Monthly Archives: January 2013

Notes on a Monday lab session

At a recent art lab session, I decided to utilize a time score process I discovered a while back called the Pomodoro.

The Pomodoro is very simple: You focus on a single task for 25 timed minutes. At the end of this period, you stop. You may do a subsequent Pomodoro cycle, but before this you must take 5 minutes away from the task before beginning that next Pomodoro. Also, you do not spend more than four Pomodoro cycles (2 hours total with breaks) on a single task. If after four cycles it is not done to your satisfaction, you leave it behind and move on to something else. Usually, however, the dedicated focus will lead to surprising productivity.

For Labtime it was very easy to adhere to this limit, because we only had two hours of exploratory time total… just enough time for four Pomodoro cycles. Since I did not have a specific project that I wanted to focus on otherwise, I decided to experiment with using each Pomodoro cycle differently.

For the first cycle I decided to improvise a dance from scratch, akin to the methodologies I used to create preceding solo pieces. I wove back and forth between stream of consciousness monologue exercises from improviser Mick Napier and movement inspired by the combination of impulse and the improvised phrases. I started with babbling that settled on the word frog, so I jumped like a frog and turned that into a 16 count phrase that ended with a turn towards the wall. That produced some babbling that compelled me to clutch the wall and build 16 more counts around that exercise, then another 16 against the wall. I felt compelled to leave the wall and looking up towards the lights produced babbling that settled on the Northern Lights, which produced more movement around that, and so on.

Though I often eschew paper and pen until after a session, I decided to score the piece in my notebook as I composed it, immediately commiting each series of moves to writing as I created it to satisfaction. I broke down lines by beat counts, similar to verse poetry: In this case each line represented 16 counts.

By the end of the first Pomodoro I had scored about 96 counts of choreography. I took a break and decided to make something new during the 2nd cycle. I muttered around on the floor to a beat for a few moments before feeling like I was emulating a tortoise. In my mind I asked this hypothetical tortoise, “Where you going, tortoise?” I figured the tortoise would reply, “I ain’t going nowhere.” I wouldn’t buy such an answer from such a tortoise so I mentally asked again, “Where you going, tortoise?” And I figured the tortoise would again reply, “I ain’t going nowhere.” And this question and answer repeated until quickly finding a beat, and I quickly saw the musicality of this refrain.

Though I didn’t do as much movement during this 2nd cycle and I didn’t score what I had created, I brainstormed potential group movement and rhythm ideas around the motif this refrain created. I saw potential for a piece in this, but with only 25 minutes I left it at that and resorted merely to taking a few general notes on movement as well as potential tweaks for the textual refrain.

I wanted to do something more cerebral and concrete after that, so with the intention of reading and taking notes on key passages I dug up artistic texts I’m currently browsing, Napier’s next, Jonathan Burrows’ The Choreographer’s Handbook, Ben Hauck’s book on Long Form Improv and a book on Short Form Improv by Joe Reda. However, I settled on Burrows’ text and stuck with that for the entire 3rd cycle. The book, itself a stream of consciousness flitter through a variety of key topics, is so rich with ideas and concepts that even skimming I barely made it a quarter way through the text, taking copious notes and never wavering from it until the time period expired.

With my mind on my upcoming move to a new apartment I decided to put the texts away and focus the last cycle on assembling a list of housecleaning and other tasks I need to complete for the move. I made a point to not just be detailed and thorough but to be as chronological as possible regarding what order I’d go about completing the needed tasks. I found I noted a lot of cleaning tasks, more than any others combined, and I assembled a complete list of furniture and other new items I wanted to acquire for the new place.

******

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Years ago, poker taught me a few lessons about life

I have been sick, and several developments have interceded upon my life: The festivals, preparing to leave my job, preparing for a move to a new apartment next month. I haven’t yet been able to fully sink into Flower Season residency

Among the many reference texts I’ve consulted, as I begin this treacherously intimidating but insightful journey of discovery, are my old poker books.

