Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Life Saver

There was a time not so long ago when I was that adrift member of the post-academic actor tribe awaiting for the big kids to make up a project I could work on.

Then I found religion.

I had listened to the idle talk that actors aren’t generative artists and taken it to heart. I was living the malaise.

Then I got knocked off my donkey.

I got a call from a man who had created and ArtSpark team and was short an actor. Hey! I was an actor! Hey! I was going crazy having nothing to do after my office day ended!

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I was now part of Team Infinite Perspectives.

Our task was to create a new theatre piece given a Spark on opening night that was be presented to the public in three months, and then presented after extensive notes and corrections to the public again a week later.

We were given a budget and a 24-hour office.

We were given space for the show.

And on opening night we were handed a whole PILE of Spark.

I won’t recount the process step by step that can be found over at the Team Blog. But what I will say is that through the ArtSpark Festival and it’s gracious extension of the opportunity to fail on someone else’s dime, I figured out that I really like making plays. Not just getting the lines right, but being in the generative trenches.

It also gave me the opportunity to play around with projections and do voiceover for a video game team. (haHA!)

I met the majority of my Austin theatre tribe through this festival one way or the other.

I met Will Snider, my partner in crime with Cambiare Production, I met indefatigable Andrew Varenhorst, director Aaron Sanders, I met my Gobotrick folks and my Texas State alums through Will. And the rest I met through Foundation events of one stripe or another. (I also won Miss Congeniality!)

Will (and Co.) won the Festival Grand Prize ($5000) in ArtSpark 2, and now works for the Foundation. I got Will. Fair’s fair.

And now?

ArtSpark 4 is up!

Beginning Thursday at the OffCenter in Austin we have another round of theatre groups giving it a go.

I know a whole raft of folks involved, and haven’t seen them in months, so you know they’ve been working hard.

This this year the sparks consist of:

“a piece of visual art and a musical composition that were produced and submitted by your team's Visual Artist and Musician(s) prior to the start of the Festival. This year, teams will also receive the Dell Children's Hospital play room as one of their "sparks." The “sparks” will serve as the jumping off point for Creative Teams, since no work on the team’s new pieces can begin prior to the start of the Festival. Theatre artists and video game designers will use these “sparks” to begin brainstorming on the Creative Team's new play or video game. Once development of the Creative Team's video game or play begins, that team's visual artist and musician(s) will create a new piece of visual art and music that responds to the entire team's ArtSpark experience. The theatre artists or video game designers on your Creative Team are required to incorporate the visual art and music into the new play or video game.”


The Theatre Showcase are at the OffCenter.

The Music Showcase are at the Scoot Inn

The Game Showcases are on the ACC campus

The Visual Art showcases are at the Pump Project

All are worthwhile. I encourage you to check it out. These sorts of festivals are exactly what builds the kinds of community I’m talking about. And they just may save lives.

Glenda Barnes in Loose Lips

Get Your Tickets Now!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I have met the Enemy

Tony Adams asks,I answer:

Tony asks in a very well thought out post a simple question which I will sum up as, Why Don’t We Make Them Us? Why don’t artists step up and sit in the big boy seats?

Well the first and easiest answer is that they don’t want to. The want to do Their Thing. They want to be an actor, or designer,, or playwright.

Secondly? The Institutions don’t want them. Not in America. Not in 2008. This is an era of specialization, and there is no reason to hire an actor with some back office chops rather than an MBA. Not a single non-altruistic reason. Why would you hire someone that you know for a fact is only half paying attention to the job you need them to do? The mechanics of it alone are iffy. And are you going to have them work when the office is closed? The big boys rehearse during the day. But I’m piling on…

For my money the biggest reason specifically actors aren’t stepping up (outside of the fringe) to positions of leadership on the organizational side is that we’ve trained them to do as they’re told.

In American theater most people come to the business via education. They discover it in high school or college and are trained in either pre-professional or conservatory programs. That training is largely carried out by lapsed or current professionals who teach their student to operate in the system and the hierarchy they know.

