|Performer's Showcase: Life at the Odd Ball|
Text and Photos by MARCHENA RAJALIt is easy to agree with the idea that Second Life is a magical place – a place where possibilities seem endless. Yet there is one place in-world that reaches beyond the endless: the magical world of Tuna Oddfellow and Shava Suntzu. This dynamic, pioneering performing machinima arts team orchestrates some of the most awe-striking mixed media animation events in Second Life. Hosting psychedelic animated machinima dance parties on a bi-weekly basis at their sim called The Research Center. Their two-hour long magic shows have gained a loyal following of various avatars, young and old, from all over the grid who come to enjoy the relaxing, yet fun and adventurous atmosphere Tuna and Shava orchestrate. Tuna is the magician performer extraordinaire and Shava is the technical and administrative backbone in their brain-shaped wonder world called, “The Odd Ball.”
When you attend an Odd Ball, you are enveloped in a world of color, movement, light, and music that spirals you on a journey of adventurous relaxation. Indeed, on the Oddfellow Studios website, their mission is clear: to offer real life relaxation and to inspire wonder and astonishment. For it is in the realm of wonder and astonishment that the impossible is made possible, and as Tuna is fond of saying, “We do a few impossible things.”
Tuna and Shava are unique in the work they do and the service they offer. They are currently processing 3 patents for various aspects of their work. Having real life experience as staff and faculty at some of the best universities in the country (University of Mass-Amherst, MIT, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, to name a few), this dynamic magical team continues to pioneer in Second Life, spearheading a continuous evolution for avatars to realize more impossible possibilities where Second Life experiences illumine our real life imaginations. When I sat and talked with Tuna and Shava, they shared how magic brought them to Second Life, and how magic allows them to enhance virtual living in unique and awesome ways.
Marchena Rajal: I want to learn how you've made an impact here in SL. How long have you been doing the magic shows?Shava Suntzu: Well, in summer of 2007 we didn't have nearly the same show, but there was enough that Tuna got declared "most talented avatar in SL" from NBC's America's Got Talent's "Avatars Got Talent" competition here. He won a million lindens (about US$4000) and was on America’s Got Talent on NBC broadcast twice that summer, as an avatar. Tuna's a magician in real life. Soon after we met (in 2005), I started helping with the shows
Tuna Oddfellow: I do a few impossible things.
Shava Suntzu: I'm more the business/technology part of the partnership.
Marchena Rajal: How do you help Shava? How is the production that you two put on - a two-man show?
Shava Suntzu: Well, in addition to the infrastructural and tech support work, and business end, I am also the Mistress of Ceremonies and often firefighter during the shows. And I give advice on how the effects should look, but mostly that's Tuna's.
Marchena Rajal: What do you mean by "you’re a firefighter"?
Shava Suntzu: SL may crash; one or both of Tuna's avatars may crash during the show; sometimes tech support is more emergency- based, although it happens less now that we have more modern machines. But it used to be bubble gum and baling wire, as it were.
Marchena Rajal: Yes, your show is very graphics heavy - do you find that your attendees dash in and out?
Shava Suntzu: Some stay the whole show. Some come for a half hour and that's what they want to do. It's a matter of taste, I think. Some people stay the whole twq hours and want more.
Marchena Rajal: How do avatars find out about your shows?
Shava Suntzu: A lot is by word of mouth, some by media. Some find out about us by events we do for companies, or benefits, or whatnot.Marchena Rajal: Are you the only magician in SL? I am betting that you are.
Shava Suntzu: Not nearly! At one point we were trying to organize a virtual chapter of the International Brotherhood (sic) of Magicians here. We had a good way along of getting permission to have a virtual chapter, but there was this Henny Penny issue. We didn't want to be the only one organizing and no one would step up.
Marchena Rajal: Why do you think that was the case?
Shava Suntzu: Oh, I don't know that there are many magicians doing *virtual* magic shows here -- these are real life magicians.They are busy people, and I think a lot of folks come here to escape real life.
