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A Million Female Gandalfs

Today I had my final class of the semester at one of the schools I teach at. For our final class of Voice For The Stage, I ask my students to perform a monologue they have worked on for several weeks on the large stage in front of each other. They pick these monologues themselves and I allow them to be from movies or television, from a favorite play, anything that they are genuinely interested in. I do this because it is the chance for these learners to test their abilities, honed over the last 14 weeks, to hold the stories they have chosen to tell in their bodies. I want, and encourage them, to choose words thrilling for them to inhabit. It is their chance to see if they can transmit those narratives’ feelings and emotions out of their imaginations and through their voices and into the audience.

Earlier this semester a girl stepped onto that stage and performed a monologue from Lord of the Rings, playing the wizard Gandalf. I think about this now as I watch the same girl again. I think about the fact that a year ago I was watching another girl performing another Gandalf monologue during this culminating performance day and that earlier this semester I heard another female Gandalf at another school.

I think about how every year there is a female Gandalf.

Last week I sat in my living room and heard six fast and sharp pops from somewhere to the south and west of my window.

Oh no, I think. I know what this sound is. I hope that it is something else, though if I am honest I know exactly what this sound is, but I keep working, hoping somehow that I am mistaken. Minutes later when I hear the parade of several sirens in the distance I cannot pretend any longer that what I know is not true.

In the moment I am afraid, I am scared, and I am sad.

I think, I should call Brad and make sure he’s ok. Even though I know he is at the theater, having left nearly 40 minutes ago, I should still just make sure.

I walk to the window and I see two police cars parked on the corner and several police walk into a mini market. Moments later I see several people, males of varying ages from teenager to thirty something adult, all walk quickly out of the store. They are all African-American. They are looking at their phones. A microsecond-long thought passes through my head, “What are the police doing? Why aren’t they stopping these men? What if they need to question them? What if they are involved?”

This is the first thought that instinctually comes into my head. That they are guilty. It isn’t one of reasoned or rational thought. It is gut reaction. It is fear. It is instinct. It is the first story that comes to mind.

A moment later I am actually thinking about that thought that first flashed in my mind and I feel disgusted with myself.

In that moment later I say, literally, as in actually, as in out loud to the room, “What is wrong with you Adrienne? Why would you think that?”

I think, Why is the first narrative construction you have built around these humans who are leaving a store and looking at their phones one of guilt? What is it about them that makes you think this way before you even have a moment to think? Why is the story you instinctually tell one of guilt and violence and implication? Why is the story you tell not one of a person scared and wondering if the people they know are alright? Why is their looking at of phones something that nonsensically becomes something nefarious rather than the EXACT SAME INSTINCT you yourself had?

And of course it is because they are black.

And in this moment, it is painful to realize this.

And in this moment, it is painful to realize that I do not want this in me.

And in this moment, it is painful to realize that even though I do not really think this, something about the world I live in has made this the gut instinct.

And in this moment I hate the world and I hate the gut instinct and I feel privileged and stupid and small.

I think, Why on instinct do you not assume that these fellow humans are going to their own friends and families and making sure they are ok, that they hurry from this place because they too are scared and worried and want to feel comfort in a moment of stress and tension and possible tragedy?

I think, Why, why, why on earth is this not the story you instinctively picture?

I think about how quickly that default story comes to my mind. I think about the fact that I am a storyteller by trade. I wonder about whether I am telling stories that make it easier or harder for this kind of terrible default story to emerge.

I think about all this and I am ashamed.

There is a darkness in you, I think. There is something dark and sticky and terrible and it is not something you put there on purpose but it is part of a much bigger problem that is so so so terribly sad. I think about the color connotations of the words that my brain has just used, ones that again simply came to mind. I think about how these too are problematic color tropes that also infect so many kinds of the stories we tell.

This is not darkness, I think. You cannot think of the terrible thing that feeds the bad stories as darkness. You need to think of it as evil and hatred.

I am ashamed of the story that emerges from my brain without my asking it to appear. I hate it and I stand at the window and I look at the people walking by and imagine a new story. In the new story I can see the lines of worry in their faces. I think, You need to step back and work harder to see the world better. You need to work harder to get these instinctual stories out of yourself, to find their roots and pull and pull and pull. You need to create new stories that are better to plant in their place.

Today between the myriad of moments in which I smile and clap and laugh with the group there is a different kind of moment, one where I pause and purse my lips for a moment and feel very very sad.

I have seen female Gandalfs and female Jack Nicholsons from A Few Good Men. I have seen African-American students play Abraham Lincoln and Tom Cruise and Liam Neeson (saving his daughter from kidnappers) and Liam Neeson again (this time fight wolves in the woods). Today I see two girls with long black hair, girls whose heritages are both Mexican play Carrie Bradshaw and Gretchen Weiner from Mean Girls. I am sad that between the very occasional For Colored Girls… monologue there is so much Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap and Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone.

I am sad because every year there is a female Gandalf.

