Posted in Writing

Next to Normal’s director is anything but

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Thirty to forty hour work weeks. No pay for the students. One month to put on a Tony award-winning musical. Sounds crazy, right? Not to Rory Pelsue. He dove headfirst into Quinnipiac University’s production of Next to Normal.

Next to Normal is a family musical. By family musical I mean, it’s a musical about a family, definitely not the type of show to bring your kids to. The mother, Diana, is bipolar depressive. She is constantly seeing delusions of her dead eight-month-old son, Gabe, as a near 18-year-old. Gabe is trying to not be forgotten by Diana and his father, Dan. In his attempts to not get forgotten and to be a part of his mother’s life, he ends up coercing her into attempting suicide. Diana then goes through ECT, via her psychiatrist Dr. Madden, to try and get her to stop seeing delusions of her son. It works for a couple of weeks, but Gabe eventually finds his way back. Dan is trying to make everything fine and wants Diana to “…take more pills and do more ECT” so that she’s able to recover and stop seeing Gabe. All the while, the daughter, Natalie, is having her own struggles by playing second fiddle to Gabe. She’s the living child and Dan and Diana have been more focused on Gabe. This ends up turning her to drugs and she has to fight her own addictions, while her boyfriend, Henry, tries to help her through it.

Putting on a musical in a month is already a tough situation to be in, but putting one on of Next to Normal’s caliber was a near impossible feat. For a show like Next to Normal, you’d want to have a cast in mind, especially the part of Diana (a very vocally and emotionally draining role). “I was very nervous about not knowing who Diana was going to be and what the vocal talent was at Quinnipiac,” Rory said about the audition process. Rory had no experience with the Quinnipiac theater department until this past semester. Not knowing who he had to work with was a very nerve-racking experience, especially with the genre of Next to Normal (rock musical). “I’ve never done a rock show before and I honestly struggle with the genre, because I don’t listen to that music.”

Despite his nerves about the heavy-hitting show, he took the challenge head-on and the final product was amazing. “There is a sense of irony that a team came together to put on such a great performance focusing on another group of people who were anything but united” Alexis Guerra of the Quinnipiac Chronicle said. The show was a resounding success, selling out every night and receiving multiple standing ovations.

What’s interesting about all of the success surrounding Next to Normal was that Rory was not the initial choice to direct the show. The director of the past few musicals, James Noble, was supposed to direct it. It wasn’t until over winter break when everyone found out that James wasn’t directing the show. We don’t know why James did not direct the show, but I do know that he was thinking of taking a break from directing. I just didn’t realize it would be so soon.

So then how did Rory get the directing job? Well, when it was discovered that James would not be directing the musical in the spring, the head of the theater department, Kevin Daly, was tasked with finding a new director. He reached out to one of his friends from a playwriting company for help. She put him into contact with Rory since his thesis for his masters was a musical. Everything just seemed too had fallen into place like a game of Tetris.

It’s not like this was one of Rory’s first rodeo. His directing accolades are numerous. He graduated from St. Lawrence College in 2011. He graduated from the Yale School of Drama’s directing program in 2018 (which is one of the best programs for directing in the country). Between his undergraduate and his graduate programs he ran a small opera company that focused on English language/light opera/ and small operatic work. Along with working at a small opera company, he directed a couple of shows at Fordham, as well as the University of Pennsylvania.

With all this directing experience in his back pocket, I decided to ask him how Quinnipiac compared to other places he’s directed at. I was actually very surprised with his answers, as all of the actors (myself included) always seemed to be goofing around (not during actual rehearsal). Rory said, “I was surprised by the work ethic of everyone involved at Quinnipiac. This group of students worked harder than all of the other schools I’ve worked at.” He even added that “There was such a culture of kindness at Quinnipiac. I had never done ‘circle’ before and it was very heartwarming.”

Circle is a Quinnipiac theater tradition where, before every show, everyone involved in the show stands in a circle holding hands. During circle the leader of it will send a pulse around the circle (a squeeze of the hand) and wait until it returns back to them. Once that’s finished, all the seniors involved in the show pick a word from the script that describes their experience with the show and explains it. After the word is explained everyone puts their left hand in (it’s closest to their heart) and shouts the word. Then you have to hug everyone in the room before we leave. It’s considered bad luck if you don’t.

