Is it worth the time? is it worth the price?
Do you see yourself in the white spotlight?
Then play the game tonight.
– Play The Game Tonight by Kansas
Hi there, This is R. Crap Mariner, your Dance Correspondent.
I’ve been photographing dance shows for over a year, but one thing I promised myself was that I’d stick to shooting dance. I wouldn’t get all involved in the whole scene, I wouldn’t blog any of it, and God forbid I ever think of taking the stage myself, let alone choreograph my own routines. “No, no, no, no, no, no.” I said when people taunted and tempted me. I was not going to give in.
Point. Shoot. Leave. That’s the plan. Stick to it.
Well, I kinda screwed that all up. Because I début at Guerilla Burlesque’s pitshow on April 13th.
You see, in order to better understand dance performance, I figured I had to perform at some point. Especially if I were to get away with some of the jokes with my Don’t Make Me Call The Dance Police column. It’s a case of “put up or shut up.”
But it wouldn’t just do to ride someone else’s mover and be their puppet. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and the times I’ve done that have been fun…
(Had to fight Terri to get that last Club Image mover, but she got even with me by shivving me in the lunch line.)
But I felt that I had to try to make my own. Kind of like how Hunter Thompson immersed himself into a story with Gonzo and George Plympton would put on a helmet or strap on some cleats in his participatory style. Or Gonzo the great would… erm… okay, he was a Muppet. Never mind.
Building my own act would give me a better appreciation of what it takes for a choreographer to put together a routine and also to learn the different styles that each director and choreographer brings to the table. Finally, everybody’s got their short cuts, tricks, and signature elements in an act, so building something to work with allows them to say, “Hey, there’s an easier way to do this…” or “I know of a better version of this object…”
Looking back over the process and the plan, I’m going to share my journey with you. It’s the order in which I did things, and not necessarily the right order to follow. Also, it’s not a cookbook with individually numbered steps to follow to build your own act. You’re going to need to fill in some of the gaps and details on your own or in your class or with your teacher.
Most importantly, maybe you’ll read my story and think “If that dingbat can do this, maybe I can, too?”
WARNING: This article is long. Really, really long. I’d break it up into multiple parts, but… nah. Anywhere you slice it, you’re cutting into my soul. Let’s just mark this edge here as the cliff from which you can dive into the madness. Wheeeeeeeee…
“You think that something’s happening…”
When I start anything, I watch Internet Genius, Motivator, and Commentator Ze Frank’s Invocation For Beginnings.
Yes, the man who challenged the world to dress up their vacuum cleaners and make an Earth Sandwich. That man. Internet God, he is.
This video gets me in the mindset to be patient, forgiving, persistent, and accepting. If you’ve got a ritual or routine or motivator, use it to get in the right frame of mind.
Plus, he’s got a lot of good quippy quotes over the years of using the Internet as a playpen, even if he isn’t a pretty princess.
“But it’s only what you’re hearing…”
The longest journey begins with a swift kick in the ass, so yeah, I started to watch performers and learned from what I saw, asking questions and opinions from others in private chats for what they thought worked well, what didn’t, my thoughts on the routines and what I took away from the experience.
This was both easy and hard. I mean, yeah, I enjoy going to performances and shooting photography, but I also needed to learn the language of dance and what made a good performance with dances, sets, costumes, etc. And also, learn what didn’t work, such as overwhelming particles, slow-rezzing sculpties, too many textures, dance moves that just didn’t fit the song, acts that were too small for the stage, costume changes that fail due to lag, etc.
Here’s the basic components of a dance act:
- The event list contains the commands for a performance engine to run. It’s a run-down of animations, positions, and shouted commands to various effects or your costume changer.
- The movers pass along the movements and animations to dancers as well as objects on the set.
- The way points provide a path along which the movers travel, and they mark the speed and pauses along that path.
- The packlist contains a list of all the objects for the set, including the movers.
- The camera list contains all of the camera moves that you want the viewer to experience, but we’re not covering that here.
- You pack everything into the performance engine, including dance animations and set objects. The engine controls everything in the act.
- You set up folders for your costume, and RLV folders for any costume changes.
- The stage contains a centre-point to let the performance engine know where things go or happen.
Put them all together, and… okay, you’re dancing to silence. Gotta hand a song track to the host/deejay/music director too.
We’ll cover all of these things, plus a few frustrations and surprises along the way.
“’Til you do it all over again”
There’s quite a few groups that teach classes. Klark Harvey’s Virtuoso group, for one. Eva Harley’s Harleyquin teaches, too. And then are groups who are looking for recruits are willing to train up their new members. Keep an eye on the Dance Queens calendar for class times, or go to the many dance group home locations and look for recruitment posters. And many groups will announce that they’re looking for new performers or acts before or during a show, just ask if they’re willing to teach the younglings.
These groups will have a specific set of dance performance tools they will use to teach, whether it’s Spot On Choreography or MetaHarper Show Tools or some other system. You’ll pick up those tools as a part of the classes, and I’m not going to say which one is better than the other because, c’mon, I’m new to this too, right?
