Monthly Archives: June 2013

My Neighbour Errol- Gifts

When you get to be close friends with someone, you can’t help but want to give some token of your affection for them, to show them how much they mean to you. Friendships are still relationships, after all. It makes sense.

Some friends buy each other gifts. Some write quirky songs. Some make crafts.

My friend Mai Sheri made me a PoTaDos one year! Amazing!

My friend Mai Sheri made me a PoTaDos one year! Amazing!

Errol…has different ways of showing affection… Read the rest of this entry

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Geek and Sundry

Hey guys! Funny story. I submitted a video to Geek and Sundry to become a vlogger. It was my Whitless Letter to Kerrigan. I actually submitted it twice. Once because I had the incorrect youtube link formatting.

Then I was sent a letter saying it couldn’t be accepted because it was a webseries, not a vlog, and because it was an already established series as opposed to a video I made specifically as an entry.

Fair enough.

Then I get a comment on the video from someone saying they loved it and found it through the Geek and Sundry submission page and hoped I would get voted in.

Huh.

So it seems I am…undisqualified. Which is exciting! I have missed out on five days of voting because I thought my video wasn’t there. But hey! Can’t hurt to try! So vote for my video. Share it around. And let’s see if I can get into Geek and Sundry at the eleventh hour! Here’s where you can vote.

Thanks!

Shyness

When people first meet and get to know me, one of the first things they learn is that in terms of shyness, I rank right up there with Shy Guy.

Creepy creepy shy guy...

Creepy creepy shy guy…

My shyness is only matched by my social anxiety which can fluctuate between “I’m a little nervous talking” to “EVERYTHING I SAY IS STUPID AND THE WORLD HATES ME”.

Naturally upon learning this, the inevitable question is asked:

“So why are you an actor then?” Read the rest of this entry

My Neighbour Errol: Language

Have you ever learned another language? Unless you’re five years old, it can be pretty difficult. Your brain has to work overtime to rearrange all those strange sounds into something your brain MIGHT be able to respond to.

I need one of these.

I need one of these.

Read the rest of this entry

Whitless Letter to: Lara Croft

I’ve filmed a new Whitless Letter! And as usual, I’m going to use this blog as a chance to expand on my experience :D.

Now before I start tearing apart the game and before you feed me to the wolves for daring to speak against Lara Croft, I do want to make it clear that Tomb Raider is a fun game. Errol and I have been having a blast playing it, and it’s started to become our weekly ritual after we do our podcast.

THIS podcast! Sunday nights 8pm EST :D

THIS podcast! Sunday nights 8pm EST 😀

For one, it’s very pretty. I only just got my PS3, but MAN, games just look so good on it! The art design is pretty fantastic to look at, from the grandest ancient temple to the smallest abandoned hut. And Lara’s hair? Man, it’s hypnotizing.

Look...you just zoned out for five minutes, didn't you?

Look…you just zoned out for five minutes, didn’t you?

For another, it’s great fun to explore. You don’t HAVE to pick up all of the diaries and artifacts lying around. You don’t even have to explore all of the tombs. But it does add a lot to the experience.

And heck, the characters are also memorable. Maybe a bit clichéd at times (do all sea captains look like Captain Highliner?) but still fun and supplied with some decent voice acting.

No game is complete with a badass mentor.

No game is complete with a badass mentor.

As for Lara herself, she’s enjoyable and engaging. I’ve never played a Tomb Raider game until now, but I feel like this prequel works well in establishing just how this woman became the tomb raiding badass we all know and love. In this story, she’s afraid and vulnerable, but also has inner strength and a pretty good sense of humour.

But it’s also because of this characterization that a huge flaw in the game soon becomes apparent. The best way to describe it is through example.

Early on in the game Lara has been captured by shipwrecked hobo men. Tough situation for anybody, especially when you have no weapons and your hands are tied behind your back. It’s a very intense sequence. Just as it seems she’s going to escape, one of the hobo pirates gets a hold of her and is well on his way to killing her when she manages to grab his gun and shoot him in the face.

