The Othello Diaries: What Worked and What Didn’t From a Mobile Perspective

Othello (19)Othello is now open and running at Wayside Theatre after a great response to the first weekend and opening night. Since first picking up a Tablet PC in June 2003, I have been working towards integrating that technology into my work at Wayside Theatre. I’ve chronicled this before on several past shows, and again with this production of Othello. This post is a summary of what worked on this production and what didn’t. I always try new things with each production and some stay in the toolbox and some don’t. It also contains my thoughts on what I’d like to see, and where I think I might be heading in the future.

The Old Standbys

NoteswithscriptOneNote: I first purchased a Tablet PC as a very expensive legal pad to take notes in rehearsal. (A geek is a geek is a geek.) I have boxes of legal pads from past shows that I have archived. My Tablet PC (first a Toshiba 3505 and now a Toshiba M200) have served me well in that situation, first using Windows Journal and then later OneNote 2003, and now the Beta of OneNote 2007. Let me say that the inking experience and the searching experience in OneNote 2007 is so vastly improved that it really makes taking and retrieving of notes a breeze. I have tried using other note taking software (Evernote, GoBinder, and MindManger) before (not on this show) but have always come back to OneNote primarily because the organizational aspects work so well for me. That is a very personal choice. Your mileage may vary depending on your circumstance and your personal choices.

Not only does OneNote 2007 serve as a great notetaking tool, but being able to capture, store, and link to the research that I do on a show, especially the size of Othello, where so much as been written about Shakespeare’s work, is a true boon. The new OneNote 2007 multiple notebook feature is a great addition to the organizational structure that also really makes my life easier. Everything now gets captured into one or two notebooks, Unfiled Notes or OneNote Mobile Notes. (more on that later) and then gets filed into the appropriate section. I don’t create a new Notebook for every show, but I do create a new section for each show under a Production Staff Notes Notebook. That section will then be moved to Past Shows once I am done working on it, which usually happens after the reveiws are in, which get printed or scanned into OneNote.

OnenotestructureTaking notes in OneNote 2007 doesn’t just mean opening a page and scribbling down notes. When I can (subject to copyright restrictions) I scan or print a script into OneNote directly. I’ll create a series of these script pages and use each one to take notes on for subsequent rehearsals. The value of this is that I can take a note directly in the script at the moment that an action or line muff occured. It actually allows a bit of shorthand, as I don’t have to scribble a line reference to jog my memory later as to why I took the note. Notetaking in rehearsal, while a somewhat subjective art, is also filled with passion. Often I simply scribble, “GREAT,”or “THAT SUCKED”. Now that I do that in the script, I know what moments I’m referencing.

OneNote 2007 also comes in very handy when I am editing a script (such as Shakespeare) and I’ve chronicled that in another post here. One of my key’s here is using different color ink to represent different parts of my though process. Red, the cut is made. Aqua, I’m thinking about it. Green, probably not but possible. This color coding of highlights is a quick visual reminder that really does save time in the process.

InkyBoard: Unfortunately, now that I have moved to OneNote 2007, I’ve lost some of the functionality of Charlie Cassidy’s nifty white board application, InkyBoard. I have used this application to scan in ground plans, overlay Inkyboard over the scan, make blocking and staging notes on the overlay and then print the files to OneNote 2003. This became a very handy tool for staging large scenes. I’m hoping that Charlie updatres InkyBoard for OneNote 2007. (That’s a big hint Charlie!)

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Othello mindmapMindManger: I use MindJet’s MindManger early on in the process as I’m working on ideas, concepts, and broad issues on the show. The free form nature of the program really allows me to sit back and let my mind run. As an artist, I’m a big believer that inspiration and ideas come at the oddest moments and when they are the least expected. Opening a mindmap for each show and just jotting down ideas when they come to me allows me to keep track of my thoughts similarly to how they bounce around in “the little theatre in my mind.” Usually though, by the time we get into serious production meetings on a show, I’ve dispensed with the mindmap. Although once the show is staged or blocked, I’ll go back to the mindmap to see if there is anything I’ve forgotten or changed since I was working on this alone, and how the collaboration with other artists has altered (or not) my approach. I’ve tried using MindManger to take notes in rehearsal but the overhead of that program is just too much for me to run it successfully for long stretches of time on my M200. (Eric Mack has an interesting recent post on this and a response from Mindjet here.)

Tablet Enhancements for Outlook (TEO 3.0) This Tablet PC must have application always serves me well when scheduling events around the process. Media interviews, meetings, etc… Being able to quickly call it up and scribble in an appointment is a breeze. I experimented with the excellent note-taking features in TEO 3.0 for this show, and with a few exceptions I think I could do most of what I do in OneNote 2007 with TEO 3.0. I can certainly take notes, and gather information for research. The major exception would be printing multiple copies of the script into TEO and taking notes there. It can be done, it just really increases the size of my Outlook store (and thus overhead) and it jostles my organizational structure a bit. Old habits die hard. But in the end, TEO 3.0 could fill that bill if I needed it to.