So, what about the classes I went to… well… erm… of course, I didn’t do this. I spent years as an IT Manager and Support Agent, a coder, and now a Technical Writer for a software company. I don’t like to waste people’s time with stuff you can read from a manual, because I don’t like it done to me when they can just RTFM or hit F1. I learn by reading the documentation, watching a few demonstration videos, and then experimenting and tinkering before coming up with what I hope are intelligent questions for the experts. Plus, as long as nobody gets killed or I get bankrupted by a margin call, I don’t mind making mistakes to learn from. (Dammit, Walmart! I bought you at 103!)
I know that a lot of folks use Spot On, and there’s a lot of classes for it. However, my friend uses and does support for MetaHarpers Tools, so I went with those to start with. I bookmarked the MetaHarpers Tools documentation and read it over and over, taking notes and knowing that there would be short cuts and tricks that people use which aren’t in the manuals. (I resisted the instinct to proofread and edit the manual… you know, technical writer)
“When the morning light has come…”
Set up a builders platform with the builders grid, and align it to the grid with whole numbers and simple angles to make calculations easier. It’s so much easier to be dealing with 0-90-180-270 than crazy angles, right? CRAAAAAAZY ANGLES!
Rez the tools according to instructions. I rezzed the venue centrepoint in the centre of the platform and pointed it East, declaring that the Audience direction. I sank the centre point under the floor so it wouldn’t be seen. Then, I put down the performance engine 15 meters West of that centre point where I’d assume it would be off-stage. Since I’m not going to work with cameras just yet, I didn’t put down a theatre seat for checking the camera moves.
(The firehose says the same thing. So, behave.)
The performance engine is the brains of the operation (did you honestly think it was me?) It contains the time line for events, the time line for camera positions, and the inventory of objects to rez on the set. You’ll update these note cards to trigger events (dance animations, shout commands, rezzing, derezzing, costume triggers, etc.).
However, one odd thing is that the movers will handle their own movements between way-points, but we’ll cover that in a bit..
If you have a location in mind, get the dimensions of their stage. Most venue owners have a template for their stage so that you can rez it on a platform and build within it. Make sure to line up that template so that the centre of it’s aligned with the stage centre object. You want these calculations to be precise so that when you eventually rez at the performance stage, everything lines up as expected.
Also, they’re going to tell you some configuration settings that you may need for the performance engine to hook into their venue’s system. Follow their instructions cookbook-style.
If you don’t have a location, well, come up with your own stage size. You can adjust things to fit later.
“Is it worth the price?”
Okay, now that I’m committed to this project, I don’t want to make my mess out of my inventory. I like to keep things organised, so I set up a folder in my inventory for Dance, and then a sub folder under that called Performances. I came up with a naming convention for my work so that I could find things in inventory… everything would be based on the name of the song, and then if there were differences in venue, I’d tack on a number and make a note in a note card name in that inventory folder.
(Eleven years, 30,586 items. I’m either a ninja at packing or a lazy shopper.)
I know, you can keep your scripts in Scripts, textures in Textures, and all that. But I prefer to keep things by project while it’s in development.
“Will the songs be playing over… and over…”
Oh. Right. I need a song name. Pick the music, put the song on a player you can load quickly
I picked out “Play The Game Tonight” by Kansas. It’s a song I really like, and it represents the journey I’m on with this project. (Recognize the chapter titles? They’re from the song.)
I bought it on Amazon so I could load the MP3 on my smartphone as well as lend it to a deejay for the playlist. That way, I don’t have to click on two or three different windows on my laptop. A lot of people use YouTube for this, so they can share the song with others as they seek advice or show it off to others before a performance.
Anyway, now that I have the song, KPTGT became the name prefix for all the elements I’d use in it.
Eva Harley, performer and deejay extraordinaire, says that you need to pick a song that you love. One that you can listen to over 8,000 times and not get sick of (or grit your teeth when Eva interrupts your introduction song to tell you how great a song it is).
Some performers say not to watch the video to keep a fresh attitude with the song and to come up with your own vision. However, I know this video by heart, and I thought it would be interesting to incorporate elements from the song, such as the hooded figures, the chessboard, and the night sky. But the choreography would be my own.
(Remember when MTV played music videos? So Eighties.)
Then, I listened to that song over and over and over to envision how I’d want to perform it. What dance moves came to mind, what would move around, etc.
For this song, I figured I’d be on a chessboard, kicking the crap out of chess pieces, the spotlights changing with the mood of the song, and then at the end I’d get killed and captured. Maybe time each kick with the “PLAY!” shout in the chorus, send one piece into someone’s lap? Bounce one off of someone’s head? Lots of sweeping burlesque dance moves in between. Flash the spotlights with “Do you see yourself in the wide spotlight”?
Nothing is written in stone, mind you. This is just creative and fun and tinker time. Play a little.
“And it’s bigger than your life”
I created a spreadsheet that timed the song out by second. Then, I added the lyrics, when the emotional flow of the song changes (by key, by speed, points of emphasis, etc). When the song changes, the set or the dance will change, and I made notes in the spreadsheet.
(“Whirly swirly” Yes, I watch Elf a lot.)
Sketch out your idea on paper, laying out the set, the performer, where you want to go, what elements you want to change or move, and so on. As you make a mess of this page, you can put some of those moves and notes in the time line spreadsheet you’ve created. Don’t worry about if something’s technically possible just yet, or if a dance or pose or object or texture already exists for it. just have fun with it.
