Arts in Entertainment Author Spotlight: Catie Osborn

Catie Osborn

Over the next few days, we’ll be turning the spotlight over to the authors featured in the Arts in Entertainment series. This is your chance to meet them and get a sense of exactly why you’ll want to read their books. As of right now we are still south of 25% funding, but we can make it! Every dollar helps make a great series a reality, so please support the Kickstarter today to help it come to life. Here’s Catie Osborn to tell you about her book on Titus Andronicus, and to give you a taste of just how great a series this will be.

What made you decide to pitch to this project?

My life is complicated. I’m not famous, except in some small corners of the internet. My areas of passion and expertise are skills and trades that generally stopped existing 400 years ago. I’m going to grad school for Shakespeare and I have a blacksmith shop in my barn. I’m weird. But I am also extraordinarily lucky. I found the thing I love: Shakespeare.

The bummer about loving Shakespeare (and this may come as a shock to you), is that it turns out, most people think Shakespeare is awful.

I have learned this many, many times over. And it makes me sad. Somewhere along the line, people got told that Shakespeare is for Fancy People with Very Nice Monocles and that it’s hard to understand and that it’s boring.

I teach Shakespeare workshops all year long, and the most common complaint I get from people of all ages is that “this is boring and it’s a different language so how am I supposed to understand any of this?”

It is at that point that I usually bust out the first scene of Hamlet, which starts with the incredibly complicated Shakespearean text of “Who’s there?”, and after about an hour, people are usually at least someone convinced that this weirdo with blue hair and really large hand gestures isn’t at least completely wrong.

And so when the opportunity came along, I realized that this was my chance to make, perhaps, some sort of small blip in how Shakespeare is perceived.

Because I really do think Shakespeare is fantastically interesting and engaging — you just have to sort of learn it from someone that knows that. And I was exceptionally lucky in that not only did I first learn Shakespeare from a group of ridiculously enthusiastic people (more on that later), but I’m now in grad school with professors who are experts on teaching and researching Shakespeare, so I’m getting this weird sort of dual education in both how to be awesome at being excited about Shakespeare, but how to also not look like a total jackass whilst doing it.

Then I realized that to make this argument happen successfully, I had to tell the story of how it came to pass that I became such a Shakespeare nerd. Then it all spiraled out of control and I ended up with like 90 pages of….something and then I accidentally got a book deal and now here we are.

Also I figure now I can say that I’m the girl who wrote a book about Titus, which will ultimately lead me to my plan of world domination and authority in all matters pertinent to Titus.

How quickly did you decide on your subject?

12 parsecs. It took Phil Reed 18.

What was it about your subject that stood out to you?

There are shitloads of books about Shakespeare’s works, hundreds of biographies of him as an author and thousands upon thousands of articles about his plays — however, there are like two books that deal with Shakespeare as he relates to the author. And that’s the thing about Shakespeare. Yes, he was perhaps the greatest writer who ever lived, and yes, he was a really, really good poet, but none of that matters if his works didn’t make us feel something. You can’t write about Shakespeare without having a connection to Shakespeare, and that’s the part that most authors shy away from.

So I chose Titus Andronicus because it happens to be my favorite. It’s also, as I’ve said before, widely considered the shittiest one. Which is remarkably untrue if you’ve ever read Timon of Athens, but let’s be real, no one wants to read Timon of Athens. #shakespearejokes

However, Titus stands out to me more than some of the other (admittedly, better) plays because I think it is the one that so aptly illustrates the insane amount of both possibility inherent in the text and how god-awful Shakespeare can be. Fun Fact: Shakespeare is not always good. Sometimes, Shakespeare is really, really bad.

It is also is a great play for looking at Shakespeare. He’s very human in this play. He fucks up frequently in his writing and it’s kind of adorable. Characters mysteriously disappear, the comedy is awful, the main characters are obvious prototypes for later characters, but the structure is there. He’s starting the work of who he will ultimately become. It’s sort of like watching Howard the Duck and knowing that it will ultimately lead to The Avengers.

