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Arts Impacting Life: 3 glimpses

2014-03-02 22:49:41

IMG_0449These past weeks have held plentiful reminders of the horrendous things we do to each other as people and societies. In the face of large darknesses, we often for get that ignorance and intolerance are bred and cultivated in much smaller arenas long before they grow into mass malignancy. I myself have found it difficult to find anything to write about of late, and I am one of the most pragmatically action-oriented people I know.

With this in mind, I have decided to devote this blog and the next to arts-based projects that are creating opportunities for connection and knowledge. The texts about the three projects are directly from the blog articles themselves, and the title is linked to the original. Here’s an added bonus– you can become involved in these yourself, in one way or another!

Women Artists and Wikipedia

“Many women’s arts organizations have worked to increase the visibility of women artists online.

Women Arts logo

WomenArts created our online directory of women artists, the Women Arts Network, in 2003 because we wanted to encourage women to increase their presence on the web. Any woman artist can create a free profile page on our site, and we currently have about 1,600 active profiles. We have also compiled a list of other directories of women artists. If you know of a directory that should be added to our list, please contact us.

It is important to keep adding information to our women-controlled websites, since Wikipedia has rules and a culture that will be challenging for some women artists, but we agree with the founders of Art + Feminism that we need to make sure that women artists are fully represented in this online encyclopedia that so many people are using.

Documenting women artists worldwide in all art forms is a huge task that will require input from thousands of women, but it is something that all of us can work on – either on our own or in groups. If you are looking for something to do with your friends this year on SWAN Day, this could be a great choice. If you are a teacher, this could be a great project for your students.

Art + Feminism has created some excellent Wikipedia articles to help you get started. There is an article about how to organize an edit-a-thon MeetUp group, and their own Wikipedia Meet-Up page has links to upcoming events and helpful articles about creating and editing Wikipedia listings.”

Raven promo pic

From Raven Brings the Light, with Kakeru

World Theatre for Children and Young People

This is from a Huffington Post blogpost by Lauren Gunderson.Not to sound overly grand (too late), but so much of the toxicity in this world comes from a collective draining of empathy. We don’t understand each other, and we don’t want to. But theater invites us — no, forces us — to empathize.

As my friend Bill English of San Francisco’s SF Playhouse says, theater is like a gym for empathy. It’s where we can go to build up the muscles of compassion, to practice listening and understanding and engaging with people that are not just like ourselves. We practice sitting down, paying attention and learning from other people’s actions. We practice caring.

Kids need this kind of practice even more than adults do. This is going to be their planet and they’ve got more time to apply that empathy and make a difference. Buddhist roshi Joan Halifax challenges us to actively and specifically teach children (and vote for presidents with) empathy. Why not take your child to the theater to do just that.”

“Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here”

This is holly again, speaking about this book that shares with us the incredible work of artists and performers of Muslim faith striving against the oppressions of fundamentalism. I first became aware of this amazing book and the work of some of the people profiled in it when I read a published excerpt in Theatre Without Borders newsletter. I quote from the book’s description on Amazon: “From Karachi to Tunis, Kabul to Tehran, across the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and beyond, these trailblazers often risked death to combat the rising tide of fundamentalism within their own countries.

But this global community of writers, artists, doctors, musicians, museum curators, lawyers, activists, and educators of Muslim heritage remains largely invisible, lost amid the heated coverage of Islamist terror attacks on one side and abuses perpetrated against suspected terrorists on the other.” IMG_0728 (1)

So there it is. Read the book, or add Women Artists, or support incredible theatre for children— it is with these small actions that we change the shape of a landscape or the course of a river.

Funding Olympics, Cutting the Arts

2014-02-05 14:27:57

Olympic logoIt’s Olympic time!

Here’s the crazy thing—yes, I love the Olympics. I love watching them. I love that occasionally, people I know are involved, and I can route extra hard for them. I love the power and grace of the human form focused with intention…it is so beautiful, and for me, so very artistic, and I don’t just mean figure skating.

 What an excellent opportunity for the youth of the world to see the connections between sport and art, between strength and grace! And since the Olympics are supposed to foster peace and understanding, it’s a great chance to bolster cultural coffers, and bring attention and much-needed funds to wonderful, successful cultural programs in the non-profit sector. And it could be funded by corporate sponsors!

Yeah, and I’d like a pony and nutritious gelato, thanks.

