Filed under: art, Gender politics, theatre | Tags: collaborators, loss, NYC, weddings, women
Over the years, I have made theatre with a number of extremely talented remarkable women. I started a company with women and make work with a woman-centered sensibility. These women are also my dear friends and most of them left NYC a long while ago. Until recently, I just saw myself as an odd victim of fate, surprised by fortune that almost every major collaborator has picked up sticks and gone elsewhere.
Then I started to think. Almost to a person, these friends/collaborators have gotten married and moved away to follow their husband’s (or wife’s) career path. Many of them have, in that moving, also given up theatre. I can name you former theatrical collaborators up and down the West Coast, in the mid-west and in Vermont. As far as I’m concerned, the country is littered with former NYC theatre practitioners and their partners.
Is this a post about how women shouldn’t put aside their own ambition to follow a partner? Nope. In almost every case, these women are happier, more at ease and thrilled to be able to have livable homes, babies and actually afford healthcare.
So what’s the problem? Well. NYC has lost a slew of remarkably talented female theatre practitioners. It is a loss to Theatre in this city. Given what a hostile environment it can be for women, it is no surprise that many of them hitch their wagons to their partners’ stars and just hightail it out of here. But the loss to the culture is profound.
When it comes down to it, it’s almost impossible to advocate for your own career when it has nothing to offer you. So when your partner gets a nice job across the country or is getting offered enough money to support you both, there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from going.
The only female theatre artists I know who have stuck it out in these NYC trenches are either single or partnered with other theatre people. And listen, I know this isn’t a scientific sampling but I wonder about it. I wonder if theatre is losing its most smart talented women because the circumstances are so ridiculous. And if you’re one of those who hasn’t left yet, I want to meet you. Because I’m very afraid that the next wedding I attend will mean the loss of yet another collaborator.
Filed under: Gender politics | Tags: blogging, Crappy Behavior, discomfort, Internet Fame, sexism, Sexist Behavior, Systematic Sexism, Victims, views
Ever since the breast incident of 2012, I have been struggling with how to talk about something around my discomfort with the publicity. Despite the fact that I’ve been a part of the arts for at least three decades, that I have dedicated my entire adult life to a career in the theatre, the only large public recognition I have ever received is a result of something crappy that happened to me. I achieved some fleeting internet fame because I was a victim of some sexist behavior.
I’m afraid that this is the way many women achieve their recognition. Not for the things they make or do but for how they respond to being victimized. We are often not lauded for achievement but for surviving shitty circumstances.
I have been moved and inspired by Malala Yousafzai along with the rest of the world but I’m troubled that she had to get shot in the head to get the recognition she deserves. She was remarkable before she became a famous victim.
Why don’t women’s stories of success go as viral on the internet? Why don’t our achievements, our analyses of the world around us, the ones that don’t feature being victimized, get public acknowledgement?
I’m still struggling to understand it: My one post about a crappy thing that happened to me has generated 6600 more views than anything else I’ve written (and continues to.) My update a year later about the shitty thing got 347 views but it was essentially a discussion of the same incident and Part 2 - in which I looked at what got accomplished? That got 78 views.
Do I have to have something shitty happen to me again to generate more readers? Is being a victim the sole route to recognition for women?
If it is, I’m not interested. I make things. In them, women have the full range of experiences, achievement and failure, having any number of experiences, of which being a victim is only one. I guess one could say that many of my other posts are about how women are victims of a sexist society but I suppose seeing systematic victimization from a place of authority is not nearly as compelling as one guy being a dick.
I guess I’m afraid that the only stories people want to see are ones where crappy stuff happens to women. I hope this isn’t the case. I really do. But in my own case, I’d much rather be known for my work or my analysis than for someone else’s dickish behavior.
On one hand, it all makes sense; Women are often subjected to crappy stuff so we need stories about that so we can figure out how to respond. But, on the other hand, if we keep only promoting stories of women in which the women are victims, we’re sending a message that the victim story is the only one we get. And the culture tells us that story often enough already.
