The Buck Does Not Stop Here!

During my first year in my doctoral program, I was given a graduate assistantship (along with an MFA student)  that involved helping to plan a multicultural youth arts festival on the campus of the university. The assistantship was split between the theatre department and the presenting organization that booked events for the performing arts center on campus.

This Multi-cultural Youth Arts Festival brought 10 different performers/groups–ranging from traditional dance troupes to a professional theatre company–to perform simultaneously at different venues on the campus to elementary school students from all over the county that were bussed in for the event. The festival lasted 3 days, and most of the performances were done to full houses.

That’s a lot of children.

My job included: reaching out to the schools; writing and editing an educational packet that included all of the artists; scheduling which schools would see which performances on which days (each school saw two shows in one  day); and coordinating the student volunteers who would help run the event, among other things.  I was working under the supervision of a young arts administrator named April, who decided that she would give me any of the tasks that she wasn’t interested in doing. That meant I did a lot of tasks.

The weeks  leading up to the festival found me running around to deal with all of the last-minute details an event like this requires. Because there was so much to be done, I went way beyond the hours I was  supposed to work to fulfill this graduate assistantship (and I was scheduled for more hours than the MFA student), while simultaneously juggling my own course work.

Andrea, another one of the administrator’s who worked there noticed how much time I was putting in and asked what April was doing while I did all this extra work.

“Supervising . . . I guess,” would have been my response, although perhaps not those exact words.

During this time April also came to me in a panic about needing finish the layout/editing for another program that went on a few weeks before the festival. I agreed to help, but I asked for extra pay. I got it.

On the day before the festival began, when I was pulling the second or third 10 hour day, running around in the Arizona heat and sunshine to hang signs all around campus to guide people to the different venues . . . April disappeared. She went home. Her work was done as far as she was concerned. I broke down and cried, and went to Andrea (who had stayed to help) and asked for help.

Andrea called her up and made her come back.

In the end the event was a wonderful success. However, that was the final year of the festival, as the presenting organization pulled out for financial reasons or something like that.

The school’s loss.

I was proud of what I accomplished, and very exhausted. I thought I had learned through that experience that sometimes you have to say no, sometimes you can’t please everyone, and sometimes you just have to ask for help and say this is too much.

I thought I’d learned the lesson, but perhaps I was wrong.

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about that situation in recent days, as I face another work challenge brought on my an administrator who wants the world but doesn’t seem to understand the details of what it takes to achieve her goals. It’s not the same, in that I am supposedly the Creative Director of this program that I’m working on, and I’m not a graduate student. However, the administrator who  hired me and I have vastly different communication styles and visions for what this program should look like.

I  have tried and am trying to make the program fit her vision without completely compromising what I believe is right.  For her the product is the most important, for me it’s the process. I believe that a good process will create a good product. However, nothing will get me to the product she seems to be envisioning, with full lights, sounds, set, costumes, etc.

It’s impossible.

Now, I find, that whenever something goes astray in the program, the administrator puts it all on my shoulders. Even the things that I’ve done to try to accommodate HER vision, despite my own concerns that they weren’t the best solution.

Perhaps my title to this post is incorrect. Perhaps the buck does stop here, because I have tried to be accommodating when I knew it was wrong. Perhaps I need to learn to say NO! with more confidence, and to believe that my assessment is just as valuable as hers.

But she’s the one who gave birth to the idea and wrote the grant. I’m the one whose supposed to make it happen.

I don’t know if I can do that.

I don’t want to let the kids down, but I feel like I’m on a sinking ship . . . and I’m the captain.

 

Celebrating Fears Faced

When I was in high school, I was accepted as a Rotary exchange student and was invited to go to Belgium for the year. I let the fears of others rule my decision and I stayed home.

That is one of my biggest regrets in life.

As I matured, I began to realize that letting fear stop you from taking chances means giving up on a lot of dreams and on living. I tried, when faced with fear, to push through it and face the fears. I wasn’t always successful, but I grew stronger and more courageous with each attempt, or so I thought.

Yet, something shifted again after I became a mother. Suddenly fear has control over me again, and more often than not I give into those fears. Fear of trying to publish. Fear of making friends. Fear of taking chances. I think this new hold FEAR has on me has something to do with the fact that my life is not my own–my decisions affect Nathan and Sarah. I can’t just pick up, take off, and take chances.

Yet, as I approach this birthday (Eek! The actual day is tomorrow) I find myself yearning to become the person who does not let fear stop her anymore. After I graduated from college and was on the job hung (following a one year internship at a theatre) I had two interesting options on the table:

  1. The more practical option of working for a Canada based Arts Administration Organization that sent people throughout North America to help arts organizations with reorganization and planning. This would have probably led to a solid career in Arts Administration and or Arts Advocacy (one thing I would still love to do ) and–more often than not in recent years ;)–I’ve thought being Canadian wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
  2. A job teaching at an English conversation school in Okayama, Japan.

