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Being “Unplugged”

Bed View

My husband and I sit side-by-side most mornings here drinking coffee in bed, staring at a gorgeous rising sun and reading the newspaper. On our devices. I read the backlog of blog entries from the last 4-11 months. Sometimes I tweet them. I’ve been accused of not really being on vacation, because I’m using my iPhone. [sigh] No, I’m not disconnecting myself from the rest of the world while on vacation. I spend so much time disconnected from it as is on a daily basis. It’s a pleasure to have the time to re-engage with it. In fact: last year after vacation I attempted to carry forth the morning coffee and news reading ritual throughout the year (mild success). This year I’m experimenting with not bringing my phone, also my camera, with me everywhere. No access to anything, happy haters?, BUT, no picture taking. Gotta tell you: not missing it. Don’t need to document every day at the beach. Even tested a theory that no one would notice and posted a photo from two years’s ago vacation on Facebook:

A picture from Jan 2013!

This all reminds me of the study/project I was a part of at Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History’s Museum Camp 2014 about whether the use of technology allows you to enjoy nature more. At first I was on the “screw you anti-technology people, let us Instagram if we want to” side of the debate (impartial in the study, obviously). Now, definitely not so sure.

Privilege

On my mind a lot these days (read: years) but nothing like being on the beach with your spouse and good friends in January to bring it to the forefront. It’s also primary in my thoughts because of my work on Squares. (which has been in development since fall 2013 but kicks into higher gear in 2015) and an upcoming dog & pony dc ensemble meeting to review year one of our diversity and inclusion initiative, and plan for this year’s work (year one significantly changed our landscape). I’m in the privileged position of being able take personal and organizational-based action in myriad ways to raise awareness of privilege, seek to educate myself and others, create space for dialogue in which I can listen and be heard, promote intersectional thinking, and increase the spheres of people who are openly conversing and acting for equity. (Check this recent HowlRound post, I dug it.) So, no, I am not feeling guilty or bad (ok, maybe occasionally a little) In the midst of all this sunshine, sand, and surf, but this vacation allows me important reflection time. It’s vital amidst all the upcoming activity to remind, to reinforce that this work is a journey. There is no final destination we to reach. But we must always keep moving toward it.

Work /Life Balance

Cairns on the beaches of Vieques

Two colleagues mentioned they’re working on this in 2015, one who is trying to weight “life” more and one who is trying to weight “work” more. If I asked them, my guess is both–hell, everyone–would say I weight work too much…to the point of having almost no “life.” As a person with no children, though, and who currently manifests her passion in her job, my “work” and “life” are complicatedly intertwined. But let’s pause for a moment: what does this phrase “work/life balance” mean? Life means: friends? pets? significant other? children? going to happy hour? working out? binge watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? taking a figure drawing class? all of the above?

A friend/collaborator and I were talking about another mutual friend who’s spouse is very into cosplay. If I worked at a bank, but spent all my free time and disposable income on costumes and travel to conventions, would I have a work/life balance problem? No, we determined. “dog & pony dc is your cosplay.” she declared. Yes. This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t seek out relationships with others and go for drinks, hit the gym, binge watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., or expand my horizons. I like doing those things, and they make my work and life richer, more vibrant. They balance my scales.

Multiple Intelligences

For the first time since high school I am actively trying to learn another language, American Sign Language. It terrifies me. I’m known to utter the phrase “I barely speak English,” and I don’t think people understand how much that’s actually true. I’m highly insecure about my understanding of parts of speech, grammar, syntax, and my inability to spell. I eschewed formal classes, knowing that environment didn’t serve me in the past, finagled a most excellent ASL tutor and have excellent, understanding friends and collaborators who are Deaf or ASL interpreters. None the less: I’m petrified that it won’t actually take me years upon years, it will take me never. Is it possible that I’m too old to acquire a new language? Or is my brain not hardwired to learn languages? Yes, I am doing my ASL homework on vacation but I’m also obsessing about multiple intelligences theory and the diversity of mine.

