Songs for the Struggling Artist


Waterworks at the Street Circus

When I walked up to check out the booths at Open Streets (the program that closes down/opens up a couple of blocks to give the neighborhood more public space) I wasn’t prepared for a show.

When I approached the second block, I saw a crowd and a truck and then I saw some clowns getting the crowd fired for their circus. Their performance style was so familiar, I almost just walked away – feeling an habitual “I know what this is. I don’t need to watch it.” But then I found myself not walking away. And then I found myself not walking away for quite some time – and halfway through their opening sketch, I started weeping and did not stop until I finally pulled myself away half an hour later.

Was I watching and crying because the show was so moving, so good, so remarkable? No. I mean, the show was fine. It was perfect for the venue and earnest and sweet. I’m almost certain that the river falling out of my face had very little to do with the content of the piece. There is nothing particularly tear-jerking about a Chinese yo-yo or a tapdancing ring master.

It could be the audience. There was a big joyful crowd of people and the children did not hesitate what they were asked to repeat, “We want the circus!” I, for sure, was moved by that. Maybe it was also just seeing an audience at all? I’ve only seen one other show since March of 2020 so I have not been in many crowds, nor seen them. Maybe it’s the novelty, the preciousness of a people gathering together to watch some show people on a truck bed.

I kept trying to stop my tears, because it became a little embarrassing. My handkerchief got soaked. A man came out of the crowd and looked right at my dripping wet face and smiled a little bit. He had a knowing look about him – like he knew what it was about. Did he? Because I’m not sure I know what it was about. It wasn’t the girls pretending to tap dance in their sneakers, though that had its charms. I did not notice anyone else crying their face off at the street circus so this would seem to be a me thing.

I have been cautious about going back to the theatre, despite some really tempting offers for precisely this reason. I know that whatever I see in a theatre again for the first time is going to be seen through the waterfall of my tears and I’m being careful about what that show will be. I don’t want to miss the show itself because of my response to the experience.

The half an hour I spent at the street circus was about all I had the stamina for. The loud music was hard on my brain that was just emerging from a migraine and I ran out of tissues after a while. I’m going to have to ease back into performances it would seem.

I think it’s probably from love that I’m weeping. The thing is I love performance and performers. I love audiences and shows. I am show people all the way through and this pandemic has so thoroughly cut me off from that part of myself, I’m not sure there is anything for it but to cry.

The marketing team can declare “Broadway is back” all it wants but as far as I can see, it’s really out there, more or less by itself, with a few well-funded buddies. Small companies like the one I saw on the street in my neighborhood are much fewer and far betweener. This particular one has been part of the landscape of NYC performance as long as I’ve lived here and it is a relief to me to see them out here, still kicking and juggling. I may not recognize any of the people anymore but I know their history. I was there for some of it. I don’t really know how a small circus got themselves through this mess. I don’t know how I got my theatre company and myself through this mess. And I don’t expect we’re really through this mess so much as on a temporary reprieve. (I’m sorry. I know there is not a country on this planet who has opened back up and not had to shut back down right quick like.) Mostly, I guess, I try not to think about it – but sometimes the feelings about all that just make themselves known. The crying I was doing at the circus was very bizarre in that I did not necessarily feel sad or happy or moved. I couldn’t have told you what those feelings were.  I felt disconnected from my own emotional world. It’s like my tears were flowing without me.

As an actor who can sometimes be called upon to cry, I cannot help but interrogate this new style of crying. It felt so involuntary. It was like when a strong wind blows in your face and makes your eyes water. I guess these are my new “watching a performance” tears. I don’t have to work up my particular feelings, I guess, just watch someone giving their all to an audience and the waterworks will flow.

I want to go back inside and see shows again. I love the red curtain. I love the wooden O, the wooden arch, the wooden frame. I love a black box and a dance studio. I long to return to all of them – but I have yet to hear an epidemiologist recommend it. I feel like folks are doing shows indoors again not because it’s safe and we’re ready but because Broadway producers want to make some money. I don’t blame them – there’s no support for anything or anyone – to put folks back to work is the only way to put food back on a lot of people’s tables. It may be safe-ish since everyone’s theoretically vaccinated and the audience is masked. It’s not the least safe space to be or at least it wasn’t until Omicron kicked off. Now shows that just opened are closing again. There’s something about the place that I love most in the world becoming so dangerous that it had to be closed, everywhere – that makes me feel like I need it to be thoroughly safe now.

