Lower the stakes!

January 31, 2014

Tomorrow is February 1!!!!! In February, if all goes as planned (*knocks wood*), I will finish making a show that will begin a run of 11 performances, all in different locations. I will also close on my first house, paint said house, and move across the river with Ben! In addition to these big things, I will dive into a couple of work projects that are in less familiar territory. That's a lot for the control freak in me to attempt to manage. (I can just hear the universe laughing...)

Maybe you've taken an acting class, where the teacher always told you "Raise The Stakes!". This means, Make The Story Seem More Important And Dangerous Than It Might Actually Be! Because when you're acting, raising the stakes just makes things more interesting for the audience. Raising the stakes is also a good general rule for grant writing. As in, write your grant so that it appears to the granting organization that this art you're trying to make, which you need THEIR money for, is SUPER DUPER CRAZY IMPORTANT! You MUST get the money! It's going to change your life (and the world)! Raise. Those. Stakes.

Daily life is a different story. We don't have to worry about convincing someone to give us a grant, or that the story we're telling is exciting, important, and dangerous. But sometimes it's easy to get fooled that the stakes of daily life are really, really high. Here's the thing: I'm assuming that most of us have shelter. CHECK. I'm also assuming that most of us reading this blog, on the internet, on a computer, have food. CHECK. Also, maybe we have clothing, moderate to good health, loved ones, and the means to pay our bills for at least the next month. CHECK? Great. High-five us. It's not that challenges and pressures don't exist outside of these basic needs-- they do. But, I think all of us are sometimes tempted to buy into believing that the stakes are way higher than they actually are. I swear that this is mostly a lie-- the stakes are lower than you think. If the show is a dud, or you don't get the job, or you end up moving the week after the show opens, or you send out your first big corporate email with a typo, or you break your car bumper on snow...it's going to be ok. Your future isn't riding on one day (or even a few of them).

A good friend is in the process of applying for graduate school, and every time I talk to her and she seems anxious about the process I say "LOWER THE STAKES!", which is actually as much a note to myself. I have never been a big embracer of the unknown, but I like what the unknown forces me to do. It develops traits like HOPE, you guys. FAITH, even. Sometimes I even feel myself relinquishing control, and accepting that not everything is riding on how hard I grip-- and that's a very nice thing to remember.

Congratulations to all the Minnesotans on making it through January! We are building so much character.

5 With: Mike Hallenbeck

January 29, 2014

Several years ago, Mike Hallenbeck gave me a seriously great title for a dance: Independent Vegetables of Their Own Accord. I haven't had a chance to use it yet, but please don't steal it. When he isn't suggesting clever titles, sharing my love of cats, or supporting the performing arts community, Mike is working in the music and sound design world. Mike balances a continuous stream of varied creative projects. He's a curious explorer of his art form, which seems to be a key part of thriving as an artist. I vouch that Mike is a great collaborator-- especially loving work with choreographers, lucky us! You can find more of Mike on his website, and on twitter.

What do you make or do?
I'm a composer and sound designer, which means I write music, and record, edit and mix audio. I have a passion for Foley and sound effects. I work in film, animation, games, branding, and performing arts. I am bald.

What are the challenges of what you do? 
A lot of what I do is invisible. If you crossfade audio so it blends smoothly rather than glitching, for example, the result shouldn't be noticeable. It's often about what you're not hearing, and thus hard to evaluate. So, sometimes it's difficult to demonstrate that it's a worthwhile practice. But then again, the low profile means you can "sneak in the back door" when no one's paying attention. It's not a craft to pursue if you want the glory, but it can be very satisfying.

What advice do you have with regards to making a living and finding satisfaction as a creative person
Find a way to leverage everything you do, so that each step facilitates the next. If you have the choice to take on a certain project or not, make the choice in terms of value. Potential rewards include money, building new relationships, learning new skills, upgrading your portfolio, helping out a friend, strengthening your community… figure out what you want/ need, and ask yourself if the experience will offer value in any of these areas. If not, don't be afraid to turn it down.

What's most exciting about your work?
The more time goes by, the more I surpass my own expectations of quality and versatility. The  further outside my comfort zone I'm willing to go, the larger that zone becomes. There's always been something satisfying about building a soundscape and/ or breaking it down into its components. Somehow that never gets old for me; it just gets more rewarding.

