scenes, I kind of put the script aside and forgot about it. It wasn't until two days before opening night that we finally got more time with Stephen to work out the rest of the scenes. At that stage the whole crew was going through their only full dress rehearsal at the venue and had to compete with the lights constantly brightening, fading, flashing and occasionally switching off altogether. We didn't even have time to try running the lights in sync with the acting. As it turned out, we would have one more opportunity to run the lighting, band and actors all at the same time... six hours before opening night. Imagine that, trying to bring it all together for the first time on the same day as the world premier. Stephen and I had worked out a code that he uses for all his shows and I went downstairs, grabbed a headset and used it to communicate with him up in the lighting box. As each scene progressed, I would whisper cues into the headset such as "standby LX7", which meant "get ready to activate the seventh lighting effect of the play."

This was interesting, because up until that moment I wasn't sure what I would be doing once the play started. My job would be done then, right? All I would need to do is join the audience and watch my plans in action. But with this new job, I suddenly had purpose during game-time. And here's where my actual role in the play gets a little murky. With the headset on, not only could I communicate with Stephen in the lighting box, but I could also talk to Matt, who was up at the sound desk. He had a lot to deal with, having a five-piece band to look after as well as all the stage mics that the actors had to wear and swap with each other when they weren't on stage. So I started having to handle requests from him to make sure people's mics were turned on and working and relay messages to him from the band. And the rest of the actors started looking to me for directions too, such as when to start the two halves of the play and where we were up to in the script. I sort of became the guy to come to with problems if you couldn't find the directors around. So I think by the the time opening night came around, I'd become the stage manager. Nerves were high because our run-through still had a lot of problems. We'd have to get them right this time. I made a big mistake right off the bat by turning off a spotlight too early and cutting off an important line by the main character. And I had a big disagreement with Andrew over how quickly to raise the lights to begin each scene. I wanted to wait until the stagehands had finished moving the props and gotten out of view. He thought that too long a pause would put the audience to sleep. The result was a kind of compromise, with the lights coming up very quickly at each scene, sometimes missing the stagehands, sometimes catching them scampering off the stage and sometimes half way through picking up a couch to take it away. Other than that, the play went wonderfully smooth. We got great reviews and audience reception. We would have loved to stick around and soak it up, meet the audience, muck around etc, but we had to pack up the whole stage and clear out in 15 minutes so Puppetry of the Penis could begin. There were 600 rabid horny women waiting outside to charge in and we'd already made them wait.

The next two performances went smoother and smoother as we got into a groove. After the final one we all went down to the Fringe Aritist's club to celebrate and Andrew and Karen (the other director) announced the interest they were getting from Edinburgh and San Diego to bring the play on tour. I wonder if they need a stage manager over there?

Setting up for opening night. The band took up the whole left side of the stage.

A lot of the action centered around three doors labelled 'Learn', 'Love' and 'Law', through which the characters would enter and exit.

Second night. It was much more relaxed and we thought we'd take advantage of the empty theatre.

Turns out an aussie rules ball is easier to get a good spiral on than a gridiron ball.

We experimented with the space.

A present for the directors after the final night.

Chilling out in the Artist's Club afterwards. I started acting up.

One of the stage hands, Phil. What a specimen.

From left to right: Pete (Mr Russell), Dave (Father Jack), Cooper (Son Ash), Kirsty (Policewoman), Andrew (director), Karen (director), Janine (stage mics), Mijo (Rascal) and Lachie (dancer)

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

New Experience Challenge Week 6: Dealing with Apple

On Wednesday I went to the Apple store to take some time at their genius bar. I host pub trivia nights at the Barker Hotel in Mt Barker for a company called Quiz Meisters. Part of the show involves using an ipod to play videos and games on the pub's TV screens. So two weeks ago I plug my ipod into my computer to put the slideshow on it and nothing happens. There's meant to be a little button that appears in itunes allowing me access to the ipod, but it wouldn't appear. I even got one of the players who works in IT to take a look at it before the quiz, but he couldn't figure it out. That week I had to use an emergency quiz that was already on the ipod, so this week I decided to get someone from Apple to take a look at it.

Now I've heard stories. The kids at Apple have a notorious reputation for being condescending and exclusive. So when I went in on Tuesday wondering how this was going to go down. I went up to the first staff member I could find and told her my issue - that itunes won't recognize my ipod anymore. She informed me that you have to make a booking to see a tech person, but said she'd try and find someone who could see me for two minutes now. I thought "That's very nice, she doesn't have to do that..." They were winning me over so far.

