Saturday, January 28, 2006

Backstage

My wife and I are great fans of musical theatre, and are very fortunate indeed to have "The Muny," aka the Municipal Theatre Association of St Louis, near at hand. Here's a link to their website, which is well worth a look: http://www.muny.org. I mention this because I've always had a desire to see what happens backstage. As longtime Muny subscribers, we've seen many spectacular shows from our vantage point in the seats, only imagining the bustle of activity behind the curtain. I'm hoping we can finally take one of their backstage tours this year.

All of this to say that there's a very similar quality to The Cavern Today. You, our fans, hear the finished podcasts, which are an assembly of voices, sound effects, music, and so on. There may be interviews, dramas, book reviews, poetry readings, you never know. Sometimes we don't know...

So just for fun, here's a backstage tour of The Cavern Today. As mentioned before, this whole thing started with Ruby O'Degee from Jacksonville, Florida. She has many talents, among them being storytelling, drama, and working with teens as an acting coach. As a major Uru fan, she'd been mulling over the podcast idea as another way of evolving the story in Uru, as well as showing her teen drama group just what happens when you gather together a group of enthusiastic amateurs from all over the world for the purpose of telling a story via the Internet.

A post from Ruby in the Ubisoft Uru forums was our first invitation to join the project, and since that day in August '05, the staff has now grown to include a multi-talented collection of enthusiasts from all over the globe.

Ruby is still the main organizer behind the project, and as such, is responsible for many of the themes we feature in our podcasts from month to month. She does most of the storyboarding, outlining what each 'cast will include, and ordering the segments in the sequence you'll hear them. In the private section of our forum, there are sections for upcoming podcasts, where these outlines are posted for comment by other staffers. Sometimes we volunteer to do features, other times we're requested to do them, but the overall mood is one of cooperation.

Some of us are better in some areas than in others; for example, The Cavern Players were formed so that some of us could concentrate on script writing, editing, acting, and assembly. But in the same way, we've tended to "cast" ourselves according to our talents, and assignments are handed out accordingly.

The solo features, such as book reviews, are recorded by the assigned staffer, and the files are then sent up to the Cavern server so they can be dropped into the podcast during final production. Occasionally, the assembler might edit the piece, add music, whatever. Our drama, Journey of the Called, is acted out by the players over Skype, while each actor records their track. These files, again, are uploaded for assembly later, at which time music and sound effects are added. Our interviews are a bit different, in that they are recorded live. We've used Skype while recording each track separately, and once (for GreyDragon) using Gizmo, with its built-in recording feature. For future interviews, we hope to make use of Skype with the PowerGramo plug in, which captures all voices in the conversation with very good clarity.

Musical contributions, such as those you've heard from Mateus and GingerDiva, are sent in as finished MP3s and added to the podcast during assembly.

A recent development of The Cavern Today has been the video studio, headed up by Veralun. For our Cavern Christmas Carol, we acted the scenes out in various Cavern locations while Veralun captured the action using Fraps. The resulting video was then combined with the audio side of the story to produce a very entertaining video using Uru as a backdrop, and our avatars as actors. I wonder if Cyan ever imagined this sort of thing happening?

Needless to say, with so many people each contributing their own bit to the podcast, there's a fair amount of prompting that goes on as our deadlines approach! Having to squeeze all of this in with Real Life makes it a challenge sometimes, and occasionally features have had to be dropped or put off until the next program when they couldn't be completed on time. Our forum gets pretty lively as release time approaches! But all in all, the Cavern staff usually takes it all in stride. We're very sorry to have lost some of our staffers for various reasons, but sometimes real life responsibilites take precedence.

In a way, the biggest part of the job commences after all of our segments are complete and uploaded, for then our producer has to take all of those contributions and put them together into a coherent whole, editing perhaps 45 minutes of audio into a broadcast-quality "radio show." Kudos go out to Ruby, Donahoo, and all others who have filled this role!

I guess one of the most amazing things is that none of us have ever met face to face, with very few exceptions. We did run a thread in our forum once, inviting staffers to post real-life pictures. Some of us responded, but others are still known only by their Uru avvies. I entertain the thought that one day we can indeed all meet face-to-face, but the logistics would be huge; we have staffers from all over the USA, England, The Netherlands, South Africa, Australia, Canada, and France. A few of us are hoping to travel to Spokane for this year's Mysterium, and hopefully some great audio and photos will result. But for the most part, we know each other only through our voices and avvies.

Anyway, we hope you enjoy our work! We certainly have fun producing it.

Shorah,

Mowog

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