Emotion Populism and How Mindmap

Here's an interactive version of the map I used last night in my talk at Dancemakers. Video coming soon.http://smallwoodenshoe.org/mm/EPH-mm.html

Scrapping around with ways to get Freemind documents on the web - the best seems to be in a browser window with a Flash player (sorry iOS users.) If anyone has better options, especially regarding formatting and showing links inside the document (there are a ton in the original and it's sad that they don't show up on the flash) - and of course if there's a way that doesn't use Flash.


Populism, Affect, but mostly How?

I've been quiet here, recovering from Antigone Dead People (even successes take time to recover from), dealing with the change in daylight and working on this:Last Thursday I did a talk at the University of Waterloo (big thanks to Jay and Andy for having me out.)

I was happy with how it turned out, and (you're hearing it here first) I will be doing the full thing in Toronto at Dancemakers as part of Study Group Thursday December 13th at 6:30pm in the Michael J. Baker

Since I'm going to do some work on it before then, I won't post the whole thing from Waterloo - but here's a 12 minute of the Freemind talk, focusing on how I'm trying to work on populism and affect in my work with collaborators at Small Wooden Shoe, Public Recordings and the afore mentioned Dancemakers.

Enjoy! Thoughts welcome in the comments.



Attention and behaviour

Some recent (slightly cranky) thoughts on attention and good audience behaviour:

Be interesting enough to take photos of and record

If the person next to me taking photo is more interesting or too distracting compared to what is on stage – that’s the performances problem not the audience members.

That person is a fan - or potential fan. A fan who is so excited by what they’re seeing that they want to share.

Choir!Choir!Choir has been successful mostly because it’s a great idea, led well (a lesson for theatre in there too.) ALSO, it’s a great idea that has been documented well and shared - allowing it to spread.

Anyone here have a serious current issue with bootleg images and recordings ruining their business plan?
Anyone here have a serious problem with too many fans who care about what you’re doing?
I hate to speak for others, but I’m going to wager the answers are no.

Yes, yes of course – “But my show’s that’s not a like that, it’s quiet and delicate flower and requires full attention” – sure you can still try to arrest with quiet quality - I love those shows too. The show I can barely imagine breathing in, let alone take a picture.[1]

I believe that coming together in quiet reflection and solidarity is needed in this world – especially for us secular folks who don’t have the space provided by religious practice.

I think there are people who really want and need that, and that it’s a service that theatre can provide some of the time.

None of these beliefs are going to change what the audience walks in the door with. That’s my work as an artist.

It seems likely that the focused perfect submission in the dark room is no longer going to be the norm. The brief period between the integration of electricity and middle class decorum through to the invention of the ubiquitous computer/camera/connection device may have been the heyday for our quiet shows[2]. But, with the rate of theatre’s adaptation, we’ve still got time - as long as we don’t need new people to come.

Take our attention

If you have to harangue us with volunteers and pleading from the stage to pay attention you are: a) doing it wrong. b) doing it at the wrong time c) doing it in the wrong place d)all of the above. - Taylor Mac taught me that in a heartbeat.

We’re so busy threatening to charge people with transgressing, we’ve forgotten our job is to arrest and encourage them.

We’re supposed to lead, not plead for a return to yesteryear.

  1. I don’t take pictures or tweet during shows. I have enough trouble paying attention, and besides they often don’t turn out. But that’s me and this stuff is not native to me.[?]
  2. No way that Beckett writes Godot in the same production conditions that Shakespeare writes Henry IV.[?]

Running back and forth

On the verge of starting our first workshop for non-identifying artists - (a spot is still available - email me) - I've been thinking, and really beginning to work towards, the ability to move between professional and amateur.This appeared in my inbox today (Via You've Cott Mail)

"Among the consequences of our fetishism of professional status, it strikes me that we have relegated ourselves to being a sector with huge numbers of unsuccessful and underemployed professional artists rather than a sector with huge numbers of successful, part-time or occasional, pro-am ones."