But, more than that, I wanted to talk about Shakespeare and Titus from my perspective. I’m in graduate school and I am currently writing my thesis (coincidentally) on Titus. I am totally capable of writing fancy-pants articles with impressive vernacular (and I would daresay that I enjoy writing them a great deal), but that doesn’t feel like the authentic me.

I’m really, really doofy. I once didn’t get hired for a job teaching Shakespeare because I was too excited. That’s a true story. So I wanted to make this book authentic. Because I honestly believe that you don’t have to know anything about Shakespeare to get excited about it, or even understand it. It’s not a foreign language, it’s not a mysterious code, it’s just….stories. Stories that still appeal and touch us (heh heh) today.

I’m not approaching this with the expectation that readers have any idea of what Titus is or what iambic pentameter is or why it’s important. Because it’s not about the scholarship, it’s about how Shakespeare shaped my life. And you don’t need to know rhetoric to hear that story.

What do you hope a reader will take away from your book?

In this book (Jesus Christ I’m writing a book), I’m going to narrow in on Titus because Titus is the constant Shakespearean presence in my life. If that’s even a thing. However, this book isn’t about Titus, necessarily. I’m determined to not make this a thesis. Because that’s not the thing that’s important to me.

I am from a medium-sized area of the midwest called the Quad Cities, which is a group of cities on the Illinois and Iowa sides of the Mississippi river. There are five cities that make up the quad cities because fuck your logic.

In the Quad Cities, there is a small theatre troupe called the Prenzie Players. They started as a group of friends who wanted to put on Shakespeare plays during the winter months, and being poor young adults at the time, they came up with the idea of using found spaces, simple staging and minimal costuming and tech. The focus, they decided would be on the text.

So they learned everything about it.

Their belief and mission statement is that “theatre is not a passive experience”. They talk to the audience, directly, often interacting with them, and use an ensemble directing style. They taught me to look, deeply, at the text– things like that the patterns in the text mattered, that things like repeating line endings meant something significant, and it was up to me to discover it

These are the people that taught me Shakespeare. The thing, though, is that these people aren’t Shakespearean scholars. They are parents and band teachers and yoga instructors and engineers and high school English teachers and microbiologists and waiters and bartenders. They are people who looked at a text and saw potential and explored it until they became accidental experts.

These are the people that taught me to love Shakespeare. Because before I learned that Shakespeare was fancy and scholarly and Very Important Literary Work, before I learned that Shakespeare is hard and you’re not supposed to understand it, I learned that Shakespeare was easy to understand; you just looked at the words.

I learned that Shakespeare is about creativity and passion and the stories his plays tell.

So I moved 900 miles away from the Quad Cities and moved to Virginia. Now I go to school and study Shakespeare in a program that works with the American Shakespeare Center where I study under world-famous Shakespearean scholars and interact with them on a daily basis.

And now I know that the rhetorical term for lines with the same ending is “anadiplosis”, and perform in a theatre where the actors speak directly to the audience and interact with them and have a season dedicated to an ensemble directing style.

And so when this pitch came along, I thought about how the best actor I have ever known is a microbiologist who makes swords in his garage. He isn’t a recognized Shakespearean scholar to anyone but a small company of 20 people in the midwest, but he is just as much scholar as any that I’ve studied with. His work, I think, is just as valid.

And that is the story I wanted to tell. Not an examination of Shakespeare from a fancy-pants scholar’s perspective, but from the perspective of someone who first learned Shakespeare from a group of people who learned their Shakespeare by picking up a copy of Measure for Measure and decided, “fuck it, let’s put on a play”.

That is the Shakespeare I want to write about. That is the Shakespeare I want the readers of this series to take away. Not the boring and impossible to understand Shakespeare that seems to be so commonly taught in our school system today. That Shakespeare is bullshit. This book is a love-letter introduction to the Shakespeare that I first met in 2007 when a community theatre Othello wearing jeans and combat boots looked me in the eye and asked me what I thought he should do.

