The Creativity of Yes + Fellows Hip Trailer

Today’s post is a guest post on Transpositions: “The Creativity of Yes: The Marian Role of the Viewer”

And The Fellows Hip‘s first trailer is out!

We’re trying to attract distributors, so please “Like” and comment if you’re willing. Here are some other ways you can help us find distribution:

1. View our YouTube videos, and give a thumb’s up to your favorites. (These videos need to be in the thousands of views!)

2. Leave a Comment and Subscribe to our YouTube Channel.

3. Join our Facebook Fan Page.

4. Follow us on Twitter!!/OpeningActProd

5. Join in on the conversation with our blog.

6. Join and let others know about our email list. (Submit your ZIP code – or city for those outside the U.S. – to let distributors know where screenings should take place!)

7. Pre-order the DVD (and receive exclusive special features). Pre-orders not only help us finish the film faster, they also show distributors stronger than anything else that there is an audience for the film.

8. Do you know someone who could help in getting the word out to the masses? I’d love to talk to that person.

Stay tuned for more information on a podcast interview that the other lead cast members and I are doing next week! In the meantime, you can read this recent article on the film. ETA: The podcast is now up! Interview begins at 34:00: LOTRO Reporter Episode 88 – The Fellows Hip Redux. (And here’s a second interview, recorded prior to the cast’s, with the awesome Fellows Hip producers – begins at 30:42: LOTRO Reporter Episode 87 – Interview w/ Opening Act Productions.)

In other news, this week I received a full work-study grant to attend this year’s C.S. Lewis Summer Institute at Oxbridge, run by the C.S. Lewis Foundation, where I will be presenting a 20-minute version of my thesis, “C.S. Lewis on the Moral Responsibility of the Christian Artist”, as part of the Academic Roundtable. Thank you to the Foundation, and let me know if you’ll be attending! I presented a longer version to the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society this past Tuesday, which was received well, and the attendees created some interesting discussion of their own afterwards.

I’m still looking for members of religious orders in the professional theatre, Christians who run secular professional theatres, and professional theatres which excel at community-building for my Theatre R&D tour this summer. Stops so far include New York City, Toronto, Boston, D.C., Chapel Hill, Austin, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Chicago, with a few stops in smaller areas such as Alberta and Kansas. I hope to have a draft itinerary up in my next blog post (probably after my final Oxford exams, which run June 6-17). Let me know who I should visit!

Behind-the-Scenes Interview: “Nate” in The Fellows Hip

Two summers ago, I shot my first feature film lead role as “Nate”, one of four teenage Lord of the Rings Online gamers and Tolkien geeks in the comedy feature film The Fellows Hip: Rise of the Gamers. As the film nears the end of post-production, you can now watch my behind-the-scenes interview, shot on set:

(Btw, I realize I misspoke and said that Estel was Quenya for “hope”. It’s actually Sindarin. Goheno nin, Elvish linguists!)

A fan has suggested I attend this year’s Tolkien Society Oxonmoot in Oxford in September, as well as the Tolkien Society Return of the Ring event at Loughborough University in August 2012. Is anyone interested in learning more about the film and talking Tolkien at either of those events, especially if I can wrangle some other members of the film to join me?

Thanks for watching!

Other Fellows Hip-related links:

The Fellows Hip Movie @ Facebook (#1 place to keep up with current news – new posters, videos, & updates posted regularly)

Opening Act Productions (with Fellows Hip posters & production sample videos!) (pre-order the DVD, request local screenings, & watch production samples!)

The Fellows Hip @ IMDB

Opening Act Productions @ Twitter

Opening Act Productions @ YouTube (with more behind-the-scenes videos!)

Theatre R&D – The Research Tour

I’ve been reading Chris Guillebeau’s blog The Art of Non-Conformity recently (added to blogroll), and this post struck me. In it, Chris relates a piece of advice that marketing guru Seth Godin gave him: “I think you need more of an agenda.”

Chris started thinking about his blog’s agenda, and I’ve been thinking about mine. I’ve also been thinking about where I go once I leave Oxford, which will probably be the case at the end of July. (I finish my final exams in June, and am sticking around for the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s triennial conference, the C.S. Lewis Summer Institute at Oxbridge, Jul. 26 – Aug. 3. I’ll be presenting on “C.S. Lewis on the Moral Responsibility of the Christian Artist” as part of the Academic Roundtable. Go here for more information or to register.)

I don’t yet know where I’ll be this coming autumn. It could be St Andrews, Duke, Kings College London, or Oxford. Or, if I’m not accepted into any of those programs in the first round, it could be almost anywhere else.