Stumbling on a show two blocks from my apartment in the middle of the street is my dream of NYC come true. This is, definitely, what I hoped for when I moved here – and twenty years later, it happened. But only because we all had our little performers’ hearts broken in a big way last year. Based on the major waterworks that kicked off at the neighborhood circus, mine is still in need of repair I’d say.

This photo is probably blurry because it was taken through my tears. But check it out! This glorious woman is balancing on bottles on top of a truck bed!

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Tips on Masks from a Mask Theatre Person
April 13, 2020, 1:25 am
Filed under: advice, clown, masks, theatre | Tags: , , , , , ,

The masks we’re all wearing these days are not the sort that would play onstage. You’d have to use them if you were playing a naturalistic surgical scene – but otherwise, these protective masks are awfully hard to express one’s self in. They may be very important for not spreading the virus but they are lousy theatre masks. Even so, I’ve been trying to figure out how to apply what I’ve learned from years of mask work to these terrible untheatrical (but incredibly important) medical ones.

First is – once it’s on, don’t mess with it.

On stage, it ruins the illusion if you touch your mask. Actors will go through all kinds of machinations to avoid being seen adjusting a mask in front of the public. Many will just ride out an uncomfortable mask and deal with the elastic injuries later.

Out in coronavirus world, if you adjust your mask, you bring whatever you had on your fingers up to your face, putting you at more risk. Touching your mask once it’s on moves possible infection around. This is why it’s best to try and work out the fit with clean hands before you got out in the world.

Second – no one can see what you’re doing with your face under your mask. If you’re smiling, we don’t know. If you’re gritting your teeth with murderous rage, we don’t know. That’s why, onstage, mask performers learn how to express stuff with the body. Sad? We’ll see it in the tilt of the head. Mad? we’ll see it in your balled up fists. If you’re finding yourself alienated in your inexpressive face covering, try communicating more with your body. Give a thumbs up. Do a happy shoulder shimmy. If you go too big with all this stuff, people might think you’re a strange clown but at least you’ll have an actual human to human exchange with that person six feet away from you, who definitely can’t see the crinkle in your eyes to indicate your smile. Trust me on that point. No one knows you’re smiling at them.

Third – Don’t be a maskhole.
There’s an effect that can happen with some people where putting on a mask makes them feel invulnerable and anonymous and it turns them into maskholes. When I worked Front of House on Punchdrunk’s Masque of the Red Death, wherein everyone in the audience wore a mask, we saw extraordinarily bad behavior from many masked audience members. There were people who seemed perfectly nice and reasonable before and after the show but as soon as the mask went on, they became holy terrors. They’d steal things from the rooms. They’d get belligerent with actors and staff. They got in the way a lot.

You might have noticed this effect at Halloween.

Similarly, in those early days of Coronavirus – there were a handful of people in masks and lots of people not in them. Almost inevitably, the people who one had to be the most careful of were those IN masks. They’d get very close – pass right next to you – barrel forward in the grocery store. And so the term maskhole was coined.

Now we’re all meant to wear masks outside our homes and I’m worried about the increase in potential maskholes.

One article I read said that part of the reasoning to insist on masks was to help encourage people to be more careful but I cannot imagine, given how many people in masks behave, that it will do that. It’s likely that it will encourage the opposite. A mask provides such a strong illusion of safety – I fear we’re bound to see people in them getting closer to each other than they’ve been before. Why not? They have masks! They feel safe now!

So – you know – try not to be a maskhole.

Fourth – It takes time to get to know what you can do in a mask. It will be alienating for a while. At the moment, everyone looks sort of automaton-y and apocalyptic. But I think there’s hope for a more expressive way of wearing our protective gear. Maybe we can develop a smile substitute that we can do from six feet away? I was going to suggest using the ASL sign for smile but it appears to involve touching one’s face – so we’re going to need a hands away from the face gesture that suggests that you’re smiling at someone behind the mask. Maybe, like, one jazz hand? I don’t know. We need something, for sure. I really miss being able to exchange smiles with the few people I get to see out in the world.

