New Projects: MERONYMY at Red Eye

August 24, 2012

A week ago I started working on a movement score for Rachel Jendrzejewski's MERONYMY, which is being produced by the Red Eye.

I showed up at the first rehearsal overly caffeinated, and unsure of where to start or what would work. The willing cast quickly put me at ease, jumping 100% into whatever strange direction or exercise I gave them. And then I remembered that creating a piece is just like any new thing in life: you ask yourself what you are sure of (sometimes there are many things, and sometimes the list is short), and then you constantly check in with where you're trying to go. Gradually, the questions get answered.

I'm really thrilled to be working on Rachel's play.

How does an artist leverage their brand?

August 23, 2012

Back in June, Minneapolis arts critic Lightsey Darst wrote a 3-part series for the Huffington Post about dance as the poorest art form. Her conclusion? "If dancers did not sometimes sleep with rich people, American dance as we know it would cease to exist." So, not too optimistic (unless you know a lot people with money that you want to sleep with).

Choreographer and speaker Jennifer Edwards crafted her own response to Lightsey for the Huffington Post. It made my ears perk up right away (you really should go read it yourself). In a nutshell, she criticizes dancers for undervaluing their work, choosing poor marketing models, and encouraging a barrier between audience and creator. Edwards asks the question that's been on my mind for awhile: can dancers be more like entrepreneurs? 

How do artists share and dialogue about what we're doing and why it's important?                               How can artists share and leverage their brand?

Whenever I hear 'brand', I think about toothpaste commercials, so it makes sense that artists want to focus on making their art, and not sharing their brand. Like it or not, the two are inseparable. Think of your favorite artist (a couple I love: Twin Cities locals Mad King Thomas, not-so-local Lady Gaga). Start thinking about their work. More than likely, it's impossible to separate the work from the person making it-- their story, their desires, their intentions; the two are totally intertwined.

I like this definition of 'brand' from Elizabeth Talerman:

Luckily, the internet has given us dozens of ways to capture and share our brand with audiences. Musicians are making youtube videos to talk about their songs, visual artists are instagramming, and Gallim Dance blogs about creative process. Illustrators Lisa Congdon and Kate Bingaman Burt provide some of the best examples I've seen of using blogs to share their work and aesthetic.

So, how can you go about sharing your brand?

Figure out what distinguishes you and your work. Use this to talk about your work (with audiences, on your website), and to find your audience (if you target audience is ‘people who like dance’, challenge yourself to take this further). Lean into the things that set you apart. Tell your story, and make it personal.

Dialogue. Engage in conversation about the work and your motivations for making the work. Don’t limit this conversation to artists, or people you think ‘get it’.

Micro-share. Whether through video, a photo, or 140 characters, find a way to share your process.

Teach. Not everyone is going to get why your work is valuable. It took Laura Brown explaining the details of screen printing for me to appreciate the time and detail that goes into one of her prints.

Write like a person. I read a lot of bios, and I usually stop reading by the second line. They usually sound formal and forced-- something great for a grant committee, but alienating to an audience. Knowing that your work was performed in six countries and that you won two grants tells me so little about YOU (see #1). How can you make your descriptions of your work (and your story) feel personal?

In Edwards’ own words: "Dance is no different from any other industry -- we must innovate or we will fade away." Artists are some of the most creative people I know. So, how can we get creative with connecting our work with new audiences?

How do you share the story of your art with your audience?

Home [is where the quilt is]

August 22, 2012

I wrote about the last minute delivery that helped shape the direction we went with our dance film: Betsy's quilt.

It's amazing.

Because we're in a temporary living situation (where we're lucky enough to have furniture), most of our boxes haven't been unpacked. But, we couldn't wait to find and unpack the quilt. It made our room instantly feel a lot homier. And, the colors? Well, I dare you to try to be grumpy around a quilt like that. Ben's words after making the bed and glancing at the quilt are, "well, that is just plain delightful." Every. Time.

It's a love quilt, you guys. And, such a reminder of how grateful I am for the support of old friends, and the history we share. It makes me think that the distance between Austin and Minneapolis isn't really all that far.

Rory Gordon Photo: Video Scholarship!

August 15, 2012

I continue to get excited about creative businesses I see sprouting up all over. It seems that many of us want the freedom to work for ourselves, and the ability to use our creative mojo to help other people. Enter: Rory Gordon. I first saw her work on the Braid Creative website, and loved the video essay she created to tell the story of Kathleen Shannon and Tara Street's business. She also caught my eye with this great video she did for Meg Keene of A Practical Wedding.

Good news! She's giving back to small businesses (artists- you're a business, too!) by creating a video scholarship. She's giving away a free video essay each year to one creative business-- a 2-3 minute video essay to use on your website to tell the story of what you do.

Rory's based out of Southern California, but is working on raising the money to cover travel costs (at this time they will be paid by the scholarship recipient-- STILL a great deal). You can find the application here. Entries will be accepted until December 1.