That system is of course the current system, and that hierarchy is the primacy of the text, then the director, with the actor doing as they are told.

And they are listening.

Did your school teach you how to be a producer?
Poster design?
Advertising theory?
Social networking?
Grant writing?
Press release writing?
Interview technique?

Are actors forced to take play writing and design classes at you alma mater?

We are getting the actors we ordered. They do What They Do.

Of course lots of them are starting companies of their own. And they’re failing at the same rate because they have to learn by trial and error.

Artists, actors at least, aren’t stepping up because they don’t want to and because they don’t have the skills institutions  need to run the business efficiently.

Your Turn

How am I wrong? Which assumption is one step too far?

I don’t want this to be proclamation, I want it to be discussion.

Long Form Answer to A Question about Questions

Praxis asks in reference to their interview series:

…we can’t shake a nagging feeling that we’re missing something. What questions haven’t we asked about theatre? What are we missing? What topics aren’t coming up?.

My suggestion?

What have you done to save theatre today?

Bruce Miller of the Barksdale Theatre has his answer:

If there’s anyone out there who wants to bring the children in their life to Guys and Dolls, or for that matter any other Barksdale and/or Theatre IV production, and isn’t doing so because they can’t afford it, please email me at TheatreIVandBarksdale@gmail.com, let me know what you'd like to see and what would be your ideal “pay what you can” price. I’ll find a way to make tickets available to you at prices you can afford.

We want to do Our Thing and be done. We want to be specialists in a shrinking anachronistic craft. We don’t get the choice to not be evangelists. We can huffnpuff about how the Value of Theatre is Self Evident. But it isn’t to Myra. It isn’t to most people you run into on a given day.

I’m not properly doing my part to advance to advance something I love very much.
I will. Somehow.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Your Wednesday Potpourri

  • Friends in Houston, the Nova Arts Project,  are doing a thing: A blending of storytelling techniques applied to adaptations of Shakespeare’s history plays. In an odd review the author recommend you go see it despite largely negative coverage.
    (H/T American Theatre Web)
  • Are you a baseball fan?
    Do you read?
    Have you read Joe Posnanski’s ‘Soul of Baseball’ yet?
    Do it. It’s on sale and it’s as enjoyable a character study as you’re going to read. Detailing life on the road with legend Buck O’Neil in his last days.
  • Isaac says:
    ”Let’s say you really love a play and you’re talking to a friend about it. How do you communicate that experience, that love of that play in such a way to get them into it?
  • To which I responded You buy them a ticket and take them to see the show.”

    I ask: How many companies out there have a “Buy one get in free with a friend next time” coupon? I know some folks have a but one get in for the run for free policy… but how do you bring Mohammed to the Mountain?

  • I know most of you that do read read from a feed aggregator of some kind. But if you’re killing time at work and want to read more theatre blogs I have most of the regularly updated theater blogs most recent posts scrolling in my sidebar. You could waste HOURS there.
  • Thanks to George Hunka for pointing out American Theatre Web. It’s exactly the kind of thing we need to shed light on what’s going on where we ain’t.
  • I read a lot of tech blogs. Mostly consumer level  and social networking types. But I tell you whut, tech bloggers are the most myopic non-objective bunch of writers this side of the Free Republic. They only move at the speed of web, and they have no idea what’s going on with mainstream internet users.

    They move from service to service making incremental upgrades (or even theoretical incremental upgrades) and proclaim last weeks love dead. They assume that everyone is behind them in web knowledge, but only slightly, except for the troglodytes who X, with no concept that the troglodytes who X ARE the mainstream users. Scoble has already tried to declare blogging dead before we even hit saturation point on what a blog IS for the mainstream. Twitter is dead because it had scalability issues for a few months (despite the lack of a true 1:1 replacement for the community it has in place).