“And it’s all come true for you…”
Now it’s time to create your set. Some consider the set to be a simple canvas on which the dancer is the sole element performing the routine. Others make the set a living, breathing part of the production itself. Somewhere in between is where you’re going to fall, likely on the simpler end until you get more experience.
Everything that you use in the set should be copy mod permissions. That way, you can add the tracking script to each object as well as put a copy of that item in the performance engine to rez. Also, this will allow you to link an object to a mover if you want it to move or put in listener scripts or fader scripts or… that’s getting ahead of ourselves, okay?
Start with laying out background elements to cover the back, sides, and top of the stage, as well as make a floor for the stage. It’s like whitewashing the walls for a place to start.
How detailed should the stage textures be? Well, keep in mind that there’s going to be an audience full of people wearing unoptimized mesh, so texture loading may be an issue. Objects should also load easily… consider quality mesh objects that slow-loading sculpties, and basic prims with reasonable textures will load quickly, too.
(No, this is not a History of the World act. Keeping it clean… for now.)
It’s amazing what you can find on Marketplace, eh?
Will you use particles for ambiance? Your call, but remember not to overwhelm the audience, because that’ll create rendering lag. Any element that challenges the viewer’s ability to render will slow things down and harm the experience. I’m going to try for none, but I ended up triggering a few particle effects. So, I added listener scripts, and then figured out where to include SHOUT commands in my events note card in the performance engine.
Full bright? Shiny? Glow? Once again, your call. Be sure to think about whether you’re going to present this in Midday, Midnight, or some specific Windlight setting, but keep in mind that the more things the audience needs to change, less people will experience your act as intended.
Whatever you don’t think is going to move, link it together for convenience. The fewer things you need to keep track of, the better, and give them meaningful names. (We’ll get to the things that move or change in a bit, okay?)
Lighting the set is important, especially if you’re going to be using Midnight as the Windlight setting. The audience needs to be able to see the performer, and facelights make things so awkward. Plus, the viewer can handle only show 6 lighting sources at a time, so make them count. Finally, Full Bright looks cheesy if you’ve got bright elements in one part of the set and dull elements in another.
When you get everything in the general location you want it, make sure the home position is set correctly, add the tracking script, and save the location. You’ll add the resulting position report to your engine’s note card. Also, take a copy of everything into your inventory and make a backup, just to be safe.
Then, you’ll add these items to the engine so that you can rez and derez the set’s elements when it’s time to go to do the rehearsal and the performance.
“Do you see yourself…”
The most important item on the set, of course, is you. (No, not your tipjar.) This is when you pick out a costume to appear in. What role are you playing in this song? What fits the mood? Are you human, elvish, a ball of light, a Thanksgiving Turkey?
Flexi hair likes to swing around, so it’s going to stick your neck and chest and other parts as you move around a lot. Think about short hair or rigged mesh if you don’t want to worry about that kind of thing.
Also, remember to simplify things as much as you can to ruduce lag or render cost. If you have hair covering your ears, you don’t need earrings, right? And nobody’s going to zoom in so close to see the sparkle in your eye…
Keep in mind that you’re going to be moving around, so if you’re doing high kicks with a miniskirt, think about panties. You could also alpha-layer away your nether regions for a bit, but it’s better that something be there that’s covered instead of The Bermuda Triangle.
(No photo here. Trust me on this.)
You also need to be able to stand out from the stage, but not clash with it. Or, if you are incorporating shadows and stealth and limited lighting on the stage, okay, go dark with your look. Whatever you need to tell the story.
(Laura does it right.)
Most importantly, consider ankle locks. Because nothing looks stranger than a fancy dancer with broken ankles gracefully moving around.
In the end, I went with a look that’s… well… my normal look. I’m interpreting the song as a journey through the development process, and with each iteration I’m the one who’s “playing the game.” But in future performances and projects, yeah, I’ll try not to be so boring.
Ponder costume changes during the song… Is this going to be a strip routine? Are you going to pick up a sword and wave it around? Putting on a hat?
How about hand particles so that it looks like you’re casting a spell or you’re leaving trails in your path, because that sometimes looks cool. However, if you overdo the attached particles, you can slow down the experience, and you can also pigpen yourself and get hidden in the cloud of particles. Same with the set… unless you want this to happen to hide the fact that at some point, you vanish completely.
I’m going to stick with the same outfit for now, or…. How about I take off my jacket during the guitar solo? I’d better be careful though, because in high lag situations, it’ll take a while before the jacket’s auto-alpha script for the Maitreya Lara body to kick in. I’ve learned this in the week that I’ve been in Debauche… outfit changes and lag equal oops. I’d better find a jacket that just fits right and not alpha anything away.
Oh, and at the point where I get stabbed by the queen, the sword will attach in my body. Maybe spurt some blood, too.
For this, I had to turn on the RLV functions of my Viewer, create a folder for the elements to attach, wear a HUD that allows costume changes, and add them to the events time line in my routine.