For myself, I try and notice what I forward, what I pass on, what I promote. Is it only victim stories? Or can I remember to post achievements as well? I’m keeping a watch on myself and trying to support women outside of other people’s crappy behavior.
Filed under: education | Tags: arts in education, Migrant Worker, Strawberries, teaching artist
When I first started teaching, I was thrilled to learn that what I did had its own title. I was so proud to call myself a Teaching Artist. If you’d met me at a party in that period and asked me what I did, I would have happily declared “I’m a teaching artist!” And when you didn’t know what that was, I would cheerfully launch into my standard explanation of “That means I go into schools and teach workshops and residencies in art, which in my case is theatre.” I gave this speech to one friend back in Virginia who said, “Ah, yes. You’re doing God’s work.” And I swelled with pride. So noble. So righteous.
That was 15 years ago. In the intervening years, quite a bit has changed. The landscape for Arts Education in New York City has changed. Teaching Artists’ positions within Arts In Education have changed and so have I.
I didn’t know much when I started all those years ago. I learned it all on the job. Being a Teaching Artist taught me many things and there was a constant dialogue between my art and the classroom. Teaching taught me how I wanted to direct and directing taught me new ways to teach. For years, that was a very rich exchange.
I have been fighting the devaluation of my skills and experience in the field for a long time now, pleading for credit for the contributions of me and my peers. I recently realized that it was a losing battle. I realized that the title of a teaching artist has been so greatly diminished that it has come to be more like a kind of migrant worker of Arts Education. Like, “Let’s get some teaching artists in here to pick these strawberries.” Or “Oh, these teaching artists, they won’t come to anything unless you pay them.” (Actual quote overheard by arts administrator from actual other arts administrator.) More and more, we get treated like petulant children who won’t do what we’re told, who must be corralled and organized.
It used to be that we were Artists first – acknowledged and valued for our Artistic skill outside the realm of the classroom. We were hired as consultants, expected to handle whatever came our way with our own expertise, our own artistic practice, our own aesthetics. Now that we’re (working-at-will) employees, we’re brought in once a year to get reprimanded and instructed in paperwork and then sent on our way to represent the organization in a specially marketed light. And I don’t get paid enough for that nonsense.
So, I’m hanging up my teaching artist shoes. This does not mean I won’t teach anymore. I’ll be happy to teach a Master Class or a workshop and/or residency as your Guest Artist but I’d like to give up my title as a Teaching Artist. It has ceased to be meaningful to me so I’d rather be called something else, thank you very much. Call me a Curriculum Consultant, a Mentor, an Artist, a Teacher, an Actor, a Writer, a Director – any of these are all right with me. But you can get someone else to pick your strawberries. I’d rather not be called a Teaching Artist anymore.
Filed under: art, business, education, Feldenkrais, Shakespeare, theatre | Tags: Artist, freelance, school schedule
If I were to follow the advice of the literature (books, motivational speeches, business pamphlets) about how to achieve success, I would drop everything but the One Big Goal and throw everything at it until I reached the finish line. Success literature is pretty uniform in its belief that success is only achievable with all cylinders firing in one direction. I have, historically, attempted this strategy. I usually end up broke, in debt and discouraged.
This fall, I am attempting a whole new strategy, one that I’m sure every single Success Author would disapprove of. I’m not sure I approve of it myself. It seems pretty crazy, truth be told, but I’m diving in anyway.
I keep shaking my head at my own folly in attempting to start two freelance businesses while trying to maintain a third. (Not to mention a fourth and maybe fifth, additional focus.) I am now a Feldenkrais practitioner searching for clients, a freelance Shakespeare Consultant nurturing old (and new) ones and as ever, continuing to promote my theatrical work with my theatre company.
In the past few months, I’ve built two new websites and started two new Twitter accounts. Absolutely no one would advise me to do this this way. But I have to make some kind of living and none of my freelance identities is enough to support me on its own. And after over a decade of work with my theatre company, I know I can’t count on income from that source.
Additionally, I’m still picking up the odd Teaching Artist gig. I also try to write this blog regularly, so as not to lose the lovely readers I have and maintain a writing practice, both with prose, plays and on my other blog. There’s also that novel I finished a few months ago that I’d like to polish up and figure out how to put it into the world. What is that? 5 jobs? 6? All of which require my pushing them forth myself. I must be crazy.
