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Friday, September 4, 2009

Good Thinkin'

About a week ago an old friend pointed me toward a new blog called The Collective Arts Think Tank, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.  It's written by a diverse group of NYC performing artists, presenters and support organizations, and if the first post is any indication, this will be a great forum for discussing (in their words), "the rapidly changing ecosystem of live art."

Their first post is a letter to the field that diagnoses and then provides recommendations for challenges in the field of contemporary performance.  The challenges and solutions range from micro to macro, artists to funders.  No one is left without responsibility, a comprehensiveness that I appreciate.

Yes, it is New York-focused and some of the information isn't directly applicable to us in Portland, but for companies like Hand2Mouth that are touring and striving to work on a national level, it's incredible how much we have in common with our New York colleagues.

Just to give you a taste, I'll pull one item they identified as something that isn't working.  It's an issue I've been wrestling with since I moved to Portland: the arts and social benefit.
Mythologies around ideas of community
Venues and other presenters are increasingly asked by funders to justify projects based on funders’ notions of ‘sustainability’ or community / social benefit, and conversations about aesthetic quality get left aside in favor of more easily measurable and politically correct outcomes.  While the effort to level the playing field for traditionally disenfranchised communities is laudable and valid, the way this trend has manifest has been to suggest that art itself – as made by artists and seen by audiences - must engage overtly with a social issue, “underserved populations” or youth groups in order to be successfully funded.  We argue that cultural output and creative expression are critical, underlying parts of any healthy society and all communities within that society.  Both arts professionals and others often forget that they are members of several intersecting communities and that their work by its very nature galvanizes and engages those communities.  If we shift the measuring stick away from audience demographics or trite definitions of “innovation” and towards questions of excellence, rigor and relevant engagement with content, form and audiences, it inherently forces artists and arts organizations to unflinchingly examine their own output and sustainability.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

While I'm living it up on wall street in this new york city town, in the real world they're shutting detroit down

So, we are in New York Effing City! The midwest girl inside me emerges, dewy-eyed. My god, New York, you crazy all night bejeweled ratty epic rollercoaster love song. I imagine that when you live here you don't stay out every night until 3:30 a.m. Right? You find a way to not do that? Because I have not yet. I am definitely living the diva lifestyle (minus the diamonds and the wardrobe and the personal hairstylist and the thirteen adopted children). If only someone would start a nasty rumor about my eating habits/dressing room requirements/crazy surgery, my life would be complete.


This is the longest stretch that I've ever performed "Undine" at a time, and I am relishing the chance to really test it out. Sunday night there were two old men in the audience who were sort of like the old guys on the Muppet Show, if those guys were vaguely dirty-minded WW II vets (which maybe they were, come to think of it). At the beginning of the show, in answer to my question, "are you celebrating something?", they shouted back, "BEING ALIVE!" and then asked me why I was barefoot.  I wasn't sure if they would turn into full on hecklers but they just muttered and wolf whistled through the rest of the show which made for an interesting dynamic. I am always surprised by the profound effect the audience has on the show. So far they have been either dead quiet or loud & rowdy. 


We are, by the way, sharing the bill with two of my very favorite artists (not to mention people), Mike Pham & Rachel Hynes of Helsinki Syndrome, and it has been a joy to spend time with them and watch their show as it grows and changes. Their vision of the Importance of Being Earnest involves Prince, a purple spangly skirt and hot pink heels, honey, cardboard boxes and King Kong & Godzilla. It manages to be mad and demented but also... dare I say... earnest. In a good way. I am trying to convince them to do Les Miserables after this. 


I've been feeling a bit lonely out here without the whole H2M crew (though of course Jonathan & Liam are kick ass), so imagine how heartened I was to walk into the dressing room on opening night to find a big bouquet of flowers from them! And Julie left a "pump up speech" on my voicemail which helped me to go strongly into battle. What a team. I am so lucky to be part of it.


When we aren't at the Ontological, Jonathan and I are chilling at the fabulous Bushwick apartment/office/rehearsal and storage space of Banana Bag & Bodice directors Jessica & Jason. They are in Ireland the exact two weeks that we are here, so we have the space (and their two delightful cats) to ourselves, complete with a DVD of Battlestar Galactica so I can finally participate in the 21st century.  I am loving me some Edward James Olmos. Actually I've always had a soft spot for him, ever since he gave an inspirational speech at my high school in Lansing, Michigan (about an hour and a half away from the 'real world' aka Detroit). Anyway, now Edward James Olmos is a space commander. See? Dreams really do come true. This is good preparation for the Future H2M Production, which is currently untitled (right?) but which (in my mind) has something to do with the six stages of epic sci-fi:


1. Crash/arrival on an unknown planet

2. Encounter with other life forms

3. Misunderstandings/battle/prison

4. Grudging respect 

5. Escape!

6. Mindwarping final plot twist: They are Us! (or: this unknown planet is actually Earth! or: the aliens are actually humans! or something along those lines)


These may just be the six stages of Planet of the Apes. But I think they apply to others as well. I have to do some more research.


Until then, ever battling my acute case of diva-nerves,


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Everyone Who Looks Like You can be watched, now!

The full version of Everyone Who Looks Like You (work-in-progress performance) is up on h2m's vimeo right now. If you're working on the show this fall or just want to see what you missed out on this last spring, check it out.