Tectonic Shifts

Something tectonic is shifting.

It’s difficult to articulate the magnitude of the slow but massive moving plate of direction and force I feel. It’s something that says it’s time to let go and ask oneself what I actually want, not what I think I can achieve. Of saying aloud what I truly truly can envision.

Let me back up.

So, it’s been a while my dear friends.

I’ve been caught up in the web of work that distracts and delights. My “life” is in at least three kinds of shambles due to lack of attention. But it’s the kind of whirlwind that I adore. How amusing and ironic it is that just as I start to gain some traction in this space, pick up a bit of speed, find a voice through language that seems to start nibbling on the edges of these issues, the work itself intrudes and demands all of my attention. So I’ve had so many feelings and thoughts about making and doing and what matters over these past few weeks. But the energy that I usually reserve for this endeavor, the space and time to think and carve out reason and lessons from impulse and feeling, is currently directed elsewhere most of the time.

So there’s been a lot to ponder, but little time to share it.

Here’s a bite at least.

I’ve written before about the relentless pursuit of the perfect, about my contentious relationship with potentiality. It has been both a motivator and inhibitor. It was, perhaps is still, a trait that I both love and fear in myself.

Loved because I believed that this need to impress, to perfect, to show the world how amazing a thing I can make was/is the reason I make impressive things. I believed that an instinct that runs far back into me, as far back into the conception of myself as I can remember, must be at the core of the work that I do, that it must be at the heart of the thing.

Hated because it was the same voice that said that no amount of doing was enough, kept me awake in the middle of the night believing I would fail this task while simultaneously shouting that it was too small, too pedestrian, too simple to be worth attempting, and that had I bigger vision, I might pursue an artistic feat more real and true.

And too often what ended up happening was this: the beginning of a work is filled with the elated holiness of that first blush, and over time as the thing came into sharper and sharper focus, it seemed to fade from that Aristotle inspired image of a perfection play that lived in the clouds of my imagination. And it’s apparent to me now that near the end of every major process of the last decade or so, I’ve walked away at the moment of the work’s full birth feeling a bit like a fraud, filled with big words and ideas, and scared that someone will expose me and show that none of them have really made it into the thing itself.

But recently, and it’s been building over time, as I’ve found moments to reconnect with old works, think about what truly brought me joy in them, it strikes me that, no, the ideal that I had in my head was not the thing I wanted and loved about being a creator, but a dolly waived in the face vigorously enough that I was distracted into thinking it the goal.

This current piece in particular, this Tempest, shows more than ever how funny that idea was in the first place.

Perhaps this is news to no one but myself, but there is no such thing as THE Tempest. Certainly not with 6 weeks of rehearsal in a park with little money or people. But even with years and infinite funds and whatever space one could imagine, there is no such thing as a definitive. There is just this Tempest, just a Tempest, that I happen to be working on. A particular work made by a particular group of people based on a particular set of factors that govern how the thing is made. Some of these things we can control. Some we cannot. And while I could lament, if I cared to, about how I might better perfect the process, even if I nothing ever went wrong, even if I had more time or money, even if I never lost a performer to circumstances beyond their control, even if the bounds of physics themselves were magically lifted and anything I could see in my mind were possible. Even if all this were true, it wouldn’t change one basic thing:

At the core, the work is you wrestling it out.


With the need to look beautiful.

With the need to be right.

With the need to impress.

With the need to be known.

With the need to reach out to others.

With the need to be larger than you feel yourself to be.

With the need to say something that matters to the world.

With the need to push sadness away.

With the need to feel at home with others.

With a thousand needs that I cannot imagine that are totally unique to you.

With the need to make something perfect and untouchable that no one can ever criticize.

And whatever of those needs drive our feelings and impulses we are often caught figuring out whether to fight or free them as we make our way through the scene (or song, or paragraph, or whatever). Sometimes that fight can feel like endpoint of the work. But I don’t think it is. It’s never the reason we began our art in the first place.

And, for me anyway, I think I’m seeing that beating oneself up about the distance between the ideal of the thing, the perfect version of The Tempest, or LADY M, or The Ballad of Joe Hill is really not about simply getting to the penultimate amazing version of the show. It’s letting the needs dictate the process.

Because perhaps, if I could just get there and prove the worth of the work, the implicit message is that that need with which I am wrestling will magically quiet. Which is why I keep opening the door to another wrestling match even as I grow weary (and older) and feel a little less ready to duke it out inside myself.

