Small Dances Week 7: Set Some Parameters

December 31, 2013

Yesterday I was looking through the list of remaining Small Dances rehearsals, and allocating time for things like recording sound, and full runs of the piece. And, gahhhh, there isn't a lot of time! It's not necessarily a bad thing, because it's forcing me to make decisions-- the kind of decisions that I would mull over for months if we were going to perform the piece in August instead of February. Also: it's forcing me to use restraint, and create some parameters around what I'm working with.

I've written about my love of parameters many times before. I think of it like this: if I walk into an empty room and decide to make a dance, the possibilities are endless. Even if I have a sense of what the work is "about" or a beginning concept, there's still a lot to decide-- the vocabulary, the number of performers, the amount of space it will take up, sound, text, direction, energy... I like to make rules so that I have fewer options. I've been setting parameters for the piece using these starting points:

1) It Is | It Isn't-- As with my last project, I've found it helpful to make a list of what really belongs in the piece, and what kinds of elements (movement, sound, text) can be left for the next project. It's about editing, and simplifying. I can't possibly explore everything in one dance-- unless I want it be a bunch of overly general crap. This allows me to really commit to what I AM leaving in the piece.

2) Original Intentions-- When I'm having trouble with figuring out the above, I think back to my original intentions with the piece. A big goal was to play around with taking a single movement solo, and presenting it in as many ways as possible, varying the performer, the sound, the text, the intention. Another big goal was to fully involve a stage manager in my process. And, with the performances, my goal is to present the project to audiences that might not see a lot of dance. When I'm feeling overwhelmed by the possibilities of the project, I come back to these starting places.

3) Space Is The Thing-- This week I wrote about dance and space for Minnesota Playlist, sharing that I've rarely spent a lot of time tailoring my movement to specific spaces-- an oversight for sure. This time I can't help but consider how space is going to influence these dances. For starters, we probably aren't going to have a lot of space: most of our performance spaces are quite small. Secondly, the audience probably won't have a lot of space between themselves and the dancers, which changes how the movement will feel/register. And lastly, there are a lot of 'probablys' in this equation, because every space we perform in will be different. I want to consider how we can adapt the piece to fit the various spaces, even with just a half hour to rehearse.

We've had a lot of rehearsal breaks to make space for the holidays. I'm looking forward to jumping back into the process fully-- less thinking, more doing.

Small Dances Weeks 1-6: It's a Big Onion
Small Dances: My New Project

13 In 2013

December 30, 2013

My suggested recipe for a really good year:

1) Read some Sugar: After finding this amazing piece of writing, I read Wild, and Tiny Little Things in rapid succession. Few people write about being a human so eloquently, carefully articulating the gunk of life.

2) Listen to Anonymous Choir: Yes, you might be accurate in calling them hipsters, but this Minneapolis-based group singing Neil Young's After The Gold Rush is damn gorgeous.

3) Have a therapy party: For the amount that I write about therapy, it would seem that I've had a lot. It's a lie. This year I did dedicate a lot of time to my mental + emotional health. Two things worth noting: #1-- Many therapists offer sliding scale rates; #2-- I have a lot of loved ones who have hugely benefitted from antidepressants. Let's kick away any shame surrounding mental illness, please.

4) And on that note, let's kick away shame surrounding addiction: This is the best thing I've ever read about having a loved one struggling with addiction. Read it; talk about it; bring someone dinner.

5) Since we're talking about shame, read some Brené Brown: This year I read a lot about boundaries, vulnerability, and resilience. First I read The Gifts of Imperfection, then Daring Greatly. Both are particularly relevant to artists and self-employed folks, because oh, the vulnerability...

6) Eat some food in Seattle: I took a trip to Seattle, but didn't write nearly enough about the food, which is some of the best money we spent this year. Ben and I voted all of these the best Seattle eats + drinks we stuck in our mouths:

--Pizza at Delancey (and shrubs at Essex).
--Oysters and Cod Spread at The Walrus and the Carpenter.
--Chowder at Pike Place Chowder.
--Brunch at Lola.
--Rachel's Ginger Beer.