If you’ve read my blog for any amount of time (or even just the first of the celebratory posts), you know where I ended up.

In Japan in my early 20s.

Yet, the decision to go to Japan was not an easy one. It was a fear-filled one. It took some words of wisdom from one of the actors at the theatre company I was working out to help me make a choice. He said,

“There are no wrong decisions. There are choices that can go badly, but they always lead to the next decision.”

I tried to make those the guiding words of my life. This doesn’t mean we never make mistakes, but if we face those mistakes head on–despite our fears–we will make it through to new opportunities, new decisions, and new moments to face our fears.

So today I celebrate the moments in my life when I faced my fears and moved through them. Among those moments, I celebrate the day I got on a plane, headed for a country I’d never been to a job I never thought of, and cried my way from Boston to California before sitting in sleepless fear from California to Japan.

I hope someday to be that courageous again.

Celebrating 45

A few posts back I wrote about how I have no intention of fading away as I move into the future. Yet, I’m the first to admit that I am the hardest on myself–unable to see my own successes when I’m not quite where or who I thought I’d be. However, my journey into memory through pictures made me decide that I should celebrate the interesting life I have lived. I should acknowledge the things I have done, that make me unique. I should, basically, celebrate myself. Please bear with me as I toot my own horn, because sometimes doing things like this is necessary.

I plan to make a list of 45 (wonderful) things that make me who I am, in no particular order, with details provided if explanation helps. However, I will spread it across several posts because A) I don’t want to bore you and B) It’s really, really difficult for me to do this.

Here I go:

  1.  I was born backwards (breach) which says a lot for who I am now. 😉 In some ways, being breach saved me from a car birth. My Dad used to say that he dropped Mom off (after getting stopped by a policeman as he sped to the hospital) and went to park the car. When he got back, someone congratulated him on the birth of his daughter. A woman, waiting for her daughter to give birth, turned to him and said “How did you do that?” Way to make an entrance.

    Cheeks.

    Cheeks.

  2. I started reading when I was very young (like 3 or 4 or something). Mom says it was in competition with my older brother Steve (who you might know from his many blogs, such as this wonderful post about helping others). I’d like to think my love for words simply insisted on making an early appearance. I vaguely recall people handing me newspapers and asking me to read out loud. I didn’t necessarily understand the words, but I could read them. Sounding out words, and finding meaning in those sounds, or finding interesting ways of putting those sounds together, has become the passion of my life.
  3. That leads to my love of learning languages. All languages. While I’ve lost my fluency in most (including English sometimes) in my life I have studied (and in some cases spoken to some degree): Hebrew, French, Spanish, Japanese, Russian (for a very short time when I was supposed to go on a trip), Slovak (again in preparation for a trip) and a few words in Chinese.  I believe that, if you want to travel, the best way to learn about people is to learn their language. It is the height of ego to expect others to learn English, and make no effort to communicate with the words that represent the culture.
  4. I have visited 8 countries. Now, that’s not a lot, for a girl who dreamed of seeing the world. My list of countries that I still want to go to is large. However, when I travel, I rarely do it just as a tourist. I try to see the country beyond the tourist image. I lived and worked in Japan for three years, and hope someday to be able to live and work somewhere else, even for a short time. My travels have not ended, I just have to find new ways and means to go. Even though I haven’t been to many of the places I’d love to go, I have friends from countries all over the world, many of whom I have actually met in person.

    Red: Where I've lived (although HI has disappeared)Blue: Where I've been
Green: Where I want to go

    Red: Where I’ve lived (although HI has disappeared)
    Blue: Where I’ve been
    Green: Where I want to go

  5. I’ve lived in 9 states and visited 44. I would like to get to all 50, and there are a few I might want to live in.
  6. I have earned three degrees: a BA from Smith College with a double major in English Language & Literature and Theatre; an MFA from the University of Hawaii, Manoa in Theatre (Directing); and a Ph.D from Arizona State University in Theatre (Theatre for Youth)
  7. I have directed 25+ plays at all levels (from beginning actors to professional).While this is one of the areas where I feel like I somehow have failed, I always wanted to direct, and at least I can say I have directed some truly wonderful and challenging pieces.

    The opening scene of CLOUD 9, another play I loved directing, especially because it pushed buttons and promoted discussion.

    The opening scene of CLOUD 9, another play I loved directing, especially because it pushed buttons and promoted discussion.

