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Monday, August 31, 2015

Interview with Tuna Oddfellow


By Bixyl Shuftan

On Saturday August 15, one of Second Life's most unique entertainers celebrated his tenth anniversary, or rezzday, in Second Life: Tuna Oddfellow. A magician in real life, known as "Fish the Magish," he has distinguished himself in the past with winning "America's Got Talent" competition in Second Life, and over the past several years to today with his "Odd Ball" performances. which remain a one of a kind performance that has yet to be duplicated by anyone else. Recently I had a chance to interview him at the Odd Ball's location in the Dragonhenge sim. Tuna was speaking in Voice, so not every single word was written down.

"What's happened in Second Life?" Tuna spoke, "{I'd like to say my life is stranger than fiction, and that my Second Life is stranger than real life." He mentioned his partner Shava Suntzu as active with fundrasing and cross-training. He also expressed sadness for not being able to do his real-life magic performances due to health issues ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnRVNNL-xI4 ) , "My magic is something that I haven't done in a long time."

Tuna stated in real life, he lived in the town of Salem Massachussets, before that in Sommervile, one of Greater Boston's suburbs. "Salem was the great fort for coming to American when it was colonial times." he stated pirates figured into the town's history, as well as the witch trials.

Tuna also went on to say he had been a Freemason for five years, signing up during his "Second Life tenure." He had been friends with one, who showed him a lodge on the grid. Freemasonry, like so many other organizations, had made it's way here. He had met the person at the Second Life Convention in San Francisco, "It's funny how my Second Life, real life, and Freemasonry combined."

Of his newcomer days, Tuna remarked, "I was trying to figure out my place in Second Life. In real life, I was a magician. I did not see myself as an artist." But like others, he learned. He directed my attention to the set-up around me, "Everything you see here, I created. I've really come a long way in ten years." He had been doing the Odd Ball in some form since 2007, "What can I do to create a magical experience in Second Life."

His early days would sadly experience a tragedy. He had been dating a girl early on, and in October 2005, he was approached by her real life son whom had some bad news. She had complained of a headache, then passed out. It turned out to be an anerysm, and she died. Tuna ended up conducting her memorial service online. One of the people there was so impressed with how he did, Tuna was asked to do the person's wedding. So Tuna did the part of a rabbi, as in real life he was Jewish. He then set up a wedding business, "Magic Touch Wedding Makers." Many people called on him to help with their weddings. Tuna advertised his business as covering the wedding from proposal to the honeymoon. He worked on special Valentines Day experiences, one on one virtual light shows with his client and their love.

Tuna described the Odd Ball as coming from a tribute show, "The Residents." They were a performance art group going around, and they would pass around pens each with a giant eyeball on the top with a top hat. "Google yourself and see." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Residents) Tuna described them as being a band for forty years, "really, really weird." He found them a creative band whom combined their music with visual art displays. When he first began planning what would be the Odd Ball, he had the intention to create their kind of experience.

Talking about Shave SunTzu, he described her as among "one of the most transparent advocates of Internet aynomymity." Of his presence on the Internet, "As much as I'm well known here (as) Tuna Oddfellow," he's also known on a number of Internet pages as his magician name, "Fish the Magish."

Tuna's big break came when the NBC TV network did a show in Second Life. This was when they were running "America's Got Talent," and decided to do a Second Life version. They did a "cattle call" for entertainers, and ended up with different types of Second Life talent showing up (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTqAILJvxj0), which they narrowed down to ten residents, including Tuna. The inworld audience of the show was about 300 residents, "as packed as you can get." The celeberty judges watching the show did so from a sim apart from them. Tuna was among the five finalsts whom in addition to the 300 residents inworld was seen by the nationwide TV audience of "America's Got Talent," about 70 million people, who then voted as to who would be the winner. And it was Tuna whom won the title of the Most Talented Avatar in Second Life, with one million Lindens as the prize, or about four thousand US dollars (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAvFsYPNCYo). Tuna called it "one of the most wild experiences one can hope for virtual worlds."

Tuna then brought up his tenth rezzday shows. There would be two that day, one at 6PM SL time and the other at 12 Noon. The one at Noon would have the music done by Beth Odets, "The crazy violin player. Petlove Petshop would be at the 6PM one. He would be in another a few days later on Tuesday, with Jana Kyomoon as the musician. Tuna stated that his Rezzday Oddballs might go on for a while, "This is my rezzday celebration until I say it's over."

The only problem he forsaw for his rezzday performances was whether or not Shava would be there. She was not feeling very well. He noted she had not logged onto Second Life since leaving the Grid in October 2013 due to the controversy surrounding their change of the terms of service in regards to content creator rights (http://slnewser.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-odd-ball-closes-in-second-life-due.html ), soon followed by Tuna and the Odd ball, they taking their performance to the InWorldz grid.

Despite the Lab under Ebbe Linden changing the lines of the ToS in question, Tuna felt the issue still was not completely resolved. Tuna commented that he saw himself more as an enterpenur than an activist when he started the Odd Ball. But he felt Linden Lab's changing of the Terms of Service at the expense of the rights of content creators was a violation of what he called the "Oddball Principle."

