Hi there! It’s your Dance Correspondent, R. Crap Mariner.
There’s big productions, and then there’s really really big productions. Monarchs puts together a few shows a year that are really big, people line up for hours to get into the sim early, and their upcoming Superheroes show is shaping up to be another feast for all senses.
Here’s the show announcement:
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? NO!
It’s dates and times for The Monarchs’ upcoming sim-wide production of SUPERHEROES.
Join us on a mad dash into the world of ultimate good and evil where superheroes always prevail – even if it means destroying a vehicle, a building, a city…or two.
April 20th 9pm // 21st 3pm // 27th 9pm // 28th 3pm
That’s the TL;DR, but I want to know more. Who are the Monarchs? What makes them different from the other dance groups out there? What does it take to put together one of their productions?
I know I want to know. So, let’s go exploring, shall we?
I sent Diiar Von Shippe a list of questions. She’s one of the leaders of Monarchs. Despite all the craziness of putting together costumes and sets and dance acts and coordinating all of the performers, she still had the time to answer them for me.
So if I were to say “I teleported over into the landing area of Monarchs and met with Diiar and we sat down and…” like I usually do
I’d be lying. This was me being lazy and not really having a true conversation, so why try to hide it, right? I sent her a list of questions, and she answered them beautifully. My faux-journalist heart wept.
Still she was nice enough to answer these, and I’m very grateful for that, and I hope this gives you some insight into the journey Diiar has taken in Second Life and Dance Performance. (As opposed to the road to burnout and misery I’ve been crawling down. Anybody have a bottle of something?)
Besides, her answers were just so… beautiful, I couldn’t bring myself to edit this down and chop it up. (Okay, I’m lying again. I’m lazy.)
Questions in bold, comments in italics, and she’s in plain text.
Tell me about yourself, Diiar.
My name is Diiar Vader Shippe, I am co-owner of The Monarchs dance troupe along with Royal Shippe. I’m also a manager, choreographer, dancer, poster-maker, story-writer, alleged slave driver, part-time workaholic, epic rant writer and much more – though none of that is as interesting as this.
I spend my days nagging at people (mostly Royal), sneaking out to listen to some of SL’s live singers perform – a fairly (re)newed interest of mine – or attending to this distracting little thing called Real Life.
(This is where I’d raise an eyebrow at slave-driver and count the number of exits available to me. Because the last thing I want to do is end up enslaved to a dance performance group and doing their bidding, right?)
How did you get your start in Second Life?
I had to take a class at college some 5-ish years ago where we, at one point, discussed on-line communities. Naturally Second Life came up. Now, my teacher made it sound like a dripping hub of malcontent, pervy freaks – so naturally I had to make an account and go check it out…
I was surprised to find that in between all the specimens that proved my teacher’s case were some real characters and some interesting souls and so…I stuck around.
(Please do not undersell the malcontents and pervy freaks. We have our time to shine, too.)
What got you into dance in Second Life?
After about 6 months of general depravity,
I found myself at a dance show at Ellie’s. It was much like the ones you find weekly across the grid these days. Smaller perhaps than most – it never seemed like a long show and I think more burlesque-y for sure than Monarchs is. And I remember they had a great host – I forgot her name, but I’m sure people that went there will remember her. I always thought she had a great style and I took a lot from that when I started hosting a show myself a bit later on.
But I saw absolutely no appeal in it. On the other hand, my company did, and before long I was suckered into their plans to open a theatre of their own.
(This is one of my big fears… getting suckered into building my own dance performance theatre. I’ve already got an almost-always empty venue for my storytelling. God help me if I ever put together an almost-always empty dance performance venue. Thank goodness I’ve used up most of my remaining space on an almost-always empty art gallery.)
That’s where I started – as a hostess. Before long though I had the urge to try my own hand at creating a performance and though I didn’t know how to build (like at all), I had my, embarrassing, début back in 2013. It wasn’t until my 3rd set I finally thought I was onto something and from that point, it’s been a slow, but steady journey to where I am today.
(I’ve noticed that a lot of people have mentioned Ellie’s. I should probably hunt her down and find out what the history is there. After a vacation, I think.)
And then came Monarchs, right?
We have to go about 3 years up in time before Monarchs starts taking shape. And then you have to add Royal Shippe and Myth Raven – my better and worse half in SL respectively, hah!
(For the record, I am my own worse half. Which makes for one and a half me. Maybe I need to redo the math.)
