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Risking Innovation Day 1: Directing, Debuting and Intelligencing

Well, after my 24 hours of crazy hunger, elevator riding and luggage pulling, I finally made it back to the actual conference in one piece, registered and got me all settled.

I squeezed in two sessions which I will now mis-name because my huge conference booklet (it would be more apt to call it, instead, a medium-sized text book) is up in my dorm room and I’m not trudging all the way up to get it.  My photo uploader is there too so you’ll have to wait until tomorrow for photos.  Oh, yes, I’m the geek with the huge camera who’s taking photos of random things.

Let’s see…

The Directer/Choreographer Relationship in a Non-Musical. I dropped in on this one unexpectedly since I skipped out on my original choice which I found it highly uninteresting.  This one, it turned out, was significantly more interesting.  Three Director/Choreographer pairs presented slides and videos of their work that used movement or dance in a non-musical and discussed how a Choreographer and Director relationship might work in such a situation.

The moderator and lead presenter was non-other than the woman I’ve been contacting via email about grad school next year!  Score!  I made sure to ask a couple questions (which was easy since it was a very interesting topic and they were genuine questions) and then said hello afterward.

All three pairs did a good job discussing their process and collaboration.  If you know my work, you know that I love incorporating movement and usually do so even when it’s not called for in the script.  I’ve never worked with a choreographer to create it, so now I’m inspired to do so in a future project.  I love to collaborate with designers so I imagine it can only be beneficial and exciting to have yet another artist with which to throw ideas around.

AATE New Guard Network Debut Panel. To be honest, I’m not sure why they’re called “New Guard” but they were all young professionals who have not presented at this conference before.  Four very interesting talks about their scholarly work:

  • the first uses video and sound media to work with children in a hospital who create their own stories about their lives.  This was really interesting and clearly beneficial but it was never made clear what his has to do with theatre.
  • the second discussed the uses of Facebook by middle and junior high students and how that intersects with theatre.  His general conclusion was that since there is no proof that social media is bad for students and there is proof that it actually increases real life social interactions within the community, then he figures he’ll go with the flow.  What he didn’t say, is how he actually uses facebook with the kids.  That’s what I was really interested in.
  • the third was a fantastically articulate and well-spoken young woman from Chicago who has been spear-heading, along with her colleague, a city-wide program to promote dialogue, integration and innovation among the disparate arts education groups in the city.  I’m envious of her ability to articulate her agenda; she has garnered dozens of high-profile advisory board members and is beginning to get actual funding, all in under a year.
  • the fourth speaker read her article concerning love in theatre: not the acting of love or telling of love, but the love from which stems the heart of a teacher who teaches applied theatre.  I will be reading up on P. Friere as a result; I’m unfamiliar with the author.

Keynote Speaker: Howard Gardner.  I have to admit, this is what initially drew me to this conference.  I grew up with his ideas of intelligence.  Many similar ideas were integrated into the curriculums of the alternative learning schools I grew up attending.  I became even more interested when directing Electra last year.  I, for the first time, realized that I had an actress who was far more cerebral than I and I needed to learn to work within her style of learning rather than shove mine on top of hers.  I started to experiment with new ways of communicating ideas so she could comprehend them more fully.  After a time, it worked.  I began to wonder if anyone had really experimented with using the Multiple Intelligences Theory to teach acting and if it might just make the inside/outside acting debate entirely obscure.  However, I have found his books hard to understand so getting to hear it straight from the source proved to be too much of a draw to stay away.

He was an excellent speaker and held my attention easily.  He gave us a quick run-down of the history of measuring intelligence (IQ and standardized testing),  and defined Intelligence:  A potential to process information a certain way that is of value to a certain culture.  Wow, far more open-ended than I thought.

He rain down the list of intelligences, with an example for each.  At the start of the list are linguistic and logical/mathical which is, Mr. Gardner says, what Western education and intelligence is measure on so “as long as you stay in school, you’ll think you’re smart.”  Did I mention that his excellent speaking also included a very fine sense of humor?

