Mucking About

Hello Everyone:

In my recent show, Starting from the Wrong Place, which I am happy to say, sold out and was a satisfying success, Neal Hellman and Adam Stanton were musicians who joined me in the second monologue. Their music brought a deepening and beauty to my words that enhanced and enriched the piece without overwhelming it.

But it didn’t start out easily for me: I usually work alone, so this was a new adventure. I remember one of the first rehearsals: Neal had worked hard and written a great deal of music, and I thought I had my piece memorized. But when I sat down next to Neal and he started playing, the dulcimer was loud and only about two feet away from my left ear and suddenly I couldn’t remember my lines, and the music seemed jarring and threw me off and I couldn’t see how it was going to work and, and, and . . . I started getting anxious and frustrated. Well, what to do. Well, of course, take it out on the dulcimer. Interior monologue: I hate the fucking dulcimer. Well, if you saw the show, you know it all works out fine in the end. And if you didn’t –– well it all worked out fine in the end. More than that. I came to love what Neal offered to my work. I/we just had to get past that first day, and I had to sit further away, and learn to interact with the music, not pretend it wasn’t there. The minute I understood that, everything started to work.

And then we added in the sax. And, damn if the same thing didn’t start up all over again. At first I couldn’t see how it was going to work and I was ready to pull the plug. But then, suddenly Adam’s music connected with Neal’s and then they both connected with my words and suddenly a little magic. And we were all surprised that a sax and a dulcimer could be so beautiful together. Who knew?

Point #2

Be patient with yourself. And, I was reminded over and over by my director Bill Peters, to enter into a relationship with the music. To turn to it and interact. How often in our creative work, do we just want it to work out without having to deeply engage somehow? It’s odd, because that deep engagement is what is so satisfying, but we live in an age and a time when we are constantly being pulled into  “continuous partial attention,”(http://lindastone.net/qa/continuous-partial-attention) and it is harder and harder to settle down and settle in. At least for me. But the moment we get quiet within, and ENGAGE, then the magic can happen. And that’s what worked here.

Which brings me to point #3

Sometimes it is important to get help, especially in the areas where you don’t shine. It’s ok not to know and understand everything. I can’t design flyers to save my life: I am a good artist, but have no design sense on the page. So, I hire someone who is good at that and let her take over and then I can go about doing what I do well.

I had a professor at UC Irvine (the late Robert Blanchon), who said to me once: Your job as the artist is the have the ideas–you don’t have to have the expertise in every technical part of executing the final product. This was a new concept for me and it has been so useful. If you bake terrific cakes, it doesn’t mean you also have to know how to grill well. Someone else might help you with that. Or, if you want to try it, be prepared to make messes, to throw some of it away ‘cuz it doesn’t always turn out well. But get in there and try things. Muck about. Be surprised. And let yourself have fun. By the way: I love the dulcimer now. And the dulcimer with a sax—oh yum.

on Danger

I’ve been thinking about a quote by Toni Morrison, from her book, Sula:

In a way, her strangeness, her naïveté, her craving for the other half of her equation was the consequence of an idle imagination. Had she paints, or clay, or knew the discipline of the dance, or strings; had she anything to engage her tremendous curiosity and her gift for metaphor, she might have exchanged the reslessness and preoccupation with whim for an activity that provided her with all she yearned for. And like any artist with no art form, she became dangerous.

Idle imaginations              lack of form(s)                 danger,            not just depression, or anxiety    a torch the lights the wildfire, or a knife that kills and skins a cat and pins it to the wall. No good comes of this kind of “dangerous.”

How then to find form(s), to create work that is dangerous in another way: dangerous in it’s audacity (which may mean its subtlety); in its honesty, its breath taken in

( inspiration )

its willingness to  surprise          to changes             to wiggle and slouch

to face not only the  saber-toothed tigers of oneself, but all those screaming hungry ghosts of not self.

OK then: Here’s an exercise for today:      write something,( or dance, or paint, or stain glass, whatever medium you would like), in which you explore something that is absolutely forbidden for you to explore––fucking your mother for example. If that just sent a chill through your stomach we are on the right track. The late, great writer, Grace Paley, once said that whenever she got stuck somewhere in writing a short story, she would just drop in a horrible character and find out what they’d do.

I once explored the psyche of a torturer in my performance, THREE: a risky, irreverent and curious look at the things that keep us awake at night, I am horrified by torture and it was frightening to enter in to such a person, yet it ended up bringing great depth to my performance. The late writer, Tillie Olson, just came to mind. In her classic work, I Stand Here Ironing, (I read this about a hundred years ago and I haven’t thought of it in years), the action is internal, fragmented, the overt action is a woman ironing, how boring is that, in fact, I haven’t ironed anything in a year so maybe we should talk about dusting, and yet so much is explored and discovered. You do not have to think of something horrible to investigate, even the banal can be forbidden (I know someone who will not allow herself to read  People magazine, or watch American Idol-– go, go local boy, James Durbin!). Pick something; enter in; find out what happens.    Risk this kind of danger.

And happy spring.