What's one of your dream projects?
A reboot of Swamp Thing as a film franchise: Alec Holland's accident would take place during a Louisiana hurricane, and it would have giant insects in it-- a giant mosquito fighting an Apache helicopter maybe. That would be awesome.

[You can read more interviews over here.]

Counting down

January 24, 2014

Happy weekend!

The thing I love about Winter is that it makes the thought of Spring so exciting. I did a countdown today:

There are 55 official days of Winter left.
There are 44 days until we Spring ahead!
There are 20 days until my Small Dances performances begin...

I loved hearing from multiple people who attended Tuesday's Small Art that they were SO GLAD they braved the cold and came to the show-- that it was just the boost they needed. I'm hoping that these living room dance performances give that same boost.

Also: you should check out the Winter survival plans shared by the folks who kindly emailed text for our show. 

In other news, my dear little sister is 23 today. She is a person who loves and embraces Winter. Happy birthday, Kate!

5 With: Sara Montour

January 22, 2014

I admire Sara Montour's great eye for catching moments (like these), and the energy and drive she puts behind her passion projects-- like Live Letters, a series of music shows held in small spaces. Sara is offering a series of mini photo sessions aimed at kiddos on February 9-- 10 minutes, with 10 edited photos for $100. Check it out!

Sara Montour | Photographer & music lover

What do you make or do?
I'm a lifestyle photographer here in Minneapolis, focusing mostly on children and musicians. 

What's been hard in your creative journey?
Creative jobs don't follow a linear path. (If we're being honest, does anything?) The easiest path is if we're able to lay perfect blocks as single steps upwards, like a staircase, constantly getting bigger + better. The reality, though, is that there are giant steps backwards and giant pushes forward that can come at any time. Learning to ride those waves has probably been the most challenging and exhausting; but also the most exciting. 

What advice do you have with regards to making a living and finding satisfaction as a creative person? 
Work hard. If you're not where you want to be, look internally before pointing fingers externally; usually we're the ones standing in our own way. Also, surround yourself with inspiring and incredible people that will lift you up when you need it and will call you out when you need that. 

What are you most excited about with regards to your creative work?
I'm a lover of nostalgia; it's why I'm a photographer. I think I feel most excited when I can capture a moment that I know people will look back on as a time capsule of what they were feeling at that exact point in time. 

How do you make it happen (financially/energetically/practically)?
I have no idea. Ha. Creative jobs are such a pursuit of passion that they defy all logic and you just do them because something internally tells you that you have to, and life feels off-balance if you don't.

[You can read more interviews over here.]

Small Dances Week 10: Just Do It

January 20, 2014

You might know Ralph, my father-in-law, who is awesome and very Business Man in every way. We were recently sitting down for a meeting, when he said "Those Nike people have it right: Just Do It!" I have no idea what we were specifically talking about, but his point remains the same: it's all about just taking action!

Notice that in no part of "Take action!" is the word "perfectly". I am a person who dearly loves the idea of doing things neatly, of picking the just-right time, and of always being in control. For instance, I had this very fantastical idea of clearing my schedule and turning all of my energy towards this Small Dances project, taking just a few minor client projects on the side. I pictured that the producing of the show would easily fall into place, because I would have carefully crafted systems. Ha. Has this really worked for anyone? I have doubts...

Life has its own kind of time line-- the kind of timeline that has you opening a show February 13, and closing on a house February 14; the timeline that has other projects come up unexpectedly. Like I said to my awesome stage manger Zoe: "If I waited for the perfect time, I'd be waiting for forever."It's true. So I'm thinking about embracing imperfection. This takes a certain amount of letting pride go, and avoiding freaking out. As in: my emails are late, my house is dirty, my dance is under-rehearsed, but onward we go, and I'll continue to show up and do my best. I know I'm not alone in this. In fact, one of the many great things I gained from working on BLUEPRINT was watching Candy Simmons be ever-the-pro. I knew she had a million things on her plate, but she showed up to rehearsal smiling, made great work, and didn't waste time lamenting time, or being behind her dream schedule.

This brings to mind many great life lessons, which certainly aren't limited to artists:
Do it-- not perfectly, but mindfully; show up, and don't wish for perfect circumstances; learn from mistakes, and don't confuse the work with you. And, when everything pushes you towards freaking out, "don't move the way that fear makes you move." (Rumi)

Also: by all means do go to the gym, take a nap, and drink a beer. Does anyone who works all the time do great work? Hell no.