I am sad because there are a million female Gandalfs it seems. I am sad because though I have seen students play sponges and mutants and demons and even a human embodiment of a font, though every year I see so many of my female students find power and depth in speaking like Ian McKellen playing a bearded wizard I have never, not once, not even one single time in seven years of teaching, seen a male student decide that they would find something exciting and inspiring about speaking words originally intended for a woman.

I am sad because this must mean we are not doing well enough in the stories we have for my female students.

I am sad because if the first story that comes to my mind when I see a group of African-American men reacting to a gunshot the story that I have for them is the worst kind of story. I am sad because this is not the story that should be brought to my mind. If it is this must mean we are not doing well enough in the stories we have for them either.

I am sad because I know that I get so tired hearing stories about women that conform to all the stupid and terrible gender norms. I am sad because I get so tired of having to hear these same stupid stories that are such a tiny part of the larger whole of what being feminine can mean. It hurts me that there aren’t a larger number of better stories for the women who stand on that stage.

I think about the times someone has created a story for me that I do not want to be a part of, of the effort it takes to remove this story from myself. I think about the way that I must do the same to others without even realizing it, without wanting to, and that I need to keep striving to find a way to stop.

I think about the stories we as a culture force on people without their consent. I think about how we also allow those stories to be forced onto people while apathetically doing nothing. It makes me think about the way that stories about thugs and gangs and riots are used to distract us from the larger more terrible and oppressive stories about the world we live in. It makes me think about the way that we shove these stories into the brains of children who do not yet have the ability to judge these stories for the garbage they are. I think about all the work we are now responsible to do as adults to pull them out of ourselves.

I think about how we are literally wasting people’s lives by casting them in shitty stories.

I think about how even a million female Gandalfs can’t outweigh the imbalance.

And I think that this rooting, this active undoing and this need for rewriting for the better must be the job of our lives as artists. If we are not doing this, what good will our stories be? At this moment, as storytellers, we must take responsibility for the telling. If we don’t, what on earth are we here for?

– A

In the interest of honesty, or, Can we all just agree to stop beating ourselves up?

It’s always this time of year, as the early cold and un-springlike “spring” gives way to the actual warmth and sunshine of early summer that I think back to my days at the end of college. I often think about this time with a rose-colored view of myself – highly engaged, copiously productive, and focused in a way that I often long for in the present tense.

I think back on the way I think I was back then and I get jealous. Of myself.

There are days now where I wonder what I exactly I’m doing with my time. There are days that I think about other artists and I am certain that they are getting so very much more done than I am. There are lots of days where I think that I am wasting the precious little life I have available to me by not doing more and getting more and being more than I currently am.

Are you an artist who thinks this? Probably.

Because chances are if you are a creator there are a million more idea seeds then there will ever be emotional, physical, mental resources to carry out those initial impulses to conclusion.

This, despite all emotional evidence to the contrary, is as it should be.

I was watching some show the other day on successful show runners for TV and listening to people talk about the insanity of that process. In one case a showrunner described the schedule for the creative product he worked on and then concluded by saying that humans have the capacity to do 90% of what he just explained. The last 10% were fumes and exhaustion.

You know what my first thought was after watching that?

“God you’re lazy.”

You know what my second thought was?

“You’ve only taught a class, written an essay, and spent 45 minutes on a creative project today. This is like a vacation day. Tomorrow you’ll do a real amount of work.”

Can I just say, what the fuck is that?

Because the other part of the show, the one that I think is the most perverse kind of pride, is the strange way that these creators talk about being miserable. They talk about loving the show so much that they sacrifice their lives, their loves, their actual in the moment living for it. What exactly is all of it for then? What kind of art will you make when you have no life other than art to draw from?

This is possible in short term bursts, perhaps. Maybe sometimes even preferable. But this is not a plan of artistic longevity. I don’t just mean that you’ll be tired and exhausted. I mean you literally will have no time to fill your creative research stores to make anything else worthwhile.

I don’t know about you but I want to be creating in 10, 20, 40 years. I don’t want to burn out at 35. To do that I’m going to need some opinions and stories beyond the ones I have now. If I miss all of my life and use up all the creative stores of inspiration in a mass and panicked frenzy of making, what will be left?

There is a complex, I think built in some part by our own internalized sense of worthlessness mixed with a Hollywood idea of fame and success, that tells us that the only version of productive creativity is one that exhausts the creator. We aim for the stay of constant producing, of being pushed to the very limit of what is possible, of working and working in a fevered dream state until we are used up and left empty husk shells at the side of our works.

This is the idea of creativity as inspired and frenzied genius – that it is something that possesses us, that we are nothing without it, that it is only through work that we can prove our value and work.

I know exactly zero people who actually work this way all the time.

I know about a million who work really really hard, then fart around watching bad television and doing nothing of “substance” for big stretches in between.

Of those million I’d say, oh, ALL percent of them feel shitty about the downtime.

