Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Last Week - Some Thoughts on Storytelling

And, so... here it begins. And here it's about to end (le cry).

The beginning of my last week here in London. I really didn't think that I would be holding out on this blog for as long as I have - of course, these last two weeks have been very abysmal in updates, but the blog post from before was, hopefully, a quick update. And, hopefully, it will be enough to remind of me all of the incredible things that I go to do over these last two weeks. But, now, it's time to begin winding down, and this will be one of the last blog posts that I ever write about my incredible London adventure. I had no idea that I would be writing this, to be completely honest... I mean, I did, but... it's kind of like, if you've been writing a book series for years and years and years, imagine beginning to write the last book, knowing that this is the beginning of the end. Imagine how J.K. Rowling must've felt beginning Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It must have been a horrible feeling, you know?

Of course, writing a blog is no where near that kind of feeling, but... I think I understand why people sometimes write more episodes than would be honourable for the series, or continue making sequels, or have such a hard time just ending a story... it's an extension of yourself, and having to write "The End" - the conclusive, final moment... those last six letters. It's an incredibly depressing feeling.

And you never see the end of something until you're close to it. It's not like, "Oh, I know it's going to happen!" It's kind of like life... you go through life, living, and you aren't constantly reminded of your mortality until it's staring you right in the face, you know?

... wow, that was some pretty deep, dark shit.

At any rate, this is going to be one of my last posts about London - hopefully, not the last, seeing as I still have... five days left, right? Five days. I can definitely crank out two blog posts in five days.
Per usual - le Spotify.
Something about the Spotify playlist that I have going... it's a little bit off from the actual playlist that I have on my iTunes because, again, Spotify is a combination of my own library and the library that's available through Spotify. So, here are a few tracks that are missing from the Spotify playlist that are actually on the real playlist (Spotify doesn't have these songs, awkwardly).
  1. "Sabrina" - The Fake Carls (download their free EP here - my roommate's band!)
  2. "Theme from 'Hot Fuzz'" - David Arnold (from Hot Fuzz)
  3. "End of an Era" - Oliver Boyd and the Rememberalls (song attached to this post)
  4. "The Year Turns Round Again" - J. Tams Arr. A. Sutton & T. Van Eyken (from War Horse)
So, yeah... here goes nothing!

My Casual Day at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

I always knew that I wasn't a Muggle.

When I was younger, I loved the Harry Potter books and films - even to this day, I still love them, despite the fact that they're still classified as children's books and the movies have now officially ended (le sad day). My Mom had tried to read the books aloud to me, but after many attempts (and many mispronunciations of Hermione's name), she settled for the first film, which had just been released... and I was immediately captivated. Within two days, I had convinced her to buy me the box set of books, and one week later, I'd eaten them up like a cake - it was my first book series that I willingly read, the first story that I had truly been captivated with. And I was in love.

Having such wild imagination as a child, it didn't take much to have me convinced that I was a witch, and that one day Hagrid was going to come bursting down my door telling me that he was "pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," and that I would be spending the next seven years of my life being educated in Herbology, Charms, Transfiguration, Divination, Potions and the like. I would play (loudly) the Harry Potter soundtracks up in my room, run around with Harry's glasses and a glow in the dark wand and, with my friends Denise and Ashleigh, would go on wild, dangerous adventures into the depths of my closet, my backyard and the "black top" at our elementary school. I knew that I was destined for great things - just like my friend, The Boy Who Lived. When my eleventh birthday rolled around, I went outside and actually sat by my post box for a few hours before resigning myself to the inevitable truth.

Hogwarts wasn't real, because if it was there was no way that I would be a Muggle. So, either I was a witch, or Hogwarts was actually a fictional place in some fictional book and I was just kidding myself.

It was a very sad day in the McManus household.

Despite my sadness in realising that Hogwarts was, in fact, not a real place, I kept up with the books and the movies. I knew practically every spell that there was to know, from the classical Wingardium Leviosa to Rictusempra to Crucio and even the dreaded Avada Kedavra. I avidly followed the book updates and fangirl-ed over every single production still from the set (you might say that these films - in combination with Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films (my Mom remembers taking me to The Two Towers for four weekends in a row...) - were the beginning of my love for motion pictures) and checked Mugglenet practically every day for updates. I have Harry's wand in my room somewhere, and definitely have some hand-made robes of my own somewhere as well. I also used yellow ribbon and a cheap tie from Target to make my own Gryffindor tie (I am a Gryffindor, by the way, Pottermore says so). To put it simply, I was a bit of a fanatic.