  8. I have taught hundreds if not thousands of students in subjects ranging from English conversation to writing, from Introduction to Theatre to Special Studies in Drama. I’ve taught at colleges, universities, language schools, after school programs and special programs for adults. I’ve lost track of the types of courses I’ve taught, but they include classes in theatre, writing, honors, and education.
  9. I saved two wonderful dogs from the humane society and they have enriched my life immensely. Even with the begging, the poop, and the constant dog hair.Lizzy & Jasper, 1-1
  10. I found a wonderful partner in life, Nathan, who for whatever reason puts up with my craziness and stands by me even when I don’t want to stand by myself.
  11. We gave birth to an amazing, talented, and beautiful daughter, who surprises me every day.

I think that’s my list for today, as now I’m entering the part where I think “I did this but .  . ” You know, where I start undervaluing everything I’ve ever done.

This isn’t easy, that’s for sure.

Do you ever have a difficult time celebrating yourself and your accomplishments?

I am Not Your Mother

Dear Students,

I am an under-payed adjunct faculty person teaching introductory courses in theatre, courses that you take to fulfill your arts requirement.

Although I am not a full-time faculty person, I am still an experienced and well-trained professional. I hold an MFA in directing and have directed numerous successful and well-received shows. I also hold a Ph.D in theatre with a specialty in Theatre for Youth, which means I’ve read, researched and written on a wide range of subjects. In addition to teaching Introductory courses, I’ve taught advanced level courses in Non-Western Theatre, Theatre for Young Audiences, Feminist Theatre, Studies in Drama, Theatre for Social Change, Puppetry, and Theatre History among others. I’ve also, which is unusual for many professors who specialize in one field, taught Intro and advanced level courses in Writing, Research Writing, Honors and Education. In other words, I am a well-rounded, experienced teacher.

The Day I received my doctorate.

The Day I received my doctorate.

My job, as I see it, is to:

  • create a course that lasts the entire semester
  • develop a syllabus that outlines this course (I spend hours on this, and try my best to stick to it).
  • prepare for lectures and or course presentations for each class, as necessary
  • create interesting assignments that reinforce or support the learning goals of the course, and explain my expectations for those assignments
  • grade assignments in a timely fashion
  • answer your questions or meet with you when you have problems
  • keep tabs of your attendance and participation
  • lead class discussions
  • answer your e-mails
  • turn in grade reports and other official documents required by the school, in a timely fashion

In addition, as a concerned teacher in an arts discipline who likes to challenge her students and explore new ways of teaching, I try to:

  • create interesting assignments that ask my students to think creatively
  • create assignments that allow for students to use their strengths. While I believe it is important to have written assignments, I try to provide assignments that will allow people to use presentation or art skills as well.
  • since this is a theatre class, provide opportunities to make presentations, act, and/or try some of the other skills required in the world of theatre.
  • avoid doing things like testing memorized facts, but rather ask my students to think about how what they are learning in my class might relate to their lives or the real world.

Nowhere in those lists does it say that I am supposed to be your Mother.

As one of the assignments for this class, I asked you to attend a performance of a production put on by your peers at the college, and write a review of this. I selected this production because it was less expensive than attending professional theatre, especially with your student discount, and it was on campus, so you shouldn’t have had any difficulty finding it or finding parking. I told you about this assignment on THE FIRST DAY of class, and reminded you as it approached.

“Where is it?”

“How much does it cost?”

“Where do I find tickets?”

“When is it?”

These questions dominated the classroom for several weeks. I did my best to answer them, repeatedly.

Then, this past weekend, mother nature threatened us with another storm that (upon initial reports) could have been of epic proportions. It fizzled out to be a cold, slimy, mixture of rain and snow that didn’t do much except create an incredible wonderland this morning.

DSCN1859

However, to be cautious, since I thought the shows might be cancelled, I came up with two alternative options of other shows that would happen on campus later this semester. I sent that information out to you. Some of you, it seems, have chosen to pursue those options instead, and I can’t penalize you for that. But, that’s not what this letter is about.

It’s about the fact that I am not your Mother.

After I sent the e-mail with the options I got numerous e-mails asking things like:

“How do I know if the show is cancelled?”

You all walk around with these fancy pieces of technology that have the power of accessing the internet to look things up, and–even more amazing– can enable you to talk to other people and find out information. If you wished, you could pick up these amazing pieces of technology to either look on the school website to see if anything has been cancelled, or call the box office for news. This is how I would find out myself, so why must I do it for you?

Because you want me to be your Mother.

Dear, dear students. You are adults, or on the verge of being adults. It is your decision if you want to come to class and be there on time, although class participation does affect your grade. It is your decision whether or not you do the reading, although I often do check-ins on the reading which is part of your grade. It is your decision whether or not you want to do the research and preparation required for your group projects. I am willing to help you with suggestions, but I cannot do it for you. On the creative projects, where I ask you to make design choices and present things to the class, I specifically created them to allow for all types of presentations. I have given you the guidelines, but I refuse to give you line by line instructions. If you are not willing to break out of your comfort zone, and want me to spoon feed you all the information and details as to how to approach a project, then you are in the wrong class.