7) Stay at an Air BnB: People across the country rent out their spare rooms and apartments and guest houses, and you can stay in them! We stayed in a great place in Seattle-- perfect location, great price, and none of the stuffiness of a hotel.

8) Wear a Tattly: Maybe you are like me, and 5 years old in your heart-- or at least a bit noncommittal. I spent this year with fake tattoos of balloons, hearts, and carrots on my arms and chest, and the joy was huge.

9) Make Something: I am grateful I took the 20 minute approach to creating, because without it I'd probably still be overwhelmed and procrastinating. Also: I was reminded that I like my life more when I'm making things.

10) Celebrate Love: Regardless of your feelings about marriage as an institution, I think we can all agree that love is awesome. This year I watched a lot of friends publicly declare their commitment to one another-- especially because marriage became legal for ALL last summer! It was an honor to witness all of that goodness.

11) Do some accounting: Adulthood, people! It's so glamorous. I have to give a shout-out to FreshBooks, a cloud-based accounting system that has made my job doing the number-keeping for our business so much easier.

12) Cook something: Many thanks to my awesome sister and brother-in-law, who bought us this immersion blender-- our new favorite kitchen appliance. Maybe you want to make my favorite salad dressing, or chop nuts, or garlic, or purée soup. The immersion blender is a lot less mess than a food processor, and useful for many things.

13) See some humans: People are awesome. One of the best things I did this year was host a brunch, and invite a lot of people who didn't know other invited people over to our house. Also: Small Art. Ben and I are constantly reminded that we (staunch introverts) are happier when we make a point to connect to other people, see their art, eat food, and (often) discuss the weather. It turns out that hosting can be as simple as making some eggs and coffee, and asking people to bring something.

Happy end of 2013. I hope several of your dreams came true.

[I made a similar list in 2011, which you can read over here.]

Happy holidays: have a solo dance party, take a nap

December 21, 2013

HAPPY SOLSTICE! Some holiday-centered thoughts:

1) I am not feeling particularly festive this year, even with our 3-foot janky Christmas tree decorated in the sunroom with care. It might be that I'm feeling under-the-weather, or the copious amount of appointments with people like mortgage brokers, squirrel trappers, and dentists, or the deadlines I've found myself behind on. Example of lack of festivity: my dear buddy came over for our First Annual Holiday Sleepover Extravaganza, for which we had planned cookie baking, ornament making, and holiday movie watching. What really happened? Frozen pizza, and episodes of Sex In The City. Why? Because we're tired from 2013. My point is: this is ok. Have a solo dance party, take a nap. If you need to skip the holidays all-together, it's probably ok (maybe more challenging if you have small children or family with fancy festivities- sure). You can celebrate in your heart, while wearing flannel pants on your very own couch. Now, I really love the whole New Years/Solstice thing-- at least on a metaphorical, new start/dark returns to light level. But why not start by playing it low-key, with bubbles right out of the bottle? No need for Pinterest-worthy holiday parties. Call me if you need a slow clap for your lack of cute appetizers. 

2) If I was feeling a little more festive/energized, I would go about the holidays like my friends Ashley and Stephen. I'm convinced that they have the most fun holiday celebrations-- and on a budget. They do a great job of avoiding any obligations, staying in pajamas, and eating/drinking all of the good things-- which they stockpile for the holidays in a large basket. They are also amazing at creative gift giving, and keeping secrets. The year I lived with them, they unintentionally gave one another Morrissey biographies. 

3) At the very least you should watch the staff at NPR headquarters shake their hips in Love Actually fashion. Maybe your low-energy holiday should also include a grapefruit and bourbon cocktail, or some karaoke. The nice thing about karaoke is that you don't even have to leave the house-- you can download tracks on itunes, and sing in the privacy of your living room!

