Why a Podcast?

WritersGetAnimatedLogo

What should I do with all of this useless information in my head?

Though I would be flattered to think anyone cared about the depths of trivia I think about, the bottom line is that even most nerds let their eyes gloss over if I start to talk about the adaptation of Shakespeare into Saturday morning cartoon shows. Could I write a book on animated television show writing? Yes. Should I? Maybe.

They say great wisdom is knowing when to use great power.

So what do you do? When I can't talk to people on the street about cartoon writing, and there isn't exactly an M.A. in animated dramaturgy... When I can't go from zero to animated TV show writer, what is one to do? Chris and I started a podcast.

Writers Get Animated is part-theory, part-improv. In it, we try to explore all of writing's little nuances in cartoon shows. Everything from the most emotional moments of Futurama, to the best-constructed fart jokes. Usually the fart jokes are more fun to talk about. The podcast is only a thinly-veiled attempt to meet people in Big Animation. In addition to academic breakdowns (aka English-majoring-the-crap-out-of-things), we also just have fun. 

It Writes Itself! is an improv game we developed to showcase our creative (and ridiculous) talents. Chris and I spin some metaphorical wheels (they're in an app), and then spend 7 minutes developing a pitch for a crossover concept between two properties and an added gimmicky cliche. For example: Popeye and Akira as teenagers. In this concept, Popeye fills the roll of the titular Akira. He has a jet ski instead of motorcycles and eats some bad spinach that turns him into the monster. Ultimately, it is Popeye's untamed tweenage rage that prevents him from controlling his temper.

There's also a healthy portion of commentary in there, though. We dish on diversity in animation, how cliffhangers work, and what 'tone' means in animated television writing. Hopefully many more meaningful topics. Though like with any podcast, we have more fun along the way than we should.

Here's a primer in Writers Get Animated:

If you like that, subscribe to us on iTunes. Leave us a nice review! Keep posted at @WGAnimated on Twitter. Like us on Facebook. Tumble around with us

...okay, the last one doesn't work as a call to action.

The Vaunt – 04/21/15

THE VAUNT 04-21-15

Yes, this is the first time I'm writing The Vaunt. This column is a platform for me to talk about all the nerdy, amazing shit that I didn't personally make. It's what's giving me life (as the gays say); these are my favorite things (as Oprah would say); "Oh, Mackenzie doesn't hate things after all" (as my college friends would say). These are all things I love. For a long while or just a few minutes, these things have made my life better and I'm going to do my best to share them on a weekly basis.

If you like word play, literature, video games, artisanal food, traveling, home decor, movies, tech, great apps, teaching strategies, political videos, Taoism, nerds, cartoons, improv, or Tina Fey's parodies of Boston... then jesus god I hope I get around to talking about one of those things.

The idea is that I'll only praise things I love.

Star Wars Rebels

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Av8GjpGK98A

I am so, so excited about Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, but so many don't yet know about Star Wars Rebels. This show (on Disney XD) had a rough start, but was partially written by one of my favorite people – Greg Weisman. The guy who did Gargoyles and many other great shows. He's not involved in season 2, but essentially Act I of the show is over.

No spoilers, but everything went crazy in the season finale. Someone bit the dust, a major character made a return, and (obviously) Darth Vader returns to the Star Wars franchise. This is literally the only place to get more Vader.

Fans of the previous cartoon show will recognize a lot of familiar faces in this trailer. Captain Rex is someone who I grew to love and I'm so happy to have him back unexpectedly. Hondo is... still around. And the only 'Sith' (that may be spoilers) more fun than Vader – Ventress is hinted at as still being alive.

There are plenty of rumors about the future of fan-favorite Asajj Ventress – none of which are worth repeating here until they're fact. I don't want to go nerd out in The Vaunt, but if I were to ever cosplay... I'd shave my head, do drag, and put on whiteface for Ventress.

Aw, crap. Sharon Needles already did that.

sharon-needles-drag-race-ep1
sharon-needles-drag-race-ep1

Stromae

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiKj0Z_Xnjc

NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast recently introduced me to Stromae. If that intro didn't give you a hint, this Vaunt is going to get a tad hip.