Although we have heard some news about Sochi and can anticipate shocking post-game revelations, I’d like to focus on the prior Winter Olympics, the ones in Vancouver. In a nutshell, funding streams for the arts (and other charities) were diverted to feed the Olympic machine. Yes, these funds were used in part to fund BC performers at the Games… but at the cost of funding nearly everything else. Hopefully, this re-examination will bring re-flection and re-investment!

In 2010, the Alliance for Arts and Culture revealed that 44 per cent of the arts and culture organizations that received the grants last year didn’t get them, predicted that provincial cuts to arts funding would total 92 per cent by 2011-12, which was not far from the mark. In an online interview in 2010-11, Keith Higgins, the President of PAARC (Pacific Association of Artist Run Centres) and the Director of the Helen Pitt Gallery, weighed in on these cuts:

Q – The Helen Pitt Gallery, like many small arts organizations, has been severely impacted by the cuts to arts funding. Can you describe the impacts of these cuts and what it means to the day-to-day work for these organizations?

A – In the Pitt’s case, some massive budget changes had to be made quickly if the organization was to be able to survive at all. In August 2009, the B.C. government cut off Gaming Direct Access grants, not just to the arts, but to a whole range of charities. This was a familiar Campbell action: the arbitrary tearing-up of an agreement when it somehow doesn’t suit them any more. The grants of casino revenue to charities has been used to justify the ongoing expansion of casinos, and these charities found that they had been played: their support for expansion had been bought on the basis of future benefits that now are not going to materialize.

As I said, the Pitt’s response was rapid. There are a limited number of expense items that you can cut in an artist-run organization, because we are extremely efficient: exhibitions in typical municipal galleries usually cost more than ten times what we spend. So, the lease on the gallery’s premises — this is Vancouver, so suitable space is not cheap — and salary for the Director/Curator were the only things that could be cut to compensate for the shortfall.
50% cuts were made to the B.C. Arts Council in the March 2010 budget. The consequences of those cuts are still working their way through the system, but the performing arts and literary non-profits that have already been juried are seeing 60% and 75% cuts to what was a low level of support already. Some organizations are being cut completely, and I’m now working on the assumption that as of January next year, when the juries for visual art and media art organizations have been convened, the Helen Pitt Gallery will have zero support from the B.C. Government.”

In 2011, $7 million was restored to federal funds….which brought the provincial arts spending UP to $6.50 per capita in BC, as compared to the $26 per capita national average, and the cuts/diversions to arts-funding streams were still being felt across the country. Here’s this from news in 2011:

On Monday, SummerWorks, an acclaimed Toronto indie theatre festival, announced it had lost its federal funding. The festival made headlines last year after staging “Homegrown,” a play about a convicted terrorist, a member of the group known as the Toronto 18.

In a note posted on its blog, the festival said it had received federal funding for five straight years — totalling $140,000 — and was surprised to learn it would not get more money this year.

But Flaherty says arts organizations should not set their budgets assuming they’ll get government funds.

“One thing I’d say, and maybe it’s different than it used to be, is we actually don’t believe in festivals and cultural institutions assuming that year after year after year they’ll receive government funding,” Flaherty said.


I spend a few weeks each year in British Columbia, partly to visit friends and take in the lush scenery, View in summerlandand partly as an invited Teaching Artist. Arts funding has still not been restored, and incredible projects that run the gamut from teen Shakepeare to community and after-school arts programs for at-risk teens continue to wither and die. The Legacy of the Olympics—especially considering their high-profile arts performances –should be to INCREASE art and cultural funding, not decrease it.

Will we see a positive arts legacy from the Sochi Games? If only.

And I still want a pony.

Are You the Boss/Employee You Would Want to Have?

2013-12-29 18:07:16

Shearwater Productions at a glanceAs 2013 comes to a close, many folks will reflect on work-related successes and challenges of this past year and set business goals for 2014. For many of us, looking at product quality and net earnings (or losses) is primary, whether we are theatre teachers having to make do with a smaller budget but wanting to increase performance and production values or we are independent contractors looking to streamline process without compromising quality.

For a change of pace, why not do a ‘year in review’ as a performance assessment on yourself as your own boss and employee? Most of my readers are in charge of their own work, whether as educators, project leaders, or writers/artists, and don’t have the opportunity to have structured feedback. Here’s a few quick questions to take a different look at how your work year went. May 2014 bring you and your business some peace and prosperity!

Are You a Good Boss to Yourself?