Facial gestures aren’t as important as the body language, but sometimes it’s a bit unnerving to see someone moving around with the same glazed look or maniacal grin. Some performers use smilers, others set a series of moods and hope that things fit the routine. I’m going to use Lelutka’s Bento Head API to trigger some general expressions during the routine, including a surprised yelp when the queen stabs me from behind. But in general, I’ll probably have an intense look, which is a Mood I can select during the routine.
As opposed to Missy. Her smiles are so warm, they just melt the polar icecaps.
Now, some groups have performers in multiple acts, which means if you’re building an act for one routine and performing in another, you’re going to have to do costume changes.
I’ve gotten a lot of advice on this, which not only borders on paranoia, but storms that border and claims it in the name of the popular people’s revolution.
First, I made a system outfit for each look. That way, if all else fails, I just put on that outfit and pray it renders. I also prepare Autohides for wishing any unnecessary body parts into the cornfield so that the costume fits properly and I don’t poke out from it as I move.
I also created a base appearance, and removed the body, feet, head and hands from it. And I created dedicated RLV folder outfits in there with bodies pre-set with the right auto-hides and applier layers, hands, feet (stockings or bare, which position, etc), heads with make-ups and pre-set moods/expressions, etc. If I have the same shoes but different colours from a HUD, I put dedicated copies of those in each folder too, along with the HUD in case I get mixed up. That way, I could quickly dump one appearance and put on another to be ready for the next set. (This came in handy for my début at Debauche, who do a lot of complex and fancy acts that require quick changes). Finally, I added a note card to remind me which mover to sit on and where it is on the stage if it’s hidden somewhere. CHECK YOUR SOCKS is a good reminder, too. And reminders for right mood/expression to trigger if my head’s all zombie-stare.
All in all, if you’re going to be in a group that has multiple acts and you’ll be in them, it’s important to find out how a group handles costume changes and what works best for them.
Oh, and practice changing. Make sure that you’ve got everything in the right folder and ready when needed.
“Is it worth the price?”
It’s time to go scouting for dances. If your wallet or purse just cried, well, they know what’s coming. I headed to Abranimations and then to A&M Mocap, going from demo station to demo station, getting the general feel of each pack and taking notes and humming the song in my head and thinking whether this move fit my need, or might fit my needs for future use.
Some of the dance moves I recognised from performances I’d seen, and I liked those dance moves. I knew I could use them at some point, kind of a general language-of-dance thing, gotta learn the basics. I also asked a few performers which dance moves they had used in a performance that I’d snapped a photo of, and they were gracious enough to let me know which pack or object they’d harvested it from.
(Shopping is like Dance Dance Revolution, only more expensive and less break-your-femurish.)
Also, see if there are any unnatural positions that deform your body, revealing more than you want to reveal; or, God forbid, you have your arms poking through your chest, that kind of thing. Because not only will that look odd on stage, but you may need to pray for the health of the badly-mauled dancer who did the motion-capture of that dance. (What, did Cronenberg motion-capture this one?)
Okay, did the scouting, time to buy… I went ahead and bought a few packs to start with, since I knew that if I went a-la carte, I’d end up needing some missing dance and eventually it would add up to more than the pack. Bite the bullet, man.
Assume 100-300L per individual dance, and whole dance packs can cost you a few thousand linden dollars. It depends on the maker and if they’re having a rare but very welcome sale.
And, yes, you’re going to buy some stuff and decide later… nah! For instance, I thought I’d conquer the king in my routine and step on him in a way reminiscent of how Sho was standing on a cushion and looking all mighty and powerful. She told me which chair had it, but… well… I kinda changed my time line around, and decided I was going to lose in the end. Maybe in the future I’ll use that move and chair, so okay, no waste there at all.
(Lucky chair. Very lucky chair.)
“Will you still remember?”
Now you’re going to arrange the dance moves and position moves. Things that just rez and sit there will just need to be on the rez list, but if it’s going to move, it’s going to need a mover, too.
I started the time line with a shout to START so I knew when the process would start and I could hit Play on my iPhone’s music player. I assumed about a .1-.2 second delay due to reflexes. Then, I plotted out the movements of the movers with waypoints, arranging them on the stage, saying how long I’d be at that position, and how much I’d wait at that position to the mover’s note card before moving to the next.
Have you worked with a tour system, where you move a boat or a bicycle or a balloon tour around a place? It’s the same thing, but with dancing.
(When a mover and a waypoint love each other very much…)
So, I went through the dances in my shopping bags, taking notes on what movements there were (right archer, hands up, left kick, left jump kick, roundhouse sweep, etc), where I would walk or strut or spin to, and so on. I timed when I would be back at the home position and how I was posing then so I could try to stitch the movements together. All the while, I want the movements to come close to in sync with the song, but you’re never ever going to be as precise with each movement as Martha Graham. Build your routine loosely so that even with lag, you convey the emotional flow, not each beat.
Also, I didn’t want to just slide around the set doing all these hand-waving motions and such, because that just looks creepy. I’d learned from watching Eostri and Laura Richards and Debauche that it’s important to walk, run, jump, or triple back flip between positions as the song dictates, and not just slide. Eos also drilled into me the need to do your move, hit your mark, and then go from there… fluid motion. So, my entry to the set was a walk from the back of the stage, hit my mark, and begin the hand-waving… until I decided that I was going to kneel on the ground and rise through the chessboard instead.