Even writing these words, right now, I am thinking about the myriad of actual things I could be doing. I could be writing something that will go towards a brilliant novel. I could be practicing my piano and vocal improvisation skills. I could read one of the giant pile of books on game theory that I’ve amassed on my shelf. I could grade the mountain theater journals sitting next to me.

I could theoretically do all these things and if I try to weigh what I am doing in this moment against all the potential things and their potential values and usefulness, I will always always always come away thinking I haven’t done enough in enough time for enough people.

Does this sound familiar?

As you read this are you simultaneously saying, “Yeah, sure but she can say that because she’s actually doing a lot and I’m actually lazy” because my guess is you are.

I have been busier this semester than I have been in almost any time in the past 10 years that I can remember but I still watched a lot of bad TV. I still found time to fart around on the internet. I still found time to play video games.

And I think that part of the reason I was able to do so much wasn’t in spite of the down time but because of it.

We need to give ourselves a break once in a while.

It’s actually necessary for the work.

Seriously.

I look back at that person I was in college and if I am honest with myself I realize a few things. The first that I never worked as hard as I want to remember. There were long days of producing nothing, of taking time and cooking meals or searching match.com. I also know that I worked hard, but often far less smart. I spent hours and hours on things I can knock out in 20 minutes now. This is what comes with experience, the ability to get down to the heart of something and really do it and be done.

So in the interest of honesty, I’m going to stop pretending like it’s possible to work all the time. I’m going to stop pretending like a 30-minute lunch break is for quitters. I’m going to stop acting as if I don’t have phases where I just need to mess around on the internet. This is actually part of the way that the creative work gets made. The farting around is part of the work.

If I step back and really look at my body of work, I can see that boredom is a necessary part of the process. It creates room for new ideas to form. It allows space for us to consider something we don’t already know.

If you’re perfectly productive, you’ll never get bored.

So next time you think you should be making or doing something but instead you take a walk or a Netflix, don’t get so mad at yourself. I won’t.

Because if there’s one thing I really shouldn’t make time for in my schedule it’s the constant self-flagellation.

– A

A totally blank canvas

blank

White. Open. Unknown.

This is the feeling I had this morning. This is the premise of this project: Starting from a totally blank canvas.

Not even a canvas. The idea that something has to be painted on. The idea of paint. The idea of having an idea to paint something at all.

Because really, where do a visual artist, a theater maker and writer and harpist logically begin if they want to try and make something together?

foot

This morning I walked into a room with two creators I’d met only once before. I had butterflies in my stomach, big fat ones, like first day of school jitters. We started, carefully, delicately, hesitantly to… What? Carefully try to suss out exactly who the other is and what exactly we might find in this insane thing we’ll be doing.

I thought, “What have I gotten myself into?”

I thought, “I have literally no idea what is going to happen.”

I thought, “Do your best not to fall into things you already know how to do because they are easy, or familiar, or you know how to make them work.”

I thought, “This is terrifying.”

I thought, “It is really tough to know where to begin.”

I thought, “Listen.”

I thought, “Try and stay open to something you’ve never imagined before.”

NickIt is a pace I am so thoroughly uneasy with because it is so thoroughly rare in my regular artistic life. So rare that I allow myself permission not to be in charge, not to have the active working idea, not to try and keep the energy of the room moving forward and productive. As a director, I feel myself wanting to know the answer, wanting to show people their faith in me as leader is secure, wanting to get us on track already towards where we are going.

But all this well-intentioned Midwestern productive attitude-ery also means that you can slip into taking yourself where it’s easiest to lead, rather than really waiting until the very new, very strange, very uncertain thing emerges.

And despite my fear, despite my worry that it feels like nothing is happening, after 8 hours I can see there are some things emerging.

I have put my hands on an instrument I have never touched before. I have watched an artist demonstrate his iterative process – one that normally takes acetate and photoshop and a vinyl cutting machine – on a sideways laptop screen with a piece of tracing paper, some scissors and tape. I’ve enjoyed seeing an actor confront a harpist on stage and I’ve seen that interaction photographed and then turned into a looping gif on a computer screen with a different selection of the musician’s playing as it repeats again and again and again and again and again. I’ve talked about why a video on Vine might be a meditative experience and what it would mean to create audience customize-able art.

I’ve shared a vision for a super strange, exciting and foreign line of inquiry. And despite my fears, I think it’s pretty interesting. Even if I have no idea of how to evaluate it yet. Maybe especially because of that.

I think I also had a moment where I realized that contrary to how I feel on almost every other artistic project I work on, in trying strange, potentially crazy ideas with these two I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

I also ate a lunch of donuts and fried chicken. That was pretty good too.

At the end of the day I am tired. It is work, searching so hard across the ocean of discipline to find some common ground. But tired in a good way. In a way that makes me excited to get up tomorrow and try again.

Thanks Nick and Liz. I’m excited about more to come…

A

Everything old is new again

everything_old_is_new_again_by_ekzotik-d4cdlz3The process of change is so slow we barely see it.

This is how it is possible that I am sitting with a dear friend and fellow creator on Friday and realize in the midst of our conversation that I am… happy. That I am open and new. That in front of me lays fields of possibility. That the anger and confusion and pain that I felt not so long ago is actually melted and revealed something quite unexpected and different.

