Mega Thanks

August 30, 2013

Today I'm 31. I am feeling intensely grateful for this life, complete with exciting big stuff, massive question marks, hard stuff, and ordinary everyday stuff (my favorite).

In addition to feeling grateful for this life thing, I'm feeling grateful for PEOPLE. I have been so inspired, humbled, and supported this year. Thanks to the people who answered my questions over coffee, performed in my living room (there's another Small Art happening September 5!), contributed material to this blog, let me know I'm not the only jealous one, and just generally lit a fire under my a*s. I've been so moved by your ideas and momentum and heart.

That said, here's a list of 31 people (or groups of people), who have particularly shaped how I think about creating, or what I create. Want to know how exactly? Let's talk.
Some big famous people that I'm really grateful for:
Miranda July and the Learning To Love You More project.
Pina Bausch
Andy Warhol
Stephen Sondheim
Matthew Bourne
Twyla Tharp
Mark Morris
Chuck Mee
Brené Brown
Cynthia Hopkins
Lisa Congdon
Madeleine L'Engle
Cheryl Strayed

Some people who make cool + inspiring local things happen:
Charles Youel, founder of ARTCRANK
Kate O'Reilly of Clever Kate
The folks at Springboard for the Arts
Alan Berks and Leah Cooper, co-founders of Minnesota Playlist
Laurie Van Wieren , founder of 9 x 22 Dance Laboratory
Susan Campion and M.anifest, co-founders of Giant Steps
Levi Weinhagen, who makes the podcast Pratfalls of Parenting
Red Eye Theater, and their Works In Progress program
The folks at Open Eye Figure Theatre

Some people who created cool things elsewhere:
Danielle Krysa who made The Jealous Curator
Meg Keene, publisher of A Practical Wedding
Tara Street and Kathleen Shannon, owners of Braid Creative
Kingsley Irons who made Dances Made To Order.
Andrea Scher, creator of MondoBeyondo

Also: the artists that I used as examples in this article. And Steve Busa, Deborah Jinza Thayer, John Munger, and Maggie Smith (not the dame), who have all been extra amazing mentor people to me.

Is that 31? Close enough. Onto the new stuff!

Sharing Your Work: Blogging

August 28, 2013

Sometimes I forget that when I hit "publish" on this blog, real live people that I know can read it!
And sometimes I remember this all-too-well, and it becomes hugely paralyzing-- my inner perfectionist critiques everything I start, and finishing anything becomes impossible. I try to write in this space regularly, because occasional posting is most challenging for me: I over-think in a big way. So I write in this space because it somehow helps all of my other kinds of output, whether it be another project, or a new business offering; action encourages action (I've always found this to be true).

I'm often asked about blogging by people who want to write a blog themselves. They ask about hosting, and design, and choosing specific content. Yes-- these things might become eventually important (and they are exactly what I help people with in consulting sessions), but the important thing is to stop thinking and act.

Just Write Something. Right Now. 

If you're a smart and savvy creative person, like I know you are, you've got all kinds of opinions and tastes. Probably reading your own writing makes you cringe a little, unless you've had lots of practice. True story: I find posting in this space equal parts satisfying AND painful. I spend a lot of time worrying about how the posts are organized, and whether the content is helpful. I analyze layout, and cringe at my blog title. But damn it, I plan on continuing to write. 

I keep blogging because....
  • it helps me talk about the artistic work I make, and my goals for the business I'm building.
  • it helps me get clear about what I am and what I'm not.
  • it makes me a better writer.
  • it helps me curate my life. and i don't mean 'curate' in a bad or fake way-- I mean that it helps me stay focused on what brings my joy, and what I hope to accomplish, and keeps from fixating on negative shit.
  • it forces me to break down the big life/creative things into little chunks. Life feels less overwhelming somehow.
  • it introduces me to kickass creative people who are building inspiring things. And reminds me that we're all just humans, facing a lot of the same struggles. 
Obviously these benefits aren't limited to blogging. And there are other ways to share your work and creative endeavors. I think the key is to find a way to share your creative doings consistently-- whether you love your email newsletter, or Instagram, or pinterest, or sending people postcards in the mail. By talking about what we're creating and doing, we get better at it, and clearer + more focused in our actions. I'm insist that writing in this space helped me clarify my artistic intentions, and write a much more effective MRAC grant. It was also more fun to write, because I didn't cry from the effort. So- there's that.

