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Cino’s Ring

(Why am I naming days?)

7/21/14, Day, 13, 957: Cino’s Ring

This day is so named for the 2014 New York Innovative Theatre Awards, which I blogged about for Flux over here. Most of my thoughts on the night are there, but on a more personal note, I’ve been noticing a growing divide between my attitude towards awards and reviews as a producer versus as an artist. As a producer, I love their capacity to shine a light on good work; but as an artist…

In the past, I tried to deal with the pain of bad reviews by directly engaging with them, responding to both good and bad over on the Flux blog. While some folks responded positively to those actions, it took way too much out of me as an artist to be sustainable. I internalized the bad reviews far more deeply because they confirmed my worst suspicions: that I’m no good at any of this, and that I’m wasting people’s time. While I recognize those feelings as childish and selfish, that recognition doesn’t dull the pain, and the pain had grown over time to such a degree that it had become difficult for me to enjoy any process (which is crazy, because what’s more fun than making theatre?)

I’ve written here about the ways in which I’ve pulled myself out of that, but as with all progress, it’s easy to slip back, and award ceremonies are treacherously slippery. So while as a producer, I celebrate awards and reviews; as an artist, I see them as a drug that leads me to value things that don’t actually make me happy. It helps to know I’m not alone in this odd dance that artists (and especially artist/producers) do.

Technique never stands still: it only advances or retreats…

Writing: 109 out of 126 days (Faust)
Spanish: 97 out of 126 days
Music: 12 out of 31 days

I am not counting the days that I was on vacation, though I did write during that time period.

What small things did I do yesterday to help build the Honeycomb?
(And what does it mean to “Help build the honeycomb?”)

  • Asked the Obama administration to resolve the water crisis in Detroit;
  • Signed a petition for companies to pull out from activities that contribute to the oppression of the Palestinian people;
  • Cooked local/CSA/organic vegetarian food and added no direct waste;
  • As the trial or her killer begins, I shared this image in support for justice for Renisha McBride.
  • For TCG, participated in a great discussion about next steps for the Diversity & Inclusion Initiative.

(Why am I naming days?)

7/15/14, Day, 13, 951: Peacebuilding and VishMish

“What we attempt to do is to create more people that think like we do, and I think the difficult work of peace-building is to create a quality of relationships among people who don’t think alike. And that’s precisely what I think is so distressful for a lot of folks right now in terms of the American scene…[we have] very little capacity to be in significant and quality relationships with people who think very differently.”
-John Paul Lederach, “The Art Of Peace,” On Being

This day is so named for a fascinating conversation with peacebuilder and poet John Paul Lederach on “The Art of Peace” for the podcast series, One Being. I’m always on the lookout for potential speakers for the TCG Conference, and there’s a vibrant peacebuilding movement in theatre; happily, his conversation also really spoke to the Vision/Mission work (VishMish, for short) that Flux is going through right now.

We met last night for our bi-weekly meeting, and spent an hour plus continuing the conversations from our Retreat. I thought of the Lederach talk throughout that process, including this passage on paradoxical curiosity:

“Ms. Tippett: Yeah. You use the term ‘paradoxical curiosity.’

Mr. Lederach: Yeah. Paradoxical in the sense that paradox is not contradiction — it’s two things or three things or four things that are different but ultimately are tied to each other in a form. And that’s actually the genius of complexity, is that while it can feel overwhelming when we’re in the middle of it, it keeps offering up new ways to understand something that doesn’t require you to choose one option against another.”

This reminds me of what author Leslie Jamison calls “the rigorous grace of complication,” and of the Oliver Wendell Holmes’ quote:

“I would not give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

This is something that really resonates with us: moving through simplistic narratives and oppositional binaries into the heart of complexity and seeming contradiction; and through imaginative empathy and paradoxical curiosity, discover at unexpected connections and creative fusion.

It’s an exciting conversation, but a long one, and hopefully we’ll be able to keep it going as we return to the thick of things.

Technique never stands still: it only advances or retreats…

Writing: 108 out of 125 days (Faust)
Spanish: 96 out of 125 days
Music: 11 out of 30 days

What small things did I do yesterday to help build the Honeycomb?
(And what does it mean to “Help build the honeycomb?”)

 

Dia the Doula

(Why am I naming days?)

7/14/14, Day, 13, 950: Dia the Doula

This day is so named because Heather and I had a long meeting with our doula, whose name is indeed the alliteratively assonant Dia (learn more about her here). She’s smart and has a great energy, and our conversation was really valuable. Every day, we’re taking steps to prepare for the birth and what comes after. What will happen to this daily-ish diary once our Sesi is born? Reader, I do not know.

