Songs for the Struggling Artist


When You’re Winning
April 28, 2016, 9:08 pm
Filed under: art | Tags: , , , , , ,

I got some good news and I posted about it on Facebook. It generated hundreds of likes and bunches of comments. People love good news.

I love good news, too. It feels like, when I “like” someone’s good news on Facebook, that I’m saying, “I like you and I want good things to happen to you. So yay!” It is a very clear interaction in a world of mystery. Someone has some success and I get to cheer for them. When I got cheers like that, it felt great.

But getting that flurry of support also felt a little strange. I’d won an award. It was categorically good news but I was struck by how little I had to do with it. I apply for things constantly and the answer is, 99 times out of 100, “No.” The actual thing I did in this case was to continue to apply in the face of so much rejection. This is the one hundredth time I applied for something and finally someone said “Yes” and in a way, it felt like the crowds were merely getting onto the “yes” bandwagon. Someone else did something (by accepting me) and the approval from so many people was for this thing that I had almost nothing to do with. It felt strange. Like the likes weren’t for me but for the people who gave me the award.

Facebook plays a large part in this, of course. The algorithm is such that posts like my award move to the top of the posting pile. The “Good News” I included in the post, probably triggered a few algorithmic points but the many “Congratulations” boosted it even more. It’s a trend that becomes a trend because it’s trending. And so hundreds of new likes happen. And people who haven’t seen me in their feed for months or years are suddenly getting this one post. So to them, it probably seems like I’m winning all the time. Meanwhile, things I actually make (like shows, or blogs, or songs) barely get a look.

It made me wonder how we can better support one another even when we’re not winning, when the approval machine is not working in our favor. I wonder how we can support and encourage one another when we actually MAKE things, when we make a show or write a blog, story, song, play, etc. I think, in the past, I’ve thought of “liking” these sorts of posts as a kind of review – like, “I liked this show you made. I endorse it.” Or “The blog you wrote was relevant to me.” Like, a mini review via clicking. Conversely, I’d abstain from “liking” a show I hadn’t seen, a blog I hadn’t read, a song I hadn’t listened to. I’d also abstain from clicking things I wasn’t really a fan of, despite being a fan of the person. I think now, after my experience of winning for a moment, I’m going to be a lot more liberal with the like button. I want to support my fellow artists/makers/humans for the things they actually make/do and not just other people’s approval of those things.

But while I was feeling weird about my sudden Facebook “success,” I had a strong sense of gratitude for the people supporting me on Patreon. Because the folks on Patreon have my back on everything I write. They’re there for the posts that hit, the ones that strike the Facebook algorithmic fancy, and the ones that don’t. That is, they’re supportive of my MAKING things, not just the things other people approve of.

We’re pack animals in a way. We pile on to the things the pack has given approval to and let the “unliked” go it alone sometimes. I’m experimenting with how to bring our pack instincts to the act of MAKING things and not just receiving the approval and acceptance from outside ourselves. Patreon feels like a good start on that but I wonder if there are more ways we can applaud one another for what we do not just who approves of us.

Ideas?

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Hedgebrook Rejection
April 22, 2016, 11:11 pm
Filed under: Rejections, writing | Tags: , , ,

Twice Rejected now. Hedgebrook is a residency for women in the Northwest. It’s funny because I was never really attracted to women only spaces before. I’ve been a feminist for forever but never really felt drawn to single sex experiences. I didn’t consider a women’s college for even a second. (An option I now think might have been a really good one.) I didn’t go to women’s festivals or go to women’s groups.

But I now recognize that all of these sorts of institutions actually do help advance women’s lives. I came to understand that with the difficulties at hand in making my artist’s life – that there might be a great deal of benefit in leaning into the “minority” status of my womanhood. I’m interested in Hedgebrook, not because there are only women there – but because it exists to help support women in overcoming the cultural obstacles before them. I need all the help I can get in that department. So. I keep applying. And if they keep giving these residencies to people like Eve Ensler, Sarah Waters and Gloria Steinem, I guess it’s not too likely I’ll get it anytime soon. But I support the idea of it. So… it’s already worth a shot. And I would NOT be upset about getting to hang out at a writing retreat with Gloria Steinem.

hedgebrook

*Wondering why I’m telling you about all these rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

You can help me weather the storms of rejection by becoming my patron on Patreon.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Why Going Away for Inspiration is a Good Idea
April 16, 2016, 11:09 pm
Filed under: art, Creative Process | Tags: , , , ,

My trip to Greece last fall lit me up like a mega watt Christmas tree. Ideas streamed through me. I collected images for shows I hadn’t imagined. The world once again seemed like one of possibility. It was nourishing and uplifting.