The point is: find a way to share what you make. Find a way that maybe even brings you joy (!) or helps you go about solving some other creative dilemma you're working on (For instance: I started writing in this space because I was feeling really alone as a creative). Do it today, without over-considering how your bio reads, or what you're instagraming. AND, let me know what you did so that I can check it out. 

Hard Boiled Eggs: Martha is Right

August 27, 2013

Eggs could possibly be responsible for a great deal of my personal happiness. I love them. I usually cook them over easy or basted, but I like them hard boiled occasionally.

Most foods are better with an egg on them. TRUTH. Which is why I'm writing about them today, while I've pledged to never blog about topics like my eyebrows.

Have you spent precious life moments trying to figure out why boiled eggs are sometimes really easy to peel, and sometimes a total mess? Maybe Ben and I aren't the only humans who get worked into a tizzy over such topics. And what IS the proper amount of time to boil an egg if you want the white cooked, but a center that isn't rock hard and green? You probably want to know. And luckily Martha has the answers.

Stewart, of course. What other Martha is there? I followed her directions, and I've (TWICE) made the perfect boiled eggs. Also: it turns out that if you put a couple tablespoons of baking soda in the water, the eggs are easier to peel. I've also tried this TWICE with really good results, so I feel safe endorsing this method. Go check out Martha Stewart's egg suggestions. You'll be glad you did.

A Feeling of Yourself In The World

August 26, 2013

Happy Monday!

While I've been in the thick of a summer cold I've taken extra time to lounge about and get friendly with Netflix. TELEVISION! Did you know that Tina Fey made this hilarious show called 30Rock? It's true! These are the things I discover when I'm sick.

Last night Ben and I finally watched Happy, a documentary that travels around the world to look at what makes people feel happiness. It's well worth a watch. It turns out that if you want to increase your happiness, you should exercise a lot (dopamine!), try new things, and make connection and relationships an important part of life. People who focus on intrinsic goals, like personal growth, community contribution/betterment, and connection to others tend to be much happier and less anxious than people who find themselves fixated on extrinsic goals like image, money, and status. This is probably (no surprise) why I find art making much more satisfying when I'm working from a place of personal betterment and curiosity, rather than from a place where I preoccupy myself with what People might think.

Movie aside: let's talk about happiness. I often write in this space as a record of what makes me heart go pitter patter. I want to do a better job of putting the things that make me happy in writing. You know, so that on the days where I question The Joy, I'm reminded. Last week I was in a cold-induced reflection about the past year-- my year of being 30! It turns out that most of the things that brought me joy last year were a result of risk-taking, and trying new things. Also: I constantly felt happier when I turned off the perfectionistic Voice In My Head. And a great deal of my joy comes from watching people, and from hearing about what others are creating.

Here are some things I've been finding joy in lately:
  • Studio 360's Battle of the High School Bands was a happy accident to find on the radio. Kids! In bands! I especially loved Zach Shotwell's song Watch Out, and CatchaBatcha's Mother Tongue "2013". 
  • This set of photos, taken at county fairs. 
  • Tattly temporary tattoos. If they were free, I would wear a new one each day. 
  • Remembering how much I love these things: Brit Rock, bicycling at night, large bodies of water, sweaty dance parties that showcase awkward moves, traveling to new cities without any agenda, bright colors paired together, and Stephen Sondheim. 
  • The opening day of teaching Create-A-Play class, when the kids share all of their play making ideas-- which generally involve very little logic. 
  • Swimming pools. I went to the one at the YWCA lately, and it was surprisingly AWESOME. 
  • Grilling.
  • Fresh Air
  • Chef memoirs. Have you read Blood, Bones & Butter? The writing is exquisite. 
  • And along those lines, anytime Molly writes
  • Live music.
What's making you happy? What do you do when you're feeling unhappy? Do you make better art when you're feeling joyful? 

