Going back to the source of Failure

In 1994 I got called into office at Studio 58, a professional theatre program in Vancouver, BC to get my final marks.  The final marks at Studio 58 come in the form of a discussion with all the heads of department at the school.  I had been having trouble at the school, not enjoying my production program  and feeling exhausted, depressed and lost.  Still I wanted to continue, I had a great time working on shows and felt with more time I could get better.

I was kicked out and knew at that moment I would leave Vancouver and not want to live there again.  To say I took it hard would be an understatement, I started balling uncontrollably and felt horrible for weeks after.  Still at that meeting I got some of the best advice of my entire life; just do want you want, you’re the only one stopping you.  Possibly naive, possibly white male privilege (all my teachers were white) and a bit pie in the sky but still has helped me tremendously over the years.  After this spectacular failure I moved back home to Waterloo to my parents place and then to Toronto the next year.  I went into directing and then into devised and collective performance but weirdly enough have stayed with Stage Management (what I studied at Studio).

I am now back in Vancouver at the PuSh Festival with a show I love called Concord Floral, Stage Managing and with a company I adore.  With waves of nostalgia coming over me as I return to city that is in no way but still familiar and filled with memories.  With strong feelings of still wanting to prove my teachers wrong, 23 years after being kicked out of school, I come back proud of somehow making it through 23 years in this beautiful, fucked up and at times unforgiving world of Canadian theatre and performance.  The words; “Just go to Toronto and direct if you want to…” still ring in my ear and provide inspiration and comfort.  I try to encourage any emerging artist that asks for advice to follow this simple but essential truth.  Really with the purpose of encouraging independent thought and not following a leader, who may or may not have any idea of what they are doing.utopia1

Concord Floral -being present with the future

Going back to Ottawa to rehearse Concord Floral, a Suburban Beast production that premiered in Toronto back in 2014 and recently played at the National Arts Centre in March/April of this year.  It was created by Erin Brubacher, Cara Spooner and Jordan Tannerhill over many years with a dedicated group of teenagers who were at the core of the creation process.  Instead of adults writing plays about teenagers, the teenagers created the work themselves under the guidance and leadership of the lead artists.  Jordan ended up writing the play version of the piece but it really comes alive again with each new incarnation of the cast.

I was the Stage Manager for the NAC version and am now returning for the Magnetic North Festival remount that will be in Whitehorse, Yukon in a week and a half.  In March/April I was able to be a part of a very special process where 10 teenagers came together to offer their own version of Concord Floral under the direction of Erin Brubacher and Cara Spooner.  I got to witness the excitment, fear, confusion, commitment, exhaustion, vunerability, and pure joy of creation.  I often see Stage Management as the middle person between the director, performers and designers, the one attempting to bring it together and provide the organization needed to keep it going forward.  What I don’t always get to do is part of a team, a group of individuals being together in the most committed ways possible, through trust, care, and hard work.  I don’t always get to be a part of truely healthy process where there is true professionalism, that almost impossible balance between having fun, working your butt off and bring a a fantastic show together.

We don’t have nay control over people’s reaction to a show but we have control over how we make that show.  How we treat each other, how we treat ourselves, how we treat those around us during that process and this directly effects the product.  Focused, caring and demanding can happen at the same time, it is not easy but carefully planned and a result of wisdom and experience.

Know what you need, ask for what you want, except what you get.

We Can’t Do This Without YOU

We are always together, even when alone

We are working towards a new way of being together

We are attempting to show choice in the everyday is important

We are letting the failures lead us to new territories, new ways of being better

We are re-creating our dreams as way to imagine a possible future

We are building optimism through simple, concrete, and fun actions.

We are attempting our own version of democracy, a mini government

We are attempting to rid the room of stress, anxiety, doubt and self-loathing

We embrace the impossible and find ways to make something we never thought could ever happen

We Can’t do This Without You

We Can’t do This Without You

We Can’t do This Without YouIMG_4596 Continue reading

Objectivity + Healthy Practice

Almost all artists are forced to write about themselves.  Most on a constant basis in the forms of grants, bio’s and social media and mostly about their own shows.  While this is just a fact of independent producing and artistic life it seems more and more the core of a lot of problems in the industry.  One might decry that a lack of audiences. declining government funding and an increasingly competitive market to be the major problems but I disagree.

I can’t remember who said it but there is a quote that goes, “Your show begins the first moment you talk about your show”.  While this is maybe a stretch, it is true that talking about your show is still the primary way to get people to become interested or to come and see it.  This leads to grant and foundation application, online campaigns and press releases about the work.  I have found in my experience of 20 years that it is almost impossible to be objective about ones own work.  From describing my own work or in speaking to others about theirs there is tendency to either oversell and hype a work or undersell and be too modest about the same work.  Of course artists should speak to their own work, this is essential  but when it comes to giant grants and speaking with international presenters  or Artistic Directors this seems almost cruel.  To not only handle the pressure of trying to keep a show alive but also to attempt to sell that same show at the same time.  It is difficult enough just to make a work but then to have to defend its exsistence in the world to strangers seems an unfair fact of life.