Do you ever wish you could sit down and check in with a version of yourself from the past?

I can.

“I need to know it’s worth doing this art, in this way, at this time,” says Adrienne in December of 2012.

The truth of the matter is that the works I’ve made are things I’m proud of.

The truth of the matter is that I increasingly lost an internal sense of why I needed to make them.

The truth of the matter is that I don’t really care what anyone else thinks “theater” is or if I’m “good” at it.

The truth of the matter is that my “theater” is simply a means to a deeper question about connection and understanding and thoughtfulness and desire and finding a way to make sense of what I’m doing here.

The truth is that for a while I got a fair bit better at making “theater” as other people define it and a bit worse and making sure it was still answering the deeper questions I wanted to be asking.

The last year and a half has been a concerted and nearly constant effort to realize this and get myself in a place where that was no longer the case.

It has been hard.

I have felt like a failure often.

Most of the time progress was slow to the point of imperceptibility.

But today, for whatever reason, it has hit me: the work I’m in the midst of making now is worth doing. This work. In this way. At this time. And for the first time in a long time, I feel really really free.

Today it seems I’ve gotten far enough from there to really see the distance.

Random snapshots from recent life:

Friday: I am randomly invited to a conference on game design in Boston the next day. I drive 6 hours the same day to get there. The next day I have conversations about ethics and narrative structure and audience agency. I feel like I am talking about my theater.

Two weeks ago: I hand in the first draft of a study plan that predicts the next two and a half years of reading and artistic practice which will make up my self-directed graduate degree in interdisciplinary arts. I know almost nothing about anything on my reading list. I am ecstatic. I wish there was more time I could add to the universe because the list is already too large for the time I have to tackle it.

One month ago: I decide that I need to do something creative that requires my hands. I decide I need to learn to play the piano. I start downloading beginner’s sheet music. I spend 30, 40, sometimes 60 minutes a day with Für Elise and simple chord progressions. I love being a beginner.

This week: I chat back and forth with a painter and novelist about the possibilities of a week’s worth of collaboration and experimentation for Cross Pollination. There is a little trepidation about what exactly we will do. I do not know. I do not care that I do not know. I do not, as I normally would, make a bunch of plans of things I do know how to do so that the trepidation subsides. I decide to wait until I genuinely think of something I want to do.

Today: I watch a video by game designer Brenda Romero about her “The Mechanic is the Message” series. I hear her talk about her love/hate relationship with her ascension into the ranks of “professional” creator. I hear her speak about a nascent need to remove herself from the industry of her craft, to make things by hand. I hear her explain how she took time, extensive time, away from digital design to play board games. I hear how she begins to make games about things she never imagined possible, games explore deep and vast tragedies. Games that challenge the player to examine their own agency and choice in participating. Her elements are handmade, deeply personal, unreproduce-able. This is the point, it seems to me. It also seems to me that in the end, the rewards her games reap are equally unique, meaningful and rich. They fill the creator’s soul rather than the professional’s resume.

Thursday: I have two conversations in the same day about ideas for new projects. One is a piece for only two people at a time and the other for a potential 2,000. One takes place almost entirely inside the mind of the viewer, the other could cover most of the city of Philadelphia. They feel like the same kind of inquiry. I feel like I can start working on both of them tomorrow, by myself, if I wanted to. Not researching, not imaging, literally, making stuff that will go in them. I like not having to wait to get started.

Six months ago: I decide I want to write. I decide I want to write fiction. I decide I want to write a novel. Every few weeks I pull up the document and write furiously for a few days. At last count I am up to 170 pages and 39,949 words. I also decide I can show it to people someday or not. Either way it won’t matter. I just need to write it.

And so it is that I find myself at this moment feeling the most vibrant and true expression of my theater-related creative impulses into forms that look almost nothing like what “Theater” would typically be defined as.

And so it is that I find myself confronting new projects that are amazing and daunting and unknown in almost every way.

And so it is that I have met more people and had more new conversations about creativity in the last few weeks than in the last few years.

And so it is that I have stopped feeling so crushed and frustrated.

And so it is that I don’t worry about whether what I’m doing is right.

And so it is that I know the only thing that matters is if it’s what I feel myself needing to be doing.

And so it is that finally finally finally… it seems I’ve found what that is.

And so it is that I stand in the shower today thinking about my conversation on Friday and realize that it feels like something I have to share and so I write this, hastily, before I run out the door because it is also clear that it has to be done today, right now, before I lose understanding of it in just this particular shower-inspired way.

And so it is I share it with you.

And run.

To be late.

To the next amazing thing.

– A

Ladyfesto!

cooltext1368115366Drumroll please!

A few weeks back I promised you that the Awesome Lady Squad would be soon bringing you its LADYFESTO. In case you don’t remember I said that this document was about

…asserting the things we believe to be true into the world around us: that women are not lesser qualified or weaker, that our work is not niche or in addition to. It’s knowing that there is a space in which those views are supported and those intentions are believed in. It’s a promise that if we are able to articulate it, others will eventually understand the beliefs we know to be true.