1) Set Reasonable Goals

We know when someone else is being unrealistic about what can be accomplished in a work day. We are also able to skulls of overwhelmingnesstell when we will have to give up personal/family time to accomplish the extra tasks and (hopefully) are politely vocal about negotiating through that experience. BUT how many of us use the same standards of ‘reasonableness’ for ourselves? Too often, you awesome people who fit this blog’s demographic keep adding to the list of “What MUST Be Done Today” at the expense of what would typically be personal and family time (or even sleep and eat time). Sure, everyone puts in overtime sometimes, and many people work 60 hours in a week because they need to have two jobs. Having too many days that are 18-20 hours of work or too many 80+ hour work-weeks means not enough time-investment into all of the other things that make a life. I am NOTORIOUS for doing this, and have had to actually clock myself in and out, schedule friend and family time (as in “put it on the work calendar”) and have my computer be the one projecting a movie (so I can’t go on it and work) to help myself be a better boss. PLUS, a new study shows increased downtime actually INCREASES productivity!

2) Outline Clear Expectations

Vagueness about what the task/goal is and the steps involved prompts us to grumble about laziness and lack of preparation/foresight when someone else is the boss. But when we are our own boss, we too often skimp on that step, hoping to save time by smushing it into the manifestation stage. After all, it’s all in our own brain, right? We know what we mean. Why waste the time? Yee-ah, except it doesn’t work that way. We actually save overall time when we “front load” the project by taking the time to think it out clearly, even when we are the only person involved. The Mayo Clinic suggests planning also helps reduce stress (click here to see their suggestions).

3) Be Nice

Treat yourself the way the Best Boss Ever would treat you!

Are You a Good Employee for Yourself?

1) Put in a Real Work Week

Zoe on Computer   Many of you work way too hard. BUT some of you perhaps only feel like you are putting in a real 40 hours of work time. I know freelancers who spend hours on a computer…but much of it is playing games or going on facebook. I am by no means saying thinking/brainstorming activities are not work—I am saying games, facebook, and the like are not thinking/brainstorming activities. Create job categories that are right for you (marketing, drafting, practicing, prep, etc), do an actual clock-in/clock-out for two weeks, and see how you spend your time. No matter what turns up, it will give you a clearer idea of how your time is spent and if you’re a freelancer, perhaps that will help you better price your product (I know artists that forget to count time spent buying supplies and re-imaging failed versions of product). You might also find that checking in this way increases productivity. It’s not something to do all the time, because yes, it is annoying. But when used every once in a while, it’s a useful tool!

2) Create a Road Map for Achieving Specific Goals

So ‘your boss’ has laid out some long term, short term, and immediate goals for you, written down some suggestions, and left it to you. How do you take the right steps to achieving those goals? Personally, I find it helpful to work backwards from the desired outcome (and be as specific as possible about exactly what success looks like) as though someone else were doing it. There are certain things I hate doing or avoid and other things I enjoy, and if I subconsciously imagine myself as the person doing all the steps, I tend to leave the horrible ones out, OR put them in and feel increasingly depressed to the point where it seems impossible. By imagining someone else doing the steps, I don’t miss any. I tend to write these down on a big sheet of paper, leaving spaces between. If you are a computer-note-taker, here’s an article on the top 5 idea-mapping software apps.

Then, I try to figure out details of accomplishing each bit (in a different color), including how to ACTUALLY have someone else do the heinous bits or ways to make them less heinous for myself. Sometimes a task-swap is the way to go, or sharing the cost of, say, an outreach campaign with another project leader by finding a way to link the businesses.

3) Be Nice!

As odd as it sounds, saying things like, “That is actually really well thought out” when you pick up the plan you made for yourself last week or yesterday really makes a difference. When ‘your boss’ has done a good job, say so, out loud, even if it’s under your breath. Believe it or not, the ‘out loud’ part makes a huge impact.

Wishing you all the best for 2014!!

P.S. All the photos but the mindmap are my own (thanks to Thomas Hoebbel Video-Photo), and the mind map image is a free download.

Enter Up Left with Holiday Cheer

2013-12-23 21:00:17

m&a prop 1I write this from a large house in Pennsylvania that my beloved extended family has rented for the week so that we can converge upon our newest member and rejoice in each others’ sweet, silly, insightful and rambunctious company. That we are the types which like to make our own fun or enjoy things somewhat off the beaten path has prompted me to include two links to good cheer best enjoyed in such excellent company at Christmastime.

Although Chanukah, Diwali, and Eid are all past, I also include some links to family-oriented and fun activities for each, including plays. Hopefully folks will save these links to their calendars for those celebrations next year!

