Monday, March 31, 2008

April Fools' Eve (and the LaserCritic)

Posted By on Mon, Mar 31, 2008 at 4:33 PM

Tomorrow is April Fool's Day, so be on guard. The current issue of Slate has "recycled" a story from 2007 called "The April Fools' Day defense kit," which offers smart tips for spotting media hoaxes and offers links to past pranks that make for amusing reading. Here's an example:

Beware strange animals. If a story whiffs even remotely of the hotheaded naked ice borer, it's likely to be a hoax. Technology Review hoaxed its readers with an April Fools' story in 1985 titled "Retrobreeding the Woolly Mammoth." In 1984, the Orlando Sentinel did the same with a piece about the cockroach-devouring Tasmanian mock walrus. In 1994, London's Daily Star sports pages reported that invading superworms might destroy the Wimbledon green.

PopSmart can't speak for any of its sister blogs or publications, but rather than take part in tomorrow's pranking, PopSmart instead plans to keep an eye out for the hoaxes in other media, and inform the reader when we find them. Alert readers who spot other pranks should let us know, too.

That's not to say, of course, that we haven't been above a little pranking in the past.

In 2006, I posted the following message on the e-mail group The Atlanta Theater Mailing List:

Subject: Pointing a new light on theater criticism

To my fellow friends of theater:

We're at a crossroads both for live theater and for print journalism, two disciplines to which I'm deeply committed. New entertainment technologies and high-speed, "instant" communications media create increased competition for both the art form and for journalism. Rather than swim against the tide, stage plays and written reviews both need to find opportunities in new high-tech platforms.

I've come up with a way to bring theater criticism into the 21st century, one that takes cutting-edge technology and the paradigm of "instant" message delivery and applies it to reviewing live theater.

Given the popularity of live on-line chats and blogs about events as they transpire, it seems clear that the next wave will be live reviews of plays in progress. The technology already exists: a reviewer like me could simply jot down comments in a Blackberry from my seat and send them to other people -- ideally, similarly-equipped people in the audience of the same show.

But this seems an imperfect approach, because it excludes all of those in the theater-goers who don't have a Blackberry, or don't know about the option. My solution is simplicity itself: to use a red laser pointer to communicate my critiques and responses to the show as it happens, which will allow everyone to enjoy them. I call the concept "The LaserCritic"(trademark pending).

Using a laser pointer to review plays in progress would require a kind of short hand, but I think audiences would pick up on it quickly. The beauty of the concept is that spectators don't have to know English, or even read, to understand the commentary.For instance:

* Moving the red laser-dot in a slashing motion from left to right, across the set or an individual actor or group of performers, would indicate that something is "flatlining" or dull.

* Moving the red dot up and down would indicate excitement and approval, evocative of an exclamation point. (!)

* I would use slashing lines, like an "x," to indicate props, people or other things I don't like. For technical aspects not confined to the stage -- like, say, sound design, I'd turn the pointer at the control booth.

* And I'd use a circular motion to highlights actors -- or body parts -- that I particularly like. How fast I make the circular shape would indicate my level of enthusiasm.

I'm not so vain as to think that all spectators will appreciate me imposing my opinion on a production in this fashion. Fortunately, since laser pointers are generally inexpensive and easily found, other audience members can feel free to use their own pointers and "disagree" with me. (Ideally, they'll be in colors other than red, lest things become confusing.) I can imagine lively "arguments" developing over differences of opinion during shows.

I hope to implement "The LaserCritic" (trademark pending) this very weekend -- maybe you'll be one of the lucky audience members on hand to witness a new kind of live theatrical interactivity.

No need to thank me,

Curt Holman

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