Monthly Archives: November 2012

An epiphany on how org boards and grant funding fundamentally encourage artistic predictability

More reading of Reginald Nelson’s theatre manifesto gave me a distressing revelation about how much the board/directors leadership arts-org format and the process to propose for grant/sponsor funding lends itself to creative stasis in arts orgs.

To successfully apply for significant grant funding, you have to firmly define what you’re going to do. Any changes at all in artistic direction during the year not only requires requires collective deliberation and approval, but if your funding application notated a season schedule then changing it in midstream could jeopardize your funding (you might have to give it back).

The season format is a big part of the problem, but if you don’t state a firm plan for a firm season, no one’s going to fund you. Never mind that your work and your style (and in dance your look) has to fit an archetype for most major granting orgs to even consider funding you. You have to be predictable to get funded. And then we wonder why mainstream performance art is so predictable.

You can go small time and bypass all this… and thus not get much (if any) funding for your work, unless you do yet another damn Kickstarter and have a ton of benevolent, well-funded friends.

Once again, money is a form of censorship in the 21st century. It has created bigger and strong barriers to entry than have ever existed before.

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Ideas on the fundamental nature of dance/theatre orgs, derived from the writing of Reginald Nelson

My ongoing research has focused on the relationship between fundamental ideas in producing performance art across the board (theatre, dance, etc). This includes taking ideas from certain disciplines and seeing how they cross-apply to other disciplines. I’m re-reading Reginald Nelson’s book How to Start Your Own Theater Company with the slant of seeing how his ideas apply to dance and other performance forms, not to mention the possibility of a mulch-disciplinary arts group. Just from the initial chapters’ ideas on philosophy, artistic vision and the roles of a non-profit I have the following divergent ideas:

– Scratching itches to get paid: Most artists are little more than cultural masseuses. Most theatre delivers no profound messages. They fabricate dramaturgy to pose their self indulgence and itch-scratching as profound, but the reality is that the piece is getting made because it sells tickets by scratching an itch. Nobody *needs* to see The Glass Menagerie on stage. The decades old play from Tennessee Williams has been made 1000 times and multiple copies of scripts as well as recordings of prior productions are freely available to anyone at any time.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with re-making an old play in a vacuum. In the big picture, however, it doesn’t add to the public canon: It simply rehashes what was already there, to scratch an audience’s itch and to indulge those producing the work. It’s one thing for such orgs to be a novel niche (e.g. Greenstage: They only produce classical + Shakespearean work, but also only do so twice a year, once during the traditional summer park show season and a special one-off Hard Bard show in the fall; their work is that of annual tradition more so than artistic progression). It’s another for that practice to be the norm in our culture, to re-produce off-Broadway work and classic plays you’ve been conditioned to look up to, to produce the kind of dance you’ve been conditioned to value, etc. New and relevant voices don’t get to be heard because we’re too busy rehashing old work and henning people into traditional roles, discarding those who backgrounds, appearance and abilities don’t fit those roles and archetypes.

A key reason Seattle keeps losing artistic talent to NY, Chicago and SF, despite the excessively competitive nature and artistic overpopulation of those metro locales, is because those cities provide vast opportunities for those new voices to be heard. Meanwhile, Seattle’s arts communities remain obsessed with self-indulgently scratching itches, whether those of the elderly higher class audience that provides most of their ticket revenue or those of an egotistical director.

– Reginald Nelson claims that theatre is a form where artists can communicate new ideas and challenge olds one, free from government or corporate censorship. But if corporations, governments and their benevolent leaders are funding performance art, then by the specter of offense are they not censoring and filtering our content? If you feel putting particular people or work on your stage threatens your sponsorship or donation money from Boeing or the Seattle Mayor’s Office to the point where you will decide not to promote someone’s work, are they not in effect censoring you and that someone?

– It takes more than being able to sell a show. Your ensemble has to genuinely believe in what it means to the community, to the point where they can rationally, concretely, unwaveringly defend it. “Why are we doing this show and not something else? Why this piece and not some other piece?” Who is doing it (name value) is irrelevant. Who we can sell it to is irrelevant. Your self indulgence and ego are irrelevant. Relevance and connectivity to your community sells your work on its own, indulgences our deepest needs on its own, eliminates the need for name value because that connection needs no name to create value.