I am not responsible for your inability to organize your schedule around my class. I don’t ask for much, just that you come to class. I know that this assignment was outside of class hours, but I gave you plenty of notice (approximately 6 weeks) so there should be no reason you can’t arrange your work/play/ or whatever schedule around seeing one show.

When you miss class, I am not responsible for making sure you know what you’ve missed. I’m not responsible for sending you the handouts and making sure you know what assignment is coming up. I’m happy to send that material to you, or make it available on-line (where you can find most of it already), if you contact me about your absence, but you must initiate the contact. If you have been absent for a long time (because of illness or something else major), and expect to turn in all of your assignments, it would help if you contact me before you’ve missed the classes, not after you got back.

I’m not an ogre. I’ll work with you and help if you have situations, but I’m not your Mother. I’m not going to just allow you to do things on your own time because I feel sorry for you. You need to show some initiative, take responsibility, and acknowledge that my time is as valuable as yours. I am not at your beck and call 24 hours a day. I am not responsible for taking care of your issues the moment you have them. While I check my e-mail often, I don’t have a phone that notifies me every time someone wants to send me something. Nor do I want one. I actually have a life outside of this job, and I try to keep that time separate from the time I work.

Even though work often bleeds over and my paycheck gets smaller and smaller.

I am indeed a Mother. Yet, I try to teach my daughter some responsibility and initiative. This past weekend, we went on a family outing to a winter festival at the nearby botanical gardens. “Bring your snow gear,” I said to my daughter. “We will be outside.”

She brought them, and then left them in the car. “I didn’t think I needed to carry them,” she said.

“I don’t tell you to bring things just because I want to tell you to do something,” I said. “You can go back to the car and get them, or you can do without.”

She did without. Should I feel bad? No. She made her choice, and she suffered the cold-handed consequences. She still got to pet an alpaca, however, which I think is pretty cool.

DSCN1848

I humbly request that you recognize that there is a difference between an Instructor and a Mother, and act accordingly.  Actually, I hope that you show more respect to your mother than you currently do to me.

Sincerely,

Dr. Kramer

True Confessions of a Fearful Artist

Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum.

I sit in a coffee shop feeling my heart beat as I try to find a sense of calm. In a little over an hour I will be at an interview for a directing job. Just a small college show, but my fears overwhelm me and I feel panic building.

What am I afraid of?

Once upon a time I believed I would be a famous director.  I thought I had the talent and vision to create powerful and meaningful theatrical experiences for even novice theatre-goers. Or, at least that’s what I tricked myself into thinking.

The truth is that my doubts ate away at me. That little inner critic took control and won. I didn’t have the courage to pursue my dream fully and I let the nay-sayers and the cruel manipulators who wanted to keep themselves on top push me down. I lost faith in my ability. I lost faith in my talent and knowledge. I lost faith in myself.

I still got directing jobs, though.  Usually through somebody else’s recommendation. Actually, that’s how I get most of my jobs of any type, through a connection or a recommendation–rarely through an actual interview?

What does that say about me?

Since moving back to Massachusetts, I’ve seen plenty of directing jobs, although most of them were near Boston. I used the hour drive (without traffic) as an excuse not to apply. You know . . . rehearsals would start around 6 or so which means I would have to leave by 4:30 at the latest to be sure I’d get there and wouldn’t have any time to see Sarah, etc. etc. etc.

But really what held me back from applying was fear.

Then this job came up, and the excuse didn’t stand. This University is 15 minutes from my house, without traffic. The play is quirky and interesting, written by a woman and with strong female characters. It relies heavily on movement, music, and, I believe light. In other words, all the things I love.

No excuses. I had to apply. I didn’t even let myself stop and think. I sent in my resume as soon as I saw the ad, even before I’d read the play. If I had procrastinated, the inner critic would have found another excuse for me to run away and hide in fear.

Which brings me to this moment of nervous tension building.

But here’s the interesting thing, since I started writing this post, suddenly my fears are beginning to calm. It’s as if words are my meditation. By allowing myself to blog, to share my words in a public sphere, I have slowly learned to be brave about all my artistic endeavors. The inner critic doesn’t have as much control anymore.

I can, and will, go into this interview knowing that they want me to succeed. They want to find the director who will be the best match for this project.  I believe that could be me, but if for some reason they disagree that isn’t a reflection of myself or my talent.

Sometimes what it really comes down to is personalities.

I no longer have the dream of becoming a famous director. I have other dreams trying to make themselves knows–writing and publishing novels; developing theatre for social change projects; becoming a successful arts advocate in some way; and other dreams that I have yet to put into words. Directing is a part of my life that I’m not willing to give up completely, but it is not the guiding light to my creative soul. Still, I think I need to confront this fear in order to continue to grow into the person I want to be.