After that meeting and a long day at TCG, I lay outside on the terrace as the rain fell inches away from me. I remembered the knock of the rain on my skylight in my room growing up, the drum of it in my studio on Martha’s Vineyard, the ping of it on the corrugated roof of Little Pond, and above all, the sound of rain and ocean together from Sandy Neck, that great calling of deep things and all I needed to do was flip a switch in my mind, slip out the window and become a thing aquatic…

Technique never stands still: it only advances or retreats…

Writing: 107 out of 124 days (Faust)
Spanish: 95 out of 124 days
Music: 11 out of 29 days

What small things did I do yesterday to help build the Honeycomb?
(And what does it mean to “Help build the honeycomb?”)

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(Why am I naming days?)

7/13/14, Day, 13, 949: Oh My Sweet Angel

This day is so named because we workshopped through the end of Faust yesterday, including the denouement between Rachael and Nat’s characters. It ends as many of my plays do, with a scene that expands into more the one dimension, but it does so more simply, more quietly than I think I’ve accomplished before. As played beautifully yesterday by Nat and Rachael, the universe seems for a moment to be contained entirely by the space between them.

And I realized that one of things that this play’s about is not the heightened moments of dramatic conflict (though there are plenty of those) but the moments after, when the characters find a way to pick each other up, dust themselves off and return to the work. I’m finding that very satisfying right now; this is the play I need to be working on.

And there’s plenty of work! The play-within-the-play is written in blank verse, and it’s been some time since I’ve worked in such a sustained way in that form. I’ll be spending most of my writing time over the next week and a half trying to make the iams dance so that our very limited rehearsal time won’t be spent dealing with too many rewrites.

I spent much of the evening cleaning and cooking, and then working on Flux’s (possibly revised) mission statement and new vision statement. The challenge I’m having with both is to be honest about the size of our ambitions without becoming too general and lofty…we have a meeting this Tuesday, and hopefully we’ll come a little closer to consensus.

Technique never stands still: it only advances or retreats…

Writing: 106 out of 123 days (Faust)
Spanish: 94 out of 123 days
Music: 10 out of 28 days

What small things did I do yesterday to help build the Honeycomb?
(And what does it mean to “Help build the honeycomb?”)

  • Signed a petition imploring James Madison University to treat sexual assault as a crime;
  • Sent a personalized letter to FCC Chair Wheeler in support of net neutrality;
  • Shared “The Children of the Drug Wars,” a great Times piece that explicates why the children from Central America are a refugee crisis, not an immigration crisis;
  • Ate vegetarian;
  • Asked John Boehner not to use my tax dollars to sue the President.

(Why am I naming days?)

7/11/14, Day, 13, 947: Playland at the Rockaways

This day is so named because I ended it with a long journey out to Playland at the Rockaways to celebrate the birth of a dear friend. At the hotel bar, I watched a 5-year old boy b-boy like a champ, and an older woman come in off the streets to dance for each of the tables (not for money, just for the joy of the dance). The bar made you feel as if the next time you exited, you’d discover the Rockaways had slipped many leagues into the sea and you were bound for the ends of the earth…

We walked to the beach under the Super Moon and talked about flying as JFK planes made their impossible, slow arcs above us. I shared stories of growing up on Sandy Neck before taking the long bus home.

7/12/14, Day, 13, 948: Monkey Queens and Perfect Moments

This day is so named for our Faust  workshop, the first in a long while. We tackled the odd Monkey Queen scene (perhaps the scene that hews the closest to Goethe’s), and then the big fall-out scene, where the ensemble almost falls apart but doesn’t, quite. A key member of team seems ready to leave, and what felt too long in rehearsal held our attention because of the constant physicalized threat of her departure (it still needs to be shorter). I’m still uncertain as to whether the whole mad gambit of the play coheres, but the individual scenes are working well, and the actors are doing lovely work.

Technique never stands still: it only advances or retreats…

Writing: 105 out of 122 days (rewrites for Angel Juice, Faust)
Spanish: 93 out of 122 days
Music: 9 out of 27 days

What small things did I do yesterday to help build the Honeycomb?
(And what does it mean to “Help build the honeycomb?”)

(Why am I naming days?)

7/10/14, Day, 13, 946: Fluxy Visions in the Court Square Diner

After nearly three months absent from my (mostly) daily blogging, I’m back! Our production of Jane the Plain, the TCG Conference, Sesi prep and the Flux Retreat had me pretty much without a spare second, but I’m gradually crawling back into the light. I hope to post more about those events, especially the last three, but I only have a moment today so let’s take it one day at a time.