[iphone photos from Ben, while recording text in his office today.]

5 With: Karen Kopacz

January 16, 2014

photo by Karen Kopacz
I love the possibility of intersection-- the intersection of multiple skill sets, art forms, ideas, groups of people, and the intersection of creative thinking and entrepreneurship. Karen Kopacz embodies this idea of intersection for me, in that her work encompasses many skill sets, and uses various combinations of these to build bigger ideas and collaborations. I love Karen's reminder that making things happen comes down to jumping in, and setting deadlines. Great, wise words.

Karen Kopacz | Brand Strategist, Designer, Developer, Creative Thinker

What do you make or do?  
I help creative, forward-thinking people clarify who they are and connect with the world. My business, Design for the Arts, helps business owners and artists articulate what they want to achieve, and implements creative initiatives that reflect their goals. I ask questions, design, make logos and websites, write headlines and biographies, take photographs and do whatever is needed to creatively engage clients and their audience. I also make music and visual art, and ideate on random acts of creative entrepreneurship when I’m not working, but I think I’m happiest collaborating. 

What's hard about it?  
I dream too big and nothing happens. If I jump in and let the project be what it needs to be, anything can happen.

What's been helpful
Find the right combination of think and do, and don’t forget to have fun.

There is an art to creating structure in the creative process, and it’s pretty simple. My number one tool for making anything happen is “The Calendar.” It helps me create forward motion, make connections and balance my life. If you want to accomplish anything, put it on the calendar, and then do it. Repeat as needed.

How do you make it happen?
I keep on truckin’. Always. I constantly refine how I do business. My skills change and grow to accommodate the needs of my community within the realm of my objectives. I'm constantly searching for crossover between the two. 

What's one of your dream projects
For the last year I’ve been working on a project called Public Field Guide.  Through my own personal experience of making change in my life, I became interested in telling stories about people who are transforming their lives or communities and rethinking how they live and work. A soft launch this February will feature a series of mini-stories and photographs of everyday people who are pursing a calling, engaging community, contributing to new ideas or transforming how they live. This project also reconnected me with my long lost love, photography. It’s my double rainbow.

[You can read more interviews over here.]

Small Art #4: A Winter Warmer

January 14, 2014

I looked at my calendar last week and realized that the winter edition of Small Art is....TUESDAY! I'm particularly excited about this show: music by Karen Townsend, two films by Kevin Obsatz, and a preview of my Small Dances project.

I'm excited because...
  • This will be the first public screening of Kevin's film Aberdeen! I am NOT viewing it online beforehand, because I'm all about the surprise.
  • Karen is playing the accordion (maybe my favorite instrument), and I get to hear her big, gutsy voice live for the first time.
  • My lovely performers-- Charles Campbell, Lazer Goese, Erika Hansen, and Tom Lloyd-- will finally get to experience what it's like to dance these pieces in a tiny environment. I think we're all in for a surprise or two (we've been rehearsing in a large studio).
  • We get to have another Small Art! These shows are my very favorite.
If you'd like to come see the show on Tuesday the 21st (7:30 start), RSVP at SmallArtMN[at]gmail[dot]com.

You can read Small Art press over here, read more about it over here, or follow our facebook page.

[Thanks to Nicole Weiler for the classy photo above.]

Dear Humans: Oh Joy!

January 10, 2014

Dear humans,

Sometimes joy is the scariest emotion ever. I didn't want to say it aloud, because it sounds crazy, but then I just read some Brené Brown, and she confirmed it. Practically gospel, those books...

Often, committing to feeling true joy and/or hope feels downright impractical. I sit in rehearsal relishing these awesome performers working around me, and then I start to wonder if I'm enjoying it too much; I'm probably overlooking some huge structural flaw of the piece, or not digging deep enough. This isn't supposed to be all fun-- it's work!

Other times, it feels insensitive to be really joyful. I mean, there are friends bumming on facebook, and starving children in China. By all means, I should remember the less joyful!

And then there's the fear that big joy means big doom ahead. Anyone who's ever had an awful and unexpected event occur knows the rug-pulled-out-from-underneath-you punch in the gut. As a person of logic, I always look for a way I could have somehow anticipated the awful thing-- I was probably enjoying life too much, and overlooked this potential pitfall.