New Additions to the Toolbox

While it is not a new piece of software and I use it for other functions as described above, OneNote 2007 has also begun to replace Microsoft Excel as my schedule authoring tool. Schedule authoring? I mean that phrase specifically. I think one of the hardest and most influential tasks a director has is making (authoring) and revising the rehearsal schedule, especially in a small theatre operation. For years I have used Microsoft Excel for this. But with OneNote 2007, the easy creation of tables allows me to do this and create the schedule in OneNote rather than printing it over from Excel.

Ppc6700The Sprint PPC 6700 and OneNote Mobile (Beta). I have to admit I’m smitten with OneNote Mobile, even if it is in Beta. This is the biggest new tool in the toolbox, and even after one show I can’t imagine not using the functionality.

The first area that this made a huge difference is in research, especially for props. Finding props for a show is a fun task. It is bascially window shopping. I’ve often said that I would love a job as a prop shopper. Before purchasing the Sprint PPC 6700 and using OneNote Mobile, I would take my digital camera along, take shots of what I discovered than dump those shots to my Tablet PC for later viewing and sharing. OneNote Mobile’s integration with the PPC 6700’s camera is an ideal tool for this. I was able to snap a bevy of shots, and then sync them across to OneNote 2007 on my next connection. A quick move of the OneNote page to the Othello folder has the pictures ready for a production meeting or reference.

The second area that I tried using OneNote Mobile was not as successful in all circumstances. Using the PPC 6700 as a voice recorder into OneNote works great when I am driving to and fro and dictating notes. Attempting to try and use this method in rehearsal was just not successful. Primarly because no headset or microphone I used could cancel out all of the noise of the lines being spoken in rehearsal, thus making the revewing process very tedious. That said, being able to record my thoughts and have them available in OneNote is a new feature that I will be using very often in a variety of circumstances.

QuicknotesonenoteTaking Quick Rehearsal Notes. No, I don’t mean using the PPC 6700’s keyboard, (I can’t use any thumb keyboard that quickly) nor voice recording. But creating quick rehearsal notes in OneNote 2007 on my Tablet PC in planning for a rehearsal (a to do list for lack of a better description) and syncing them to the PPC 6700, allowed me occaisonally to leave the Tablet PC at my office and use OneNote Mobile to reveiw and execute that day’s agenda. There was a great freedom in this that was a remarkable discovery.

Music. My favorite musical collaborator, Steve Przybylski composed a great score for Othello, like he does for all the shows we work on. Although most of the music for this show was live drumming, there were a few digital cuts used. I used to use an iPod for playback on this in rehearsal, before my iPod bit the dust. For this show, I put Steve’s digital files on the PPC 6700 and would play them back over a headset for my listening, when we reached those sections. This allowed me to check timing and appropriateness with the moment. I could have done this with my Tablet PC certainly, but being able to have the smaller device was a big key and also a bit of an experiment. I have to admit, since my iPod died this spring I have missed it less and less. I have some music that I’d love to transfer over but DRM schemes prevent that. But for work purposes, the PPC 6700 serves the same function with one excpetion. I don’t have a speaker solution that would allow me to play the cut out loud for the cast, as I did with the iPod. Not saying there isn’t one, but I haven’t looked for one yet. Bottom line, on a day that Apple is announces new additions, I’m feeling more and more like I can get away from that platform if I decide to. 

Key Utilities

Battery life is always a concern. On average by adjusting my profile for a darkened theatre and not using WiFi, I can stretch battery life on my M200 to over a 3 hour rehearsal. (It used to be 4, but alas batteries do deteriorate.) I reach this with two utilities that Rob Bushway turned me onto awhile back. Monsus.exe, when mapped to a one of the soft buttons on my M200 allows me to turn off the screen instanteously. Rob also found utilities for hibernating and supsending as well. There are of course others that you can use as well. I map the suspend.exe program to a soft button, and between that utility and monsus.exe, it makes it very easy for me to shut down the screen or put the Tablet PC in suspend mode, while I am taking notes. You can download these utilities here in a zip file.

Thoughts for the Future

As a theatre director who loves to weave technology into my creative process, I can really see myself heading towards using a UMPC for this kind of work in the future. The smaller size of the UMPC is the attraction and being able to have OneNote 2007 functionality in that smaller size can only be beneficial. A UMPC model with a decent (not necessarily great) camera and good recording quality will also be a requirement, that may eliminate the use of the PPC 6700 in the future. A side benefit to taking notes on a Tablet PC or UMPC is that you don’t need a light source to see what you are writing. Over the years, I’ve had small battery operated lights that attached to clip boards, my fingers, lights in a pen, you name it. But the Tablet PC, even at low screen brightness levels, is more than a sufficient light source to see what you are writing. Of course, in a darkened theatre, when the actors see that screen light up from a resume, it alwasy freaks them out because they think you are taking a note about something they did wrong. And in preview performances, when audiences are present, you need to be behind the audience and not within them, to keep the light source, and the device itself from becoming a distraction.

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Note: Don’t forget, GBM readers can see Othello for free. Find out the details here.  

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