Storytelling Breakdown Blog Entry 002

Thursday Night Dinners – By Ben Clemmer.

I had a different idea for this second blog post when I started it. I wanted to highlight our first episode, which is Joker focused, and talk about the enduring performances of the character that stuck with audiences. The Joker joined Vito Corleone as the only character with two Oscar winning portrayals thanks to Joaquin Phoenix’s most recent interpretation. The two most iconic portrayals of the character for me however, are Heath Ledger’s agent of chaos and Mark Hamill’s version that has now been around for nearly 30 years.

Mark Hamill’s run is especially impressive alongside Kevin Conroy’s equally long run as Batman. These might be the parts the two actors are best known for now and yes, I say that knowing that Mark Hamill is Luke Skywalker. The same goes for Ledger’s Joker. I remember where I was when I first watched the first teaser trailer for The Dark Knight and heard him say, “starting tonight… people will die. I’m a man of my word.” The laugh that followed sent chills down the length of my spine. I love talking about all of these performances and they open so many doors to other pieces of media.

It’s impossible to talk about the Arkham games without going into how innovative the free flow combat system was at the time. It’s impossible (for me) to talk about The Dark Knight without mentioning the viral marketing campaign. The film was preceded by news clips from Gotham Tonight and vans traveling cross country with Harvey Dent campaign signs and buttons. I still sometimes wear one of those on election day. I even have a full two page fake newspaper that highlights Gotham’s close race for district attorney. All of this fueled the fandom fire for a movie that more than lived up to the hype. 

It is possible to talk about the movie Batman: Mask of the Phantasm without mentioning the closing credits song, I Never Even Told You, but on a soundtrack loaded with epic orchestral score, the smooth saxophone driven ballad stands out. Give it a listen. I’d put that sax hook up there with Careless Whisper and it was on a Batman soundtrack over twenty years before Careless Whisper was on a Deadpool soundtrack, though I suspect the creators of Phantasm weren’t intending to use the track for humor.

All of this is to say that when you consume a piece of media, you are influenced by it. You reflect it back to others in some way, whether that be in a conversation or just humming a melody or nodding your head along to the beat while someone else is doing the same thing. This sharing of the things we love in a space that fuels our creativity inspired Storytelling Breakdown.

That’s why I have to tell you about Thursday Night Dinners.

I am a proud alumnus of the University of Saint Francis. When I look back, I didn’t spend a lot of time as a freshman getting to know students outside my major (Music Technology) and the groups I was part of as a peer minister. That changed when I was a sophomore. I was invited to join some other art students for an unofficial gathering the organizers called Thursday Night Dinners.

If you didn’t have a class on Friday (I did), then your week of classes probably ended on Thursday. Two animation students and a graphic design major invited me to join them in the basement level at Campus Ministry, because it was the only building on campus with a full kitchen accessible to commuter students. I don’t remember what I went in expecting. It wound up being an evening of good food and good company. Making these Thursday Night Dinners a regular commitment on my schedule now holds great significance for Storytelling Breakdown.

I believe it is where I met Caleb Meyer.

We met through mutual friends. Caleb wasn’t a USF student yet, but our mutual friend Lucas Gerke brought him along. Lucas was studying communication with a concentration in film. Two of the guests from this season of Storytelling Breakdown were also a part of the Thursday Night Dinner group. Autumn Schultz (S1E3) and Melissa Thomas (also S1E3) were both studying animation at the time.

In total, there were usually a little over a dozen of us gathered together each week for a meal, maybe some games (I was an early stage avid tabletop gamer at the time), and then we’d head back to the animation lab to watch a movie on the big screen. I tasted foods I’d never had before thanks to a fellow sophomore putting almost as much energy into feeding all of us as she did into her design work. I met new people who were amazing visual artists and the variety of tastes in the room made it so we all found out what influenced everyone else. Though I was one of just a few musicians, I had far from the most exotic music taste in the room. Caleb continues to be an amazing influence for me in this regard. He introduced me to Raleigh Ritchie, whose song Bloodsport ‘15 is now one of my favorite tracks. Yes, this is another music recommendation. The artist’s real name is Jacob Anderson and he played Grey Worm in Game of Thrones.  

The creative renaissance that came out of the variety of music and games over dinner was entertaining enough, but the movies at the animation lab took it to another level, because we tried to rotate who picked the film each week. The ones I can recall as I write this are Anything Goes (1956), Vertigo (1958), Mr. Freedom (1968), Kung Pow: Enter The Fist (2002), God Help The Girl (2014) and Thursday Night Dinners were also responsible for doubling the number of Coen brothers films I’d seen at the time. We watched No Country for Old Men (2007) during the school year and a couple of us saw Barton Fink (1991) at a Cinema Center event not long after that. I guarantee that’s the first time all of those movies have ever been mentioned in the same paragraph. The only thing they had in common is we wanted to share the experience of them with our friends.

I hope this doesn’t come off as a young man north of 25 looking back on his college days with rose-colored glasses. It wasn’t all perfect. That year had its broken hearts, some shared trauma, and as we all got busier, the little over a dozen of us drifted in different directions. My goal is not to recreate this microcosm of creativity I experienced in college, but rather harvest some of the fruit that came from seeds planted during that time. I learned so much about art in so many different mediums from that little group. It produced many friendships that will last a lifetime and as Caleb and I launch the first season of a podcast about the stories that make us who we are, I have come to a simple conclusion.

There would be no Storytelling Breakdown without Thursday Night Dinners.

And I hope you find something here with us that you can carry with you.

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