Ever seen David LaChapelle’s work? I saw him in Paris in 2009 and he was kind of amazing. A friend sent me this video tonight, which, if you’ve got a half hour, is interesting to watch. And pretty much is LaChappelle’s “Deluge” in performance art form.
Archive for the ‘Theatre/Dance/Performance’ Category
I was recently awarded a 5,000 Euro, no-interest loan from the Dekeyser & Friends Foundation. This loan is intended to help push EVET Arts Presents, my DreamPlan – a performing arts presenting and producing company – from the realm of idea to actuality. EVET’s inaugural project, funded in part by this loan from Dekeyser & Friends, will be a piece of physical theatre that tells a story of global human compassion.
Since we all have stories that we’ve heard and that have affected us when we heard them, I’m beginning the creative process by crowd-sourcing for that gem that needs to be told.
This is what I’m looking for:
- A true story
- That lends itself well to physical action on stage. Whether that physical action is depicting actual events or internal emotions, thoughts and fears is unimportant.
- I’m looking for an international story.
- I’m looking for a story of human struggle, compassion and determination.
- A story that can be told without too many ‘characters’
- A story that is pertinent to Mr & Mrs Average American Joe, either because it ties the world they live in to a world far away or because it speaks to a universal truth such as the love of a parent for their child.
- A story that involves song or dance would be especially appreciated
- A story set in a French or Spanish speaking country would also be ideal, but stories are, by no means, limited.
Please feel free to email me directly or respond to this post with your tales of wonder. Thank in advance. Mille fois.
I was driving through Davis Square with a friend last night. We were arguing and we were both upset. My friend pulled up to a light and proceeded, a little aggressively, to turn. There was a cab coming from the left who didn’t heed his signal, and, fueled by our argument, my friend pulled ahead anyway, challenging the cab. My friend layed on the horn and rolled down his window, leaning out and waving emphatically at his green light and telling the cab driver to “Back the – expletive - off.” The cabbie proceeded to yell back, and his words made me nauseous for the rest of the night.
“Go back to your fucking country!” he screamed.
My friend is Lebanese and speaks with an audible accent. He has lived in the United States for over ten years. He has attended neighborhood meetings and plays on a local soccer team. He was just promoted to a higher level manager position within his company. I would wager he’s a better citizen than the cab driver.
It makes me sick – physically, in my stomach – that there are people in the United States who think like this. I am lucky enough to live in an area where verbal manifestations of these thoughts are rare and diversity and acceptance abound.
Thank you Harvard. Thank you MIT. Thank you Longwood Medical Area.
It’s not just that people like the cab driver give Americans a bad name when we travel overseas, but that there is this self-perpetuating system of hate within our community. I find it unlikely that this cab driver will ever have an experience that is able to show him that different people within our community - Arabs, Blacks, Asians and Latinos – are people just like him. This is what the theatre company I am trying to found aims to address. I wonder if there is a way to reach someone so common as a Boston cab driver and change a worldview that has been ingrained into him.
There are as many variables as there are questions and as many questions as there are possible answers.
- Arts Presenting Professional #1: Ambivalent about graduate degree but conceeds its not necesary where hiring is concerned.
- Stanford MBA-candidate from film background: MBA wouldn’t target my needs in the entertainment industy, but an MAM (Masters in Arts Management) would cover relevent points. A masters degree in general will add value to a resume and fast-track a career.
- Kellog MBA-candidate with non-profit work experience: A masters degree is imparative to maintain relevance in the industry. The connections gained through a quality program like CMU would open doors to aspirations in my field.
- Business undergrad with entrepreneurial experience: A masters isn’t necessary. Hard work and hands-on learning is. It’s your drive that’s going to make or break you.
- Law school grad carrying a large amount of student debt: Skip grad school and dodge the loans. School is nice for the ego but doesn’t provide enough benefit to outweigh the costs.
- Arts Presenting Professional #2: A MAM is tailored to parts of the industry to which I don’t aspire to go and doesn’t impart practical skills in how to work with artists. A MAM is a waste of time.
