As part of the Curtain Up! celebration weekend, American Repertory Theater of WNY is proud to bring in as a quest speaker, noted cave explorer and author Roger Brucker, for an one-night only lecture on September 17th, 6:45-7:45 pm, with the performance of FLOYD COLLINS to follow at 8 pm.
The stage musical by playwright Tina Landau and composer Adam Guettel is based on the true story of Floyd Collins, who was trapped in a Kentucky cave in 1925 and could not be rescued. The tragedy received national publicity and attracted thousands of spectators to the rescue site, becoming one of the most sensational news events of the early 20th century.
The musical was inspired, in part, by the book TRAPPED! THE STORY OF FLOYD COLLINS, which Brucker wrote with historian Robert K. Murray. While researching the book, Brucker and Murray studied hundreds of documents and interviewed dozens of individuals who were involved in the actual rescue attempt, or who knew Floyd Collins personally. Brucker even risked his life, crawling to spot underground where Collins was trapped, to better understand why rescue efforts failed.
“This musical is brilliant,” Brucker said. “Tina Landau and Adam Guettel did a superb job of capturing the essence of the historical Floyd Collins and the people who tried to save him. In spite of the morbid subject, it is beautiful and uplifting.”
Brucker has explored Mammoth Cave in Kentucky for more than 55 years, and is recognized as the leading authority on the Floyd Collins tragedy. He has consulted for National Geographic Television, and has been interviewed by national media, including NPR and the CBS Evening News. He has written five books about cave exploration.
“We are truly fortunate to have Mr. Bucker come in and share his thoughts on this American story,” ART of WNY’s Executive/Artistic Director Matthew LaChiusa said. “It will be a wonderful opportunity for folks to meet the author and learn about the rich history behind the events surrounding Floyd Collins and how the story influenced this amazing musical.”
Mr. Brucker will speak with audience members, with an Q & A session after his lecture as well as the opportunity to pick up a signed copy of TRAPPED! THE STORY OF FLOYD COLLINS.
While you’re waiting DVD release, and before I take it and smooth it over with a couple second camera sources I have been given, I wanted to share the PAX East Panel that occurred after the screening. I know a lot of people wanted to see this, and the room got so packed a few people who wanted to see the panel got turned away, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to properly see it. So here’s a “rough cut” of the panel, split into two pieces because of a size limit on Vimeo.
Panelists, left to right: Dave Lebling, Don Woods, Brian Moriarty, Andrew Plotkin, Nick Montfort, Steve Meretzky, Jason Scott. It’s about 1 hour and 8 minutes.
Way back when I was in my early teens, I subscribed to a lot computer magazines and wrote out for a lot of promotional mail. Absolutely stacks of it, really, which I then kept in a huge box. I kept this box to the present day, more or less, and eventually I ended up storing this stack in a better fashion, utilizing plastic bins and file folders and bags.
Somewhere in the mass of mailings, I got a Compuserve catalog. Compuserve, if you never heard of it, was an online service which was available in the late 1970s-1980s, which had an hourly cost, and which provided many types of games, message bases and information. They also had a catalog of stuff you could buy, which came with their mailings and their magazine, which published monthly. I kept everything I had.
In one of the issues, was this ad:
It’s worth noting, by the way, that Colossal Cave adventure was a public domain product put out by Don Woods based on work by Will Crowther – it was never sold as a product by them, and they never saw a dime from such products like this one. So the t-shirts, the maps, the puzzle – none of it gave them any royalties or fees for doing so.
So, as a kid, I was floored not only by this amazing ad, but by that poster on the left that the guy in the gorilla suit is holding. Straining to look at it, I could make out details, and I was just completely blown away at how someone could take that game and end up being able to make a visualization of it like it was a real place. (Of course, some of it is based on a real place, but not all of it.) I just loved that thing, but I was a kid with no money and I guess just bad timing – I never bought one, and of course this product stopped being on sale after a while.
Every once in a while I’d think about this poster, and the artwork. I’d wonder where I could ever get it, who I could talk to. I drew a blank.