Wherever I am, I feel the time is right to start taking steps towards the religious theatre community I wrote about a year ago. Now, I’ve decided to approach the religious life and theatre aspects separately, partly because I’m still allowing my recent conversion to Catholicism to settle into a deeper regular practice before I start making any moves toward vocation, but also because I think they will have to operate as two separate entities, even if they end up being linked later. In any case, I’ve spent a year-and-a-half in a theatrical fallow period, since I’ve been focusing on my studies and writing at Oxford, and I’m rarin’ to go again.

Another blog post that has stuck in my head recently is from Scott Walters, on “The Need for Theatre R&D”. Scott’s vision of a theatre company living communally, and rooted in its community, has inspired much of my thought on the kind of company I would like to start. This new post, emphasizing the importance of theatre makers sharing the results of their experiments with the wider field, verbalized another goal of mine, the artist-scholar model, in which company members not only exercise their craft, but also contribute to the intellectual discourse of their field. (That’s why my ideal space has a comfortable – and comfortably large – library!)

To that end, I’m going to be undertaking a research tour of the U.S. and Canada this August-September. There are two kinds of theatre makers (both individual artists and companies) whom I would like to meet:

1)      Christians working in secular theatre. I am especially interested in companies run by Christians, or with a Christian background/mission, that produce work aimed at general audiences, as opposed to church drama ministries, companies that serve primarily church audiences, or groups that function primarily as mission teams. These types of work are valuable, but they’re not what I feel called to do. I’m looking for companies that produce shows alongside the rest of the theatres in their area, but are informed by Christian faith. (Basically the theatrical equivalent of the Inklings.) I’m especially interested in members of religious orders who are using theatre.

2)      Theatres which have especially close bonds with their local community. In keeping with the principles of Scott’s vision, as well as the guiding principle of hospitality that informs my vision of a Benedictine theatre company, I’m looking for theatres which are rooted in their local communities, instead of focused solely on the needs and desires of the artists. Which professional/semi-professional theatres do you know that epitomize neighbourliness and community?

My goal is to study the practices of these groups, in order to glean and share information, examples, and inspiration that will serve our wider community (as well as guiding the development of my own company).

Tell me where to drive this summer!

Is Tolkien Useless?

This week’s post is actually a guest post at Transpositions, the student blog of St Andrews’ Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts (which has been added to the blogroll on the right). They’re kicking off a series of responses to last week’s ITIA conference on David Brown, which I attended. I answer a statement made by one of the keynote speakers that fantasy literature is not of any use to living the Christian life.

So, Is Tolkien Useless?

Working Summer

I thought I’d do an update post before I continued my series on a Benedictine theatre company.

I’m in what’s called the Long Vac in Oxford parlance – the long vacation during the summer, during which students are expected to do the bulk of the primary reading required for their course. I’m also using the time primarily to write my BA thesis on “C.S. Lewis on the Moral Responsibility of the Christian Artist.” I spent three weeks at Wheaton College finishing up my reading (I’ve now read all the published Lewis material, except for book reviews and other minor pieces that haven’t yet been collected into a book – though I did skim through the book reviews the Wade Center at Wheaton had on file, and took a glance at the Lewis Papers).

I then went to northern Virginia and shot two principal roles for an educational video, aimed at teaching bartenders and servers how to deal with unruly customers. (I played a restaurant customer who made inappropriate comments to his waitress, and also a bar patron who’d had a wee too much to drink – seriously playing against type!) It was nice to make some money this summer, instead of just spending it traveling.

I also did ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement) for The Fellows Hip. It was my first time doing ADR, and though we did about three scenes worth of dialogue, it took less than an hour, averaging about 4-5 takes per line. I saw a rough cut of the film beforehand, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished product.

By the way, you can now pre-order the DVD! It’s only $10 $15 ($14 $19 total with S&H in the U.S.) – AND this DVD comes with extra bonus features for folks that pre-order!

I then drove down to Virginia to attend a friend’s wedding, and then directly afterward drove up for another friend’s wedding in New York City the next day. I then stayed in NYC for a few days to see friends (and my favorite teacher at NYU), and next drove to Vermont to stay for a week at my uncle’s horse farm.

After a week of unloading hay carts, mucking out stalls, and doing various other tasks on the farm, I drove home to Virginia, stopping on the way to visit the Northfield, Mass. campus of the C.S. Lewis College (where I met Jean Mattson, wife of C.S. Lewis Foundation President Stan Mattson, sadly no relation to me) and to stay overnight with one of my NYU friends who is about to begin her last year of med school in New Jersey.