But the voice isn’t so strong any more. And I’m a lot less interested in yelling at myself.

Which at first I feared was a mellowing of the artistic impulse.

And perhaps this is what was so disquieting to me several months back when I despaired about the state of my art and myself in it. Perhaps it’s why I felt so far away from the form and unsure if I could continue. Because the thing I identified in myself as the core of my artistic self, this need to work and work and work towards only this “best” version of a piece, wasn’t sitting right anymore. That voice just made me tired a lot of the time.

And in feeling that, I worried that I was losing the central part of myself that made anything worth anything close to worthy. And I worried that I would give in, and make stuff I didn’t care about. That I would give up and stop making at all. That I would have to concede that the making didn’t really matter.

But I think I was missing the point. That I might not make things that appeased the voice. But I also might get to ask myself what I really wanted out of all this. When I am truthful, when I think about the reasons I actually stay, it is no longer to make a perfect piece. It isn’t really to even impress anyone any more. Those used to be bigger driving forces but I don’t know that they are any more.

And somewhere in the midst of this place, one in which there are so many things I can’t control as I usually do, places where there is no way to keep perfection as an attainable outcome, I realize that I have to ask myself what it is that I actually actually want out of being an artist.  And perhaps rather than being dependent on that relentless voice to propel me into success, that perhaps I am actually succeeding in spite of it.

If this work isn’t perfect, but it still feels worth doing, something else must be at play. And I think I’ve honed in on what it might be:

It is the moment when out of nothing, comes something. Whether a room of 4 or 4,000 I am able to witness a birth of sound or movement or word that I didn’t know or only sensed was possible and by helping to direct it, or shape it, or even just witness it I am part of something much greater than the tininess of me. And it can feel perfect in that moment of birth, but the perfection isn’t really the point at all.

It is that in the face of chaos and nothingness and void, there is connection and creation and discovery.

It’s a kind of divinity really.

And I’m learning that it is what in the work actually satiates. Not the most amazing performance, or the most ingenious transition. Because a particular skill or craft does not always equate to genuine creation. Maybe those less practiced in the outcome can actually be a more direct means to find it.

And strangely, in the midst of seeing how joyful I find the moments of that spark in this process in which I am bereft of so many of my usual tricks, I see more clearly the ways in which I am setting myself up to put it lower on the docket of importance.

And so perhaps it’s why I’m coming to this funny cross roads with theater. Because I’m sensing there are ways more efficient to find that spark that ignites through the emptiness. And that the ways that seems most directly plugged into that are more and more looking less and less like a regular process, or theater, or even perhaps “performance” at all.

Like I said, tectonic shifts.

But for now, let’s just enjoy letting the angry perfect voice go in pieces. Let’s enjoy knowing that I cannot give you THE Tempest.

Just this one upcoming, which I think you will enjoy.



O the heavens, we are in the thick of it. O, yes, we are.

I often wonder what exactly I must look like in rehearsals.

The best days I am blessedly unaware of myself, seemingly like the spirit in this play I’m laboring on, a mostly un-embodied ball of energy that floats in and among the room’s inhabitants, sending thoughts and energy to and into them. I am aware of only the echoes of shape and motion – a sweep of the arm, a pacing back and forth, a note scribbled quickly in a book. In this form I feel massive and all encompassing, a thing of air and energy.

The worst days I see myself far more concretely, feel myself sitting on the floor or see the words almost tangibly come out of my mouth. On these days I am small and desperately trapped – by body, by brain, by the limitations of time and gravity. In these moments I often see a room staring at me and in the space of a breath or pause quietly ponder at the insanity of them to have followed me here.

I try to look at them squarely. I try not to shrink under the glare. I try to tell the truth of unknowing while still believing that I (for it is never they that have brought us here) can lead us out of the tangle and wooded thickets we have ventured forth into.

When in directing mode senses come into sharper contrast – sounds either exalt or oppress, the room can be a nest in which to cozy in or an overbearing push that squeezes down on the work like a trash compactor.  It’s like the sensitivity dial is jacked up to its highest point. Even clothes can suddenly itch and scratch with a fervor that seems sudden and unwarranted.