Then, in the shower this morning, as I was wasting my precious time wondering how I could be so foolhardy, I realized that I’ve been in training for this kind of focus my whole life by virtue of the fact that I went to school. We are, most of us, trained to maintain multiple foci. Everyday, we spent an hour on English, an hour on math, an hour on social studies, an hour on Art of some kind (if we’re lucky) and an hour on science. (Or some variety of this.) Maybe we learned something else afterschool. Then we’d go home and do homework for all five of these very diverse subjects requiring very diverse skills and perspectives.
Thinking about my career as if it were the logical extension of my school career gives me permission to believe that I’m not setting myself up for failure. I’ve just got a full academic load. I don’t expect it will always be this way. I may end up going to a conservatory for one of these subjects once I graduate from this busy period but for right now, when I can’t guarantee that any of these new (or old) things will be sufficient, I need to keep up with my schoolwork in many subjects at once. It’ll be difficult, sure, but I’ve done it for years.
I think a lot of us artists are flummoxed by this difficulty of a singular focus. Would a dancer prefer to only dance? You bet. If a dancer only dances, will she survive? Odds aren’t great and no amount of “You can do it if you just work hard enough” literature will change that. Most of us cannot afford a single focus. So rather than falling for the debilitating belief that we’re doomed unless we get tunnel vision, I’m wondering if we can embrace the way we were raised and become straight A students in as many subjects as we can fit into the day.
Filed under: art | Tags: Contagious, Inspiration, Sand Sculpture, Supporting Art
While at the beach this summer, I looked up to see a man and a handful of kids sculpting in the sand. It was much more than a sand castle made out of buckets. It was a sand sculpture of a dog, resting its head on its paws. It was extraordinary.
It seemed to me that the man was an artist, very likely a sculptor, and he was generously sharing his skills with his nieces and nephews. As I watched them work, I was touched by the opportunity to watch creation in action. I thought it might be fun to try to make a sand sculpture like this. “Maybe tomorrow,” I thought.
The next day, as I walked along the shore, I saw a dozen sand sculptures all being worked on by different families. The original sculptor was nowhere in sight but the inspiration he’d triggered had set off a wave of sand art. There was a mermaid, a man being eaten by a shark, a turtle, a space shuttle, a dolphin, and a great many fancy sand castles.
I was moved by the contagion of this one artist’s idea. He gave the gift of his skill and imagination, first to his family and then to the community as a whole. And I doubt the rest of the beach had any idea where the spark for sand sculptures had come from. The work reproduced itself without any credit to the instigation of the movement.
This all made me think about how art often works this way – that we make something for our own enjoyment and that pleasure spreads out into communities, disconnected from the initial artist. It made me think about how important it is to support that first artist. He may not be the one to get the credit in the end but it was his skill and training and expertise that raised the bar for everyone around him. As a culture we need to figure out how to support more of those first artists.
It is not direct, this support. It couldn’t be. You couldn’t write a grant and say “We propose to create a piece of art that will inspire others to create, such that there will be a small movement of sand sculptures on this small stretch of beach.” You’d never get funding for it. Nor would you fund an artist just to make a sculpture in the sand.
You could, however, fund an artist to have enough money to be able to go to the beach sometime and to have enough money to live and therefore a kind of generosity of spirit and skill to share his work for fun.
I think supporting the arts means supporting artists without attachment to what they create. It’s not funding individual shows and community projects. It’s providing artists enough to live and to set inspirations on fire.
Filed under: art, education, Shakespeare, theatre | Tags: Arts Education, BAM, Shakespeare, teaching artist
There’s been a divorce. It’s not as public as Catherine Zeta-Jones’ but for me it changes everything.
For the last 14 or so years, I’ve worked for a major arts institution as a teaching artist. I’ve seen managers come and go. I’ve seen programs bloom and fade but I have hung in there because I am a fan of the work that happens on the stage. Some of the best work in the world ends up there and the quality of that work was what kept me coming back there even when I’d been treated with disrespect.