For the longest time, we were joking about how nice it would be having our own troupe where we could set the agenda and where we could do things the way we thought they ought to be done. Now, before I go on, I want to make it clear that we didn’t (and still don’t) think our way is the one and only right way, and in many things, we’re still trying to find a way that makes sense. Personally, I think as long as you have something unique to offer there’s room for a new perspective. We wanted a troupe that focused heavily on quality over quantity, and one where you could never be quite sure what you’d be getting, other than a spectacle and a performance.
(SPOILER ALERT: Monarchs creates excellent spectacles and performances. Just wanted to you to know.)
Just before our début show Myth had to poof to RL and with that we also took a step away from solo dances and the naughtier stuff – which quite naturally gave way to the size shows you see us doing today.
It’s quite a way from joking about it to actually doing it, and I’ve forgotten what the deciding factor was in the end. In any case, Monarchs was born in the spring of 2016. And in the time since then, we’ve gathered together a small but fun group of people that can carry the ambition and continuously put up with our unreasonable antics. And a growing fan base of what I personally believe to be among the most patient people in all of SL, waiting months in silence for us to finish anything new for them.
(On top of that, we’re also the most patient because we get to the sim hours in advance and wait because it always fills up quickly. So, I’m a total idiot for doing this article because now you know they exist and you’ll be fighting for those few seats, too. Remember what Blaze said about being very sad if you miss Cirque? Well, you’ll be sad if you miss Monarchs, too.)
Where do you get your show ideas?
The inspiration for The Monarchs’ shows mostly just come from things we like: Fantasy and pop culture above all. Some of it comes from a vague concept, like “how about a shipwreck” (which became Adventures from Lost Island) “let’s sink a sim” (Atlantis Rising), or “something with dragons” (Draco Eternum. And some of it from really set and specific sources like “Halloween” (Tenebris Noctis). The upcoming Superheroes show is definitely based on really specific sources but with some artistic license taken to fit it into the formats we work within (music and movement).
We find inspiration in movies, books, comics and sometimes even just that new animation from that store we like, or a random comment or joke made in passing. I think everything can inspire as long as you go at it the right way.
(I like that attitude. Be aware of what’s around you and then be inspired by it.)
When keeps the group together?
(Will she say the F-word?)
Monarchs is very much a troupe where relationships mean everything. We want to have fun above anything else and because of that, it’s beyond important that we all get along and respect each other as equals. The fact is everyone has a role to play, and they are all equally important to make the shows work. And I do believe that bond comes across to those that attend the shows and interact with the troupe.
(Well, she said Fun, but… okay, what she said about getting along and respecting counts as Family. The streak is unbroken.)
What makes Monarchs different from all of the other dance performance groups in Second Life?
I think Monarchs is unique in a number of ways, both obvious ones and some that are perhaps not so easily spotted.
Right off the bat, there’s the sim-wide productions. Yes, other troupes have done it, but as far as I am aware we are the only ones doing it regularly. Then there are the shows we do in collaboration with one of our favourite singers in SL; the amazing AleyKat, where we combine live singing with dance shows. It’s something we very much enjoy doing and we will be making more of those shows in the near future!
(Saw one of those. It was a really cool hybrid of dance performance and live music. A nice advancement on the dance-bombing back in the old days some groups would do.)
In short – Monarchs doesn’t really do “normal” stage show – not very often at least. Not that there’s anything wrong with those! But there are others doing those – take a look at the Dance Queens calendar any given day and there’s at least one show planned. We have the opportunity to do other types of shows – so that’s where our focus is at.
(Dance Queens calendar… I help maintain that! Yay!)
Then there are the things that are perhaps more hidden. We keep the crew for each show at a minimum. Usually, the limit is at 15 including all the dancers, host and DJ – and we’ve never actually gone that high. Instead, we want to leave as much room as possible open for those that want to see the shows.
Generally, sets are designed and music decided before the choreographers have a say – which means that the choreographers might end up working with an unknown song in an unknown set – and at times be limited to what the story needs to happen in that particular dance.
“Performance” is a keyword for us and it’s not about yours or mine, it’s about ours – and so sometimes we all have to bend to the greater scheme of things. (Of course, that’s easy for me to say, since the scheme usually originates with Royal and myself hah…)
How do you manage so many performers at once in your productions? They’re so big and over-the-top and overwhelming and… well… just so big.
The secret trick is…we actually don’t! As I mentioned we limit ourselves to an absolute maximum of 15 crew members per show. And we don’t have many members to spare.
It makes it super easy for everyone to know everyone and to work together to put on the best shows that we possibly can.
(Wow, they sure fooled me, because it feels like a cast of thousands. Tricky, those Monarchs!)