- Arts Presenting Professional #3: This professional came up through the ranks with an undergraduate degree from a very prestigious university in the filed (Yale) but never got a masters and doesn’t give job candidates with masters degrees more consideration than others.
And what do I think…?
There are immense confidence and leadership-building opportunities built into the grad school model, no matter which degree. A MAM, however, is probably more tailored to “traditional” non-profit leadership roles as #2 (above) stated. The connections gained through a MAM may or may not be relevant, but are less so now that I’ve made one strong connection and a number of auxiliary connections on my own. These connections can most-likely bring me into the field at no better (or little better) a pay rate than I’d get after graduating with a degree. The job descriptions I’m looking at as very appealing seldom include a related masters degree as prerequisite.
A masters in general provides a feeling of certainty that life will fall smoothly into place after graduation, as well as a two-year respite from financial hardships and taking jobs just to make money while I ride on the government’s dime. More than anything, however, a masters gives me a feeling of purpose and worth, and the idea that I’ve got a plan for my life, which I’ve felt has been absent in my life for the past few years.
The confidence and momentum gained in a graduate program would be VERY good for me, but might pidgeon hole me into types of arts management jobs I’m not seeking to do. My professional goal is to be the creative head of an organization, not a planning and managerial head. My goal is also to found my own organization, which doesn’t seem to fall into line with all that debt.
More to ponder…
A Google search for “social outreach theatre” yields first an organization called Loka Humana. Apparently run by a single female trained in physical theatre and currently living in New York, Loka Humana strives to “bring joy and laughter to disadvantaged children, big and small, around the world”.
As I sit on the couch, eyes darting up to catch bits of the 11th inning of the Red Sox game, I contemplate socially active theatre. By nature, all theatre is socially active, and is socially outreaching. The concept I’m searching for here, however, is more hands on. It’s engaging disadvantaged populations in foreign countries and at home, using theatre to make a difference.
There’s something missing in this as a lifestyle, though. Foreign populations reap the benefits of American skill in these types of programs, but Americans – the population I’m more concerned about when it comes to cultural exchange – don’t experience anything out of the ordinary. When there is an opportunity for Americans to see a foreign culture, it’s either the performers who get the experience (and the performers are probably the most cultured already) or Americans are painted a charity story without any real connection to the recipients.
Giving back to under-served populations is important to me, as is experiencing other cultures first hand. But I want to bring a piece of these cultures to Americans who are receptive to them, and open those who are not sure if they are. This is where international arts presenting, a buzz-phrase I’ve been using liberally as of late, comes into play.
My goal with entering this field is to bring awareness of other cultures to Americans by way of innovative and engaging performances. This serves the American audiences, who are growing a world-wide cultural awareness, as well as the international performers, who are given the chance to teach Americans about their culture and earn a living from their art, which might not be feasible in their home countries.
But is finding these international artists and presenting them in the US enough “social outreach” for my aspirations? Are the artists that are talented enough to be presented already far enough above the poverty line that the act isn’t really making a big difference?
I wonder if it would be possible to combine the presentation of talented, middle-class, international artists with their training to go back into their own communities and do the social outreach. In that way Americans would get to see foreign culture via performance art and needy foreign populations would receive the benefits of social outreach theatre. We would be teaching the artists to fish for their people, rather than giving them the meal without a means to replicate it.
A new project has been born.
This past fall I applied to graduate school. This past winter I was accepted, and this past spring I paid my deposit to attend Carnegie Mellon – Heinz College’s program in Arts Management in Pittsburgh. But I wasn’t sure I was really going to go until this week. Now I’ve finally made my decision.
In the end the decision to attend came down to cost and confidence. This might sound funny seeing as two years at CMU is going to cost me between $60-80,000. But the other option, as I laid out for myself in my mind, was to get a job in the field and go to work while re-applying and trying to find a cheaper program for next year. I got a job offer in New York City working with an agency that does exactly what I want to do, but as they were only able to pay me a living stipend, I just couldn’t figure out how to work that financially. It’s actually going to be easier (and much more comfortable) to ride on the government’s money for two years and deal with paying it back later. The hope is that “later”, with a degree, it will be easier to find a higher paying job anyway. Fingers crossed.