With this culture of kindness, Rory felt right at home at Quinnipiac. He said that all of the students were all very sweet and kind and that we were all very funny (I guess he liked us goofing around). “Everyone seemed like they wanted to be there. As soon as I feel people don’t want to be there I get so anxious.” Despite the 30-40 hours week, everyone did want to be there. That’s just a testament to how good Rory is as a director.

His directing style is something that I’ve never worked with before. Since I started performing (16 years ago), I’ve never worked with a director like Rory Pelsue. His directing style is so unique that it’s not even next to normal, it’s abnormal. Most of the directors that I’ve worked with are a more “stand here and then walk over here and sing” director. Rory had the actors dive deep into their scripts. We all spent countless hours and rehearsals reading and combing through the script to find the underlying meaning of each particular line (spoken and sung). The actors even participated in an arts and crafts project:

  1. Each character was on a piece of poster board. (there are six characters)
  2. The script was read out loud
  3. We would then write down anything describing the character
  4. By the end of it, each character had nearly two pages of descriptions

This type of directing had never even crossed my mind before. All of the actors agreed that Rory was one of the best directors we ever had.

The amount of time and effort that Rory put into his craft was very noticeable. You could tell that he spent countless hours outside of rehearsal scouring the script for underlying meanings, as well as important words/ quotes that the actors needed to know. He made an entire pamphlet on medical terms that are discussed in the show, as well as a second pamphlet on words that not everyone will know. I’ve never seen a director go this above and beyond for his actors before. He even went so far as to get a Quinnipiac Psychology professor to come to rehearsal and explain everything about the mental health aspects of the show (there are a lot).

Every show has its challenges, but Next to Normal’s challenges were numerous. A big challenge that is caused by the show itself is the emotional content in it. It’s incredibly difficult to get the audience to believe that these college students are all going through this emotional distress (at varying levels). It is one thing to cry (which happened a lot), but it’s another thing to show that distress without the use of crying. The actors took to Rory’s directions wonderfully and because of that, throughout the entire show you could hear sniffles and could see people crying.

Another challenge that was had was the budget. The family in Next to Normal is supposed to be pretty well-off.  Both parents are architects. Incorporating all the intricate designs that architects would have in their home was incredibly difficult since the Arts at Quinnipiac don’t have the budget that Rory was used to. Despite that, the set was amazing, and it was the first time Quinnipiac ever built a two-story set.

Set

The biggest challenge, however, that Rory had to face during Next to Normal was one of the actresses, unfortunately, contracted laryngitis a week before opening night. All of the actors/ actresses were incredibly nervous as to how the show would work if the role of Natalie could barely speak, let alone sing. Rory handled that challenge better than how most people would have. It didn’t even seem to faze him at all. He just had the musical director speak and sing Natalie’s lines during rehearsal. Fortunately, by opening night Natalie was able to speak all her lines and sing most of her songs (the musical director had to sing the tougher songs). Once Opening night was finished the show went on without a hitch (Natalie sang and spoke all of her lines in the following shows).

Enough talk about challenges and how hard it was to put on Next to Normal. When asked about his favorite part of the show, he took a long pause. “That’s a really tough question, I loved every part of it,” said Rory. I decided to make it a little easier for him and ask him what his favorite scene was in the show. Another pause, but he eventually came to an answer. “My favorite scene was probably ‘Catch me I’m Falling’. It was so much fun to stage. There were so many moving parts during it. It was a challenge to fit all those pieces into one number. The music is also very pretty.”

Unfortunately, Next to Normal’s run at Quinnipiac is now over so those reading this will be unable to watch it. Fortunately, for the readers (as well as the members of Quinnipiac), Rory Pelsue will be returning next year to direct the musical again. He was originally set to take over as the director of the musical in 2020, but due to circumstances (mentioned earlier), he started this year.

