In the past week, many of my friends and colleagues finished their master’s or bachelor degrees. I’ve seen so many happy and heartfelt messages on Facebook and Twitter– so many great memories being made. I’m so happy for all of them. I know all too well the toil that goes into earning a master’s degree. It seemed appropriate that at this time I write my valediction for those artists and performers who are graduating from conservatories and performing arts academies this month. There is one question above all else that I wish someone had asked me when I donned cap and gown several years ago, and today I’ll put it to you.
Now that you are a graduate, how will you connect to the lives of other people?
After graduation, when the honeymoon is over, your calligraphed degree is framed on your wall and the cap and gown have been packed away– you will begin making plans for the future. I hope that you will ask yourself this question and you’ll really consider how you’ll connect to others.
It can be very easy to focus on the I, Me and the Myself. You must do so in order to seek financial security, to realize your dreams, and make grand plans for your future. But as an artist or performer, you must give consideration to how you will connect your artistic work with other people. The longer that you wait to get your art into the public, to perform for audiences, to put your finely honed skills and cultivated talent into the real world– the harder it will be as time goes on and the more hesitant you will become.
Class of 2013, I want you jump in feet first. I want you to go buy a megaphone if you have to and start getting people’s attention. You aren’t in school any longer– and that is a great advantage to you. Watch, listen, and observe people interact with the world around you for any and everything that will lead you to inspiration. Keep your finger on the pulse of society and culture and use your observations to guide your plans for the future.
Build as many relationships as you can to other artists, and people. Network until there is no one you don’t know (that’ll keep you busy!). Keep your family ties strong– you’ll definitely need them later. Talk about your ideas with other people until you are breathless. When you get exhausted, take a nap (but only a short one) then get out there and start connecting again.
Do your best to avoid isolation, except when your creative soul needs it. Constantly consider how your creative work will be received by your audiences and by the public. Your career as an artist, a musician, an actor, a playwright, a composer, a dancer— is eternally tied to public opinion. Therefore, you must be too.
When you consider connections to other people, you subconsciously understand that your creative work is not for you and you alone. Your music, choreography, plays, performances, and writing will be experienced by others and interpreted by those whom you’ve never met. My friends, if you never fail to consider your impact on other people’s lives, then you will stay on the right path.
In a captivating performance on Wednesday night, Eunbi Kim and Laura Yumi Snell crafted a new kind of performance art, a new kind of presentation format for live classical music and a new message for contemporary performing artists. With the spell-binding production of Murakami Music, Eunbi and Laura made it clear that if you are willing to take big risks– your art will thrive.
It’s taken me several days to begin to write this review (for lack of a better term) of their performance. I’ve been thinking about the experience, what I took away from it, and how in the world I would try to explain it to you. I knew that a simple recap would never do it justice. This post is going to be much more detailed than other reviews I’ve done; for when I get the opportunity to write about something that absolutely embodies the core ideals of Tuxedo Revolt, I have to be able to share it with all of you.
When Eunbi first told me about her idea for Murakami Music, I featured the concept in a post back in January. If you aren’t familiar with this project or need a refresher– click here. Last week’s performance took place at The Cell Theatre in Chelsea. It was the perfect venue, living up to its definition as a 21st Century Salon. I must give a great deal of credit to the founding artistic director of the Cell Theater, Nancy Manocherian for her vision for such an innovative, elegant and multi-functional performance space. For a hybrid music/drama project like Murakami Music, the Cell provided a fresh and blank canvas for Laura and Eunbi to explore throughout their performance. But now— onto the performance itself.
Merely listing the order of events, pieces played, and highlights of the evening isn’t appropriate. I found Murakami Music to be so intellectually stimulating that I realized I would need to analyze the performance like a painting, or a piece of literature. This was no concert– it was a full-out experience.
When you consider that the project was based on passages of Murakami’s writings, combined with a performance of musical selections referenced in his novels, a book reading with musical examples is the first thing that comes to mind. The project’s director Kira Simring anticipated this perception and skillfully transcended it. As the program began, artist LauraYumi Snell read from a copy of Murakami’s book– as we might have expected. Then, as Laura continued to recite passages from the novel, Eunbi began to delicately introduce the solo piano into our field of perception. Laura continued to read aloud, but gently closed the book, all the while still reciting Murakami’s text. The dramatic narrative from the text then took on a life of its own. With flawless transition, our descent into the world of Murakami Music had begun.
This performance was focused on engaging the audience at all times. Murakami’s texts, so skillfully dramatized by both Laura and Eunbi, shared a symbiotic relationship with the music of Chopin, Debussy, Prokofiev and other composers whose music was featured in the performance. Spoken word and live music gave meaning and context to each other. Audience members who had never read the works of Murakami were introduced to his world of dual meaning and pensive emotion through beautiful music with similar dramatic properties. Audience members who were not familiar with solo piano music were introduced to it in way that they could begin to understand its emotional depth as it echoed the emotions of the unfolding drama.
