Philadelphia

Cross Pollination begins…

Hey all,

So it’s been a bit.

And though we haven’t had much time together in this space, I feel like I’ve gotten closer to the Philly arts community in the past few days than I have in the past year. Monday marked the very first of the Cross Pollination “coffee dates” – meetings in which the folks selected and grouped together after the initial application round meet up and see what kinds of chemistry might result. I’ll be doing A LOT of these in the next couple weeks. If they keep going like they have been, the CP team will be in big trouble because we’ve found some really kick ass creators out there in the Philly landscape and choosing half of them to move on is going to be a daunting task.

abeepollen1Tomorrow I’ll begin profiling the groups that I’ve met with. I’ll be lucky enough to be an equal participant with all the groups that are brought together as part of this – the third leg of all the trios that move on. And because I don’t want to be the only one to get to see the wealth of awesomeness, one of my big goals for the Cross Pollination project is to share the creative research that happens at every step of the journey. So expect a lot of thoughts about how other genres can teach us about our own work this summer and in the months beyond.

I thought that I’d start at the beginning, with myself, the only common thread through all the projects.

We received 90+ submissions for this project. Only 30 artists/ensembles, 15 pairs, were selected to meet in person with me to see what kind of a trio we might make. Each one of those folks wrote something in their application that sparked myself and the reader panel to know more. And since they did all that work, before we met I too created an “application” that I sent to them. It explained my work and impulses to pollinate using the same questions I’d asked them.

Cross Pollination Application

Name: Adrienne Mackey

Artistic area(s) of practice/expertise: Theater mostly, with a little writing and voice in the mix as well

• A bit of writing

Using 400 – 800 words on this form or another attached sheet write about why you’re interested in Cross Pollination: What makes you want to participate in this project? Do you need to shake up the way you make stuff? What makes you want to work with artists from other disciplines? Is your current process open to change?

I wrote the grant that is funding Cross Pollination on a whim.

I’d received funds from the Knight Foundation previously for another project called “Outside the (Black) Box” in which I staged theatrical works in unusual spaces including a show at Eastern State Penitentiary and another that toured to science lecture halls all over the city. And because this foundation had never done it before, I figured there was no way they fund me a second time.

So I used it as an opportunity to imagine a kind of ideal artistic experience: one that allowed me to meet a huge number of new and diverse creators, one where I got to spend substantive time, was well paid and had access to any resources I might need, and most importantly had the chance to do some research and development without the pressure of any finished product. As a former lab chemist, I approach my creative “experimentation” with a scientist’s sensibility: I ask questions I do not yet know the answer to and then carry out research that delves into the inner workings of my subject of study. And it’s funny that it was while working in a lab that I discovered directing live performance was going to the thing I would commit my life to doing.

I say live performance because when most people think of the word “play” they tend to imagine red curtains and “please unwrap your candy” speeches and sad family members sitting on beige couches talking about their relationship problems. That or Elizabethan doublets and “To be or not to be.” And while I don’t mean to say there isn’t value in those kinds of experiences, the kinds of work I’ve been making for the past decade tends to look and operate differently. I usually ask a bit more of my audiences than sitting back for an hour or two and watching. I want them to sing, I want them to move, and sometimes even choose the way they navigate the experience they take part in.

And yet, while I love creating and directing these kinds of projects, I’ve also always been a bit of an artistic omnivore. I studied classical opera as well as some pretty “out there” experimental approaches to voice. I’ve acted professionally and currently sing back up vocals in a funk band. (I’m the one in the middle with the big hair). In the last few years started writing the words my actors speak and also composed nearly 50,000 words on the state of the arts in Philadelphia and beyond. My directing works have always been an outlet for my interest in other topics – quantum physics, American labor history, science fiction, racial tensions between communities in Philadelphia – and the form these works take are often inspired by other mediums I encounter in researching them.

So in a way, this project is my chance to formalize that process. It’s my attempt to find other people who have developed skills in one area and want to see what they can learn by smashing them up against another’s. It’s a way to remind ourselves that there’s always more to learn, always new directions in which to grow.