It is a bit early, but every year at theater formal, the shows for the next year are announced. This year the musical will be announced on April 27th.  I decided to ask him if he had thought about any shows to do for next year. He thought about them a lot. “I love classic musicals, so I’d like to do a rarely revised classic piece that could work young people,” he said. It’s kind of tough to pick certain shows because the theater is small and more like a black box theater. So, doing shows with large ensembles, or even small ensembles for that matter, are tough to put on at Quinnipiac.

This requires the theater department to put on smaller musicals. With that in mind, Rory gave me a few of his ideas for the upcoming 2020 musical. He mentioned The Fantasticks, which is a perfect show for a black box theater. He also mentioned Babes in the Arms (a stripped-down version of it), Evening Primrose (which is a Stephen Sondheim TV musical), and Falsettos (which seemed to be the favorite of the four, when I talked to other students).

Unfortunately for me, this was my first and last chance to be able to work with Rory as my director. I am so fortunate to be able to have worked with him. I learned so much more about acting and getting into character from him than any other director I’ve worked with in the past. Despite being unable to act at Quinnipiac again, I’m so excited to see what Rory and the rest of the theater department accomplish in the coming years.

“And in the end, I will be most proud to say I was one of us” – Anonymous.

Posted in Writing

Next to Normal Draft

He has brought an entirely different way of directing to the musical that none of the participants have ever experienced before, and it’s working incredibly well. This is the first time in my five years at Quinnipiac that there has been a new director for the musical. No one knew that a different director was chosen until a couple of weeks before auditions happened. As a member of the theater community at Quinnipiac, I am very interested in learning about the new director. I believe that the rest of the theater and arts community would be very interested in learning more about him as well, as he could be a part of the theater community for the foreseeable future.

Topic: New director for the musical

Writing about it: I’m involved in the musical and it’s very interesting to me, and I believe it will be very interesting to the rest of the theater and art department to learn more about the director.

Title: Next to Normal’s director is anything but

Audience: The audience of the article would be the theater and arts department.

Description of the audience: they are currently involved or were involved in the theater and arts department at Quinnipiac. They put their heart and soul into every show they do, on the stage or behind the scenes. They’re regular students but with close to a full-time job, on-the-side, when involved with a show.

Genre: Interview and introduction

Experience: No

Other writers: An alumni of Quinnipiac, Noah Golden, writes about the musical every year for his blog. His followers are other alumni of the Quinnipiac theater community.

Posted in Writing

Writing is Hard

And making something readable is even harder You could write an amazing, vocabulary-studded article about the psychology of the brain but if your audience is a bunch of middle schoolers, it’s not going to be understood or appreciated. To make something readable you must know your audience. If you know your audience, a majority of people are going to understand and enjoy what you’re writing. No one wants to stop reading and have to look up what they just read every few minutes. It takes the enjoyment out of reading. For example, if you say “cognizant of”, not everyone is going to know what you mean, but if you say “know”, the number of people who will understand that increases.

If I want to say, “the dog crossed the street”, I’m not going to say something along the lines of “the beautiful canine traversed to the other side of the thoroughfare”. First of all, it’s way too wordy. You want to remove all the clutter from your writing. If you can get your point across in five words, instead of eleven, choose the fewer words. People’s attention spans on the internet are very short. People normally just scan the page, don’t read it. So the fewer words you use, to get your point across, the better. Secondly, there are too many big words in there. “Canine, traversed, thoroughfare” not everyone is going to know what those words mean. Remember know your audience and write accordingly. I’m writing a blog a post, so that means anyone can read it. With that in mind, I want my writing to be understood by the majority of people, so I’ll use “the dog crossed the street”.

Posted in Writing

New Bio

Louis Napolitano has been creating content for as long as he can remember. You could always find him putting on a performance he created, with his neighbors, for the whole neighborhood to watch. As a passionate member of the theater community, he has participated in over 30 shows, behind-the-scenes and on-stage. Among his many appearances he has acted in two TV shows, The Deuce, starring and directed by James Franco, and Mr. Robot, starring Rami Malek and Christian Slater.