Fifth – no one can hear you through a mask. Onstage, you’d probably just have a character in masks like these be silent. Out in the real world, you will have to speak, probably. You’ll have to speak more loudly than you’re used to, to get through those layers of fabric and it’s going to feel weird, because it is. Nobody sounds good or clear from behind a mask. That’s why gestures work so much better than actual talking. Maybe it’s time we really all learned sign language.

I’m hoping some of my fellow mask theatre folk will be finding theatrical ways to deal with these unwieldy, unaesthetic masks. I’ve seen some who’ve designed dog snout masks, another who’s made a changeable smiling mask. I think, if this goes on for a while and it does seem likely to go on for a while, we will eventually see some exciting developments for this type of mask. Meanwhile, stay safe everyone! And don’t be a maskhole!

UPDATE! I have written some more tips all these months later. Here are: More Tips on Masks from a Mask Theatre Person

This person is doing an amazing job of smiling with her mask on. BUT, really, you shouldn’t be close enough to see those smiling eyes.

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Performing Arts Going Dark

Have you all read Station Eleven? I mean, don’t, if you haven’t. Even the author recommends waiting a few months to read it. It’s a little too relevant right now. It hits a little too close to home. It begins with a pandemic that leads to the radical upending of civilization. You can see why you might want to wait a minute to get into it. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week – not just because of the pandemic – but because of what happens after the pandemic. The heart of the story is a traveling Shakespeare company that tours the devastated country. When nothing is left, we have the arts.

At the moment, with all the performing arts cancelled, it can feel like our work is unimportant or inessential. Suddenly, it is, technically, palpably dangerous to do what we do. Suddenly, it has become reckless to gather people in a room and share things with them. Suddenly, the very thing that makes the performing arts so magical is the thing that makes them dangerous. Almost everyone I know in New York works in the performing arts in some capacity and almost everyone I know is in a state of absolute disarray. As show people, we are built with an intense drive for the show going on. We are used to pushing through any numbers of difficulties in order to make it to the stage. To have the stage pulled out from under us is counter to everything we feel in the very fiber of our beings. The show must go on! It can’t be cancelled! It goes on! Isn’t it better to do a show? Isn’t it always better to do a show than not do a show? Won’t the arts save us all? Not in this case, no. Not in the way we’re used to.

What’s happening for us is not just a crisis of economics (though it is that and quite a serious one at that) but also a crisis of faith. If the shows don’t go on, who are we? What is all this for? How can it not be good to gather a group of people together and share art with them? To laugh? To cry? To tap our toes to the beat together? To have our heartbeats sync up as we watch? How? How? How?

But, of course, in a pandemic, it is very bad for us all to be in a room together. I am interested in the connections we share with other things that have had to shut down recently. Sports and religious gatherings are experiencing the same unilateral canceling. We are all shut down together – all the things that bring people together, that unite us, are dangerous.

But this does not mean they are inessential. Things that bring people together, like the performing arts, like sports, like religion, are key to our survival, to our thriving as a species. It feels to me that in losing that ability of being all together in a unified state, I’ve come to appreciate it anew.

Sometimes, you may have noticed, I get a little cranky about theatre. I see shows and they make me angry and sometimes I tell you about it. I get mad – partly because I want shows to be better and partly because my ability to make shows has been hampered over the years so I get mad about shows that have a lot of resources and squander them.

But here we are in the middle of a pandemic and almost all theatres have been shut down. And it becomes instantly clear that I would rather watch the worst show there is (It’s Bike. You know it’s Bike.) over and over and over again than have no theatre at all.

For all my ranting, I do love the stuff and I’m sad for even the worst show that has closed. It suddenly feels very important to me to know that shows are running, even ones I’ll never see, even ones I hate.

I hope that when this is all over, there will be a renewed appreciation for the performing arts and their important place in our culture. We were all shaken by how quickly the entire theatre business was shut down here in New York. It was as if someone flicked a switch and thousands of people lost their jobs and thousands more lost their dreams. Like that. In an instant. But this doesn’t mean the arts are a frill that get dropped in a time of crisis. It’s just that being with people is what the performing arts are all about and suddenly being with people is dangerous and so the performing arts become the most dangerous. And not because theatre people are some of the most touchy feely people out here, either. It’s because a bunch of people breathing the same air is the heart and soul of the work – and right now that air is treacherous. So we have to stop.

But maybe, once this has passed, we can come to appreciate what we lost when the theatres went dark.

