Monthly Archives: August 2014

Seattle, I think we need to see other people.

I don’t want to say “it’s not you, it’s me”. Because it is you… and it’s me too. For more than ten years, I never wanted to live anywhere other than here. But recent events have finally convinced me that I need to go.

For years I took your good with the bad, even as the bad gradually mounted. The fringe’s fierce protection of its potential-muting status quo. The influx of bro culture brought forth by Amazon and startups overpaying those bros out of college. The decline of the bus system coupled with the gradual (studies be damned) worsening of city traffic.

The hot air followed by the complete absence of proactive support from this arts ‘community’, the sort of shit I expect from a third rate slacker scene like Vegas or Portland but not from a supposed world class arts scene like Seattle. If anything, you’ve proven that your egos, hubris, catty cliquishness and habitual obsession with your comfort zones will forever prevent you from being world class. Not that you being that was at all important to me, but you getting off that horse would be a great idea given you’re fundamentally incapable of ever getting there.

I like to default to the persuasion that unhappiness with one’s life is not something you can solve cosmetically, by making yourself over, hanging out with a new crowd, changing your job or your home or your city. I’ve seen people close to me and not so close to me try to do it and still end up unhappy because the issues that caused their unhappiness remained within them.

Over the past year or so, I’ve looked in the mirror first and foremost, confronted my mounting unhappiness with the intention and ambition to improve my approach and make it work, to change the person in the mirror before I try changing the world around me.

I’m not sure of the exact moment where it became crystal clear that no matter what I did or could have done, you were in fact the problem. I’m not sure of the exact moment I knew it was over with you, but it wasn’t one or two isolated or otherwise symbolic incidents. It has over the past year become an endless salvo of constant reminders of what you’ve become and how disposable I’ve become to you and everyone here. Literally nothing I could do, nothing I could create or work on, is worth the trouble, the investment, the sacrifices and effort, because it will only fall on deaf ears and averted eyes.

Right now I don’t know exactly where I’m going next, though a few places come distinctly to mind. This, granted, is not the reason I’ve been traveling a lot in the past year. These were not scouting missions, underground dates, job interviews. No, I just wanted to travel, so I did. In fact, some of the places I’m considering are places I didn’t visit. I visited and enjoyed Vancouver, New York City, Philadelphia. But I also have some long unstarted and unfinished business in Chicago (years ago I wanted to practice and perform there but plans fell through and got dropped). Austin’s performance scene has slowly evolved into something relevant. Even supposedly unspectacular arts scenes like Pittsburgh and Minneapolis hold some promise.

It was sad going to shows in NYC, feeling from the seasoned performers a sense of excitement and enthusiasm… and coming back to Seattle and see seasoned performers in shows going through the motions, clearly painting by numbers and doing their usual shit. It didn’t used to be that way. You’ve changed. I can’t sit here and continue dying a slow death with you as the bros and developers consume what’s left of this town’s culture.

So, we’re done. Save me the trouble of talking your shit about how I’m wrong and your paint by numbers shit is exciting and innovative and blah blah, because that’s exactly part of the problem I’m getting at. Innovators let their work speak for itself. It’s a big reason I stopped talking the same shit myself. I’m done talking about what I want to show people instead of giving them what is real.

I’ll work out logistics on packing and getting my shit out of here once I confirm a landing spot. I need to connect with others elsewhere and figure out where I have future prospects as a performer, maybe as a worker, definitely as a human being in a culture whose thoughts, feelings and existence matter enough to those around me to impact their existence. Despite winter weather problems, I’m thinking of a January or February exit.

This is for the best, Seattle. And this is not negotiable.

~Steven Gomez

My somewhat brief thoughts on improv in NYC

– UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) is polished and popular due to their status (it is to SNL what Second City was to them in the 80’s and the Groundlings were to them in the 90’s, a pipeline for talent), but is definitely treading on their rep. I had a great time seeing them, but I hear they’re very hit and miss, even on their weekend shows. They have a wealth of regular content and their shows usually sell out, but it’s hard to tell their shows and all their performers apart if you don’t know them.