So aside from adding another complaint to the pile, what is to be done?  My first suggestion would be to equally share grant and foundation writing with each other.  While some artists are doing this already, it feels it should be more encouraged by senior artists and teachers as healthy practice.  Get as many eyes and ears on a proposal to make sure it is as clear, has specific goals and shares the passion of the project.  Looking back at some of my proposals in the past, I got caught up in a defensive stance where I am arguing for my project but not describing it.  Often an outside eye or ear can help ask  essential questions that not only help an application but can even open new possibilities.

Think we are at a time where we can do better then, “Well that’s just the way it is” and quietly complaining to ourselves and those around us.  I think by working more collaboratively from the very beginning we can get way more from ourselves, our projects and our audiences. _39A3536

tell me…

It’s been three weeks since I performed TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT, WHAT YOU REALLY, REALLY WANT at Videofag here in Toronto.  A week long residency lead to three public performances that were intense for me as the houses were small but attentive.  They brought a generous curiosity that helped  go forward, explore and trust in what I had created.

I had micro dramaturgy sessions with Patrick Blenkarn (Vancouver/Halifax), Tedi Tafel (Montreal), Dustin Harvey (Halifax), Sophie Gee (Montreal), Thea Fitz-James (Toronto), Erin Brubacher (Toronto) and Jacob Zimmer (Toronto).  Each session I had questions about the process, how much to structure vs. how much to leave open, the set up of the audience, what can the audience do to help me through the show, what is a temporary utopia?, how to anticipate possible failure and success.  These conversations were lead by inspirations, music we love, people we know, experiences we have had.  I needed emotional and instinctual support and as much as theoretical and intellectual support.  I spent one day without these conversations and felt lost, sad and drifting away from my goals.  After a rough first show, that still had some beautiful and incredible audience members, I received some wise advice.

I owe a lot to these micro dramaturges who gave their time, energy, ideas and support to a project they basically knew nothing about and had no personal stake in.  This process helped renew a belief that the community I am lucky enough to be in is fantastic on a bunch of levels but so much so in the gernosity department.

I am lucky.

I am blessed.

I am thankful for each and every audience member, they all gave something to each performance. Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 6.03.37 PM

Last minute decisions

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October 3, 2015
LEGS, TOO
Facilitated by FADO Performance Art Centre
Photo credit: Henry Chan
Two weeks ago I performed for (about) 8 minutes during the durational FADO presented LEGS, TOO at the Artscape Sandbox performance space.  I was in rehearsal all day with another project but watched the Youtube live feed provided by FADO most of the day.  My focus was split all day as I tried to pay attention in rehearsal but was also trying to catch at least a few minutes of each performer during the 8 hour marathon of various performers.  I wanted to allow myself to influenced, inspired, and tangentally connected to all the work that come before me.
I had some idea of what I wanted to do but also did not want to be locked into a idea that did not fit into the flow of those before me (and possibly those after me).  I wanted to be generous to the audience, I wanted to try to understand actions and words that logic doesn’t always take into consideration.  I wanted to be connected to a recent history, a loose community of fearless strangers who gave a lot of themselves, I wanted to be deep inside a space that is concrete and glass.
On my racing bike ride over to the space (I was allowed to leave rehearsal early) I had a moment of inspiration and changed my mind completely.  I instantly loved my new idea more and was finally truely excited to share this new idea.  The second I stepped into the space I felt a warmth of people against the cold of the space, it smelled of experience, soil, and food.
I put my hat over my face, my hood on top, and started to crawl.  With a post-it note pad in my hand, a red sharpie pen, I attempted to go over to people and write out one word that I think they might need.  I could not see anything, not any light or vague shapes but did have sound to guide me forward.  The audience was beautiful, letting me explore, letting me touch, letting me write, letting me try and find my way.

Nervousness & Excitement

tell me what you want - raising spirits - Videofag

photo by Jordan Tannerhill

I first performed in front of people in High School.  Like a lot of actors and performers I found my community in my later High School years during the musical and got involved more from there.  Waterloo Collegiate Institute had a variety evening called High Concept that incorporated music, dance, and drama.  I first performed in a scene (think it was Glass Menagerie or Diary of Anne Frank) and then auditioned for Anythink Goes.  A bit of performing (I certainly wasn’t acting) at Studio 58 theatre school gave me a small taste of the addiction that would come back to me years later.

In my first collective The Oomph!! Group with Natasha Priest and Sean MacMahon I got to perform at the 2002 Summerworks Festival and loved it.  It was an original creation entitled “Exhibit” and was inspired by the letters and writing of Tennessee Williams.  Still due not properly training in acting or even performing I never got advice about that overwhelming feeling of nerves and excitment that precedes many performances.  I suppose it is always a personal way that each performer deals with this emotion that often feels like it is coarsing through out the entire body.  It makes the feet tingle, makes you feel like you have to use the bathroom, sometimes entices nausea.  Still some other instinct kicks in just before sometime that propells forward the body and mind to go and just do it.  Sometimes these nerves stay with you onstage and carry overhead like a cloud of doubt but often it goes away as things go on.

As I get older I feel even more mystery about where this feeling of nerv
ousness & excitment comes from, how long it stays around and when it is not there if I even care enough about what I am doing.  I trust this feeling more then my intellectual assesment of a performance or project, it is my guide in some way.