    Hey. Write for your audience, and write what you enjoy writing about, and go ahead BE an alpha early adopter, but understand that “mainstream” users are 2 years behind you, not two weeks.
  • Fun multi-desktop toy: 360Desktop
    You’ll get about 4 desktops out of it, with a nice panoramic spin effect to make your officemates motion sick.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Community: Peal Out the Watchword.

I may not know just yet what the Pig in My Panties is, but I can see problems that we can fix without a messiah.

In small theatre communities the problems are cliche: capital and space. To avoid this as best we can we need to eliminate resource redundancies and maximize the talent pool.

That’s easy.

Well. Not easy easy.

It requires communication. Communication requires contact, and contact requires a meeting place.

In a more romantic time that central place would be a bar or coffeeshop. A real world place where a person newly washed up on this shore could head to take the temperature of the community.

I don’t know about your town, but I haven’t heard tell of that place here in Austin.

For a town like this with no central place to meet it makes a lot of sense to me to create on online space for that to happen. An always on place for people to ask questions, solve problems, and meet people.

This isn’t a perfect solution. Theatre folks aren’t early technological adopters. So you need to make it as user-friendly as possible and make it clear what the benefit to them is quickly.

A smaller town like Austin doesn’t need something as comprehensive as the Chicago Theatre Database (132 venues?!). It needs Facebook.

Rather, a specialized social networking application.

Take the Facebook model. It’s something that folks are familiar with. Now instead of a goofy picture of you and your cat your use a headshot, and your profile is a searchable resume - for actors, directors, technicians, designers and writers. Pages for companies and venues, and groups for casting calls, resource requests, and discussion.

I think people would use it.

It’s familiar. Are folks tired of signing up for things? Sure. but Again, the benefit will be evident to the users.

The problem of course is that I have no background in hosting, customizing and maintaining a social networking site.

There are open source and turnkey options like Mahara. But the technology is all a little beyond me. So I would need help from an as yet unknown person or entity getting it in motion.

It has legs

What am I missing?

EDITED 8:54 AM 7/8

It's important that a project like this not exist inside a walled garden like an umbrella arts organization would create. Membership in something like Austin Circle of Theatres has it's benefits, but shouldn't be the gate to entering the community or sharing it's existing resources.

It should be free, and open.

Waiting for the Call

I mentioned before that I come from a religious background. My family is as unconventional a bunch of charismatic non-denominational Protestants (with a laissez faire evangelical streak) as you’re likely to come across. They have the proud distinction of being in that class of Christians who simply tries to live the book, rather than beat you with it.

That sort of beginning means that despite my current free agent status as regards religion all of my personal metaphors (the one’s not covered by sports) are religious ones.

For those of you in the know, you can imagine how bated my breath is as I sit and wait in my 33rd year for my ministry to begin. After my forty years in the wilderness of New Hampshire and San Francisco I will rise up out of Austin to begin my Great Work.
(My space, my mixed metaphors)

And not for nuthin? But I am the adopted son of a carpenter.


Well. Anyway. While I was waiting this week I read this post from Patti Digh’s blog on living intentionally. Take a moment to go read it (intentionally) then come back and talk to me.


Oh. I know you didn’t click over, but you’re missing out.

After relating a wonderful anecdote about her daughter Tess she asks:

What’s the pig in your panties?

(You know what? I could have lived an entire lifetime without ever having had the excuse to write that question. I feel oddly satisfied now that I’ve had the opportunity…)

What Pig is worth the risk? What Pig is not worth the risk? Distinguishing between the two is important.

And the short answer is?

I have no idea. It drives my wife crazy. It’s part of the reason I started this space to being with. To work it out (in fear and trembling).

What do you do without a focus? A Specialty? A Mission? A Calling?

If you’re me? You hone your skills, and make damn sure that when you do get knocked off your ass you’re ready to go.

So until I do find the pig in my panties? I’m going to help others with theirs. And when The Call comes I’ll be prepared, and there will be people there who will be ready to help.

What’s your Pig? Your Chicken?
What will you risk for them?