• A bit of everything else

1)   Pick three adjectives that describe the stuff you make:  Scientific, Muscular, Surprising

2)   Work samples:

Share a bit about your work. This can links to audio recordings, video clips, a digital portfolio or website, press coverage and/or writing samples – basically, whatever you think best represents what you make. Feel free to also include information on any upcoming show/reading/performance!

Last fall I created a piece at Eastern State Penitentiary for the FringeArts festival called The Ballad of Joe Hill. I love working in spaces that aren’t theaters. Something about discovering the story of the place and how it’s architecture helps convey the emotion we’re after is really exciting to me. Below are a couple of my favorite photos from the show (all credited to the amazing Kyle Cassidy):

brad trial

hilda suitcase

reporters

hilda hall

For the NPR nerds out there, WHYY also had us on RadioTimes with Marty Moss-Coane to talk about the piece and its historical context.

Here’s a photo for another play I created in 2010 called SURVIVE!

box survive

In this one I really wanted to create a theater experience that communicated the massive, incomprehensible size and complexity of the universe. So we had audience and performers moving through 20,000 sq ft of space in a “choose your own adventure” format. A person saw one of 128 different possible unique viewings of the show’s material, and any one person only able to see about a quarter of the play’s content in a single viewing.

Here’s a video trailer for that. And you can check out more pictures here.

And last I’ll share a little bit of my most recent play Welcome To Campus. I created this show in residence at Drexel University (where I teach) and the piece was a traveling “tour” of the campus performed by student actors. The students brought the audience across 2 miles of the campus giving tours of their own lives in the places these events actually occurred – classrooms, dorms, the gym, etc. We also had a second set of performers out in the landscape that magically manifested whatever the person was talking about. In one scene an actor talks about having to cut a friend out of her life who started drinking and spiraling into a negative lifestyle she was comfortable with and as the tour walks by you see a series of students all having the same phone conversation based on the event the guide is talking about. You can catch another profile on NPR, this time on Newsworks, here.

One of the things I really liked about this piece was a collaboration we had with a photographer and graphic artist for objects used in the piece. We weren’t allowed to use official Drexel schwag (our “fake” tour was NOT administration approved) so we created our own folders, maps, tour guide bios, gave audiences a “voucher” for the dining hall (continent on their submission of an application for admission). Kate Raines, a photographer friend, did a brochure style photo shoot of these kids that we used in a power point that started off the show. You can see some of the photos of the students doing their best to look happy and productive.

campus 1

campus 2

campus 3

campus 4

And at the very end of the show the audience is surprised to walk out onto the main stage of the theater building as they hear “pomp and circumstance.” Their names are called as they received “diplomas” (actually the show’s programs) as they “graduated” our play. Crowning achievement of this show was when an actual Drexel applicant and his parents came to the show and said that this was exactly what they wanted to have in a tour when trying to look at colleges.

Thanks for reading. Looking forward to meeting you!

– Adrienne

Interlude

federal copy

This is where you start

The life of a creator can be tough between projects. It can be especially frustrating if you feel like the work you make is dependent on others being around to help you do it. Some days it feels awfully tough to “direct” all alone in my apartment. And on days like this it can feel like my work is dependent on so many factors out of my control to come into being.

I recently had a convo with a friend who was in a slump, feeling down about the announced seasons of most of the local theaters (the perennial “No parts for me” frustration), wishing that could she saw a creative outlet on her horizon. Like I said, I know the feeling. But I also wonder sometimes if we don’t unconsciously do ourselves a disservice thinking this way –  giving ourselves an out from really going after what we want. If it’s up to others to determine our creative fate, it’s not our fault if we don’t feel ourselves moving ahead.

This blog is the product of one of those long stretches between rehearsal processes. It was a way for me to put all that energy I had into something even if it wasn’t a show. This space, this writing, has been a reminder that there is a way to keep a practice active and moving even when you can’t work it in exactly the way we might wish. Like taking up rowing after getting a bad sprained ankle. Doing something similar but a little different might mean, as I’ve found, a challenge is also an opportunity to find that one’s output doesn’t have to be so narrowly defined.