– The PIT (Peoples Improv Theater) has got an inviting front of house setup for the young crowd, a similar variety of shows and their improv is alright. They’re also the only NYC venue I ran into that does the typical advance online ticket sales rather than the ‘make reservation and then pay at the venue’ setup the others do. Their show selection at least seems more interesting and varied than UCB.

Magnet Theater‘s got a smaller venue than the others but clearly has an unusual and addictive enthusiasm and passion for their improv, and I probably had the most fun watching them. (Also, apparently Amie Roe from The Amie and Kristen Show lives in NYC and performs regularly at the theater’s weekly Megawatt show, which I sadly missed due to finding out about it too late).

– I’m sure there is far too much more going on in NYC’s improv scene but that’s what I got to see this week.

– The shows are cheaper than in Seattle! Tickets for midweek shows are $5-10, and most weekend shows are $10, maybe $15. In Seattle, nowadays they’re charging $15-20 for everything. U.P. might still be charging $5 for bare bones Sunday shows and duos. But Seattle may not realize how much damage they’re doing by charging too much for admission. The cost to do business in NYC is greater yet they charge less, plus most companies get their money from fundraising and class tuition anyway so it’s not like charging $15 is necessary. If Seattle should consider one factor to change it’s how much they ask their audience to pay for shows. It’s one thing with Theatresports or JCI where they’re selling out anyway, or special events like SFIT. It’s another with most shows that are struggling to fill seats. Eat a loss per head, and you might get enough extra heads to not only make up the difference but grow your audience.

РI do like that many NYC improv companies rotate a bunch of monthly shows in repertory, rather than doing one full run of a show at a time. I wish the big companies here did that, especially Wing-It (which has a lot of good mothballed in-house shows like Bunker 13 and Funbucket that could stay relevant and fresh if done once a month).

– I also realize that the audience here in Seattle, while big for a US city, is such that drawing a good crowd outside of a Friday or Saturday night is real difficult and thus doing a bunch of shows in repertory might be limited by the number of viable days worth running (probably Wednesday to Sunday nights, and definitely no late nights outside of Fri/Sat). But I think that’s a bigger problem across the board with the Seattle arts scene, which is often too introverted and cliquish to grow the outside audience it could… as well as a matter of Seattle being more traditionally 8 to 5 Monday to Friday whereas a big city like NYC has such a massive and diverse market that a sizable portion of their audience has no problem seeing a Tuesday night 10pm show.

– Chicago is still the nation’s improv mecca but I think NYC’s probably a close 2nd. I’m sure there’s a big LA scene, but so much of LA’s non-TV/film scene is treated by performers as a springboard into TV and film that it’s probably more fragmented and formulaic. Seattle remains a top improv destination, but not on that level.

– The performers in these NYC shows. They’re fearless and bold with their choices. All of them. I wish I could say the same for Seattle. The best Seattle improv performers ARE fearless. But so much of our scene still locks up on stage under cerebral fear, and its sometimes infuriating to see bad scenes die under all that anxiety and overthinking. I respect and got a lot from my Seattle teachers but sometimes I wish I could clone Mick Napier 20 times and just set him loose in every improv class, every rehearsal.

Time to Begin Again. Thoughts from NYC.

Long time, no see.

Emotionally, ambitiously, psychologically, I’m in a weird place right now. I don’t feel hopeless, though I look at the world I live in and I wonder what to do next that feels satisfying and is worth doing. And at this point I haven’t the foggiest idea what I mean by either of those terms. I’m not sure I’m entirely where Joshua Ellis currently is, but I’ve felt a lot of what he is describing in the linked post.

I just spent the last week+ in NYC on a well-planned whim, a vacation destination selected after I realized I didn’t want to be anywhere near Seattle during Capitol Hill Block Party or SeaFair. I had never been here before but am glad I finally made the trek and spent some serious time here. I got to see some friends I hadn’t seen in forever, got to see some of NYC’s vaunted sketch and improv, and got to try some of its wealth of street and restaurant food (oh, and Seattle, do what you have to do to get 100 Halal carts on the streets of Seattle, because that shit will sell like whoa in LQA and Capitol Hill).