Here it is a little closer:
Obviously, this photo was never meant to be a scan and wasn’t meant to show you the poster with any sort of clarity. I couldn’t make out a name, but I could see this thing looked great. It was, however, one of those things you have to let go about and so I was happy I still had this ad but I’d long ago realized I was never going to have it.
Fast forward to 2006, when I interviewed Don Woods, who was one of the creators of the original Adventure. Don Woods looks like this:
He smiles a lot more than this picture lets on. Don was a very gracious interviewee; I’d had to cancel my initial visit to see him when I got very sick, and when I healed up and asked to stop by, he happily let me visit and answered my questions for hours.
Somewhere at the end, while I’m packing up, he asks me if I want to see something neat. Well heck, sure! He went into the next room and brought out this:
On his own, Don had brought out one of the dreams of my childhood, a poster I had long forgotten about (I hadn’t even recalled it during this interview) and just laid it out in front of me in (somewhat) pristine form (it had a slight stain in the corner).
With this, I found out the artists’ name: Dennis Donovan. And I knew now that it was drawn in 1981. I don’t really have a hope of tracking him down, but in this photo, which I have in high-resolution, I at least can rest easy that I got to see the whole thing, in the flesh, and was able to bring that chapter to a close.
Don Woods was an inspiration for me when I played Adventure in 1981. This poster was an inspiration a couple years later. And I got to meet both, finally, on the same day.
Besides sitting for a number of interviews, Nick Montfort let me know about various events and news that might be of interest to me and the documentary. One of these was a reading of interactive fiction given at the school he was finishing up his Ph.D in, entitled “Autostart” (or AU7OSTART, if you read the posters he had made up). I didn’t record the event itself (we agreed it would be needlessly disrupting), but I did end up interviewing a number of people at that event, including Aaron Reed, who wrote Whom the Telling Changed.
Aaron is what we currently call a “Modern IF” author, meaning his work spans primarily the last decade or so, and like most modern IF authors his work wasn’t done for a company or under contract but because he wanted to express himself via this medium. Aaron recently put together this time-lapse film of himself working on one of his projects.
This fun little film is associated with his current project, Blue Lacuna, which he’s been working on for quite some time. (As of this writing, Blue Lacuna is in the final phases of testing.) While the short-form IF Competition games have gained a lot of traction in the current era, a few people like Aaron continue to do long-form Interactive Fiction that can represent months or years of work.
Aaron’s IFwiki entry is here.
I’ll be covering some people I worked on this documentary with in various entries. Today’s is about Dr. Nick Montfort.
When I was first working on research for the documentary, I stumbled into an announcement of a book about interactive fiction/text adventures called Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. The book was not quite out yet but was coming soon, and so I looked up a little on the author, and found him a pretty fascinating guy.
Nick has been at work for years and years on all sorts of academic study of subjects close to my heart, and maybe to yours; text adventures, video games, home consoles, gaming, and the friction that reveals the deeper meaning of storytelling and myth when we recalibrate our narrative apparatus.
When Twisty Little Passages came out in book form, it arrived and I devoured it pretty quickly. The first chapter, which I read in my dentist’s office, is tough going for a person of my mindset (light-hearted, skeptical, scatterbrained), but by the second chapter this book beautifully discusses the nature of interactive fiction, primarily within the context of Infocom’s history. It really is a great book and I suggest its purchase.
Nick and I have become buddies in the years hence, and he sat down for interviews on no less than 3 separate occasions, in three different places, across a couple years. He functions, in some ways, as the narrator of the film, although a couple others share that duty. What is more important and yet not quite as obvious is how invaluable he was in introducing me to a whole range of people who ended up being interviewed. By my estimation at least a dozen people are in here directly because of his influence and suggestions.
Nick co-runs an excellent weblog, Grand Text Auto, which covers subjects from text adventures to electronic literature in general. On this weblog, you can also read his disseration. Yes, he has a doctorate in interactive fiction! (One of three such people I interview in the film.)
Nick is now an assistant professor at MIT. His information page is here. I think you’ll find him as fascinating as I have.