(This is my mover in RL. It has a napping animation.)
Some of the tools out there have HUDs that make this process easier, but I just eyeballed it. Just like I did the tour system back in my park, where I told the boat to go along waypoints, ring a bell, flash a light, etc. Same thing, only this time it’s me moving around.
Then, I added the appropriate trigger in the events note card in the engine to recognize the movers as well as start them moving at the right times. And back up that events note card often, heck, don’t even edit it directly. Make your edits in a Notepad or WordPad, and then copy the changes into the note card so you always have a backup right there.
(Feel free to tack on 0|Shout:1:What the Hell does this all mean? It’s okay. You’ll learn eventually.)
Yeah, Second Life ate an events note card of mine. But I had a recent backup and didn’t lose too much.
Also, be sure to save your mover and waypoint positions every so often so you don’t lose your work. Not that I make this mistake… way, way too many times. Oh, and since the movers need to be rezzed, they’ll need tracker scripts, too, and you’ll need to add them to the inventory notecard in your engine.
Did I mention make backups? Yes? Well, I’m mentioning it again. Trust me on this.
“You will feel it all around you…”
It’s not just me I need to move around, mind you. Items that need to move need to get linked to movers… and the movers need to be the root prim so they’re in command of the object. Then, I plotted out their positions, too. The statues were arranged to rise from the stage, wait there for the song to play, and then sink back down. Each chess piece moved on the board into position, and then I sent each flying off of the board with an assumed properly-timed kick.
Grrrrrrr. Okay, so the timing wasn’t perfect. I had to tweak it a bit. Rook plus .25 seconds… pawn needs to move .5 meters to the right and back… *sigh*
I got the movement report from each mover, copied it into the mover’s note card, and ran the sequence again to make sure all the pieces moved in harmony with each other. At this point, I’m just trying for general synchrony with flow and not precision, but it’s good to find out about when each person or objects hits their mark if you want to go all fancy later with triggered effects, fades, etc.
Once again, be sure to save your mover and waypoint positions every so often. (Not making the same mistake. Eleventy billion times. Ugh.) Once again, since these movers need to be rezzed, they’ll need tracker scripts, too, and you’ll need to add them to the inventory note card in your engine.
In my act, the chess pieces weren’t the only things to change. I wanted to make the spotlights change colours during the song. So, I bought spotlights, hijacked the HUD engine, and found the right channel to issue commands. I put those commands in the events time line and… um… they failed. Because the events time line uses colons as separators, and the spotlight commands used colons. So, I tore out the spotlight scripts, made my own, changed the commands to simple “off” and “blue” and “white” and “red” and they worked. Hopefully, you’ve got a bit of scripting know-how, but I’ve tried to go as off-the-shelf with this performance as I could.
“Over and over again…”
Test it over and over, making tweaks. Because, as the song goes, you’re going to do it over… and over… ’til you do it all over again! You will see little annoyances and glitches and rubberbanding and changes in hand position and direction and location that will stand out during a performance. Take notes, and change your time line so that things come together as smoothly and seamlessly as possible. You might need to go back to the dance stores to find other dances that chain together better.
With my act, I had to time a lot of things carefully:
The kicks to the pieces flying off of the board.
Changing from one dance animation to another without too much of a slide back to home position.
The spotlight colour changes.
Getting stabbed by the queen.
And so on.
Every run, I’d make a note to slide something a little more to the right, or back, or delay it by a half-second. I made notes in my spreadsheet, and I nearly wore out my iPhone’s stopwatch function this way.
This is going to test your patience, but it’s well worth it. However, there’s a point at which you’re just going to go numb.
As ze frank says “Perfectionism may look good in his shiny shoes, but he’s a little bit of an asshole and nobody invites him to their pool parties.”
“Can you tell me if it’s wrong or right?”
Now that you’re sick to death of your act, it’s time to make others sick to death of it. They will see things that you have gone numb to, or know things that might help which you don’t know yet. Seek feedback from your teacher or mentors or trusted friends, folks that you can hear criticism from and still not risk the relationship. Tell them in advance that you’re looking for ways to improve it, but that you’re not necessarily going to change your style or storytelling.
Write it all down. Let it sit for a while. Think about it. How do you feel about those changes?
The technical changes, like fixing timing issues or adjusting set pieces to travel a bit smoother is fine, that’s fixing bugs. But the things that change the artistic expression, like a texture change to the background, swapping out one dance move for another, changing your costume or look, or changing a set element from a tree to a lamp post, that’s going to be your decision.
I naturally crowdsource everything. As ze frank says, “Let me not be so vain to think that I’m the sole author of my victories and a victim of my defeats.” I sent out stills from the routine to a few friends, because it takes a village to raise a child (and a voodoo priest to raise a child from the dead), and there were a few comments on them. A lot of them were “YOU’RE MAKING AN ACT??? YAY!” Okay, nice, good… I know I can get feedback from them, erm, I think.