The other part of the equation is confidence. I’ve gone back and forth on grad school for the past four months; so many times that I had gotten to the point where I wasn’t sure which was my initial instinct and which was my convincing myself of something else – going or not going.
What I finally decided is that grad school is a scary thing. Laying down that much money on something that isn’t “essential” is a scary thing. Taking a risk to try to advance my future is a scary thing. And mostly because I’ve never seen someone close to me invest and have it turn out well. In fact, I’ve never had a role model in investing at all.
The place where I come from is blue collar working class. The adults I looked to growing up didn’t invest and they hadn’t been to grad school. Getting a college education wasn’t a choice; it was a necessity, so, going into a fair amount of debt for a college education was okay. It was an expected cost. But a graduate education seemed like a luxury to me. It seemed like an unnecessary amount of money to lay out for something that may or may not yield results. In short, it was a risk.
I’ve decided, with the help of a whole lot of patient friends, that I’m willing to take the risk of going to grad school and investing in my future. I’ve decided to have confidence in my ability to succeed and my ability to grow from blue collar world to white collar world. Or to grow, at least, from blue collar world to the world in which I want to live.
A huge thank you to everyone who’s tolerated my hemmings and hawings over the past four months as I’ve approached this decision. A huge thank you to everyone who’s given me stellar advice and lots of love. More of that will always be welcome.
Working at a luxury beach resort has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. Now that I’ve finally done it, I can reflect a bit on the experience, which is, predictably, not nearly as glamorous as it sounds.
The work of an “animator” – that is, a one whose job it is to animate and engage the hotel’s guests – is not difficult, but it is tiring. Days generally begin around 9-10 am and plow on until 12-2 am, with 10-12 of those hours requiring you to be “on”. By “on” I don’t necessarily mean working directly with the guests, but being in the public eye. This means checking your own behavior and appearance to make sure it matches the image the hotel is trying to present, lots of hellos and small talk and lots of smiling.
Daytime “work” consists of leading activities for the guests. In Turkey, I discovered, these activities are pretty standard: beach volleyball, water polo, boccia (also known as boules or petank), darts, step aerobics, water aerobics, pilates, yoga and stretching. When an animator doesn’t have a scheduled activity to lead, the remaining time is filled with what’s called “guest contact”.
Guest contact is tiring, and in the heat it can be downright exhausting. When an animation team is large there are sometimes entire days when you don’t lead an activity, and are left instead to wandering the beach, the pier and the poolside, looking for someone who a) speaks one of your languages and b) is willing to engage in conversation. In a Turkish hotel it can be hard for a non-Russian speaker (myself) to find the former and around siesta time it can be nearly impossible to find the latter. Young, female animators (again, myself) are often left with no other option than to spend hours chatting up fairly dirty-minded (and often dirty-handed) old English men or severely dirty-minded, slightly younger Russian men. To make the task more tedious, animators generally aren’t allowed to drink (they’re certainly not allowed to accept drinks “payed for” by the guests on their all-inclusive meal plans), which sometimes makes “happy and fun-loving” a difficult air to pull off at the end of a long shift. The best an animator can hope for is to make good friends with the barmen who will usually let you slip off with an unpaid-for ice cream or specialty drink (orange juice and fresh lemonade come out of your salary, so you’re stuck with coffee, tea and Coke for the summer).
Evening work is what I like to refer to as “mandatory fun”. Acrobatics and dance shows in the theatre and parties on the pier or in the disco. Animators are in charge of welcoming the guests to the show and convincing them that the marginal (and sometimes downright awful) acts on the stage are, indeed, really spectacular. We clap a lot. Some animators have been known to sleep, which I hope you can understand, since programming is bi-weekly and you can only get excited about a crappy Ukrainian rendition of the musical “Chicago” so many times.
