Friday, April 8, 2011

Terminator the Second by Husky Jackal Theater

When I was in high school and had to read The Crucible in lit class, me and some friends had the tongue-in-cheek idea to make a movie — a film halfway influenced by The Crucible, halfway influenced by Terminator 2: Judgement Day. We were going to call it THE CRUCINATOR. At the time, we were excited about it, and we managed to get half the senior class excited about it too. In fact, we were so excited that we collectively skipped a day of school to actually go out and film THE CRUCINATOR. There was no working script, no costumes, no anything really. But we did have a camera and a rough outline of what we wanted to see happen. I remember the ending: After defeating pretty much everyone and everything pro AS WELL AS anti-witch in Salem, John Proctor would have had a heartfelt moment with his wife Elizabeth. He’d take her into his arms, shed a tear, and say, “There’s one more witch, and it must be destroyed also.” Proctor would then point to himself. Dramatically, he would release Elizabeth, move to the edge of the gallows, reach out, take the rope in his hands, slip the noose around his neck, make one last eye contact with Elizabeth, give her a big thumbs up, and step off the gallows. Ah, as silly as that is, to this day some part of me still feels like that was a good idea.

Sadly, our project didn't go very well. It was a mess, and the video that came out of it was an unfinished jumble of improv and silliness that didn't look very much like either Crucible or Terminator. But we did have fun... Man, I really wish I could find that video!

Maybe that’s why I got so excited when I found out about Terminator the Second. The Husky Jackal Theater company in Nashville have adapted Terminator 2 for the stage and, through a painstaking process, have managed to replace every single line of dialogue with something that William Shakespeare once said!

Husky Jackal Theater: “We adhered to strict guidelines regarding the usage of Shakespeare’s works. Each line and phrase is taken directly from folios printed by or before 1685, and many extended sections of dialogue are composed of individual lines from separate works. Only proper nouns and pronouns were subject to change, as dictated by the plot. In these instances, all proper nouns are supplanted only by other proper nouns, and all pronouns by other pronouns. In some cases, corresponding verb tenses are modified. These practices enabled us to accurately retell the story of Terminator 2: Judgment Day while remaining true to the words of Shakespeare in form (if less so in intent).”

And judging from sample pages of the script (1) (2), it sounds like they have done a remarkably good job.

To be back, or not to be back?

When I first heard about this, I was stoked. The whole concept is just hilarious! These guys have taken our Crucinator idea to the next level. I knew right away that, if such a play actually existed, I NEEDED to see it. And that’s when I read some of the details on their Kickstarter page. For a pledge of $50, Husky Jackal promises two tickets. For $100 they were offering the tickets plus a copy of the script with an annotated bibliography of all the quote sources!!! I was immediately reaching for my wallet.

But then I stopped.

Who was this Husky Jackal Theater? What is this Kickstarter? I needed to make sure it wasn’t a scam. So I sent an email to Husky Jackal. Cutting to the chase, I found out that they are indeed legitimate, and I decided to go ahead and pledge $100 to help fund their project. However, if you are less than convinced, I would like to share our email conversation at the end of this blog entry, especially since Terminator the Second has kinda gone viral over the past few days, and I feel like I have this exclusive interview with its creators. It was very informative and contained a good deal of information that hasn’t been posted anywhere else on the web.

If you’re a fan of theater, comedy, Shakespeare, or Terminator, this is a ridiculous fever-dream come true. I strongly urge anyone who gets a chuckle out this to consider making a pledge to these good folks. The performance is supposed to take place in Nashville some time this summer. I’ll definitely be there. Maybe I’ll see you there too!

P.S. Oh, and Husky Jackal, if you ever decide to make a sequel, I hope you'll keep The Crucinator in mind... It could be gold!