For the music-must-stand-alone-as-its-own-art-form critics who are reading this, I must say that Eunbi and Laura created a performance where both music and drama took equal roles. The music, brilliantly executed by both Eunbi and Laura, was in no way impeded by the precisely planned and well chosen texts they also presented. Under the gifted guidance of Kira Simring, the pair used both music and drama to appeal to the senses of sound, sight, and spatial awareness. As an audience member, I was on edge waiting for what was to come next.
Transitions between scenes and musical selections were handled flawlessly and the performance never lost its momentum. I am most critical of transitions between events when I attend performances. These are the moments when audience members are not lost in their own thoughts, but rather present with you and in the moment. Transitions present a golden opportunity to introduce new themes, new ideas and new energy. Too often, transitions seem like TV commercial breaks, interrupting the flow of a performance and flat-lining the energy of the overall experience.
Murakami Music reminded me of why the tradition to hold applause until the end of a performance came to be in be first place. Once upon a time, musical performances were so captivating to audiences that no one dared to release the energy or flow of a performance until the event was truly finished. Audiences didn’t know what to expect as the next great work began to unfold. Finally, at the end of the performance, the moment came for the audience to express appreciation for the performers and to release through applause the energy that was building within each audience member throughout the performance.
As the final tableau in Murakami Music drew to a close, I glanced around at my fellow audience members. I saw young and old on the edge of their seats, leaning forward, captivated and ready it burst into applause. When the final note of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 2 in d minor, op. 14 sounded, we the audience, finally had our moment to thank the artists who performed for us. It was truly a genuine exchange of gratitude.
When I am able to attend such a great performance, I am inspired to keep writing this blog. I am refreshed and reassured that through adaptation and innovation, live performing arts can still be socially relevant and meaningful to audiences. With its solo piano and stage absent of scenery and props, Murakami Music brought to my mind images from the great American playwright Thornton Wilder‘s Our Town. When the audience is challenged to use its imagination, but is guided to do so, there is a freshness to the performance and each audience member walks away with a unique and memorable experience.
I’m reminded of a line from Our Town spoken by the character Emily Webb, “Live people don’t understand, do they? They’re sort of shut up in little boxes, aren’t they?”
In Murakami Music the audience shared in an emotional journey together. We heard live music and spoken words. We saw expression on the faces of the performers which led to an expansion of our own sense of empathy. And for just a little while, we weren’t shut up in the little boxes of ourselves. As an audience we shared in the experience together, and it became ours.
Congratulations to Eunbi Kim, Laura Yumi Snell, Kira Simring and the Cell Theatre for a performance that was truly in the in the spirit of Tuxedo Revolt.
- Haruki Murakami’s new novel reaches 1 million print run in one week (japandailypress.com)
- You: New Murakami novel tops 1 million (japantimes.co.jp)
- Haruki Murakami’s new release: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki (themindsplace.wordpress.com)
You can’t help but smile a little when you see the tell-tale signs of Spring. More daylight is to be enjoyed, the trees are heavy with buds just waiting to blossom, and you can see the little shoots of green pushing right out of the mud. Spring is a time of renewal and also for contemplation of the future. There is a sense of inevitable possibility and imminent change that fills the air every time you walk outside your door. Maybe it is time for us to lend a feeling of possibility to our careers in the performing arts as well?
It is time to look forward and not on the past. We must innovate and move into uncharted territory– both as individuas and as performing arts organizations. But rather than letting apprehension get in our way, let’s embrace a spirit of discovery and exploration. Let’s challenge each other to be more innovative than any other artist in our respective disciplines. Let’s focus on being problem solvers and strive to always present at least three possible solutions to situations encountered with which we disagree.
This spring, I encourage you to invest yourself in your performance and in your audience. Set aside time to read and research new methods of performance. Think big and set large goals for yourself in the upcoming performing season. Make lists like crazy, collaborate with friends, arrange to meet new colleagues; do whatever you need to do to get your creative wheelhouse turning.
Most importantly this spring, I urge you to think about what you can do in your upcoming performances to make strong connections with your audience. There is no one way to go about strengthening the relationship with your audiences and you should feel free to experiment with all kinds of audience engagement ideas. Brainstorm on this by yourself and with your friends and colleagues. Imagine how you can make stronger connections and then put those plans into action on you performances in the coming months.
As a performing artist, you are going to face opposition. Sometimes it can be constructive, sometimes you may want to crawl under a rock. Criticism may come from others, and more often than not, it may come from within you. When you are faced with criticisms coming at you from many sources at once you have a choice: either be blown away or lean into the wind.