7 Minutes or 7 Years

August 13, 2012

Two weeks ago, I taught a Create-A-Play class for a group of 6-10 year olds. The class had just 3 days, with a total of 7 1/2 hours of class, to create a play around the theme of Fractured Fairytales. Just the week before I had taught the same class to a slightly larger group of students, but it consisted of 30 hours of class. We were going for the same outcome: a short play we could share with parents.

So, needless to say, I expected this play made in 7 1/2 hours to be really short, and very simple in structure. Instead it turned out to have just as many scenes as the play we made in 30 hours, and a more complicated and detailed plot.
The Plot

When we were working on Dances Made To Order, one of my performers said something along the lines of "Well, it's what Kristin can make a dance in 7 minutes or 7 years." These kids really showed me that this is true.  The time that they spent creating the play was incredibly focused, and they made decisions without flinching. Everyone was concerned about finishing and rehearsing the play, so nothing was overly considered.

I love process. And, this week I get to start the process of working on a movement score for a new play at the Red Eye, which I get 9 great weeks of rehearsal to work on this. Sometimes, though, I think process gets the best of us. If you have endless amounts of time to create a dance, write a book, or launch a business, you usually end up taking it. And, that time gives you more opportunities to second guess yourself, over-think, and generally get in your own way. I'm a proponent for limits. So many things I've made only happened because there was a deadline!

So, I'm taking a lesson from the kids, and writing some deadlines in my day planner. I could think about doing these things for another couple of years, or just decide when they're going to happen now.

Jonathan Fields: Exercise as a Certainty Anchor for Creative Folks

August 9, 2012

We’re getting settled in our month-long adventure digs. There are perks: nature scenery, a big kitchen to cook in, and.....HBO (we sprinted through season 1 of GIRLS in about 10 seconds). And, there’s the trickier stuff: the commute, the fact that we’re not in our own home, and, having my daily routine altered. You see, with so much constant shifting in my freelance/multi-job/rehearsal schedule, I’ve come to really appreciate knowing that on Mondays I go to spinning, and that on Tuesdays, we always eat dinner at home. A few days into our move I realized I was feeling off-kilter without these routines (and, because I can’t figure out which box I packed most of my life in). Namely, the exercise thing, which has been a major source of anxiety reduction for me since I started to do if regularly last October.

Jonathan Fields writes about the benefits of routines (which he calls ‘certainty anchors’) in the life of the creative person in his book Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance. After it sat on my bookshelf for 3 months, I read the better part of this book at a brewery in Denver, while on a solo journey for a dear friend’s wedding.

I found myself constantly nodding (and then ordering another beer taster) as I read through Fields’ ideas for taming the anxiety that often accompanies the creative life. Just like Steven Pressfield in The War of Art, Fields agrees that fear is always going to exist for the creative person. In any satisfying creative life, there are always going to be risks, and that breeds some anxiety. The goal is to figure out how to keep these risks from preventing us from acting daily, and accomplishing the goals we set out to.

But: exercise. It's a creative anchor that gets a lot of praise from Fields. He uses research to back up what I've discovered throughout the last few months: exercise isn't really an option if you have a tendency towards anxiety and want to function fully.

A large number of artists and entrepreneurs resist exercise as a key element in their ability to do what they most want to do- make cool stuff that speaks to a lot of people...The sad truth is that if we make time to exercise, it makes us so much more productive and leads to such improved creativity, cognitive function, and mood that the time we need for doing it will open up and then some- making us so much happier and better at the art of creation, to boot. 

--Jonathan Fields, Uncertainty

How do you make exercise a habit? For me it took seeing the results. My mood and energy improved so much. Find a form you like, and your chances of sticking to it are much higher. My body feels awful when I run, but I can cycle or do hot yoga or go to dance class happily. And, figure out how to make it convenient. With my local YWCA 4 blocks away, I really couldn't come up with a good excuse to skip out on class.

So, I found the neighborhood yoga studio and got all zen with my fellow suburbanites. They were very nice. But, I'm really looking forward to getting back to my local Y. I'm missing the old lady who works out to showtune orchestrations every Tuesday morning.


August 2, 2012

I just found this photo of my shot/movement phrase list from Dances Made To Order. Looking at it reminds me of how tricky it is to notate dance. Although a lot of what I wrote down were plot points, probably no one but me knows what 'arm flicks as sides down door' means. When we're working on a dance film, Ben needs a specific shot list, which is different than simply a list of dance phrases. Perspectives, angles, and body parts all need to be considered.

Local press has been great about covering the dance series. You can read about our film in the Star Tribune here. And, critic Lightsey Darst was nice enough to not only sit in our sweaty apartment and watch us edit, but also to write smart things about the series and each artist's process for MN Artists. You can find that here.

And, of course, the film is still available for your online viewing pleasure over here.


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