I arrived home last Friday, and attended a party for the 50th wedding anniversary of two of my Sunday school teachers on Saturday. Sunday was early Mass and then 11 a.m. service with my mother at the Presbyterian church where I grew up in the Faith. Today, I had lunch with another one of my Sunday school teachers, a gentle, wise, and holy man whom, along with his wife, my family greatly loves and respects. Afterwards, I went to see Inception, which is a pretty good movie. At the moment, I’m typing this while sitting in the living room with my parents, with the Jack Ryan flick Patriot Games playing on the T.V. (Jack Ryan, by the way, is one of those wonderful examples of how heroic figures can be interesting, much more so than anti-heroes, which seems to be an unbelievable statement to many actors  and other story-telling artists. I love when, in Clear and Present Danger, the corrupt CIA Deputy Director Robert Ritter tells Ryan he’s “such a boy scout” – as if that’s an insult – and needs to see the world and its moral choices in shades of grey, not black and white. Ryan retorts, “Not black and white – right and wrong.” Sadly, the voice of Ritter is all too often seen as the more true statement, and even the healthier [!] one. Actually, if we were all “boy scouts” like Jack Ryan, the world would be a much better place.)

This week I’ll be finishing up organizing my notes for my thesis, which I will start writing next week. I will also be visiting Duke August 16-20, which I’m very excited about. I’ll not only be seeing some friends, but also meeting with a couple current ThD students and a Divinity School professor. (Duke’s ThD and St Andrews’ PhD in Theology and the Arts are my top two choices for graduate school.)

Afterward, I’ll be coming back here for another week and prepping for my last year at Oxford, and then heading back to the U.K. the first week of September. My first stop will be the Theology, Aesthetics, and Culture conference at St Andrews, focusing on the works of David Brown. Next, I’ll be attending the Beatification ceremony of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, led by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in Birmingham on Sept. 19!  (Learn more about the papal visit, the first visit to the U.K. by a pope in his capacity as a head of state since Henry VIII, here.) Finally, my goal is to finish my thesis and hand in an edited draft to my supervisor for his comments by the end of September.

So, that’s what’s going on for me this summer. Let me know if you’d like to meet up at any point!

More on a Christian Theatre

My posts “Offending the Audience”, “Towards a Christian Theatre Tribe”, and “Theatre Company Brain Dump” have gotten a relatively large amount of attention. There are comments on this blog and on my Facebook page that have been waiting for responses for a month. (Life has been very busy, filled with several 15-17 hour work-days, and I won’t have a day off until mid-June, which is why this is the first week I didn’t have a post up on Monday.) I thought I’d address a few of the themes from the comments, in a simplified Q&A-type format.

You said that one of your goals as an artist is to inspire hope. Do you think that all art should be positive and uplifting?

No. I believe that hope exists for the world and for each individual person, so any piece of art that is nihilistic or makes the claim that all is hopeless and life is meaningless I would repudiate as untrue. I also believe that one of the purposes of art is to remind the audience that hope exists. However, there is room for many different types of art, not all of which is pleasant to experience. For example, another legitimate purpose for art is to remind the audience that evil exists. If the art piece stops there, I don’t think it has gone far enough, but it still serves a purpose. If it goes so far as to say that evil not only exists, but is inevitable and undefeatable, I would say it is wrong. If, on the other hand, it not only states that there is evil, but also hints at the possibility of overcoming it, I would say it does well. For example, The Lord of the Rings is filled with much evil and destruction, and part of the point of the chapter “The Scouring of the Shire” is to remind the reader that the effects of evil are real, and can’t be wished away. The Appendix to the book even discusses the death of Aragorn, and there are several reminders that even this hard-won victory of the restoration of the Kingship of Gondor will one day fade away. However, Tolkien being a faithful Roman Catholic, we are assured that one day the marring of Arda will be undone, and Middle Earth will be remade into a new and glorious form, free from all evil and the workings of Melkor. There is hope.

You keep saying art should serve this purpose, and that purpose. Do you think the artist should make art with a particular purpose in mind?

Again, no. He may, but good art generally starts with an image, or a longing to tell a particular story, or some such expression of a creative impulse. However, between the first stirrings of that impulse, and the exposure of the finished product to an audience, I believe the artist should consider whether his work is good, not only in terms of quality, but in terms of serving someone besides himself. Does it celebrate, inspire, strengthen, edify, teach, warn, confront? It doesn’t have to do all of these things, or even one in particular, but it should in some way make the world better for the fact that it exists. And it should be true; that is, the audience member, through experiencing it, should have gained some level of true understanding about himself, the world, or his relation to the world. If he learns that life is meaningless, he has not gained understanding, as he has been taught something untrue. However, this line of thought leaves the realm of art per se, and gets into philosophy and theology. We may agree, as artists, about the best techniques in which to say something, but completely differ as to what is worth saying, and whether what the other says is true.

But isn’t the artist’s responsibility just to the quality of his art?