An email from me to Husky Jackal:

Dear Husky Jackal Theater,

I really want to donate to your project, because it sounds cool as hell, but I want to make sure it isn't a scam. Can I maybe get a little additional info? Is this your first production? What other plays have you been involved with in the past? That sort of thing. I desperately want this to be real, so I hope I'm not coming off as rude. Thing is, I googled "Husky Jackal Theater" and couldn't find a link to anything else you've done. I just want to be sure you exist outside of the internet. I'm poised to donate, and I don't need much convincing, but can I please have SOMETHING?  Please write back soon, as I can't wait to make a pledge.

- Ricky Aucoin

An email from Husky Jackal to me:

Hi Ricky,

Thanks for getting in touch, and we completely appreciate your concern. You're right--we don't have much of a web presence. We're building it up as we speak (including a site for Terminator the Second in the works), but Husky Jackal was essentially formed to put on this production.

Husky Jackal Theater co-founder Marshall Weber and I spent the majority of 2010 writing the script. We've spent the past several months bringing the early elements of our production together. We've secured a dedicated and talented crew. We have support from a local venue (the Exit/In), and a near-complete cast. We have secured rehearsal space, (in a local warehouse), and will begin running rehearsals in a few weeks. We've established connections within the local theater community to ensure that we can continue to grow our team in the right way, and we're going to continue to do so.

Now, here's what we don't have: a reputation to trade on, and most of the luxuries of established theater companies. We're an all-volunteer operation, and this entire project is both a labor of love and an experiment in bringing Shakespearean theater into non-traditional spaces (rock clubs), in front of new audiences.

Each member of our cast and crew, including Marshall and myself, brings a degree of experience in one regard or another (many of our crew worked together initially on the award-winning feature "Make-Out with Violence," which I co-created, and in which I co-star--you can check it out at, or read the NY Times review here: [clearly, I'm not above a little self-promotion).

Some of our lead actors have had notable roles in films and local theater productions, but we're essentially operating on a community theater model: find the people who bring passion AND talent, and empower them in ways they might not be empowered in more traditional, established companies. And, that being said, the attention we're finding will help us attract the best people we can for the project, which is critical--we want this show to be an *event.*

And here's the other important thing, Ricky--we thought we had a pretty good promotion strategy in place, but we had absolutely no idea how quickly this was going to take off. If we'd known that there were as many other people who wanted to make this happen as we've found, we absolutely would have made ourselves more available. It's something we're working towards doing now, and I hope this message helps to put your mind at ease. Please let me know if you have any additional questions.