But, like all good things, the Harry Potter books had to come to an end, an ending that I did not take to very well (don't get me wrong, I loved the book - I was just sobbing everywhere) - and, likewise, The Deathly Hallows, Part 2 came around to mark the end of the motion picture phenomena that had struck the world (again - the sobbing). Harry Potter grew up and had a family and sent his own children off to Hogwarts, and "all was well." And, then, I went to college, and my childhood - with Harry Potter being somewhere around its centre - was left behind me.

Over the last few years, my "fandom" drive has been propelled towards other things, namely action or adventure films such as The Hobbit trilogy, The Avengers, Star Trek (<3) and some epic television shows, such as The Legend of Korra, Game of Thrones and - of course - Sherlock. I always told people that I loved Harry Potter, but the love of it seemed to... well, die a bit.

But, luck had it that I was able to buy a ticket for the Harry Potter tour off of a fellow Dreamer, and I got to leave work early to randomly go there on a random Monday.

And, as luck would have it... the second I walked into Leavesden Warner Bros. Studios, I realised, once again that I am no Muggle.

Walking into the actual Great Hall of Hogwarts.
Words can not literally describe what that tour was like - as a Harry Potter fan and as a fan of filmmaking in general. The second that you walk into the first room of the tour, you're reminded of every reason why you love Harry Potter and what it taught you as a little kid in elementary school - the books, the fandom, the phenomena as it struck the world... everything. Right after that, they sit you down in a cinema-esque room and go through the books and the movies together in another film, talking about the process that was taken to create such incredible motion pictures, and the movie magic that made the magical world of Harry Potter come, literally, to life.

And then a screen rises - and you're staring at the doors that lead into the Great Hall of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Yes, the actual doors. And once you step through them, you're standing in the actual Great Hall.

For some reason, I've been very partial to making lists of things that I've been doing on this trip, and while I would hate to cheapen this incredible experience with bullet-points, there is so much that I did and go to see that it's really, kind of... well, the only way that I can properly get everything out without turning into a rambling machine (as if that wasn't possible already).

  • I was the only one who showed up for the £29/ticket tour... so, they put me with the £70/ticket tour group and I got to get the Premium Experience for literally less than half of the price.
  • I stood in the actual Great Hall of Hogwarts, and sat down at the Slytherin table. There, I also stood on top of the actual duelling table from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, where one of the Warner Bros. staff members had a fake duel with me, and taught me how to cast spells as if I were in an actual battle with a Death Eater.
    • I would be an awesome member of the Order of the Phoenix.
  • I got to sit on the Firebolt and fly it around through London, Hogwarts, over the Black Lake, through the middle of a raging Quidditch match and even over the Hogwarts Express... okay, that was all on green screen, but I still felt like a proper wizard.
    • Don't know if I'd be good at flying - I would make a kick ass Chaser if I got over that "fear of heights" thing, though.
  • I walked through the actual Diagon Alley and some random staff member dressed up like a wizard gave me Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans (I got pepper, mango, pistachio, tart, and some other weird ones that I couldn't place) and a chocolate frog (without the card, sadly).
    • They had "U-No-Poo" at Weasley Wizard Wheezes. Life = Complete.
    • Gringotts was also there. It's incredibly imposing looking.
  • I stood on the Knight Bus - it's actually a triple decker, no joke. And the talking head definitely yelled at me when I walked by. I was freaked out.
  • I got to stand in front of the actual Privet Drive.
  • I finally got to meet Buckbeak - and yes, he actually moved (like a robot), and then actually open its mouth and screeched at me. It was probably the coolest thing of my life.
  • I took a tour of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, through sound stages J and K (that's not even a joke, that's what they actually are) and got to see some of the places - inside and outside of Hogwarts - that we Potterheads have come to know, love and cherish as if we'd been there ourselves (which I have... so, haha, in your faces). These include...
    • Hagrid's Hut, complete with a replica of Fang, and the giant tea cups.
    • The Gryffindor Common Room, in all of its cozy, lovely glory - Neville's plant-cactus thing was there, too. And Crookshanks... damn Crookshanks...
    • The Burrow, with floating knitting needles to boot.
    • The Ministry of Magic, including the fireplaces and the "Magic is Might" statue.
    • The Gryffindor Boys Dormitory - they even have Dean's West Ham posters!
    • Dumbledore's Office - I saw the Pensieve and the memory vials and Fawkes the phoenix.
      • This includes the entrance with the awesome statue.
    • The inside of the giant clock from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
    • Malfoy Manor - just as creepy as you'd imagine it to be.
    • The Potions Classroom in the dungeons - the lines were literally lined with disgusting things inside of vials, like eyeballs and tentacles... nasty...
      • Also, half of the cauldrons there actually had moving spoon in them, like someone had enchanted them to keep stirring.
      • I almost took the Felix Felicis from the table, but then thought better of it.
  • I found the Room of Requirement and was inducted into Dumbledore's Army (be jealous).
  • I also found the Mirror of Erised. It didn't tell me what my deepest desire was (sneaky bastard).
  • I also found the front gate to Hogwarts, topped off with the incredible, awesome flying boars.
  • I found the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets.
One last thing that I can tell you was... that the last thing that you see when you leave Hogwarts is, well... Hogwarts itself. A large replica. The actual castle, in its full - from every stone to every bridge, to every moss-covered rock and well-kept Quidditch Pitch and haphazard boat house, there it was - my second home for most of my childhood, taken from black and white ink on pages from my first copy of The Sorcerer's Stone and made into a reality.