Wish me luck.

What are you afraid of as an artist? What do you do to confront those fears?

 

 

 

 

Fringe Fun and Other Adventures

 

Just a quick update to explain my current absence.

I am visiting a dear friend in Minneapolis/St. Paul right now, and attending the Minnesota Fringe Festival. It’s fabulously fun and truly exhausting. I don’t have the time (or my own computer) to write quality posts about this adventure at the moment, but I promise to do that upon my return. Some of my adventures include reunions with two former students who have become friends, as well as seeing interesting and provocative theatre.

Or maybe I’ll find a way.

Because, my friends, while my Fringing will only last until Tuesday, my adventure will continue. From here I head to Lexington, KY where I am attending the American Alliance for Theatre Education conference. But, despite the alleged purpose of this trip, these other things will happen:

  • Meeting up with my dear, long term friend, Lisa and her family.
  • Staying with the fabulous Kathy of Event Horizon fame and her equally fabulous partner Sara
  • Meeting, for the first time, the incredibly talented and fantastic Tori of bloggy wedding fame as well as her adorable son, Thomas
  • Possibly having a very blogging lunch with other bloggers in the vicinity of Lexington, KY
  • Possibly vlogging about this bloggy chaos (Kathy’s idea, we shall see)
  • Meeting up with at least one former student.
  • Reconnecting with colleagues and friends at the conference. I suppose I should attend one or two sessions, shouldn’t I?

Please forgive my absence or delayed response to comments and such. I hope you have a tantalizing taste of what I will be writing about next week (after all these adventures, as we drive across country back to Massachusetts.

 

I Miss Making Magic

I found myself sitting in the theater earlier, watching the bustle on stage–the carpenters added some finishing touches, the electricians fixed lights and added practicals, the props person decorated the set–and I found tears building behind my eyes and sneaking a trail down my cheeks.

A scene from GETTING OUT, a play I directed years ago when the magic was strong.

I miss making the magic of theatre. I have always loved tech. I love watching the disparate elements of a show, with all the work behind them, coming together to make the magical whole that the audience sees. But lately, between politics and lack of support the competition and the frustration, I’ve lost some of that joy. I miss working on a challenging project and creating a supportive company of cast and technicians who all feel the joy and the love of the work.

The opening scene of CLOUD 9, another play I loved directing, especially because it pushed buttons and promoted discussion.

I am surrounded by people doing that right now, but I am disconnected and so the sadness builds.

I yearn for a project that I truly believe in, and for the feeling of creating something that has meaning and touches audience and participants in some way.

Not a performance, but a powerful moment of theatre and connection, with me leading activities with the Roma.

As confused as I have been lately, my tears today have shown me that I am not yet done with theatre, I just have to find a new way to make it my home.

Seeking the Write Space

I am in search of the impossible.

I need to find a place where I can create, imagine, write, dream and be that isn’t cluttered with distractions.

“Why is that impossible?” you ask. Because the place I seek is not a physical space. Yes, sometimes it is difficult to get quality quiet time with the distractions of dogs, child, responsibilities and internet, but that isn’t my real problem.

The problem is the clutter I carry in my mind. I need to find that hidden place of quiet which allows me to achieve all my goals. I cannot seem to quiet the cacophony or silence the inner critic enough to just create.

I’m not blocked exactly. I have ideas bouncing around in my head. Last week I finished the first chapter of my book, and while I impatiently await feedback from my editor/instructor my head is moving quickly through the possible twists and turns of the story. Ideas and images pop into my brain at random points and moments.

But, when I sit down to put words onto a page, I do everything but. I think. I scribble. I surf the net for images (to be fair that’s part of the next assignment). I check e-mail. I go on Facebook. I read. But I do not write.

Even this blog post seems recycled. Didn’t I just write this? Looking back on my past few posts I realize I have written about the inner critic and the search for my writer’s voice. I’ve written about the cacophony of ideas in my head as well as the intimidating silence that comes from an inability to write.

But, while in some ways I am repeating myself, in another way I am at a different point in my journey. I am struggling with giving myself permission to write. I am struggling, while surrounded by people pouring their hearts and souls into weekly theatrical productions, to say “it is okay for you to be moving on in your creative life, it is okay for you to want to achieve new goals, it is okay to let go of theatre.”

Sometimes it is hard to let go.