This is Lara’s first kill. Or at least, her first human kill. Not just in the game, but ever, in her life. This is made apparent to us in the cinematic where she stares in horror at the corpse and promptly begins to hyperventilate and vomit. It’s a heavy and important moment for her, one that clearly affects her.

That is, until she kills fifty more enemies with bullets not five minutes after said encounter. Suddenly the hyperventilating, in over her head twenty year old has turned into Girl Rambo. Wave upon wave of enemy come at her, pummelling her with gunfire. She barely blinks as she takes life after life and loots their corpses for supplies.

There are a couple of problems I have with this. For one, it conflicts with the character the game keeps trying to build for us. The cinematics and script tell us that this is an inexperienced college girl, one is emotionally overwhelmed with everything being thrown at her. But the gameplay tells a very different story. It shows a ruthless, trained killer, someone who is will not hesitate to shoot a man.

Also how to set them on fire....pretty psycho actually.

Also how to set them on fire….pretty psycho actually.

For that matter, Lara, the fresh out of university archaeologist, is somehow an expert at everything she encounters. The game tries to cover this up somewhat, referring multiple times to “training” she received from both her father and her mentor, Roth (who is with you on your journey). But this term is vague, and it can only cover so much given the character. Hunting animals? Sure. Use of small firearms? A lady’s got to protect herself, why not.

But it can only go so far before it starts to seem ridiculous. Does this training cover how to use a machine gun? Or a WWI vintage trench gun? Or how to modify them for more effective use? Lara’s knowledge of firearms seems to rival event he most fanatic member of the NRA. And what about medical prowess? She’s able to treat a leg that has been chewed and mauled by a wolf down to the bone, and chalks it up to her working at a bar stating “A wolf bite has nothing on a broken bottle”. Yes, yes it does. And you need at least SOME medical schooling for that.

I realize that there is some suspension of disbelief when it comes to video games. But it’s harder to buy with a character like this. Think about Nathan Drake in Uncharted (aka Video game Indiana Jones).

aka Video Game Indiana Jones

aka Video Game Indiana Jones

He does some unbelievable stuff too. But it’s established very early on that he is an expert at what he does. He’s been raiding tombs for years. He’s run into his fair share of scrapes. If he picks up a machine gun and begins firing away it’s easier to believe because it’s been hinted that he’s probably had to pick one up before.

Lara is supposed to be new at this. She’s supposed to be inexperienced. She’s young and has had this “training” but according to the script nothing has truly prepared her to deal with a cursed island of pirate hobos and run by an…angry weather god queen?…I haven’t finished the game yet, so that’s still up in the air.

I do know she had some pretty awesome palaces.

I do know she had some pretty awesome palaces.

To be fair, going the “inexperienced greenhorn learns to be a badass” is a difficult road to go in video games. It’s a shooting game after all. She IS going to have to shoot people. But this brings me to the next problem.

None of the shooting matters.

This has to be the most densely populated cursed island I’ve seen in a long time. There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of men who want to murder you. It gets to the point where after a while I couldn’t help but wonder whether ships were getting wrecked on an hourly basis because there didn’t seem to be any end to the enemies (and Uncharted is also a culprit of this).

As a result, the strategy to winning these battles is “shoot at everything that moves” and the impact of this young woman taking lives is significantly diminished. There are tons of bullets lying around, you can even salvage them from bodies you’ve already shot. It gets to the point where it’s not a big deal to shoot your way through a massive army of hobo men because you just fought one five minutes ago and you’ll have to fight another one in the next ten minutes.

death-not1

Armed men having nothing on a girl with a tank top.

It’s not so much the violence, but more that the choice to go the violent route does not matter. There’s simply no weight to it. I’m not just talking about the moral choice either. I’m talking about the tactical choices. Shooting guns in Tomb Raider has no consequences. There are stealth sequences, but there’s no need to bother with them for more than the minimal amount of time, because shooting is simply easier.

Never was this more apparent to me than when I started playing “Last of Us” this weekend. In this game, every single bullet is precious. You can’t carry that many and when you do find them, sometimes it’s only one or two at a time.