I still agree with Tom Poole that happiness is mostly feeling of myself in the world.  It sneaks up when I'm directing a rehearsal, working really hard at something, or strolling down a street. In Tom's words: 

My experience of happiness is that it just comes to you. It is not so much the product of things you like happening to you as it is a feeling of yourself in the world. I have felt unbearably happy beside swimming pools, walking down snowy streets. listening to bands, cuddling with dogs, kissing, drinking cold water, not running anymore, reading. I think happiness is the natural state of humans free of oppression, which I have luckily almost always been.

Making A Business: Collaborating

August 9, 2013

Collaboration is hard: I was slightly relieved when choreographer/designer Tara King reminded me that I'm not the only one who feels this way. It's easy for all of us to imagine the perfect comradeship, brilliant ideas, and certainty that come with working in partnership with people you respect-- having a person or two who always has your back, and creatively gets you.

But, I believe Tara when she says its hard. I know it's hard-- I'm the person who signed an LLC with her spouse almost a year ago. I get a lot of cries of THAT IS SO COOL when people find out that Ben and I work and make art together. What they might not know, though, is that we have spent the better part of the last year actively learning to work together. And, the learning's probably not over. Get two stubborn, opinionated. artistic people together in a room, and both people will have to learn an important lesson:


(That and maybe a dozen or so other lessons.)

But I'm here to insist that it's worth it. I strongly believe in collaboration, whether it means starting a business with your spouse, working with an artist from a different discipline, or planning an event with another business. In every instance I've collaborated, the result has been something I couldn't possibly have imagined on my own. Mostly because I've been faced with this important truth: not everyone thinks the way I do, and thank goodness for that. Which brings me to a few important lessons on collaboration I've learned this year....

1. Embrace the way others think.
I went to an Irrigate workshop a few weeks ago (find out more about this very cool placemaking initiative in the Twin Cities), and we split off according to our leadership type. I'm a big picture, visionary type. I can give you a dozen ideas right now for a performance, project, or potential way of sharing an idea. I won't necessarily think of every step needed to make these ideas feasible-- that will take me some more time. But I've got the ideas, and I see what it could look like. I love planning far into the future, and I love systems. 

Ben, on the other hand, is great at translating ideas into concrete steps. He thinks in the here + now, the realistic and the actual, so if you're talking 5 years in the future, he will look at you with confusion on his face. But he's a great producer, because he will think of every little step needed to make the big idea happen, piggybacking onto the idea in ways I would never think of. 

Now it's obvious that both of these approaches-- visionary, and task-oriented-- are super important to accomplishing anything, but when in the headspace of trying to get something done, it doesn't always feel this way. And this becomes the challenge: to find a way to accept (and be grateful for!) other approaches to getting things done. 

2. Be Flexible.
When Ben and I decided to work together, I had a very set idea of how this was going to happen that totally didn't work out. It took good old honest communication for both of us to have a good moment of "oh...that makes no sense, and this isn't working." It also took a willingness to imagine what effectively working together could look like. And for me (*cough*) it took a certain amount of putting down my ego. In most of my creative projects, I'm the director. But when it comes to a shoot, Ben is much more than just a camera operator-- he really excels at direction. When it comes to business, our roles look a little like this:

      Ben                                                                    Laura
   Pricing bids.                                                       Promotion + writing.
   Shooting + creative direction.                     Pre-shoot planning + story mapping.
   Editing.                                                               Individual artist consultation.
   Media management.                                        Invoicing + accounting.