I spent the last two days being creative in a different way, as I pulled props together for an upcoming production of Hansel and Gretel  as part of the Children’s Theatre season at this summer stock theatre. I pulled most of them, but had to make a gingerbread girl and carve out a fake roast. My hands, as I type this, reflect multi-colored paint stains from various spray paints. I enjoyed the simplicity of finishing my task (minus some chicken bones which I will gain sometimes this weekend) and then being able to walk away, without the responsibility of directing. There is joy about not being in charge, but I wonder if that is a joy that I have convinced myself to feel as I finally have had to accept that I am tired of fighting for opportunities to direct. Have I just given up?

Sometimes I feel like I have given up because theatre has become too hard, or as an excuse to not keep striving to achieve my theatrical goals.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve already achieved those goals, so I am naturally seeking the next creative project, the next part of the dream.

Have I simply  moved on?

Right now I sit across from Sarah in a shop called Hey, Good Cookie!  I had every intention of working on Chapter 2, and managed to convince Sarah to bring something to read and/or do so that I could focus on writing.

Sarah is living up to her end of the bargain, but I am not. Of course, I am sitting here writing this, and that counts, but I can’t seem to buckle down and work on the fiction that calls to me. Earlier today, when I was at a different location alone, I had an internal discussion about how I should not spend money to write in coffee shops because I am not making any money in my writing. Why can’t creation be valuable just in the act of doing it? Why do I continue to devalue my own work simply because I do not get a paycheck?  Everything I do–whether it is directing, teaching, writing, making props, volunteering, parenting, or mentoring–requires time, commitment, and hard work. So why am I so hard on myself about that time?

Prairie Chick is one of my favorite places to write, but its magic was lost on me today.

When and how can I give myself the space and permission to write?

A Weekend of Powerful Arts

I was only there for about 41 hours.

In New York City, 41 hours can be packed with adventure, learning, fun, emotions, and everything in between.  In the next few posts I will share some of the craziness and fabulousity (I like creating words) of this adventure. Of course, I must begin with one of my main reasons for this trip at this particular time. If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know that one of the issues I am most passionate about is

The Power and Importance of the Arts!!!!

This short venture into the Big Apple, while also an excuse for fun with friends, was really based on this premise. Three separate experiences validated and reinforced this for me in interesting ways.

Part I

Je Laisse L’Amour Entrer:
Even Zombies Need Art

On Friday night I saw this devised theatre piece performed by undergraduate students from the Playwrights Horizons Theater School at NYU, Tisch School of the Arts.

Devised theatre, as defined by the (ahem) always trustworthy source of Wikipedia, is:

Devised theatre (also called collaborative creation, particularly in the United States [1]) is a form of theatre where the script originates not from a writer or writers, but from collaborative, usually improvisatory, work by a group of people (usually, but not necessarily, the performers).”

I have a love/hate relationship with devised theatre. I love working on it, and when it is good it is really really good. Sometimes I find it so esoteric and confusing that I don’t enjoy it. This wasn’t one of those times.

The program explains that Je Laisse L’Amour Entrer (I Let Love in) was “Based on the Ballet La Sylphide & The Music of Nick Cave and Rob Zombie.” The text also includes William Shakespeare, Anton Chekhov, Helen Fisther, Robert Sternberg, and Wikipedia. In other words it was a mash-up of classic complicated ballet love story with hard and classical rock, with classic texts, all mixed in with a little zombie horror. Complicated, right?

In reality, it was a blast.

At first I wasn’t sure. My biggest complaint about this production was that they painted the entire theatre yellow (which is always a complex color on the stage) then dressed the ensemble cast in costumes that matched the yellow, and lit it with yellow light. This meant that sometimes the performers bodies disappeared in a performance that relied heavily on movement and the incredible physicality of the performers. However, eventually I was able to let that go for the pure fun of the evening, especially after the zombie lover crashed out of a cardboard box that had been sitting on the stage since before the audience entered the theatre. The production celebrated love, questioned purpose, pointed out hypocrisy, and glorified the pure joy of living life with love and passion (even when you fall in love with a zombie).

"Our Zombie in Her Tu-Tu, Photo Courtesy of Joanna Li " borrowed from a blog post by Southerner in the City. http://southernerinthecity.blogspot.com/2012/03/je-laisse-lamour-entrer.html

What really blew me away about this production was the quality of performances by these students and the commitment of each performer to create a highly energized and engaging show.  There wasn’t a weak link in the entire ensemble. It was fun, terrifying, full of surprises and a delight to watch.

