Read To Your Shamblers

Some people claim that the undead are incapable of learning anything new, because their brains are rotten. This, in my opinion, is a very pulsist way of thinking. It’s not as though a brain rotted through disuse is an undead-specific trait. And the cure for this condition is the same for both breathers and shamblers alike. Read.
Reading is the single most important thing you can do with your child. You may think that buying that expensive learning toy or that educational software will make your child smarter or more successful, but compared to sitting down and reading a book together, you may as well be tossing him a severed foot. Trust me on this.
Reading expands the mind. Not in a bad way, like a sledgehammer. More like a stretching exercise for the brain cells. It’s a way for different people to know and understand each other. It’s a way to introduce children to ideas that they could never discover by simply staggering around, slack-jawed and ravenous, trying to eat everything that’s not nailed down. And that also goes for the life-challenged child.
My own little shamblers can read pretty well (when they’re not playing Got Your Eye with each other) but I still read to them whenever I can get them to sit still. Some parents don’t allow comics or graphic novels, saying that the violence is bad for them. I say horserot. I’ll read anything that catches their interest. I even read zombie apocalypse stories, though some of the deaths are pretty violent. But I figure that it’s good to be ambitious about the future, and reading about zombies being shot, blown up, and dismembered will help them prepare.
Reading is a way for complete strangers to get to know each other. Take this post, for example. If you and I were standing face to face, we would not be engaging in this bit of dialogue. I would likely be trying to eat your face, and you would be trying to blow me away. All that aside, my verbal skills haven’t been the same since the time the cat got my tongue. Reading and writing are a way around communication barriers.
Most importantly of all, reading engages the imagination in a way that no purely visual medium ever could. A movie or TV show tells you, “This is what it looks like. This is how things are.” A book says, “This is what it could look like. This is how it might be.” A breather might read a zombie apocalypse story and come away from it dreaming of hope and survival and the tenacity of the human spirit. A shambler might read the same book and come away from it dreaming of gourmet meals and the tastiness of the human body. Any reaction is the right reaction, because there are no wrong answers at the end of a book.
Some folks claim that they don’t like to read, or they don’t have time. What they mean is that their brains are out of practice and they’re afraid of the effort it would take to get back into shape. Exercise hurts, especially when you haven’t done it in a while. So start small. Graphic novels. Comics. Trashy young-adult brain candy. It might hurt a little, just like the gym hurts the first few times you go. But keep at it. Work your brain. Clear the rot away. You’ll be happier, you’ll be healthier, and you may even live longer because of something you read.

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Footloose and Shamblin’ Free

The life-challenged don’t sleep, not the way that breathers do. Since our brains only function at a very basic level, they don’t need to shut down and recharge for eight hours at a stretch. And of course we never need to dream. Dreams and nightmares are your brain’s way of flushing out anxiety. We are the nightmare-inducing anxiety.
That doesn’t mean, though, that we don’t need to relax once in a while. Raising and home-schooling three little shamblers is hard work, especially for someone with half a brain. With the days getting longer and the nights getting warmer, here are a few ideas for anyone looking to kick back and vegetate in their own fluids for a while.
Read a bad book. I mean an awful book. Dreadful writing, lousy plot, wooden characters that make the extras in a Romero movie look like Oscar-caliber performers. Anything by VC Andrews is a sure hit, as are Danielle Steele or EL James. Read something so trite and predictable that you’ll come away from it refreshed and feeling like an intellectual giant. If you’re a writer yourself, this is a must. Nothing recharges the old batteries faster than thinking, “And you made a million bucks? I can totally do this!”
Visit the beach. If the weather’s nice enough to go swimming (or wading or floundering, depending on your muscle tone and state of decay) that’s fun too, but just getting out in the sun and watching the water move is great for the soul—even if you’re not sure if you have one. Bring a book (maybe one of those awful ones I mentioned; there’s a reason they’re called beach reads) or just sit and stare for an hour or two. You’ll come away feeling like a fresh corpse. If you’re lucky you might be discovered by a couple who mistakes you for a murder victim. This can be hilarious or delicious depending on where you want to go with it.
Take your shamblers someplace fun and turn them loose. Nothing makes me want to chew my own face off like constant whines of “I’m bored” or “It’s too hot” or “She won’t give me my leg back.” Now that our curriculum schedule is set to an easier pace, we have more free time. The beach isn’t a such a good choice for this if your kids happen to be alive; constantly watching to make sure they’re still breathing makes relaxation difficult. But there are parks, forest preserves, or your local community center. There are usually lots of kids for mine to play with, and on a good day I don’t have to make dinner afterwards.
Ride a train. This last tip may sound odd, but it’s terrific fun. Get up early in the morning, hop on a train, and ride until you’re tired of it. Get off at a random destination and explore. You might find a fun new store or restaurant you never knew existed. I’m always on the lookout for new taste experiences for my children, so I get very excited when I find a place that serves exotic foods. The people there have great taste.
Whether or not you need to sleep, everyone needs a break from reality once in a while. This goes double for people whose reality is sometimes a real horror movie.