I did the bulk of my work for them with the Shakespeare program. In it, students would see a world-class Shakespeare production on the theatre’s stage and we, the teaching artists, in collaboration with the classroom teachers, would teach that play, helping to provide context and depth for the work they’d see. This has meant that we’ve taught Comedy of Errors, Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar and Coriolanus in addition to the some of the more commonly taught plays like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth. It meant that, every year, the students got a full-on engagement in a work of art (one they probably wouldn’t see otherwise) and then got to enact a bit of that play themselves. It has been a full on engagement with art. The most profound moments of insight and transformation for the students have happened in response to what they saw. I know because I saw it happen.
Now, I am told the institution is “divorcing” the program from the production. The students will study one of two plays, pre-selected and not see any live theatre. They’ll go see a Shakespeare film but no theatre, even though there is still a great deal to be seen on the stage. And I think it is a giant mistake.
Listen, I don’t run arts education, (see here what I’d do if I did) I know no one in the Big Chairs at these places gives a damn what I think. But when we start divorcing the actual art from young people’s arts education, we’re getting on a fast train to irrelevance.
One administrator I spoke to about my concerns told me that the same thing happened at another arts organization where she’d worked. She told me there was a lot of outcry and protest when this happened there but now the new program (the one divorced from the art) is super successful. And I can’t argue with that. Of course it all depends on what you mean by successful. I’m gonna guess that successful means lots of people signed up for these programs and they make money from them either from schools or funders and believe me I understand the value of those things.
But there is another kind of success and value to be had, one that is less predictable and that isn’t easily described on a grant application. This kind of success involves transforming experiences with a work of art, in engaging with something you see on stage and letting it move you. When education can enable that experience, I’m all for it. Divorced from that possibility it is simply Education Business As Usual. It’s something I (or any capable artist) could do in a classroom without an affiliation with a major arts institution. It’s something very good classroom teachers do everyday. I know. I’ve seen them at work. And I have trouble believing that funders aren’t interested in sharing a theatre’s work with students.
So since this institution has divorced the art from its arts education program, I am divorcing the program. That is, I quit. I spoke my piece (multiple times, believe me) and my voice was ignored and I quit.
I recognize, given my position as a cog in the works at a major institution, that my divorce made no difference to anyone but me (and possibly to my colleagues who were left to soldier on without me.) It’s a stand that has likely gone un-noticed by anyone with any authority to consider what is happening. I did it a few months ago and I haven’t heard a thing about it since.
Those that are my intermediaries between the Big chairs and the Medium size chairs tell me that they are simply responding to mandates coming from above. So let me just speak to those who are above for a moment (even though you’re surely not reading this): Take a second to THINK. You care about the work on your stages. That is why you do what you do. You care about your audience. And you likely care about your future audience. You will not cultivate future members of your audience by bringing them to see films they could watch at home or in their classrooms. You will not spark an interest or enthusiasm or future patron by sending artists into classrooms to teach stuff they could get anywhere. I can name at least ten other arts organizations who already do that and those are just the ones I’ve worked for. If you’re interested in giving students a unique and significant experience in your theatre, you have to re-marry your artistic work with your education program.
But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe actually seeing art is something no one cares about anymore (Please, please, don’t let this be the case!) Maybe all anyone wants is to fit more easily into the Department of Education’s structures, to have lesson plans align with the Common Core and have an easier time writing those funding applications.
Me? I’m an artist because I care about the ART. And I’m a teaching artist because I care about giving young people an opportunity to engage with art.
I’ve taught in over 300 schools over the years and the majority of the students in those schools had never seen a play before someone brought them to see something. It breaks my heart to consider that instead of giving students that magical first experience, this institution will now just give them some education stuff. It’s like telling someone what it’s like to see the ocean instead of letting them swim in it.
No, no, it’s like teaching someone to swim in the desert. You can take them through the motions and they could learn all of the moves but it will be irrelevant until they see the water. I don’t think I’m naïve in assuming that the best way to teach someone to swim is in the water and the best way to teach someone about theatre is in the theatre. But what do I know? I just swim in the water every day.