Tuna stated information about the Odd ball could be found by all at http://www.oddfellowstudios.com/ . He mentioned science jounrals he came across seemed to be lacking about what they've found about how his kind of performances affect the human mind, Shava being especially keen in pointing things out. People had been telling him that the Odd Ball left them feeling relaxed. Tuna felt the special effects of his performance had an effect on human brain waves. He also felt there was a "Cathedral effect" of the huge space the Odd Ball was in, "For a moment, the brain just goes Woosh!" People seeing it for the first time would say things like "This is incredible, this is amazing." It made him happy to hear that those with Post-Tramatic Stress Disorder issues were getting some relief at his shows.

Of his accomplishments in real life, the one he was the most proud of was being the father of a 23 year old girl. He also considered himself an activist of a few causes. He had campained for gay rights despite getting ill in the middle of it, "part of who I am." He expressed pride at living in Massachusettes where the people were more inclined to side with such causes, "We fought City Hall, and we won." He told me he was transparent about who he was, seeing no need to hide his Second Life from his real life, and vice versa. He talked about what he saw as the "Theory of obscurity ... look at the art, look at the person ... Madonna, Michael Jackson ... part of the understanding is who that person was. .... When you understand the artist, you live the art more, or dislike ..."

"When people experience my art, The Tunaverse," he told, "When you first come and you see it ... " he described it as the "loss of the Odd ball virginity, 'Oh my God, this is unlike anything I've ever seen before.'" Tuna told he had yet to see or hear of anything like it in Second Life, InWorldz, or Opensim." He described himself as having "diversified" his virtual experience, having avatars in different places, as well as having his show outside Second Life. One of his more unique performances was at the Second Life Convention in 2010, when he did the show in both Second Life and in real life at the con, "I guess I could go on and on."

In creating the Odd Ball, Tuna says one of the challenges was that he saw himself as a performer and not a visual artist, "There were a lot of challenges." When he came to Second Life in August 2003, the virtual world had only been around for two years and had a total signup of about 30,000 people. It was a time when it was experiencing "exponential growth." By November three months later, the total number of accounts had doubled to 60,000. He was learning through tutorials, "I wouldn't call myself a programer, but I learned how to tweak the code." Pointing to the center of the Odd Ball set, "we call this device the 'hypercube.' " Tuna compared it to the holodeck in Star Trek, "being able to take a group of objects age get them in one prom." He credited its creation to another builder, getting permission to do his performances on it in Second Life and other places.

Another challenge was less about design than endurance. Tuna described himself as having, "fought from the begining for this art to be permanent." He wanted for the Odd Ball to "be able to be used in grids that don't exist yet." Also, he felt it should always be a live performance, "Perhaps it would be scripted, but that's not the direction I wanted ... it should be organic, live theater." One challenge was imposed by Linden Lab, the prohibition of megaprims, "can't create prims larger than 64 meters." The megaprims that can occasionally be seen on the very oldest structure were done through an exploit.

"Virtual worlds are a fantastic place," Tuna spoke, "being able to go beyond the limits. If you had told me ten years ago when I was a street magician that I would carry the same tricks to virtual reality ... How do you create an experience of wonder in a place where one of the first things you do is learn how to fly?" When he started, he didn't do all the scripts himself, and eventually had to learn how to do those. Another thing he had to do was learn how to promote himself. He had found it easier to promote the works of others instead of his own. But eventually he did, promoting the Odd ball

"I love what I do," Tuna told, "I love doing magic. It kills me that I can't do the magic I used to in real life. But I can so the virtual experiences.

When I had a chance, I asked Tuna about his white-skinned avatar. He explained when he first came to Second Life, a friend of his from New Orleans had opened up a vampire club. It had a reputation for being an avant-garde place for strange things. Tuna thought it had a "Dark Shadows" influence. It was in Collinwood, which Tuna called a great estate with a castle. The avatar itself, while inspired by it, really came from his imagination. For the face, he wrote to a content creator for help, purchasing the original rights to it. It's design was original, down to the testure. Eventually, Tuna replaced parts of it. Of the shape, pointy ears, and the white skin, "it just felt right."

Tuna really didn't like the idea of looking like anyone else, "not a cookie-cutter." He remarked that some Second Life anthro fans considered him an "honorary furry" with his desire to be unique. Of the top hat, that was from him being a musician in real life, "became one of my symbols here." His tip jar was also a top hat, designed by Alessia Stella, whom had created a line of tip jars, "she deliberately created this tip jar so it could be changed and personalized.

It was about this time Tuna had to take care of other matters. And we went our seperate ways.

A few days later, Tuna's tenth anniversary event took place. To his relief, Shava was able to attend the second one. It was quite an event, the two Odd Balls, attended by some dozens of avatars.

The Odd Balls continue in Second Life, IM Tuna or Shave SunTzu about being notified when they take place.

Bixyl Shuftan

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