4) Do you need some end-of-year reflection? I'm always a fan of Molly and Betsy's 3 words tradition. This year I refuse to analyze or reflect-- I'm saving that for the book that could be written about my 2013. I have been my saddest and my happiest in this year, no hyperbole in that. It is a year that I feel very lucky and grateful for. If you are a person who analyzes the year in a "ACCOMPLISHMENTS" and "BUMMERS" kind of categorical way, I encourage you to think bigger. Sometimes the best and most necessary parts of your year can be those weeks where you ugly cried in your sunroom for hours a day. Showing up to life, especially when its hard, it very worthy of a high-five. 

5) Ben and I had our first official date-- 2 years of friendship in-- on Christmas day, 2007. I'm glad that Emma photographed this cheesy moment back in September, because we are cheesy people. High-five for partnership. Ben has shown up to life + kicked the self-help section of the bookstore down. What does that mean? I don't know exactly, but it's good.

Very happy holidays to you.

Small Dances Weeks 1-6: It's a Big Onion

December 17, 2013

While it's December and we're in resolution-land, I want to get very hippy dippy. Is there something you're really hoping for in the coming year? I encourage you to put it on paper-- as specifically as possible-- and send the intention into the universe. INTO THE UNIVERSE. Yes, that.

Last December I wrote that I wanted to make dance the way a musician makes an album, and guess what? IT'S HAPPENING! In a nutshell, I wanted to make it tour-able and reusable, and I wanted to be mindful of the amount of money, energy, and time I was investing. This was after learning from the experience of making my dance I Like You, which I took 2 years to make, and required a big stage, 3 projectors, and 4 very specific performers, and played for just one weekend. So, Small Dances it is. I wanted to share a bit about my process here, because it really is similar to hacking away at any big project. I keep likening it in my mind to peeling an onion: a layer at a time, over and over and over again, not knowing what the center of the onion really looks like yet. I'm learning a lot about showing up, mentally and emotionally. Oh, and physically, because I think better when I move. So far my best ideas have hit me while on the elliptical at the gym, right next to that really intense guy in his 60's, who makes me a little nervous.

I've been thinking about these tiny, reusable dances all year, and they have been very slowly coming to fruition. I like that kind of speed. Realistically, I balance art projects with a lot of other kinds of projects. I'm able to make this work my big focus for the rest of December and January, but for most of the year it's been a quiet accompaniment to the rest of life. Here's how it's been coming together:

The Timeline
What's a realistic amount of time for creating and rehearsing an hour-ish length piece? I have no idea. I know that limits are good-- sometimes the best work happens with the pressure of a deadline. If I had a year or two, I'd for sure be able to use it, but my goal is to be conscious of time and money with this process (2 years = a lot of money). This piece will get 3 months of rehearsal time (3 1/2 months, with two week-long breaks for holidays). I've helped things along by workshopping parts of this piece back in May, and developing a lot of the vocabulary on my own time. The timeline has been like this:

January-May: Work on a 10-minute piece using some of the movement vocabulary.
March: Grant application submission.
June (late June): Grant award announcement.
September-October: Personal rehearsal time/organization time in donated rehearsal space. Auditions and casting.
October 31: First rehearsal.
February 10: First performance.

Notes From Weeks 1-6 of Rehearsal:
In rehearsals we've been spending a lot of time getting on the same movement-style page. I've taught a bunch of chunks of movement vocabulary, which are going to be shaped into about 10 different short sections of the piece. My dancers are really savvy, awesome folks, and the teaching process is going quickly. Regardless: this is dance, and it takes time to learn and memorize. Other than jazz-handed musicals, this is the most movement-centered piece I've ever made (as opposed to text or character-centered).

On the producing end of things, I've started to schedule February performances (with the help of my stage manager, Zoe) around the Twin Cities. My goal is to have 10 performances between February 10 to March 9. I've been reminded that scheduling rehearsals and performances takes a lot of time-- there's pretty much always some kind of email that I should/could be writing at any given time.

Some Awesome Things:
--I love working with a stage manager. I'm used to producing performances and running rehearsals on my own, and it's so nice to have company (especially smart company).
--Have I mentioned how fabulous my dancers are? I love them.
--Rehearsing during the day has really been helpful for my brain and process.
--We've had lots of generous offers for performance spaces.