A boy came up to me a couple of minutes later and introduced himself. He said I'd have to book a time for later because no one had time now. Okay so they lost those bonus points, but that's okay, that's their system. I can't just walk in and get helped out ahead of everyone else... right? So we worked out a good time to come back. I wouldn't be available again until the next day, which was good because that would bring me into a new week and I could make it my new experience ;) He took me over to a mac by the wall to look at their booking system. They were all ten-minute slots, which made me a bit concerned. Did they really think they could solve any problem in 10 minutes? Then he told me to use my Apple ID to make the booking. I told him it wasn't my ipod and he said 'That's ok, just use the ID that's connected to the ipod.'
'No, I don't know the password.'
'Well that's a problem.'
There it was, the condescending attitude. Suddenly I was wasting this guy's time. He told me I could make the booking at home and left to handle his other appointments.

Not completely put off yet, I went home, found out the password to make the booking and made it for ten-past-one the next day. I got there, gave them my name (or rather the name of the guy who owned the ipod) and they said 'Ah, that's great. Someone will be with you shortly. Would you mind seating in that seat over there and face that way?'

I'm sorry, what? This all seemed very weird to me, what did it matter which side of that specific table I sat on? But they said it all with such friendly smiles and welcoming attitudes that I couldn't really seem to fault them. I sat down, got my ipod and laptop out and set it all up. After five minutes, no one had come to meet me yet - keeping in mind that I supposedly only had ten minutes with these people. Then a girl comes out and introduces herself as Erin. She seemed to be the friendliest person I'd met so far. I told her my problem and she said,
'Ah yes. I'm not too good with Windows 8, but I've heard some grumblings around the store about its latest update. Let me just ask someone in the back.'
And so she got up again and left me for another three minutes to wonder if they were going to try and convince me to buy an Apple computer instead.

Eventually she came back out with her own laptop and said,
'Yeah, we've had this problem a lot lately. It's the latest update of Windows 8, you have to reinstall one of the ipod's drivers. I've written this website on our card, it will take you through every step you have to take to reinstall the driver. Then your ipod will start working again! Thanks for coming, and thanks for setting up your laptop for me' (referring to the laptop that she hadn't even looked at).

I wanted her to do it for me herself, but again they just seemed so friendly that I decided to trust her that I could do it myself and that it would fix the problem. As my watch ticked over to twenty-past, I packed my stuff up and went home.

Once home, I went to the website and boy, were those instructions detailed. They sent me around all sorts of pathways, into sub-folders of sub-folders of sub-folders, looking for options that would only appear if I did things in the right order and eventually into the deepest, darkest corner of my hard drive where there was a lone drive there named 'Apple Drive'

It's as if it was there, waiting for me.
With anticipation, I double-clicked the driver...

And shit went down.
It ended up fixing the problem perfectly. But I still can't decide whether or not the service I got was good. They were all very friendly and helpful, but there was still an air of "This is our program, get with it or leave." What do you think?

Monday, 10 February 2014

A Piece of History 2: A Laughing matter.

I made a few small appearances on a sketch comedy show on community television called A Laughing Matter. There were six episodes and I appeared at least once in each of them. Some appearances are hard to spot - in one scene I'm dressed as a woman and bitch-fighting another man dressed as a woman. In another sketch I'm wearing a balaclava and I'm running up a garden path when I trip and smack my face into the ground. In one sketch I play both a cricketer and a ghost. And of course, I appear in the opening credits in each episode as the clown in the orange wig. In most cases I think my acting's pretty bad, but I reckon I nailed my bits in the opening credit. Here's the trailer for the show and a link to the episodes.


Thursday, 6 February 2014

New Experience Challenge Week 5: Video Games

This was a week of new tastes. On Wednesday I tried a chai latte for the first time.

I was meeting with the directors of a play I'm involved with called Square Peg to discuss the lighting setup. They asked me if I wanted anything and I just asked for my usual water, because that's basically all I ever drink. The two directors ordered chai lattes and you know what, I don't know why I'd never noticed that drink before. It was so inviting with its sprinkling of cocoa on top and its wonderfully sweet aroma. I chased the waitress down and ordered one for myself. I did have to scull the ice water she'd already given me, and that hurt my brain. But I was excited, I felt like it would be worth it.

It was. It was the best coffee-or-tea-based beverage I'd ever had (I've had four). When I was done I licked the froth out of the inside of the cup, which I'm not sure the waitress would have appreciated. The rest of the night was half filled with talk about lighting and the other half with questions about how a chai latte is made.

'So if we give it a blue wash here-'
'How do they make it taste so sweet?'

'We should just go with our standard indoor lighting for this scene.'
'I agree... When they use the leaves, do they infuse it with the spices first or add them later?'

'We should use chasers, it's a pretty upbeat song.'
'Do people usually chase a chai latte down with something?'

To their credit, they were fine with all the questions.