Since then, I have (quite literally) dedicated my life to Shakespeare. Shakespeare changed the way I thought about the world. Regardless of how high-school emo kid that sounds, it’s true. the profound influence Shakespeare (and Titus) have had on my life present, I think, a different sort of understanding of what Shakespeare is.

I believe in Shakespeare. I want people to see him, his works, these plays, however you want to phrase it — I want people to see Shakespeare the way that I do. I want to share that with people. Desperately.

Your book in seven words:

Titus doesn’t suck and I have issues.

Arts in Entertainment Kickstarter: It’s Live!

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The Arts in Entertainment Kickstarter is live! Right now!

Take a look:

You can read all about this great new approach to art criticism there, as well as check out the awesome backers’ perks. Pledge as early as you can in order to help this happen. The longer backers wait the less likely we’ll reach our humble goal, so if you are interested, please contribute and bring this project to life!

By backing with $10 or more, you’ll earn yourself a copy of a book about Synecdoche, New York, I’m Still Here, This is Hardcore, Titus Andronicus, Mystery Science Theater 3000, or Hatsune Miku (the latter providing we hit our stretch goal).

No cards will be charged until after the Kickstarter closes (30 days from about one hour ago!), and no cards will be charged if the funding goal is not met. In other words, you’ve got nothing to lose!

Many of the tiers allow you to choose one or two titles as a reward; you’ll have a chance to specify them after the campaign closes, so don’t worry that you’re not asked for your answer up front.

In the coming weeks we’ll have Author Spotlights and other features to share with you, as well as more concept cover art and other goodies.

But please help to make this great series a reality. Some very talented and passionate authors are standing by to change the way you think about art.

Thank you, sincerely, in advance.

Arts in Entertainment: Pitch Video and Book Descriptions

The Kickstarter for our Arts in Entertainment book project will be launching Wednesday, October 14. That’s the big news. Please help me to share and circulate it that day…and pitch in to get one or more of the great books we’re producing.

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you some more information on the specific titles we’re publishing…and the pitch video I put together.

No animals were harmed in the making of this video, but penmanship was pretty badly beaten.

I think it came out pretty great and you should donate several thousand dollars based on that fact alone, but I understand you’ll each have to make up your own minds.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy. Credit for the music goes to Benjamin Briggs; it’s the song “Love the Game,” used with permission from Twitch Jams.

All of the art was done by me. You can tell because it’s awful and nobody looks anything like they should. Except maybe me. I’m pretty easy to draw.

As far as the six titles we’re launching…I’d tell you about them, but I’d prefer to let the authors do that themselves. In the coming weeks, they’ll tell you even more, so stick around. This is a very exciting project, and I look forward to making this a huge success. I hope you’ll help me with that; it’ll be worth it!

For now, brief overviews of what to expect in each book, from the authors themselves. This will give you a great idea of the angles we are taking to our topics…and why every one of these is going to be worth reading. Enjoy.

1) Nathan Rabin: I’m Still Here

It is now apparent that I’m Still Here is a whole lot more than just a movie. I watched it during the meat of a two-week trip I spent following Phish via Greyhound buses across the East Coast and Gothic Midwest. When I watched it in one of a series of interchangeable hotel and motel rooms that had become a weirdly ubiquitous staple of my life, I was in the process of losing my goddamned mind. My brain was a curious and malfunctioning beast wired weird with way too much Molly, pot and LSD and way too little sleep, relaxation or stability.

I recognized all of my debilitating flaws in myself—toxic narcissism, self-obsession, a dependence on alcohol and marijuana that made me feel both vulnerable and powerless, arrogance and an inability to forge genuine, substantive connections with other people due to an almost pathological inability to get out of my own head and my own crippling self-consciousness—in hugely exaggerated, distorted and parodic form.

For all the words that were spilled about I’m Still Here, mostly before it came out, there is so much more left to be said about it. It’s one of the most important and essential artworks of our time, a film that has provocative and insightful things to say about hip hop, cultural appropriation, ego, narcissism, celebrity, reality, the blurry lines between reality and fiction, documentary, method acting, drug addiction and mental illness.