I think the hardest part for the audience to hear came with the heading Do Arts Make You Smarter?  Because the scientific answer is “no.”  It’s exactly what the Wallace Foundation published in 2006 (this reference is from me, not Mr. Gardner).  There a plenty of intrinsic values that we all can find through anecdotal evidence and see through simple observation, but the research clearly indicates that there is no evidence that doing music will make you better at math.  This is because the research itself is inherently flawed.  Mr. Gardner posits that they are measuring the wrong end-point.  Of course music won’t make you better at math, but it will make you more aware of listening, feeling, and finding rhythms which make you a whole person.  And then he gave us the good news, he has a colleague who is being published later this year who has done research into Theatre and Empathy in children ages 8 to teen.  And the evidence is in..doing theatre makes children understand empathy!  We will finally have some proof as to what we all know.  So, Mr. Gardner continued, the idea is not to attempt to apply the arts to subjects and measure their affect, but discover what it is that the arts actually do and then find applicable ways to use those findings to create whole people.

His final message, though, was the most important, “I could care less what intelligences you use as long as you get to do what you want to do.”

And, then, of course, he pitched his next book.  And, yes, I went and shook his hand.  I hate doing stuff like that but my mom would have been very disappointed since she likes to remind me that he came and observed us at our alternative-learning school and then gave a talk in which he used me as an example as a specific intelligence.  He was very uninterested in my childhood story even though he took a prominent part.  Alas.

And so ends day one.

Stay tuned for day two and some pics.

The First 20 Hours of a Biz Trip in 25 Easy Steps

  1. Engage the guilt of your roommate to entertain your child while you finish packing.
  2. Engage your child to hunt down your cell phone which you thought was packed and, as it turns out, was in your bag all along.
  3. Drop off child at friends house.  Pretend to be brave.
  4. Bus to Boston.
  5. Sit and wait for train reading about corn-fed cattle vs grass-fed cattle.  Delish.
  6. Train to NYC.  Feel ill after attempting to work.  Give up work.  Try again.  Feel ill.  Give up.  Still feel ill.  Arrive in NYC and attempt to catch cab.  Feel overwhelmed by blinky lights and very very tall buildings.
  7. Realize that you’re standing one block beyond a taxi stand, which would account for all the cabs being full.  Also realize that you’re starving.
  8. Find Taxi stand.
  9. If a man in a uniform ask where you’re going and then says to follow him, presumably to a cab, don’t follow him.  He’ll likely dash ahead and when you stop and wonder why he’s walking so fast he’ll come back and yell at you to follow him to another hotel and which point you’ll be forced to yell back that you’re not going there, you’re going to your own hotel.
  10. Walk back to taxi stand and watch as the aforementioned scam-guy places people who are not in line into taxis ahead of you.
  11. Wait until he goes away and then steal your own cab.
  12. Arrive at hostel and check in.
  13. Find room and enter.  Be overwhelmed by the stench of sleep, the heat of a box with no external windows and the dawning realization that you’re staying in a shit-pile.
  14. Prop door open with garbage can since there are no bed lamps, remove roomie’s damp clothes from your bunk and place kindly on hooks, make-up bed in dark, go use facilities while attempting not to touch anything.  Climb into bed, remove pants since it’s a hotbox and attempt to fall asleep.  It’s close to midnight and you’re still starving.
  15. Wake up at 5 as bunk mate zips and ruffles and crinkles and zips some more.  Chuckle to self as door closes behind her and sleepy roommate mutters: “I think I’m gunna scream.”  You feel the same way and try not to think about the size of the closet you’re sharing with two stinky girls.
  16. Wake at 7:45 after lying in bed since 5 and pretending to sleep.  Take scaldingly hot shower while trying not to touch anything.
  17. Leave hostel as quickly as possible.  Find bagel and scarf it down thankfully.
  18. Find hotel for conference and ask for a room.  They’re full.  There’s a room across the street, only $350 a night.  Lovely.  Call ex-hubby and cry for a minute or two.
  19. Ask for wifi.  Not free.  Must pay.  Find another reputable hostel up-town and call in a reservation.
  20. Return to shit hole, pack up bag, roommates are still asleep and still stinky.  Get refund.
  21. Return to conference hotel to stash bag.  Run into old friend in lobby.  Old friend who you had a major falling out with and haven’t spoken with in close to four years and now gets to give you a fake hug and a fake smile and see the tears in your eyes as you struggle through your morning.  But, don’t worry, you’re an independent, in-charge gal.  Swallow, inhale, and move-on.
  22. Luggage is refused by bellhop even though concierge told you it would be okay.
  23. Call new hostel to confirm luggage storage.  Catch cab.  Have enough of a brain to tip the bellhop who loaded you in a cab and reply very nicely that “Yes, you did have a good stay at their lovely hotel.”
  24. Acknowledge that you are, indeed, watching the bare ass of a man walking down the street as he carries a pile of his clothes in front of him.
  25. Arrive at new hostel.  It’s airy, clean and full of resources.
  26. Confirm reservation, store luggage for $5, collapse in a heap in the wi-fi corner and ease your heart by broadcasting to the world.