Like the song says, after the party is the after party. The hotel I worked at had two unofficial ratings for these parties: PG-13 and R. The PG-13 parties took place on the pier and gave the illusion of being family-friendly, starting at a reasonable hour and including such (colossally environmentally unfriendly) novelties as sparklers, glow in the dark jewelry, day-glo gloves and rain ponchos (Four Seasons Party). That is, until the families realized that the lyrics to the songs the DJ was spinning still included “back it up like a Tonka truck” and “sex on the beach”.
The R-rated parties took place in the dreaded (to us anyway) Insomnia Night Club, a black hole of a disco with no ventilation and nowhere to run when the men got drunk and liberal with their caresses.
To be fair, there were always two obscenely large security guards watching over the affair to prevent too much touchy touchy, but even they can’t help the stares you know are searing into your backside as you’re dancing G-rated moves in an X-rated costume. There’s never any walk of shame because you can’t have relations with the guests (and usually you wouldn’t want to) but the next morning on the beach trying to round up players for a darts game comes close as you know all the men are remembering you in what was, effectively, your underwear.
I had one Russian guest who didn’t know any more English than the phrase, “I want you”, which he repeated over and over in a dulcet tone while stroking my shoulder at the bar one day. This guy hadn’t even seen me dance at a party; we had just played backgammon together. Sexy game, backgammon…
I’m leaving Turkey. But not really. We’re going to quote – figure something out – unquote. That’s what my friend Ferhat keeps telling me. In Turkey, when something has gone wrong and you don’t know how to fix it, first you say everything will be okay (It won’t.) and then you say you’ll “figure something out”.
As an example, last night at dinner I found a shard of glass in my dessert. Let me repeat: A shard of glass.
This hotel can accommodate 1,050 people at any given time and they all, presumably, eat three meals a day. What are the odds that if I’ve found things (big things) in my food three times (Yes, three times in the five and a half months I’ve stayed at this hotel) that a guest has found something in their food as well? I wouldn’t put money on that one if I were the management.
We kindly pointed said shard of spiky glass that had previously been in my mouth out to the restaurant manager and he kindly informed me that it was likely the malice of some evil child. I wanted to ask him how a child could break a glass at the dessert station of the restaurant, which is taller than his head, and manage to get a shard of it in my dessert, under the chocolate sauce. My Turkish isn’t that good, however, so, I just smiled and agreed. It must have been a toddler with a grudge against me and my esophagus.
In equally annoying news, the hotel management has informed me that I can no loner work here due to the Fire of Anatolia debacle. They have also informed me that they won’t pay for my flight home. This is problematic as I don’t have $900 kicking around to spend on a new flight and the hotel agreed to pay my round trip airfare. In my mind, if they want me to leave, they should buy me a ticket. And until they do, I’ll assume my leaving isn’t that important, and I’ll keep working here as was arranged.
“We’ll figure something out,” my friend keeps telling me. “What exactly will we figure out?” I keep asking him. “Something,” he repeats lamely, and that’s pretty much our conversation.
So, I’ve been kicked out of Turkey, but am stuck here all the same. Now I’m waiting to see what exactly this thing is that we’ll quote – unquote, “figure out”.
I recently finished reading a book called “Confidence” by Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School. The book outlines the habits of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, both in the corporate world and on the playing field, and analyzes how winning and losing streaks are started, continued and broken. Among the most important habits of winners and their organizations are open lines of communications, trust in others and zealous risk-taking. Losers’ habits include leaders not taking responsibility for poor outcomes, having a too firm (controlling) hand over all aspects of internal workings and the unwillingness to experiment by pursuing new directions of internal order.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time working abroad. The positions I’ve held have often been informal (coat check in an Austrian bar and theatre venue, tutor in France) but I’ve learned a lot about how different cultures function in business and negotiations, especially the last 12 months in Turkey.