 

But most of all, thanks to staying in people’s homes instead of overpaying for a hotel, I got a bird’s eye view of day to day life in the five boroughs. It is rough, frenetic, unfiltered, economically and culturally polarized, at times brazenly prejudiced, unforgiving, surprisingly forgiving, and all sorts of things at each moment that you could never imagine seeing in such volume just about anywhere else, not even an ambitious urban metropolis like Seattle. Some parts are rougher or shinier than others. The Bronx and Harlem are very black and, sadly, also very poor and surly. Brooklyn, less so. Queens is a lot like pre-Amazon SLU. Staten Island is like the love child of Bainbridge and Mercer Island, except with minorities. Manhattan is dirty, very rich and, as you’d expect, the most white of the boroughs. The MTA subway has its hiccups and confusing issues (plus the actual terminals are disgusting) but it’s consistent, reliable and often packed. And Seattle could never build anything like it in our lifetimes if they had all the money in the world.

I love visiting this place, but I’m not too sure I’d enjoy living here. Even on vacation with no plans, this place has spent a week kicking my ass. Getting around takes a lot of hustle, and with the sun out the conditions here have been hot and humid (and it’s actually not as hot and humid as it usually is). Imagine that lifestyle with a 40 hour workweek and any artistic commitments, plus the high cost of living. I’m not so sure it would work except with some exceptionally fortuitous circumstances. Everyone I know here that I’ve talked with has mentioned it wearing on them over time.

I’ve lived in Seattle ten years and, truth be told, for all that time I’ve loved this place and never really wanted to live anywhere else. But, after ten years, Seattle’s getting on my nerves in a contrasting way to how NYC gets on a lot of locals’ nerves.

NYC gets on locals’ nerves because it’s relentlessly full volume and hyper-competitive and expensive, where it seems you’ve got to endlessly hustle to stay afloat and relevant, or at the least not get taken advantage of and left for dead.

Meanwhile, Seattle’s got its hyper PC cultural mentalities, social deep freeze even among friends and colleagues thanks to its paradoxically social introversion, overtly cliquish hiveminds shutting doors instead of opening them, and the costume-like culture to veil one’s prejudices and give it a vehicle. Add in the rise of tech interests like Amazon in central Seattle driving up housing costs and flushing much of Seattle’s culture for a newer, douchier, San Franciscier and better funded one… and suddenly much of what keeps a lot of people in Seattle is starting to disappear, whether it’s being priced out or compelled out by the sea change.

Yes, despite the city getting on their nerves NYCers mostly wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Conversely, Seattlites stick with their city despite the trouble (which also includes shitty traffic, a lacking transit system, an already high cost of living and… of course… the seemingly endless rain and cloudy weather). Seattle’s a beautiful, culturally active place and a liberally political oasis in a sea of not quite liberal mainstream American culture… people of course have relationships they don’t want to leave behind… plus cloudy weather aside the weather and temperatures are pleasantly mild. I’m a 2-3 hour flight from my family in Vegas (I drove to visit them last holiday season and got there in 2 days), plus not terribly far from places I really enjoy like Vancouver BC… compared to a cross country flight away.

——

But there comes a breaking point for many, a combination of getting fed up and finding opportunity somewhere else, where they consider making, may even finally make, the move out of town. For me there wasn’t any such point… until probably a few months ago. I’m not sure there was a clear breaking point, but a series of compiling situations, circumstances and incidents accumulated over time. And the reality around me’s become far more irritating than it used to be (and this is Seattle! This should be one of the easiest going and least annoying places there is).

After an exhausting series of shows early this year, I made a point to take a break from artistic anything that continues to this day. I stopped writing about my art here, or caring about art much at all, for that matter. I even pretty much stopped going to shows, with only a small handful of exceptions. Hell, I’ve probably seen more shows this week in NYC than I’ve seen in the last three months in Seattle.