So, although I don't direct shoots, I work with clients to create a specific story that decides Ben's approach to directing the shoot. And, while I don't know how to operate one bit of editing software, I do give a lot of feedback on edits. So far the work flow works.

3. Trust Your Collaborator + Say YES as much as possible.
I wrote about this over on the Braid blog, but I try to remind myself to treat collaborating like an improv exercise: say 'yes, AND', and add onto your collaborators' ideas. Trust your collaborator's strengths and lean into them. Trust that the idea will be a success. Trust that your collaborator has your best interest in mind. Sometimes my ego really does get the better of me, and I confuse being in control with a greater chance of success. This is hilariously inaccurate. I've loved artistic collaboration in the past because I couldn't possibly predict the awesome results, or the ways that tweaking my process could make it stronger and richer.

4. Talk About It. Do It Again. Get Better At It.
Practice makes perfect, and I hope that I keep taking notes and getting better at it. I hope that I get more willing to take risks, and more willing to give other people the reins.

What have been your most successful collaborations? Why? Teach me about collaboration, oh wise one. 

Art Is Easy In 2014

August 5, 2013

In June I began participating in a project led by my friend Emily Gastineau. The project requires the participants to keep hourly totals of the time we put into our artistic work. But 'WORKING' on our art is broadly defined: we can be researching, reading, taking class, rehearsing, thinking about the work while doing something unrelated, or writing. In September there will be a live performance component of the project at The Soap Factory, and we will present some sort of currency to represent the hours put into the art. 

I like this project because it's process-focused. I've enjoyed my art the most when I've stayed present in the moment with it, not fixating on the end result and how it will be received. And I like this project because it causes me to question the idea of 'my art'. Lately my creative energy has fostered a lot of different kinds of projects, many that aren't necessarily dances. Does one kind of project make me a more legitimate 'artist' than another? Are my unpaid personal projects less or more important than the paid ones?

Here are a few things the project has made me think about:
  • Process sharing: It's easy to share a performance with an audience. How do you share your process? I really think that process-sharing is important for audience engagement. What are effective ways of sharing what you're making? How do you talk about your art?
  • Making Art Like A Musician Makes An Album: If it's taking you hours and hours to research and make something, how do you get the most bang for your buck out of it? How do you re-purpose art? 
  • Creativity Is Creativity: Whether I'm making a play with 6-year-olds, writing a blog post, or rehearsing, I'm flexing my creative muscles, and thinking about many of the same things. Some of these activities are more valuable to others-- and they pay me varying amounts of money. It's up to me to illustrate the value of what I make. I'm not inherently valuable because I'm an artist, any more than a lawyer is inherently valuable because he knows the law. 
  • Blur The Art Line: I am happier when I commit myself to the philosophy that EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED. I cannot separate work and art and pleasure into separate compartments. I've learned a lot about humans when I'm waiting tables. These lessons work there way into my consulting, into my writing, into my dance making. Artists possess creative thinking and problem-solving skills that are infinitely valuable to society, but it's up to us to create opportunities for these skills to be seen and shared. 
I guess I'm investigating how this 'work' results in more than a dance. What else can I make? How else will these research hours serve me? What else can I share and learn? 

[Emily's project will be presented in some form as part of the Soap Factory's Biennial exhibition.]

Words From Artists: Fear

August 2, 2013

Lately I've been having a pleasant sit-down with my creative and life-related fears and anxieties. As artist Lisa Congdon recently wrote on her blog:

I am working on getting to know my fears: fears about having too much work, fears about not having enough work, fears about who I am, my identity, my life, my future. Just sitting with stuff, not necessarily trying to fix it. Every day that I do this I feel slightly more relaxed and my fears are having less and less power. 

Yep. I think that puts it pretty perfectly.

