Songs for the Struggling Artist


How Some Coffee House Music Almost Defeated Me
November 30, 2016, 11:53 pm
Filed under: art, music | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Full Disclosure: I play an acoustic guitar. I write songs. And I sing them. Not as often as I used to but it is a thing I do and have done. I am fully qualified singer-songwriter. If they gave out certifications for folky singer guitar players, I’m pretty sure I could get one.

And yet – the singer-songwriter mix at one of my local coffee shops made me want to smash my guitar. And I love my guitar. But this coffeehouse mix nearly put and end to it, and me.

It didn’t bother me right away. At first, I thought, “Oh nice! Some singer songwriters! I don’t really listen to this sort of thing anymore.” But by the end of my hour there, I couldn’t take another song. And I couldn’t really work at why for a while.

Then I broke it down. Most of the songs were sung by a morose dude over a twiddly guitar part. They didn’t seem to be about anything. They were designed to be inoffensive. They’re like the soundtrack to a Hallmark commercial. I‘ll call this genre Hallmark Twiddle.

And the thing about it is – even though it seems inoffensive…it also seems like music to get date raped by. Like – it’s “nice” guys with guitars who just want you to come up to listen to a few songs, baby.

At the café, the same few songs cycled back again and again. I had never heard them before but they began to make me feel crazy. I figured they were some Pandora or Spotify “Coffeehouse Mix” designed to have performance reviews meetings over. There’s nothing there that might accidentally make you tap your foot or feel something. And then occasionally there’d be some song I love and I’d get all confused. I came home from this experience all messed up and after some research, discovered that this was, indeed, the Spotify Coffeehouse Playlist. And the songs that drove me craziest had thousands and thousands of plays. (probably all of them at this same café where this is the only music they play.) I’ll tell you, I’ve never been a particular fan of hardcore or punk – but when my boyfriend played me some Dead Kennedys as an antidote to this experience, it really hit the spot. I felt a palpable relief.

So how does this happen? How did one Spotify playlist almost defeat me? I feel like so much of culture is like this now. It’s just designed to play in the background without interrupting your life. Don’t worry about it. It’s just aural wallpaper, baby – but it’s insidious. Its blandness can get under your skin and make you go crazy. There were only a couple of women in the mix but they were singing in a baby voice over a cute ukulele. (Check out my amazing friend Lydia’s song about this genre.) In this world, the majority of the tunes are sung by a guy with a guitar. But that guy isn’t Bob Dylan or Billy Bragg and especially not Bill Withers. He’s not someone trying to change the system or even just consensually get into your pants. A guy with a guitar now sort of half plays it and half sings over it to generically tell you it’s going to be okay and don’t worry, he’s going to take care of you, baby. Keep sipping that drink; there’s definitely no roofie in it.

This experience made me long for the days when the music in a place had to be chosen, when it had to be selected each time an album ended. When you had to put on a new record or tape or CD, you had to choose the music each time. You had to say, “Yes. We will be listening to Beleza Tropical here at the Flamingo Rotisserie again. I choose you, Patty Larkin. Today our customers will be dining with Oasis. That’s how it’s going to be. I’m choosing it.”

I find it hard to imagine an actual person choosing songs on this Spotify Coffeehouse list again and again. It has the feeling of someone selecting the music in the same way they selected the brand of plastic cups. I want more out of music. If it’s all twiddly guitars and drippy voices, it’s just like a faucet dripping all night. Actually, I’d rather listen to a faucet drip.

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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



A Universal Symbol for “That’s Racist.”
November 24, 2016, 12:35 am
Filed under: Racism | Tags: , , , ,

The couple got on the N train and asked in their best English if the train was going to Scent Pearl. I asked them if they meant “Central Park” and if so, yes, it was going there and they settled in. They were from Brazil and delighted that I could understand their English sometimes and occasionally bits of their Portuguese. We had a companionable ride, misunderstanding one another at every turn. (Example: “How long are you here?” “We’ve been married 25 years.”) They told me I was very nice and friendly (I think this is what they were saying) and that they were happy to meet me. I told them I was also happy to meet them. They told me their names and I told them mine. I was pretty pleased to have made a nice connection with some strangers from far away.

Then the man made a gesture that I decided couldn’t possibly be what I thought it was because it was so racist. Then he did it again, bigger and clearer and I heard “chines” and I realized he was, in fact, making an incredibly racist gesture. I said, “No!” which he somehow interpreted as a license to keep going and so followed a series of gestures and sentences I couldn’t understand – but I presume added up to an unfavorable rant about Chinese people. I was horrified. And given the language barriers, I could not figure out what to do. I wished there were a gesture for “That’s Racist.” It would come in handy – not just when there’s a language barrier like this but in situations where it’s just not a good time to have a full discussion. Just a simple hand or finger wave of some kind. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a universal symbol for “That’s sexist,” too. It’s amazing how much racism and sexism can be expressed without language; I would love for a way to express the opposite some way as well.