Some had feedback from the get-go, one still frame was all they needed. CherryBlonde, for instance, the leader of Idle Rogue and Guerilla Burlesque, saw a still I’d passed around as a teaser and offered a better chessboard texture for me to use on the set. And I’m looking forward to how she sees this in the official rehearsal. (As you’ll learn eventually, she hasn’t seen it yet. Because… well… let’s get back to the narrative.)
(Centrepoint… oh, right… it’s that a ways.)
Sho Kyong, who got me into this whole dance scene, had a few pointers on the choreography, and she and I went shopping for some better set elements. I replaced the stone walls with hedges, added a few trees, replaced the sculpted shiny chess pieces with mesh ones with specular maps for shine, and a bloodstain on the ground after the stabbing, whether worn or rezzed out from the engine. The bloodstain was easy… I put it in position, added a rezzer script, packed it into the engine, and added a rez command in the time line. Worked beautifully, but I may just turn that to a fader when I learn how to use those.
Web Sass (pssst. piano.), the director of Dance Queens, had a list of suggestions for me to use. I needed to tighten up the transitions between the dance animations so I didn’t snap back from one position to another. If you chain up the dances improperly, you can end up bouncing from one location to another quickly, and that’s rather jarring. Also, the lighting of my set was off, so she had me rez three lights in front of the stage to light things.
The star field around the set wasn’t tiled properly, and she offered a better dusk texture for the background. Finally, she reminded me to make everything phantom to avoid collisions and all that.
Mela Rainforest of the Oasis Dancers and other groups suggested that when I kick the chess pieces, I add a special “poof” effect. I pondered this for a bit, but I’m on the fence about particle effects and poofers because once you add one, you’ll want to add more. I gave it a try to see if I liked it, and I’m still on the fence about it. But it was worth considering, and… FILDI. I went ahead and added it.
It looked good.. Never hurts to try, play and tinker, what’s the worst that can happen, you have to roll it back. So, keep incremental backups of your project, and go back to a restore point at needed. (Something I’ve learned from using git and Scrum-Agile.)
I brought in Eos, a director and performer and an expert at movement along a set, and we had a good conversation about many things: reducing animations so when they chain, they come together seamlessly. This simplifies the time line as well as makes it less expensive for obtaining dances, because there’s less you need to buy. Also, she tends to do an animation, hit the mark with a pose and then start up again. Maybe I should play one animation, then add a one second kick stripped from a fighting pack, and then back to the first animation. Her speciality is in movement and using the whole stage, so I’ve got a lot to learn from her and thinking back over her routines.
Also, she suggested adding more of the meteor fall effect, and having it fade in with the first crescendo. That would require a fader script, which she was happy to supply and demonstrate, and it was easily added to my engine’s events time line. I not only had the meteors on a fader, but changed the mover on the king to a fade in at the end. Much smoother.
Exhi, another director and excellent performer, one of the best on the grid when it comes to dance performance and design, thought that the meteor density worked well, and that when the topic of costume came up, because the song and act were about my journey through the development process and “playing the game” that my usual look actually worked. (Amazing how many people bought that excuse… I mean… reason… okay, I’m lazy.) However, when the chess pieces were kicked, they should leave some kind of particle trail… once again, I’m leery of loading on particles, but I gave it a try, and it kinda worked. Just needed to play with the particles used, and get the timing of the triggers to start the particles and finish them.
Both wondered why I was rising up through a solid chessboard, and suggested I put in some kind of portal or pool to come up through. Because that would make more sense and look cool
Diawa Bellic, the director of Euphoria and performer with many troupes, such as the elite Club Image group, and the inventor of everything, had a lot of pointers. I needed to turn the spotlights into facelamps on the statues, fill the gap in the hedges with some kind of wrought iron gate, angle the hedges and add trees in the background, improvements to the shine and texture of the red chess pieces, maybe put in some topiaries to add character, animate the sky a bit, and seriously consider an actual costume for the performance. Maybe even a chess timer, but the gate in the hedge gap worked better, I think.
Nara, her partner and also a performer at many venues, felt that the stage was too wide, which a lot of others agreed with. I could frame the scene a bit and bring in the hedges, angle the back of the hedges to fill more space.
I bought in a few friends from the Debauche group, one of my favorite groups (heck, one that I just joined, right?) , with their complex choreography and racy numbers, and asked them…Laura Richards said the rubber-banding was minimal, barely noticeable, and that going with the particle trails and poof, well, we agree on minimal particles only when necessary. However, to rule out confirmation bias, I still tried the particles by myself just to see, and… eh, still on the fence, but it does look kinda neat, so… all right, they stay.
(Now it’s gratuitous. Credit: Doc Placebo… both the photo and the ass.)
Doc Placebo (who has a mighty fine ass, the pride of Debauche and the Scottish Highlands), added in some thoughts on the set, and she agreed with Laura that the statues should remain adversarial and across from each other. Also, because I represented a white piece, I should be dressed in white… Laura, Doc, Severina, and Geordie had their thoughts on the costume, maybe going with appliers in white, maybe a dress that flowed with the moves, and I pondered the various suggestions they gave. It was then that I went all white in a look similar to my typical look… the pants keeping the base of the chess piece motif going. Also, Geordie gave some advice on timing the start of the act, which I’d been doing by hand, but I need to remember to do this to a streaming deejay. I love how he introduces acts, and it’s a kick (no pun intended) to have that happen and feel it.