Maybe it doesn’t need to be as extreme as Station Eleven – where survivors form a community building Shakespeare company. Maybe we don’t have to wait for the destruction of civilization as we know it to support the performing arts. Maybe we can support them right now so that theatre spaces will be able to open again, that shows can continue their runs, that freelancers can survive this terrifying downturn. As this article in Vulture says, “As concert halls, theaters, and museums around the world go dark, we all need to move quickly to ensure that when it’s finally safe to emerge from our lairs, we still have a cultural life left to go back to.”

Personally, I’ve come up with a project to keep some theatre folk creatively engaged with a project that we can do from our homes. I was working on it prior to this disaster in another form and it just happens to be possible this way. So I’m just rolling forward on that and it’s already delighting me.

The skills that help us bring people together in real life are stepping up to help keep us together while we are separated. Here are two that I know about – The Social Distancing Festival and Musicals from Home. Many many theatre folk are going to find this social distance thing very very difficult (as I’m sure most people will – but I think it hits our community driven community especially hard.) I feel quite certain this will drive a lot of them to become very inventive to create distance community and whatever those inventions are will benefit us all in the long run.

There will be theatre when this is all over. And concerts. And dances. And hopefully we will all appreciate them and being with each other all the more.

Look at all these theatre kids touching each other. We can’t do this right now. And it sort of made me tear up just looking at them. Photo by Mauricio Kell via Pixabay

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

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Be the Weirdo You Want to See in the World

Look – I’ve always been a LITTLE bit weird. I wore my tutu with pants and an engineer’s cap to school when I was a kid. (I might still wear this, given a chance.) I don’t care much for social conventions or fashion trends or behavioral controls. I’m sort of constitutionally an artist and a certain amount of difference discomfort is just a normal part of my life experience.

But recently, I’ve been feeling like I’m much weirder than I used to be. Or rather, I’m as weird as I’ve always been but I seem to seem weirder to the outside world.

I get a lot more quizzical looks than I used to. I get more heads turning in my direction if I make a sound. I feel like I’m weird everywhere I go. Even in weird New York, which has not historically, been worried about weirdos in its midst.

I’m not concerned about it for myself. I’m a comfortable-with-myself woman in my 40s, I don’t really worry about what most people think of me. But I am concerned about the weirdos behind me. I am concerned that if even my lowest level weirdness is drawing attention, the less comfortable weirdos, the young ones who are still finding themselves, will feel less and less comfortable becoming their full weird selves.

It feels like the world is bending toward a conformity that makes me very nervous. The current bent toward the collective sometimes means more policing of behavior, I think. People seem more inclined to try and fit in somewhere than to just rock who they are wherever they are. This may be a generational preference. Much of my generation would rather walk into the sun being 100% true to ourselves than conform to the crowd.

There are absolutely advantages to the group choice – but I worry about the loss of those sun-walkers. It feels like it makes the world less interesting, less vibrant, less alive.

It’s not just my feelings that are signaling that I am weird. I got a notice at the end of last year – a sum up of my listening on Spotify. They described me as 100% different. This tells me that the bulk of Spotify listeners are playing highly conventional tracks – that there are not nearly enough people venturing down the less traveled hallways there. Because, sure, I like to explore music from around the world and will happily venture into unknown musical territory but there are surely musicians with more adventurous tastes than me. At least I hope there are because I am really not that weird, musically. I don’t want to be a lonely weird music listener.

I’ll give you another example. I went to an author event. It was a big crowd and while the subject matter was intense, the author and interviewer were making jokes and being engaging humans. Being the human I am, I laughed at the jokes, gasped at the astounding facts and clucked at the reported bad behavior of some. But I was literally the only one making ANY sound. People turned to look at me. I was a sound-making weirdo laughing and responding instead of sitting in the silence of the rest of the room. I know I seemed like a weirdo in that room but to me the room was weird. Who just sits in silence while someone makes a joke? They’re just going to let them flail up there on the stage? A laugh after a joke is polite, especially if it’s genuine. (My clown training prevents me from laughing at theatre folk who aren’t actually funny but I will still laugh as a social lubricant in a social or lecture setting. Clown rules do not apply to the general public.)

Anyway – I walked away from that event feeling as though the world had changed in a way that has made me less welcome in it. It has become a world wherein I’m weird everywhere I go no. Not just because I wear asymmetrical dresses but because I bring all my human self with me wherever I go.