Marchena Rajal: What makes what you do, different from what other SL magicians do? What do you think is magical about your show?
Shava Suntzu: We sometimes talk about the show being a magic show, but it's really inspired by the *goal* of magic, which is to inspire wonder and astonishment in people. What Tuna says is, he came here in 2005 wondering how you can evoke that feeling of wonder in a world where people fly on day one?
Marchena Rajal: Right.
Shava Suntzu: Cutting an AV in half isn't very awe inspiring.
Marchena Rajal: No it is not, lol
Shava Suntzu: So how do you get people to drop their jaws?
Marchena Rajal: But making another worldly avatar, feel other worldly in-world...
Shava Suntzu: And to a large extent the show is the product of that investigation.
Marchena Rajal: I think you approach that very well.
Shava Suntzu: It's an evolving product, not an end product. And it's led places we never anticipated (3 patents in draft, real life company, investors, adventures....)
Marchena Rajal: What possibilities do you see happening for magic in SL as the world evolves?
Shava Suntzu: This is, in a way, the step beyond stage or traditional magic. We do "mixed reality" magic though, and use the virtual world for that.
Marchena Rajal: Are there any rules for attendees at your shows? Any kinds of avatars, you do not accommodate?
Shava Suntzu: Well, we ask that people act kindly to one another. We don't say no furries or no child AVs as some people do. We do like people to keep it non-sexualized, and act maturely and kindly because people come there to relax and we like the environment to stay friendly. Although with the new rating system, we changed the rating of the sim to mature, so people could actually talk about, oh, gender politics, or legalizing marijuana, without violating Linden law.
Marchena Rajal: I'm not clear on how the new rating system would affect you guys?
Shava Suntzu: The new rating system rates PG like Disney would rate G-7. No controversial conversational topics. It's less so these days, but before we ratcheted up the show, our shows were very much more of an intellectual salon. We're not fond of speech restrictions other than those based on civility.
Marchena Rajal: I'm with you on that. Are there any other programs that you do here at the Research Center?
Shava Suntzu: No, but we've been doing static and animated art pieces all over the grid. We got a grant (from the MacArthur Foundation) for an installation at the International Justice Center last year that made it into their trade paperback about the opening. [LINK TO REZ LIBRIS ARTICLE HERE]
Marchena Rajal: Oh my - that's wonderful - you have accomplished a lot in this world. Have you guys, by any chance, met any of the people you've met in SL, in real life?
Shava Suntzu: Oh, yes -- we've been to SLCC three years now
Marchena Rajal: Ah :-) I look forward to going
Shava Suntzu: And there's a Boston SL/RL meetup. We're very transparent about our real lives. We don't require anyone else to be, but we welcome people who wish to be. I've been online since 1982, so I'm used to the idea of collaborating online with people I only get to meet, sometimes years later.
Marchena Rajal: You're pioneers!
Shava Suntzu: Vint Cerf (reporter’s note: considered “father of the internet” see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vint_Cerf, for more information on Vint Cerf) once told me I was probably one of the first 50 women engineers on the Internet
Marchena Rajal: Wow, so in real life you're an engineer Shava?
Shava Suntzu: I've been dancing on the edges of technology and society for several decades now. I stole my education from MIT, after dropping out of Bryn Mawr College (PA) (anthropology) in the late 70's, and got scooped up by the computer industry. And at 18, I was thinking, "Well, I'll do this computer stuff until I figure out what to do with my life." Dean Balestri told me and my mom, "At Bryn Mawr we like to *form* our girls, and Shava came to us already formed.” I was Chief Software Engineer at DEC at the age of 23 in 1982, when I first got online.
Marchena Rajal: Shava, Tuna, I have one more question: When you are not doing shows here in SL, what do you guys do for your own source of SL entertainment or downtime?