Going through life without surrendering to The Joy sounds fairly awful, though. Take it from the gospel of Brené:

We can't prepare for tragedy and loss. When we turn every opportunity to feel joy into a test drive for despair, we actually diminish our resilience. Yes, softening into joy is uncomfortable. But every time we allow ourselves to lean into joy and give in to those moments, we build resilience and we cultivate hope. The joy becomes part of who we are, and when bad things happen- and they do happen- we are stronger. 
[Brené Brown, Daring Greatly]

As usual, I write this all as a letter to myself. There are lots of big things in the air, all with their share of potential victories and messes. I dare myself to recognize the awesome things more often, admit how happy they make me, and hope for more. This is my invitation for you to strut your joy when you find it-- the world needs more unabashed happiness.

Heck Yes. Amen.

Most Sincerely,

a fellow human

Life's Persistent Questions

January 7, 2014

Over the past few years, I've made a habit of asking my performers a bunch of questions, and then using their answers as part of the text for the piece. For Small Dances, we're encouraging anyone (YOU!) to share in our project by responding to the questions below. You can answer here, over on the project blog, or by email at SmallArtMN[at]gmail[dot]com. Your responses may be used in the piece-- your name will not. It's been an enormous joy to read the variety of responses I've received. Humans are great, so go hug one.

1) What is your wintertime survival plan?

2) Have you resolved to do something in particular this year?

3) What’s difficult about being human?

4) Are you like your parents and/or siblings? If so, how?

5) What’s something that has brought you an unusual or surprising amount of joy?

6) Who do you admire? Why?

7) What is something that makes you uncomfortable and/or scared

8) What is of great comfort to you? OR-- what’s a book you read over and over (or a song or album you listen to over and over)?

9) What’s something you failed at?

10) What’s something you’re proud of?

11) What's most surprising about your life so far?

12) What's on your mind?

    Monday Motion: Broccoli for 2014

    January 6, 2014

    Dear 2014,

    First of all, you're cold. I actually canceled rehearsal today, and most of the Twin Cities canceled school. It's supposed to reach -22 (plus the windchill business), so Ben and I filled gas tanks and our fridge. WE ARE WINTER WARRIORS, and feeling a little Minnesota proud. On the other hand: I'm remembering that it's January 6, and that the next few months could feel long (or perfect for a winter project), so that's all humbling. 

    Secondly: you came with a long list of ambitious plans. While I'm not exactly a resolution kind of gal, I do get all dreamy and shit. It's strange to feel so full of brand new hope, and yet, like a bear slowing down to go into hibernation. This is exactly the difficulty of living in Minnesota in January.

    So I am thinking of broccoli. This is what my late friend and mentor John Munger called the opening exercises for his modern dance classes. You know: the jumps and turns at the barre that pretty much suck, because they're hard, and don't involve the giddy leaping across the floor that we'd much rather be doing. Broccoli isn't fun, but it does build progress, and/or character. 

    For some, January is a month of getting dreamy, but I think that for most of us, it's a month of broccoli. In my dance project world, we're repeating combinations until they become second nature, moving towards the point where we'll add context and character and intention-- the point where the piece will officially be fun. In my business life, I'm backing up hard drives, compiling mailing lists, and getting ready to update our website. This isn't inspiring-- it's mostly daunting. There's nothing creative about updating my linkedin page (something I'm still not sold on to begin with), but I will do it. My local YWCA reminds me that a lot of people are starting gym routines, and I've had clients remind me that they're jumping into business plans. My dear friend is applying for graduate school. Broccoli, broccoli, broccoli...

    (Never mind the poor vegetable, which I really like.)