Part II

Art and Culture in Public Service:
The Important Truths

The main reason for this trip was to be a guest lecturer in my friend Christen’s class at Rutgers called Art and Culture in Public Service. Christen wanted me to share how theatre in education can be used to do more than simply create the next generation of struggling theatre artists, but teach about other aspects of life and of what it means to live in our society. The class is 3 hours long on a Saturday, and Christen asked me to prepare about an hours worth of presentation. Before that, I sat in and listened to the class discussion about arts and politics, as well as two presentations–one about the KONY video (which was a wrap up of a presentation from last week) and one about Arts in Education. As I observed, I realized a few things:

  • Christen is an AMAZING teacher
  • This group of students was eloquent, passionate, and committed to making the world a better place
  • I miss teaching classes which make real world connections between theory, history, and life to more mature students
  • Art truly is the most valuable tool to make a difference
  • There was no way I would have time to do the full lesson I had planned because this group of students loved to discuss, debate, and question

When it came to my turn, with less than an hour to go, I had to scrap everything but I was okay with that. I decided to share with them some activities that would allow them to explore their discussion in a theatrical way, because that is really what theatre in education is all about. It is about using arts as a tool to further discussion. I pointed out to them how theatre really combines all art forms, so it is perhaps the most powerful tool that can be used in this way. I borrowed from Augusto Boal and had them sculpt each other into images that represented certain words and issues. Some hesitated at first but then they got into the freedom and creativity with powerful results.  Here are some images we explored:

Justice

Racism

Pretty self explanatory image of racism.

Anger

Women's Rights or the War on Women

Need I say more about why this experience was so valuable?

Part III

The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler:
Theatre as Art, Community and Message

To put it simply, this was the best theatrical experience I have had in a long time. Every element, the location, the performances, the script, the audience, the meal served at intermission . . . everything created a magical moment that truly resonated the value of the arts to our society.

The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler was written by Jeff Whitty who also wrote the musical scripts for Avenue Q  which won a Tony Award. For this production at Exit, Pursued by A Bear (EPBB), Whitty also peformed the role of Hedda Gabler with exquisite grace and beauty. It was truly amazing to watch. This talented professional cast also included Billy Porter, whose bio is almost a full page in the program,  in the role of Mammy. Both of these men played these female roles with poignancy and humor and true empathy. Each member of the ensemble just added to power of this performance.

I find it difficult to explain this in my own words, so I will quote from the Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, the Artistic Director of EPBB and the director of this production:

“There is no adventure more unusual, nor story more extraordinarily human, than the birth of Hedda Gabler as she journeys from literary fiction to independent self-awareness. Tonight, you’ll have the further pleasure of watching the playwright portray his own protagonist, and you’ll experience the author and his character mounting a passionate, thrilling and moving defence of the theatre.
Jeff treats his characters–and his colleagues–with profound empathy and sincere affection. It is a fundamentally nurturing instinct that remind me of why I fell in love with the theatre–as a craft, and as a lifestyle. We are drawn to the theatre because we know we’ll meet like-minded misfits there, those others who are terrorized by isolation, face the same nameless terrors and sleepless nights and take comfort in sharing the experiences that make us who we are. The familiar (and unfamiliar) characters in Jeff’s play are slivers of the human imagination dating back to the Greeks: they are evidence of where we’ve been and the foundations for where we’ll go.”

What you need to really understand why this was such a profound and powerful evening of theatre for me, is that it is not your typical production. EPBB presents their plays in the home, yes the loft apartment, of Artistic Director Iskandar. The plays are free (although they ask for donations), and they provide a delicious vegetarian meal for every audience member during intermission. When you enter, the cast is mingling with the audience and welcoming you with a glass of wine or other beverage. (Audience members are asked to bring drinks or desserts).  During intermission, these same incredible talents, who have just wowed you on the stage help serve the meal and mingle more with the audience. After the play, they help serve dessert and the audience is welcome to stay and enjoy this party for as long as they like. Conversations and laughter abound, and the line between audience and performer blurs in a delightful way.

In some ways it is a return to the roots of theatre, to the storytelling and sharing around the fire, to celebrations of community and the lessons every member of that community has to teach. This show comes down to the basic purpose of theatre, to share story and encourage empathy and understanding.

Unfortunately for those of you in New York, the show closed last night. But, if anyone is ever in New York City and finds out a production is being put on at Exit, Pursued By a Bear put it at the top of your list.

You won’t regret it!!!

 

 

Leaping into Possibility

Yesterday I was presented with an opportunity.


This is not an employment opportunity, as a matter of fact it is an expensive opportunity.

But it is an important opportunity nonetheless.

op·por·tu·ni·ty http://sp.dictionary.com/dictstatic/d/g/speaker.swf [op-er-too-ni-tee, -tyoo-] noun, plural -ties.

