I’m making a performance library. It is not for everyone.
I grew up in Franklin, MA which I was taught was the first Public Library in the country. With the advent of the internet that claim seems dubious at best. But it has never dulled the shine on my mythological fantasy with worthy collections.
Imagine a space where you can come to work on a scene or a dance or some other kind of project. Imagine that room that you are rehearsing in, is part of a library. Your movements and actions are in themselves a form of research and knowing. That work should be placed in a context of other rich, diverse histories of practice and thinking. So I want to make a library of live arts. Source material, video documentation, scholarly writings all mushed together in one.
I have the students – over 100 teenagers. Despite living in a culture which was preserved on stage, they have very little frame of reference of what theater can be. I work with them every week to try to inspire them to make things. I tell them that my favorite kind of theater is born out of thinking and doing. To fuel the thinking we need the best resources. In short, I need books.
If you have any old plays, books of monologues, History of theater textbooks, performance studies textbooks, Shakespeare’s complete works, Shakespeare glossaries, anything by or about Shakespeare, make up technique manuals, stage design workbooks, acting editions of odd plays, actor biographies, theory books…If you want to help out, give a shout. Even if all I got were a few copies of Shakespeare books I would be ecstatic and my students would start using them day one next September.
I had to write 500 words about an upcoming project for a grant application. I don’t know if I summarized the scope and vibrancy of my ideas in this application. As I review the standard proposal writing checklist – Need, Description, Objectives, Methods, Time line, Outcomes, Personal History, Evaluation, Sustainability, and Legacy – I might say I barely crossed any of them off. Why is that? Why didn’t I write the proposal that a grantor might be more inclined to fund?
The grant is for an international artistic exchange. The journey I’m proposing would be the very first step in what could end up being a much bigger thing with a lasting impact on my plans for the next few years. This application was hard because going to another country with an itinerary planned five months in advance and a list of objectives and outcomes feels insensitive. It’s like inviting yourself to someone else’s house and then eating their food, sleeping in the coziest bed, borrowing a few books off the shelf and then making a documentary about it. It reminds me one objective I left out of the application is that I hope to nurture a deeper kind of listening.
I’m proposing an authentic adventure. My questions might not have answers. The whole “bigger plan” thing might just fail. At the very least, I hope I summoned the language to outline that kind of project and the passion that I feel for it. Adventure, Unanswerables, Potential to fail… that’s about what I hope for.
Those first 500 words barely scratch the surface of it. It’s really the next 500 words that I think are important. The 500 words that I can’t say. The words that describe the things I hope will happen while carrying out this project. The connections that I’ve only penciled in and the dots that have yet to be connected.
I’m going to Korea. Soon. When it’s cold. I’ll travel to the capital to tell stories to school children and run a workshop for actors. Then I’ll travel through the countryside and meet people who are the keepers of Korean traditions. I want to ask if I might hear a song of theirs, or study a dance, or learn how to paint one of their words. I will come with songs and stories ready to trade.
In a way that’s all I can say about this project. I hope it sounds modest, humble, and achievable. But it could be the seeds to something beyond wonderful…
Quite a few people are rooting for me, actually. I have 5 and 6 year old students who are from there and speak with an emphasis like “Mr. Seth, I go to KO-RE-A!!!” Their parents are also hoping I am able to see their homeland. I work at two schools and they will gladly give me time off if I come back and relate my experience to my students. A friend of a friend is making art in the capital and will hopefully be willing to talk to me about what kind of art is being made, how it is funded, and what kind of life artists live. I assisted workshops for a group of students from Seoul and hope to share new ideas with that program. I hope to find a group of pen pals for my English speaking classroom in Poland. While lost in London last week, I stumbled on the Korean Culture Center and found a wealth of inspiration and a receptionist who laughed at my jokes. None of these people have given me letters of invitation. All I can do is knock on the door and see who will open it.
Can you feel that this idea is made of a web of fragile silk? If you want to read the whole proposal browse my Documents page. (That took 644 words.)
UPDATE 12/19/14: I didn’t get this grant. So I won’t be going to Korea when it is cold. But I’m still going…
This spring I started a non profit (fundacja) in Poland. I have been thinking about this for over a year now and initially intended to call it Small Art Theater which suggests a certain kind of alternative art practice. In the end I have decided on Aardvark Arts. The aardvark is said to be able to jump through walls. This is also one of my special abilities.
I want to be in control of my own practice and not an object for others so I hope Aardvark will be a platform to initiate and develop new projects. I also want to work with other people as a producer. No matter which continent you’re in, there are three main challenges which emerging artists face that Aardvark Arts will be addressing:
1. Finding a space to create work.
2. Finding funding to support the work.
3. Sharing the work with audiences.
Things move slow for me. Having this organization established is just the first step. It may be a while before I have any impact on other groups or am able to manifest my own ideas. But this is how I am approaching life as an independent theater artist.
Planning this organization also became a part of my MA research. I described it for my review board as “the next step… building a platform for the creative life I hope to live, a chance to dream big and at the same time place my energy within a frame work relevant to here and now, slowly integrating technology, finding ways to share the work, not just “like” on Facebook but Opening the Heart.”
If you want to read the statute – which outlines the mission, activities, by-laws and structure – go to my documents page.