He graduated from Quinnipiac University as a member of the National Communications Honor Society (Lambda Pi Eta) and the National Theatre Honor Society (Alpha Psi Omega). He encountered a few bumps along the way before he eventually graduated. Among those was finding out what he wanted to do with his life. He switched his major twice before finally deciding on Film, Television, and Media Arts. Throughout his final years in college, he worked diligently to produce scripts that would entertain people. The head of the Film department even went so far as to say, “I would direct this script”, about one of the pieces he had created. He recently finished a feature-length script and is revising it for Hollywood. Presently, he is working on an animated TV series which he hopes to see as a Netflix original.

Posted in Writing

Show me the CliffNotes

I don’t actually need to read this.

At least that’s the thought we have when looking at a daunting news article or an assigned reading. We just scan it and get the gist of it. If that’s what you do, then you’re in the 79% of people who do that. You’re not alone. Don’t worry, I too, fall in that category. Although, not all the time. It all depends on the article or what I’m reading. I read a lot of sports articles and if they pertain to my teams, I normally read the whole thing. Times when I do not, are when they become incredibly wordy, and it gets to the point where I just want the gist of what is being said. If it’s not an article and something I’m reading for enjoyment, I read every word. I read a lot of comics online and skimming through this would be difficult, because you can miss major plot points.

Writing to me is an outlet. It’s always been an escape for me. Everyone has good and days, but when you’re writing, you’re creating what is happening. You get to dictate if something is good or bad, you’re always in control and know what is going to happen next. You’re able to watch this idea that you had at two in the morning, come to life on the page. I think writing is one of the most incredible things that someone can do. When I finished my feature-length script, it was like a child to me. Seeing people take joy in what you wrote, is one of the greatest feelings imaginable.

Posted in Writing

Thoughts on Social Media

As more and more people start using it, the importance of social media grows. Social Media is growing into one of the most important connections that are available to us. In seconds we can be talking to someone on the complete opposite side of the globe, without the use of a phone number. It’s incredible to think about how much social media has impacted our lives, especially for people in my age group (18-25). As streaming services become more and more popular, fewer and fewer people pay for cable. Which, in turn, means that fewer and fewer people will physically be watching the news on television.

This is where social media comes in. Now, just like the news, the information you receive will be geared towards one side depending on who you’re following, but even so, social media has now become a huge news outlet. For example, the last few school shootings, I found out about through Twitter. Through Twitter, I’m able to see what other people are saying and find out more information about it in seconds. Facebook has thousands of video clips from news segments that pop on your feed to grab your interest. I’m not a big political guy, so I didn’t watch the debates, but through Facebook, I was able to watch the highlights of the debate and grab the gist of what each politician was saying and their stance on certain things.

Social media has already grown so much since it was created. It was mainly just for connecting with people and making friends. Nowadays its impact is so much more. Campaigns are brought up through Facebook. Every year, you’re able to raise money on your Birthday for charity through Facebook. Spreading petitions as never been easier. Just the other day a petition to save the Quinnipiac University radio station has been going around. Even people not involved at Quinnipiac are able to sign this petition because of the connections that Facebook gives you.

With this upward trend as a news outlet and a way to get your campaigns out there, I wouldn’t be surprised to see social media become the number one news outlet in a few years. Very few people that I know, in my generation, pay for cable. Everyone is streaming nowadays. I don’t think the switch from cable to social media will really affect the news world, because it’s incredibly prevalent, especially today, to get the news out to the world. I just believe that they’re going to have to make a shift from television to gearing their broadcasts to phones or as video clips to be seen on Facebook or Twitter, and social media sites like them.

Posted in Writing

Final Project

Work I liked

Credit: Alok Dubey

I’ve always loved the photo cubes, but I always thought they would be too difficult for me to do. This cube moved perfectly and through the pictures, I was able to actually gain a sense of who the creator was (to some extent). I do wish, however, that he had added some music into it.