That’s right, you have the power to decide how you will let criticism affect you. Most people don’t know this. For some reason, so many artists immediately defer to their critics rather than simply not accept the criticism. Very few of us know that we don’t have to validate someone else’s criticism. Today, we’ll look at some powerful tools with which you can protect your artistic growth and integrity in a storm of tough criticism.
4 Ways to Deal With Criticism:
1. Consider the source. This is best way to protect yourself from 90% of negative criticism. Don’t let people who have no influence over you or your career make decisions for you. Ask yourself, does this person have a personal stake in your long-term success? If the answer is no, then don’t give them the time of day. If the answer is yes, move to step no. 2…
2. Strip the criticism of emotion. Take out a sheet of paper, and write the criticism down. For example, after slaving away for a lesson, your teacher might say to you–
“Please don’t come to your lesson without having looked at your music. Don’t waste my time.”
Now let’s get rid of the emotional content:
“Please don’t come to your lesson without having looked at your music. Don’t waste my time.”
3. Take the “meat” of the criticism and explore it. Clearly there was a misunderstanding about how much work you put into your lesson preparation. This is where you make your decision– either you kill your momentum by letting your teacher upset you or you turn this into an opportunity for your growth.
4. The last step in the process is to be proactive. Harsh criticism can become toxic to us if they go unchecked for a long time. They sit in the dark recesses of our self-concept and seep out negative thoughts. Don’t allow the situation to get like that! Confront your critics. Ask them to explain themselves and fully outline their criticism. If they can’t defend it, then you don’t have to acknowledge it.
Try to employ these 4 steps the next time you encounter some harsh words from others. You’ll find that when you gain the ability to disregard only but the most meaningful and constructive critiques, you will find yourself in a much happier place. Remember, critics can be tough, but you can always be tougher.
- Why We Need to Have Compassion for Our Inner Critic (toddlohenry.com)
- Can You Make Criticism Your Friend? Yes. And Here’s How. (algumwood.com)
Today is the final installment in this series of posts relating to positive organizational change in arts and cultural organizations. This all began with a simple question “Do you believe in your organization’s artistic work?” In my experience, I find that after my clients have done an in-depth analysis of their organization, they often realize that it is not their organization’s artistic work which they don’t believe in— they don’t believe in the way it’s done. In most cases, the mission of an arts organization is honorable. If you are like me, you are working in the performing arts with a sense of duty to the arts. Whether you are a performer, administrator, scholar, or student—you work in an arts organization because you can identify with the mission itself. What you might have discovered is that the mission of your organization might be blocked or obstructed by things in the organization. If you have done an complete analysis like I suggested, you will have strong ideas about what must change in order to cut down the red-tape that holds up the artistic work in an organization.
At the beginning of this journey, I asked you how you felt because I wanted you to know. I wanted you to identify that you did in fact have a desire to see things done differently and that you were ready to go against the status quo in order to get back to the true mission and artistic work of your organization. In this last installment, I’m going to give you permission to lead a revolution in the performing arts. Here’s how you are going to do it.
1. “Don’t Make the weather then cry that it’s raining.”
It’s an old Southern expression, but it holds true for performing arts organization who need and want to facilitate change. You have the power to change your circumstances. You must be the one who leads by example. You don’t have to be normal; you don’t have to be what is expected. You can be so much more than that! Abandon all the rules you impose on yourself. If you are the lowliest of interns, don’t feel bad about pitching a great idea to someone in the organization who has the power to make it happen. If your organization’s administration has typically been divided from the artists and performers, creating a divisive atmosphere; don’t wait for the Executive Director to change his/her stance on interactions with the artists. You go to rehearsals, you be friendly to the artists. You don’t need permission to do the right thing by another person. So often, it is the smallest of changes in the right direction that can re-route an entire river.
2. Be vocal.
If you are not vocal about your beliefs, your feelings, and your intuition, then you do both an injustice to yourself and to performing arts world. As long as you stay positive, you must always voice your opinion. Do your research and always be able to support your ideas. It shouldn’t be too hard, you’ve been asking WHY? to everything all along. If you are an Executive Director, then be vocal about positive change. Don’t waste a single opportunity to reinforce the organization’s mission with every patron, constituent and employee you meet. If you are a staff member, use every interaction you have with other employees to create a positive work atmosphere. Be positive with others, and lead by example. You don’t need written permission from the Board of Governors to plant new ideas, or change office culture by your example.
Lastly, I just wanted to say thank you—not just for reading this blog, but also for the willingness to be the change in the arts world. It takes courage and innovation. It takes research and knowledge. But I promise you, that feeling of apathy you had when I first asked you if you believed in your organization’s artistic work, if you are the change you wish to see then you’ll never have to feel that apathy ever again.