Here are the incredible pictures of my tour of the Warner Bros. - Harry Potter Studios at Leavesden. If you ever are in England or in London, there is no excuse... just go and do it.

I could literally make this list... well, much longer than it is already, but it would just be superfluous and unnecessary. Because I finally got to see where the magic was made - where the story of Harry Potter came to life for millions of fans across the world, including myself. For three hours, I got to step back in time and take a waltz through my childhood. And, yes, it makes no sense and probably sounds a bit crazy, but as much as I grew up here in the "Muggle World," I grew up with Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger as they learned, loved and adventured together. I was 8 when I first picked up the Harry Potter books - young Daniel Radcliffe was 11. And when I was 18 years old, Harry was 17 in the films, battling it out one last time with Lord Voldemort. I pretty much grew up with these fictional characters who are as much a part of me as any other people that I got to know throughout my youth. I read their stories, went on adventures with them... and I learned so much. I learned what it meant to be brave, to do what's "right instead of what it easy," to truly cherish your friends with all of your heart, to fight back when no one else will fight alongside you. And, on some random Monday in July, with only a week left to spend in London England, I found myself - alone - at the Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, staring at a place that looked like my second home. And I was blessed to have touched upon that childhood again.

I'm a storyteller - it's what I'm meant to do. I'm obsessed with fandoms, I love films, I love to act and I love to read and learn and experience and tell stories... and Harry Potter was the first. It will not be the last, but it was the first, and that's really what matters.

So, I found myself at the beginning again, there at Privet Drive. And I was, again, reminded of the magic in the world around me, and brought back to the very beginning of my adventure in life. I may be in the middle of it right now, but I took my first step into storytelling with these words: "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much..." I have read many books. I have seen many films. I have been taken on many adventures with many incredible characters... but, most of all, I grew up with an unassuming boy from the cupboard under the stairs who - chapter by chapter, page by page, word by word - dragged me along to his wonderful world of magic and taught me what it meant to be truly brave. 

And it is the journey with him that, ultimately, I will cherish the most.

War Horse at New London Theatre

As if my adventure at Hogwarts couldn't be the cherry on the cake of this entire adventure in London... I decided, "Fuck it, I'm going to see a show." And while my finances are completely kaput at the present moment (the fact that this internship is unpaid doesn't help matters much, let's be honest here), I would be pretty bummed if I didn't get to at least see some kind of theatre while I was here. I got to see three films in a row - all with Pegg, Frost and Wright's signature British sense of humour - so why not an incredible, quintessentially British show to finish it all off with a bang? So, we had several options laid out for us - we could see Billy Elliot or War Horse. Billy Elliot tickets were definitely £140+, so that was already out of the question. So, after asking permission from my parents, I bought myself a £60 ticket with my main bitty, Nicole, to see one of the best straight shows ever adapted from one of the most gripping war fictions ever fabricated on this earth... War Horse.