Well guess what? It’s here. So, at long last and after great amounts of work we bring you:

THE AWESOME LADY SQUAD LADYFESTO

We*, the Awesome Ladies of the Awesome Lady Squad, hold these most awesome truths to be our evident and awesome tenets:

1)   We believe art is powerful and necessary.

  • As artists, we have the power to capture and reflect the human experience
  • As artists, we have a super power in our ability to influence the broader culture with our work

2)   We believe in supporting and celebrating our community of Awesome Lady artists

  • We see our artistic landscape as abundant and plentiful of opportunity and resource and do not subscribe to model of competition and scarcity
  • We believe that the successes of our peers are beneficial to all of us
  • We believe in mentoring Awesome Ladies of the future and preserving the legacy of current Awesome Lady artists

3)   We believe in an Awesome Lady’s equal worth as an artist

  • We believe in our right to a place in the field and that our artistic products are not “niche”
  • We believe our community should be a safe and respectful place for us as creators
  • We believe in equitable pay for equitable work and in the value of parity of representation for all artists in all aspects of our field – on and off stage, in the board room, and on grant committees

4)   We believe that being a Lady can inspire us but it does not limit or define who we are

  • We see the perspectives and tools we develop as Lady artists as being of value
  • We believe a Lady artist is a multitude of things and that a variety of different experiences and identities intersect within each individual Awesome Lady
  • We believe in challenging assumptions of what “female” art can be
  • We believe our gender is not the only lens through which we understand our individual experience of the world and the work we make

5)   We believe in supporting other marginalized groups

  • We recognize that our voice is not the only voice that is under-represented in our artistic community
  • We believe that the more representative our work is of our community’s diverse population, the richer and more connective it becomes

6)   We believe in taking action according to these principles

  • We believe hard truths need to be stated publically and that there is value in honest and open critique of the mainstream
  • We believe in being uncompromising in our refusal to tolerate such oppressions
  • We believe in the power of the collective to dissolve damaging narratives and structures

 

*Expanding on a couple definitions:

Who are “we”?

We are Awesome Ladies who are inclusive of race, age and sexual orientation. We are ladies who are contained in a variety of body shapes and come from varying socioeconomic backgrounds. We can be funny, or not. We are experimenters or follow in a long line of canonical learning. We are history challengers and embracers, listeners and talkers. We are as varied a number of things as can be imagined. The one thing we share is our inherent Awesomeness.

Why call yourselves “Ladies”?

Words like “female”, “gender”, “woman” etc have long and complex histories and definitions that are in a constant state of flux. While some members of the squad may identify with all, some or none of these identities, the intent behind “Lady” is to create a new label that is self-applied for those who believe they have a kinship with the identity of the Awesome Lady Squad.

In other words, an Awesome Lady is an Awesome Lady because they define themselves as such.

And that’s why they’re part of the Awesome Lady Squad.

Cross Pollination Unveiled

spLOGOIs there anything lamer than quoting a David Foster Wallace commencement address to help make a point about artistic awareness?

Probably not.

Which I guess means I’m going to do one super lame thing today. And right after, do something else that’s super not-lame to counterbalance.

Ready for that quote?

“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’

And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes,

‘What the hell is water?!’

The point of the fish story is that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about…

– David Foster Wallace

As artists, working in different genres, sometimes in sub-sets of genres, sub-sets of sub-sets of genres and so on, there are lots of givens about how we work that we take for granted. There are times when the way our work is made seems so self evident that it is almost as natural as breathing the air around us.

Sometimes our working methods can be like the water.

One of the greatest gifts that came from my time a few years back as a Live Arts LAB fellow was to have the chance to talk to my fellow fellows who were dancers. There were more than a couple sessions as a group where it actually blew my mind a little to learn that some of the assumptions I make about creating were totally different than theirs. Things that I take for granted were sometimes just not part of the conversation these other amazing artists were engaging with. Sometimes things were the same but employed in different ways. Sometimes the focus and priority were radically different.

There were times these conversations reinforced my assumptions about art, made me that much more sure in why I did things the way I did. Other times it inspired me to shift my own process and just try what it would mean to create without certain conventions about narrative or structure or audience responsibility. In all cases, these conversations made me more aware of the water around me. Gave me choice about what kind of givens I was swimming in.

I finished that LAB period thinking:

“Wow. If the creative process for two mediums that are almost identical in most aspects can be so different and thought provoking, what would it mean to have this conversation with creators who are even less alike?”

And also:

“Can a visual artist teach a singer something about music? Can a chef give a dancer a chance to unseat their idea of what it means to move? Can a light designer change the way a writer thinks about their words?”

And then finally:

“I really want to find out the answer.”