– As a dancer or choreographer working on a project, what is it you’re looking to do? And, much more importantly, why is it important to us as a community that you do it and why is it important for people to see it? You could always rent a space and do it privately for yourselves, not subject an audience to watch it. If it’s shown to an audience, it must provide positive, meaningful value for the audience. This is non-negotiable.

Random notes and ideas after a week of Studio Current Compost Suite workshops

Current biorhythms: Withdrawn, uncooperative, physically fit, open minded.

I approach the tail end of a salvo of workshops through Studio Current’s Compost Suite, themed around experimental exploration of the processes and concepts utilized by different artists. Beginning back in late October, we hit the zenith this week: Today marks the 7th consecutive night of workshops, with more to come.

I struggled with how to effectively recount the wealth and scope of experiences I’ve had over this past week and month, and now I realize that it’s probably not possible to effectively blog what I’ve taken in and how I can process it all. Even if I could manage to document such a large volume of ideas, experiences, thoughts and potential processes, the wall of text would prove too great for virtually everyone to sit and read.

So instead I’ll throw out some ideas that the experiences and discussions invited:

– Rae Diamond focused on the parallel relationship, or potential to parallel a relationship, between one’s artistic process and the phases of the sun (seasons of the year) and moon (lunar cycles). Though I’m not emboldened to astrology I do believe the time of year does influence our behavior (and if you let the weather affect your outlook, then it definitely influences yours), and given how it impacts the ocean’s tides I’m not entirely opposed to the idea that lunar cycles may impact our behavior. Even if you find astrological concepts totally bogus, it presents a possible framework for building an arc of structure to your artistic process over a period of time. The key concept: It’s okay at times for an artist not to produce, to instead withdraw and reflect. There should be times for an artist to make, times to learn and times to think… and these times ebb and flow into and out of our lives naturally. Even if you don’t want the sun or moon to be your guide, this idea presents a possibility for effective process.

– During Danielle Agami’s Gaga intensive we briefly touched upon using collapse to initiate movement. With Alicia Mullikin I explored that concept more closely, and more specifically as a push and pull relationship with gravity. Much like how Salt Horse had us see music and sound as a dance partner in their IMP series, Alicia presented gravity as a sort of dance partner, one you give and take with the way you give and take weight in partnering and contact improvisation.

– Even after all the practice, I still don’t physically get contact improv. I mentally understand the concepts behind it, but for some reason my body dead-ends when I put them to practice. Even watching it, contact improv in practice looks to me like a messy, disheveled mish-mash of obstructed movement. It doesn’t appear at all natural or connected so much of the time. There has to be a better way to learn it, maybe even a better way to do it.

– Stephanie Skura gave us some Walleye-style tools for developing work through writing, improvised movement, text and states. Her Friday night workshop had us play with committing to different styles of movement and voice, adopting a pair of contrasting styles, writing text and then working with those states in tandem with other movers as well as the text we created. I liked her idea of passing around folded over sheets of paper and each person writing a question, folding up and passing the paper, writing an answer sight unseen, passing and repeating until we had pages full of surprise paradoxes. Her approach of committed, contrasting states also presents abstract possibilities from which to start towards work.

– A friend of mine and I approached our experience in Danielle Agami’s Gaga intensive, and how the experience she gave us in that class appears so fundamentally different from the hyperdrive modern dance we see in Ate9’s dance productions that it’s not at all clear how the ideas she taught us relates to her process in creating work. Granted, I have used concepts she introduced in the intensive to make my own work, but the gaga experience and the work she has produced are definitely, distinctly separate to the naked eye.

Thinking about it, my educated guess is that the intensive did not necessarily introduce process as much as possibilities and ideas from which to generate material… and that ultimately Agami’s process for making material is a separate beast, but one that utilizes the Gaga approach to generate the ideas through which her process ultimately produces work.

– There is a music, rhythm and relationship to movement, if everyone is willing to listen to it and everyone has an intention.