I've seen the film too, le duh - in fact, I saw it with Kib when she came to America to visit me two years ago. And it was good - it was rather good, in fact (though I could do without the melodrama at the end. C'mon, Spielberg, it's WWI not everything is sunshine and rainbows and slow motion silhouetting), and the fact that a) it's a war film, b) Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston are in it, and c) it's an incredibly moving novel just helped matters even more.

But I saw the stage show... and I was completely blown away.

And, guys, it's better than the film. It really is. I still like the film, but... Jesus, that was a good show.

Here's the trailer for War Horse at the Kennedy Centre, which Is can probably tell you... will not be / is not as good as the West End version. Again. Quintessentially British show.

As you probably know (or have heard), the horse is actually on stage, but it's not a horse - it's a metal contraption, controlled by three trained, very hard working and intense actors, who literally move the legs, the tail and the head to make this horse come to life. And it's not like it's a literal replica of a horse, with hair and the like. It's obviously metal and obviously controlled by three actors. But that didn't stop me from becoming connected to the horse - I felt actual emotions for it, it had an actual personality. An that, in combination with the incredible acting and the fantastic music (they sang folk songs... British-Celtic folk songs... my heart broke the second they started singing) and scenery, and just... God, you guys. Oh my God. It was just so incredible.

It's about WWI, obviously... which is a war that, in my opinion, is completely overlooked in many regards, being overshadowed by the monstrous destruction of WWII - especially by us Americans, who only got involved towards the end (thanks to the Lusitania and the Zimmerman letters). It was a horrible war that inflicted pain upon many people in so many different ways. And they portrayed that perfectly on stage. It was absolutely astounding. I was watching an actual war unfold before my very eyes, watching the trials and tribulations of so many proud, hard working and ordinary men and women. And the story of Albert and Joey was just so much more poignant when taken into account of the entire destruction of the war, and their unconditional love for one another. I think that... what I found so moving was the fact that Albert remained so innocent and loving and carding and hopeful, even in the midst of such unfathomable destruction and death... and all because of a horse.

I would be totally lying if I said that I wasn't crying by the end of this incredible show. I'd be telling you a flat out lie. Because not only is it beautiful and sad and inspiring and hopeful, but it's also an extremely personal show, and personal in the sense that it's a story that is... well, I would imagine it to very close to an Englishman's heart. I don't know how else to put it really...

All I can say is that I was blessed and honoured to have been able to watch that beautiful story unfold right before my very eyes, and seeing that show only reaffirmed my desire to be a part of the storytelling process - whether it be the creative mind behind the scenes, the director on stage, the clay that holds it all together, the characters that you fall in love with, or a mere cog in the machine. <3

St. Bartholemew's - Some Thoughts on Storytelling (WARNING - Contains *SPOILERS*)

In case you couldn't tell, I kind of love this show from the BBC-One. It's kind of incredible. It's called Sherlock, and it's a modern day interpretation of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who was such a good storyteller that he got knighted. Yeah. Knighted). I could repeat myself about how incredible every aspect of this show is, but the fact that every single person that I've introduced the show to has immediately fallen in love with it just as hard as I have is probably all the evidence that I need to support such claims. But something that I've failed to mention is how wide the fan base is - and why it is the way that it is.

(From this point on, there are Sherlock spoilers, so don't fucking read this post unless you've seen the series - and this specifically goes out to my Dad, Jim. Don't do it, Jim. DON'T. DO. IT.)

