Monthly Archives: September 2013

How Much Is Enough? How Much Is Too Much?

I am glad to complete a full run of Drawn Dead, and relieved to move on until the next run.

The show has needs for improvement, in terms of both raw quality and things I’d like to see, which I can address at some point down the road.

But more than anything I need a break from dealing with the show. In one week I’m taking a vacation through the Pacific Northwest that will land me in Vancouver BC Canada for a week.

The final weeks brought along with the stresses of getting the show ready a fundamental existential crisis. Why do we make performance art? What do we get out of it, both as performers and patrons? More importantly, what is the marginal value? What does the community lose if it is never made?

Because performance art is never just about yourself. If it was, we could (and probably should) just make art behind the privacy of closed doors and not bother anyone else. Ultimately, we make art to reach and communicate with our communities. I make the work I make to share something of value with the community. This requires two things:

– I can produce engaging and original work to share with the community.
– I have an interested community with which to share it.

I put on the best show I could for a very modest set of audiences consisting largely of friends and colleagues. As much value as the show had, it took an incredible amount of work to produce a show that, while I felt good about it, did not meet my personal expectations of the kind of work I want to share with people. But even if the show lived up to everyone’s expectations, I could have promoted the show as much as possible and still would have played to a lot of empty seats. This is not an indictment of the community, but a reflection in their interest in my material and the audience for that work.

Some of that work is a product of changes my director and I decided to make. I could have made an hour long storytelling show, but we elected to try and make something more, something that requires far, far more work and investment than we put in

And it leads me to question if putting another fuck-ton of work into this show is worth the trouble. All the money, time and logistics I would have to invest in additional rehearsal… all the work to make incremental quality improvements to the show… is it worth the trouble?

Drawn Dead is currently a full length show. It’s good. It could be better. Marketing the show is difficult as I am not a brand name and can not draw a substantial audience for my work sight unseen. I could put in work to make the show better. Some of the work is not back-breaking (audio editing and rewrites) but some of the more involved work (rehearsal and complicated physical theatre blocking) requires a lot of effort and investment.

How much work is worth the trouble? What is the audience for the piece? Will dozens of people pay $8-12 a head to see the show? Will they remember what they saw? Will they tell their friends and colleagues about the show? Will it matter in a year, let alone five or ten or more, to anyone that I did this show?

Honestly, I don’t have the blind undying love for my show to press on despite no real payoff. If I’m doing this for sparse audiences, or to polish a relative turd, then I’m wasting my time, money and effort. There is too much in my life I want to do to kill myself making a show marginally better, or to improve the show with no substantial return.

Unfortunately, I am not made of money and I’m getting older. I can’t run myself into the ground, blow $20-40 a rehearsal and shake it off to do it again the next day. Unlike local fringe theatre, a touring fringe show needs to draw crowds and make money to be worth the while. It needs to be memorable and impact your audience so they remember your work and come back next time. A return on your investment matters a LOT, a cultural return as well as a monetary and attendance return.

I don’t have answers yet. One of the reasons I’m taking a break is to give myself the space to find answers.

Thoughts on Drawn Dead’s opening night

Drawn Dead’s very first night went… okay. I didn’t feel bad about it and I didn’t feel great about it. There are parts that worked well, there are parts that did not hit the mark and there are parts that need more work either way. Audience reaction was lukewarm: Some parts got a reaction and lots of parts where I hoped for a reaction did not.

I felt really good about the show after tech going into show one, and overall I still feel good about it though not as excited as I was after that tech run. I liken my current feelings to a football team feeling real good about their game plan, coming out firing on game day, doing some good things but largely not getting the results they want and going into the locker room at halftime down 10 points and needing to make some adjustments to a game plan they still have faith in.

That said, I knew this run would be a bit rough with some success. John Leith suggested I treat this festival as a workshop run and that’s not a bad idea. I see this run as an opportunity to make adjustments and grow on the fly. I decided that between shows I would find three small opportunities (outside of practice) to improve the show before the next performance, opps as simple as giving a certain scene a clearer through-line or motivation, or adding texture to a certain moment with a stronger defined choice. There’s certainly a lot I could clarify or improve, but it’s far more do-able and rewarding to focus on three little things than to try and fix wide swaths of the show or just get down on the whole thing.

If Thursday’s show is a little better in quality than Wednesday’s, even if overall it’s still not quite what I want, that’s a victory regardless of attendance or audience reaction. It’s like George Lewis’ take on excellence, that you give your best and try to do it a little better each time.

Drawn Dead: Some facts

Welcome to those of you who have seen Drawn Dead.

A few notes about the show:

– Yes, this is based on a true story. Some details were shared a bit out of order, but the key salient details happened… my experience with poker, my decision to quit a demanding job, my trip to Pendleton, and my run ins with the weather during my trip. Obviously the voiceovers are a dramatization.

– My offered impression of my UW coworkers is embellished and satirical. Truth be told, we mostly got along fine and I mostly think well of them. The scene is more of a presentation of what I felt at the time. My full time career was mostly just too demanding for what I was doing in my life, and I needed the freedom to pursue my own interests so I left… amicably.

– Yes, I was in fact a profitable poker player during my time playing, both in tournaments and in cash play. I didn’t make close to enough to consider going pro as I didn’t play more than once every couple weeks, and I didn’t have any sort of bankroll to ever consider such a thing. No, I did not play online, as it is illegal to do so in Washington State. Thanks, Margarita Prentice!

– No, I don’t play anymore.

– The show has some clear rough edges and remains a work in progress. Though it’s been in written development for months, a lot of the show’s current elements were very recently implemented. Once John Leith and I began work together about a month ago we mutually made significant changes to the show. He and I ceased collaboration about a week and a half before opening night to allow me to implement and rehearse the revised show.

– Yes, I wrote and composed the song at the end. Save for obvious samples, all the audio was designed by myself.

For those of you new to this weblog, a few brief bits about me:

– I grew up in Las Vegas and have lived here since 2004.

– I practiced theatre in HS and my first stint in college at UNLV in Las Vegas. I left theatre mostly behind in 1999 and did not come back to practicing in theatre until 2010.

– Since then, I have studied and practiced various forms of improv, as well as clown theatre, stage combat (SAFD certified in 2011), Meyerhold Biomechanics and modern + improvisational dance. I have also seen hundreds of shows, made a few performance pieces and helped out several arts organizations in varying capacities.

– I had never so much as taken a dance class in my entire life until last year. I now work extensively with the dance community, and you can thank Jenna Bean Veatch (who cast me in her production Sideshow) in large part for turning me in that direction.

– I have worked extensively over the past year with Vanessa DeWolf and Studio Current, as well as a host of other dancers, writers and performance/visual artists, in researching experimental performance art processes. The pieces I create now are a process of researched combinations and amalgamations of various performance arts.

– Given the above, I pretty much don’t do theatre (as you know it) anymore, don’t make conventional theatre plays, and likely won’t do either again. Giving you a resume or CV would be a bit of a misnomer, in the sense of, “Look at all this stuff I don’t do anymore.”

– That said, other recent projects include work with Daniel Linehan, KT Shores, GENDER TENDER, Vanessa DeWolf, Xan Scott, Jenna Bean Veatch and Ear to the Ground. I take on projects on a case by case “is this interesting or relevant to all of us?” basis.