Am I alone in this? Is this why there are nights I toss and turn? Is it why I cannot help myself but to apologize again and again in the room for such sensorial dissonances, whether not I am the cause? I don’t know if it is also the purgatory of other artists to feel this way, to know you must open yourself so wide and full and then chafe at the rough hewn bits that pass through your fingers. To know that the only way to make them smooth is to sit in that roughness and work it out.

In working The Tempest at this moment, I can’t help but feel a little bit of Ariel in myself. I’ve agreed to be here, sought out this particular form of servitude. And I take delight in the use of my powers to create shape and spectacle, to send the inhabitants of this island running, hair up-staring and all aflame like reeds, in many places and then bring them back to meet and join.

But unlike that dainty spirit, I’m sometimes less perfectly certain that I can perform the task to every article, that I can do such worthy service, and do so without giving over to grudge or grumbling. Like this production’s particular version of that entity, which takes its shape not in human form but appears in and about our space’s fabric elements, I am finding that pushing too hard or getting stuck too long forces the magic to be lost. I see how the promises made and kept earlier in this process are no guarantee for pay off and that there is plenty more toil to do.

But when I sit and ask myself on this morning why undertake this service, I cannot help but believe that unlike that spirit, that when it comes to the end of all this I will not gladly demand my liberty. That for me, the strive towards freedom from this earth-bound form is the freedom. That it is not in the finishing of the task, but in the doing of it that we mere humans glimpse at the capacity for magic. That like another in this play, I will miss it well and be sad in giving this work its freedom, even when I know well the necessity in completing the contract to do so.

The time twixt now and the end will be spent by us all most preciously…


Art crush

Hello my friends. It’s, again, been a few days. And this rhythm, perhaps once or twice a week, is likely where I’ll be living for the next few months.

I don’t say that because I think you’re upset about it, I just like to keep folks informed. Because the truth is I’m back in rehearsals, and that changes the tempo, the rhythmic pace, of one’s existence. It gives me such a different perspective on all these things I write about.

It’s a kind of amnesia, getting one’s feet back onto the floor. It’s as if all of the sudden I’m remembering a feeling that I’ve forgotten. There is a kind of: “Oh! This! I remember this. I love this. Why have I been doing anything else but this all this time?!”

This is always how it starts.

All those things we later don’t understand ourselves putting up with. All those indignities that in stark recollection we are surprised at our ability to tolerate. The long hours, the strange spaces, the running from place to place, all of it.

Last night I had people rolling on the ground outside covered in wet and dirty spandex while it rained.

And when it’s good (and right now, it’s very good) it all seems totally worth it.

A new work, for me, is a little like falling in love. And like falling in love, the moment when we surrender to an emotion that has the capacity to make us feel bigger, fuller, than we had been just the moment before, it is easy to allow ourselves to do anything to stay in that place. It is easy for the feeling, which can be so ecstatic and full, to feel like greater compensation than any amount of money ever could.

It is a constant surprise to me that this can continue to stay true even now, ten years into the doing of it.

I was chatting with a friend the other day about this: how the process of making something can feel like someone opens a door and on the other side is something amazing and incredible. And when you have to close it for some length of time it’s hard not to just yell at people who don’t care about the door, hard not spend all your time just waiting to open it again, hard to recapture the image of what’s on the other side.

An artistic love, like any affection, is a process of revealing oneself to an another, an unknown, and finding how you fit into it, into something larger than yourself. It is an amplifying mirror – reflecting one’s image back to themselves in bigger and sometimes stranger ways than we usually see ourselves.

Like love, it causes me to panic, simultaneously scared and excited to meet this new thing I’ve temporarily committed myself to. And the newer that love is, the less known, the more it throws me into paroxysms of emotion. Ups and downs between wanting to commit the rest of my life to this thing and feeling so silly and small and unsuited to this task, waves that come and go over days, hours, sometimes minutes.

I, for one, still struggle to be in it.

Even when I know the agitation, the terror, the butterflies, the inability to sleep as the mind races through images at night, even though I know all these things are part and parcel with the joy, I sometimes don’t know how to just release and let them in. And for me this manifests in extremes of doing and not doing. I spend  hours creating detailed, printed, minute by minute plans for the day, which are often tossed aside within the first hour. And then later, exhausted, I sit and stare out windows or listen to the same song over and over again trying to get it to reveal artistic secrets to me.