Fifi Oh, a performer with a keen eye for shading, thought that the set could work well with the particle trails on kicks.Also, the set needed a bit of adjusting, because the pieces needed some alignment, and the statues could use a bit of a turn each, but not to lose the adversarial pose. The board needed a bluish tinge, darken the night sky so my white outfit would stand out better. Assuming I’d keep that outfit, because she had some pretty interesting wild choices and suggestions. Also, a third spotlight to show the victorious queen added some drama and a good finishing highlight. When I truly needed particles, she gave me some excellent leads on finding particles to experiment with, even though I might not go with them, they’d be helpful for future projects.
Yummy (aka Lat Lovencraft) developer the Artiste tool, came by and showed me a video of chess-themed acts as well as some of an MJ Burlesque performance, and she was very supportive of the whole thing, a good experience. And we conversed on the dance scene and history and the difficulties with tools, which reminded me that this isn’t just art, but also a social experience, and it’s good to get to know folks deeper. And how groups come together, break apart, and how things evolved from the early days. Getting valuable reminders that this is people doing cool things together, but then also people need to be free.
Artiste is more performer-object oriented, which may end up being the direction I go. I think my style will be props and that, but not totally Carrot Top style comedy. But she suggested approaching the rook at an angle so that they kick is more natural. The cool thing is, I can save the engine, copy it, and make an experiment with that without impacting the final draft of my act… that’s a damn cool way to approach the experiments.
More folks came by, offered their thoughts and observations, and I made tweaks here and there until I felt I was starting to over-tweak the show. You need to find that point where each change doesn’t quite earn its keep, and you’ve gotten to the point where your vision is as close to reality as you have the skills to get it.
By listening to their feedback, pondering the impact on the act, and giving each a try, I could see not only whether these things enhanced the performance, but also if they still fit my vision coming into this project. Severina, Sho, and many others had their suggestions but also reinforced the fact that this act ultimately is supposed to come from my vision of the performance, and don’t go overboard with the cooks in the kitchen. But I think It doesn’t hurt to give things a try, you can always delete scripts or restore your note card contents from a backup you’ve made in Notepad, right? Just takes a bit of time and an open mind.
Some of the suggestions were great ones, but didn’t quite fit into my idea for the show, so I’m grateful for the ideas and seeing how these people create and think, but maybe I might use some of those ideas and tricks and concepts for future acts.
“But it’s only…”
Now’s when you make some final touch-up cleaning, such as adding commands to the time line to hide all mover labels. Make sure that everything’s the way you want it and working.
Since you probably don’t have unlimited prims on your home, or unlimited time at the sandbox to leave things sitting around, at this point you need to pack your performance. Issue one last call to your tracker scripts to report their locations and dump that report into your engine’s inventory note card. Then, take a copy of everything, and put it in the engine. After a moment of prayer, test your set-up by issuing a derez command… if you missed anything for the tracker script and inventory, be sure to fix that oversight and try again. And then, the moment of truth, issue a rez command to confirm that everything appears and in place.
I’ve been told that the Spot On Tools need a separate packer script, so when you go through those classes, pay close attention to that lesson. Once again, learned on MetaHarper, haven’t gotten to SpotOn yet. But I will eventually.
“And it’s all come true for you…”
When it’s time for rehearsal, you’ll rez your performance engine in the appropriate place and make sure that it hooks into their stage system. If you’ve done your calculations right, everything will rez where it is supposed to relative to the stage’s centrepoint.
Otherwise, you’ll make some adjustments, re-calculate the positions, and save them to the performance engine. (And make a note to fix your platform template…. grrrrrrrr.)
(There was supposed to be a bunch of stuff in here… er…)
You’ve probably already given the music to the person running the stream. Hop on the performance movers, accept the permissions, and wait for the music cue to start your act.
If something goes wrong, relax. It’s probably something you forgot to set or a value you entered wrong. These people have seen every mistake in the book made a dozen times over, so they’ll probably know what needs to be corrected.
After you run your act, you’ll get plenty of suggestions and guidance from the director. Some of them may be absolutely necessary changes before they will let you perform. For instance, I have a habit of rezzing things too close to the curtain, and I also leave in the START! shout in the events for diagnostics. Go back to your build platform, rez out your act, make the changes you need and want to make. Or, if it’s a slow day on the stage, they may let you make your changes right then and there. Pack things up again, and you’ll be ready for a second rehearsal check.
Remember: they want to put on a good show, and they want you to be a part of it. They will help you to succeed because making you look good makes them look good. They are facilitators, not gatekeepers. THEY ARE PEOPLE PEOPLE!
Repeat until you get the green light.
“And when the curtains open… to the roaring of the crowd.”
So, now that you’ve made your act and it’s ready to roll, all you need to do is perform it in front of an audience.
How hard can that be?
Well, you’re going to be in a line-up, and you will want to use the first act to calculate the delay between when the ID3 tag for the stream appears and when the music actually starts. This will let you time when you need to start your act.