Fundraising: Learning the Ropes

I am shy.

I don’t like calling people I don’t know.

I don’t like calling people I do know.

I don’t like walking up to a stranger and trying to start a conversation.

The thought of having to deal with insurance companies and cable companies who want money I don’t owe them practically makes me puke.

And yet, I’m an actress who rarely gets stage fright.

And yet, I’m currently trying to raise close to $30k for the opening show of GAN-e-meed.

None of this really adds up:   until I had tea this afternoon with an old friend and was reminded how much I love improv, and how I learned to settle the jitters by putting on a character, leaping on to stage and just talking.   How I learned that failure is okay.   How I learned that listening is okay too.   How I learned that the people around me, for the most part, want me to succeed, and as long as I remember that, I’m okay.

After this nice reminder (not to mention a really nice visit with a really nice gentleman) I headed over to   betahouse for a mixer/orientation for The Awesome Foundation.   As far as I can tell, a bunch of friends now numbering an even dozen have all gotten together and created a foundation.   Every month they take in applications for Awesome Projects, chose one lucky project of awesomeness, and hand over a $1000 grant.   Their definition of Awesome?   Hard to tell.   They eventually admitted that they have 12 different definitions of Awesome, but it did also come down to innovation, community involvement, and a finite ability to accomplish something.   The application process is through the use of online text fields: no budgets, no back story, just 500 words to sell them on your project.   This is exactly the kind of innovative way, particularly in this–as they say–“economic climate” the community should be getting together to create opportunities.   Very awesome indeed.

So, I walked in with my improvisational groove on and let it be known that I, too, had an awesome project.   I met several of the trustees and a whole bunch of other applicants with their own awesome ideas.   I think I actually had more fun finding out about their projects than pitching my own.   However, I also took away some great lessons on how to pitch an idea well.

  1. Start with a hook, just like writing.   Something clear, concise, and easy to understand.   Make sure the hook leaves them wanting to ask for more.
  2. Know your facts and use them.
  3. Make sure your audience is ready for facts before you use them.
  4. Don’t be afraid to tout your own credentials when asked and be able to do so concisely.

I also gave myself a pat on the back because I brought my biz cards and handed them out with abandon.

So, I’ve got me some new tools, I’m feeling good about developing these–sorry to be repetitive–development skills, and I may, indeed, actually be able to pull of raising this massive sum of money.   It will be very worth it.


Embrace Rejection? Or Change the Standards?

As a theatre artist who began as an actress, you’d think getting rejected would role off my back the way ice cream drips down my daughter’s arm…effortlessly and sweetly to be licked up and blithely swallowed before going back for more.

I wish.

I still hurts.   I don’t cry.   I don’t stomp around.   I don’t think the world looks dark and endlessly dreary, but it still hurts.   I get a little red in the face, the heat prickles my skin from the inside and my stomach does a sad little flip.

