The Revision Decision

To revise, or not to revise, that is the Question

Last semester I penned a play called The Decision and asked for comments from a variety of sources (including in the comments of this website). The comments did not flood in. One of the difficulties of crowdsourcing something like dramaturgy with lengthy material (even as short as my ten-minute play) is that a play is too long. The concept of crowdsourcing almost requires something that can be consumed in one quick gulp.

Plays, however, are never really short enough to fit into that criteria. It doesn’t help that my plays are in PDF format instead of the quick to open HTML or TXT, but I really like the clean format that LaTeX gives me with the Sides class. I’ve also found Vim to be an ideal writing environment. For all the talk of distraction-free writing environments on productivity blogs nothing really compares to the simplicity of Vim (after, of course, you’ve learned the commands). Here’s my distraction-free writing environment:

At any rate, the comments did not come. While many people downloaded the play I don’t imagine that all of them read it. I also don’t imagine that all those who did read it had a particularly strong reaction to it (at least not strong enough to tell me what they thought). As luck would have it, however, my show is being produced. That means people have to translate those words from that “distraction-free” environment into the bodies of living actors, the reality of a physical space, and (eventually) into something an audience would pay to see (read: not my computer screen). These people must have an opinion.

Directors, and Dramaturgs, and Designers! Oh, my!

These wonderful people are tasked with something incredibly difficult. They are tasked with translating my 2-D writing into a 3-D production. If the writer is alive (Me = Alive / Shakespeare = Dead) and they are available (or it is the first production of the play) they are typically consulted as more of a collaborator during the production phase than our dear friend Shakespeare is these days.

One result of this collaboration happened recently when some of the production team graciously met to discuss my play. They came up with a series of statements and questions about my play that they shared with me. This is extremely helpful. Part of why I am interested in crowdsourcing the dramaturgical function for my plays is that I like ideas. I’m not the smartest person in the room, even if I am fairly intelligent, because we’re all smarter together. Together we come to better decisions and ideas than we do apart.

The list of questions they asked of me (and statements they made about the work) really help me see the play from a different perspective. I’m able to figure out what is working and what is not working. Oftentimes my wonderful production team helped identify why something wasn’t working (or was confusing). This is even more helpful.

The process also forced me to describe what I’m doing in non-playscript format. You can no longer hide behind the metaphoric language of a play or the suggestive stage directions — you have to explain yourself concretely. It turns out that this is an important step as it solidifies your goals and refocuses your selective eye. To that end, I wrote another draft.

The Words They Are a-Changin’

Of course it’s more than just words that change. Since plays are composed of “just words,” yet are able to elicit emotional responses, physical environments, and human actions, more than words change in even the smallest changes for a new draft.

I’m not going to get into the various changes here. I will, however, note two things that stand out to me in this draft.

  1. The idea of stopping the world with your finger.
    1. Once in reference to a small globe to find a new place to live (or possibly run away to).
    2. Finally in relation to the passage of time — the spinning of the actual earth.
  2. Mathematical skill, terms, and metaphors.

If you’re interested in locating the differences between Draft #1 and Draft #2 those concepts are the main ones that I’m aware of (because writers do not know everything about what they write).

The Drafts

These are both under the unfortunate All Rights Reserved until after the production. Then they will be released cc by-sa. Enjoy — and I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.

Draft #1: TheDecision
Draft #2: TheDecision(draft2)

Creative Commons Confusion

"Obscurity" By Nina Paley

Recently I received a question from a former student and friend that highlights the confusion concerning copyright law and the various types of Creative Commons licenses. I wrote about the Creative Commons license I choose to use in a previous post but I wanted to tackle this question in its own post as I think it is deserving. As her e-mail didn’t come with a CC license at the bottom I asked and received permission to reprint her question here:

Would you care if I used a monologue out of The Constellation Minuet? I saw it at LUTAF last year and remembered really liking it. Let me know if you’re not comfortable with it, I won’t use it. Just thought I would ask you first! ~Erin Hardy

I replied quickly with the following (in part):

As for using the work as a monologue: Yes you can. I’ve already given the okay in the license. (But thanks for asking/letting me know).