Anyway.

In this spirit, I’ll try to share ways that I find to keep the research and performance work alive in these interludes between the work. And to start I’ll share a small theatrical experiment.

This is a walking sound journey. It’s rough, a very first draft, but a style I’ve been really interested in playing with recently. This piece came out of a two day exploration at Headlong’s Dance Theater Camp with Amy Smith on “Experiential Journeys.” The goal was to research how to create experiences that bring people into their environment in new and different ways. I wanted to try a solo experience that integrated the real world with an invented narrative. The way that I feel when I’m walking down the street and the music I’m listening to suddenly, serendipitously, syncs with what I’m seeing around me.

So here’s what you do:

1) Download the two files at this link and put them onto your phone. (Or if you get decent service you can play them online.) Grab some headphones.

https://soundcloud.com/swimpony/sets/federal-walk

2) Go to the northeast corner of Broad and Federal. Stand next to the mailbox.

3) Before you move, orient yourself. For this experiment you will walk east on Federal, take a left on 13th, another left on Elsworth and then a final left onto Broad as you pass the diner. You’ll essentially make a loop around the block and end up back where you started.

3) Start playing the first track. Then go for a walk.

4) When you finish track 1 go back to the mailbox. Start playing the second track and wait until it tells you to “Start walking” and repeat the same path.

That’s it. You’ve just participated in a little work in progress.

Feel free to let me know what you think.

A

An interview with Adrienne

Hey all,

FringeArts did a nice little interview with me a while back about my current thoughts on art, projects in the Swim Pony mix and my hopes for sustainability over the long term of a long term career.

If you’re interested in reading (and seeing me sitting backwards in that omnipresent chair) check it out by clicking this picture:

Print

Enjoy,

– A

Dispatches from the Awesome Lady Squad

cooltext1368115366

Hey Awesome Ladies!

Spring has technically sprung, despite the nastiness of the current weather, and with it comes new blooms of Awesome-ness. LADYFESTO! now created we march ahead onto bigger and even better projects.

What’s next, you ask?

Let me share with you three upcoming opportunities to take part in the Squad:

1) A Frank Convo About the Classical Canon:

I’ll admit it. I’ve been having some tough conversations inside my own head and with others about how to deal with being a contemporary female artist in relation to “great” works from the past. And so, to help sort through some of these, I’ve invited a bunch of smart and thoughtful ladies who spend a lot of their time in these works to chat with me (and maybe you) about how they navigate these waters. My goal is talk openly about how and when to keep aspects of these plays from the past while still holding true to our Awesome Lady principles of the present.

Want to join? Then come to Headlong Studios (1170 S Broad St) on May 12th from 3 – 5pm to be a part of the conversation.

2) An Awesome Lady Talking Toolkit:

Back in the early months of this year we identified a series of problems the Squad wanted to solve and some things we’d like to have to help to do. One of the most frequently mentioned “wish list” items were these:

  • Skills to handle tough conversations about gender parity.
  • A way to talk about this that doesn’t become apologetic or defensive.
  • Something to say when I sense people starting to roll their eyes.
  • The ability to talk and explain the “no” to a project that doesn’t conform to my moral code.

This meeting will be the first of several to tackle this solution.

Maybe we’ll make a workbook, a writing exercise, a checklist, a document with a series of go to argument points, something even more Awesome we can’t even yet conceive!!! If you want define what form it will take, strategize a plan and timeline for its creation, and figure out how to roll it out for the Squad at large, this meeting is for you.

Headlong Studios (1170 S Broad St) on May 19th from 7 – 9 pm to join in.

And finally!

3) Awesome Lady Observerships (ongoing):

Being a director can be a lonely business. Whether you’re a season pro or a newbie to the game, rarely get to watch each other in action.  Chatting with Allison Heishman the other day we talked about much we both wanted the chance to just sit back and observe other ladies do their Awesome directing thing. In our artistic landscape – one filled with abundance and support – we figured getting to pick up tools, see problems solved in new ways or even just admire someone else in action is just the thing to help solve this.