Yesterday was so named for the Flux Vision/Mission/Core Values/Programming meeting that is following up on the progress we made this most recent Retreat. After some specific callbacks for Once Upon A Bride There Was A Forest, we met at our old friend, the Court Square Diner, to hash out an action plan through January to move those conversations forward. After exhaustion and some mistakes on my part cast a shadow over the end of the Retreat, this meeting reinvigorated my Flux enthusiasm, and I then spent a few more hours more putting our meeting into action. Hopefully, more about this over on the Flux blog soon.

Technique never stands still: it only advances or retreats…

Writing: 103 out of 120 days (rewrites for Angel Juice)
Spanish: 92 out of 120 days
Music: 9 out of 25 days

I’ve elected to not include the last two and a half months in my count above because I wasn’t keeping close track and it wouldn’t be accurate. I can say the numbers wouldn’t look quite as good, especially for Spanish and Music.

What small things did I do yesterday to help build the Honeycomb?
(And what does it mean to “Help build the honeycomb?”)

  • Signed Amnesty International’s petition in support of the human rights of the refugee children from Central America;
  • Shared photographer Gregg Segal’s 7 Days of Garbage project, which is a brilliant way of making us more aware of our waste;
  • Ate vegetarian;
  • For TCG, shared Elizabeth Hess’ Circle post on working with sexual violence survivors from the Balkans;
  • Had a challenging but hopefully productive conversation with someone who had an issue with a different TCG Circle post;
  • and for Flux, participated in our Vision meeting described above and moved forward the resulting action steps.

Wish me luck keeping this accountability journal going forward…things are a little less busy, but only just so…

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(Photo by Deborah Alexander from the Mirror Man moment of Jane the Plain)

It was a moment made more remarkable for almost passing by unnoticed.

Midway through our run of Jane the Plain, in one of the most difficult scenes of the play, one of our ensemble actors skips a line. She’s one of four actors creating the Mirror Man, a supernatural, malevolent force that speaks either in four-part fugue or unison. On top of the choral speech, we’ve created a stylized physicality coordinated with a complex series of design cues, and a single misstep should doom us.

But that’s not what happens. She skips ahead, and a line that should be in unison now falls in a place that should be a fugue. Without a second of hesitation, the rest of the ensemble snaps into the fugue, as if we’d always rehearsed it that way, so seamlessly it’s not until I ask her afterwards that I’m sure a mistake was made.

And this almost unremarkable moment is one small example of why I believe so deeply in ensemble theatre.

Before I go any further, I must admit that I have a two-part agenda with this post. The first part: to convince you to donate to the Network of Ensemble Theaters (NET), where I serve as a board member, to support our midyear fundraising drive. If you’re in a hurry and don’t need more convincing, you can make that donation here.

I don’t want to tell you the second part yet, mostly because I don’t yet know how to say it. As with any ensemble process, I’m taking a leap in this series of posts, and trusting you, my collaborator, to catch me in the air and carry me to the other side.

*****

Four years ago. Los Angeles. A NET Micro-Fest on New Play Development. I’m walking with Laurie McCants, an ensemble member of the groundbreaking Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble. It’s honest-to-God dusk, the light of the world on a slow dimmer as we walk from dinner to the Atwater Village Theatre to watch some plays.

We’re discussing how to hold an ensemble together over the long term. To be more accurate, I’m asking and she’s telling. Here’s the question: Flux had a two-tiered membership structure with a complex list of rights and responsibilities, and a labyrinth, hierarchical process for determining artistic opportunities (or as we call them in the horrific acronym for Guaranteed Artistic Opportunities for Members, GAOMS).

As artistic director, I’m in charge of making sure these GAOMs run smoothly, and by and large, they don’t. Grievances are simmering over the fairness of balancing who does the most work with who gets the best opportunities. I share my frustrations with Laurie, hopeful she’ll have some clever tweaks for making this GAOM machine run smoothly.

Instead, she shares that for the first ten years of BTE’s existence, they experienced the same challenges and then some. Then, around year ten, the ensemble shifted into a longer-term perspective. They knew if the perfect role wasn’t this year, it would be the next, or the one after. The whole became something more than the sum of self-interested parts. They were in it for each other, for that emergent something more.