Stromae is a Belgian rapper / pop star whose father was Rwandan and killed in the 1994 genocide. Papaoutai (roughly: "Dad, where are you?) is an echo of that. It's angry, it's sad, and it's really catchy. I love this song. Not only because it's not in English – I just think that Stromae deserves more international recognition. This song came out in 2013. Oops? Guess I'm a little behind the times.

Papaoutai has been on repeat in my car between episodes of...

Professor Blastoff

Professor Blastoff logo
Professor Blastoff logo

...another one I'm late for the game on. My Aunt recently kidnapped me for a performance of Tig Notaro. And I was hooked. After the show, I was asking her if there's more of Tig and her friends out in the world – she told me "yes, yes there is." Professor Blastoff is a weekly podcast and the funniest thing to happen to me in a car since that time I put my hand in Taylor's vomit* (sorry, Taylor). So now I, too, am a Blastronaut.

New episodes on Tuesdays. If you like dry, dry, dry, dry, dry, dry, dry, moist humor... then you're also missing out. Don't be like me. No one wants to be like me. This guy? I'm not even likeable. You should start listening now. To be less like me.

If you really want the gold star, start from the beginning because I'm not that ambitious.

Saga

Prince Robot IV - from Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan
Prince Robot IV - from Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan

Saga is a new comic series from Brian K. Vaughan, author of Y: The Last Man and some of the better Lost episodes. It's pretty much everything you could want in a fictional story. It's Star Wars meets Harry Potter meets Battlestar Galactica. Prince Robot IV (above) basically sums up the tone of the series. If you're not intrigued by this porn-prone, TV-headed antagonist, then you're not going to get into Saga. Sorry. Skip to the next thing.

I picked up the first trade paperback (at a reasonable $9.99) at an independent comics shop. Yeah, yeah. I shop local. The first arc is easy to get into and hits all the right marks while pushing the envelope. This is another "no spoilers" moment, but the artist almost refused to draw a scene. It's rough.

Ultimately, the series is about bringing life into a crazy world. Why would anyone want to do that? This is fantasy, but it's got truth in it that hits home.

The Magic Whip

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfqLrQB3shg

FINALLY! And 'finally' in The Vaunt... Blur has a new album. After a 12-year gap (in which time they made the Gorillaz), Blur has released a new studio album. It's on iTunes Radio First Play right now. I highly recommend giving it a listen. It's the quirky British rock you didn't know you missed.

I Broadcast (above) represents some of the finest of Blur. It's high-energy and comes close to dissonance a few times. It's their quintessential sound.

I've been a Blur fan since college (i.e.: after their hiatus started, oops). Stumbling on this new album was a happy accident and gave me something to look forward to this week.

That, and it taught me the value of using artist alerts in the iTunes Store.

*Story for another time.

Make English Majors Show Their Work

Make English Majors Show Their Work

If you didn't know, I moonlight as a copywriter. It's nice money and I control how much money I make / how much work I have at a time. Don't get me wrong; it's also a huge pain in my ass. For many reasons. But the biggest is without a doubt the fact that everyone in America thinks they can write. You can't.

Disclaimer: I am not claiming that this blog is a shining beacon of quality. I usually write these in one quick session and maybe, maybe, I'll proofread them. This blog is a hobby. My professional one gets a little more scrutiny from me.

The Hubris

Any copywriter can tell you about the client (or agency superior) who has constant edits for their writing – most of which actually detract from the writing. That's because they do no have in mind how the audience would read it; they have in mind how they would write this. As a writer, you can never match their voice. It's a faulty way of measuring the subjective quality of a piece.

But advertising is a stubborn old mule.

Most people are only concerned with getting the right answer. For those of you who did not grow up in 80s or later, this may sound familiar. There was a time that math class was only concerned with the right answer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIKGV2cTgqA

Math Education ('Maths' to the British in the audience) hit its stride and started teaching how to do math instead of how to get the right answer. I never got multiplication in elementary school until a teacher showed me how to do lattice multiplication. I never got another multiplication question wrong ever again. Because I didn't have to do it in my head. I learned how to multiply.