Those kinds of things seem to happen more and more and I don’t know what to do about it. Luckily, I am already comfortable with being different, with being weird – but I want to make space for all the other weirdos. I want to find a way to support those who want to laugh but feel silenced by the group. I want to live in a world with more fully human humans and a whole lot more weirdos.

BTW – the image they used for this is of Fatoumata Diawara whose music you should definitely listen to.

 

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

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You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Americans Need Dario Fo

Thanks to my dad and the Friends of the Library, a parcel full of books by and about Dario Fo arrived at my door recently. It’s been years since I last looked at his work and suddenly I was up to my ankles in Fo plays and biographies.

If you’re American, you probably haven’t seen many, or any of his plays. I’ve never even seen a notice of a production here, not to mention an actual production. This work just isn’t done in the United States. The first time I read some of his plays, I could not understand why but now that I’m reading his work anew, I actually understand completely why there’s been no American embracement of his work.

First, he and Franca Rame, his wife and artistic partner, were not allowed to enter the US until the 80s. Our government would not let him in. Second, his work is funny and while the American Theatre lets an occasional comedy through the system, it is a rare occurrence. If an American Theatre institution is going to produce foreign work, it wants it to be arty and arty usually means moody. But also the odds of doing foreign work at all are very slim. Also…particularly in the 80s – artists who had some dealings with the communist party were not likely to be heartily embraced.

Third, and this is the bit I realized while reading, the American Theatre has been much too class unconscious to welcome particularly politically progressive work. For example, in Il Ratto di Diana (the Kidnapping of Diane) – there is a recurring joke about the ruling class. And the problem is, the only theatres that could have afforded to put this show on are all funded by the ruling classes, the kind of folks who really don’t find that sort of thing amusing. The way theatre gets made in this country is antithetical to the presentation of actual working class work that might be critical of the ruling class.

American Theatre is only possible because the ruling class has, historically, donated the funds or the buildings or the grants to keep the doors open. The reason there are parties for donors and velvet ropes is that the American Theatre depends on the ruling class continuing to write them big checks.

American Theatre thinks of itself as liberal but it is rarely actually progressive. Our radical progressive theatres like Bread and Puppet and San Francisco Mime Troupe have only managed to survive by the skin of their hippie teeth – instead of embraced as the brave American changemakers they are.

American Theatre puts on a lot of plays about upper middle class families. Like, a lot. This is because those are the people who write the majority of the checks and they like to see themselves on stage. Those audiences are not so interested in being implicated among the ruling classes and so, of course, no big budget theatre has interest in translating and producing Dario Fo’s work. Of course. Of course.

Translation is part of the issue, too. The English translations we have are English, as in from England, and they read very British. In order to do these plays in America, we need to commission American writers to translate in an American style. I suspect that the way American writers are seen and supported also plays a role in keeping Fo from our stages.

But I think we need Fo’s work. We need to talk about the ruling classes. We need to develop an awareness of class. We need to put on plays that challenge our system –not just sit comfortably within it. And not for nothing, anyone deciding to produce this giant of world theatre will pick up a whole lot of hungry theatre goers who have been waiting for it. That is, if I see someone – anyone producing a Fo play any time soon, I will be purchasing tickets. I will even pay full price to actually hear and see a play that challenges the ruling class.

Also – sidebar – my Italian is passable and I’ve already done a translation of one of Rame’s plays, so I’d be happy to give Fo’s a go if you need an American translation.

Photo by D Frohman

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Fortune Favors the Bold and It ALSO likes to Watch the Bold Fall on Its Face
April 26, 2019, 10:29 pm
Filed under: art, clown | Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve been brave this week. I stepped WAAAAAAY out of my comfort zone and took a series of risks. This is not unprecedented. I have, over the course of my artist life, taken quite a few giant leaps.

Wherever I do it, I try to psyche myself up with such platitudes as “Fortune favors the bold.” I tell myself, “Good things come to those who risk.” But even though these ideas help me to take the risk, they have rarely been true.

I have been brave more times than I can count and the results have been mixed at best. In fact, if I’m truthful, 9 out of every 10 brave attempts have resulted in failure. If these were parachute jumps, I would certainly be dead. Luckily, the ways I choose to be brave are more like – moving to a city with no job, no prospects or guarantees, talking to a famous person, applying for things I am unlikely to get or going to expensive conferences where I don’t know anyone. My risks are mostly risks of my dignity or security.

