Friday, June 25, 2010

The Real First Day of Summer

Many people believe that summer starts with a day on the calendar, hot sultry afternoons, and changing your wardrobe from black to white. I, for one, always need to be reminded that the calendar has turned. My sense of time has struggled to attach itself to a series of numbers and, while I get the whole clock thing from day to day, calendars seem to exist on a project to project basis, instead of year round like normal people. You'd think then that weather would be a good clue, but where we live strange weather can happen at any given moment, like snow in July or a heat wave in April, so that's no good. I have yet to change my wardrobe and acknowledge fashion in any sense of the word, so I have never really understood the whole white and black thing, or obeyed it, wearing whatever pants look comfortable and are relatively clean.

So I have developed another way to tell that the seasons have changed...the passage of children.

 I think most parents and children know this: summer really begins when the last shoe has returned from school, when the first morning has arrived that you don't have to struggle to get everyone's lunch into their backpack, when your children beg to wear their pyjamas all day. That's summer.

I can remember how summer seemed to stretch into eternity. In a good way. My neighbourhood friends, my brother and I would play on our porch, make forts in the escarpment, and eat snacks at a different house every day. There was nothing like playing all day, living as far out of the adult world as was restful, relaxing and a great break from school. Quite frankly, I miss it, and I sometimes wonder if that is not the true experience we try to recreate on our vacations.

I hope to be able to find a way for my children to have that experience, but as most people know it's hard these days. We live in a time when children are hyper-supervised and highly programmed, set on various tracks for success in the hope that they will be the next world is difficult to even find people to play with and there is always pressure to live up to the standard...and, I'm afraid of bears.

So lots of excuses, but I hope that starting today, as the last shoe has returned from school, we will be able to carve out a fun, relaxing summer. And I truly hope it will be fun and relaxing for me as well!

So it begins. Wish me luck, and happy first day of summer to you all!

Friday, June 11, 2010

See anything new?

Ta DA! Oh, how I like to change things up once and a while. I just tried the new blog designer and it is not only easy, it's also fun. Now, back to work on a few things today...grant applications, and poetry writing. I have been neglecting my musical and for that I feel terribly guilty, but I did need some perspective. I just know that when I go back to it I will see it with a pair of fresh, honest eyes. I'm less likely to hate everything or love everything (which causes me to keep/trash at random.) So...less guilt right? More work done. Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Art vs. Money

Ahhh, one of the eternal questions, what makes something art? Does selling it or being popular "cheapen" art or cause the art itself to be lost?

This is one of a number of questions that I have been trying to work out for a long time.

In University we were taught about "for profit" and "not-for-profit" models in theatre. Basically, these are two separate worlds, one, focused on pleasing share holders, has a tendency to look at work through the lens of profitability...will this show sell tickets...the other, strives to choose works based on how good they are, not looking at the bottom line. In theory there is a strong line drawn between these two groups one group is focused on money, the other on pure art. We often further divided these two groups by claiming that "for profit" was mostly entertainment (and by entertainment (imagine a sneer on the word) we meant poorly conceived slop designed to part people from their money with as little effort as possible), while "not-for-profit" was pure art. While exceptions were given there was always a connection between selling tickets and the absence of art. Not surprisingly, wanting to be part of the for-profit world in any form was looked down upon, and as a result a lot of the streams of theatre that were more "popular" were seen as second rate and "entertainment." So, comedy, musical theatre and even plain story telling were not encouraged.  Also, many of us had serious guilt and problems when entering the work force. Did we sell out? Should we live more penitent, monk like lives? Why was our devotion to art not enough? And why, oh why, has our audience deserted us? As I see it, part of the problem is found in the practicality of art vs. money ("not-for-profit" vs. "for profit" models) and the resulting definition of art:

1) Making art, while you love it, is also a profession. You do this to live. You need to get paid in order to eat, sleep in a decent place and even keep the physical building that houses your art over your head. In either model this is a reality that must be dealt with. Art isn't penance. It's a profession. At some point you must consider making money on a show. If this is true than making money cannot in and of itself negate art, also not making money does not prove that you have made art.

2)We are assuming that we can define art by money.