It was in part this conversation that made me advocate for Flux to abolish our two-tiered complex membership system and scrap the GAOMS, and replace them with an organic, equal partnership based on mutual trust and open communication. The Member/Associate Member structure crumbled, not entirely gracefully, and our current Creative Partnership was born.

It’s reasonable to say that if not for that conversation with Laurie, Flux might not be around today. And that kind of peer exchange is one reason why I hope you’ll give to the Network of Ensemble Theaters.

*****

I think if you’re lucky enough to have a moment before you die, like you know it’s about to happen, you don’t say, “oh, what does it all mean?,” you ask, “what fire did I bring to the world”, you know? How did I help people feel full? –Jane in Jane the Plain

Sometimes it’s not just about the fire you bring, but the fire you’re given to care for until it’s time to pass that fire on.

*****

Three years later. Hawaii. The NET MicroFest USA National Summit & Learning Exchange. We are at Camp Mokule‘ia, right on the beach, and we try to keep our minds on Summit business but the ocean keeps calling.

I remember Noé Montoya and Chas Croslin playing playing music on the sand by the shore and a frantic year holding still at last; our feet straddling now and forever, with music the bridge.

It’s as diverse and equitable a gathering as I’ve attended, and yet, those deep wounds of race and gender bleed fresh. A graphic moment in a play sets off some triggers, and we gather at night to discuss how to stage violence without also inflicting it. Truths that seem incompatible except for all being true are shared without resolution. We have so much work to do.

In a later meeting, I stand in a sharing session and say, “I don’t want to leave this earth with our theatre movement so unjust, so inequitable.” I burn with it, as if that fire is new.

Later, Jerry Stropnicky, another veteran ensemble theatre maker (and co-founder of BTE) talks with me for awhile. I understand that whatever words he uses, what he’s actually saying is, “don’t let go of that fire,” and I understand the thing I’m burning with is very, very old. Jerry, Laurie, Chas, Noé, they too have kept it, changed it, at times seen it fade to near embers, at times brought it to a roar.

There is a gentle seriousness to his words that lets me know that it’s a charge, not a gift.

And this shared charge is another reason why I hope you’ll give to the Network of Ensemble Theaters.

*****

It’s the closing night of Jane the Plain. We’ve had as strong a final performance as we could’ve hoped for, and now we’re toasting and roasting each other over cupcakes and Champagne. It’s been nearly a year since we asked five of our dearest long-term collaborators to become Creative Partners, sneaking them off into clearings in the woods of the Little Pond Arts Retreat to make the asks. What we thought might be a risk has turned out to be a renewal, and for me, a rebirth.

I have reached the end of a certain way of seeing things, of defining success on strangers’ terms. If my life as an artist is only for myself, then I cannot see a way out of this corrosive, selfish despair that has made it impossible for me to even enjoy watching a play of mine staged. I can only see all the things I’m not and may never be.

But if my life as an artist is for these people, my Creative Partners, if it is about the work we make together, then everything shifts. Then my work becomes a gift to these artists I love, a gift we make together to give to the world. You can burn out quickly, carrying that fire alone.

I try to say that, but words fail; I should’ve written something down, I stammer and come up short, hoping the emotion behind the words will make clear what I cannot yet say.

*****

There is a truth about ensembles that you should know. We will make mission statements and craft visions, we will have strategic plans and core values, we will pen lofty grant statements and pitch you pithy in the elevator, but none of that is where the heart of it lies. That’s not the real thing.

The real thing, the heart of it, is the people.

And we do not know how to value people in our culture; we prefer them to fill a role, to be convenient, interchangeable, disposable. For this reason, and others that I’ll share in the next posts in this series, I believe that ensemble theatre is essential to our culture. For this reason, and many others, I hope you’ll give to the Network of Ensemble Theaters.

*****

I finish my seemingly-unsuccessful toast to see another glass raised. It’s Sol Crespo, one of our new Creative Partners and, as it happens, the actress I mentioned at the beginning of all this who jumped the Mirror Man line without missing a beat.

She raises her glass and says, “We have to keep doing this together, because people need it. I believe that. I think this is the fire we’re bringing to the world.”

We raise our glasses to drink the last of the Champagne before leaving the theatre to head to the after-party. We are full, and life is the name inside us, burning. We’re an ensemble of artists, and what can’t we do together?

And we’re not alone: we’re held up by our fellow ensemble artists, and by organizations like the wonderful Network of Ensemble Theaters (to which I do hope you’ll donate). Over the next few days, I’ll share more posts about the impact NET has had on Flux. But I wanted to begin this series with the most important thing, which is the people, and the fire we’re bringing to the world.

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