On Thursday I was at work in Woolworths (Safeway for those in America). I work for a promotional company that promotes products for clients. A lot of the work I do involves food sampling in grocery stores, and that's what I was doing today. It's Chinese New Year this week, so they had a display of popular Chinese foods at the front of the store. Have you ever tried dragonfruit? It's this weird thing with thick red skin and insides that look kind of like cookies and cream. One of the staff members decided to cut one up and give me a piece. It tasted weird. It was like some sort of squishy melon. Took some getting used to, but it wasn't bad.

On Friday I actually went looking for something new to eat. I was at Kelsey's house with the boys and we went out to get some dinner. The boys went for pizza, but as I've mentioned before, I look after what I eat. So I went across the road to Woolworths with Mitchell. It's actually harder than you might think to find something at a grocery store you've never eaten. I ended up going for this tiny bottle of strawberry smoothie. I'd left my wallet in the car, so Mitch ended up paying for it. That meant I hadn't paid for any of these things so far this week.

This was my reaction to drinking it.

On Saturday I tried an invention that Kelsey calls 'garlic toast' it's just toast infused with garlic oil. It was amazing. From now on I'm eating only that with my chai latte.

And on Sunday I made this weird wrap with a filling on sausage, tomato sauce, scrambled egg, cheddar cheese, salt and pepper.

I think it looks better than it sounds.

I also tried a couple of video games  at Kelsey's house that I'd never tried before - Madden 2012 and Grand Theft Auto 5.

GTA5 came first. We were just cruising around seeing how many wanted stars we could get up. All those people who say that violent video games are bad influences... I totally see it now. I never, ever thought I'd scream the words 'Now shoot the hooker in the back of the head!!!' We were sadistic! We'd run over people and then back up over them to finish the job. We'd challenge each other to get the biggest blood splatter from a gunshot. We became completely different people and I was scared. But anyway...

Two definite highlights of that game. Jason was out the front of a building waiting for more police to come with his machine gun at the ready. At one point he goes,
'Hey Kels, what's this dog?' He was referring to a big grey dog that was cantering towards him from the distance. Kelsey takes a look and says,
'Oh, it's your dog! What's it doing here?'
'Maybe it's protecting its owner! I said as we all got excited at the thought of having an attack dog on hand.

As the dog reached the building and started bounding up the zig-zagging stairs to get to him, I remember thinking "It's climbing those stair very intently. It's almost as if it's hunting Jason." The dog finally gets to the top of the stairs and barrels into Jason, taking a huge bite out of his stomach and killing him instantly, to which Kelsey said,
'Oh wait, maybe that's a police dog.'

The other highlight was when our Peruvian friend Juan had commandeered a motorbike and gone on a search for the highest point on the map - a place that I think was fairly close to the Vinewood sign and had a lookout post on top. The intention was to take the motorbike and jump it off that point, see how much airtime he could get. After a 10 minute search to find this spot, he gets off the bike to do a quick kill of everyone who's there, gets back on the bike, moves to get into position, slips off a ledge and crashes head-first into a little valley 2 meters below, dying instantly.

I'd never played American football on Playstation, but I follow the sport and know all the rules, so in Kesley's mind, that made us even. In reality, it didn't even come close. I was playing with my favourite team the Dallas Cowboys and Kelsey played with the Giants. The game went something like this...

Giants kickoff.
How do I catch it?
Rolls over for a safety.
Cowboys' ball.
How do I hike it?
Time violation.
1st & 15.
Hike the ball.
Hike the ball.
Hike the ball.
How do I punt it?
Goes way out to the right and out of bounds.
Giants have it at the 50 yard line.

It was 0-14 by the time I figured out how to complete a pass, and even then I still had trouble figuring things out. I was forced to go for a field goal when I wanted to take the risk on the fourth down. It would run when I wanted to pass and pass when I wanted to run. At one stage I recovered a fumble and ran it over for a touchdown, but then the referees reviewed it and decided it wasn't a fumble, it was an incomplete pass. When I finally did get a touchdown, making the score 9-14, I suddenly found my team lining up for a two-point conversion and I'm like "Hang on, I didn't want that!"

Nevertheless I did get more and more control over it as the game went on and I got another touchdown at the two minute warning to make it 15-17. And this time I did decide to go for the two-point conversion. I converted.

I was immensely proud of myself for wrestling it back to a draw after being so far behind on a game that I had only played for the first time. And later on we discovered that the controller I'd been using was broken. The left analog stick wouldn't work when it was pushed down. So pretty good effort, huh?

Didn't do so well when we played FIFA though. Lost 7-0. Well, you can't win 'em all...