3)You need an audience, so you need to sell tickets. Is theatre actually theatre without an audience? In my opinion I don't think so. The audience is, in a sense, the final collaborator. The show is not alive, it is still in rehearsal, until it is in front of those wonderful eyes. Guessing what they'll like is hard, you don't get to pick who your audience is, and frankly tastes change from day to day, but there isn't anything wrong with trying to please them. Maybe it's a bit like a marriage, you want to be there for them, laugh with them, cry with them, talk about important things, you want them to appreciate you, love you and, I think, you should want to love them. I don't think it would be good to pretend that you are only dating for the rest of your life (you know, spend big bucks on a fancy car, go out on the town, pretend that everything in the world is solved by having a good laugh and a little romance) it would feel fake after a while. When something important came along it wouldn't really matter. Just like something crafted only for entertainment. But a good marriage has a little of the "dating" moments in it, roses, date nights, vacations, romance, laughter. It's not wrong, it's necessary, sometimes the way you can deal with problems is to forget them for a while. That's ok. On the other side of the coin you want to talk about things that are important. Try to figure out how to solve difficult situations, sometimes calling them on a bad decision before they get hurt. After all, you love them, you want them around. But you wouldn't want to mope around all the time, only talking about terrible issues, yelling at your spouse every time they came into the room. A little fighting clears the air, sometimes shows that you care, but fighting all the time, ignoring their wishes, alienating them? That's how marriages end. That is, I think, what has happened with our modern theatre, we fight a lot, we push our audience around, we alienate them on purpose (don't believe me, check it out, there is an actual form of theatre called alienation) there's no fun, no romance and so our audience has left us, the only thing they are interested in doing is dating us because at least there they can find the possibility of caring.

4) Both sides must care about money and about the interests of their audience at some point. We need to live, so we need to get money, so we need to sell tickets, so we need an audience. All that is really left is deciding what priority each thing we need will get...and then deciding how we are going to make it happen. Clearly, these cold calculations aren't pure Art, in and of themselves. We cannot allow this process to define for us what art is.

 Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this Art vs Money thing has been going on for quite some time, since the early 1900's at least. My husband bought me a book for my birthday (told you I was crazy about art) that has essays on theatre from an old magazine called "Theatre Arts Magazine". I wanted it because it had articles by Konstantin Stanislavsky, Lee Strasberg and Michael Chekhov but I discovered that it contained some insight into the roots of the whole art/money argument and even some insight into film vs. theatre. (And, for anyone interested in design, it was the start of lighting so lots of interesting back and forth on that.) It was interesting to hear those arguments at their genesis, given how, a century later, we are living with the results.

I'll likely talk about this a lot going forward as it has been rumbling around in my head for years now. For anyone interested I have found this particular book on Amazon (I know I'm always looking for such things.)  I'll eventually get round to talking about a few others that have helped formed these ideas...but here's the first one.

Although...I have the paperback version of this book so it's not nearly that expensive! I'm sure you may find it around the site if you look, or there's always the library! (one of my absolute favourite places, I know, I'm a nerd.) If you want to borrow it from me you may have to wait. I'm still busy working my way through to the end...
Til then!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Elephant Poops Children


This just in.
Reports of a child eating menace have flooded our newsroom. A large elephant posing as a piece of playground equipment has been spotted around the city. It's appearance has co-incided with the modification of children at these playgrounds. Children, believing this creature to be an ordinary slide, have entered the elephant only to return to their parents completely altered.

Mrs.Rowena Herfblocken of Littlesnoz had this to say, "My little Tommy used to be such a quiet boy. He always came home from school and sat in the corner, humming quietly to himself. Never was any trouble. Now, since the elephant...He has changed. I never know where he is. He's always running around, jumping on the furniture, wanting to go back to the "park" and "his elephant" and...worst of all... all he talks about is poop."

Citizens are advised to contact the nearest SPCA, keep their children indoors, and remain calm if they happen to see this creature.

We will keep you updated with further stories on the hour.

I saw this just the other day on one of my favorite sites, Apartment Therapy (which they received from Dark Roasted Blend) and I just had to share. Check out the slide! Many of the other playgrounds were in serious disrepair but this one is just plain funny. I know a lot of kids who would love to be "pooped" out. (and a lot of parents who wish their kids were pooped before they were.) Anyway, here's the link.

Elephant Bum

Monday, June 07, 2010

New Directions

Every once in a while I look back on my little blog and think about posting again. It's a short thought because, while I did love doing it, I keep feeling like I don't have a lot to say, at least not a lot to say about my daily life. Some of you may know but I've been hard at work this last year writing a actual honest to goodness musical, from scratch. The tricky thing about writing something that huge is that, if you are me anyway, you spend much of your time not liking the stuff you are churning out and wishing you could say it much better, which in turn does not lead to me writing other things. However, my first draft is finally done and I am a little more objective so I finally feel like putting together an average post.

Also, I feel like I finally understand a few things...cottage cheese for instance. Salty, creamy, chunky and cold it just works on a hot day. Boy, am I glad I got that out of the way.

Anyhow, back to what I understand.

I have been poking away at some of my old writing and finally, after at least four drafts and much thought, I have figured out how to fix my old An Architect's Tower story. If you have read my old story you will notice that about half way through I went wildly off the tracks and veered straight into my old University mentality, namely, it isn't a story of importance unless it is about something "Important." A love story (which, like it or not was where I was going) was not good enough, I had to find somewhere else to go. You know.... abuse, horrific family life, race relations, war, sexuality or any other capital I "Ideas." If you got that far in my story you know exactly what I am talking about.