Also, there’s going to be a bunch of high-complexity people with facelights, scripts, and everything else that will grind the region to a crawl. Never mind the fact that everybody’s looking at the stage, not the fashionista ego-bitches in the audience, they just gotta have their moment, you know. *sigh*
Consider derendering as many of the audience members as you can, run your act on Low graphics settings, and pray you don’t crash out. If you do crash out, well, make sure you set the backstage or dressing room to your home location so you get back there first.
And for God’s sake, let someone else photograph or film your performance… that just adds to the risk of lagging out or crashing.
And try to enjoy yourself. As ze frank says, “And god let me enjoy this. Life isn’t just a sequence of waiting for things to be done.” (Yes, I quote him a lot.)
All in all, the process can be expensive, buying the set pieces, the costume elements, and especially the dance animation packs. You’re probably not going to be able to pay for your hobby with tips, unless you run an act over and over into the ground, squeezing all the love and life out of it for that last penny in the tip jar. However, as you build up an inventory of each of those (or if you’ve been around enough, you already have all of that), the process will hopefully go much smoother and become less expensive to create each new routine.
The most important thing to consider is patience and practice. Just as it’s unfair to compare yourself to Mozart or Einstein, it’s unfair to compare yourself to the top dance performers in Second Life. They needed time, practice, and experimentation to get as good as they are, and it will take you a lot of time, too. I’ve accepted the fact that I’m a beginner, I’m curious, I want to learn from others, but I’ll need to put a lot of effort and time time time into this to get better, and be grateful to those who help me along the way.
I’ve enjoyed the journey and process, and even when I was frustrated at the technical issues or annoyed at my incompetence, I knew that I could take a break, and with the support of those in the dance community that have helped by example and action, I’ve had a lot of fun with this.
Maybe I’ll do more… and maybe, just maybe, I’ve gotten you curious, too.
Thank you to everyone Everyone EVERYONE EVERYONE!!!!! who helped me with this project. I hope that the results, both the act and this article, honour your efforts properly.
So, enough with the lyrics from the song as chapter titles… what the Hell actually happened?
I debuted at Guerilla Burlesque on the evening of Friday April 13th, and holy crap, things went well despite a full sim and my IMs filled with people wanting to get in and wishing me well, but the despair of the left behind. THE DESPAAAAIR!
But the truth is, it wasn’t my “Play The Game Tonight” act on their stage. I have yet to show that to an audience. Instead, my début act was “Einstein’s Violin” by Ken Gaines, dedicated to the memory of my friend Abby, and I did it in their pit stage.
Why the change? Well, the Guerilla Burlesque stage shows for April were pushed back to May, but I still wanted to get an act in, so I used my experiences from the 4 stage acts I’d made (with assistance and guidance from many, as you’ve seen) and tried to do a pit act on my own.
(Listen to the ze frank video and when you get to the bit about fires and ass, yeah. Feel the heat.)
Doing the verse spreadsheet, timing out the song, getting the vision came together well, because I’d loved this song for over ten years since I first Ken Gaines perform it at Anderson Fair when the Dalzeils came to town. I’ve built a vision of it in my head all this time.
Sure enough, there were last-minute glitches. I’d miscalculated the stage centerpoint on my build platform, so I had to do some quick fixes before the rehearsal (test test test!), did the rehearsal, and it went well. Got some great tips from the director Chrissy, and I put in the fixes and ran it again for myself and it went smoothly.
Then came the line-up… I was slotted as the closer, which is a rare thing for a new performer. So, I must have done something right, but that meant that I was going to perform 12:40AM local time after a work day. And I don’t drink caffeine or do rails of cocaine… any more. So, I napped in the tub a bit and tried not to tap out.
I arrived at the dressing room an hour before the show, set my home location there so I’d be back if I crashed (which I rarely do), chatted and sipped tea while I waited for the show to begin.
Nervous? Nah. If you plan and test enough, what’s to be nervous about? When folks started to flood me with the well-wishes and break a lags, I smiled and just relaxed and ty ok-ed and kept it light. And those who couldn’t get in when the sim filled, oh, shucky darn. Be sure to come late next time so you get locked out again, right?
And, yes, I took photos of all the acts. Bad me. Usually, directors don’t want to taking photos and risking a crash, but my system is pretty solid high performance and I figured I could get back in quickly should I bomb out early.
Yes, I calculated the lag time in the music stream, so I knew what my countdown was, rezzed up, got everything prepped, clicked my Mister Shouty prim to clear the chat commands, got on the mover, quoted ze frank…
There is no need to sharpen my pencils any more.
My pencils are sharp enough.
Even the dull ones will make a mark. Warts and all.
LET’S START THIS SHIT UP.
And god let me enjoy this. Life isn’t just a sequence of waiting for things to be done.
and I hit my mark as planned.
I think it went well. Thank you to everyone who helped me begin the journey on this path and cheered me on, guided me, encouraged me, and challenged me not to settle and phone it in.
Oh… and the Play the Game Tonight act should be playing at Guerilla Burlesque on Friday May 4th (May The Fourth Be With You!) for their 10PM SLT stage show. (If you can’t get in, you should be able to catch it during a second run with Debauche at their home theatre in the near future. ALWAYS CLASSY!)
See you then?
P.S.: Those of y’all who perform and choreo and host and run venues… anything I miss? Any thoughts on the process that you have a different take on? The comments are open.