This falls right in line with improv, where listening is valued but every player needs to bring committed choices to the table themselves… or there is nothing to work from.

Writing essays, articles, research papers: An easy methodology I wish I had known years ago.

To diverge a moment from the world of performance composition, I want to touch on written composition. I had a gift for writing throughout childhood into adulthood, whether or not my essays and research papers reflected it (I could compose material easily, but assembling an essay into a solid cohesive argument was more challenging). In adulthood, I kept a regular blog/journal and wrote hundreds (not exaggerating: hundreds) of articles and pieces on various subjects involving sports, politics, culture and life for many years. During one stretch I wrote at least 1000 words a day for (again, no exaggeration) 2.5 years. Only in the last 3-4 years (as I’ve re-focused on theatre) have I de-emphasized writing in my life.

But I have learned a considerable lot through those years, and hundreds of thousands of words, about composing solid arguments and pieces. After all these years, I have finally devised an easy approach to composing essays and research papers. It can be expanded or compressed as necessary to suit the required length of a paper. Note this is not a research method: Ultimately, you still have to do the work to read, research and develop the knowledge from which you will write. But once you have that material, it’s very easy to write the paper, essay or piece.

The methodology isn’t complex: After reading, taking notes on concepts, brainstorming notes and ultimately deciding what you want to focus on… get a sheet of paper or an open doc. Sum up your main idea in a sentence.

Underneath, explain the 3-4 main arguments defending your main idea in a sentence or two apiece. If handwriting these down, space them out on the page. If typing, double-enter so there’s a line between each.

Then, under each of those arguments, state 2-3 points, pieces of evidence, etc. defending or backing up those respective arguments. Again, do each of these in 1-2 sentences.

Notice what you just did. You basically assembled a pyramid of information. The main idea tops it, supported by 2-3 main arguments, each of those supported by subordinate arguments. This is pretty much the method in a nutshell: Build a pyramid of information. Make an argument, then form arguments supporting that argument. Form arguments supporting each of those arguments. Repeat this process until you have a paper of suitable length. Points of one argument can and should eventually tie in with points of another argument.

If you find yourself getting stuck at any point, you can stop, take a separate page/doc and brainstorm, research, or otherwise do what you wish to assemble raw material supporting each respective individual point. Once you feel you’ve got a comfortable base again you can go back to building the structure of your paper.

Once you believe you have a complete, satisfactory assembly of material, you can rearrange parts however you wish to construct your essay. You can even leave it in the same order. Your call.

Once you have all the material needed to make your point… start composing the actual paper. If you’ve done the previous steps, this should actually be the easy part!

As with any methodology, use or play with it as you wish. If you find it total hogwash, feel free to discard it and go about your business. Hopefully, this helps you should you need to compose a written essay, argument, article, funding application statement or piece of any other kind.

Last night I learned that I am my own trio

For a good long time after Studio Current’s Confluence and Rebellion workshop ended, we (Salt Horse and about three of us) all sat and talked about our respective experience. We had all crafting impulses into a short dance sequence that we replayed, performed for a partner and then watched said partner replay the dance to their best interpretation.

From this, we each saw elements pop out we hadn’t recognized in our practice. Some of that, sure, was elements of the personality and style of whoever was replaying at the time. But the moments, movements, textures and things each chose to accentuate in their replay showed a nebulous lot about both participants in each duo.

One note referenced how often my face, my body and my energy each expressed different things in the moment. It was one of those “I could never put my finger on what is so strange about you until this moment” things. Like many, I frequently choose exclusively to fight my tendencies, to try and hen myself into the idea for a particular piece… instead of letting the quirks, style and elements of my practice and identity inform the direction of the piece. It occurred to me that working with the dichotomous expression of my face, my body and my energy could be a dramatic choice, a source of material and work in itself. I could in effect perform as a trio, my face my body and my spirit each playing different characters, whether working in unison or at odds with each other.

I am slammed right now with work, a loaded schedule, troubled energy, life. I want to explore and research this. I need the space, though I’m not sure I’ll have much before Thanksgiving weekend. And I’m not sure I want to wait that long.