Credit: Kōhei Horikoshi & ToonamiOPED2

So this may be taking advanced animation a little too far for a class level assignment, but this is what the professionals are doing. This clip is from My Hero Academia, an anime that I have really gotten into. To me, most fight scenes I see are advanced animation. They just don’t seem like something that, for lack of a better term, common people can do. In my opinion, this is one of the best fight scenes I’ve seen, although it is kind of short.

Credit: Alan Becker

I saw this video when I was in middle school, and from then on, I loved it. for 2007, the animation is incredible, and even today I think it still beats a lot of other animations I’ve seen. The sound effects work perfectly, and I like that there isn’t music in it. It’s supposed to be an animator trying to animate something, so there shouldn’t be music in there, to begin with.

My Work

My cousin got married about a month ago, and I had decided to bring my camera along to take pictures and videos. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with them yet. All I knew was I wanted to make her something special. She’s my godmother so she’s always been there for me and means a lot to me. So I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to create something for her. I was initially going to try and create multiple cinemagraphs but I was about 90 keyframes in and was at three seconds. Then the idea for the photo cube came to mind, and I had always wanted to attempt one, so I thought there’s no better time than the present. I really liked how it came out. If I were to do it again, I would have had the same clip running throughout the whole thing, instead of smaller clips on each side.

Posted in Writing

Chapter 10 Summary

Chapter 10: Show and Tell

Step 1: Package Your Project

  • Create a working link that is ready to be shared.
  • Title Logo and Still:
    • “Design a clean, quickly legible logo for the title of your project paired with a still ‘photo’ from your film that embodies the story” (Blazer, 142).
  • Synopsis:
    • “Write a tight, clear description of your project, two to three sentences tops” (Blazer, 142).
  • Director Bio:
    • “Start your bio with what you want to be known as professionally (such as animation director or screenwriter), and the follow it up with your accomplishments that support that role” (Blazer, 142).
  • Story of the Film:
    • “Finally, you’ll need to have the story of your film’s creation written out and memorized for future interviews” (Blazer, 143).

Step 2: Creating Your Network

  • Networking, online version:
    • Join and become an active participant in the many online communities that host designers, filmmakers, and artists.
    • Blog, post, and share constantly so that you are present and engaged.
    • Engage with other members of the community, you never know how your career could get started.
  • Networking, human version:
    • Attend conferences for your field
      • While there go out of your way to talk to other people there.

Share and Repeat

  • After everything is finished you are ready to share your completed film.
  • Be professional as possible when you share your film.
  • The sky’s the limit with how you go about sharing it.
    • If you want it to be seen at film festivals learn more about the types of festivals out there.
  • Don’t stop, you may have finished this one project, so take a few days to break, but once you’re well rested get back to it.
Posted in Writing

Stop Motion Animation Movie

My Work:

I had a lot of fun making this video. Over the summer I worked at a film camp that taught kids how to make a stop-motion animation film, so I already had an understanding of how to make one. The main difference between what I did over the summer and for this project is that I used my camera instead of a phone. I have a stop-motion animation application on my phone but don’t have a tripod for I decided to use my camera instead because it was a steadier shot. I liked how the video came out, for the most part. I don’t like how I wasn’t able to get the lighting to be the same throughout. I filmed on different days in different locations. It does, however, offer a change of pace to the story, as the real world (my hand) doesn’t enter until the lighting changes.

Work I liked:

Credit: jeanvaniercatholicss

This stop-motion animation film is a great example of effective audio. For starters, just in the beginning, it draws you in with the sound of crumpling paper and drawing/writing. As the film goes on the music helps dictate what’s happening. It goes from soft and happy to intense when the protagonist has to battle the antagonist. Once the antagonist is defeated, the music sets up a perfect love scene ending.

Credit: Sam Faber-Manning

While this film doesn’t have any actual music in it the sound effects in it work very well. It seemed as if every single hit or beat that the stick figures had, had a sound effect with it. I thought it helped move the story along very well.

Credit:  Eli Guillou

The animated text in this video was incredible. A lot of the animated text came from the voiceover, but the animator/director chose to only focus on the stronger dialogue being said. There aren’t many visuals to tell a story in this video, but the use of the animated text really brought it to life.