Unfortunately, writing never received the same treatment.

The Problem With How We Teach Writing

At best, students will be able to do a rewrite of their English paper. They'll get spelling and grammar corrections, but not edits of how to improve the structure of their paper. If they do get structural edits, they may be based on a premise that the student didn't intend to convey.

In math and physics, we'd always have points taken off for not showing our work. The same should be true for English majors.

When students turn in a paper for English class, they should have to turn in an outline, short responses to the research books they read, and quick answers about what their premise was. Otherwise we're not teaching writing; we are teaching students that getting the right answer is more important than doing it right. And that's how we get clients and bosses who think they can write – but never had to work for it.

Sadly, it'll take more than just changing how an English degree works to fix this. Not every professor knows how to write or even how to grade work in progress. They're a product of this system, too. I got my English degree from one of the most renowned programs in the country. I didn't learn how to write until I became an intern at a magazine after graduation.

What Playwriting Gets Right

Even though my English classes didn't teach me how to write, my Playwriting professor did.

(See? There is a reason this is on my creative writing blog!)

We had to talk about concepts for scenes in class. Our monthly journals were reflections on our writing processes. Our peers even helped us describe in one sentence what the main character's objective was in each scene. We were graded on process.

Later, while trying to figure out how to be a journalist and copywriter, I'd return to my playwriting knowledge. Writing in both of those fields has a goal of conveying a feeling to an audience. Oh hey, that sounds like an objective. And each paragraph is a tactic for getting the reader to feel something. What's fun about writing for the web is that you get to UI/UX design, writing a new pages for if you succeed or fail in your objective to make the reader feel something.

So if you have a playwriting education, you're probably more qualified for that technical writer job than a run-of-the-mill English major.

Lessons Learned from Self-producing a Reading

Heartbreak: New Plays by Mackenzie Worrall

If you want it done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself. That's why I'll usually produce my own readings for works in progress. I hit up the owner of Kafe Kerouac who very generously lends his coffee shop out to literary groups around the city. If you're in Columbus, I can't emphasize enough how much of a help Mike is to the local scene. (Plus, the Toni Morrison is to die for.)

I did a few things differently than the last time. So... maybe, just maybe, these lessons will stick for the next reading.

1. Marketing is Important

This is something I know. I tried some new things this time (Facebook! Telling people in person!), but my turn out wasn't as high as last time. In part, that was intentional. My audience last time was so huge that I don't think I got a lot of quality feedback. To fix it, I intentionally advertised less.

The result? I knew all but two people personally. More people stayed for the feedback, but it was almost entirely positive comments.

Yay, my ego.

However, I organize a reading to hear the negative things. So. Next time. Tell fewer people in person; advertise more around town in coffee shops. This awesome poster (partly seen in the featured image of this post) was handmade by the talented Maddie Gobbo and only Facebook got to see its glory. So far. It's too awesome to stop using. It'll see the light of day again.

2. Have Someone Else Run Your Talkback

The amazing and super, super smart Chris Leyva ran the talkback after the show. This is something I love to do, but I also know that I'm too close to my own work to do it right. This was the first time someone else took the reigns for me. Even if I could only give him credit for talking while I frantically wrote things down, that would be enough to be life changing.

However, Chris took the conversation in valuable and interesting directions. He pursued lines of thought I would've glanced over.

That night was also his first night seeing my plays. I gave him no preparation. (Thanks, Chris!)

Lesson learned? Always have someone else run your talkback. And if possible, make that person Chris Leyva.

3. Skype is an Acceptable Rehearsal tool

I've never used Skype outside of my marketing work. This time, I used it to rehearse two separate actors who couldn't attend my main rehearsal. The play was mostly monologues. With Skype, we did a face-to-face reading and I gave each actor separate notes. The reading was their first time doing it together.

You know what? It worked.