Part of the problem was I had mixed up my themes. I started my story thinking it was about one thing, how Antoni Gaudi came up with the idea for his snail shell stairs in the bell towers, and it ended up being more about Antoni and Beatriz and a final chance at forgiveness. Maybe that happens a lot to other authors. Maybe it just happens a lot to me. All that matters is that I was, frankly, annoyed with my characters for moving out of the role that I had originally given them. (I only put Beatriz in so that she could give him a snail shell from his childhood. I never really intended that they would hang out and fall in love. The nerve!)

Well, just few days ago the coin finally dropped. I understood how to fix it. How, you ask?
I'll try to explain:

1. I gave up trying to talk about something "Important" and focused instead on what was important to these characters. What did they want from the other people in the story? Why did Beatriz come to Barcelona that day? (It turns out, old dying women do not take their first day trip ever to the city just to deliver snail shells and make my life easy.)

2. Ahh, the value of rewriting. I used to think that stories, novels, poems and plays were born on the wind of pure inspiration. Either they began life as perfect specimens or were utter failures. I really don't think so any more. The first draft, which you have read here, really just served as a blueprint, lining out the characters, giving direction to the themes, perhaps even identifying some useful symbols. Case in point; I thought I was writing a story on the theme of artistic revelation. But what I was really writing about, was love and forgiveness. I didn't want to talk about that! But apparently, in order to write this story, I had to. To get there I had to rewrite the whole last half...several times. I was shocked. I had always thought rewriting (if you had to do it) consisted of fixing your punctuation and rearranging moments. Apparently not.

3. I decided to "preach to the converted." Perhaps you'll understand this, perhaps you won't but it helped me a lot. I read an interview from the playwright who wrote "Angels in America" and he said that as an artist you can't change anyone's mind about things, that's not your job, your job as a writer is to present new takes on old situations. You have to essentially talk as though everyone already agrees with you. You have to assume that readers or viewers will come along with you, not badger them to take the trip and clobber them with your ideas. (My words, he said it better.) Granted, you have to be clear in your descriptions and plot the ideas, just don't preach at people hoping to convert them to an opinion! (BTW, I wasn't actually trying to "convert" you, I just thought that this was how you write about "important ideas." Turns out I was wrong.)

Long and short of it is something I have known to be true for a while. For the record, I have never wanted to be a pastor. I have always seen what I do as being very different. Even so, many people have insisted that artists essentially do the same job. After all, we both have ritual and present things in front of a gathering of people which, presumably, are interested in what we have to say. I have never been really able to explain what the difference was but I think now I can put at least part of this concept into words.

We both, at our best, deal with truth. Not opinion (even though I am very opinionated) but truth. Who really cares about opinions and advice anyway? I know I disagree with more than half of the stuff I hear and eventually I reject 3/4 of my own opinions. For instance, I'm not a big fan of Paula Abdul now...but for about two weeks when I was fifteen she was the best song writer and singer in the world. Really. In the end there isn't anything worth talking about in a public way unless there is some honest to goodness truth to it. Truth in the absolute sense, not in a relative way like "it was true for me at the time." For instance, if a character lies in a story there are consequences to that lie. If you ignore that as a writer your story feels as though it has "holes" in it. You've ignored something (truth: lies have consequences) and it's obvious. I suppose it could work to your advantage if you meant to work against that rule but the rule still exists, it doesn't cease to be true. (In fact, you might be able to build tension that way.) Or, if a painter wants to paint a flower (and have it seen as a flower) they have to obey certain truths about line, form and the use of colour or it just won't work. We won't see the flower. (My old theatre professors used to urge us to find a "universality" to our stories...I guess truth isn't a cool word because what he was talking about is often the same thing.) However, a good pastor doesn't just chat about it, he dispenses Truth whole, tangibly, in word and sacrament. For instance, he doesn't just talk about forgiveness, he gives it. On the other hand, as an artist, I take truth apart, creating a vessel on paper, canvas or stage for some small piece of it and trying my best to represent truth (create it, craft it, imitating what I see and feel) so that others can see it. In a way I get to show the effect of truth, what it does. I can show forgiveness, and the effects giving or not giving forgiveness can have, but I can't give it. I can also show horrible things, consequences, but thankfully I can't give consequences either. So, I get to deal with all the truth in the world and it's effects....That is, if I manage to do it well.

Long and short: You can see from my old story I was definitely trying to tell everyone my opinion, and even that got mixed up. I should just stick with truth and showing, not explaining.

So, anyway what I would like to do with my blog going forward is to show some of the "first draft wobbles" so that people can see a little of my process. I hope that it might help someone else who is learning to write and I also hope that you can watch me grow too...although I have a feeling I will likely forget everything I've learned with the next story. After reading interviews with other authors I'm pretty sure that's how it goes. If I do, I hope you will refer me back to this page before I ride off into the sunset on my high horse. Please.

On another note, I should have my finished story ready to go soon along with a book of poems. I hope to publish these as ebooks or through Lulu or some such thing...hopefully by the end of the month! We'll see. I'll keep you posted.