And after that, there's lots of zombie punchin'

And after that, there’s lots of zombie punchin’

You can also craft items from random supplies you find, but sometimes WHAT you decide to craft is a hard decision. For instance, the same ingredients needed to make a health kit can also make a Molotov cocktail. Do you use those supplies for weapons that will be extremely effective in killing your enemies or do you use it for a health kit and rely on other means to get out of tough situations?

Because of this, the fighting is a lot more tense. Stealth is harder in terms of time, but shooting also alerts other enemies of your position. Melee weapons don’t last that long. It takes time to use a health pack and leaves you vulnerable to attacks.

So far there have been, maximum, maybe ten enemies to deal with at a time (some of them zombies). It takes just as long and sometimes FEELS more difficult to defeat them as a room full of fifty men does in Tomb Raider. The decision to use your bullets is an important one and you can feel the character’s stress as the supplies run low. Sure, you’re not going in guns blazing, but it still makes for some very exciting gameplay.

This zombie is TERRIFYING.

This zombie is TERRIFYING.

I do understand that the point of some games is to take down swarms of enemies in the most bloody and badass way possible. I understand that it’s entertainment, that for a few brief moments you get sucked in and feel like a god. I just think it was a mistake to try it out with Tomb Raider given the character and world the developers presented us. Lara Croft is a twenty year old student, not Kratos.

He clearly needs a tank top.

He clearly needs a tank top.

And you know what? At first, the game succeeds. You’re tied up. With no weapons. You have to sneak past an army of men who will kill you the second they see you. There’s no combat, but it is an incredibly intense part of the game. But it’s not long after that before you’re happily pummelling everyone you come across.

Give Lara more of a progression. If you want this to be a clean slate for the character, don’t make her an instant expert. Have her struggle in her aiming at first. Heck, don’t even give the enemies guns. This is a deserted island, bullets would be far more scarce. Not every ship that crashes would have crates of them lying around in their hold. Have her knock out enemies, not murder them. Prolong giving her a gun so that when she gets it, when she starts to get used to it, it’s a bigger deal.

Also, if you’re going to have her jump like a gazelle maybe hint at some sort of gymnastics background because JEEZ some of those jumps looked impossible.

jumplikegazelle

My Dad

It’s Father’s Day and like the good daughter I am, I neglected to send a card to my Dad because I thought Father’s Day was next week proving his point that no one remembers Father’s Day.

I may need this on a t-shirt...

I may need this on a t-shirt…

I thought about sending a card last minute, scrambling to find a mailbox in time, but I decided to do something different and write my dad his very own blog post explaining why he is awesome.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Your dad is more awesome. And well…the competition is fierce. There are a lot of awesome dads out there. Heck, Errol created an entire song about being a Super Dad.

My dad hasn’t flown to the moon. He hasn’t invented the cure for cancer. As far as I know he isn’t a top secret spy.

But he worked hard to be our dad and he’s been a huge influence on me. And there are many other reasons he is awesome.

For instance, he likes bacon.

BACON!

BACON!

And steak.

STEAK!

STEAK!

And many other types of meat. And he can cook them awesomely. Although the kitchen suffers for his epic efforts.

Yeah, that's about right. And the cleaning duties fell to us.

Yeah, that’s about right. And the cleaning duties fell to us.

He is an engineer. He worked for years to get there. Now he has an iron ring to prove it.

I think he values this more than his wedding ring now.

I think he values this more than his wedding ring now.

He gave me an appreciation of 80’s music videos, which he taped off the tv. And which we danced to.

He wouldn’t let me watch the Simpsons until I was ten. At the time,  I did not think it was awesome, but on reflection I think it was wise.

An eight year old couldn't REALLY appreciate the awesomeness that is this.

An eight year old couldn’t REALLY appreciate the awesomeness that is this.

He plays golf. I don’t think golf is awesome, but I think it’s awesome that he plays.

Yup, that's how I feel too golf ball.

Yup, that’s how I feel too golf ball.

He is a most excellent story teller, and I took many lessons from him.

Like this guy.

Like this guy.

He can still rock a mustache. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen him without one…

This guy...doesn't pull it off....

This guy…doesn’t pull it off….

He also rocked a NATURAL fro in the seventies.