Years ago on the side I was a casual but regular, and winning, poker player. Despite growing up in Las Vegas I had never had any interest in poker (and had no idea how to play Texas Hold’Em) until my family talked me into playing a home game with them one night during a holiday visit several years ago. I played every hand with little idea what I was doing and lost my five dollar buy-in (we were playing for nickels and dimes). I didn’t think much of it until I watched a TV poker program, suddenly understood everything that was happening on screen for the first time and immediately became hooked on learning how to play the game well.

I bought a couple of books and slowly immersed myself in the basic strategems of solid Hold’Em play as I gathered a modest bankroll and played occasionally. Piquing an interest in No Limit Hold’Em tournaments, I went browsing for a good strategy book and was stricken by a particular book: The Poker Tournament Formula by Arnold Snyder.

Snyder, an on-the-sly card-counting blackjack player and author/editor by trade, had taken up Las Vegas poker tournaments during the poker boom and devised a successful approach to winning at them that inspired his book. The book challenged not just conventional wisdom but many of the popular poker strategy books of the time, advocating a bold and selectively aggressive approach as well as a focus on elements other than the quality of your cards (most strategy guides focused exclusively on how to play your cards). Snyder saw tournaments as a people game of intimidation, considered cards only one of many key elements rather than the ultimate one, and saw his chips not as money to be hoarded like manna but as a tool for reading opponents and winning pots.

While I found his poker principles instrumental to developing my tournament poker ability, I was also particularly stricken by how his advice and approach towards poker held a mirror to the rest of real life.

– We are often controlled, held back from what we want most, by empty intimidation and baseless fear.
– When we hold back and wait for the “right” opportunity, it either never comes at all or never comes until it’s too late for us to take advantage of it.
– And all the while we’re being intimidated or shoved into submission by others.
– Often our fears are unfounded, and when we stand up to what scares us away from what we want… we often conquer it and succeed when we otherwise would have failed.
– The people who are most willing to risk complete failure are often the ones who succeed most.
– Yes, sometimes you stand up to your fears and they come true and knock your ass down. Yes, sometimes you will embarass the shit out of yourself in front of a bunch of jerks.
– And if you get back up, consider the experience and keep trying, you’ll get a better idea from those experiences when it’s right to let go, and when it’s right to face things head-on.
– You will regret the chances you didn’t take a lot more than the ones you do.
– You will learn a lot more from facing that which intimidates you than from shying away from it.

People are frequently taken aback at how boldly I pursue things in my life, from my art to merely what I’m willing to say in a discussion or in writing and many things in-between. But it’s always made sense to me to be willing to risk failure, whether failure is a misunderstanding or embarassment in front of an audience.

I have to admit I got that mindset from poker, and kept it long after I decided to stop playing and do other stuff (like get back into theatre!). I guess life in many ways is poker. We are constantly being bluffed by others, having the stakes raised on us, folding to pressure, risking an investment and hoping the odds will come through for us, watching our bankrolls, trying to win big, busting out, facing the risk of losing everything, etc etc.

Between all that we are human beings with feelings, ambitions, and all sorts of other elements that definitely are not a cut-throat winner take all game. But in many ways we are playing the game of life and trying to win at it.

The Start of 2013 Brings Residency and Developments

This weblog is about to get a lot more active as I begin my 2013 residency at Studio Current. My proposal to study process development and the fusion of multiple artistic forms (theatre, improv, dance, clown, writing/poetry, et al) was accepted. We had a preliminary meeting last night to divulge in-house logistics, and many involved have already began their respective residencies. I have a fuzzed weekly schedule surrounding a regular Monday and Wednesday night time slot.

I will be part of a Studio Lab group on Monday nights, teaming up to test out ideas, processes and the like in an interactive setting. The work in Wednesday sessions will be up to me. I have options with shared time slots available on other nights, which will be utilized on a touch and go basis.

Here I plan to document ongoing work, ideas and process related to this research.

I also was offered a role co-starring in Xan Scott’s upcoming show “Apocalypse Clown!” which will perform at the Rogue Festival in Fresno, CA (Feb 27-Mar 9) as well as the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in the eponymous capitol city of Manitoba Canada (July 17-28), as well as a local preview of the show in mid-February. So I shortly begin rehearsals for that run of shows as well.

That is all for now. This is a lot to digest.