(Via State of the Artist » Blog Archive » Diane Ragsdale: The professional lens: Are we a sector of underemployed ‘professional’ artists or successful ‘pro-ams’?.)

I think Ragsdale's take is accurate in Canada as well the US - though there are some important differences.

The funding structures in Canada also push us towards identifying as either professional or amateur as do the professional associations (unsurprisingly.) The bureaucratic processes and long timelines mean that the momentum and passion that drive doing something "for the love of it" can fade or be crushed.

But it's not the economic or career ramifications of the separation that are most interesting and available for change - I think the art form will get better and I think more people will be interested in that better art, if there is fluidity between the "pro" and the "am."

As I've said before, theatre might be better to do than it is to watch, and it's certainly better to watch if one also does. To prevent this equation from spiralling only towards esoteric practices, it is crucial that there are people running back and forth between the research and the community. Not to approach social work (though this also is good and interests) but to approach a theatre that deals with the world outside of itself and to develop larger communities who both do and watch contemporary work.

"When they call us snobs…"

"…they're not wrong"

Funny, Catchy and Not Too Challenging, or “At some point, you’re just an elitist f*ck.”: "…Which got me thinking about snobbery […] I’ve got to say that, for me, those middlebrow shows form a disturbingly large portion of my early memorable theatrical experiences—42nd Street, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables. If I had to say what sparked the interest in theatre in me, I’d be hard pressed to come up with an answer that wasn’t a megamusical."

(Via .)New Beans - Clayton Lord on new art and new audiences

On a direct level I can relate (for me Phantom and Les Miz.) - and I've being thinking about my current interest in returning to musicals and scale, and how I can reconcile that with the focus and skills I've developed doing intimate and research performance. I'm less concerned with the "always everyone" option that Lord mentions, and more interested in the possibilities of back and forth.

Intimate and research art are needed for the field and the world and need government and institutional support (since they have less box office and less access to donors) and populist work (that challenge rather than enforce oppressive, status quo beliefs) is also needed and need support in order to not become financially elitist.

AND - artists, producers and institutions should be able to move back and forth. The middle path can lead to awkward nowhereness but the back an forth is what appeals to me.

What are the changes that are needed for this to be more possible?

Better Questions on Populism

I had the honour of being the first Toronto Fringe Festival Research Chair - part of the amazing work that Gideon and the people at the Fringe are doing to support the theatre scene year round in the city, including the new and exciting Creation Lab (I'll be at the Open Jam tomorrow - maybe see you there?)My proposal was to look into "A populism I could stand behind" - a topic that fit well with the Fringe and has become a bit of a slow burning question for me.

On Wednesday I gave a talk that marked the end of my term, but certainly not the end of my thinking on themes and questions on Populism.

Over the next while, I'll continue to write on the idea, but first here's the talk. At the beginning I say it while be 20 minutes. That's a lie. It's around fifty minutes.

Surprisingly timely

I wanted to take some time on our day off yesterday to write a little more about the show. The pressures and mode of presenting at a festival mean that I spend a lot time yelling “Come see us” and I end up feeling disconnected from any interesting conversation about what we’re doing. At least online. We’re having great conversations after the show.

When Chad, Ame, Kilby and I decided to return to Perhaps in a Hundred Years we didn’t know if the work itself would feel dated. It was one of the mysteries of doing a show from 6 years ago.

Now, a week into the run, the show feels absurdly of the moment. As if we might have been out-of-time the first time we did it. It’s a show about friendship and tender resistance in isolation. It’s about three people, stuck in a time and place trying to make it through together.

When we made the show, Torontopia was in full swing. We weren’t a part of it - or at least nobody knew we wanted to be - but the energy was in the air. We were poor, in various states of unemployment, but it seemed possible that performances in little rooms could be a part of a new city and part of a new life for us.

We haven’t changed the material in the show (though we’re better at performing it) but things have changed around us.

Harper and Ford and the threat of a three level love-in have brought the hard-right turn in Western politics to Canada and Toronto; the world economy is falling apart, there are riots in England - not to mention all the things we don’t hear about. And there we are. Holding out and holding on together with a small group of audience members in a small, sweaty room, finding a way to sing together, be vulnerable and keep moving..