And luckily, thanks to the Knight Arts Challenge, I found a means to do just that. The result is something I’m calling Cross Pollination. It’s a project that actively seeks a way to dump water all over the floor. It’s a chance to explore without the pressure of a full performance or product. It’s a chance to get paid (and reasonably well, I might add) to open up one’s horizons and cross breed with another artist. It’s a chance to find some crazy mutt hybrid mash up that the world has never seen before. It’s a chance to find out more about the water you’re swimming in.

And I’m so so so excited to begin.

Want more details? Click below. It’s all in there…

Cross Pollination Artist Application

And if you ever need to quickly get to that application without searching the blog just CLICK HERE!

And of course a HUGE thank you to the John S. and James L Knight Foundation for making this amazing project happen.

Enjoy!

– Adrienne

Rounding Up #TheSummit

Hey all,

At about the halfway point in the month and looking back at what I’ve been writing so far, I thought it might also be interesting to share Ilana Brownstein’s round up of all the reactions to #thesummit so far.

PS – Mine’s in there too…

Drama Lit Blog 2.0: BU School of Theatre

On Feb 17, 2014, Peter Marks of The Washington Post hosted an event called The Summit — it was a public conversation with several of D.C.’s leading artistic directors. As Peter noted in an article for The Washington Post, “Several months ago, Molly Smith, artistic director of Arena Stage, approached me with an intriguing offer: organizing and moderating a series of discussions, with theater people and topics of my choosing, onstage before an audience at her theater.” It was the first of three planned public fora — the others are scheduled for March 24 (focusing on actors), and April 28 (playwrights and directors). The event with Artistic Directors was not livestreamed, but it was live-tweeted by several attendees, chief among them Elissa Goetschiusartistic director of Baltimore’s Strand Theater. It’s probably fair to say that no one involved expected the event to blow up twitter as it…

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Can we talk about canon for a minute?

I’d like to talk honestly about the canon for a second.

There’s a tiny moment I recently saw a production of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.

First off, for the record, I’m not writing about the particular production. I’ve seen it a bunch and it’s been in there every time. And so while the moment that struck me was indeed performed in this particular version of the play, but my guess is that the lines I’m wondering about are with all likelihood in almost every production of this play.

What struck me was this series of lines:

Brutus. You are my true and honourable wife,
As dear to me as are the ruddy drops
That visit my sad heart

Portia. If this were true, then should I know this secret.
I grant I am a woman; but withal
A woman that Lord Brutus took to wife:
I grant I am a woman; but withal
A woman well-reputed, Cato’s daughter.
Think you I am no stronger than my sex,
Being so father’d and so husbanded?
Tell me your counsels, I will not disclose ’em:
I have made strong proof of my constancy,
Giving myself a voluntary wound
Here, in the thigh: can I bear that with patience.
And not my husband’s secrets?

Can you see them? Can you see the ones I want to write about?

I didn’t. Or rather, I didn’t really hear them initially, while I was watching. I just saw the scene for what it was – a woman asking her husband to unburden himself of whatever it was that was bugging him. But then, I started talking about the scene to someone and I was trying to summarize what Portia had said. It was when I did that, and had to put her words into my own, put Shakespeare’s words into modern parlance that I suddenly said, “What the hell?”

Portia. If this were true, then should I know this secret.
I grant I am a woman; but withal
A woman that Lord Brutus took to wife:
I grant I am a woman; but withal
A woman well-reputed, Cato’s daughter.
Think you I am no stronger than my sex,
Being so father’d and so husbanded

Right? Now it seems really obvious.

Portia begs Brutus to tell her what’s wrong and he says he can’t and in trying to argue with him that he should she says, “Look I know I’m a girl, and by my very nature that means I’m not as good as you. But you did marry me. And my dad is pretty important. Isn’t that worth something of value?”

Can you imagine a female character saying this in a modern play? You’d better have contextualized that character out the wazoo to be able to say something like that and not have an army of actresses beating down your door. But here? Nothing. No reaction. No one thinks its weird.

Brutus responds by saying, “O ye gods, Render me worthy of this noble wife!” He clearly holds Portia in high regard. He thinks she’s the best kind of woman that a woman can be.

But the implicit assumption in this world is that the best a woman can be is never going to be as good as any kind of man.

That’s what’s super f-ed up about those lines in that scene.

So I’m asking: Are we ok with this?

Are we ok with presenting not only the antiquated language of these works but their antiquated morals?

(Sidebar: Can we all be honest too, that though there are probably a freaking ton of women who would die to get into this role, it’s a pretty weird one? Who uses the argument, “PS I also happened to have STABBED MYSELF A LITTLE IN THE LEG to show you how reasonable it is to tell me things.” WTF? Just sayin’…)

The power of the canon is one I still have trouble buying into. I don’t doubt the validity of aspects of these works. But I am not sold that these aspects justify some of the stuff that comes along with them. If we don’t remark on these things, we quietly, gently perpetuate them.