My deep-seated self-hatred and my equally deep-seated self-aggrandizement both processed the movie the same way: they softly but persistently whispered, “This is a movie about you.”

2) Catie Osborn: Titus Andronicus

See, the thing is, everyone shits all over Titus Andronicus. Most “real” theatre people and directors and scholars talk about Titus like it’s this cute little failure of a play, sort of a violent novelty that you have to do every 12 years when you’re working your way through the canon, or, conversely, sort of a Shakespearean answer to the Quentin Tarantino generation, a grand-guignol style freakshow that will sell tickets to the young and alternative.

But most importantly, to me, it is the story of a father and his daughter. My dad died, unexpectedly and really shittily, when I was 20. Titus, somehow, came along at the moment I needed to let go. And I got to. I got to say goodbye to my father for 6 months, in rehearsals and live, 15 times on stage.

And it was hard. But it became, somehow, part of me. Titus, this stupid, shitty show written, most likely, on a pun about pie crusts, is that single constant in my life. I have often lied (most recently on my application letter to grad school), that “Shakespeare” is the constant. But it’s not true. Shakespeare is the author. Titus is the constant.

And I would really, really like to tell that story.

3) David Black: This is Hardcore, Pulp

Twelve songs about loss, disappointment, sex, revolution, lack of sex, pornography and washing up. Released in 1998, it ought to be a seminal work, but instead it is one that often goes overlooked, due mostly to the popularity of its predecessor, the decade defining Different Class. The Britpop phenomenon of the mid-nineties was dominated by the “Blur versus Oasis” debate. The jury is still out, but Pulp were arguably the eventual winner. In the three years between albums, the Britpop phenomenon came to an end with a whimper and a Spice Girl miming whilst wearing a Union Jack. At a time when we needed them most, Pulp were notable by their absence.

This is Hardcore arrived to a very different welcome. It was darker, it was anthem-less and it was not what people expected. It was what they needed. They didn’t know it. They probably still don’t.

I listened to it again and again, waiting for the rest of you to see sense. You didn’t. I began to despair. I despaired that a work of such quality was being largely ignored. I despaired that even the positive reviews were tinged with a sense of doubt. I despaired at the graffiti sprayed across posters featuring the cover art. I despaired of the entire cover art debate that seemed to me to be almost entirely literally judging a book by its cover. I despaired of the media — why weren’t the band on TV more? I despaired of the band themselves — why were they making the wrong choices of which tracks should be released as singles? I despaired of you — why didn’t you like it? Eventually I despaired of myself — was I wrong?

4) Zachary Kaplan: Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York is a film about life, time, memory, and our struggle to find meaning in our stories and stories in our lives. These ideas always resonated with my worldview, but after my mother took her own life, they began to take on a much greater significance to me.

They began to help me understand her suicide, my grief and my purpose. As I explore the film, I will use it as a compass to guide me through the grieving process as I plumb the emotional depths of the movie and of myself; to do anything less is to not heal fully. My mother is the fourth member of our family to take her own life, after her father, her mother and her brother.

I will intimately discuss ideas in this film as well as my family’s sad past, one story illuminating the other. In doing so, I will put myself through an emotional hell — and, hopefully, come out stronger in the end.

Writing this book is my dealing with it, my therapy. Writing this book is my grief process. Writing this book is my moving on. Writing this book is my ending the cycle.

5) Philip J Reed: Mystery Science Theater 3000

I’ve returned to Mystery Science Theater 3000 many times over the years. It’s seen me through some of the darkest stretches of my life, and it’s bolstered me through some of my most creative. It’s a deceptively rich, ahead-of-its-time experience that, if you really think about it, never should have existed.

But it’s more than just the funniest show I’ve ever seen; it’s shaped me as a human being, and helped me to understand, on some level that no other person ever could, that it’s okay to be what I am: an introvert.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 is a show that comes with a built-in sense of camaraderie. Nobody watching is ever alone. There was always a sense of community, even if it was (and is) a community of isolates. And, hey, so what? Isolates got me. Isolates get you.

