Smoke and Mirrors: Behind the Scenes @ Unity Productions’ “The Misfits”

There are plenty of people who will say what we do in Unity Productions is nothing more than just hopping on pose balls and working huds–oh, and wear something nice.

And it is so far from the truth that truth can’t even be seen from it.

Many of you that come to my blog know that I’m a founding member of Unity Productions, which is a faith-based organization in SL and in the future–IRL. Through UP, we produce full-length musicals and productions; we also perform soaking worships and are often invited to perform specifically designed works–all related to giving thanks to our Father and to showing love to others.

Right now, we are actually in the middle of our latest major production, The Misfits; here is a link about it for those of you who haven’t been here in a minute. And for that, shame on you.

Our last production, this past Sunday, was an ex-pe-ri-ence, to say the least. Just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and yet from the audience’s point of view, the show was wonderful, a moving experience. I received IMs late into the night from some who wanted to say, again, how much they loved it.

On the stage, what the audience sees is hardly ever what the performers are experiencing. To perform in SL isn’t just about hopping on a pose ball. Lord, I wish it was that easy.

There are many aspects regarding just the preparation (costumes, sets, patronage, marketing, PR, etc.) and rehearsals (Monday through Friday, prime evening hours) and changes (cast changes, performance changes, etc.) that have been made in the last several months to bring The Misfits to the stage, but what this post is to show how many things there are to think about just for ONE performance.

My example…this past Sunday.

The show was set to go live at 4 p.m. SLT.

As the person who streams for most of the performances, I had to make sure the stream was working (and crossing fingers it would continue to do so) and make sure all songs played through (software is tempermental…sometimes it wants to do its own thing, which is not YOUR thing).

While running through the songs, I also had to make sure all my huds were up and running. For the show, I used three. I had to run through the dances on my hud to warm the hud and make sure they ran smoothly when it was time to perform. And even then, warming the hud doesn’t guarantee things will work well. Hell, running through the music is no guarantee either. Lag and just random mishaps love to occur when you least expect them.

By 3 p.m. SLT, I’m warmed up, I have gone through the music, I am dressed, and I head to the stage to pray, talk with the cast, and get focused on the performance. I’m feeling pretty confident; after this performance, there’s no rehearsal until we perform again, so I’m excited and ready for us to begin.

At 3:30 p.m. SLT, 30 minutes before we go live, my computer decides to just…WEIRD OUT. Everything froze. Nothing is running. I can’t rightly explain why this is happening. Usually, I’m on SL and have between three to five other big programs running in the background with no problem. Right now and during all performances, I have SL and my stream software. That’s it.

SO, here I am, rebooting my computer and trying to figure out what’s going on. I text our director to let her know I had to reboot. Asked her if one person in particular could stream in case I got back late. The other person had gone to bed–makes you remember that not everyone lives in the same city, state, country, continent.

The computer finally loads at 3:50 p.m. SLT, and I quickly attempt to log into SL and get my stream back. But I notice a funny thing: EVERYTHING is slow on my system. When I open a browser, it slo-mos up. When I click on Firestorm, it slo-mos up, too. Everything is moving in cinematic slo-mo.

I log into SL with five minutes to spare, but problems still arise. The music is cutting in and out badly and I’m a good 30, 40 seconds behind what others are hearing. Oh, and did I mention that I’m moving in major slo-mo? In fact, everyone is. So, here I am, set to perform with UP in five minutes and the music is way off and everyone’s moving like they have lead in their pants.

This is majorly problematic because, you see, performing does require us to hop on pose balls from time to time (a SLEW of them for The Misfits and they are all over the stage), but it also, more importantly, requires us to be very PRECISE. Timing is key. A song’s beginning and ending move us. The ability to move the camera quickly to move across the stage and hit marks is important. In choreography, these things are even more vital. When I design a dance, how the avatars move and the music plays are vital in helping me make precise dances. I’m anal. Nice movements matter. Big time. So, because of these issues, all of this is completely out the window.

And I didn’t even mention the issue of other cast mates and the problems with crashing and inability to even hear the badly playing stream–and then trying to at the last minute figure out how to handle a dance, a speech, a move in the performance if that person doesn’t make it back.

As they say, the show must go on, and it did. It was excruciating, as a perfectionist, to watch it because of how my system was reacting. It was painful to move the group in the dances I choreographed because the music and the body movements were so out of sync. I had the bright idea of opening my music player and uploading the playlist there, thinking the music would play better. It only made my computer angrier and slowed everything down more.

In the end, out of desperation, and because the last song is my most favorite dance, I downloaded the last song onto my phone, turned off all sounds on my computer, and danced only to the sound of the song on my phone. I didn’t look at us dance. I kept my eyes on the hud. The music and the hud are what kept me sane those last seven minutes of the production.

There is a saying that we use while performing: They will never know. We use it to calm ourselves down because we all are, in our own ways, perfectionists and want to bring the best we can offer–after all, we’re doing this for our Father. Usually, saying this sentence calms us, keeps us focus on the overall goal: bringing God’s love to the people.

Before our first performance, I remember saying, “It’s done.” The hard work and preparation and dedication and strife and struggle that lasted throughout our entire time working on bringing The Misfits to the stage was our journey…and we had survived it, and our Father was beyond pleased. So, these performances were not a test for us. We had our test, many of them, and had passed them all. These performances were the manifestations of those tests.

I really thought hard about that after the performance Sunday. As stressed and frazzled as I was, I had to remember, IT’S DONE. We were done, and Daddy had done his thing. We made it through the show, all of us able to stay in world without crashing and each of us taking a role in praying and instructing the group through every movement of the performance.

Consequently, about 30 seconds after the last song ended and I had put us into our final bow, my system froze again and I crashed. I didn’t lament or go off. I actually laughed and said, “Guess Daddy got what He needed from me.”

And he did.

Oh…and after putting on my scrubs and washing my hands, I performed several delicate surgeries on my baby, and it now moves like it has sense. …but I still have one eyebrow raised, waiting for it to act up again.


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