I got turned down for the New Hampshire Individual Artists Fellowship. It’s my second year running.   I was really proud of my personal statement this year, but my understanding is that the panelists use your primary visual presentation first, then turn to secondary things like your personal statement only if they feel it’s needed.   Who knows if they read mine.

But, out of sincere curiosity, I did go look at this year’s award winners.   They all look like fine artists and very deserving of the credit.   What bothered me, however, is that none of them were theatre artists.   I clicked through to see the winners for the past 9 years: not a single theatre artist.

The NH State Council for the Arts requires that theatre artists send a video of their work to be used for primary judging purposes.   Let’s face it: videos of theatre performances suck.   Plain and simple.   One cannot get passed how the lighting is misrepresented, sound is wavery, footsteps are pounding, faces are fuzzy, and emotional/social expressions are over-blown and just plain weird looking.   Even professionally produced pieces such as those done by the BBC stink: the lights are flat, the acting is too pronounced (because it’s not for film) and the sound is off (again, because it’s not meant for film).   I can only hope that the panelists (including three representing performing arts: musical theatre, opera, and jazz/folk music) remember this when making their assessments.   It’s far too easy to let things like that get in the way of truly assessing what matters in directing projects and, considering the number of theatrical award winners, I doubt that they really truly ignore them.

I suggest that those who use certain visual criteria for judging the creations of theatrical artists (including NH) take a long hard look at their requirements.   As a working theatre artist for over a decade, it is clear that still photos of plays more strongly represent the visual story-telling of a play and should be considered as vital to the judging of quality of craftsmanship, as should the director’s statement of purpose in a project and the final design concepts.   Theatre is a three-dimensional ever-present ever-dynamic art and cannot be captured by a video camera, but a closeness can be captured by multiple medias together.

I’m not saying this because I was passed over; I’m saying this because there has not been a single award given to a theatre artist in at least 9 years.   And rather than place the blame on unknown biases or faulty videos, it would be in the best interest of the community at large (in a state that is decidely lacking in quality professional theatrical opportunities) to reevaluate the evalutation process itself.


Women On Top

This past Sunday, the Board of my budding company, GAN-e-meed Theatre Project met to discuss, among other things, the mission.  We’re new so we need to define, enhance, and pinpoint what exactly we want to do.  We all agreed, in a nutshell that we “advance the role of women in theatre.”  What comes after that…precisely…we’re still working on.

Of course, along with this discussion came the question:  Where’s the proof that women theatre artists need advancement?  We all know that there are far fewer roles for actresses than there are actresses to fill them, but what about directors, designers, technicians?  Where’s the proof?  I was able to point to anecdotal references to a study published in 2003, citing that only %20 of theatre directors are women.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the actual study (That’s next on my list) but I did find a survey of studies published by the Fund for Women Artists in 2002, and an article published by tcg in February of 2008 about The Women’s Project and the reasons around its existence. Both articles include the aforementioned decidedly small percentage:  According to TCG, in the 2000-2001 season of the 1900 member theatres, 23% of shows were directed by women and 20% had “women on the writing team.”  These numbers actually decrease in the following season (2001-2002) down to 16% and 17% respectively.

Furthermore, I pointed out that as an attendee at this Year’s Elliott Norton Awards in Boston, I was pleased to note that the percentage of women nominees for fringe/small companies was high (sometimes 100%) but as soon as the budgets went up, their representation declined proportionally.  And I believe I can say this is simply because fewer women are hired at theatres with larger budgets.  You can go here for the results of this year’s awards.

This trend was reiterated just this weekend at the Tony’s and deftly summarized by blogger Laura Collins in her recent post, Where the Boys Are: At the Podium.

Whatever the reasons (and I’m sure a few good feminists can point you the way if you’re not entirely sure on your own) there is a definite lack of female representation among directors, writers and designers.  I know they’re out there, so it’s not for lack of trying; it’s simply for lack of hiring.