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Buttercup Gang

I'd like to enter my nomination for World's Best Circle of Friends... My own. It started back when I used to work art KFC and got transferred to a new store. It took me a while to make the same amount of friends as I had at my last store, but then one day out of the blue, two of the workers - Kelsey and Mitchell - invited me to go out clubbing with them. I liked them both, but I was busy that night and not too keen on clubbing, so I turned them down. They didn't take that lying down. They kept pestering me to come, despite my insistence that I really was busy. A few weeks later, they invited me out again and I couldn't turn them down. That night was the birth of our group. We started making plans for things we should do as a group, like spending time at Kelsey's family beach house and seeing places all around Australia. But it took a while for us to see each other again outside of work. In March 2012, Kelsey and I did our most friendshippy thing yet, by taking part in the World's Greatest shave together for charity.

Me on the left, Kelsey on the right. Has anyone seen Romper Stomper?

Here's Mitch pushing me down a ramp in a trolley. We're not always that responsible.

That photo was taken during the Adelaide Fringe Festival that year. We went to the Garden of Unearthly Delights and Kelsey brought some friends he knew from school. Their names were Sarah, Brooke and Jason. Kelsey told us he was interested in Sarah. Turned out there was this whole back-story between them that even now I have trouble recalling. I liked Brooke straight away, because as soon as she found out that I was trying to fill a memory card with photos, she grabbed my camera and took about a billion of them. She mentioned her boyfriend at one point, which made me reevaluate my chances with her to almost zero.. Jason... well, I could tell straight away that he was filled with talent. He told us a bit about the vocal coaching he does and half way through the night he picked up a gum leaf and started playing a song on it. He could play piano and speak a bunch of languages. He was also very snappily dressed.

Sarah's on the left. That makes Brooke the other one.

Sorry, I couldn't find a more flattering photo of Jason from the night.

We didn't see Brooke or Jason again for a long time, but a short while after that night, Kelsey announced that he'd asked Sarah out and that they were a couple. He brought her bowling at Marion with us and that's where she became the fourth member of our group. We remained a group of four, having all sorts of fun adventures until one night in August when we went for some bowling and laser skirmish at Cross Rd. Sarah brought her best friend Jerida. Mitch brought a girl he'd been seeing called Jasmine and a Spanish-speaking KFC co-worker called Juan. I didn't know it at the time, but Jerida had been brought there to set me up with her. Sarah thought we'd make a really good couple. I couldn't stand the idea of being set up, so when I realized what was happening, I didn't play along. I wasn't rude to her of course, I just tried not to say or do anything that would encourage her. After that night, the seven of us kept in contact over a group message on Facebook. That's where this whole gang idea started to develop. I don't remember where or when it was, but I remember that we were going up an escalator when I said the words 'We're like the "Buttercup Gang". We're the most g-rated, giggly, sunny, happy group of people I know.' Looking back on it, I'd like to completely take back the g-rated part of that analysis. We've had many conversations that I wouldn't feel comfortable repeating to my mum. But the rest is true - whenever we're together, we're always making each other laugh and making friends with people around us. Strangers tend to smile more when we're around.

Jerida. A happy individual.

Juan's a bit of a bad boy.

Jasmine doesn't usually like photos, so this is a rare gem.

Much to everyone's dismay the name "Buttercup Gang" stuck like glue. We renamed that Facebook thread to "Buttercup Gang" and over a year later it's rarely ever fallen out of my top five most recently used threads. The relationship between the group had it's first real test when we all (except Jasmine) went on a trip to the Gold Coast in December 2012. Some stuff went on there that made us come home giving each other dark looks. But eventually, it ended up cementing our friendship more than anything else yet. A short time later, Brooke reappeared and started hanging out with us again on a regular basis. Jason turned up too, and our group nearly became complete. Brooke and Jason must have had a very different experience to the rest of us when it came to our group. It's like when new writers would come on to The Simpsons or Seinfeld long after the shows were already famous. As a group, we'd created a history and identity that we loved dearly. The group was already a thing when Brooke and Jason joined. I wonder how they both felt, being invited into this "What's it called? Buttercup Gang?" as Jason inquired.

The tenth and (so far) final member of this group is a lovely, sweet girl called Wendy whom Juan met at university. We'd been getting excited over girls he'd been meeting and couldn't wait to meet one. Juan is a very innocent, sweet, funny guy. So to us, the thought of him with a girlfriend was adorable. Wendy was the first one of these girls who actually stuck around long enough to meet us. That in itself was a big reason we liked her. She turned out to be hilarious and interesting and we instantly accepted her as one of us.

That's her on the right... being a puffer fish.

In time I'll write individual posts about each of the members and link this page to them. They each have very strong characters and contribute something unique to the group. One last thing... Jerida and I ended up talking to each other A LOT. She supported me through one of the harder periods of my life, and eventually, while I was on a work trip to Perth, I ended calling her and asking her out. At the time of this post we've been together one year, two months and twenty-eight days. At last, the group is complete.

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