It's been a long time since I've done one of these, but in my defence I've been swamped with Polytech assignments. Thankfully the trimester is complete (though the next one is looming) and I've got some time to catch up on catching up.
Over the past few months two things have stuck out: one is that I can now cross "seeing Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera" off my bucket list, and the second is that I attended an event to celebrate the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, one of which I received for Best Fan Writing.
In the first instance, The Phantom of the Opera was seen at the Isaac Theatre Royal, a building that was badly damaged in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake and which has only recently been rebuilt and reopened. Seeing this musical on-stage was something I've wanted to do for a long time, for though I concede it is my guiltiest of all guilty pleasures, the story was a fairly substantial part of my adolescence (I once spent the entire length of a bus ride for a school fieldtrip narrating the whole thing to those seated in the vicinity).
So finally seeing it on the stage was a big deal – though one of the downsides to knowing a musical back to front is that there were no surprises in store. I knew every verse, every lyric, every plot development. Yeah.
Still, everything looked wonderful (why bother with The Phantom of the Opera if you don't have gorgeous sets and costumes?) and my inner Raoul-defence squad was happy and surprised to note that the actress playing Christine actually had more chemistry with Raoul than she did with the Phantom. That doesn't happen very often!
Also, I took the opportunity to pull off the closest thing to cosplaying I'll ever do in my life: deliberately wore a white dress so as to mimic Christine's iconic outfit.
As for the Sir Julius Vogel Award, I don't actually have it in my hand yet (it takes a few months to ship them out) but I was involved in the prize-giving ceremony and I even – believe or not – made an acceptance speech.
I'll admit that a part of me was a little self-conscious about the fact I had received an award simply for writing extensively about films, books and television shows on the internet. That doesn't seem like something you should be awarded for, especially not when I was alongside writers who had won awards or been nominated for original fiction. And so I was compelled to try and explain (as much to myself as to the audience) that fan writing is important.
So here's a copy of the speech I made, which you can also find on Helen Lowe's blog (along with some photographs!)
“When I was eighteen years old, I wrote my first book review for Amazon.com, and I’ve been blogging and reviewing ever since. The reason for this is simple: I really, really enjoy talking about books and films. For that reason, it seemed strange to me that I had won an award simply for having a hobby – especially since that hobby is writing about other people’s writing.
This pastime known as “fan writing” involves being a part of on-line fandom, that strange virtual world of forums and fan-sites where people from all over the world gather to discuss television shows, comic books, Hollywood films or Broadway musicals. It’s not difficult to see what brings these people together, and that’s a love of stories.
As both a participant and an observer to on-line fan writing, I’ve reached two conclusions. The first is that every hobby – from golf to stamp collecting – appears a little strange from the outside looking in. The second is that hobbies are nevertheless taken very seriously by those involved. Sometimes too seriously.
Back in 2009 the science-fiction show Torchwood, a spin-off of Doctor Who, decided to kill off one of its most popular characters. The negative reaction to this was so intense that fans ended up constructing a memorial shrine to the dead character at one of the show’s filming locations. It was so large and so convincing that the city council of Cardiff had to add an explanatory plaque informing pedestrians that no real person had actually died there.
But this incident is not without precedent. In 1893, when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sent Sherlock Holmes plummeting to his death over the Reichenbach Falls, fans took to wearing black armbands of mourning in the street, beginning a public backlash so great that Doyle was eventually forced to resurrect his famous detective.
Though it’s easy to laugh at this sort of behaviour, it’s also a striking reminder of how deeply invested we can become in the stories we are told. If a story is doing its job right, it’s engaging reader or viewer on an emotional level. And the natural response to an engaging story is the impulse to share it with others.
As such there are millions of individuals out there who share my hobby, using their social media platforms to discuss, critique or recommend stories in whatever form they may take. Fan writing results in all kinds of things: obtaining further insight into a work of fiction, honing your own writing skills by examining someone else’s, or being exposed to new material that you might not have otherwise discovered.
As we’ve seen, it’s a hobby that’s not without its oddities. Alongside discourse on representation and diversity and social issues in our fiction, is equally impassioned debate on who shot first: Han or Greedo. Fan writing involves the serious sitting right next to the silly; where emotional investment can easily tip into openly grieving for the deaths of fictional characters.
But fan writing is prolific, it’s fun, and it’s a hobby more and more people are getting involved in. And just recently I learned it’s taken seriously enough that awards are given out for it, so for that I say thank you very much.”
It's been hard keeping up with all my shows lately, and just as one comes to an end another begins! Season three of Orphan Black has wrapped up quite satisfactorily, just in time for Humans to take its place. I've been casually keeping track of all the Merlin cast and have ended up watching most of their post-show projects (well, not so much Bradley as he hasn't yet been in anything that's caught my attention, though I heard iZombie was good) and Colin Morgan's involvement in Humans is certainly what drew me to the premise.
SPOILERS FOR JURASSIC WORLD
On grimmer note, I caught Jurassic World and was pretty horrified by what happened to Katie McGrath's character. I'm sure it won't do anything but help her career considering the sequence is one of the top talking points of the film, but still it just jarred very badly, both with the way it was staged (why such a long and gruesome death scene for such a minor character?) and how disproportionally deserved it felt (she played a woman whose heinous crime is being mildly disgruntled at having to babysit her boss's nephews).
And yes, I know the rebuttal to this is that dinosaurs don't care who does and doesn't deserve a gruesome death (trust me, I've only been told this a MILLION TIMES ALREADY) but my point is that the writer/director made the conscious decision to shoot the scene this way, which just felt over-the-top disturbing. This article sums up the issue far better than I have: The Strangely Cruel And Unusual Death In Jurassic World.
And just imagine for a second if Zara had managed to escape the mosasaurus tank. Seriously, just imagine that and tell me that wouldn't have been a million times cooler. The ultimate survival story.
Plus, I was disappointed that it broke the franchise's record of no on-screen female deaths. Ah well, at least I'll see Angel Coulby alive and kicking on The Tunnel next year.
Aside from that, my current shows are season two of Salem (coming to a close next week), Penny Dreadful (heading toward endgame) and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I've also been working my way steadily through Parks and Recreation (on hearing that it had come to a close I felt it was as good a time as any to watch it right from the beginning) and I have big plans to snuggle down this weekend with a bag of pick-n-mix lollies and all three seasons of The Borgias. I've been meaning to watch that for years, and it's time to finally put it under my belt.
Speaking of television shows, I'm not one to mock people for becoming overinvested in certain characters – wait, yes I am. Apparently McDreamy kicked the bucket over on Grey's Anatomy, and disgruntled fans have started a petition to have him resurrected. My favourite part is the bit where Shonda Rhimes is threatened with the Patriot Act.
But hey, like I said in my acceptance speech: it proves the power of stories.