A huge part of the reason I don’t often engage with canon is that I tend not to feel like the roles and stories told about women align with my personal politics or with my sense of equity for women in the artistic workplace. Usually, rather than fighting that system I often find is set up to place women in a disadvantaged position, I prefer to spend my artistic energies on creating new works, stories that I DO believe in, that have the potential to become the canon of the future. While I can see the value of these works from the past, and understand why people pursue this study, that value ultimately doesn’t add up to enough for me to choose a classical work unless it can also be a part of my artistic code of ethics be that in terms of morality presented, absence of obvious and unquestioned sexist or racist attitudes, stories that not only offer women interiority and emotional depth but a sense of agency over their surroundings, etc.

Why are those Portia lines still in a modern interpretation of the play? Just because they might have said something like that back then, is that enough reason to keep saying it now?

For me, the answer is no. For me, a passive presentation of such language is also a tacit complicity.  For me, ALL the plays I present have to support my sense of a female character as fully formed a human and narratively important as a male character. And when I have engaged with the classics on occasion, it’s only when those works either already do that, are tailored in small or large ways so they eventually can do that, or are re-shaped to point out the lack of this quality in an actively examined way. If none of those things can happen, for me it’s just not worth doing.

In the past few years, I’ve required that women re at least 50% of the cast in a canon work. That’s true from massive Swim Pony retellings of classics like LADY M, to more traditional takes like this past summer’s The Tempest, to academic productions like my Midsummer at Arcadia this past fall. And in all of those pieces I also made a conscious effort, especially with student productions, to carefully comb the text for language that might include morals from the past that I find presently repugnant. We need to talk about why certain parts of text are (and should be) cut so that it’s clear we don’t agree as a cast, as a creative space, as a community with these statements if they are left unquestioned and unexamined.

Why this past summer did I cut massive portions of Prospero’s language about the importance of Miranda’s virginity and warnings to Ferdinand to preserve it?

Because even though I see that this is clearly written into the character, I personally find that patriarchal kind of dominance based solely on a women’s sexual purity pretty unacceptable. And I think there are plenty of ways to create a deep and complex parent/child relationship without it.

Because in the context of Prospero’s journey, neither Prospero or anyone else remarks on this as a possibly invalid way of valuing his daughter. And because I don’t value that value system, I’m not willing to support that viewpoint onstage.

If I HAD to keep it in there, because of a producer or purist’s objection, I wouldn’t do that play.

It’s the same reason I cut the classic Lysander line about Hermia being an Ethiop and Sebastien’s about Claribel being loos’d to an African. Because I would never allow those kind of casual and unremarked upon racist statements in a play I was making in the present, so I don’t include them in these plays from the past either.

And look, I understand the historical context in which they are made, but that just isn’t enough for me to justify continuing to say them. When such language is discussed or remarked upon, or featured in a new contemporary understanding, as say, many newer productions of Titus Andronicus do, or are explored or exposed in some way to unseat the assumptions they are based on (as we did often in LADY M) then I believe that the audience will see that my take on this work is different than the attitude of the character. But when such language is left in and is left un-examined or un-remarked on, I believe it creates a tacit assumption that othered identities ARE these things that the characters say they are.

So my rule is always, if I wouldn’t tolerate it from a modern playwright, I won’t tolerate it from a classical one either.

I think that there are a lot of folks who will never want these works modernized and clearly, cutting to change a character’s attitude in this regard or cross gender casting IS a modernization: A modernization to reflect the idea that women or people of color can indeed occupy the kinds of positions and embody themes that were only allotted to white men in Shakespeare’s time. And I think that those who chide cross gender casting for not being “real” or corrupting the text in some way are just refusing to see that argument from the side of the people it most affects.

So lately, I just tell myself that they’ll all die out and I will become the lord-ess of the Philadelphia art scene.

Not really.

Ok maybe a little bit.

– A

The Means To Manifesto

cooltext1368115366Hey all,

After a couple of mammoth posts past, and a few I’m working on to come, I’m keeping things short and sweet today, if still terribly important.

Instead of sending tons of my thoughts out to you all, I’d like you to send me your thoughts so that I can compile them in time to undertake a task for the next Awesome Lady Squad meeting.

Here’s our first official creation mission: A re-framing of how we look at each other as female artists. Replacing the model of scarcity and competition to a model of abundance.

In other words? An Awesome Lady Lady-festo.

I want to create a code of ethics for how the Awesome Lady Squad will function.  This document should contain clear and simple guidelines that underpin the way Awesome Lady Squad members promise to work with each other and the world around them. It is an agreement that details the ways we can model the behavior we want to see around us.

So you tell me: what does it mean to be an Awesome Lady creator? How do we define what kinds of working models we want to hold up?

Think specific, think concrete, and ideally concise.

Throw thoughts in the comments or on facebook or by email (swimponypa@gmail.com). I’ll be compiling and setting up a committee for this soon.

– A

PS – for some initial inspiration look to the Core Principles of Artist U

Talking about talking

So I’ve been thinking a lot in the hours since my last post about how to have this conversation.

I’ve been thinking about how we can best begin to discuss issues of unequal representation in a way that both is honest and straightforward and is also productive and provokes dialogue instead of defensiveness?