My observations about Turkey are curious, considering Moss Kanter sights Akın Öngör of Garanti Bank in Turkey as a prime example of skilled leadership, contributing to a long winning streak in his company. All enterprises are not created equal, I suppose.
What I’ve discovered in Turkey is what my Cypriot Turkish-born, long-time in America friend Sabah calls “the Turkish management style”. He’s referring to the extreme hierarchy that exists within, at the very least, the two Turkish organizations for which I’ve worked, and I expect many others. The system functions with one person, usually an older male and all-powerful at the top, and a plethora of minions scurrying beneath him: fearful, unquestioning and grateful to simply have a job, but often dissatisfied with the way things work. I suspect I’m a bit extreme in this effect, but if my work life is based on terror and I’m nothing but a puppet (an analogy another Turkish friend of mine uses) I’m not going to be grateful of or stay in a job, no matter how hard up I am.
Last fall I left the Turkish dance company for which I had been working for a number of reasons. The work I had done there and the people I had met there had convinced me to go back to school for a masters in arts management to be able to work presenting such international talent to American audiences and I wanted to undertake the application process at home. I had been away from the US for nearly two years and was starting to feel ready to return. In addition, there was something that didn’t feel right about my relationship with the group’s higher ups.
I didn’t share this American viewpoint on their Turkish style of management, of course, but it sometimes felt like I was working under a dictator, or a corrupt national regime. All the dancers, with the exception of the soloists who are given preferential treatment and have a blind eye turned toward them when they knowingly and repeatedly break the rules, are afraid of the upper management. They are often unhappy at work, but stay because they see no other options for themselves. Management makes sure things stay this way, keeping the dancers under strict, often asinine house rules, doling out fines when unspoken rules are broken and ostracizing dancers and those who affiliate with dancers who have left the company after confronting the system.
In one instance, a soloist was stripped of her lead role and placed amongst the background dancers (worse for her ego than a fine or removal from the show altogether) when it was discovered she was spending her off-work hours with a dancer who had been fired for an argument with the head of the company.
In many ways I was like one of the soloists, receiving preferential treatment because I was American, and because the company wanted to exploit that fact. I was invited to dinner with all the big wigs, allowed to drink there (forbidden for the dancers) and chat with the group’s chief in a way others seldom did. He pretended to listen to me, but this, unfortunately, is where things stopped.
Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, or because I’m young, or because I don’t have ten years of experience in the field. They were keeping me close because the company saw an opportunity to use my American-ness to advance their cause. I was to book them a lucrative, publicity-earning, whirlwind tour of the US, and use my supposed American advantages to do this. But that was all they wanted. When, after numerous rejections from US festivals and promoters, I tried to give constructive criticism on the show to help it sell better in the US, I was shot down. I was, apparently, supposed to use my passport to get the gig without using the professional knowledge of American entertainment that came with it. I found myself working in a field that I enjoyed, but without the prospects of professional advancement, creative participation or workplace accountability and satisfaction. In the end, there wasn’t enough incentive to stay in this position in Turkey, and I returned to the US. Although I never heard from the dance company again after my email stating my reasons for departure, I thought I had left under fairly amicable circumstances…
This summer I find myself in Turkey again, working in the realm of guest relations and entertainment at the same hotel where I used to live and perform with the dancers. A Turkish friend from my time with the dance company got me the job and acts as my direct boss. Above hi9m is another Turk: male, always smartly-dressed, aloof and generally seen smoking a cigarette or drinking a stiff drink. He is the quintessential Turkish boss.
This man (my manager) isn’t at all unfriendly or unkind, but he’s also not open or approachable. He’s the man in charge of entertainment programming at the hotel and he’s planned all this parties to include scantily clad women. This could be his personal preference or just a sign that he knows his audience. The point here is this man has set ideas of how things are supposed to work under his reign, and his ideas don’t include women having many assets other than their bodies or his employees having ideas, needs or creative desires.
The dance company has their first show at the hotel last week and I was giddy to see my friends and surprise them with my return.