When I got back to NYC, I started to think about how to follow the thread of those ideas and I quite quickly ran into the obstacles that generally prevent me from making things.

Here are some details from the artistic committee meeting in my head:

“Sure, this idea about a theatrical immersive Oracle of Delphi is a fun one – but where are you going to get funding for that? It’s a very expensive idea, you know.”

“Alright fine – that one’s for later, I know. But – how about a Minoan puppet show inspired by all those clay figures?”

“You should! The aesthetic is full of potential! Snake goddesses!”

“Great! Let’s see. How will we get a puppet show going? Do the puppet lab at St. Ann’s Warehouse again?”

“You could. But really you’d need a really skilled puppet maker.  You’re just the writer/story/director girl. And applications went in months ago. Also, they’ve never taken anyone on story alone. And last time you did it, your project went pretty pear shaped. You want to go through that again?”

“Alright, alright. We’ll save that for later. Let it percolate a little bit.”

“How about your Messenger show about messengers? Can we do that one?”

“Sure. That shouldn’t be too hard. Just put it together – and then . . .uh. . .well, maybe a reading somewhere?”

“Somewhere not too expensive? Because no one’s going to fund you doing R & D for a show like that. You know that, right?”

“Alright, alright. Let’s think about this backwards then – Where IS there some funding and what could we do that fits into those models?”

“There’s the LMCC Creative Communities grant that you got a couple of years ago.”

“Sure – but the only thing that even vaguely fits that criteria is the project you applied with last year and that was roundly rejected by pretty much every funding body. You could TRY to apply again but you don’t have the resources to even bullshit your way to showing additional support that. That ship has pretty much sailed.”

And so it went.
None of it was particularly negative. I generally don’t really have voices telling me I’m shit and that I’ll never amount to anything. So many books on creativity are about how to deal with those hypercritical voices and those are valuable. But in my case, the voices aren’t so much critical as they are experienced and practical, which, if you’re going to make something, is all very necessary. When I began years ago, I had no idea what I was up against so I could push through the practical challenges on pure positivity and the inspirational high. I no longer have the beautiful freedom of innocence so my creative well can sometimes be hard to draw from.

What traveling can do is replenish the Creative Well – even if none of my ideas are actually possible or practical. The sheer act of having them, or dreaming them, is like priming the pump. I throw some water down there and when I go to my creative pump – the one that will give me some of that practical water – there will be something there.

Through a workshop with Improbable Theatre Company, I learned about something called The Disney Strategy. It’s apparently a system that Walt Disney used with his staff. You have three areas – The Dreamer, The Critic and The Realist and you go and hang out in each place and let yourself go there. You start in the Dreamer corner and let yourself dream. In the Realist corner, you deal with reality for a while. Then you move to the Critic’s corner and let fly with all the reasons it’s a terrible idea.

Getting away was like sitting in that dream corner for a while, letting ideas flow unencumbered by any practical concerns. I need the impractical dreams to keep me in the habit of dreaming. I need to sit in a stream of unproduce-able ideas to be able to pull out the occasional achievable one. It makes me think about the way that you can train yourself to remember your actual dreams – the ones you have at night and lose upon waking. If you write them down, you convince your brain that they are important to you. The idea being that your brain learns to remember them because it is in the habit of remembering them.  So if you acknowledge those ideas as they float past you, the odds of catching an achievable one are a lot better. You can then take one back to the practical corner and fold it into something that fits into the world you live in.

I could feel myself trying very hard to make it okay that the world I live in is so hard to make anything in. My ambitions are large and my resources small and in recent years, I have attempted to make things smaller, so as to not to experience too much despair. But I missed the thrill of dreaming big. Dreaming big feels good. It feels like a returning to myself. So I am very grateful to see that I still have the ability to sit in the dreaming corner, dreaming big dreams.

I just had to work out how to sit in the practical corner without feeling as though I’ve been made to sit in the CORNER, nose to the wall, like little Jack Horner or something. That is the dilemma.