In other words, I want to start by talking about how we talk about this.

I find it easy to provoke and push when the target seems large and imposing. I find strength in feeling myself becoming a David in the face of a Goliath. My guess, without having been there, is that this was the awesome power of what happened at #thesummit. It was a moment where the folks on the stage, the ones with some degree of sway and power and perhaps a degree of unknowing complacency, had to take in the might of opinion and feeling of the voices sitting on the other side.

But in a business as tiny as this, in a community where community is key, when networking and positive relationships determine your ability to get a job or a grant next week, month or year, it is easy in the micro-moments of inequity to excuse the tiny things. Too often any one moment or choice or thought seems isolated or small enough to swallow.  And as the distance between we and the “giants” gets smaller, the harder it is to see them as the Goliaths they once were. Little things amass because it’s sometimes hard to know what is and isn’t a battleground.

And let’s also point out that these are really hard conversations to have.

Because so often I see an cry to battle dissolve when it has to translate into the daily implementation of such ideas on the nitty gritty detail level. Based on the conversation in our few meetings of the Awesome Lady Squad I hear female artists find the balance of when and how and where to try and bring these issues up the biggest barrier to change. “Do I really want to make this tiny line or scene or interaction a soapbox?” “Do I want to be that actress today, tomorrow, through this whole process.” “Am I really seeing this or am I being overly sensitive?”

It’s exhausting constantly trying to parsing it out in the moment.

And even if you are sure and you do know it’s an issue, it is so so so so so so so much more difficult to say things that are tricky and sticky to people we know and care about. It sucks to be a watchdog. To be a nag. To feel like you’re stopping everyone’s fun. To put people on their guard. It can feel like the opposite of the artistic impulse, where we want to feel open and accepting of each other. And I think it’s so hard because to have that conversation is also to acknowledge that the ills of our culture, the biases and darknesses that float around us all the time, also make their way into our brains. That we are sometimes making choices with little pushes from beliefs or stereotypes we’d never support if we said them out loud.

I wrote a while back about a study that showed how academic scientists displayed preferential treatment of men when filling a position for a lab manager.

In that post I explained how candidates in the study were never seen in person and scored based on identical applications save for the gendered first name of the potential employee.  I underscored that this bias was shown in both men and women assessing the candidate.  And I made a particular point of noting that none of the decision makers felt their choice had been affected by the applicant’s gender in any way. They all felt they were being totally gender objective in their assessments.

In other words, you can display bias and stigma and stereotype even when you don’t subscribe to them, EVEN when YOU are the negative recipient of them.

It is scary to think that stuff is in us. Even scarier to come to terms with the fact that it can affect our actions despite the best of our intentions. And when confronted with it, defense is natural. From the outside it seems ignorant and bigoted. But my guess is that the real cause is that no one wants to find in themselves dark things they didn’t ask to be in there. So sometimes it’s easier to believe they aren’t.

And it is here I want to point out the latent superpower we are missing: Yes, this is hard. Yes, It is tricky to talk David to David rather than David to Goliath. But.  The closer we are, the more potential impact we are likely to have. The closer we are to them, the more likely we can get people to let that guard down. The closer we are to the offending source, the more likely we are to find a safe space to excise these demons with their hosts intact. And if we can win them to our side we grow our army of soldiers. The less it looks like a war and the more it looks like a conversion, I think the faster the battle will be over. If we have to kill them all, we may still do it, but I bet we lose much more time and resource and energy.

So I think we should begin with two assumptions, even if it may seem idealistic or naïve:

1)   No one intentionally wants to make harmful choices to women artists.

2)   Everyone imbibes some level cultural crap that will predispose him or her to doing so.

So when we look at the choices of a company, or another artist (or in our own work for that matter) and we see something that makes us feel squicky, our goal should be to remind them of #1 and help them see where they might be displaying the crap of #2 (pun by the way, totally intended).

To do that I think we start by asking these questions:

Is it conscious? – i.e. Does the person or company know and realize what they’re doing? Do they identify their behavior as a problem or are they truly unaware of it and its effect?

And

Is it conscionably contextualized? – i.e. Have they passively presented potential problematic material/decisions or have they taken steps (even if imperfectly) to justify them through dialogue or contextualization? In other words, do they balance a guy heavy Glengarry Glen Ross with another play with mostly female cast? Do they perform a problematic cannon text in context of a conversation series about historical representation of women in history to point out the potential in conflict with the morals we have today?

How we assess the answers to these questions will help set the stage for the modes through which we express our concerns and I think also help start to identify the solutions. And in tailoring it in this way, I think we get closer to coming to real understanding of what’s at play in each specific case. Because the devils really are in these details. And if we don’t treat all offenses alike, I think we’re likelier to find specific tailored solutions, likelier to find and commit the people who are ready and wanting to change but may not yet be brave enough or know how on their own to do so.

More on this tomorrow…

A

PS – For some other awesome follow ups to #thesummit look to this from babelwright and this from Tamara Winters