I'm afraid to show a picture in case I'll get in trouble...so here's Patrick Stewart...I bet HE'S is jealous!

I’m afraid to show a picture in case I’ll get in trouble…so here’s Patrick Stewart…I bet HE’S is jealous!

He showed me how to drink through a straw, because I was that kind of special child.

For many years these denied me happiness.

For many years these denied me happiness.

He knows all about computers and math and science-y stuff.

You know. This.

You know. This.

He likes Star Trek AND Star Wars. He doesn’t feel the need to choose sides!

Although, come on. The Star Trek folk would totally win this battle. Have you seen a storm trooper shoot?

Although, come on. The Star Trek folk would totally win this battle. Have you seen a storm trooper shoot?

He brought me to my first movie: The Land Before Time. At least that’s the first one I remember.

Because of this scene.

Because of this scene.

He is a good hugger.

LIKE BEARS!

LIKE BEARS!

He has my sense of humour…or…I have his…I forget that’s how it works.

And we both watched this!

And we both watched this!

He also likes video games. And he introduced me to adventure games. Like Space Quest.

OH MY GOD I REMEMBER THIS PART!...I died in this game...a lot...

OH MY GOD I REMEMBER THIS PART!…I died in this game…a lot…

When we were kids, he would bring home a lap top that he borrowed from his friends. We always monopolized it. I imagine he felt much the same way about that lap top that Errol feels about his Ipad when his daughters go running off with it.

When my parents offered to buy me a tv and I told them to go modest and small, my dad looked at me aghast and said “But…you’re a gamer…you’ll need a big screen.”

Although this has yet to happen.

Although this has yet to happen.

Unfortunately, I also inherited his shooting reflexes in those same video games. See this video for reference.


He taught me to ride a bike, and refused to listen to me when I said “Don’t let go”.

I never even got to this stage

I never even got to this stage

He drove me to university and refused to listen to me when I said “Let’s turn back”.

Most importantly when I asked him what he wanted for Father’s Day he replied “Get yourself a bottle of wine”.

And I have to do what he says of course.

And I have to do what he says of course.

Happy Father’s Day Dad. Thanks for continuing to be awesome :D.

dad

Manda’s Memory Banks: Tunnels

So I was listening to the radio the other day and a memory was triggered and I thought it’d be fun to do a blog post about it. In face, I thought I’d start a new series of childhood memory blog posts. Here’s the first one! Fun!

When I was a kid, my mom loved figure skating. She loved following all the competitions on tv. She loved the costumes and spins. She loved watching Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko.

Eh, he's no Hugh Jackman.

Eh, he’s no Hugh Jackman.

Read the rest of this entry

My Neighbour Errol: Too Polite?

Friday night. Errol and I are playing Tomb Raider. Errol arrives at 11pm. I have a train to catch the next morning, but I figure I can do an hour of video gaming no problem…

Me: (hmmm…I wonder what time it is)

Errol: (explores every nook and cranny of the shanty town we have just decimated single handedly)

Me: (maybe I’ll go check the time)

Errol: (continues to get Lara Croft to leap around like a gazelle)

Me: (looks at phone) Um…Errol?

Errol: Ya?

Me: It’s 2am…

Errol: (without taking eyes off screen) Ya, I know.

Me: You know?

Errol: Ya!

Me: Oh…

Errol: (actually taking the hint) Oh, do you want me to go?

Manda’s logical brain: Why yes I do. This has been fun, but I have to get up early tomorrow and I’ve lost enough sleep as it is. Plus it’s really freaking late! But thanks for coming over!

Manda’s fear of offending everybody brain: DON’T BE RUDE! HE’S YOUR GUEST!

Manda’s stupid video game/friend hang-out loving brain: TOMB RAIIDEERRR!

Manda’s mouth: Um…no, it’s okay.

Errol: Okay! (goes back to playing)

This. This is why I deserve pity from no one.

To be fair, he DID leave a few minutes later :D.