So! If you’re intrigued, send an email to swimponypa@gmail.com and the following info:

  1. Your name

  2. If you’re interested in letting people observe you and any upcoming work they might be able to see

  3. If you’re interest in seeing someone else’s work

I’ll put some kind of list together and follow up soon.

Whew! That was an awful lot of Awesome-ness.

And I think that’s all for now, Ladies.

– Adrienne

Local is local is local

pin

 

What is local? What do we mean when we talk about all politics being local? The value of supporting local art?

To the internet!

As an adjective “local” is used to mean belonging or relating to a particular area or neighborhood, typically exclusively so. As in words like community, district, neighborhood, city, etc. As Google so helpfully points out, one can research things like “local government” or “local history.” Also, this word is used as an adjective in the sense of being at hand, near, close by, easy accessible, convenient and handy. One might eat at a “local restaurant” not only for its quality but also because of its proximity to oneself. Also as in serving or related to just a particular defined area – a local bus, a local infection. In this sense, the word local perhaps more restricted, contained or confined.

As a noun, a “local” is a person or thing, that inhabits such a local area or place. An event might be filled with “locals” as opposed to outsiders or visitors. Local here means inhabitant, resident, native. The “locals” complain when outsiders come in and make a mess.

A local lives in the local place doing local things in their local way.

Local can be small. Local can be confining. Local can be networked. Local can be supportive, limiting, loving, stifling or neutral.

It can be any these things. It just depends if the locality that’s local to you, the local, is locally working in the way you wish.

Lately my impulses have been feeling awfully local. I think about the fact that I am in the midst of a number of localities, when you think about it:

  • My local city Philadelphia with its governance and policies
  • My local neighborhood, block and street
  • My artist community at large with its myriad of members
  • My specialty of theater arts in particular and the generative/deviser/collaborative/weirdo/whatever-you-want-to call-it subset within that
  • My community of administrators and advocates for sustainability
  • My network of Awesome Ladies
  • My circle of artists also working other jobs to survive

The list goes on. These are not large-scale national interests, for the most part. There might be theater happening in New York and D.C. that I see and appreciate but until I am literally taking and making my work there, it’s still a reference point. It’s not something impacting me in particular in a day-to-day way.

This is the thing about the things around me. They are close. We share space and place and resource.

They are local.

This is why I think I feel the need so greatly to talk and reach out recently. There might have been a time when I would have said, “Ah, yeah, those people do things I’m not crazy about but they don’t affect me.” More and more though it feels like this just isn’t true. I can’t swim in the pool and not get touched by the water. I am in the mix. I am affect, even just as a ripple, a current of what’s in the soup around me. And unless I am to bounce myself out, I must respond with the currents. I can swim into them or against them but I am linked with them through nearness.

My nearby community is (literally) around me. And like it or hate it that will always be true unless I leave it.

It’s like the saying (that I just made up this moment) goes: Local is local.

So I’ve been asking myself this question: how do I take the things that I love about being a local and deal with the things I really don’t?

And something that frustrated me at first was an ability to even begin making headway on such massive and all consuming problems like arts sustainability or the funding community or the meaning of a career in this field or trying to tackle gender inequity. It seemed like there’s just SO much to do. It seemed so hard to even begin to think about where to start.

And then I thought: just start with yourself and work outwards.

These are the projects you’ve been seeing from Swim Pony:

  • The Awesome Lady Squad
  • Cross Pollination
  • Residency-based theater works like WELCOME TO CAMPUS
  • Site based plays like THE BALLAD OF JOE HILL
  • A soon to come Adjuncts Soiree

I am tackling artistic and advocacy based questions one at a time through projects that start close to me and begin to push outwards from this center. In a way it feels like I’m taking my many kinds of local-ness and smashing them all into the same super tiny space and making them reckon with each other.