I'm grateful to hear other creative people talk about their struggles with fear and anxiety, because sometimes my crazy brain insists that it is ONLY me, and everyone else is just skating pleasantly along without a concern in the world. Be ye not so foolish. Recently I read these three pieces of writing about the challenges of the creative brain (and the uncertainties of art-making and freelancing), and felt grateful that these folks were so open and honest with their struggles, and their methods of wrestling with fear. Maybe you'd like them too.

1. Cynthia Hopkins: FEAR AS FUEL (Note: scroll down to find the post in three parts.)
Cynthia Hopkins is one of my greatest creative inspirations. She's a brilliant performer, and yet performing is one of her greatest fears:

The general terror of performing anything at all in front of a live audience is extremely familiar to me – I’ve been moving through stage fright to perform for live audiences since I was 12 years old and I’m 40 now, so I’ve been doing this for 28 years – long enough to have asked myself on hundreds of occasions “Why do this thing, performing live in front of people, that causes an overwhelming terror so powerful you feel physically ill, as if some sort of poison is coursing through your body? No one is holding a gun to your head, saying ‘go out there on that stage or I’ll pull the trigger!’” and the answer that has risen up from the depths of my soul hundreds of times is “I’m doing this because I WANT to do this. I CHOOSE to do this. And the reason I choose to do this is BECAUSE of the stage fright!”

[I also really love this video interview she did with the Walker Art Center's Philip Bither.]

Jason Hudson is a photographer and writer, currently traveling around the world with his partner. In the middle section of this article, he beautifully articulates the sensitivities of the creative brain:

So often imaginative, artistic people are the ones who can't climb over their doubts and scale their own fears to make it work. To turn their tangible skills into success without feeling tortured. While we can appear outgoing and charming, we're more comfortable where things are quiet and structured. Adding insult to irony, the most dangerous place for us is in our heads, where our stupid, porous brains absorb so much. 

I think the fabulous thing about being an artist is that there is so much opportunity to use our art to examine the fear we feel-- to make fear somewhat of a project. Lisa writes really openly about that here:

I have said before, this is my life’s work, working with fear. It’s like peeling away layers of an onion. But I’m also beginning to realize that despite how scary some things feel in the matter how scary things feel in the moment, everything always works out.

Yes, indeed. Happy Friday. 

5 Things

August 1, 2013

1. Happy Minnesota Fringe! It runs for 11 days with 176 shows. The first production I ever made with Ben was for the Fringe, back in 2007 when we were coworkers at the Birchwood Cafe. This year I'm happy to have contributed some movement to Candy Simmons' beautiful solo show Expiration Date. I'm super excited to be a Fringe audience member.

2. It is my birth month. On the 30th I will be 31! There are lots of people + events + discoveries that have rocked my year. I'm feeling very grateful-- especially to have realized how much joy I find in writing.

3. About that 30-day break thing: As suspected, taking a break and insisting I do fun things is not my strong suit-- I prefer the place where work and fun and life intermingle. I think to take a real 30 day vacation, I'd have to be transported to an island, without a computer. The good thing about taking some days off for myself was realizing that having a full schedule doesn't have to be a burden. Feeling burdened is partially a mindset.

4. I was reminded of these words by Madeleine L'Engle, who is one of my favorite authors: 
"The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been." 
I've been thinking about this as I get closer to my birthday. Is there an age you really enjoyed yourself at? I'm forever fond of 24. I made a lot of performance without worrying what people thought about it. I decorated my house in construction paper signs, and usually wore fake pearls and nylon skorts. I thought very little about the future. This year I wish to channel a little of that artistic and life abandon into age 31.

5. Ben and I recently watched this video that he made for Minnesota Playlist, back when he was a video blogger for the Fringe in 2009. It's downright ridiculous, complete with a rap and a belly dance. It's not shot on a nice camera, and includes a lot of shots he somehow took of himself, without any fancy focus-pulling. But I love it-- especially for its irreverence. It goes along with a wish I have for Ben, myself, and everyone else: CREATE MORE SH*T JUST BECAUSE IT BRINGS YOU JOY. Spend less time being careful-- just act.

Happy August!


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