The show won’t, and can’t, last forever. It was an all-too-brief spark that flitted between networks and timeslots, ensuring that an enormous amount of potential fans never saw it. But for those that did, it was a defining experience.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 took the dreck of world entertainment and created around it a safe and welcoming environment. Sure, the main character had to invent his own friends…but that was okay. Sometimes you find your place in the world, and other times you build it yourself.

It looked like the stupidest damned show on television, but was secretly the most insightful.

6) Matt Sainsbury: Hatsune Miku

Hatsune Miku is a vocaloid; a digital instrument that you plug into music creation software to make noises. What is different about Hatsune Miku is that instead of being a digital piano, violin, drum set or guitar, “she” is a voice that sings lyrics for you.

She has become popular. Very popular. Over 100,000 songs with Miku’s voice being produced to date, at least one million images drawn by fans, and dozens of music videos have only furthered her celebrity. Crypton has even developed screen technology that allows Miku to perform live on stage; she has opened concerts for Lady Gaga, performed with some of Japan’s most popular music artists, and even performed on Letterman.

And that’s just the start. There’s much to say about the artistic and economic impact, but even more to say about the cultural implications of Hatsune Miku. In fact, because she blurs the boundaries between the unreal and real so much, Miku may well be part of the cultural trend that explains why Japanese men and women aren’t having relationships with one another and producing children.

With this book you will get a first-hand account of why Miku is so popular and why her fans personalise her by referring to her in human terms, rather than as an object (i.e, to fans, Miku is a “she” and not the far more accurate “it”). The implications of this choice of pronoun run deeper than you can possibly imagine.

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More to come. Very, very soon…

Brace Yourselves: Content is Coming

Subterreanean Homesick Bookshelf
Content has been a little slow around here lately. I feel like I apologize for this every week, but doing some research proves that I only apologize every week and a half.

But I come bearing tidings of great joy. Unless you don’t like my writing. In that case, it’s terrible news, and I really hope you discover that other webpages exist on the internet.

This is going to be a very, very busy month in terms of posting. So much so that I had to make a content plan…something I haven’t had to do since 2012(!) when I did the 12 Days of Christmas feature.

This month is special for a few ways. Firstly, and maybe most obviously, there’s the launch of Arts in Entertainment. That Kickstarter will go live next week, barring tragedy, and it’s going to be a lot of work on my end. You’ll see features about that of course, but most of the work will be a bit below the surface.

Regardless, I’d appreciate (sincerely) your help and support in getting the word out, and pre-ordering the books if you have interest. It would mean a lot to me, but mainly what you’re doing is ensuring that the series happens for all those great people out there who would enjoy the books and don’t know that it’s even happening. You guys have been nothing but supportive in the past, and I appreciate it more than I can say. I hope you’ll help me make this a huge success.

Then there’s that show I’m reviewing every week. I forget which. China Beach or something. Regardless, that will continue. As will Fiction into Film (which I swear I’m going to keep on a predictable schedule!) and a few other surprises I think you will like.

Additionally, there’s a new feature I’d like to introduce this month, as Halloween is coming. Part of me would love to delay it until next year since there’s already so much stuff going on, but it’ll be pretty exciting to have an active blog again, and I think it’s worth the effort to make it happen now.

On top of all of this, I have a trip planned for the end of October into early November. I’ll have my content locked and loaded beforehand, but that carves a few more days out of an already busy month.

November will be pretty busy, too. You can expect new posts every couple of days through then, and sometimes every day. And with the Kickstarter closing then — bringing great news with it, we hope! — that will continue to be a focus of mine.

Which is kind of what I’m getting at: lots of stuff to come in the next 30 days or so. You might be in the habit of checking this blog every couple of days. Maybe it’s every couple of weeks or every month. I couldn’t blame you, really.

But you should probably get in the habit of checking more regularly, starting this coming week. Because it’s going to be like old times. Lots of great stuff coming in fast.

It feels good to be writing so much again. Thanks for being beautiful, and I hope you enjoy what’s in store.