The outside of Speedy's Cafe the day that
filming for Series 3 began!
We've all been Sherlocked! :D
The last few times that I've gone on my little adventures to St. Bartholemew's Hospital, I've hinted at a cool little thing that's there that is sort of an... unofficial memorial for Sherlock. I even posted a picture on my previous blog post (and warned you about the spoilers, then, too, so don't say I didn't warn you, you sods). At the end of the last series (S02E03), Sherlock Holmes took an unfortunate plunge to his supposed death. He literally jumped off of the roof of St. Bart's to his death... right in front of John Watson. It was probably one of the most painful things that I've ever seen on the big (or Netflix) screen. Truly, the emotion was so tragic and just... I was horrified. I coudln't stop crying, it was just.. wow. Just wow. Pretty much, Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch simultaneously broke my heart. And Steven Moffat (the writer)... damn you Moffat...

The day after the episode aired, Sherlock fans got together... and left fliers and postcards and messages all along the side of St. Bartholemew's Hospital saying things like, "I believe in Sherlock Holmes," and "I believe in Sherlock Holmes and John Watson," and "Moriarty was real! Richard Brooke was a fake!" Hundreds of them - literally. And while they've all mostly been cleared away (St. Bart's is an actual hospital, dammit!), there are still some that remain... fans from around the world go to this little telephone booth right where Sherlock "died" (we all know that he's not actually dead, le duh) and leave messages for him. Not only that, but since filming for Series 3 has started, people have been leaving messages on the door next to Speedy's Cafe - the door that they use for 221B. People are excited, people are antsy - they want more, and they can't wait until they get it!

Check out these crazy letters and notes that fans leave all around prominent Sherlock-sites in London. It's absolutely fantastic.

*Note to Self: If you ever start your own blog (a possibility now - this blogging thing is fun, remember), this might be a good article to expand upon and perfect!

No one imagined that Sherlock would become what it has become - an international phenomena. Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have remarked that they were lucky that the BBC accepted their pilot in the first place, and that they were never sure if it would go past one season, the show having such a unique and strange format (each episode is as long as a motion picture, and is treated as such). Also, taking into consideration how long they take in between seasons, it's really not a far stretch to assume that people wouldn't be too keen on falling in love with the series... but they did. And now Sherlock-mania has hit the entire globe, from the UK to the United States, to Japan to Finland...
Ain't that the fucking truth.

And that's the same way with Harry Potter. Who could have guessed that a single Mom writing a children's book about a boy who lived in a cupboard under the stairs would have turned into a motion picture. And who would've guessed that what David Heyman presumed would be a "modest, British film" would become the most successful film franchise in history - a franchise that touched every corner of the globe.

And when J.R. Tolkien jotted down a random thought while grading papers one day - "In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit" - could've caught hold across the globe, as well, inspiring countless more fantasy novels of the like.

I am definitely a proponent - or, rather, a definite minion - in the fan hype surrounding these various fandoms and stories. I can't help myself - I just love the story. I'm obsessed with the story, and the storytelling process, and the characters... every aspect of it, I'll gobble it up.

And I love every single bloody second of it.

It's the stories that get people excited about reading, about movies, about writing, about... art. About characters, about acting about life. Those are the kinds of stories that I want to tell, the kind of adventures that I want to be a part of. I want people to think, to get excited, to be motivated... to fall in love with characters and worlds beyond our wildest imaginations. And I'm not the only one. If I was, then Harry Potter wouldn't be where it is today, and Sherlock wouldn't be teed up for not one, but possibly two more seasons (not including Series 3, which is currently filming in Cardiff).

My little letter on the Telephone Box. :)
It's just... absolutely incredible and, frankly, astounding and mind-boggling that a story could do so much to the world, could inspire so much excitement and hope and emotion... and it's beautiful, it really is. This entire week was kind of reaffirmation in my love for storytelling - as if I didn't need any more reason. Again, this whole acting thing has kind of been my jive since I was a little girl, but if that doesn't work out... I just want to be a part of the story. I want to make stories known - I want to get people excited! Because stories are the bread and butter of humanity - from history books to adventure novels, to "Guess what I did today at work," to "Oh my God, she's such a bore," to text messages... communication inevitably leads to storytelling. We thrive off of it. And it's what I want to do. <3

So... yeah... the beginning of the end has really just been a return to the very beginning for me... from an 8-year old, bushy-haired Katie reading Harry Potter to the present day Katie leaving messages for Dr. John Watson on a random telephone box in London, I'm made of the stories that I love, and I can't wait to be able to experience, fall in love with and tell more of them. :)

So, until the next adventure...


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