And now, many months after I returned from the land of dreaming, I am diving back into a practical process, made possible by an unpredictable series of events, the sort I couldn’t have planned for when I first began sitting in the realist corner. It makes me especially glad I had the opportunity to prime my creative pump with a journey away. The dreaming may have planted a seed I couldn’t even see.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



The End of the Show Experience
April 3, 2016, 8:59 pm
Filed under: art, education, theatre | Tags: , , , ,

Imagine that you’ve just seen a show that moved you in some way. Let’s say you laughed really hard or felt like you were part of an energetic participating audience. Like a concert. Or a comedy show. Or a play. Let’s say you were at this show with a group of people you knew and all of you had an exciting experience at the theatre. You saw something you’d never seen before and your body is in a high state of excitement. Your heart is beating faster as you clap your hands at the end.

Then let’s say someone with authority over you – like a boss or something – comes out after your transformative experience at the theatre and tells you to be absolutely silent and not move a muscle. You are to stay in your seat and under no circumstances are you to discuss the performance. When you’re finally allowed to leave, you must file out in absolute silence .

This would probably would diminish your pleasure of the performance experience somewhat, I’d imagine. This is the experience the audience of one of our school performances had recently. During the show, they laughed and shouted. They were positively gleeful throughout. When it was over, we did our usual Q & A, which is also a little bit exciting, as the actors are un-masked in that moment and they get to see behind the curtain metaphorically.

But as soon as we’d waved them goodbye, the shouting from one of their teachers began. The students were stunned into silence, instructed to sit quietly in total stillness – for no other purpose than control, as far as I could tell. And it broke my heart a little bit.

It made me wonder what I could do as a theatre-maker to avoid that dissonance, at least while I’m there. I’ve worked as both a maker and a teacher of theatre and for the most part, those identities have been largely separate. I walked away from this experience wondering if I ought to be considering employing my educator tools in situations like this. There’s nothing I can do about a school that wants to yell at their students when I’m done with them – I know school culture and that’s not changing from one guest artist’s visit – but I want to build in some space for the students to have an experience like I have after a show that excites me. All my years in Arts in Education have shown me that there are great schools that will spend time after a performance unpacking it, enjoying it, discussing it. In schools that aren’t like that, perhaps I need to employ educational strategies when the show is over. My first thought was the “Turn and Talk” methodology – allowing students to actually talk to each other about the craziness we just showed them. And maybe I should do that before our Q & A. We might get interesting questions out of that strategy.

My ideas about how to handle this dismount sort of stop there, though. What would you do, my fellow educators? And for those of you who perform for schools, have you found ways to deal with this?  It’s a culture clash – the open door of art – followed by the yelling culture of some schools. Can we soften the harsh return to the yelling reality? Please send me your solutions.

Messenger Theater @ ps67 HR (7 of 60)

Like the blog? Become my patron on Patreon, for as little as a dollar a post, you can make a big difference in this artist’s life.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



You Win Some, You Lose Some
March 30, 2016, 10:37 pm
Filed under: art, Rejections | Tags: , , , , ,

First, the customary news – I got a rejection notice from the MAP Fund. The MAP Fund is hilarious because they have an EPIC application process. The first stage is a letter of intent. (LOI.) In most grants I’ve seen, the letter of intent is just that. It’s a letter you write to say you’re interested in applying. The MAP Fund’s LOI is like other grants’ whole application process. There are so many questions, things to fill out. It is not even close to being as simple as a letter.

 

If they accept your LOI, then you have even MORE application to do. What those things you have to do in the next phase, I have no idea. I’ve never gotten that far.

 

This is one of those grants that, if I weren’t engaged in this accounting of my rejections sponsored by my patrons, I would definitely not bother to do. But if I were to get it one year, it would be super fantastic so I should probably keep at it. Rejections are the norm. Acceptances are the exception.

 

If I were giving advice to someone about taking on this sort of life, I feel like they should know that. That it’s not a win some lose some situation. It’s a mostly lose, and every so often, if you’re lucky, you win one. It’s not even like you get 1 out of 3. You get one out of 35. For me, it’s not You Win Some, You Lose Some. It’s: You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You WIN one! You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You WIN one! You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some, You Lose Some….

 

But I am grateful for the ones I win. The one I got most recently was the Colleen Porter Artist Residency Award which allowed me to go to Montreal for the International Performing Arts for Youth conference. It was a great opportunity, a great experience and also so gratifying to get a “yes.” And an enthusiastic yes, at that.

My spreadsheet of applications and rejections is a pretty solid block of No. The Yes is so good.