So here we go with some Yuletide delights. I do love many of the holiday-themed films, but there is something about radio that captures me and feels more real. Here is a link to my favorite Christmas radio episode, the Christmas Show of 1955 of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. The rendition of “T’was the Night Before Christmas” is not to be missed. Love the genre? Here’s another link to more Christmas Radio Shows, collated by Bill Hillman.

Secondly, I simply must have some Dickens, whether that means being in a staged version, a radio version, watching a film, or simply reading “A Christmas Carol” (or excerpts). Below is the opening of this wonderful little tidbit, followed

from the Stormfax website

by a link to the work in its entirety, complete with Victorian illustrations.

“I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

Their faithful Friend and Servant,
C. D.
December, 1843.

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”

Here’s the link to Dickens (thanks Stormfax)!

Lastly, links for fun stuff to do at other light-oriented celebrations that often come this time of year:

candles 1Diwali (Hindu Festival of Lights); this year it was November 3rd.

BBC, Let’s Celebrate Diwali 

Eid al Adha, also celebration typically in the fall winter. This year “Little Eid” was in August, and “Big Eid” began on October 15:

Jordan Times, Eid is Fun


Priyo News, Comedy Play


Arab News, Comedy Plays

Chanukah/Hanukkah, which was at the end of November this year:

Untitled Theater, Plays About Hanukkah


Hanukkah Plays


PS. The Dickens image is from the Stormfax website, which is the website that houses the work itself. The other images are by Thomas Hoebbel Photography and used with permission.

Fourth Graders and the Magic of Theatre

2013-12-17 23:50:51


IMG_1094(Music plays) “The Earth is a magnet. It’s the (beat) third planet from the sun. Flowing electrons and protons/come together to make things run!” The Kid Scientists and Benjamin Franklin sing valiantly through an explanation of their thinking while the storm rages and the flying kite conducts electricity down to their home-made motor. The adults watching in the seats of the professional theatre are grinning, completely enchanted as the first group of fourth-graders performs the play they wrote—complete with important plot-driving song, thank you very much.

I am once again at the Hangar Theatre for the Project 4 performances, crouched down-stage-right near the ‘vom’, next to musician John Simon, battered script in hand for the occasional whispered prompt. This is my 17th year with the Hangar Theatre’s project in the fourth grades, and I have loved it throughout its many incarnations, performance locations, and structures. I have IMG_1075loved it when I am up at 2am and growling at my computer as I try to piece together the scene bits and improv moments the students have created; I have loved it when I am scraping my car at 7am to get to school and sleepy nine-year olds who aren’t terribly keen on an 8am acting warm-up and a theatre/science lesson; I have even loved it in moments of miscommunication and distress that compel me to call my supervisor for help and advice.

What keeps me coming back is the dynamic, intriguing, social justice-laden, mutual listening and learning process that makes the project happen. That and I fall madly in love with a couple dozen brilliant minds and wonderful souls every time.

IMG_1166Logistically, what we Teaching Artists do is first meet with the teachers, who target a specific piece of their academic content that they feel the students need to understand more deeply, and often talk about how they want the students to grow socially. We as Teaching Artists plan the arc of our lessons accordingly, each day with academic, social, and theatrical goals; each day forwarding the delicious and terrifying progression of moving from having absolutely nothing to conceiving, then writing, then rehearsing, then performing an original piece of theatre. Did I mention the kids are nine and ten years old?

I return again and again to this project because it is like magic. I am well versed in the science and social science behind the success of performance modalities as ideal teaching tools, so I am not surprised at the deep learning of the curriculum content and of language arts skills that happens. It is nonetheless a delight, anticipated and appreciated like a favorite dessert. But for me, that which strikes me with wonder anew in the way that sunsets, stars, and storms do, is their deepened compassion for each other, their growing awareness of social structures and how they can be changed, and their discovery of their own bravery. It’s pretty IMG_1134hard to perform in front of people, especially something you yourself wrote. What better circumstances to practice going forward anyway, even though you are scared, than in this gentle, fun, supportive environment? Life presents us with bullies and plenty of situations where we are pressured to keep silent in the face of something that is wrong. This project is about having an idea and finding a way to voice it—in collaboration, on paper, and out loud in front of lots of people you might not know.

My second group of fourth graders comes to the close of their show, the Kid Scientists having learned about wind, water, and solar energy with the help of various mythological gods. They sigh with relief and triumph as Zeus delivers his final lines, and musician John Simon plays part of the song they wrote. They take their places and bow all together, radiant and magical.