Cody DeVos
Co-Founder, Husky Jackal Theater

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tips for Writers

It’s been a while since my last post. A lot of noteworthy things have happened, but I’m so unaccustomed to blogging that I’ve failed to jot any of that stuff down. I may try to play catch-up in a future post. But right now, I want to share a few writing suggestions. These are things I’ve been trying out lately that have proven quite effective.
Tip #1 – Interact with other writers.
About a year ago, I was forced to realize something rather difficult: I didn’t know anyone who could give me the kind of critiques I needed. See, I had just finished writing the first draft of a novel a few months prior, and I was trying to get feedback by passing it around to all of my family and friends. A select few responded immediately, but their corrections mostly had to do with grammar and punctuation. While I appreciated the contribution, the area I felt needed the most work was the story itself. Very few offered anything that was truly helpful in this way. Now, I don’t want to make it sound worse than it was – I did get a few solid tips, mostly from English teachers. But it still felt more difficult than it needed to be. I wondered why no one seemed to get what I was asking, why they were reluctant to have sit-down conversations about what I was doing wrong. Well, the simple answer is that they didn’t care about the story as much as I did; they had no stake in it. I was asking them to do something for which they had no natural talent or interest, and they weren’t even getting anything in return.
I began using my Twitter account to network with other writers – this is something else I highly recommend. I found authors I had read and respected and decided to start following their tweets. I looked at the people they retweeted, and I’d start following them too. Soon, I had a sizable number of writers, editors, literary magazines, and bloggers showing up on my feed (a few of them were even nice enough to follow me back). I asked them questions about the best ways to get critiques, and one thing I heard over and over again was that I needed to show my writing to other writers. But I didn’t know any other writers, so what was I supposed to do? One of my Twitter friends recommended joining a local writing group. I decided to give it a shot.
For those of you who have never used it, Meetup is an excellent resource. After a quick search, I was able to find a freshly-formed writing group meeting in my city. Note: not all writing groups are worthwhile, and not all people in your writing group are going to be worthwhile. But I was lucky enough to join one with a core group of startlingly talented folks. I’ve been to about 6 meetings now, and overall, it has been a really great experience. Over the past few meetings our group has started to dwindle some, but I’ve still made a few worthwhile contacts who are happy to give me fantastic critiques. Which brings me to my next point…
Tip #2 – Give critiques.
Remember how I said that my friends and family weren’t as interested, because they weren’t getting anything in return? Well, with other writers you never have to worry about that, because you will be asked to return the favor. The other writers you meet will have experienced the same frustrations as yourself. They know what it’s like to pour their souls into a story, agonizing until they have precisely the right words, doubting and constantly second guessing themselves, only to have their mothers or significant others look over it once and respond in a tone of half-question, “It’s good!” They know all about that stuff, and usually they are just as eager as you are to get real feedback. And as a writer, there is no one more qualified to help them than you. You should always be willing to offer your hand at a critique, and not just because it helps other writers who will in turn help you. No, there’s more to it than that. Taking the time to really read something, to see it for what it is, in all of its beauty and flaws, that WILL make you a better writer. Think of it as practice for your own writing endeavors. When you critique others, it is like you are an NFL player studying game film. The more experience you have scrutinizing stories, the more equipped you are to tell your own.
Tip #3 – Read.
This is closely related to the previous tip. It seems like it should go without saying (but often it doesn’t) that writers need to always be reading. All sorts of things, all the time. As a writer, you need to form a serious addiction to processing information. Particularly information that pertains to your craft, but in a pinch anything will do. Short stories, novels, poetry, newspaper articles, tabloid trash, recent scientific findings, the ingredients in a box of your favorite breakfast cereal. There are useful ways to fold all of that information into your own work. I have a lot of problems in this area, and I usually end up putting down most books I start reading. I’m trying to get better at this, and I’ve recently started a diet where I require myself to consume at least one story a day. It doesn’t matter if it is a chapter in a book, a short story heard on a podcast, or a film I see on the big screen. The point is, I like to have the raw parts of a story floating around in my mind at all times. Theme, character, setting, motivation, cause and effect, action and consequence, dialogue, conflict, energy... Before attempting to tell your own stories, you need to be confident in your understanding of what a story is, what makes it powerful, and how are the parts arranged for maximum effect. The only way to gain that understanding is by keeping your eyes open. Good stories are not made from scratch – they are made from thoughtfully selected ingredients and from influences so far-ranging and vast it is impossible to whittle it down to anything that resembles a specific formula. I sit in traffic for about 2-1/2 hours a day, so I’m not always able to read as often as I’d like, but I’ve taken up listening to podcasts in that time, and I’ve discovered some that are pretty great. I have discovered a lot of truly great literature this way, and I would recommend these podcasts to any writer.
New Yorker Fiction Podcast – About one episode per month. Story followed by discussion format. The discussion is one of the best aspects of this show. It almost feels as if I am sitting in on a university literature course discussion. The stories are top shelf.
PRI: Selected Shorts Podcast – About one episode per week. Great stories read live on stage by great actors. Usually more than one story per episode. This one is probably my favorite. The actors really bring the stories to life.
This American Life – One episode per week. Each show has a theme and features several types of stories centered around that theme. The stories on this show are primarily nonfiction.
The Moth Podcast – One episode per week. Live storytelling performances on stage by people without notes. This is storytelling in its most basic, stripped-down form. Nothing fancy, just a human voice with a story to tell.
Stuff You Should Know Podcast – About once every two days. Frequently updated show that is chock full of interesting information. Who knows, maybe you’ll get something useful out of it.