The Challenging Things:
--I'm continually shifting between my producer hat and my creator hat, because performances and rehearsals have to be booked. I wish I could afford to ignore my other work and life responsibilities, and only focus on this project.
--Too much thinking. It's easy to get sucked into analyzing exactly how this will come together, when the best thing to do is to start acting. Structuring the piece is a daunting task, and I need to remember that I can always tweak things AFTER I've made decisions.

Up Next:
I have two big next steps: booking performances by January 7, and teaching/creating all of the structured sections by January 17. These are totally doable timelines. I'm waiting to think too much about sound design, guest performers (the original idea was to perform this piece with a guest artist from another discipline), or the placement of each of the sections.

I'm reminded every single day: just keep going, just keep going. Even a tiny movement forward makes all the difference in the world. It doesn't have to be great; I just have to show up. I take it as a good sign that I'm enjoying this process more than I've ever enjoyed a process. That in itself is great progress.

Let's talk about...Kombucha

December 13, 2013

I know-- you woke up this morning and thought, you know what I want to talk about????? Kombucha. I'm so with you. There's nothing that gets me excited quite like bacteria and yeast....

In the Ben and Laura diaries, once upon a time we tried our hands at brewing beer. It went poorly. I mean, we followed through on all of the steps, but we failed in a couple of ways:

#1-- It takes time to brew beer. We had to wait for weeks for it to be ready to try, and Ben and I are not a waiting people.

#2-- It didn't taste like Surly. Why would you go through the mess of brewing beer, only to find out it doesn't taste like Surly?

Well Ben no longer drinks beer, and he wanted a beverage that was delicious to drink, but less sugary than soda-- which led him to try kombucha for the first time. I immediately frowned upon kombucha, stating that it tastes like vinegar, or something rotten-- you choose. Here's the thing: kombucha is expensive. Like, $4 a pop expensive, so you might as well be drinking beer, right? I eventually tasted a kombucha that felt palatable, and then I started thinking about brewing it-- because it's pricy stuff, and I am also a savings-loving person!

A couple months ago my friend Phil supplied a SCOBY, and Ben jumped into kombucha brewing. And here we are-- so far with better results than with the beer. I wanted to share Ben's brewing methods (so far, my role is mostly as consumer). Maybe you have kombucha suggestions of your own? Or maybe you recognize that it's brewed from a gelatinous-like creature, and stay away entirely.

Let's start by talking about supplies:

You need---
               A kombucha mother (SCOBY).
               A gallon-size glass brewing vessel (we use a glass pitcher from Target).
               Leftover kombucha tea.
               Black or green tea bags.
               Flavoring agents (Ben juices ginger and lemon).
               Pint-size ball jars for storing.

The News About Making Kombucha:
Right now we're brewing 2 batches at a time, with 2 SCOBYs and 2 gallon-size brewing jars. The recipe that Ben uses is from TheKitchn, but he's been playing with less sugar, switching to all green tea, and also messing with various flavoring agents.

The timeline looks like this:
1) You brew your tea (with sugar and leftover kombucha) and place it in the gallon-size brewing vessel with your crazy looking SCOBY.

2) You wait 10-13 days.

3) You take the kombucha (sans SCOBY) and add any flavoring (for instance, fresh-squeezed ginger and lemon juice), and then strain it into pint jars and close them.

4) You wait 1-3 days for the pints to carbonate, and then refrigerate them.

5) You peel off your second SCOBY (if it's a good one) and give it away to a friend, or start another one. You begin the process again!

Ok, so this is Ben's 3rd or 4th batch. So far I highly recommend the flavor of the green tea-only blend, versus the green and black tea blend. Also: fresh ginger juice is really good stuff. We've been consistently brewing, but some websites have notes for taking a break with brewing. Also: important precautionary things, like what to do when your SCOBY molds.

