Happy 20th Anniversary, Harry Potter!

I always wanted to be a Gryffindor, but the truth was always there under the surface, and it was much more simple. I love people too much, and I care about everyone’s feelings.
It’s actually been Hufflepuff all the way.
 
I got the first three Harry Potter books the day that “The Prisoner of Azkaban” came out – September 8, 1999, apparently. I tore through them in a short amount of time, and my world was changed. It led me to internet forums and early chat rooms for fans, it led me to create my own fan fiction, it led me to create my own fiction unrelated.”Hedwig” was part of my first email address. It brought me new friends when I moved to a new place. It brought me a sense of belonging that stuck with me until I was ready to ‘graduate Hogwarts’ and move out into the big wide world on my own two feet, and create new worlds for other people to delve into.
 
I often think about JK Rowling, on a plane or seated in an outdoor cafe, writing with cheap half-empty ballpoint pens, scrawling on napkins when she ran out of paper, and writing just to write – even when she was on welfare. She didn’t write to get herself out of welfare, but that’s exactly what happened. She wrote because she loved her story and her characters and was driven to get it done. And she’s not perfect… And the series isn’t perfect, but it’s arguably damn good. So good that it’s common household vocabulary now, and it’s the “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” of a whole new generation. Harry and Voldemort in the Forest. Hogwarts, when the walls fell.
What’s your Patronus?
What’s your wand made of?
Which House are you in?
Everybody knows their own answers to these questions. And we always will.
Twenty years later, many of us are grown and some are even raising their own kids on the world Rowling built. It’ll keep on keepin’ on.
I’m hoping to finally make it to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios this fall, and taste my first butterbeer and find my wand waiting for me, and probably cry, and my Hufflepuff husband will be there with me, and we’ll probably have a lot of feelings about it all.
Something something about Hogwarts always being there to welcome us home, something something.
Cheers, everyone.

“Fight Quest” is an Otherworld-ly, Excellent Adventure

Maybe it’s just me, but a good bit of stage combat does wonders for my appreciation of a show. I also happen to love a slight element of unpredictability – the need to ad lib within a story thanks to an unexpected twist or element. I furthermore enjoy fantasy, adventure, and the passionate work of Otherworld Theatre here in Chicago. Add in a witty Game Master and the occasional roll of a 4-sided die, and I’m sold.

Although I must say it is my LEAST favorite die.


Otherworld’s “Fight Quest” is an adventurous, funny, delightfully self-aware show where the audience helps choose the outcome of the story. The Game Master (Bennett Bottero, who is also the “Fight Quest” playwright) introduces the concept in pretty straightforward terms: he has created four ‘avatars’ and will choose an audience member to be the player for this game. The player then chooses an avatar (the Rogue, the Monk, the Ranger and her Wolf, or the Barbarian), and the GM narrates the story – tailoring each chose and twist in the road specifically for that chosen avatar. Along the way, there are mini-games, puzzles to solve, and gambles to make, all unfolded by the player’s choices on how to guide the avatar.

It is innovative, exciting, fun theatre, full of game/fantasy/pop culture references. The cast does a magnificent job of treading the fine line between ad-libbing to riff on whatever reference was made and keeping the intense integrity of a hero on a fantasy quest facing down their cruelest foes. Grace Gimpel‘s Rogue is smirky and saucy, quick with her daggers and unafraid to spin and leap from the Public House’s stage to the ground floor without even looking. The Ranger (Moira Begale, also the director of the piece) is stern and aloof as any elf should be – and wields a broadsword in harmony with her Wolf companion’s vicious flying kicks. The two of them have a few really cool assist moves that had the audience stomping and roaring for more. Kai Young as the Wolf is seriously one of the best parts of the show – committed, impressively athletic, and also the fight choreographer. The two avatars chosen the night I attended were the Monk (played to stoic yet charismatic perfection by Brendan Stallings) and the Barbarian (the impressive and astonishing Justin Verstraete).

Of the avatars, the Monk was the only one to this point who had not ‘debuted’ before an audience, so the player chosen from the audience eagerly selected the Monk to start the evening off. Even when the player’s choices caused hilarious script modifications, Stallings kept his composure as the Monk, and performed admirable feats of quarterstaff and acrobatics. His fight against the Barbarian is particularly well-choreographed and performed.

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The debut of the Monk!


The Monk’s turn in the story (a game module Bottero’s GM calls “The Bandits of Hollow Hill”) was so speedy that at the end, the performers decided to do another round. A brief intermission later, a new player from the audience was chosen, and a new champion – the Barbarian.

Part of the introduction to the game is having the audience player decide on their avatar, then choose the avatar’s name and where they’re from, or what title they hold. When the new audience player selected the Barbarian, it was decided (perhaps a little too quickly for the player himself to realize the joke he was making) that this Barbarian would be known as Randall the Savage. Instantly and seamlessly, Verstraete launched into a full Macho Man impersonation which threw the audience into uproarious laughter that did not die down perhaps for the entirety of his run of the story. “Mmmm-mmm!”s and “Yeeeeah”s punctuated every narration the GM provided, and the physicality and gestures were as natural to Verstraete as what I imagined his ‘regular’ performance track to be like. It wasn’t only impressive – it was hilarious, and not a single person in the room (wrestling fans and non-fans alike) was immune to the comedic brilliance.

I guess you could say Verstraete rolled a natural 20 that night.

