Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Doing Your Best Work With Others When You Feel Alone

I love any piece of writing that covers "creatives" and "artists." Even more, I love it when business magazines like Fast Company, Inc, and Harvard Business Review write articles about us arts folks.

In one of the latest at Fast Co, author Jeff Goins tackles the idea of why you'll never do your best work alone. I want to riff on his three takeaways for the small theater and performing arts communities.

Find a "Master"
Goins uses the idea of Renaissance artists but this idea is also one used by Austin Kleon in his book Steal Like An Artist. However, this task may feel impossible for those of us living in smaller communities that may not have an established performing arts scene. Where are we to locate these masters? This may mean turning to online communities, diving into Youtube, or doing a lot of interlibrary loan exchanges to read what's been written by or about your chosen artists.

Emulate your mentor's work.
As most of my readers know, I very much adore both Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Pink as writers. When I was working on my Master's Thesis book, I kept asking myself "how would Malcolm or Daniel set up this story?" I didn't want my thesis to sound like, well, an academic treatise on arts ecosystems. I wanted it to read like a compelling creative nonfiction story.

When it comes to theater, how can you copy a particular director's style or a designer's aesthetic? When I took directing class in undergrad, we watched classic films to try to understand good directing choices, design decisions, and then used those when we crafted scenes with our fellow students. Rehearsal space is perfect for trying out new-to-you techniques.

Find community.
In a small town or a new city, this is going to mean a lot of searching, a lot of coffee, and a lot of cold calls. But finding a small group of like-minded people is crucial to both keeping your work going and making it better. It may mean starting with your local community college, to see if they offer any theater classes, or talking to the local kids' dance studio to meet the instructors. It may mean stepping outside your art form and talking to writers, painters, or even *gasp* entrepreneurs. Your local Chamber of Commerce may prove helpful in this search.

And last, but certainly not least, start producing a show! If you've just moved to a community, it may mean doing a solo work at the local open-mic night (or creating an open mic night!). It may mean some site-specific work in the local parks. Plaster the town with flyers. Find the locally-owned coffeeshop: these places tend to be hubs of information.

Don't overlook social media communities but don't rely on them, either. Expand your horizons with new people, new books, new videos, and new places. Your artistic work will be better for it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"Everybody does it this way"

Once in a while, start with zero, not with what might be the standard right now. -- Seth Godin [original post here]

We have a lot of calcification in the performing arts. Instead of doing what everyone else does, what if you did the exact opposite?

1. Selling tickets individually rather than in bulk form. 2 tickets, 4 tickets. Packs of 8 for half price. Actually selling one group an entire performance.

2. Size scale of performances. What would an individual/site specific performance look like for you? What about the opposite: how could you achieve a massive scale of people or space?

3. Stages. Platforms. Removing the set. Sometimes this is done because of economic reasons. What if you perform in the audience seating area and put the audience on the stage instead?

4. Engaging the audience during the performance. Not as stopping the action for an aside, or fake engagement, but as part of the action. There's a great early episode of the Dick Van Dyke show where he forgets to get tickets for the PTA, but is saved when Mel needs extras for the large picnic scene at the end of the Alan Brady show, so the PTA actually gets to be in the show.

5. One person deciding a season in advance. What happens if you truly crowdsource a season?

6. Selling tickets in advance. Pop-up performances.

7. Selling tickets at all: rather, asking for people to donate after the show what monetary value they'd place on the experience. Pro tip: actually pass a hat so people feel compelled to put in something and not just leave.

8. Closed rehearsals. What if all the aspects of creation were open to whoever wanted to watch? What if you used Facebook Live to stream rehearsals and then charged for being in the room/the final product?

9. Season=1 year. What happens if you plan AND ANNOUNCE 2-3-4 years in advance.

10. Success=sold out shows, a building, staff, all the money from various sources you could desire. Rewriting your mission statement to say what you're going to DO.

11. And what you're NOT going to do. OR when it's time to stop. Closing an underwhelming show. Closing an underwhelming company.

What are anchors for your art? Let us know in the comments. Maybe it's the thing that's been bugging you but "everybody does it."