And unfortunately, given the current climate, we will likely have many many opportunities to use a gesture that expresses that something is racist or sexist. With hate crimes on the rise, it’s ever more essential to address the stuff when it comes up in the moment. It occurred to me that so many people were okay with voting for racist candidates because they didn’t fundamentally understand what racism is. They missed the multitude of racist statements because they didn’t recognize them as the racism they were. If we could do call it out with a gesture, we could register our response and keep moving. We could express ourselves, en mass, when our new elected officials denigrate their target of choice. I don’t know how gestures become popularized, but now is the moment for us to get one.

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This gesture might work.

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read it on Soundcloud, click here.

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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 Discomfort of Being Different

I make theatre. For years I tried to make it the way everyone else was making it but I found I was always running into trouble and it never turned out the way I wanted. When I realized that I didn’t have to try and fit in, I felt liberated. I didn’t have to do things the way other people did them. I didn’t have to follow the accepted norm. I could do it my way. I could audition actors my way. I could rehearse my way. I could perform my way.

Periodically I run into some pushback and it is always fascinating to watch what happens around it. I had a moment not too long ago wherein I’d invited an actor to audition for my company and asked her to come for a workshop/playtime (which is how I invited actors to audition and also signal to them that I wanted it to be different than the usual audition) and she wrote back saying she couldn’t make it but to let her know when we were having auditions. When I got this email, my insides got all twisted up and I felt a familiar discomfort – a deep sense of something I couldn’t put my finger on.

Later, with some distance, I was able to deduce that it felt like shame. Like all those times I wore an article of clothing to school that did not pass muster with my classmates. “You’re wearing fluorescent green? But everyone’s wearing fluorescent orange. You are so out of it.” And I just couldn’t fit in, no matter how hard I tried. And I tried. I tried so hard. And then I stopped trying and began to dress completely unlike anyone at my school. I started shopping at vintage shops out of town and wearing vintage ties, repurposed skirts. I was so much happier this way. The clothes that everyone was wearing were ugly on me and I felt so much better in my self-styled wardrobe. And I discovered that I got teased a whole lot less than I did when I was trying to fit in. I was much more able to thrive when I played by my own rules.

There’s something similar going on in my theatre making. I find a lot of the usual way of doing things ugly…perhaps even toxic. Auditions are horrible. Casting can be impersonal and inhumane. There are many structures in place to keep distance and control in the hands of the people holding the bag of money. I’ve seen actors, designers and crew bullied and abused and no one can complain. It is just what people expect sometimes.

So when I set up a process that I mean to be kind and respectful and gentle, people get confused and sometimes they get mad at me because I have not asked them to do the thing they’ve used to doing. By wearing my repurposed skirt and tie, I have unintentionally challenged the entire structure.

And most of me is delighted to challenge the field. It needs a challenge.  I am a happy non-conformist. In many ways, my non-conformist structures are built to weed out those who will not respond to them. I know very well that my work is not for everyone. Nor is my way of working. It is a good thing when someone self-excludes from my process.

But when I’m challenged about my methods,  my stomach flips over and I feel like I’ve been caught not knowing what the (unwritten) rules are instead of choosing to break the rules. I have to acknowledge that while I am 90% non-conformist – there is a 10% portion that just wants to be accepted. It is my inner 11 year old who just wants all the kids to like me and the established form to open its arms and invite me in.

I get better and better at staying true to my own impulses, my own way of doing things, my own sense of style but the journey isn’t over. It is not always easy to be the odd one at the edge of the middle school dance. It can be painful to be operating from a different script than the majority of my peers.  The pain pays off, I think. We, the oddballs, have a lot of original thoughts, ideas and methods that the ones who have managed to fit in will never have access to. But it does seem to involve tolerating a certain amount of discomfort when our worlds meet.

Theatre is wonderful and awful for the same reason. Theatre involves people. We have to work with people to make theatre and we have to perform for people. There is no part of the experience that doesn’t involve being in community in some way or another. And one of the tricky things about being a part of a community is figuring out how much one needs to assimilate to the group. How much homogeneity is good and how much is counterproductive?