“Surprises don’t work in Turkey,” yet another of my America-residing Turkish friends warned me before I left. “They never work out.”
The night of the show I came face to face with the dance company’s director, and with the giant problem that has yet to be resolved as I write this today.
When I saw him there at the theatre I greeted the director with a broad smile. He took one look at me, then a double take. He then lifted his hand to my face and walked away without a word. Within minutes he had phoned hotel management four times, demanding that I be removed from the premises. Hotel management, abiding by the same rules of stature and submission, obliged. The dance troupe has now performed at the hotel twice and I have yet to be permitted to watch the show once, despite the fact that the director is now out of the country.
The situation saddens me, confuses me, enrages me and, most of all, frustrates me. Despite mixed reviews on the state of this country, I always believed Turkey to be better than its highly-conservative, sometimes-oppressive ties to the Middle East and fundamentalist Islam. I’ve seen modernity in this country, as well as friendship, compassion and collaboration. But now I feel at odds with bureaucratic tyranny and petty assumptions as to why I left Turkey eight months ago and why I’ve now returned.
If the dance company’s director would speak to me, I’d tell him that I left to figure out a way to better market his program in the US. I’d tell him that to everyone I speak here at the hotel I say amazing things about the company and their shows. I’d tell him these things if he would hear me.
Likewise, if I were free to give open feedback at the hotel, I’d suggest changes in scheduling, entertainment and planning that I believe would keep employees happier and make guests’ stays more enjoyable. But those are things I’m also not welcome to share, because I’m young, a new employee, a female or simply an foreigner with little spoken Turkish.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter, in her book, “Confidence”, writes, “[Garanti Bank's CEO Akin] Öngör attributed success to good people, good systems, and the harmony to perform under pressure. The first step was assembling the right team and getting them to play together.”
The organizations I have worked with in Turkey are made of good people, but they lack strong, inspired leadership. Because they lack leadership they don’t play well together, and because they don’t play well together, people aren’t happy. I’m saddened when I think that these things won’t change. I’m frustrated to be a part of them and seemingly helpless.
The news is this: I’ve officially accepted my slot at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College for next fall. The masters I’ll be* pursuing is in Arts Management and the program will cost a small fortune for two years of study in Pittsburgh. I decided on this program because its reputation was the best out of the three schools that accepted me (I applied to four.), it offers the best mix of not-for-profit and for-profit management and they have a track record of placing students into internships in the talent management business with such names as IMG and United Artists. Pittsburgh is a liveable city. Though certainly not as exciting as Chicago (Columbia College is there, which I was also accepted to.) it has an active arts and nightlife scene. (I sampled a few good restaurants while I was visiting.)
*All that being said, I’m not sure I’ll actually attend next year, and I’m taking this summer working in Turkey to figure things out. My hesitation predominantly stems from the price of the degree and two schools of people have been advising me every time I ask for direction. The schools are those that think a degree is necessary and those that think what I need to learn is better done in the field, making money rather than spending it.
So, right now what I’m doing is looking for organizations that seem to be doing exactly what I want to be doing, and sending out emails to see what my job prospects might look like in those places. I’m not spending any time on organizations that are approximations. At this point it’s all or nothing.
Two prime examples of the kind of organization I’m looking for are World Music/CRASHarts, located right in Cambridge, and Arts Emerson, still in its inaugural season, in Boston. Both of these institutions present international and innovative performing arts to Boston audiences. Apart from these two organizations I know of one or two other such groups, but am searching for more, specifically on the West Coast in California.
California is an area I’ve thought about checking out and moving to for a long while, and I figure it I’m about to undertake this great lifestyle shift, I might as well aim it towards a place I can imagine myself living in long term. As much as I love Boston, I just don’t know if the winters are for me…
Do you know of any such organizations like the ones I mentioned above, either nationally or internationally? Do you have friends or family who work in the arts or are patrons of the arts in a medium to large-size city who might of such organizations? What are your favorite places to go to see culturally diverse, innovative and adventurous performing arts? Feedback is welcome.