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Randall “The Macho Man” Savage

 

Anyone who has ever played D&D or read a Choose Your Own Adventure book will understand the formula, and will enjoy this production to its fullest, but the entertainment is real for anyone who sees “Fight Quest.” Because it is different every time, I strongly encourage you to see it – and see it twice if you can. Each avatar is worth watching as the champion, and audience decisions are always a recipe for hilariousness. I praise Bottero’s genius scripting and theatrical model for a unique experience that will not easily be forgotten – and nor would I want to forget it. The lights and sound design do a good job transporting us to various locations in the story with no set pieces (the Public House Theatre is small enough that the fighters need all the space they can get for movement and safety). Perhaps most notably, Stefanie Sajib Johnsen’s costuming is exquisite. Each piece is beautifully made and each avatar is perfectly suited up for battle – the Ranger in elven greens, the Rogue in poisonous purple, the Monk in exotic orange, and the Barbarian in brutal brown with blue face paint. These are not home-cobbled cosplays, they are well-made and well-executed and do the rest of the work transforming the space into a real-life fight in a tabletop roleplaying game.

Otherworld productions are consistently smart, ambitious, and fun to attend. Do yourself a favor, and seek out “Fight Quest.”

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Fight Quest will run Sundays April 24th – May 22nd @ 7:00pm at the Public House Theater (3914 N. Clark St. Chicago, IL 60613). Tickets are available online and at the door for $10.

Otherworld Theatre website

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Cosplay Eye Spy: C2E2 2016 Edition

Round 1:

  • DC > Harley Quinn
    • Suicide Squad redesign
    • Batman: The Animated Series
    • Steampunk
    • Pin-up/rockabilly
    • Other
  • DC > Poison Ivy 
  • DC > Joker 
  • Marvel > Deadpool
    • As himself
    • As someone/something else
  • Nintendo > Ash/Pokemon Trainer
  • Disney > Frozen > Elsa/Anna
  • Star Wars > Han Solo
  • Star Wars > Princess Leia
  • Game of Thrones > Daenerys Targaryen

Round 2:

  • Ubisoft > Assassin’s Creed > Altair/Ezio/Evie/Jacob/etc.
  • Anime > Attack on Titan > anyone
  • Anime > Sailor Moon > any of the sailor scouts
  • Star Wars > full Mandalorian armor
  • Star Wars > full Stormtrooper armor
  • Marvel > Guardians of the Galaxy > Groot
  • Mad Max: Fury Road > Furiosa

Round 3:

  • Crossover > Star Wars x Disney
  • Tumblr > Marvel > Hawkeye Initiative
  • Tumblr > Tolkien > Party Dad Thranduil
  • Marvel > Jessica Jones
  • Marvel > Daredevil/Matt Murdoch
  • Mad Max: Fury Road > War Boys (with props and/or vehicles)
  • Game of Thrones > Jon Snow

Print it out and play along!

    What To Get Your Sith-nificant Other For Valentine’s Day 2016

    Because Valentine’s Day only happens once a year… and why not cash in on everyone’s new favorite angsty villain?

    *Ahem.*

    In no particular order:

     

    This tiny squishy Kylo Ren ($10). For on-the-go adorableness.

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    This slightly larger squishy Kylo Ren ($20). For dark, brooding cuddles.

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    This lightsaber necklace and the matching set of earrings. For the chic Sith in your life.

     

    This luxurious tufted rug for a proper Dark Side comfort ($19).

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    This supersoft space blankie ($25). Again….just for comfort.

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    A LEGO set of Kylo Ren’s First Order command shuttle. Excellent for displaying on one’s desk at work or a collector’s shelf at home.

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    DATE NIGHT BONUS: Help your Valentine build the thing… if you dare.

     

    A pair of chopsticks ($15).

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    DATE NIGHT BONUS: Order your Valentine’s favorite Asian cuisine. In the delivery special requests, make sure the food is labeled “FOR KYLO REN.” When the food arrives, present it to your Valentine on fancy plateware, avert your eyes respectfully, and speak only in Imperial/First Order British Dialect.

     

    This hoodie ($105).

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    This incredible hand-painted mug (Etsy, $8).

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    This precious handmade Valentine’s Day card (Etsy, $4).

     

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    And for a romantic Valentine’s Day breakfast feast with a heartfelt nod to your Valentine’s hero/grandpa… This toast-making miracle device.

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    Make sure to ask your Valentine how dark they like the Dark Side of their toast…

    …or their waffles!

    “I find your lack of pancakes disturbing.” 

     

    BONUS! Things to NOT get your Dark Side Valentine:

     

    AT ANY RATE. I hope you resist the call of the Light Side this Valentine’s Day and celebrate in red and black with your special someone – just like Grandpa Vader (RIP) would want you to. XOXO

     

     

     

     

    Leia on the Playground: Scenes and Memories of Star Wars

    1.

    “Have you seen Star Wars?”

    The question is hazy in my mind now, but back then it came unbidden to my lips as a new friendship blossomed with a boy in my second grade class. He was a scrawny, rough and tumble kid with scraped knees and a really cool bike. I don’t remember why we had begun to talk more and play together at recess, but I remember the solemn commitment with which he nodded.

    “Let’s play Star Wars,” I said firmly, at some point, and by the time recess was done that day we had reenacted every line we could remember, the movie relived – starring him as Han Solo and me as Leia (or Luke if the scene needed it). There was no Han/Leia kissing, of course, but I did yell “INTO THE GARBAGE CHUTE, FLYBOY!” and toss him down a tube slide on the playground. We climbed on things, hid in the thin treeline at the edge of the school property, aimed invisible blasters at invisible Storm Troopers, and ran for our lives down corridors in our minds that never ended.

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    illustration by my younger brother – circa 1995

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