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*Wondering why I’m telling you about all these rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

You can help me weather the storms of rejection by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Also – this blog has been turned into a podcast that (at the moment) only my patrons will be able to hear. If you’d like to get a podcast version of the blog, become a patron!

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Click HERE  to Check out my Patreon Page

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



In which I Turn my Feminist Lens on Legally Blonde, the Musical

After referencing Legally Blonde the Musical in numerous posts, I will, finally, at my readers’ request, give you a full on Songs for the Struggling Artist review of my least favorite musical.

I will begin by saying that I loved the film of Legally Blonde. I didn’t expect to, but I did. The film is surprisingly feminist. I say surprising because the lead, Elle Woods (played by Reese Witherspoon) is not your typical feminist heroine. At the start, she’s the kind of woman most of us feminists steer clear of. She’s shallow and boy crazy and her main interest seems to be shopping. She’s an ultra femme icon. She goes to law school in order to win her boyfriend back, for crying out loud. But we love her and she grows and deepens and she’s one of the few heroines I’ve ever seen who wins by leaning into her femininity. Elle Woods doesn’t transform who she is or what she loves, she just comes to value herself and her substance more.

I’m interested in learning how something I love can become something I hate, so l re-watched both the film and the musical to see what possibly could have gone wrong.

The musical’s Elle Woods is similarly obsessed with pink, similarly ultra femme – though a lot less human. In the film, her break up truly breaks her up. She cries. Spends a week in bed. In the musical, her devastation is about 10 seconds long and is represented by the wearing of a bathrobe.

In the film, other characters reflect the way we, the audience, might feel about her. They think that she’s making terrible decisions. They think she’s shallow and superficial. This helps us root for Elle. She becomes an underdog in a climate of naysayers. In the musical, everyone is on Elle’s side. They all think she’s neat and that she always does the right thing. This helps make me think they’re all pretty dumb.

The music in the film is mostly empowering indie lady rock-pop of the era. The musical’s songs are bland bubble gummy musical. It’s like a tween wrote a “rock” musical in the 80s without any pop hooks. It has the pink without the depth or the irony.

Fundamentally, though, none of that made me hate the musical as much as I do until the scene where her colleague (and ultimately her new love interest) makes her throw away all of her pink stuff. He essentially comes in, kills the characters’ identity so she can buckle down and be the serious person he wants her to become. He sings a song about how she needs to change.

This is the crux of where the musical veers away from the film. The musical has Elle replace one man’s agenda (her ex boyfriend Warner) with another’s (Emmett.) She moves from being Warner’s ideal woman to following Emmett’s instructions. The film is about self-determination – about Elle becoming herself. The musical is about a lady who gets the guy by becoming a lawyer.

There is a moment early on in the film in which we see Elle fully understand that she was never going to be able to bend herself into the woman Warner wanted her to be. She gets it. She says so. (“I’m never going to be good enough for you, am I?”) And then she decides to become a good lawyer for herself. It is step one to finding her self. Step two is when Elle gets the news that she’s gotten the prestigious internship. She sees her name on the list and the responds with the gloriously simple line, “Me!” The camera pulls in, the music swells.

 

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This is Elle getting a sense of herself, seizing it and enjoying it. The film’s story kicks into gear here. Elle builds on the moment by going up to Warner and his new girlfriend and saying, “Do you remember when we spent those four amazing hours in the hot tub after winter formal?” He stammers, “Yea…No.” and she replies with, “This is so much better than that!” That is, the excitement of succeeding in her new career has suddenly surpassed the thing that was driving her life before. She’s experiencing self-fulfillment in a brand new way.

Neither of these moments appears in the musical. There is no moment of “Me!”

In both the musical and the film, Elle goes with her friend, Paulette, to retrieve Paulette’s dog from her ex-boyfriend’s trailer. But in the musical, Elle brings Emmett along. And instead of Elle getting the idea to use her new lawyering skills herself, she gets a little helpful hint from Emmett. Which once again undercut’s Elle’s sense of self-agency and discovery.

It’s not as if the film version of Emmett doesn’t help Elle. He does. But he’s helpful in a very particular way. He mostly just reminds her of who she is. And he recommends channeling the “power of the blonde.” (Blonde here being a symbol of Elle’s Elle-ness, her pink-ness, her femininity.)

In the musical, after Emmett’s “Get Serious, Throw Away All This Pink Shit” number, he sings that “maybe some wise man told her” to do the things he’s proud of her for. What he’s proud of, by the way, is her doing what he told her to do. So his pride in her is essentially pride in himself. Gross.