Shava Suntzu: We go dancing, a lot of times at friends' shows -- we know a lot of musicians and artists here. We go to events related to business or art in SL, or tech events, Metanomics, Science Friday, that sort of thing. I'm a member of several literary groups here. And I also am an avid online gamer, in other environments than SL -- the "games" in SL aren't nearly as good, to my mind, as the dedicated MMOs.
Marchena Rajal: Have you guys ever meet the "Lindens" in real life? I ask because you are pioneers of this world, possibly some of the oldest AVs in this world…
Shava Suntzu: Oh, yes, we're connected to several of the Boston Lindens on a regular basis, socially. We see them at lots of events, and have lunch or something every so often. We're supposed to go do a demo mixed reality odd ball over at the Boston Linden Labs office some time, but they haven't given us a date for it.
Marchena Rajal: Wow - that's impressive. I've learned a lot from our conversation this evening and have gained a heightened appreciation for SL as a place for real life possibilities.
Tuna Oddfellow: I am quite talkative but not the typist.
Marchena Rajal: Tis quite all right.
Shava Suntzu: Let me tell you what brought me into SL before you go.
Marchena Rajal: Yes, please do.
Shava Suntzu: I have worked with a lot of digital divide activism -- rural and poor urban US and also internationally. And was an active member of the omidyar.net community, which was a social network for catalysts of social change. In fall 2005, a group of folks from omidyar.net created a project in SL called Camp Darfur, which was a model of a refugee camp.
Marchena Rajal: gasp!
Shava Suntzu: It got huge international press, and was an early beacon for awareness of the situation in Darfur. I didn't think much about SL before that. I had alpha and beta tested There.com and this felt much the same. But when I saw virtual activism having a RL impact like that, a lightbulb went off. So I came in world a couple months later, in 11/05, and got involved with nonprofit activism in SL. For my entire first year here, that was all I saw of SL, I had no interest in exploring the various entertainments here. Then I met Tuna in real life.
Tuna Oddfellow: I love hearing about us..
Marchena Rajal: Awwww :-)
Shava Suntzu: So for my first year in SL, I was a sort of frumpy AV, a "woman of a certain age," vaguely multiracial looking. It wasn't until I met Fish -- Tuna in real life -- that I created an AV very much like I look now, because I had to dress up to go out... :-)
Shava Suntzu: Tuna had been here a few months longer than I had, actually -- 8/05. When he came in, there were 35K registered accounts. When I came in just a few months later, it had almost doubled, at 65K accounts.
Marchena Rajal: Wow!
Shava Suntzu: 5000 online at once strained the grid! :-)
Marchena Rajal: I hear that by the end of this year, it'll be at 2 million.
Shava Suntzu: Oh, but that's 2 million *active* accounts -- there are currently over 10 million registered. Back in 2005, this was 65K registered accounts. Many were alts or abandoned even then.
Marchena Rajal: Do you find that your relationship here helps your RL relationship?
Shava Suntzu: Our relationship is sort of seamless. We work together, play together, and so on, in both worlds. It's a wonderful partnership.
Shava Suntzu: Have you seen the business week article on us from last year?
http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/feb2008/tc20080214_131079.htm . If you google Shava Suntzu or Shava Nerad or Tuna Oddfellow, you can find out a lot about us both worlds.
Marchena Rajal: I will do that. :-)
Shava Suntzu: When Tuna's mom saw the wedding machinima (referring to the Business Week article), I think it was the first time she thought maybe we weren't just playing games all day.
Marchena Rajal: Ahhhh; I bet it was beautiful.
Shava Suntzu: It's in Business Week, you can see it there. And there are nearly 30 You Tube videos now, I think. And you can also go to our website at: http://oddfellowstudios.com/media.html, for some selected links.
Marchena Rajal: Thank you; that's great!
Shava Suntzu: Thanks for the interest! :)
Marchena Rajal: Oh my HONOR!
Tuna Oddfellow: Like I said, we do a few impossible things! ;-)
Shava Suntzu: Dream in color! :-)