Credit: David Guetta

Lyric videos are always a great example of animated text. This one, in particular, caught my attention because the lyrics seem to be an extension of the protagonist in the video. The use of where the text is being places is also amazing. In the beginning, you can see that texts are being sent and as the song progresses they become thoughts from the protagonist. My favorite animated text was the line “If you really left”. Once that line was said and written on the screen, the word “left” disappeared. I thought that that held a lot of weight in this song, because of what it is trying to convey.

Posted in Writing

Summary: Chapters 6 & 7

Chapter 6: Sound

Let Sound Lead Story

  • Don’t wait until the last minute to determine what your soundtrack is

Diegetic and Non-diegetic Sound

  • “Put simply, diegetic sound comes from sources that are visible on-screen (or implied by action off-screen) and that comes from the physical world” (Blazer, 89).
  • “Sounds described as non-diegetic are sounds whose source neither is visible on the screen nor has been implied to be present in the actions” (Blazer, 89).

Sound Effects

  • Restraint is key in picking your sound effects
    • There are a plethora of sounds that can be used but use too many effects and they lose weight.

Music as sound effects

  • A lot of times you can use sound effects that are derived from your soundtrack.
    • For example: “the famous screeching violin in Hitchcock’s Psycho shower scene” (Blazer, 92).

Music

  • “More than any other aspect of film, music can determine the emotional tenor of story, set rhythm for scenes, and geode an audience’s journey” (Blazer, 93).

Score to “theme”

  • Go back to the beginning of your film. What is the theme or the emotional tenor of it?
    • “This stage is called building a temp (temporary) track” (Blazer, 93).
  • Don’t get too attached to some of the music though, because sometimes you are unable to get the rights to certain songs.
    • Be open-minded

Consider the music of “silence”

  • “Atmospheric music, sometimes represented by a stripped-down hum from your soundtrack or a subtle rhythmic drone, can give a scene added personality that the audience may not even perceive” (Blazer, 94).

Score against

  • This means to add sound effects or music that completely contradict what is happening on stage.
    • For example, during a very brutal fight scene, a happy song is playing.
      • If done properly can make your audience feel uncomfortable.

Dialogue

  • Don’t feel obligated to use dialogue.
  • If you aren’t able to convey your story using only visuals you aren’t trying hard enough.
  • If, however, you have tried as hard as you can and dialogue is still needed, here are a few tips on writing proper dialogue:
  1. “…match every line of dialogue to the personality of the character” (Blazer, 95).
  • You wouldn’t want one of your more egotistical characters going about the day without trying to get noticed.
  1. Your dialogue should be as natural as possible
  • A lot of the time your dialogue can be derived from conversations you hear on the street.
  1. “Use dialogue to set the mood of your scenes” (Blazer, 96).
  • In more tense moments use short, clipped sentences
  • In more lighthearted moments go overboard with the details
    • If you’re excited about something more likely than not you say everything you can about it.

Chapter 7: Design Wonderland

Designing the Rules

  • Establish a time and place to create an interesting and believable animated world.
    • Then word to define the physical, social, and visual laws that exist there” (Blazer, 102).

Your World’s Time and Place

  • Make sure the environment you have created does not interfere with your protagonist’s true goal in the story.
    • Unless the environment is supposed to stop him from reaching said goal.

Your World’s Physical Laws

  • Don’t create new physical laws just because you think they are cool, create them because they are meaningful to the story.
    • For example, the physical laws of a story taking place in NYC will be different than the physical laws of a story taking place on the Moon.
      • It’s up to you to decide the differences.

Your World’s Social Laws

  • You follow the social laws of your world every day, why not create a new set of social laws for your own story.
    • For example, an episode of Rick & Morty has Rick and Morty go to a planet where once a year they partake in a purge (like the movie).
      • That doesn’t happen on Earth, it’s a different social law.

Your World’s Visual Laws

  • “The success of your animated story depends on the tone set by your visual world. Space, line, shape, color, contrast, and texture are all visual aspect you can create laws for as a means to enhance your narrative and distinguish your story from others” (Blazer, 107).