For many years I did a lot of work separating out these different communities by compartmentalizing them in myself. I became a local in each locality without require the others to enmesh. But these new works buck this method. They are projects that are active attempts to put my worlds up against each other and begin to make them touch. It’s a way of easing the work I do within my own brain and heart, by letting the outside world begin to hash this out. It’s meant putting one perspective into view of the other and seeing how they both shift in relation.

So that rather than trying to constantly be outside of the place I am in for one reason or another, I can slowly grow the space just beyond my own personal physical borders into a locality that can contain all the aspects of what I define myself as local to.

So that some day the city and community and women’s group and art community are all able to be in the same space without conflict: when local is local is local in me.

– 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.

Where we go from here

Hey all. It’s March 31st and the official end of my month of blogging here on the topic of gender parity in theater. I recapped the other day some of the projects that this month has inspired and begun, but I also wanted to say a couple things not only about those specific projects but about a few bigger picture things that have slowly amassed over the course of this month on a larger, perhaps more philosophical level.

One of the lessons I feel like I’ve taken away from this month of work is the sense that it’s important to keep perspective on two scales – the very small and personal and the very large and grand.

I find for myself that when I get too stuck in the minutiae of my own little world and my own little perspective on that little world, I can miss solutions or a sense of possibility. It’s easy when we are used to seeing something all the time to assume that it will always have to be that way. There are trends of inequity that have persisted for so long they have become banal and commonplace. And so in listening to other creators, in gathering voices of women artmakers en masse, by looking at my field as a whole and branching into other mediums as well, by looking at this problem not just as a personal one but a community-wide issue, I feel like I’ve gained a feeling of possibility, of mobility that I haven’t had in a while. Stepping back and looking at the larger picture has made me say more forcefully there are things I see in my community that are not acceptable even if they are common.

Simultaneously, I have also gotten better at tasking myself with small concrete things that I can do in and hour or two with a few people. I have become more able to say, “What can I do right now to make a step towards a larger goal?” rather than getting frustrated at an inability to fix everything in its entirety. I have felt easier in making a step forward, even if it is imperfect or not totally complete and saying that something good and finished NOW is better than something immaculate that takes months to perfect.

Another lesson learned is the power of a system that can handle multiple points of entry. One of the most awesome things about the Awesome Lady Squad is the fact that there are projects starting to gain momentum that I am not the sole driver of. Projects that I am appreciative of but may not have the expertise or immediate interest in prioritizing. If the Squad is to succeed I think our responsibility must be shouldered by many. Because the truth is some day I’m going to get busy with a project or a life event. Or there will be (maybe already is) more to do that I have time to oversee. And one of my core beliefs is that we will do so much more if we all trust each other to take your idea and run further with it than you knew was possible.

And last, I’ve realized that there is nothing more powerful that one human looking another human in the eye and doing your best to speak honestly and listen to each other.

That sounds mushy.

It is.

But man, is it also effective.

I’ve written thousands of words about these issues, spent hours trying to articulate exactly how I’m feeling and what I want to communicate. And yet, one of the most impactful moments I’ve had was when I sat down talked with some other creators about how their choices affected me and listened honestly and openly to their response.

If there is anything that I take from a month of work trying to advocate for female artists it is this: we have to be brave enough to start saying what we actually think and feel. To do so assumes that real and substantive change is possible. It assumes that our views are valuable enough to be heard and flexible enough to absorb response.

It is hard to tell someone, especially someone you admire and care about, that their actions might have consequences they do not intend. It also feels like the closest I’ve come to actually shifting the way someone will think and act in relation to this topic in the future.

And in this way, let me share where I go from here:

I will continue to work with The Awesome Lady Squad in the coming months. I’ll keep you abreast of those changes.

I will return to many of the questions about sustainability and how to engage in a long and happy life as an artist.

I will send some focus to other special interest groups and work towards a community that is aware and equitable in all aspects.

I want to encourage us, Philadelphia, to start engaging in these harder conversations. The ones that scare us. The ones that are uncomfortable. The ones that might mean we really have to rethink some of the ways we do things. These are the ones that will make us the city that others look to. These are the things that will create a more sustainable and strong community in the future.

Feeling the renewing possibilities of the imminent spring,

A