Nothing

Which is to say I thing “the ocean is beautiful,” or “am I going to fall asleep,” or “rum is good,” or “I love my husband” for extended periods of time.

Approaching Navio beach, my favorite on Vieques.

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Part of a series I am am collaborating on with the assistance of Melanie Harker and Kate Ahern Loveric under the stewardship of Howl Round / Center for the Theater Commons.

This is post “2.3”—What is our perception of ensemble-theaters and the role of audience?

ABEF Perceptions

Part of a series I am collaborating on with the assistance of Melanie Harker and Kate Ahern Loveric under the stewardship of Howl Round / Center for the Theater Commons.

This is post “2.2”—How do we define four key terms—theater, ensemble, audience, and engagement?

(Note: a full turn around the circle would me 100% of responses contained this element or category.)

ABEF Terms

Part of a series I am collaborating on with the assistance of Melanie Harker and Kate Ahern Loveric under the stewardship of Howl Round / Center for the Theater Commons.

This is the second post in a regular column exploring the junctions of ensemble theater and audience, my two paths, or rather passions, in life. I’m journeying to the convergence points of multiple paths, many previously traversed, armed with this question: how can investigating the crossover between disparate spheres provide fresh perspectives, possibly new insights? See the first post here.

And when I say “second post” I really mean the second series of posts. Inspired somewhat by the wisely-naive and endlessly-curious character Dory from Finding Nemo, I created A Big Eyed Fish (ABEF) in order to investigate every nook and cranny of the bowl I swim in, as well as the oceans beyond, for new discoveries. The logical place to start was with definitions and assumptions about the art-artists-audience triangulation. My ABEF collaborator Melanie Harker and I shaped a series of questions on Ensemble Theaters & Audience Definitions meant to be a pulse-check or a survey of the landscape. Our goals were not to draw consensus, but to highlight the many similarities and many, many differences in this collection of aggregated people, practices, and perceptions. Melanie and I then worked with our third ABEF collaborator Kate Ahern Loveric to develop a series of infographics to capture and convey the collected data. Stay tuned for more infographics later this week!

This is post “2.1”—Who participated in this poll?

Infograph: Who Participated?

This is the first post in a series I am am collaborating on with the assistance of Melanie Harker and Kate Ahern Loveric under the stewardship of Howl Round / Center for the Theater Commons. Posts on A Big Eyed Fish will inevitably wrestle with related topics, questions, and musings, but those which are part of the official “series” (like this one) will also appear here.  -rg

Robert Frost famously professed the benefits, when approaching a point of divergence in a journey, of taking the road “less traveled by.” Yet: I’ve found the travels that made all the difference for me have been on roads created from the convergence of multiple paths, merging snakelike into one another. The goal isn’t to explore undiscovered terrain, but the intersection of lands (supposedly) already traversed. How can investigating the crossover between disparate spheres provide fresh perspectives, possibly new insights?

Armed with this question, I enter into a year-long quest exploring the junctions of my two paths, or rather passions, in life: ensemble theater and audience.

One.
I possess a self-described “healthy obsession” with the triangulation of art, artist, and audience. In other words—I am endlessly fascinated with the relationships formed around a work of theater by artists and audiences. This fascination guides, even “dictates,” everything in my career as a theater artist, producer, and administrator. Luckily I found people to share this obsession with: the eleven other company members of dog & pony dc and the host of artists with whom we collaborate.

d&pdc is an ensemble-based company in Washington, DC focused on devising performances that provide audiences new ways of experiencing theater. We weren’t audience-fixated at first. d&pdc was initially founded as an ensemble company focused on remixing classical texts into contemporary performances. My two co-founders and I wanted to increase collaboration between all the players in the theatrical production—producers/administrators, artists, and audience. We believed ensemble-based collaboration would not only create stronger, more complex productions, but it would amp up the intensity and immediacy of shows in performance.