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The Zombie Casserole Chronicles – Part Eleven

Over the past few months, we’ve been busily churning away at sound and video post-production.  This has resulted in a number of character-building and learning moments.  There’s a vast difference between chunking out four to five minute web videos and making a thirty minute short film.

One of our more painful lessons was that you should really avoid crossing platforms when working on video projects.  John and I do all of our editing using Adobe Premiere Pro on Windows, but Shmoolie does all the sound editing and music using Logic on a Mac.  We send lo-res MP4’s back and forth all the time over DropBox to make sure we’re all seeing the same thing.  In order for the sound to get properly mixed, Shmoolie needed separate audio tracks.  We had four, so we figured that since we were sharing MP4’s, we’d just create AAC files (the same format in our MP4’s) and send them over to Shmoolie.  What could possibly go wrong?

It turns out that since AAC is heavily compressed. Although the format is public, different software packages use different algorithms to compress/decompress.  Since Shmoolie needed to work using uncompressed sound, we discovered that the decompression algorithms on the Mac seriously degraded the sound quality and also resulted in some sync issues.  After a few more false tries, we finally managed to settle on us sending the tracks as WAV files, and Shmoolie would send back a mixed AIF we would then sync to the main project.  It took us days to get here.  I would also note that to even get to this point we had to lock down the main video project. Once sound mixing commences, we can’t change anything or we invalidate Shmoolie’s projects as all the sound would then go out of sync.

We’ve done a number of the back and forths at this point and are getting closer to a final mix; however, as we got closer the Wizard World 2013 Comic-Con in Philly, we decided it would be a good idea to show a trailer for Zombie Casserole at our table.  I knocked out what ended up being the final trailer in a couple of evenings of work, and over the course of a couple of more evenings, Shmoolie knocked out several different soundtracks and mixes for us to choose from.  For some reason a one-minute project is a lot simpler to deal with than a thirty minute project.

You can see the results below.

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Until Death?

The issue of marriage equality has been all over the news lately. More and more polls indicate that the majority of Americans support the granting of equal marriage rights to consenting adults of all races, sexes, and stages of decay. For social conservatives, this can be disconcerting. They would like to pretend that healthy nontraditional relationships don’t and can’t exist. “How do I explain it to my children?” they cry. So let’s talk about zombie marriage.

Zombies are consenting adults. Sure our communication skills aren’t the greatest, and sometimes we get a little slow when our brains start to rot. But after spending the last few years on the Internet and especially on certain social networks and discussion forums, I don’t think anyone has the right to look down on me for only having half a functioning brain. Compared to some of the comments on Youtube, I’m downright gifted.

“But it’s not right!” the conservatives cry. “The wedding vows say ‘until death do us part’!”

For your information, my husband and I wrote our own vows, and that phrase wasn’t included. Not everyone copies their wedding off a template. Not everyone even gets married in a church. People get married in courthouses, movie theatres, and graveyards. And spiritual beliefs are just as varied. My hubs and I will part when God, fate, or a twelve-gauge shotgun decides, not an arbitrary, traditional couple of words.

“But zombies can’t have children and can’t reproduce! There’s no reason for them to get married!”

What on earth does physical reproduction have to do with a legal contract between two people? The two can and do operate completely independent of each other. Besides, anyone who has studied epidemiology knows that zombies are aces at reproduction. In fact, we’re better at it than most breathers. On a good day I can make ten new zombies in a single afternoon, whereas my breather compatriots can’t make more than one a year without ending up on a reality show.

“Next zombies will want to marry our dogs or our children!”

What exactly would be the point to that? We may want to devour your dogs—especially if they’re yappy, ill-trained little rats that don’t stay on their own property—but why would we want to marry them? A dog can’t even cosign a mortgage, and good luck getting alimony out of a ten year old.

“It’s unnatural and goes against what Jesus would have wanted for us!”