There is some evidence, through social science experiments, that human beings feel physical pain when we feel separate from a group. We feel physical pain when rejected. To avoid feeling like outsiders, we will say things we know are incorrect, we will risk our lives, we will do silly things like stand up when a bell goes off, just because everyone around us does. It feels important to recognize that evolution has made us social animals as a life-saving skill so the pain of diverging is real. But there are also benefits to risking non-conformity. This article from MIT said it this way:

Our studies found that nonconformity leads to positive inferences of status and competence when it is associated with deliberateness and intentionality. In other words, observers attribute heightened status and competence to a nonconforming individual when they believe he or she is aware of an accepted, established norm and is able to conform to it, but instead deliberately decides not to.

See, I know what the accepted, established norm is and I guess the discomfort that I feel is when I discover that others don’t know that I know. Instead of feeling the benefits of nonconformity, I feel the shame. That’s the danger of doing things differently. And a danger I will continue to face. Because I am definitely never wearing that fluorescent green sweatshirt again.

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You can help assuage the discomfort of being different

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read it on Soundcloud, click here.

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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



No More Muses
October 20, 2016, 9:29 pm
Filed under: art, Gender politics, Visual Art | Tags: , , , , , ,

Warning: Sweary Feminist Rant Ahead. If you object to swears, hold your ears.

Fuck muses. I’m done with reading about fucking muses. Not the Actual Muses, not Terpsichore or Erato. I could read about them all day. But the goddamn muses who inspired the Great Painters and Giants of Literature and whatnot.

I have not always felt this way. It used to be my fantasy to have some dude paint me or write a song about me. But no more. I grew up. And now I say: fuck that. Fuck being a damn muse.

See, this is how it went down, see? I’m at the gorgeous, peaceful, beautiful, intelligent Picasso Museum and I keep reading title cards and each one is about a new goddamn muse. His cubist muse. His ceramic muse. His last muse. Fuck that noise. Fuck it. Here we are celebrating the glorification of an intense objectification that allows generations to fetishize the women Picasso found attractive. I’m just done with this.

I mean Picasso found women’s bodies attractive. Cool. I’m cool with that. But he also found goats attractive and we don’t call them his muses. They’re the SAME in this context. So fuck muses. I never want to read about another goddamn muse again. Unless, it’s something like: “Here we have Frida Kahlo’s muse. It’s herself, okay? She’s her own goddamn muse. She doesn’t need a fucking muse because she’s a badass who can come up with her shit all by herself.“

No more muses. My new manifesto.

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You can help me be my own damn muse

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read it on Soundcloud, click here.

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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



New Victory, NYFA and a Space Grant Rejections
October 17, 2016, 11:24 pm
Filed under: Rejections | Tags: , , ,

I’m tending to cluster these rejection posts these days. I figure they’re less overwhelming in groups. So here are three

New Victory Rejection

Whenever I make a show, people tell me “this would be great for children” and so I apply for things that help support making Theatre for Young People. One time, this worked out. But the one venue that would make the biggest difference in this arena in NYC has never accepted me. I apply and apply. But, alas, no…again, no.

It’s alright. I understand. Award-winning Broadway director/designers apply for this same thing and of course they are accepted. See also, why people give awards. It is a bummer, as ever, to be rejected – particularly from the place that has the potential to make the biggest difference, not just for me in the city, but worldwide – as the New Victory has a reputation for leading in the International Performing Arts for Youth community. But no. The answer is no. Again.

SPACE GRANT REJECTION

It was probably greedy to apply for another space grant when I have one already. But the one I have is such that I can’t actually use it enough to really make a piece – so I needed a supplemental space grant that would not require additional staff funding for the venue (a cost that is more than renting rehearsal space) But probably the fact that I already HAVE a space grant elsewhere did not help my case when applying for this new space grant (which, in case it wasn’t clear, I did not get.) I will say, though, that there are companies who GOT a space grant who have their own spaces, like THEIR spaces…so maybe I’m not the greediest applicant.

Also, side note from those who DON’T make theatre in NYC – a space grant is a gift of theatre or rehearsal space. It’s not a GRANT in that it’s not money but it is a gift of free rehearsal or performance space, depending on the grant.

Given the difficulties of securing rehearsal space in this city, they are tremendously important.

NYFA

I’ve been doing this Rejection documentation project long enough now to have multiple years of rejections of the same thing. This Fellowship I just got rejected for is one I have applied for in multiple categories – fiction, playwriting…maybe even something else and I just, of course, like 99% of the people who applied, got yet another rejection.

Are we bored of rejections yet everyone? I am tired of writing about them, I know that much – And I have failed to post as many as I’ve written. That’s the thing. It is a grind to get rejected again and again. One does cease having interesting things to say about them.

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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.

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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



If we knew what we were doing…

“If we knew what we were doing it wouldn’t be called research.”