Over the course of a handful of productions, the audience experience quickly emerged as d&pdc’s raison d’etre. We had always wanted our shows—whether original works or productions of previously written scripts—to shake up the stagnant theater-going experience, aiming never to take the audience’s presence for granted. With every show we were inclined to increase the audience’s agency and participation: first we acknowledged the audience’s presence; then we casually interacted with them; then we moved them around the theater; invited them to create their own characters; requested (almost required) they perform with us—literally assigning the audience parts integral to the show’s narrative arc. We came to view the audience as our final collaborator in shaping productions; so much so that the company and board almost immediately came to agreement at our annual retreat last year that one of our defining values is “the audience completes our ensemble.” Our collaborative, ensemble process transitioned to becoming the means to our “audience integration” ends.

When d&pdc began dialoging at the national level we were surprised by how broad and inclusive our definition of “ensemble” was in comparison with our colleagues. While we don’t operate at the “consensus” end of the collaboration spectrum, we value transparency and inclusivity at all points in the production process from all participants and the audiences’ experience is the central component of our devising process. As we plan our company’s organizational development and artistic growth, we’re trying to figure out—where do we fit into the spectrum of ensemble theater? What can we learn from our colleagues? What do we have to share? How can we make stronger work? And, most importantly, how can we alter artists’ and audiences’ expectations for theatrical events in DC and the country? 

Two.
I see myself as an artist of two “types”: 1) a maker of theatrical experiences that are conversational in nature, and 2) a maker of interpretive opportunities around performances that build community. As much as my devising, directing, and performing is affected by my art-artist-audience, so too is my interest in engagement initiatives. My enthusiasm ignited quietly and smoldered throughout a twelve-year career in arts education and community-arts projects in regional theater.. It fully manifested and unleashed during my time at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company leading the conceptualization and launching of their “connectivity” innovation. I served as the first Connectivity Director at a critical point in the emergence of the “audience engagement” field in regional theaters: social media became mainstream, “marketing departments” widely began reframing as “engagement departments,” and dramaturg-led audience engagement activities (e.g. post-show discussions) peaked in popularity.

At Woolly, I submerged myself in shaping systems that would allow the theater to harness the power of its art and the resources of its city to reposition theater itself as a center of discourse. I sought to develop processes that would be repeatable and yet yield results unique to each production, and involve many voices (staff, artists, current audience, future/potential audience, community members with a stake in the conversation shows teed-up). But as engagement became a leading buzzword, it remained almost exclusively on the lips and in the minds of administrators—and select administrators at that. In the past few years the conversation about audience and their engagement with and around the art has not been dominated by the artists making the work or the audience that takes it in. This feels like playing a football game without your receivers, most of the coaching staff, and another team.

What are the lines of communication between artists, arts leaders, and audiences? Why are artists/leaders making the art that they do? How is this vision translating to shared sense of purpose in organizations? With audiences?  With connection to communities?

One + Two = ?
At the 2012 TCG conference, Howard Shalwitz examined the “innovative” concept of a shared sense of purpose around productions in American theater, making a case for increased collaboration between artists and institutions in play development and productions. Ensemble-based companies responded to the resulting benefits Shalwitz listed with a fairly resounding “but of course! it’s why we chose this method of creation.”

I am curious: do ensemble-based companies have this shared sense of purpose? They are primed and inclined toward artistic collaboration and exchange already, aren’t they? But who is involved in the production process and at what stage (particularly for devising ensembles)? How does process affect project? What is the relationship between the makers and the receivers, the artist and audience? (Is there one?) How do your “art,” “artist,” and “audience” triangulate?

As I seek to define the uncharted land dog & pony dc has inhabited, I need to survey the vast landscape around me—to learn about the transitioning relationships between ensemble companies, the communities they’re based in, their impetus for creating, the people they create for, the manner in which they shape their experiences, and how all of this ultimately impacts the work they make. For myself and for my ensemble, beyond naming my healthy obsession with the triangulation of art-artist-audience as an ensemble theater maker, I must interrogate and share.

Care to help me on my journey?

Take five minutes to complete my Ensemble Theater & Audience Definitions Poll here.