Do you have any advice or resources for Ben's kombucha adventure? How do we get more carbonation? Do you want our extra SCOBY?

Balance: probably not so balanced at all

December 12, 2013

It's the season of reflection, and I've been reflecting on creative business-related shizity. Particularly: this thing called balance, which is a pretty zen-sounding word. On the other end of the spectrum from 'balance' we have overwhelm. I once was so overwhelmed that I purchased a book about how to deal with overwhelm....and then naturally felt more overwhelmed. So there you have it. But this year I realized that I don't have to be in one camp or the other-- somewhere in between is just fine. Like a lot of artists I know, my commitments are pretty varied, and I try to make time for a little of everything. I could break most of these commitments/activities into the following categories: 

1) Creative projects I do because I love them.
2) Creative projects/jobs I do because they pay well.
3) Household + family responsibilities.
4) Quality time with the people I love.
5) Quality time with myself.
6) Actions that insure that I will have more projects I love and/or more big bucks in my future (updating my website, applying for a grant, continued education).

That is a lot to coordinate, and I don't have a magical solution to doing that-- I think it's always at least a little challenging, and slightly un-coordinated and messy. What I've been realizing this year is that some chaos can't be controlled, even with better time management or a carefully arranged to-do list. And for me, a little chaos is worth it if it's making me happy, and it's making me happy if it's moving me in the direction of my long-term goals. So maybe the biggest balancing act then is between:

 The things I need to to do today to meet deadlines and pay bills and be happy and healthy and sane
(the short-term)
 The things that plan for and move me towards the future dreamy things/projects/life I'd like to have
(the long-term).

Looking back on this year, this particular balancing act was fairly successful, and I wanted to share what helped. Three particular things come to mind:

First: Choose A Focus (Micro vs. Macro)
Just like it's impossible for most of us to create and analyze at the same time, it's difficult to think about the long-term and short-term at the same time. By nature I'm a big picture, long-term thinker, and sometimes this sucks a lot of energy and time out of my schedule and the project or task I'm focused on. For instance: I know that at some point in the next year Ben and I will more than likely be moving into a new house. It's easy to get fixated on how and when this is going to happen, and what that's going to look like. But meanwhile, I have a client deadline and a rehearsal to plan for, and a few emails to respond to. The long-term things are made easier by focusing on the task at hand and getting the little sh*t done every single day. It's nearly impossible for me to show up fully to what I have to do TODAY if I'm fixated on six months from now. 

At the same time, the big-picture stuff is important. I try to sit down about once a month for a couple of hours to think about the long-term stuff so that I avoid fixating on it every single day. I attempt to break down some of my long-term goals (say, updating our website) into smaller actions (writing a new bio) so that they seem less daunting. And it just feels good to know that I'm not ignoring the long-term. Also: this means that when I'm reminded of a grant deadline, I don't need to start from square one to think of a project and proposal-- I already have some idea of what ideas would serve my long-term goals

Second: Stop The Inspiration and Act
My friend and brand designer Kathleen wrote a great Letter For Creatives (sign up for them over here) called Less Thinking, More Doing. It turns out that many of us are waiting for just a little too much inspiration before we act. So, stop reading the blogs and books, and start taking a step towards something you want to create. There is no perfect time, and all the planning (or inspiration) in the world will not make it perfect. I started this blog space roughly 2 1/2 years ago, and I continually tweak things. If I'd waited for it to be just right, I never would have started. If I were to let myself get focused on perfection with this post, I'd never hit publish. Kathleen offers up some great suggestions for acting, like setting a timer for 15 minutes and seeing what you can get done in that time, or tweaking one thing on your website that's bothering you. The point is to take some kind of action-- even a tiny one.