Announcing: Arts in Entertainment

Arts in Entertainment

After several months of planning, we’re ready to a major project:

Arts in Entertainment, a six-volume book series about the ways in which creative works shape lives.

This is very exciting stuff, and I look forward to revealing more details in the near future. But, for now, an overview.

Six authors have come together to talk about the works of art that have shaped their lives and changed the way they see the world around them.

Nowadays there’s a lot of virtual ink spilled about what we like, don’t like, how things were made, what they mean…but very little is said about how a work of art makes us feel. How it shapes us as people. What it does to fundamentally change who we are.

That makes sense, in a way. Personal experience of art is something we all have, but it’s also something we don’t have an established vocabulary to discuss. And so we say very little, or nothing, and the most important changes happen silently within us.

Until now.

Arts in Entertainment is dedicated to opening that conversation, to discussing the most important part of any story: how it affects who we are.

This series of books will continue beyond the first six — as long as authors and readers exist to carry it — and the volumes are as varied as their authors. They’re funny, they’re tragic, they’re charming. They’re profound and they’re silly. They take sharp turns into memoir, history, interview, self-help, criticism, confession, and psychology.

The books will be professionally edited and printed at a Denver-based printhouse. I’ve seen samples and they look incredible. Each book will be between 200 – 300 pages, with a cover designed by Mishi Hime (cover artist for The Lost Worlds of Power).

We will be raising funding through a Kickstarter campaign which is set to launch next week, so use this time to let me know any questions you might have about the project. More info is to come, but questions are welcome as we gear up to a successful launch.

The minimum funding we’d need to start is $6,800. It’s a little higher than I had hoped, but with Kickstarter’s fees there wasn’t much we could do about that. However I’m doing my best to make sure that all pledges ($10 or above) will receive at least one book in return, so that everyone gets something of value for contributing, and it becomes more of a pre-order than a funding campaign. That’s important to me.

If funding is successful, copies will be available here and through all major retailers around the world, in both physical and ebook form.

I reached out to the strongest, most interesting, most varied writers I knew to pitch ideas for this, and received a lot of great ones. I couldn’t publish all of them, so I chose what I’m confident will result in the best series possible.

Sample Covers

Here are the six launch titles:

1) I’m Still Here

Professional critic, essayist, and A.V. Club MVP Nathan Rabin discusses 2010’s fictional documentary about Joaquin Phoenix’s career crisis, and sees in it a reflection of a dark and worrisome side of himself.

2) Titus Andronicus

Shakespearean scholar, actress, and leading authority on The Bard’s “worst play,” Catie Osborn talks about how this often-derided bit of Shakespeare canon has recurred throughout her life, shaped the path she’s taken, and helped her to say goodbye to her father.

3) This is Hardcore

Actor and humorist David Black walks us through his youthful experience with this underloved Pulp album, a collection of songs that disappointed and confused fans, and the reception of which disappointed our author in the media, the listeners, and in the band itself.

4) Synecdoche, New York

Critic and comedian Zachary Kaplan finds guidance and release using this famously befuddling film as a method for understanding, and coping with, the tragic suicide of his mother.

5) Mystery Science Theater 3000

Noiseless-Chatterguy Philip J Reed revisits this cult favorite to understand his own struggles with anxiety and introversion, and finds unexpected life lessons within: sometimes you find your place in the world, and other times you build it yourself.

6) Hatsune Miku

Critic and author of the best selling Game Art Matt Sainsbury takes an in-depth, personal look at the unexpected cultural implications of a digital instrument that was given a carefully-crafted personality…and which has managed to shake up a lot more than just the music industry.

I’m massively excited to bring this series to readers. The pitches were incredible, and I have total faith in every one of these writers. Something pretty incredible is going to happen soon…an entirely new and unique approach to the world of criticism. And every one of these will be worth reading, even (or especially) the ones about subjects you’re not familiar with.

More thorough synopses to come, as well as words from the authors, announcements of backers’ perks, concept cover art, and more.

Let me know your questions and feedback, and I’ll get them answered before kickoff.

Tune in next week for the official Kickstarter launch, and to help this become a reality.