    I've been thinking of ways to make the broccoli more bearable, because, we all know that it will continue to exist. I've been thinking of the following:
    • Making a broccoli list: It's nice to have an ongoing list of dirty work, perfect to dive into during a bit of free time. Here's my current broccoli list:
                           --Backing up my computer.
                           --Organizing photos/work samples.
                           --Updating part of my website.
                           --Start/update my mailing list.
                           --Organizing tax information (check out the tax organizers over here).
                           --Archiving/organizing emails.
                           --Updating my mnartists page, Minnesota Playlist page, or linkedIn page. Updating my                             facebook or twitter information.
                            --Emailing potential collaborators.
                            --Scoping out grant opportunities.
                            --Writing a statement of purpose.
                            --Scoping out performance opportunities.
                            --Looking over accounting. 
    • Broccoli in small doses: As I look over this list, I feel a little queasy. IT ALL LOOKS SO BORING/AWFUL. The thing to remember (aka, the point of this post) is that broccoli is way worse in my head than it is in action. When I ACT, it's possible to get a lot done in 20 minutes. When I only think about it, there's mostly a lot of anxiety. Being majorly ambitious is completing an hour and a half of broccoli. Attempting 8 hours of broccoli kills all ambition for at least a month. 20-30 minutes, 2-3 times a week is plenty for the challenging things. (I'm going to be nice to myself here.)
    • Rewards: Adding onto the above: I'm not above broccoli with wine, or an episode of serial television. Whatever it takes...
    • Do It, or Don't Do It: To repeat myself: I've decided that the worst thing in the world (#FirstWorldWoes) is thinking about broccoli, rather than doing in. Either do it, or don't do it (and do something more fun).
    • A broccoli buddy: Sometimes I need an accountability buddy to figure out where to throw my energy, or give me some motivation. 
    I will be so bold as to suggest that others, much like me, feel daunted by the promise of a new year. But January feels like an unfortunate (and cold) time to get burned out and let down. Also: it's one month, and slow and steady wins the race. Instead of spending hours on practical matters, I'm going to sit in the sauna at the gym, and drink some tea, and read January's Hello, Month. I'll complete 20 minutes of broccoli, and focus the rest of my energy on cooking enough food to stay warm, and on shoveling my sidewalk. These are honorable tasks.

    Dear 2014-- I'm pumped. Thanks for sending the cold to keep us slow and chill (ha) and reasonable in our optimism.



    5 With: Rachel Jendrzejewski

    January 2, 2014

    Happy 2014! One thing that made the past year particularly satisfying for me was community-- meeting new people, forming unlikely collaborations, starting conversations, seeing art that wasn't my usual post-modern dance. I was reminded of the wealth of resources that exist for creative people in the Twin Cities. The biggest resource we have, though, is one another; I've learned so much from creatives working in fields different from my own-- poets, graphic designers, photographers. Unsurprisingly, we share many of the same challenges, and have a great deal of collective wisdom. This year, twice a month, I'm sharing mini-interviews with Twin Cities creative folk, where they answer five questions (or share five survival tactics) in just 300 words. I'm especially excited to discuss the less comfortable topics of fear and vulnerability, and hear a variety of perspectives on money making and growth.

    Today's interview is with playwright and interdisciplinary artist Rachel Jendrzejewski. I enormously admire Rachel's work, and how actively she pursues her art practice, from writing about what she sees, to creating performance experiments in restaurants. Her advice is top-notch. You can follow Rachel's blog over here, or find her on twitter

    What do you make or do? I write plays and collaborate with other artists to explore new performance-making processes and forms. I get excited about earnest experimentation! following bliss! hard questions! art as awareness practice! community collaboration! 

    What's hard about it? The hard part, of course, is figuring out how to exist in this culture and economy, a problem that makes me tired (literally).

    What has been helpful? Overall, I try to allow the realities, feelings, and consequences of our system to be part of the things I make and to drive the imagining of new structures—not unlike how HIJACK recently described, in a post-show talk, “amplifying and repeating problems until they become the meat.” 

    In the day-to-day, though, here are some survival tactics I’ve found useful:
    Combine part-time and freelance work. I currently spend 20 hrs/week with Upstream Arts, an extraordinary organization. I still have time and energy to develop my own work, filling out my income through artistic fees, grants, fellowships, teaching, and freelance writing for other artists and organizations.

    Barter. It’s so gratifying to cut money out of the equation whenever possible. Even if you’re a performance artist (I envy my friend who cuts hair), you have plenty to offer—childcare is a common steady need, for example.

    Spend time alone. Amidst the runaround, we often neglect to carve out this time, but it’s important for keeping perspective. Strive to know and love thyself.

    Spend time with people you admire. Artists and non-artists alike. Seek them out, observe them, volunteer for them, collaborate with them, endure time together.

    Dream big. Sounds obvious, yet it can be much easier to name injustice than to really envision hope. When I feel lost, I like to make big lists of things that matter to me. Sometimes it leads to brainstorming next steps; at the very least, it’s grounding.

    [You can read more interviews over here.]

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