I use the cc-by-sa license which essentially says “please attribute my work to me, perform/remix/adapt it, and if you create something new with my art please do unto others as I have done unto you.” You can read the actual license here, but this confusion is a preventative force for the dissemination of my work on what is otherwise a great system (the internet) for exchange of content and ideas.

Let me be clear: I want you to use my work. Please use my work as an audition piece if you like it. Please include my work in your collection of short plays if you think it fits. Please print off 20 copies for your high school English class and analyse the language (and send me thoughts for what I might think about improving). Please e-mail my work to that person it reminded you of. Please create a scenic design for that play of mine you like (or lighting, or sound, or use it for a class, etc…). Please produce my work and take pictures and upload them somewhere (even a video).

I used to be confused about this license. I used to be cynical (Conan may help you see the light). I used to think that these licenses were merely traps. I used to think that these people offering something for “free” just wanted me to contact them with a link to how I used it in order to sue me (or some other nonsense). This isn’t a trap. I didn’t write these plays for them to sit in a drawer unused and unread forever: I wrote them to share them.

You don’t have to let me know if you’ve done, are doing, or will do my work. I would love to hear about it though. Send me an e-mail, post in the comments  on the play’s page, or do something else that is wonderful. I’m honored that you’d think of using my work. Please do.

Why I Choose Creative Commons BY-SA

People have been asking…

“Why are you not using copyright” or “why would you let people copy your stuff?” Well, I am using copyright (despite my opinion of it) because Creative Commons is a copyright license and it is my right to distribute and share my work in any way I choose. In other words: it is my right to give you rights.

For those of you who want the short version feel free to simply watch the graphic below. I didn’t create it (in the way we typically think about creation). I manipulated a static slide from a presentation distributed on the internet and added items at the beginning and end. I “adapted” or “expanded” or “stole” or “borrowed” or add your own term from the idea(s) in the presentation and the graphic in the presentation to make something new with that preexisting material.

For those interested in the longer explanation of how I came to decide that this type of license is important you can read the whole post. I’ve been doing art for a while now but it was, strangely, software that got me here. In fact, if you know me and wonder why I do the things I do concerning software, this post will partially serve to address that as well.

Moving Graphic explaining it all…

Some Words

It all started with software…

What started out as a need to find and use some no cost software (Firefox and OpenOffice) steadily turned into GNU/Linux toe tipping, then a full-fledged GNU/Linux operating system install, growing interest, then hobby, and finally turned to several subtle forms of activism.

I grew tired of not being able to open documents my students composed on older versions of software. I grew even more tired of not being able to open files from students who didn’t drop the cash to have the “official” word processor and instead used the one that came “free” with their operating system.

…and continued into the law…

My new interest in software slowly became activism because of the problems I saw my students facing with proprietary software. Indeed there were (and are) issues relating to software. One of the most startling legal leaps from computers to art was the RIAA’s lawsuit-parade against music sharing (or as they would have it: Piracy and Theft). Computers + Internet + Innovation + Artistic Content led (some say inevitably) to Lawsuits + Copyright + Courts.

One of the outgrowths of the internet was Napster which was a new way to copy music and share it with others over the internet quickly and easily. Damaging responses from the content owners (read: not the artists) quickly followed. One of the most damaging responses was for the music industry to sue their own customers. Another damaging response was DRM. DRM can be applied to digital content you purchase (though the industry would like to redefine “purchase” as “license”) meant to prevent you (the computer user) from using your computer in the way you desire.

Proprietary formats demonstrated the problem with DRM (at its core) when I found myself recreating my entire digital library from the disks I owned because of the proprietary format I had originally used to encode the tracks. I can’t tell you how happy I was to have never purchased DRM’ed content at that moment. You see I care about music. I buy it, I love it, I listen to it, and I am willing to part with lots of hard disk space to listen to it on-the-go at full quality. The problem came when I was moving from a Mac back to Windows. At the time Windows couldn’t read the proprietary music file format used by Apple… so I had to start over. This time I sought out and intentionally used the FLAC format because I didn’t ever want to experience this problem again. My files were literally locked away from me by a proprietary format.