This cycling between manic outward production and preoccupied inward energy gathering, like love, binds us to the thing we cycle around in a way that, like love, can feel so specific and special that it’s hard to believe that other people can share this passion. It’s sometimes frightening to think that even the others involved might not care for it as deeply as I do. And like love, the feeling can make one feel enmeshed and alone all at the same time.

I have these dreams about rehearsals. Both waking and asleep. Nothing in them is ever sexual or explicit in any literal way. But they feel like romance dreams. And in recalling them, they pull on the same strings deep in the center of my chest. It is a love ache that these thoughts elicit. I think about a rehearsal’s scene or sound like a person’s offhand joke or their dimple. And like a giddy teenager I can replay the moments again and again trying to recapture the rapture they engender.

Let’s call it what it is.

It’s an art-crush, this.

And like a new love, I worry about letting the feeling take over me. I worry talking about it too much. About putting too much faith in its newness. About giving away all of myself to it before I know it will catch me.

But really, there’s nothing to be done but to just be in it.

To try take it in so we do not deny ourselves the pleasure, with an eye or two on the rest of the world so we don’t too totally lose touch with reality.

To endeavor to be honest with our new love, so that we do not lose our sense of selves in an effort to fit inside it, but stay supple enough to let it change and open us in ways we might not have known possible.

To keep our sense of fairness and standard and integrity, so that even if we could give everything of ourselves so thoroughly away, we don’t, because later, when our love tempers and perhaps even fades, we’ll need it.

– A

Interview (again): This time in a laundromat

Hey there.


We’re doing this again? An interview with yourself?

Yep. I’m stuck for the next 45 minutes and need something to do. So here we are.

So what’s going on?

Well, I’m sitting in a laundromat washing spandex.

Umm… Dare I ask?

It’s for auditions tomorrow. I’ll be directing The Tempest for Shakespeare in Clark Park with Catharine Slusar as Prospero and Catherine Palfinier as Caliban. It’s the first time in a while I’ve directed for any entity other than my own. I’m excited and a little nervous.

So what’s with the spandex?

Well, during Lady M I had a lot of ideas about the witches materializing out of the set. A human body pushed into stretchy fabric creates an interesting shape – something clearly human but smoothed out. Like a neutral mask for the whole body.

In the first iteration of the show we didn’t really get to implement a lot of the experiments we explored in rehearsals. When thinking about Tempest I was interested in stage elements that felt genuinely magical. I really liked the idea that Ariel, the spirit imprisoned by Prospero, could appear and disappear magically by using this material in the set design.

Sounds fun.

Yeah. I’m pretty psyched actually about getting to come back to a previous idea I didn’t get to take to its fullest vision.

So, I have to ask. You wrote before about being really freaked about the audition culling process. How’d it go?

I know I had a lot of apprehension. I still don’t know how I feel about the cold call submission thing, but I have to say, there were some pretty amazing people that showed up for the first round. I’m psyched to see the folks that are coming to this next one.

So maybe auditions aren’t so bad?

Maybe. I always wish there was more time. And it reminds me how much scheduling sucks. But on the whole, yeah, it’s been awesome to see all the talented folks that I had no idea lived in this city. It’s a little humbling in a way.

How do you mean?

It’s easy as one starts to transition out of newbie status (oh the eternal emerging artist) to feel like you know everything that’s out there. It’s nice to remember that the landscape of the arts community is always growing and changing. That once I was part of that new groundswell and less than a decade later there’s a whole new “generation” of artists to discover.

So I get why you’re using the spandex. Why are you washing it?

Swim Pony bought all this spandex for SURVIVE! We turned a dirty basement into this:

green hub

(Thanks JJ Tiziou for the photo ww.jjtiziou.net)

Those light up walls? A million miles of spandex. Since then it’s been sitting in my basement. It’s not nice to make people roll around in smelly fabric.

And there’s no one else to wash it?

It’s a glamorous life I lead.

So what are you looking for from the people that come in?

Hmmm. I don’t know exactly how to answer that. It’s the funny thing about collaborators, if you knew exactly what you wanted you’d just go out and get it, right? But sometimes you just meet someone and you know that they have some quality that inspires or challenges you in a way that you need.

So when I think about what I’m looking for, I want to create some space for people to be as much of themselves as possible. To bring in whatever of themselves they are most excited to show. The rest will be the chemistry of how I do what I do with how they do the same.

Anything else?

Nope. The fabric is done and I need to go take it out of the dryer.