Of course an intimate performance in a summer festival in Toronto isn’t going to change voting patterns or fix tax systems or massive class inequality - that’s a different, important kind of work.

But it might do something - to the people in the room at the time. A step enroute to action must be that we come together, and come together with openness, pleasure and silliness and other important shared values.

I’m looking for both a community theatre and a populism I can stand behind. It can be hard to reconcile this search with the “alternative” theatre scene. But it’s present or can be, if we want it. Carl Wilson wrote a great piece for the Toronto Standard on “Torontopia in the Age of Ford” that I keep returning to, including comments by Dave Meslin and Darren O’Donnell.

These responses offer possibility - a possibility I also feel at Hub 14, performing the show and talk with people after.

Writing this post in the middle of the festival feels as scary as doing the show does each night. I fear it’s too grand, to “serious” “sincere.” Oh well. If I don’t start here, there’s nowhere we can go.

A responsibility (and a privilege)

Another thing that I particularly like about the Pomegranate Center is that they clearly see community improvement as their mission. Their work then flows from that belief. I would argue that any 501(c)(3) organization has that view as a responsibility (and a privilege). How is the work of the arts altered or adjusted if that mindset is adopted?via Engaging Matters | Pomegranate Center.

I've been thinking more and more about this responsibility and privilege.

3penny Christmas Concert Choir. Photo: Omer Yukseker

Small Wooden Shoe is in the process of becoming a charitable organization. A step that most arts organizations take in Canada. It allows us to write tax receipts for individual donors, apply to foundations and to request larger, on-going, grants from government funding bodies. It means that we are responsible to the Canadian Revenue Agency for how we spend our money.

The nagging feeling that I have though, is that we're not (as a sector/community/"industry") living up to actually being charitable: working for the good of the community.

This is a messy and potentially controversial subject, but I simply don't think that my self-expression is a charitable act. Nor is the self-expression of the other professionalized, privileged artists I mostly work with.

Something else is needed. I want to take seriously a mission of reducing alienation through engagement, rigour and "a good night out." I want to take seriously the charitable goal of reducing "need." And I want to work in the frame of theatre. I could, and do, volunteer with other charities and NGO's (what would change if if arts groups thought of themselves as NGO's?) But it is theatre that I know best and somewhere, despite much evidence, I believe that the process and event of theatre can make people's live more better. The important word here though is "can" - I don't think it inherently does. I think we have to work at it, make choices and probably change some thing about the work and the modes of production and distribution.

I'm thinking a lot about teaching and community work right now - about how Small Wooden Shoe can do those things both within the context of contemporary arts practice and in the community.

This certainly ties into the question of Populism that I've been hacking away at, as well as events like the 3penny Christmas Concert, Upper Toronto and Galileo.

We're starting up a program that mixes teaching and community productions for people who have no interest in becoming professional.

This is, like Populism, something that I want more movement around. It's not an either/or. I want to be able to do the kind of work discussed on Engaging Matters and I want to work with highly talented and skill artists on projects like Antigone Dead People and I want all of that to be responsible to our charitable status.

Art is all the parts.

Mission Paradox has these to very good posts - the first on the sports to church to theatre analogies (those Bears examples still hurt - redemption on Monday?) and then followed it up with Not nearly enough

"The implication is this: Art isn't enough. If you want a career as an artist, or a strong organization, you are going to have to do so much then create work."

And I agree - except (and.) I want to expand the notion of what the "art" is. It's certainly not the script we print out. It's not what happens between the house going out and the bowing. When we're making a show, that can't be it. The art has to be the part where we communicate with (entertain, excite, challenge, talk to) the people we'd like to share some time with. That's the art of performance. Posters, language, what happens as people begin to arrive (the dramaturgy of the half-hour), how the drinks are priced and what happens after. All of it is the art.

So - to make the art better (better at communicating to people) all of the parts need to be looked at as a whole. Better marketing won't save boring over priced plays and cheap great things that no one knows about isn't going to do it either.