Video: NYC Performance in the 1970s

On October 31, 2016, the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center hosted “Theatre & Performance in the 1970s,” a launch for my book, Drop Dead: Performance in Crisis, 1970s New York (Northwestern University Press). After an all-day screening, “Shorts from the Feminist Seventies” (curated by Shilyh Warren), the evening panel discussion was moderated by Executive Director Frank Hentschker, and featured playwrights, directors, and historians discussing the theatre artists and institutions of the 1970s. A remarkable group of participants joined me for this incredible event: historian Julia Foulkes (New School), playwright and novelist Jessica Hagedorn, director Muriel Miguel (Spiderwoman Theater), historian Cindy Rosenthal (Hofstra University), and playwright Richard Wesley. Thanks to HowlRound TV for live streaming the discussion, which is now available for viewing:

GET MADE: New Posts at MESTC Blog

I’m a guest blogger for the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center’s blog this week. I wrote a preview post in advance of a special screening and panel discussion, and then covered the event itself. I’m republishing it here:

On Monday, November 1st, the Segal Center hosted a marathon screening of MADE HERE: Performing Artists on Work + Life in NYC. From 3pm – 6pm, audience members had the opportunity to watch the full episodes of this innovative web series; while they’re also available on the project’s website, seeing these engaging videos projected on the big screen added heft and even a little drama to the short film-lets. As their website describes:

MADE HERE is a documentary series and website focusing on the challenging and eclectic lives of New York City performing artists. Over two seasons, the series explores ten essential issues confronting the artists that make this city the creative capital of the world. A collage of intimate interviews, performances and behind-the-scenes footage, MADE HERE mirrors the rich diversity of the artists and communities they serves.

Season One rolled out from May through September 2010 with three episodes each month on topics related to: Creative Real Estate, Day & Night Jobs, Family Balance, Activism, and Technology. In the first season, MADE HERE featured more than 40 performing artists representing the disciplines of theater, dance, opera, music, puppetry, media arts and other performing arts genres. Season Two will premiere Spring 2011.

The discussion held at 6:30pm after the screening suggested that MADE HERE also has the potential to tap into some of the more controversial issues related to the performing artist’s life in 2010. As host Frank Hentschker noted in his greetings, the panel represented the full “food chain” of the performing arts in NYC–  administrators, performers, producers, critics: Moira Brennan, Program Director, MAP Fund; Gabri Christa, Filmmaker/Choreographer and MADE HERE Artist; Andy Horwitz, Curator, LMCC and Founder, Culturebot.org; Mikeah Ernest Jennings, Performer and MADE HERE Artist; Ginny Louloudes, Executive Director, A.R.T./New York; Helen Shaw, Theater Critic, Time Out New York; Kim Whitener, Producing Director, HERE; and co-curator of the event, producer, performer, writer and activist Tanya Selvaratnam.

After a quick demo and walk-through of the MADE HERE website, the conversation began broadly, as the panelists were challenged to articulate what it is about New York City that continually attracts such massive numbers of aspiring artists. Andy Horwitz discussed the concept of New York as a mythology– a place that artists want to go to live their own version of a mythic past. Others acknowledged the basic infrastructure of the city: from buildings converted into 99-seat theatres in the 1970s to lumber yards to specialty dance stores, the city has what artists need. Others acknowledged that New York was a place that just worked for them– they hit lucky streaks when arriving, and soon found themselves supported by a community, one that they couldn’t leave.

Outside of sharing ideas of what makes this city so vibrant, much time was spent on its many obstacles. One panelist reflected on a moment in one of the episodes in which choreographer Elizabeth Streb reveals that she was thirty-six years old before she was able to even consider leaving her job as a line cook and live the life of a working artist that was not fractured between exhausting day jobs and night-time creative production. Does it need to be so difficult? Did all of those years of struggle make her a better artist?  And was it always so difficult, or are some of the myriad challenges inherent in the life of the performing artist new and specific to New York City today?

The question of too much performance presented a meaty topic for the panelists; while the videos are largely celebratory of any size or shape production, and some of the panelists were quick to praise the sheer quantity of performance opportunities in the city, Moira Brennan from the MAP Fund mentioned a recent initiative of the Collective Arts Think Tank, in which it was suggested that less work might sometimes be the right answer to the over-supply and lack of demand. If you haven’t raised the capital, why forge ahead with an under-funded production?

This tricky zone of labor, value, and the arts turned out to be a fascinating tinderbox for the spirited panel, leading to many large questions: who is to say that there is too much work in New York City? Is a production that can barely afford the shoelaces of its actors necessarily not ready to be presented? Do artists feel a pressure to continually remain active for the critics, and, therefore, continually present half-baked work? Do too many artists seek the celebrity of being on stage, when really the field needs more innovative people pursuing producing and other less “glamorous” roles?