…and then (surprisingly) found art…

The free/open source software movement tended to use a specific form of license for their code. It can be summed up in the four freedoms:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

It turns out that artistic enterprises could benefit from similar ideals. Little did I know that some artists I already loved like Jonathan CoultonCharles Mee, and Radiohead were already adhering to some of these ideals in one way or another. Mee offers the text of his plays online and encourages others to steal from them. Radiohead gave away their music as pay-what-you-want without a record label directly to their fans. Jonathan Coulton gave away his music using a Creative Commons license. Many other artists are doing the same or similar.

Nina Paley, an important filmmaker and cartoonist, translated the four freedoms of software into the four freedoms of free culture:

  1. the freedom to use the work and enjoy the benefits of using it
  2. the freedom to study the work and to apply knowledge acquired from it
  3. the freedom to make and redistribute copies, in whole or in part, of the information or expression
  4. the freedom to make changes and improvements, and to distribute derivative works

I’m not going to get into why not all of the Creative Commons licenses (there are several) are fully supportive of Free Culture (as others have addressed that issue) but I do find that the free culture supportive CC BY-SA license more fully embraces the brief four line ideal Lessig used in his recent presentation, “Freeing Culture,” as the above appropriated graphic from his presentation demonstrates.

I really do appreciate the existence of Creative Commons licenses as they provide artists with an opportunity to really embrace the present age of the internet and allow new amazing art forms to flourish. These new forms spring forth from our increased ability to connect across artificial boundaries. In fact, they spring from our ability to copy. Creative Commons licenses try to balance the insanity of current copyright law (Lessig has called the governmental response to the internet “absurd”) with the reality of the world we live in (every computer is a copying machine).

…and liberated this artist from the burden of “originality.”

It is fitting, then, that I end with Nina Paley’s stunning post “The Cult of Originality.” I won’t repost the content of the piece here because it is aided so beautifully by images. In some ways the sentiment in that post can be distilled to Minute Meme #2: All Creative Work is Derivative. I strongly suggest you encounter both works (written/drawn and animated photographs) because they both free the artist from the fallacy of originality. We all create from the things around us. That includes people, art, events, inventions and other things that add up to the great inexpressible bibliography we call our mind. Our influences are innumerable and our sources inexplicable.

This honesty about influence in art is freeing. You don’t need to pretend that you drink wine and channel a deity while near your keyboard for a certain number of hours each day. You can freely take and steal things from your culture instead. You can let it infuse you. Creative Commons helps allow you to channel your culture, allow your culture to channel you, and watch culture itself multiply.

If you’re one of those guys who doesn’t pay for music we’re gonna have a problem…

No. We won’t have a problem. I pay for my music… I just choose to obtain it in non-proprietary formats without DRM and through inoffensive mediums. To that end this tech enthusiast only buys used CD’s from local shops (surprised?). Sometimes I listen to Pandora. I purchased a non-DRM download of Girl Talk‘s Feed the Animals in FLAC recently. I don’t buy this stuff to rip and share with everyone via P2P networks either.

I respect and obey copyright to the extent I understand it. You should too. I would love to live in a world where copyright made enough sense for non-lawyers to comprehend it (since that is what we apparently need to be able to do until the law changes). Part of the problem is the fact that there is no penalty for the holders of copyright to get it wrong and send cease and desist letters to anyone (like artists) for anything (including art falling under “fair use”). Sites like YouTube don’t have the resources to review every video on their site or even examine each cease and desist letter to ensure they’re not censoring free speech when they take videos down. This is how copyright breeds censorship. So should we get rid of things like YouTube? No. There are too many great things happening there.

The below video is a good example of all of this:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzUoWkbNLe8&feature=player_embedded]

The [small] finish

Some of you will undoubtedly consider me an extremist. That’s fine. Some of you will accuse me of trying to destroy art, music, theatre, film, and (most importantly) artists themselves. In that you are wrong. I create, promote and value art. I think that art is ultimately too important to be owned by anyone (especially people other than the artist) for over a century (as copyright law currently allows).