The Answer That Killed the Question

Believe it or not, I have several entries that I’ve started and put on the back burner. Life’s gotten a bit busy lately, and I do have SO MUCH to post about, but first I wanted to tell a story.

building_orton_web

In Toronto, there’s a place called Sanctuary. It’s a drop-in centre for the street-involved (or homeless) community. There are the usual weekly dinners and support groups, but on top of that Sanctuary also runs art programs designed to give the community a chance to let their voice be heard. This includes music, painting and, the one that most directly affects me, theatre.

I’ve been working with Sanctuary as an actor on and off for about five years now. In fact, Sanctuary was where I did my first major play after moving to Toronto. It’s been some of the most rewarding and toughest work I’ve ever done, both artistically for myself and socially as I got to know and work with the street involved actors. I learned a lot about myself through each of those shows.

The cast photo of my first show!

The cast photo of my first show!

But this isn’t the story I want to tell.

Last week I got an e-mail from my friend Lyf, who works at Sanctuary. He was in a bit of panic. Over the last few months he had been working with a few of the community members to get them to study the famous “To Be Or Not To Be” monologue from Hamlet and then to write and perform their own interpreations of it.

This is Lyf and I in that first show. He produced, directed and starred in it. He went almost as mad as his character.

This is Lyf and I in that first show. He produced, directed and starred in it. He went almost as mad as his character.

He had planned to film a performance of one of these monologues, written by a man named Rammstein. Unfortunately, his camera op got sick.  He asked if I could help out, since I at the very least had a camera. I warned him that all I could really do was turn on the autofocus and point it in the right direction, but he was in a bind and was willing to take whatever he could get. And so I agreed.

I arrived at Sanctuary at around 8:30am. There was no answer at the doorbell.  I then received a text from Lyf. Rammstein had not shown up. He was out looking for him. He came back to let me in before beginning the hunt again.

In case you thought that all Sanctuary plays would be serious, here’s me as a crazy lady with a sock puppet. This was an insane play.

In case you thought that all Sanctuary plays would be serious, here’s me as a crazy lady with a sock puppet. This was an insane play.

I waited, playing my DS and checking the camera. This didn’t faze me too much. The reality of acting at Sanctuary is that there is a good chance that some of your actors will show up late, or sometimes not even at all. There were a few performances when we stood around anxiously waiting for a cast member, wondering which director or assistant director we might have to shove on stage in their place.

Finally, an hour after we were supposed to start, Lyf arrived back with Rammstein.

For the most part, I’m used to working with what are called “high functioning” members of the community: people who might have some sort of housing and have somewhat stabalized their lives and minds.

Rammstein was not high functioning. He was an alcoholic, living day to day on the streets. Lyf had promised him a bottle of Kelly’s Wine for him if he showed up. He explained to me that it was also to stop him from getting the shakes.

Yes, that is a jar of cheese whiz. Yes, I did consume it on stage. Yes, it is as disgusting as it looks. I suffer for my art.

Yes, that is a jar of cheese whiz. Yes, I did consume it on stage. Yes, it is as disgusting as it looks. I suffer for my art.

Lyf had been hoping to get Rammstein sober but it seemed the timing wasn’t right. The man standing in front of me swayed back and forth, smelling of about five different kinds of alcohol and quoting Joker’s lines from The Dark Knight. Iwas introduced and he smiled and said hello but I doubted my name really registered.

Lyf didn’t waste time. He began to fit Rammstein with a lav mic, explaining it’s purpose to him and what the plan for the day would be. At that moment, Rammstein pulled out a folded piece of paper and began to recite something off of it closing his eyes in concentration.

It was his monologue. As Lyf went over what he would be doing for the performance, Rammstein interjected his own ideas and suggestions. We should start with this scene. A couple of the lines should be changed. We should use a black hoodie for the mic because it was less noticeable. All of these were were spoken in slurs and interjected with more Dark Knight quotes.

Mostly from this guy.

Mostly from this guy.

Lyf had grand plans for the shots, but with our sudden lack of time and Rammstein’s state we had to scrap them for something simpler. We walked out to the alleyway. Someone else, David, also drunk, was already sleeping there.