The film walks the line with some stereotypes but the musical just steps right over the line and leans on in to them. On stage, we get rich princes from the Far East, a sassy black judge, Latin lovers and jokes about women going to the bathroom together. In the film, there is a women’s studies PhD student. She makes suggestions like changing the “semester” to “ovester” for feminist reasons. The character is a stereotype but she is amusing in her specificity. As a feminist, I recognize that I am the target of this joke and I think it’s funny. In the musical, this character just becomes a generic lesbian who is there to become the butt of many jokes. I do not find them funny. There is one joke I liked in the musical. (“Subtext” by Calvin Klein) That’s it. But you know. . .okay…stuff gets broader in a musical. Shit happens. I know.

But a major theme from the film that I really miss in the musical is Elle’s commitment to sisterhood. She’s a sorority sister, yes. But she’s committed to helping women in the broader sense. She’s explicit about honoring her bond with her fellow women. And Warner pushes her to abandon it. He says, “Who cares about the sisterhood? Think about yourself.” She doesn’t though. She stays committed to her community. In a story about self-determination, this development points to a way of thinking about the self that includes caring for others. I love that she eventually includes a woman in that sisterhood who has been nothing but mean to her throughout the movie. Those two women, who come from opposing corners and become allies, have a really compelling relationship. This development is not in the musical.

Also cut from the musical is the one female mentor that Elle has in the film. (Hmm, vanishing older women? Nothing sexist to see here, move along please!) The mentor (played by Holland Taylor) is a pivotal figure. She is the woman Elle fears at the beginning and is saved by at the end. There is no older woman to learn from in the musical. The sisterhood is reduced to a one joke idea of Elle’s “Greek Chorus” – a concept that seems to only exist for the fun of saying that they’re a Greek Chorus. Get it? They’re sorority sisters? So they’re Greek? Like Ancient Greek drama? Get it? Anyway.

I don’t want to imply that Legally Blonde, the Film is a beacon of feminist thought. It does include the cringe worthy “Bend and snap” moment. But the musical takes that uncomfortable minute of the film and milks it so as to induce a week’s worth of cringe.

I don’t imagine the creators of the musical set out to create an insufferable sexist mess. The women who made it must have felt they were being true to the source material; a lot of the dialogue in the musical comes straight out of the film. But something happened in that act of translation.

Partly, I think, it is the medium. It is very difficult to get the complex emotion of a film close-up in a musical. A musical encourages a broadness that can kill any sense of irony. But I also imagine that a lot of this happened on the way to the Broadway stage. I have heard enough stories about Broadway development  to be able to imagine producer meetings wherein, bit by bit, the heart of the original story got cut away. (“What about the male lead? What does he want? Let’s get a song where he gets involved! Give her some advice! Women love when men give them advice!”) With no one with a PhD in Women’s Studies to keep them honest, a fun feminist romp of a film about self-determination got turned into a sexist sitcom show with songs.

What I love about the movie is the way it makes me examine my own prejudices. It helps me see the depth in a character I would usually dismiss. The musical does the opposite. It takes people I think of as shallow and superficial and shows me how shallow superficial people become shallow superficial lawyers. Who also sing and dance. And while this may be realistic (there are shallow, superficial lawyers out there) it doesn’t really make for a meaningful night in the theatre. At least not for this Women’s Studies geek.

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You can help me get my “Me!” moments by becoming my patron on Patreon.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



International Rejection
March 17, 2016, 6:19 pm
Filed under: Rejections | Tags: ,

One of my ambitions is to be working internationally. The problem with this goal is that generally, you have to have some success NATIONALLY before you can stumble into an international market. My work generally feels out of alignment with what sells in my country so I’m always on the look out for other ways into an international experience.

 

With that in mind, I applied for a fellowship to attend the Global Arts Leaders conference which happens here in NYC. The fellowship pays for people to come and meet international arts leaders from around the world. I thought it would be great to go and make connections. I also thought that since I live in NYC, I might be a cheap candidate to accept. Others would need airfare and a hotel, I could go for subway fare.

 

But…alas..the rejection notice arrived only a couple of months after my application. We’ll have to keep looking for other ways to achieve the international goal.

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*Wondering why I’m telling you about all these rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

You can help me weather the storms of rejection by becoming my patron on Patreon.

 kaGh5_patreon_name_and_message

Click HERE  to Check out my Patreon Page




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