No book should be “out-of-print” in a digital world because that concept just doesn’t make sense anymore. Old films shouldn’t be decaying in cans because copyright law financially prevents interested parties from restoring and preserving them. Parts of our culture are literally disappearing and disintegrating (Nina explained this somewhere). These cultural artifacts fade from our history and our historical record because of our outdated copyright laws. None of that even takes into account the amount of new art being removed from the internet with bogus DMCA claims. None of that even takes into account the amount of art that never even gets created because the artist is too afraid (or not even allowed) to employ their own culture in their art for fear of being sued by a confusing system that was never built (or extended) with artists in mind.

I donated to the Musopen project on Kickstarter. This project was set up to fund new recordings by great orchestras of public domain works (Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky) and release the recordings themselves into the public domain. This would mean that we could all listen to these great works, use them in our videos and for our productions, copy and remix and distribute them to others. Most of these composers have been dead for over a century.

I’d say it’s about time.
Some people don’t agree.
I don’t understand those people.
Hopefully now you understand me.

Some Primary Sources (or, the stuff that I know has influenced my thoughts on the subject in addition to the links above):
Cartoonist/Activist/Filmmaker Nina Paley
Writer/Activist Cory Doctorow
QuestionCopyright.org
The Electronic Frontier Foundation
Lawrence Lessig
Free Software Foundation
Richard Stallman
…and inevitably other people and sources.

My Play in RROAPS 2011

The Decision to be Produced

As luck would have it a little play of mine (at present titled The Decision) has been selected for a production in the RROAPS one-act festival at Texas Tech for the coming Spring. Perhaps it wasn’t luck at all (maybe it was something else) but I’m not complaining. Here’s the <50 word description:

A terrible event took place. An unlikely friendship was broken. One decision can’t be undone but two others hang in the balance. Can the advice of a sixty year old man help a troubled youth? Help himself? The Decision examines how the decisions we’ve made change the decisions we’ll make.

Street Photography

This particular play was an outgrowth of a series of monologues I was writing while studying for my qualifying exams. I decided to look at so called “street photography” via the web and find interesting images of people. I would find a person that struck me (mostly portraits as I wasn’t interested in what they were actually doing) and take off writing something in a way that I imagined they might speak.

Most of these experiments terminated (happily) in about half a page. They were a little world of their own. Sometimes they were successful and sometimes they weren’t. They were always interesting though (and I plan on releasing a set of them under the plays section once I have about ten pages worth of material to share. They just might make for an interesting moment or two of theatre (in performance or audition).

The Decision, happily, would not conclude in half a page and was, instead, forced to continue as something a little bigger and a little more complex. The play is basically an outgrowth of a monologue, inspired by a street photograph, that refused to just be a monologue.

The Wrongs: A Temporarily Unfortunate Copyright

As a condition of being considered (and subsequently selected) for the RROAPS festival scheduled for the coming spring I am unable to allow productions of The Decision prior to Texas Tech’s RROAPS . I do not, however, want to leave the play in a semi-hidden state. So while the play will (for the time being) be released under the unfortunate “ALL RIGHTS RESERVED” copyright license, I do want people to read and respond to it in the interim.

One of the purposes of RROAPS is to put original works in front of an audience (after being in the forming fires of actors, directors, dramaturgs and designers) for the purpose of improving them. While I will certainly receive many great ideas and opinions from the many great people working on the show at TTU, I would also welcome comments from the larger community.

The Play

Click to download the play: The Decision

At present it is released ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (which will change after production). I’d love to have you read and respond to the play in the comments below. Please understand that if you comment about the play you are giving me the right to incorporate those opinions, comments, and ideas into the work (or maybe some other work in the future). You needn’t worry. All of those works, too, will be returned to you by being released under a CC BY-SA license eventually.

Multiple Drafts

When I (I’m assuming that I will) complete subsequent versions/drafts of The Decision I will continue to post them here for your responses. When we are finished I will post the various variations of the script to show a progression. All will be released under a CC BY-SA license following the closing night of performance.

Thanks & Enjoy. ~Kyle