The Elevator Play

21 11 2010

The other day, I’m not sure which other day, I was reading about formulaic story plots. One of the most commonly used is the Elevator Play, especially in theater. This isn’t like the Elevator Pitch, which is given in an actual elevator in order to elevate one’s status, but rather a theoretical construct in which the characters are confined together in a limited space (like an elevator). “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (sp) is a classic example of this. The action takes place in basically one spot the whole time. You can see how a playwright would love a limited space like this. Screw the setting changes, focus just on the characters.

According to the formula, you put a bunch of characters in the space together and then at least one of them goes berserk, or otherwise instigates the rest of the group. The physical limitations imposed by the setting then force the characters to confront some kind of personal demons.

It’s interesting how that theory applies to many stories. Think about “LOST,” which I’m just about done watching. Maybe down to the last three or four episodes or so (whew!) and I’ve already seen the finale. So a bunch of people are on an airplane (another classic Elevator Play scenario) and then they crash onto an island (there’s the confinement again) and, guess what, they’re not only being chased down by smoke monsters and giant polar bears, but they’re being forced to confront their own personal demons. Be they misgivings about one’s father, as in pretty much all the cases, or something else. Who knows what. And, guess what, some of those people are unstable and they create trouble, but everyone’s trapped there and they can’t leave. And so it goes, until it all gets boring, and then they get to leave the island … all the events from the second half of the show were created to cope with the limitations of the island setting. It gets to the point where the island scenes are less interesting than everything else.

I think an interesting writing exercise is to think about your “elevator” and what kind of people you would want to put in it. If I had to pick one, it would be a subway car late at night, or a family hiding out in a bomb shelter underground, or maybe some kids who eat lunch together in their school’s band room. It could even be a shady motel room on Route 66, or a Seattle office during the dot-com boom. Maybe even the Donner Party in a snowstorm. There’d be some archetypes: the wide-eyed innocent, the sage, the stoic, the trickster, the thief, the cannibal. Naturally, some wouldn’t get along, and some would get hungry.

The theory behind the Elevator Play probably explains what makes reality shows so remarkably compelling. There’s usually a set location or premise that permits a group of attractive young people to stop being polite and start getting real. That is, they get into a fancy house and then start getting naked, showering together, fighting about petty things, doing mandatory volunteer work, confessing to the camera and having pixellated sex on camera. Which is about as real as it gets.

I’m now several years older than most of the cast members, but let me tell you, the Real World kids have nothing on me; they’d better get those elevator pitches ready.





Oh, Coco, say it ain’t so!

23 01 2010


Conan’s last Tonight Show

Originally uploaded by N-Sai

DISCLAIMER: I’m relating the personal angle I have on the Conan issue. I’m not taking sides on the Jay-Conan debate insofar as which host is better, which time slot is better, whether it’s better to have big hair or a big chin, whether these men are overcompensating for something, etc. I happen to be a fan of both men’s shows, but I choose to focus on Conan here. My opinions do not necessarily reflect those of my employer, their families, my family, subsidiaries, Vampire Diaries or tributaries herein or hereafter.

Last Tuesday, I wore all orange as a sort of thematically appropriate outfit (by accident, really). On Friday, I wore black.. All this weekend, I might just put that orange scarf back on as a tip of the hat to Conan O’Brien, who just finished his last show as host of NBC’s “Tonight Show.”

The finale was touching. It started off with a monologue doing a few hits and jabs at NBC and pending unemployment, plus another one of those “draining NBC’s coffers” sketches. There was a mashup video pulling together footage of Conan running across the country with some favorite bits during the last 7 months. Tom Hanks came out with scotch for the host. Neil Young gave a touching performance of “Long May You Run.” And then Conan made a speech that almost brought tears to his eyes, and mine: “If you work really hard and you’re kind, I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.” He said cynicism is one of his least-favorite attributes and thanked the network for how they treated him. It was a very touching tribute. And then Will Ferrell was Ronnie Von Sant as he performed Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” with guest players including Beck, Ben Harper and a cowbell. Magical!

It’s surprising to me how much a stupid show like this can get me riled up, and how sad I feel now that it’s over. Perhaps it’s because it’s hard not to live vicariously through him. Especially since over the years I’ve occasionally dreamed about saying “See ya! Wouldn’t want to be ya!” to traditional jobs and even going into a comedy or writing profession of my own. It’s for that reason I’m employed in a position where at least some creative latitude and individuality is encouraged. I feel connected in some way, like I have  a stake in his success.