1.an appropriate or favorable time or occasion.
2. a situation or condition favorable for attainment of a goal.
3. a good position, chance, or prospect, as for advancement or success. (dictionary.com)

Rambling Thoughts

When I first saw this adventure posted on my Facebook page, my thoughts went like this:
“Wow! I want to do that! I should post it in case any of my friends are interested. Hmm, I’d really like to do that, but I don’t have a job so how can I justify it? But, I’ve given up opportunities before . . . so maybe its time I take a chance. No, I can’t do it.”
Soon after this little internal discussion, I got a personal message from the artistic director asking me to join them on this adventure. See, a few years ago I had been invited by Dramatic Adventure Theatre to participate in their program called ActionEcuador, where they spend time in several areas of Ecuador serving the community, teaching theater and exploring how the arts can help with social change. All things that  I am truly passionate about. They then spend a week creating theater pieces to be performed in New York later in the summer. Nathan and I were all set to do this wonderful program, bringing Sarah with us, when the world came crashing down around us and our futures became unsure. Needless to say, we had to let the opportunity pass.
That wasn’t the first international theater opportunity that I had to turn down because of changing circumstances and financial issues. A few years earlier, just before we moved to Colorado, I had been scheduled to participate in a mid-summer program for 10 days in Russia learning about theater and arts education in schools. That fell through when we had to move that summer.
My most recent lost opportunity involved an application to create theater in Pakistan, but I’m sure you can guess why that one fell through.
This time, however, my war with myself took on new meaning. True, financially it isn’t the best time for me to take this adventure, since I am underemployed and we are living in an expensive state. But, in term of where I am in my life, and my pursuit of reinventing myself and trying to create the career of my dreams, this is the perfect time. In terms of when the trip happens, its the perfect time, as I don’t begin teaching the one class I have until January 17th and my brother is available to help Nathan with parenting duties.
So what was stopping me? Two things.

Guilt and Fear!!!!

The issue of guilt: How could I possibly justify the expense when I am not bringing in very much in terms of income, and it means some of the things we planned as a family will have to be postponed?  But in reality, as soon as I mentioned the possibility to Nathan, his response was:

“I really want you to do this, so let us sit down and figure out the finances and what needs to be done to make it happen.”

And when I talked to Sarah about it her response was “I’ll be sad” until I explained it was only for a couple of weeks when she changed it to “You should go.”
So really, guilt was just an excuse. The more terrifying thing holding me back was, indeed, my perpetual stumbling block
But what exactly am I afraid of? Because when I think clearly, there’s nothing to fear:
  • I love the people who run this program, and although we’ve only spent a short time together in person I feel like we were meant to meet. In fact, I could easily have included both Jesse and Mary K in my post celebrating fabulous friends.
  • I’m not afraid of travel, and I love to see new cultures. Well, I get nervous travelling, especially flying, but ultimately once I’m there all is good.
  • The trip is pretty much planned for me, all I have to figure out is my flight there and back (and any extra visits to other places, which I probably won’t do anyway because of finances.)
So, what exactly am I afraid of?
The answer came out in my Morning Pages this morning, as I tried to work through my thoughts and emotions surrounding this possibility. Although Morning Pages are meant to be private, I shared them with Nathan and I now share a portion with you, so that you understand what’s going on in my head:
“I’m afraid of opportunity, because I’m afraid that I will waste the opportunity. If I don’t try, I can’t fail. But then again, isn’t not trying simply another type of failure? . . . this trip gives me the chance to see theatre in action, which is the type of theatre that I value. It is about the power of the arts to change lives. If I don’t do it, if I can’t make it happen, then I’m still all talk and no action. So going is the right thing to do. Or am I making excuses to do what I want? Am I being selfish? . . . Where should I look for guidance? My instincts are all out of whack, or at least I’ve lost the ability to trust my own instincts anymore. I don’t know how to follow my gut.  “
Before I completed the morning pages, I read them to Nathan and asked what he thought I should do. Here was my response to his answer:
“Tears just poured down my face as he encouraged me to just go for it. Just do it. Live in the now and not worry about whether or not I achieve anything big or important. So I guess the answer is before me. Sarah even says I should do it.  Looks like I’m heading to Slovakia. I wonder what happens next.”
After that outpouring on the page, I got up and filled out the application. Then, of course, the doubts started creeping in again. But, in a miraculous way, signs from this wonderful blogging community keep cropping up to reinforce that I’m doing the right thing:
  • First I saw this lovely post called “What I Missed Today” on Gifts of the Journey, which shares what can happen if you don’t take the opportunities the world provides.
  • Next, I saw this post by a blogger that I’ve only recently become acquainted with, who is pursuing her graduate degree in theater and is going to be facilitating a workshop using Theater of the Oppressed techniques in Occupy Boston. A simple reminder of the power of theater to help create a better world.
  • And, just a few moments ago, this post celebrating the life of Dorothy Heathcote, reminded me of why I pursued a PhD in theater for youth in the first place. My dream was to create theater that explored cultural difference and promoted cultural understanding; a dream of mine that has been buried if not forgotten.

So friends, it looks like 2011 will end with me stepping onto a plane toward possibility, and 2012 will begin with a creative journey into unknown destinations. Look for me to blog about it.

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