Third: Go For Grey 
I think most of us are trying to bridge the gap between where we are (the job or clients or creative projects we have right now), and where we want to be (the job or clients or creative projects we want to have in the future). I've realized this year that there's a lot of grey area between the two, and that's great-- it's not a clearly cut, magical transition. And even when we get to these future, dreamy-sounding projects, we'll probably just dream up new ones-- there'll always be future goals. Even during weeks that aren't filled to the brim with work that I absolutely love, I try to make sure that there's daily space for some of it. Again: small but regular actions. For instance, maybe I write an email asking someone to perform at a Small Art, or work on a chunk of a blog post, or tweak the exercises I use with clients. Maybe I don't have time to spend the whole day rehearsing, but I do have time for 20 minutes of rehearsal in my living room. 

I'm happiest when I stop giving energy to some made up idea of perfect balance and absolute-- all of the puzzle pieces in their place at the same time. Instead, I've been shown time and time again that the messy, grey area is the place where most of life happens, and that in this area things still get done, and forward motion still happens. I'm aiming for a 2014 with fewer lists and less micromanagement, and more comfort with this middle ground. Truth: it's a lot more fun and less overwhelming in the middle. 

And they called it Winter

December 9, 2013

It's only December 9, so I don't want to use up my winter enthusiasm prematurely. That said: we are in the midst of our first big chunk of sub-zero, snowy, icy days here in Minnesota, and I'm loving it. We had our first snow emergency of the year-- when those of us without the fortune of off-street parking quickly study up on our neighborhood night plow routes, so that we avoid getting ticketed or towed. I woke up early to move my car, only to discover that both of my car locks were frozen. Two extension cords and a hairdryer later, and I reentered my home VICTORIOUS, as only a Minnesotan can understand. I have a hairdryer, long johns, a tiny snow shovel for my car, and a soup pot--- and I am basically unstoppable!

The thing about winter in Minnesota is that we're all in it together. I love seeing neighbors while shoveling, and the mutual respect that bubbles over-- a friendly person yielding as I slide through a red light, for instance, or open admiration for one another's layering skills. We all have the same mildly oppressive element in our lives. Winter becomes a metaphor for something much bigger, perhaps. It provides instant conversation material, and fuels dozens of tweets and bitchy facebook posts. We are going to make it through these 5 months, people!

Anyway, I look to it as a good excuse to dig into projects and work. We're quickly filling up February 10-March 9 with Small Dances performances. If you live in the Twin Cities and want some living room entertainment for your buddies, go over to our website to check out the details.

Lately: November edition

December 4, 2013

In November I saw a lot of performance-- probably the most I've viewed in months. My favorite show of the year is always Choreographer's Evening, which takes place annually on Thanksgiving weekend. It's a huge celebration for the Twin Cities dance community. There are around 10 acts, curated each year by a different dance artist. This year's, curated by duo Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs, was assembled to feel like a mixed tape. It was a great mixed tape, each act showing a very different picture of the possibilities of kinesthetic language. I watched works featuring some of my very favorite dancers and choreographers, and basically felt lucky to be a part of such a great artistic community.

I am not a dancer dancer. When I went to college, my dance background was basically limited to musical theater jazz hands (and jazz squares), competitive Irish dance, and the occasional beginning modern class. I went to school to study music, fell for theater, and transitioned to theater directing when I realized I was a shoddy performer. But when I went to direct plays, I realized I was sick of words. It seems that it's too easy to make words linear and straightforward, and life is anything but linear and straightforward. The kind of dances I like embrace the grey area. They make their own rules, they create their own reality. They bring to life the moments of our experiences that can't be articulated, but are somehow written in our guts. My life has been littered with those kinds of moments, and yours probably has been too. What to do with them? Take a look, embrace their strangeness, make something.

All of this to say, I'm having a really terrific time with my new project, and I look forward to sharing more about it. October and November were full of time sensitive projects, and went bam-bam-bam, so I almost forgot that I quit my part-time job. I have no idea what my self-employment routine looks like, which is probably a goal of mine for December. Other goals include making lots of soup, seeing dear buddies, and enjoying my dance making-- you know, savoring....relishing. These opportunities are lucky ones.

[Photo of Charles Campbell, Tom Lloyd, Erika Hansen, and Lazer Goese-- taken in rehearsal by Ben McGinley]

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