And when I fall on my face it does not feel good, I will admit. I fall down a lot and it hurts every time. But. I do have quite a bit of clown training and I know how to fail. I know that failure feels bad but can sometimes generate the most authentic interesting moments.

I would LIKE for Fortune to favor me at some point but meanwhile, I am fully prepared for a complete and total face plant every time I attempt to be bold.

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Sometimes I Need Applause

My life in the arts began with performance. I also wanted to be a writer but it was theatre that tipped the balance. From the first time I stood on a stage, I was besotted. As the tightrope walker in the first grade circus, I pretty much just tiptoed in a line on the stage but pretending to be doing more was a thrill. The applause was intoxicating. I loved performing. Passionately. Talent shows were MY time. I got into plays as soon as I possibly could. The response was immediate and applause felt better than just about anything else ever.

Having a performing career however did not feel as good as I had hoped it would. The moments onstage and in rehearsal were sometimes euphoric, sometimes routine and sometimes devastating – and all of that was the best of it. The rest of it was the worst and it’s why I more or less gave it up.

I started recording songs in my living room when I didn’t know how else to comfort myself in 2016 – but despite the performative craft and context, singing for a microphone is not, in fact, performing. There is no audience in front of me. There is no immediate return on the energy given. There is no applause.

I started to think about this distinction of experience after I released the albums of the songs that came out of my podcast. As I prepared to send the first one into the world, I had a sense of excitement, an anticipation. I wondered what would happen.

And then I released it. And nothing happened. Like, no response. Not for weeks, actually. Dropping an album was less like dropping balloons into a party and more like dropping something off a cliff. For a performer used to working in a live medium, the lag time between sending something out and seeing a return was shocking. I did it 4 times this year, with four albums and each one was a similar non-event. The same is true for podcasts, my fiction and the blog. The response tends to happen on its own time. If people say anything at all (and they probably won’t) it will be weeks or months down the line. This is an aspect of making things that is taking me some getting used to. It is a completely different model of creation.

I’m very happy to not have to depend on an audience’s immediate reaction to something anymore and to not have to first gather a large group of people into a room to do something is great but I do miss applause.

I feel silly about it but I have a performer’s heart. I felt sad a few weeks ago and I was trying to understand it and found myself telling my partner that maybe I just needed some applause and he gave me some and darned if I didn’t feel better.

I mean, maybe sometimes it’s just that simple. Sometimes I just need applause. Not everyone does. My partner, for example, has no interest in applause – but luckily was happy to provide some for me.

I’m curious to learn how those of you who work primarily in non-time-based media handle the lag between release and response. Do you have methods for managing the wait as people listen or read, slowly, at their own pace (as they should, of course!) Or do you just find nice people to applaud for you occasionally? Or maybe you don’t need applause at all? I wish I were like that. But I have to acknowledge just how valuable applause is to this former elementary school pretend tightrope walker.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Anchor, click here.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 

 

 



Mature
July 20, 2018, 9:27 pm
Filed under: age, art, clown, comedy, music, theatre | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I have arrived at the point in my career wherein people are starting to call my work “mature.” It has happened with my playwriting. It has happened with my singing. And I do not like it. In both of these instances, “mature” seemed to be meant as a compliment. “Mature” is not (yet) code for “old” – but meant to suggest a kind of complexity and evolution. I think. So why don’t I like it? Surely I want my work to mature, right? I want my work to age like a good cheese or a fine wine, don’t I?

Don’t I? I don’t know. I’m trying to understand why “maturing” doesn’t please me. At the heart of my discomfort of it is the dismissal of what came before. If this play is mature, it suggests that the plays that came before were immature, just little adolescent saplings running around untethered. It implies a kind of linear artistic development and I just don’t think such a thing exists. An artistic life does not travel in a straight line. It circles. It comes back around to ideas from the past and brings them to the future.

It’s like this conversation my partner and I had about Shakespeare. He noticed that sometimes when scholars don’t have definitive evidence for when a play was written, some of them will group the plays thematically. That is, they think because Shakespeare wrote a play about fathers and with disobedient daughters in one year, that that would suggest the undated father-daughter play would be around the same time. To me, that’s bananas. While certainly we all have our artistic phases where we obsess over one thing for awhile – we also have artistic touchstones, ideas that we return to again and again, ideas that we investigate anew from a new place in the life circle.