I walked past the NYU Environmental Fluid Dynamics Lab and saw this quote in their window. It is (probably mis-)attributed to Albert Einstein but the sentiment is useful regardless of who came up with it.

This idea is particularly meaningful to me now as I’m currently raising funds for the Research and Development of my show. We don’t know what we’re doing. Or rather, it feels like I don’t know what I’m doing. I recognize that it is a little disingenuous for me to say that we do not know what we’re doing because we know many things. We come to the table with a world of skill and experience and desire and curiosity and trainings and aesthetic preferences and all sorts of juicy stuff. But even with all that behind us, it can feel disorienting to not know the answers or even the questions sometimes. But sitting in the feeling of not knowing what we’re doing is the way to something potent – through research, through discovery.

So much theatre (maybe even so much art?) is full of assuredness or even bluster. It knows what it’s doing. It has a plan and it will execute that plan to the letter. There are systems in place to execute the stuff that everyone knows how to do. It works very hard to be seen as confident and knowledgeable at every turn. This is why so much theatre fails to move me, I suspect. It’s too certain, too sure of itself, too smooth.

Sometimes it feels uncomfortable to Not Know but it so helpful to remember that not knowing what you’re doing is how you discover something new. Einstein (maybe) said it.

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You can help my company research

by contributing to our Indiegogo campaign.

 

You can help my individual research

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read it on Soundcloud, click here.

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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 Danger of Relying on Opinions

My theatre company’s crowdfunding campaign for Research and Development of our show got me thinking about arts funding and the way art gets supported. Generally, arts crowdfunding campaigns live or die based on the response to an idea, that is, the opinions of the people funding it. If a project’s friends and family LIKE the idea of the project, they fund it. If they’re not keen on it, like they think, “I wouldn’t want to go see that,” – they won’t. This is actually, at the gut level, often how grants get passed out as well. “Is this show, art-work, dance – something I’d want to see?” If yes – Stamp of Approval. If no – Rejection.

This basically means that whether or not something gets made is connected to the opinions of the consumer. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I decide whether to support something or not based on whether or not I think it’s a good idea. But I think this is problematic and symptomatic of an overly commercial sensibility when funding the arts. If you’d pitched me some of my favorite shows just as ideas, I’d definitely not have funded or chosen them. A stage version of the film, Brief Encounter? A one man show about tribes in the rainforest performed by a white dude? If you’d asked me to fund a show about a horse who goes to war, I’d have said that was an idea that was doomed to fail. And I would have been very wrong about that.

The fact is, whether or not I LIKE an artist shouldn’t preclude that artist’s ability to make the art. I don’t like all kinds of things every day. But I shouldn’t get to be the arbiter of what gets made.

We live in a world where Spiderman The Musical got made because Marvel had money to burn on it. We had Legally Blonde, The Musical because it was paid for. And I have to bet that not many people were truly passionate about making Legally Blonde the Musical. It was not born from a group of artists getting together to create something where there was nothing. A group of producers hired a group of writers to do a job and make some money using an existing property. It has all the hallmarks of a show put together by agents to showcase people at their agency.

Do we truly want a world where agents and movies studios decide what theatre gets made and artists like us – and like so many of our peers – have to send our ideas to the Idea Cemetery simply because our friends and/or granting organization didn’t like the idea? From Broadway all the way down to the smallest company, we’re letting the market determine who gets to make art.

This is why government funding for the arts makes sense. While no Arts Council is perfect, they at least aspire to a more equitable distribution of resources. They can keep their eye on inclusion and diversity. They can fund things that people won’t necessarily LIKE but really should get made and seen anyway. I’d rather have all kinds of work I don’t like funded, knowing that there are other metrics under consideration than whether the panel or audience thinks it’s a good idea.  I mean no disrespect to grant panels or audiences – but they don’t always recognize the good ideas from the outset. They tend to respond to things that are like something they’ve seen before. And this is not a great way to innovate in the Arts.

For the arts to thrive, we need to be able to explore a wide variety of ideas. We need to chase down the “bad” ones as well as the “good” ones. Good ideas sometimes make bad art. And vice versa. We need an arts funding culture that isn’t predicated on whether or not someone likes the idea. If we could, instead, fund the artists, fund the companies and fund the places that say to artists, “Whatever you want to explore, here are some resources.” That’s the way toward a vibrant, thriving arts landscape.

And, I think, that is why my company’s current campaign is going better than any crowdfunding we’ve done before. We’re not trying to sell the idea this time. We’re sharing a process. We’re looking to fund an exploration instead of a product. No one has to have an opinion about where we’re headed or what we create. And it is liberating for both artists and funders. We’ll save the opinions for the critics.

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You don’t have to like me to become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read it on Soundcloud, click here.

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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




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