No. As a human being, and a member of the human community, he has a responsibility to act morally and serve his fellow human beings – in his case, through the creation of art. (I would also add that, as a creature, he also has a responsibility to his Creator, but I won’t go further into that in this post.) As a commenter on one of Scott Walters‘ posts (I think) said, artists are not social workers. They don’t serve in the same way social workers, or teachers, or pastors serve. However, he must serve, in whichever way he is called, and in whichever way his particular style of creation can serve.

However, this question brings up a very important point. For too long, especially in Christian art (to our disgrace), standards for art have seemed to live by the maxim, “As long as your heart’s in the right place, your work doesn’t need to be especially good.” One of the commenters on my blog, Alida Anderson, has an awesome post on her blog Thoughts on Art and Faith, called “When ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough”:

Too often, I think that the attitude within the church is, “Whatever we give God, he’ll do something good with, so I don’t have to give my best.” And yes, while it’s true that God makes beauty out of our brokenness, it doesn’t give us the excuse to be lazy or to give less than our best–not only the best of what we currently are, but the best of what we can be, through training, practice, and honing our skills…

When Christians make art that presents our faith to the world, we come at it with a significant disadvantage, because people have a preconceived idea about what “Christian art” (or movies, or music, or theatre) is like, and that preconceived idea is, more often than not, that the work is cheesy, outdated, preachy, ineffectual, and so on and so forth. There’s a notion of what the work looks like, and when the work feeds into that stereotype because we don’t do the best we possibly can, it is not only dishonoring in our work as worship, but it reinforces a stereotype that doesn’t need any more help being perpetuated.

Yes, God can work through–and despite–us in anything… Still, it can’t be good enough to hope and pray for the best results from work that is less than the best. If God can do amazing things through mediocre work done by imperfect, broken people, imagine what he can do through excellent work done by imperfect, broken people. We’re still the broken part of the equation. That doesn’t change. But the work we do doesn’t have to be half-assed because of it.

Exactly. As an artist – just the same as with a shoemaker, architect, or doctor – you still need to do a good job. The discussion of the role of the artist in serving his community assumes that as a given. Another one of my commenters, Travis Bedard, said, “If all you manage to do with such an endeavor [i.e., a Christian theatre tribe] is raise the bar for Christian theatre above the Sunday morning sketch the world will be improved immeasurably.” I hope that’s what we as Christians in the arts can do, because while there’s room for the “Sunday morning sketch,” it shouldn’t be what most people think of when they think of Christian art, which includes in its tradition the Sistine Chapel, Mozart’s Requiem, and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris.

Speaking of which, one of the greatest gifts this blog has given me so far is that it has put me in touch with some other like-minded theatre artists. Besides the afore-mentioned Alida Anderson and Travis Bedard, stage manager Lois Dawson has let me know about the Christian mandate of Pacific Theatre in Vancouver. I’m also meeting a couple Christian actresses from Canada tomorrow night. They found me through the blog, and are going to be here in Baltimore for a conference. I’m taking them to dinner and a show (On Golden Pond at Spotlighters Theatre, which is where I volunteer in the box office and teach during the summer Young Actors’ Academy).

So, I’m looking forward to meeting them, and thinking and talking more about this topic. I’m going to wrap up, because my roommate just got home and it’s Chinese food time, but first I want to let you know that the C.S. Lewis Foundation posted this week about activities coming up later this year, including not two but THREE week-long Seminars-in-Residence at the Kilns this summer, and a Regional Retreat with Diana Pavlac Glyer in Navasota, Texas. (I highly recommend attending a Seminar-in-Residence if you have the opportunity.) Read about them here.

I’m working on responding to the backlog of comments, and will plan to be back on schedule with blog posts next Monday. In the meantime, enjoy the weekend!

Lewis Conference in Queens, NY

From the SpareOom YahooGroup (devoted to C.S. Lewis):

A weekend conference is being held August 6,7,8 outside New York City. It’s at a nice (but low-cost) conference center with air-conditioned rooms and tasty meals. The conference marks the 40th anniversary of the New York C.S. Lewis Society and features the following main speakers: James Como (Remembering CSL, etc.), Christopher Mitchell (Director of the Wade Center), Joseph Pearce (author of numerous books on Tolkien, Chesterton, etc.) and Fr. Joseph Koterski, SJ of Fordam University.

Details/prices are on the news page of the NYCSL Society website:

Hope to see you there!

Bob Trexler, editor of the CSL Bulletin

I attended a one-week seminar at the Kilns last July that was led by Dr. Mitchell, and I can vouch for his knowledge (which he freely shares), love of conversation, and overall friendliness, along with a well-exercised sense of humour.