The Q&A session was just as lively. A number of audience members questioned the very language of the panel and accompanying films: “making it,” and “success,” struck one audience member as an attempt to validate a star system through these films, one that was wholly unrelated to the quality of work. It was clear, however, by that point that every panelist had a genuine appreciation for all of these tangled realities; their collective passion for the lives and well-being of the city’s performing artists was the real heart of the wide-ranging conversation.


Third Wavers Turn Forty: New Interview

I can remember buying my copy of Manifesta some ten years ago. I shouted Amen, Sister a few times, gnashed with frustration at others, and continued to pine away for a future job at the Third Wave Foundation in general. I shelved the thing for posterity, in between my Inga Muscio reading and a book by Rachel Bagby. So when Nell called to see if I’d like to interview Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards for the Faster Times, guess what I said? I’m re-posting it here…with a special post-script.

Continue reading “Third Wavers Turn Forty: New Interview”

New Cac Post: Palm-of-the-Hand Speeches

Just posted something new to my favorite teacherly blog,  cac.ophony.org. See the thing in its glossy original here.

Throughout his long career, Japanese Writer Yasunari Kawabata wrote a series of short short stories, which he referred to as his “Palm-of-the-Hand Stories.” Kawabata produced 146 of these stories, becoming a true “palmist,” even if his notoriety in the West is focused on his novels.  As described by the editors of the published collection, Kawabata believed that these little stories expressed the “essence of his art.”

I first read these stories in an experimental prose writing course a bunch of years ago, and the concept of these one-to-three page gems intrigued me. I was reminded of these stories this past semester, when, through my work supporting Advanced Accounting, a Communication Intensive Course, I found myself confronting palm-of-the-hand speeches. When I first learned that students had only two-to-three minutes to present their assigned material, I was skeptical. Two minutes to discuss a contemporary concept in accountancy?

As the semester progressed, and I struggled to help students condense the finer points of recording intangible assets on balance sheets, I necessarily focused on the benefits of these l’il speeches. Just as Kawabata’s stories are deeply complex while also being succinct, shorter speeches have the same potential. Translator J. Martin Holman could be talking about ACC 4100 speeches when he writes of the relationship between Kawabata’s small stories and his longer works:

“The palm-of-the-hand story appears to have been Kawabata’s basic unit of composition from which his longer works were built, after the manner of linked-verse poetry, in which discrete verses are joined to form a longer poem, the linkage between each dependent on subtle shifts as the poem continues.”

While longer speaking opportunities are still crucial for our students, these palm-of-the-hand speeches can give students a better familiarity with the basic units of composition required for larger speeches. I used to think of two minute speeches as a good exercise in summarizing, editing and brevity, but they do have their structural benefits, as well.  According to Holman, Kawabata mastered this form using certain elements (the same ones that would make any Palmist speech exiting); “juxtaposition of images,” “unique perception,” and “intriguing and memorable” plots– not reductions, but distillations of larger worlds.

There are clear positives and negatives to assigning such a short presentation, but on certain days, the luxury of having a lot of time to concentrate on just two minutes of material did seem like a very Palmist exercise. Students themselves, however, don’t always see the merits of this, and, rather than viewing it as the essence of their art, are more apt to view the assignment as the gnat buzzing around their schoolwork.  How might it be possible to elevate and enliven these palm-of-the-hand speeches to the place that Kawabata realized they deserve?

Wordcamp 2009: See Ya There?

posterI have a few friends who remain very dubious of blogs and blogging culture more generally. It’s taken me a while to understand the blogging phenomenon with any level of complexity, and to finally grok exactly what the open source movement is all about.

I created my first blog using the open-source publishing platform of WordPress, and it was really just an experiment in blogging while creating a theatre production. I learned a lot about blogging in this quasi-failure of a blog– in this case, it didn’t create much momentum, since the show had a one-night run– and it allowed me to ask that very key question when blogging: what’s my goal?

I’ve since recommended WordPress to my aunt, who now has a successful weaving blog, also thanks to WordPress. Sitting back and watching as she expands the mission and purpose of her blog has been downright inspiring, particularly as it facilitates the deepening of her connection with other weavers around the world, while also archiving her gorgeous fabric designs and tales from a dying industry.

Not long after, aided by Luke Waltzer and the path-blazing Blogs@Baruch, I experimented with blogging in my Introduction to Public Speaking course. It was a mixed but worthy experience, one that I eventually blogged about. This wasn’t just an exercise in closing the loop, but opening it: I connected with a lot of other folks who had been contemplating the use of these (free!) educational resources to enliven and re-engage their teaching. (Read some selections from this on-going conversation here, here, here, and here.) Seeing the pedagogical potential of blogs in action sealed the deal: I was more curious and more motivated than ever to embrace these tools, rather than to poo-poo them as part of a vast pot of internet waste.

The point? Wordcamp NYC is a mega-conference on the East Coast for WordPress users of all stripes and sizes, and for a variety of reasons, including all of the above, I’ll be there. To learn more, read a great post from Cac.ophony about the Wordcamp event, and then sign up for the thing via the Wordcamp NYC website. Quickly, quickly!– offer only valid while supplies last!