David was confused and not pleased to have been woken up. Nor did he want to move for any reason. Lyf took it in stride, explaining to David as best he could what they were trying to do. David’s gaze fell on me, and a suspicious look entered his eye as he asked “What’s your story?! Who is this woman?!” Rammstein slurred out that he was about to act, and Lyf explained I was just the camera person.

But with something far less fancy than this.

But with something far less fancy than this.

By then Rammstein had already settled into his position next to David. There was no moving either of them. Lyf told David he could stay, but could not make noise. He asked if David could pretend he was asleep. Before the sentence was even out of his mouth David fell back on the cushion he had been sitting on and shut his eyes. It seemed we could begin.

I positioned the camera as best I could to keep David out of the frame. Rammstein began the monologue, starting by talking directly to David.

“Hey, David! Wake up!”

David responded loudly “Why?!”

We stopped the take. Lyf tried again to explain to David that he had to be quiet. Rammstein said very seriously that this was acting and it had to be done right. Accordingly, David fell back on the cushion, eyes shut once again.

We started again. Rammstein got two lines in before David sat up exclaiming “That’s long enough!”

This was another serious play. I played someone who had a baby on a rooftop then went crazy and died. It was...a tough show to do.

This was another serious play. I played someone who had a baby on a rooftop then went crazy and died. It was…a tough show to do.

We realized that we would have to move. Lyf managed to wrangle Rammstein who stumbled towards our new location. David began to follow. Lyf, patient as ever, ordered him to sit back down. But David, despite not wanting to be in the video, certainly didn’t want to feel left out. Lyf finally bargained with him. David could watch, but could not talk.

While Lyf calmed David down, Rammstein was scouting out new areas. He turned to me, excited, pointing to a heap of junk furniture.

“This would be really cool to film!” He declared.

Lyf came over, about to explain once again the scene we would be filming when Rammstein interrupted him.

“I’m just gonna do the monologue, okay?” He stumbled over to the wall, leaning against it, wine in hand, ready to begin. For a moment Lyf looked as though he was about to argue, but then shrugged. Much like life, things didn’t always go according to plan.

We acted as quickly as we could, setting up the shot. There had been an entire story that was going to be done, but there was no time. A single monologue at a single location would have to do.

I rolled the camera. Lyf yelled action.

hamlet48

I’ve seen Hamlet a few times now. I don’t think there’s any performance of it I’ve seen that was as emotionally vulnerable as Rammstein was in that moment. Suddenly a new focus took over the drunk man who previously could barely register his instructions. He told his story, his face a wash of emotions. At one point he began to cry, then in the very next moment pull himself together.

He improv-ed most of his lines, sticking to the original structure but letting his instincts run wild . Most of the words were probably different from his original, but the center of the monologue remained the same:

“To be or not to be…the answer that killed the question”.

It was hard not to be affected by it. I was tearing up. Behind me, Lyf frantically whispered camera directions and I complied as best I could with a couple of hiccups. Rammstein continued on. This was his moment and he had been preparing for it.

He performed the monologue twice.

Lyf then said cut, and Rammstein turned to me, his face etched in worry.

“That was hard.” He said. I nodded in agreement.

“But it was really good.” I told him back.

He asked me who he reminded me of. Was it Robert DeNiro, he asked hopefully?

“Better.” I said. “You’re Daniel Day Lewis”

“Who’s that?” He asked, then looked proud when we explained.

This is the result:

That day, Rammstein was drunk. He was out of it. He was, at times, belligerent. He was in a bad way. But he desperately wanted to perform that monologue. It was the most important thing to him in that moment. He had a story to tell, and Hamlet helped him do that.

I can’t praise enough the work that Lyf and Sanctuary does. And it’s tough work. Watching theatre do that for people, watching them, even for a moment, find solace and a voice through art is something I rarely get to experience in the normal theatre world.

We thanked Rammstein for his work and left him with David. The two continued to drink, laugh and argue in loud, rough voices.

Rammstein may not get better. He will remain hurt and damaged. People will still ignore him on the street, myself unfortunately included in that bunch who guiltily cannot always meet his eye. Who knows where he’ll be even in the next year. But for those two minutes, the world was his, and for five minutes after that he felt pride in something he did.

Congratulations Rammstein.