You’re reading this right now on an electronic talking screen that probably would have sent Jesus screaming into the night about demons and witchcraft. When you can Skype your opinions on a stone tablet, then you get to whine about what’s natural and unnatural.

“It’s just gross.”

Aaaand, here we have it. The very heart of the matter, the real crux of the argument. Zombies are icky, therefore zombies shouldn’t be allowed to marry each other. Following the same logic, we should probably ban marriage between ugly people, too. After all, unattractive people are more genetically likely to have unattractive children. Won’t someone think of the children?????

Oh yeah, and how can breathers explain it to their kids? “They’re holding hands because they’re in love, sweetie. They’re shambling this way because they’re hungry. Now hold on tight to that rifle and don’t forget the double-tap.”

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Behind the Scenes at Bristol Riverside Theatre: Technical Prep

The sun sets on Hillsboro.

The sun sets on Hillsboro.

Not all rehearsals focus on dialog and acting.  For a few days, technical work takes center stage. In the week leading up to opening night, lighting and sound design is worked out in collaboration between lighting designer Ryan O’Gara, sound designer Amy Altadonna and stage manager Angi Adams. One of the rows in the theater is covered with equipment as the technical details are tested, refined and stored for playback during the show.  Director Susan Atkinson moves back in the row immediately behind the stations giving input and guidance.

From the first rehearsal, Angi has been noting the meticulous details of stage movement down to which actor moves which bench and in which scene change. By now, movement is refined to the point when light and sound can be applied in support of the story.  While the script dictates the dialog, the production company fills in the technical details.  Mist, orange light and shadows give the impression of a hot and humid evening supporting the townspeople commenting on the blistering heat.

Drummon

Drummond comes to town.

Light and sound come together in Henry Drummond’s (Keith Baker) entrance. The lawyer for the defense in Inherit the Wind is an unwelcome stranger in the God-fearing town of Hillsboro.  Melinda (Gaby Bradbury), a young girl, sees his larger-than-life shadow cast on a wall and screams “It’s the devil!” and runs off.  Ryan uses a headset and communicates with the lighting engineer to adjust the size and intensity of the shadow.  He speaks in numbers and percentages and the shadow elongates.  Amy plays a blues guitar riff underscored with a low bass.  The music is so unlike the gospel hymns earlier in the play that it emphasizes his strangeness and the tones say “trouble’s coming.” In production, it’ll happen too quickly for most audience members to give it much thought, but it will give an impression that problems lie just ahead.

Evening at the courtroom

Evening at the courtroom

Not all of it is strictly for the audience, though.  In Act I, the townspeople enter from either side of the stage singing Old Time Religion.  They’re not within hearing distance of each other when they start, yet they need to be in sync. A recording of the cast singing it in a prior rehearsal closes that gap.  Angi reminds the cast to pay attention to the queue lights back stage.  When the light is on, get ready to go on stage and when the light goes off, start signing.  Today, though, rehearsal slows down to get the technical work ironed out. The actors often wait as transitions are tweaked and adjusted.  Not everyone is required for every scene.  I’m reminded of the down time on an active film set.  The director is always on deck, but there are expected pauses for the rest of the cast and crew.

Ryan O'Gara at his lighting design workstation

Ryan O’Gara at his lighting design workstation

It’s also reminiscent of the film post production process as the sound track and digital effects are applied, but that’s where the analogy ends.  A film editor commits the edits once and they’re burned to DVD, the job is done.  Not so for the production crew who is on hand for every performance. Light and sound is queued up for playback and it’s up to them to hit their queues and work in sync. They may not be on stage for curtain call, but they are just as responsible for delivering the performance as the actors. Next time you find yourself applauding for the cast, make sure there are a few claps for the crew, too.

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Behind the Scenes at Bristol Riverside Theatre: Costumes

Gina and Lisa B

Linda B. Stockton (left) and Gina Andreoli (right)

On Saturday May 4th, I arrive at the rehearsal studio after the lunch break.  I’m early for a scheduled meeting with the costume department, but just in time to catch a hymnal recital.  This time, the cast is practicing Rock of Ages and Walking to Zion and they are on their game as Keith Baker plays piano and coaches the chorus.  I feel like I’m walking into an old time tent revival. The last time I heard these tunes was at the Gospel Tent at the 2003 JazzFest is New Orleans.  When the cast starts clapping their hands and sings Old Time Religion a cappella, I’m tempted to join in. It’s catchy.