Or perhaps it’s because what we witnessed tonight was the unraveling of one man’s lifelong dream, played out on our television screens. With the economy as it is, lots of folks surely can relate. Or, perhaps we’ve all fallen short of our own expectations on a less-public scale in our lives and we’re now both exploring our own sense of loss and hoping to watch Conan to see if he’s got any clues on how to handle such a situation.

Or, perhaps it’s because that was a darn good show and it would be a dang shame if this man can’t find a way to get back on air.

Maybe all of these.

I was so happy when I found out that Conan was going to host the Tonight Show, although I also felt bad for Jay Leno. I waited five years to see it, and it finally happened. When that video came up and we watched Conan run, run, run from one corner of the country to the other, my heart just leapt. And now I think if I watched the same video, I would cry. I feel like I know the guy. I’ve been sitting in my pajamas, watching that guy, for 13 years going on 14. I was an eighth grader when I first started staying up late and catching glimpses of the kind of goofy Harvard-educated comic with the pompadour. Watching Conan in my formative years literally guided my career. Hearing that he wrote for the Harvard Lampoon inspired me to be a writer as well. His quirky brand of wacky humor and intellectual substance was very intriguing to me. When he got married, I was heartbroken. Other girls were thumbing through Seventeen and Tiger Beat, and I was watching Conan O’Brien. I’m pretty ridiculous, I know.

Evidence of my quasi-obsession can be found in the Angelfire homepage/Conan fan site I created for myself in the mid-1990s, The Orange Baron’s Domain. With all the style and flair of HTML 1.0, it was both my first Internet presence as well as an expression of my own absurdity. The garish orange background is gone by now but let me assure you, that was something to behold when it was fully put-together. (And you can also find my old Mock Trial questions which are tacked on there kind of oddly. That was a spare-time hobby during my junior and senior years.)

In college, I made a point to talk to Triumph the Insult Comic Dog when Presidential Debate Road Show ’04 made a stop at Arizona State University on October 13, 2004. If only the Masturbating Bear had been part of the entourage.

Nowadays, I no longer want to marry Mr. O’Brien and I have a more realistic perspective on things, *LOL* giggle giggle. But I still enjoy the show. So when I see late-night strife happening to Conan, I’m a little hurt. But that’s Show Business, as they say. I’m still a fan of Jay Leno and I’ll support his efforts, too. It’s not going to be easy for the Big-Chinned One to retake his old time slot.

I really hope that online video doesn’t completely do in this TV star. The world would be a less-interesting place without comedians like Conan doing what they do. He’s smart enough and has built up enough cred from this experience that he’ll do well wherever he goes or whatever he does. It’s an exciting but scary time in the media. We’ll see what happens when he’s allowed to talk publicly again. For now, a few months of silence and pompadour-free airwaves await us.





Seasonal cheer…

30 11 2008


Annoying Christmas music

Originally uploaded by N-Sai

It is so odd to be looking around the train station and seeing invalids and homeless folks sitting all depressed and then hearing this Christmas music… and it’s not even GOOD Christmas music… the whole thing just feels creepy.





Nothing Else Matters

17 05 2008

I cross-posted the video from Vimeo to Flickr and now I’m sending it back to WordPress, since wordpressdotcom hates Flash embeds. This was a great show last week at the Masquerade, and my first time going there. The band is playing string metal. Here, the encore features a Metallica cover. Too bad I was sick and running a bit of a fever, as they had no air conditioning. I felt sort of like I was going to pass out, and my brainz were on fire. Oh well, it was a good time.

Nothing Else Matters, originally uploaded by N-Sai.





Fun with GarageBand

28 04 2008

videoGoofy video that I put together… experimenting with the Mac’s built-in music editor. Wait til I’m on MTV.





Bohemian Rhapsody

18 04 2008

Bohemian Rhapsody failed to embed. Sigh. So posting the old-fashioned way. Enjoy this short cell phone clip.





No reservations

18 04 2008

ReservedLast week was fairly eventful as my life goes… highlights included a great local performance of Urinetown on Saturday and serendipitously getting into a Spoon concert on Monday. The latter event was great except for the staid crowd that pretty much sat there the whole time and chastised anyone that stood up by sticking a “Reserved” sign to their butt, not that I happen to have any specific examples of this happening. Oh that and the stupid Camel marketing everywhere, punctuated by thick clouds of smoke. Long story…

Urinetown is a great premise with great execution in the performance we saw. The problem lies in the actual writing of the musical itself. The “fourth wall” narrator gives it all away shortly after the show has begun, not that you couldn’t figure it out yourself. Still, not too shabby. Here’s to more fun in the future.