I’ve stuck to my day job, done part time side work for extra cash, but for the most part have enjoyed having that reality foreign to many artists known as “free time”. I’ve taken vacations to Vancouver, here in NYC, and have one more in Portland coming next weekend. But Seattle itself is beautiful and I’ve found myself some nights shoving off to the beach or the mountains. I’ve enjoyed coming home and having nothing to worry about… aside of course the hassles of my day job and making sure my bills get paid.

At the same time, the question of what to do next artistically, personally, et ceterally with my life rears its head from time to time, because I’m human and it’s a very real unreconciled issue in my life, one that in large part led me to walk off for a while from performing.

When we got on the subject of my performance art and my first NYC host suggested he could get me a slot on a weekly showcase, I practically recoiled. Not because I have any sort of stage fright, obviously not. And not having much of anything sharply prepared was not of much concern, because since when has that stopped me. But this year’s series of events left me questioning why I do this and, as hideous as it is to say, I’ve been left flat out not wanting to get on stage at all… just seeing it as a self indulgent waste of time that benefits no one. It’s a notion that from the upper deck of my conscience has reared its head time and again before and during this time off.

When I did Drawn Dead at Seattle Fringe 2013 in front of a near empty crowd, I couldn’t resist asking how much of that was just a community showing its cliquish disinterest, and how much of that was a legit lack of talent, charisma, drawing power and most of all a need for my performance on my part. I’ve spent the time before, during, after and since frankly asking myself if there’s any point to me making performance art anymore. So what if I do? Who honestly cares? Hell, my friends and colleagues don’t seem to care enough most of the time to go out of their way to support what I do. This never minds enemies and detractors of mine in the various scenes who make their rudimentary efforts to stonewall and censor my work through exclusion and ignorance. On a whole, especially as Seattle sees a sea change, I’m led to wonder if anyone across the board has a need for it.

I’m not one of those artists who has a driving, dare I say self-absorbed, need to perform, to express, be on stage, to make an audience watch me and what I’m doing… for its own sake. That sort of self serving mindset frankly gets on my fucking nerves and I have to imagine most audiences feel the same way. To me, art is a relationship between performer and audience, and is only worth doing if the audience gains something of takeaway value from the performance… not so much life lessons but a lasting memory, hopefully inspiration, to do things and be someone a bit better than they were when they walked in. In large part I’m tired of the Seattle scene because it strikes me as far too much of the former, often posing as the latter but often unapologetically being the former.

——

John Leith told me in no uncertain terms that Drawn Dead’s fall performance can’t be the end of it all. There is too much to be said, to be shared, from my perspective to just close the book and let the steamroller of the status quo’s comfort zones continue running theatre, dance and all else over in the name of innovation but in reality pursuing the addition of asses to seats and the chance to pat one’s self on the back for yet another repackaged posing as original rendition of the same old crap.

If I got anything from a week in NYC, of seeing somewhat more inspired shows, of meeting old friends grinding out a reality in the performing arts despite their own disillusions… the overwhelming sense I get is I can’t let it end this way, with a thinly attended festival show and two hard fought but relished supporting roles in other shows before walking away all over again, this time with no personal promise (as I made in 2000) that I’d eventually be back.

Drawn Dead’s still got a lot of potential, and the promising but slapdash version Leith and I fought our asses off to make was hasty, rushed and incomplete due to various constraints. It can be refined into a clearer and better version of itself.

I’ve got one other firmly defined solo show, and when I sat down yesterday in Queens to free write a rough narrative it became clear several pages later that it can’t just be a discarded idea.

I also had a bubbling interest in getting back into improv, which I pretty much left behind once I started working with the dance community. I’ve got some old improv friends I haven’t really spoken with, let alone worked with, since my diversion, and I’d like to spend time and work with them again. Being out of practice for a little while, I’ll probably need to take a class or two to get back into practice (though my dance experiences have done a lot to keep many of those instincts sharp).

I don’t expect to save the world this way, get famous or anything. But I feel like I can do a lot more for this world those this kind of work than the alternatives. And along with everything else, I’ve gotten from this trip to NYC a sense that it’s time to begin again.