And maybe that’s why I find the idea of maturity so uninteresting. I mean, Shakespeare, again, is a good example of this. Some might say Hamlet is his most “mature” play. It sits at the top of achievement in Western literature. And yet it sits right in the middle of his career. Probably written in 1600, Shakespeare had many more plays to write after that one. Some of those plays are very silly and some of them are quite wild (including my favorite, Cymbeline.) Which are the most “mature”?

Maybe it’s my clown training but I am not particularly interested in maturity. Maturity has airs of seriousness, waves of severity that just don’t connect with my sense of play. When someone calls me immature, they are usually pointing out my irreverence, silliness or non-conformity. I value all those things tremendously.

I know maturity doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve lost my irreverence but maturity smells like mothballs to me. What I hope people who tell me my voice has matured (either metaphorically or literally) mean is that my stuff is complex, layered and interesting. I sometimes get called “wise,” too. And I like that just fine. I like it a lot, actually. Because there is always space for a wise fool.

I suppose, too, that I can’t help but keep returning to the idea that labeling my current work as “mature” suggests that my previous work is less than. And I just don’t appreciate any compliments for my newborn that insult my previous creative children.

I don’t mean to make anyone self conscious about giving me compliments. I don’t receive quite enough of them to start getting picky about them. Believe me, I sincerely thanked every person who called my work “mature” because it feels appropriate to accept a compliment in the spirit it was given, even if it has an odor of backhandedness about it.

I will say, though, that no one has seen enough of my body of work to make such a judgment. The only human to have a thorough enough experience of my oeuvre would be my mother. She’s the only one who’s seen enough of it to make that call. And I think the last time she called me “mature” was when I was a teenager. (I was very mature then. I’m not sure I am anymore! )

So, if you are tempted to call someone’s work mature, maybe dig a little deeper. What do you mean?

Is the work complicated? Layered? Deep? Rich?

I mean – let’s look at wine and cheese. We don’t stop at describing a wine or cheese mature. We call it nutty or grassy or robust or smooth.

I would be so delighted to have my work described with the subtlety of wine or cheese descriptions. Some of my work may be mature. It may be immature. Neither of those categories is useful to me. Call it robust or nutty, though? I’m gonna eat that up.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Anchor, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

You can help support both my maturity and immaturity

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 

 

 




“You are Such a Free Spirit!”
July 29, 2015, 10:31 pm
Filed under: clown | Tags: , , , ,

As I was leaving a dance class I’d attended, an observer of the class said to me, “You are such a Free Spirit!” This surprised me because I do not think of myself in this way at all. Maybe this is because the phrase “Free Spirit” conjures gypsy skirts and patchouli oil with maybe a crown of flowers over long flowing hair. The idea of a free spirit conjures flightiness, and a general disregard of others. So it’s hard to take being called a free spirit as a compliment. In fact, the tone of it made me a little angry. (Which is probably why I started writing this post. . .)

But – I suppose I do enjoy a certain amount of freedom. I recognize that I am rather freer than your average bear. I think what this observer was seeing was my ability to be uninhibited while dancing, to embrace the unexpected and to generally not be afraid to have a good time. All those thing are hard won, though, and have more to do with how I cultivate those qualities than any particular free spirit within me.

I am not so much a free spirit, as a clown. And there’s a bunch of training behind that. I learned how to enjoy myself wherever I can, how to take risks and generally not be afraid of making on an ass of myself. I really don’t mind being the first out on the dance floor. I will happily look like a fool. (Which, I think is really what this observer was implying with her comment. Subtext: “You look foolish!”)

And too, I think, by virtue of just having spent the last 20+ years choosing my own path as an artist, I am basically not afraid to be unconventional.

I see other dancers afraid to make any sound at all when we do the punching movements in this class (even though making the sound makes the movement easier and also feels good.) I see others trying so hard to do things right that they miss an opportunity to enjoy the moment.

Maybe being a free spirit is the same as being a clown, I don’t know. But a clown in a gypsy skirt is still a clown – and I guess I could really take being called a free spirit as a compliment. You won’t catch me wearing any patchouli, though.

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You can help this clown by becoming a patron on Patreon.

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Click HERE  to Check out my Patreon Page




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