Now that I know Skype is fine, I may start looking for actors outside of Columbus. I can rehearse them ahead of time and they can come in for the reading. Wow. Modern technology, am I right?

Thanks

Finally, I can't thank the following people enough for their involvement. Adam Greenbaum Latek, Emily Bartelt, Alexander Sanchez, Scott Riser, K.C. Novak, Jordan Shear, and Amy Hall were my talented group of actors. Madeline Gobbo for the poster, Ethan Roberts of Cinema Parmesean for the recording, Mike and Kafe Kerouac for the space, and Chris Leyva for making it all worthwhile.

More info to come on what happens to these plays! The submissions process has begun. I'm also planning on producing them right here in Columbus. Don't worry. I won't let you miss the announcement when that happens.

Taoism in the Everyday

Tao in the Everyday

I've joked that I'm an "armchair Taoist". While I don't talk a lot about religion (I'm still grappling with it), I think that Taoism comes closest to expressing my beliefs. Also, it's core text is a marriage of poetry and art. It's hard not to be attracted to that. Growing up a Lutheran, it was easy to find comfort in the ten commandments. Easy, plain rules that summed up religion. But what I liked about them as a kid, I grew up to have troubles with. A lot of "thou shalt not"s and all that. Instead of being told what not to do, I found that Taoism offered seven lines of advice on how to live your life – seven things to do.

居善地,心善淵,與善仁,言善信,正善治,事善能,動善時

In my favorite translation (that lives next to my bed), these come off just as simply in English.

Live in a good place. Keep your mind deep. Treat others well. Stand by your word. Make fair rules. Do the right thing. Work when it's time.

I've used these at marketing agencies and various jobs to describe my aesthetic and approach. There will probably never be a time when I don't identify with these lines. I'm posting this today (New Year's Eve) in lieu of any resolutions. Instead of new goals, I'm reminding myself of these overarching themes in my life.

Sidenote: I've been thinking about getting a tattoo for awhile. This is the winner. Kind of bulky in English, so yes. I will be that d-bag with a Chinese tattoo.

Kind of hard to put that much Chinese together, though. Still searching for a good way to make this minimalist. Any ideas? You can reach me via the Contact button at the top.

Reading Emptiness

Reading Emptiness

"How much emptiness can you say you've read?"

That's from the illustrious Griffin.

To be fair, it was sort of a crack at one of my favorite authors (Anne Carson) and her penchant for using negative space in published works. It borders on art.

BUT, it feels like an apt description for how to read a play. Also, how to write them I guess. Play scripts should be about the emptiness. Each play is ambiguous. You don't know who will direct or act in your script, you don't know who will see your production, and you don't know what other works they've seen before this. A theatrical play should be intentionally ambiguous.

Or, as my writing instructor at Second City told us a director once said to him about writing stage directions: Fuck you, that's my job.

Beats/Pauses/Silences are permission for readers to imagine succinctly in a play script. In teaching, we talk about how to connect with different types of learners. Kinesthetic learners need time and permission to play – even briefly – in an hour-and-a-half class. The two minutes they have to play with the problem in front of them is time to refocus and refresh their brains. I think this is true of plays also. These moments of emptiness give you temporary permission to imagine what could be happening on stage. They engage your ability to tell the story and give you a chance to set expectations for what you think might happen next in the story – only to have the story satisfy or rebuke those expectations later.

Harold Pinter is, of course, the master of such things.

Every line is a realignment of expectations and frustrating rebuttal to whatever you might've been expecting from the last insatiable pause you sat through. It's a cocktease. And some Pinter plays I admittedly love (Celebration) and some I hate (Homecoming). So I'm not saying drop everything and read Pinter, but you should at least know who he is. He is the most recent playwright to win the Nobel Prize (correct me if I'm wrong please, internet).

Pinter aside, every play script is rhythmic exercise in emptiness. Anne Carson may write for visual emptiness and they may be why I enjoy her work, but I can say I've read quite a bit of emptiness even without counting her poetry.

--------------

For further reading: John Cage (composer of 4'33") on silence:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcHnL7aS64Y