Marching to ZionThe two actors playing Howard, Erik Daughterman and Alexander Ryan, are due to be fitted today.  Howard is a young student of Cates, the teacher on trial, and has the distinction of being the first character introduced in the play.  It opens with Howard, in overalls, fishing and taunting a girl with a worm. Later, in the second act, he’s in a suite when he’s called as a witness in the trial. Two actors with two costume changes call for four distinct outfits. With a cast of over forty, the costume department has their work cut out for them.

Gina Andreoli and Linda B. Stockton manage costume acquisitions, fittings and tailoring. Director Susan Atkinson tells them what she’s looking for and it’s up to Gina and Linda to make it happen and button up the details. Clothes, shoes and hats fill the fitting room waiting to be tried on, but it’s far from the full inventory of all the prior productions. The rest is in storage and one of the challenges they face is keeping the inventory in rotation without going over capacity.

costume threadSuits and dresses reminiscent of the early 20th century line the length of the room. Gina explains that with The Great Gatsby in theaters 20s fashion has enjoyed a boost in demand. My expectation was that most of the shopping would be done at thrift stores for both cost savings and for the style.  To my surprise, Gina and Linda do most of their acquisitions online using eBay. And they have some contacts with other theaters open to sharing and swapping costumes.

Alexander’s suit is a just a bit large on him, but it fits the role of a young boy having to dress up for a special occasion. It brings my grandfather to mind, who insisted on buying clothes a size too large explaining I’d “grow into it.”  Gina then marks the hems and cuffs and the fitting’s done.

Keeping the costumes in order in a cast this size requires dedication to organization. The clothes go back on the rack in a definite sequence with the lead roles up front followed by the ensemble cast. In the next week or so it’ll all be transferred to the theater and readied for production.

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Rain, Rain, Get Out of My Brain

Spring is here at last, and the fear of limb loss due to freezing has finally passed. My little shamblers made it through the winter with only two fingers and six toes lost in total. This isn’t bad for them; at least we got most of the toes back. What we couldn’t find half-buried in the snow was later fished out of the mouth of the neighbor’s dog.
Unfortunately, with the thaw comes week after week of nonstop rain. This is less damaging than frost, but it’s equally depressing. Has your mother ever told you, “You’re not made of sugar; you’re not going to melt”? Well this holds true for the life-challenged as well. We don’t melt—exactly. But we do rot faster in the damp, and there’s nothing more dreary than watching bits of yourself wash away in a heavy downpour. It also upsets our breather neighbors when they find hairy chunks of scalp in the gutters. They start freaking out about radiation, and then those guys in the plastic jumpsuits come out and tear everything up.
So I can’t let the kids out in the rain too much, even though they enjoy stomping in puddles and munching on dead worms. But I can’t keep them cooped up inside for too long, either. They fight over toys, beat each other up, and the only video games they like are those disturbing ones that feature zombies as helpless victims of rednecks with shotguns. Those games will rot their brains—more.
Fast food restaurants usually have indoor play spaces, but I worry about the quality of the food there. It doesn’t make much sense to take my shamblers somewhere so they can run around and exercise, and then let them fill up on meat that’s been fed a steady diet of greasy beef, processed cheese, and phosphorus-laden beverages. We go occasionally as a treat, but it’s not a permanent solution to our cabin fever.
Children’s museums are an adequate alternative to turning the kids loose on the neighborhood, but it can get expensive. Even the cheaper ones that only cost five bucks or so per kid can add up when you include transportation, snacks, souvenirs, and whatever I have to pay the parents of whichever kid that inevitably gets bitten. You’d think that in this helicopter generation parents would do a better job of teaching their kids not to grab toys away from the ravenous dead, but whatever. Somehow it’s always my fault.
Indoor gyms are the best choice all around. Most park districts have them; don’t go to one of those fancy workout places. Cost aside, everyone there is either ridiculously skinny or on one of those strange diets that makes them taste weird. There is no good eating to be had if you get the munchies. Go to your local park district instead. They usually offer a family pass, which makes it more affordable. Also there’s lots of space to spread out, so there’s less chance of some breather child invading my kid’s personal space. Best of all is the running track. Whenever I go for a jog in my neighborhood, someone always panics and calls the CDC. But on the running track at my park district’s community center, I don’t even stand out. Everyone there is moaning, shambling, and stumbling every ten paces or so. It’s the ideal place to take the family when Mother Nature isn’t cooperating.

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