And it’s not just a dance performance, but a whole sim experience… either a performance that explores the whole sim stage by stage, or a setting in which the stage is the crown jewel. What inspired you to expand the art into an entire sim?
Wow, well once we have the idea to work from we more or less just hand over the reins to Royal. He is our builder and does all the heavy lifting – and I really do mean ALL the heavy lifting.
Generally, we’ll have 7 sets and a landing area. Unless we’re doing a story show (one show, one story), where we need the sets to be played out in a certain order, he has free hands to adjust the line-up to fit into the vision he has for the sim.
Together Royal and I try to ensure that the themes for each set are different enough that it’ll create a varied experience – while still maintaining a cohesive overall look.
Something I think we achieve largely because it’s one builder for everything. Royal’s aesthetics will always shine through, so even if the sets are different they still look like they belong in the same universe.
Then there’s the actual building…I want to say what goes into it is blood, sweat and tears. Royal’s, of course, not mine, but he is an accomplished builder and once he’s honed in on a vision it doesn’t take him long. Of course, it’s a lengthy process, but let me tell you, it could be so much worse.
(His vision is awesome. I don’t take that word lightly. Go through some of my photos of past shows and their Flickr group and you’ll see for yourself. Even if you miss the shows, they’re still worth touring and flying around.)
Heck, here’s the booth for the Lighting The Way event I covered a few days ago:
Amazing stuff. So detailed. So intricate. If it were a cake, it would be a crime to eat it.
What is your favourite memory from a show?
One of my all-time favourite memories is from one of our first shows – though I’ve quite forgotten which one it was. After the show someone IM’ed and said he’d been having a really bad week and for one hour, during the show, he’d been able to forget that and just relax and smile for a bit, so he just wanted to say thank you.
It’s not technically of a show, I guess, but who cares. That is what it’s all about – making someone smile and having a laugh yourself!
I also have a very special place in my heart for the memory of the final set at the last Avi Choice Awards in 2016. Luciano Lionheart and AleyKat sang a duet of The Prayer and Monarchs provided the choreography and stage design. I had the honour of doing the choreography for that particular set and at the show was the first (and only time) we could see the set with all the costumes and with the two singing it together…I cried – it was the only time I’ve been completely moved by something I myself am putting on stage and to this day I still can’t listen to them singing that song without tearing up.
Tell me more about this Superheroes show… what can you share about it that won’t ruin all the cool surprises?
(Talk about burying the lead, right?)
The Superheroes show… Aptly named SUPERHEROES since we couldn’t come up with a better name! I can tell you it premieres April 20th and will run for at least 2 weekends – if attendance is good we’ll throw in some more dates (probably). That’s always a bit of an assessment in progress.
(Okay, I don’t feel so bad about letting you know about these shows. If you flood the gates, they’ll perform more. Whew.)
I can tell you there will be 7 sets along a route that’ll take us from outer space, across cities and junk yards, right to the end of the world (maybe). I can also tell you that the show will not be short on effects! But in these CG times, does that really surprise anyone?!
(Sometimes, they perform on a single stage and change the sets. Other times, they have the audience sit in a vehicle and tour them around the sim-wide build. Either way, it’s an experience to behold.)
We’ve aimed for a mix of something to the serious side of things and something definitely not to the serious side of things and while I won’t give up the complete line-up of Superheroes featured in the show I can tell you that while you will definitely be able to guess some of what’s coming in advance, I feel pretty confident we’ve one or two surprises up our sleeves as well…
And if you’re thinking; “naah, Superheroes is not really my thing, I like Nicholas Sparks books/movies better” – well, we can’t force you, but you won’t need any special appreciation of Superheroes to enjoy a dance show, or much prior knowledge to be able to keep up.
(My favourite superhero is The Question. Kinda says it all, doesn’t it?)
…What? You don’t think I really gave you anything specific? You’re right, I didn’t! You’ll just have to come and have a look!
THE FINISHING LINE
Thank you, Diiar, it was wonderful to talk to you and learn more about you and what goes on in the back halls of Monarchs. I hope that people get in and see the huge and magnificent superperformances you’re offering. As long as there’s still room for me.
So, wave hello to me if you see me at the opening. Or, tell me to GTFO if I’m at a show after the opening, because I’m stealing a seat from someone who hasn’t seen the show yet.
Okay, who wants to be next?
(I promise not to go all lazy and just do a QA by Google Documents and then try to fake my way into a conversation… fine, fine… I’m lying again. Sorry about that.)
- Monarchs In-World (Monarchs, rated: Moderate)
- Monarchs on Flickr
- Monarchs :Adventures From Lost Island (You Tube)