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Archive for March, 2012

When I was little, all I wanted was to be on Broadway. That is quite possibly the most un-original first sentence, but it’s true. I did the school plays, the intensive summer programs, and the BFA in musical theatre, all so that I could have a fighting chance to be a performer on the Great White Way. Now, after three years in New York, I’m not sure if I want to be on Broadway.

What!? Sacrilege! Do a timestep while singing “Send in the Clowns,” three times, and all shall be forgiven!

Now look, I’m not saying that I don’t want to perform anymore. In fact, I want to perform more than I ever have in my life. I’m just not sure that Broadway – America’s highest grossing tourist attraction – is where my artistic dreams will be realized. After the initial high of getting a job wears off, would I be fulfilled doing [insert trendy, long-running show here] for the next three years? Or being in a new [insert unoriginal pop composer’s name]’s show that will close after 30 performances? Aside from the paycheck, I can almost safely say, no.

But you’re just saying that because you haven’t gotten the work yet. Why are you giving up already?

Ok, two things. One, you’re right, I haven’t gotten that work yet. But maybe there’s a reason: all of the projects I’ve done since living in New York have been incredibly noncommercial. I did an all-Yiddish-accented opera. Japanese tourists were not standing in line for that one, but it was such a cool, weird, artistically fulfilling project. Maybe the projects that are drawn to me are noncommercial, art-for-art’s-sake endeavors.

That sounds like justification – you can’t be on Broadway because you’re not “commercial?” That’s the only reason?

Well thanks so much for leading me to my second point: I know all the right people. I’m a reader for many casting offices*, I work for a Tony Award winning actress, I babysit for Tony Award winning composers, I live downstairs from a Broadway conductor, etc. Excluding the possibility that I’m completely talent-less, I think it’s clear that I’m doing all the “right” things, it’s just that something doesn’t line up. I’m not very commercial – I’m not the gorgeous ingénue, I’m not the fat best friend, I’m very mothering, but I’m also pretty curvy – I don’t think it’s easy to put me in a definable, commercial box.

Ok, let’s say you’re talented (although the jury’s still out on that one) – three years is not a long time, and like I said before, why are you already giving up?

I’m not giving up! I’m just refusing to wait around until the stars may or may not align for me.

So what will you do?

I’m moving to Chicago.

Haha.

No, seriously. I’ve researched the Chicago theatre scene, and something about it really speaks to me. It’s like the time I went to a curly hair salon – for my whole life, I thought I was weird because I was the only one I knew with curly hair. Then one day, I walk into this salon, and there wasn’t one person with straight hair. I finally felt like I was home!

So you’re saying that no one in Chicago owns a brush either??

I’m saying that non-commercial theatre thrives in Chicago. Theatres survive because of subscribers, not tourists. Because of the community’s financial and cultural investment, Chicago theatres’ seasons must be diverse, innovative, and held to a very high standard of art. Shows have integrity, and actors are unconventional and ridiculously talented.

Well we’ve already established that you might not be talented, so if you don’t get theatre work there, what’s the benefit of Chicago?

It’s the standard for art there. I’m truly appalled at the number of substance-less, un-artistic, shoddily crafted shows there are today – shows that cost millions of dollars, that must answer to dozens of producers, and that must cast a movie star in order to last for a month. In the New York theatre scene, I feel like the curly haired girl, walking around in a sea of straight hair. No matter how often I flatiron my hair, my worldview is curly, and sooner or later, humidity hits and my secret is revealed.

Just say what you’re trying to say – no analogies.

I’m saying I want to do good theatre. I don’t want to sacrifice my artistic integrity just to get a job.

Wow, that was pretty concise for you. But isn’t that a little naïve? Doesn’t everybody have to make compromises, especially in the arts?

You’re right, and I’m not some Howard Roark-type who stubbornly only lives for my art. But I’m learning that there are communities out there – outside of New York, believe it or not – that embrace my set of artistic values. Look, I’m in my twenties, I don’t have kids, and knock on wood, New York will always be there. Why shouldn’t I try a new town?

Ok, go for it. Why not?

Because I’m scared that you, the little voice in my head, is the voice of everyone I know: “Why are you giving up?” “What are you doing wrong?” “Maybe you just don’t have what it takes.” I’m really excited by the prospect of moving to Chicago, and no matter how I phrase it, I feel judged by those around me.

That’s pretty lame. You’re excited, you’re moving, case closed. Anyone who “judges” you is either unclear about your goals, or is jealous that they don’t have the balls to change their own life.

Yeah, I guess…

Let me put it in terms you’ll understand: you’ve stopped flatironing your hair, and it looks really, really good. Your friends with naturally straight hair might see it as a threat – you used to want to be like them, giving them a certain level of power. All of a sudden, your friends with curly hair who also flatiron, are either encouraged by your boldness, or try to maintain the status quo with the straight-haired folks.

Ok, you win, it was a stupid analogy.

Point being: live your life with the integrity you wish New York theatre possessed. Move to Chicago, don’t move to Chicago, but make the decision for you, not the “dozens of producers” in your life.

Honestly, the decision has been made: Chicago. I’m moving to Chicago.

The Windy City? Great! I’ll bring the hair gel.

*When someone auditions with a scene, the reader is the scene partner. As a reader, I get to sit behind the table in many auditions and get to know the creative team.

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photography -- both observation and action.

Watching a dance from the sidelines.

Every now and then, being an observer is inspirational. Watching something epic unfold means more than just being marked “present” on some cosmic roll call — in a way, you become a part of the event as it transpires.

But does it inspire you to be the agent of creativity yourself, next time around? Harder to say.

Take the NCAA tournament. People in our home state of North Carolina are absolutely crazy about college basketball. It’s more than just something you watch, it’s something you DO. It inspires people to paint their bodies, camp out for months in tents, hold high-stakes bracket competitions, and hate people who wear the wrong shade of blue. Some would even call it a lifestyle.

But at the end of the day, they’re still on the sidelines, watching the game. Making an awesome bracket isn’t going to make you an awesome basketball player.  No matter what the experience you’ve created around it, you’re still a spectator to the game itself.

This is fine (and in fact ideal!) for most people, who have neither the ambition nor the ability to step onto the basketball court. They don’t aspire to be a part of it personally, so being an active observer is enough to aspire to.

But for a high school kid who grew up loving the game, and dreaming of a spot on one of those teams, the month of March takes on a whole different significance. To him, it’s personal.

I’m that high school kid, but for art.

They look sort of lonely, to me.

Come on. Adjust them. You know you want to.

And Art (capital A) often feels like a spectator sport. You go to museums, you see a play, you go to a concert. You are expected to take it in without interacting.

Maybe, for most people, that is enough. Maybe they find it inspirational. But as an artist, I am partly inspired and more often agonized. I experience a strange restlessness when I go to a play. I enter and the ushers direct me to my seat, as they do with everyone, and I have to fight the urge to stand up and be say “Guys, it’s cool. I do theater too, I’m IN THE KNOW. Why am I sitting with the plebes?”

And what kind of  interaction can I have with it, from my comfy plush chair? I can comment on it, either to the date I am surely trying to impress, or to the internet via a blog or twitter, and if the gallery or theater is trendy it might have some events or talks regarding the work. And I can think about it, turn it over in my mind and bookmark it for some future use — but these are all forms of sideline interaction. I don’t feel like I’m more of an artist for having seen it.

There is an odd voicelessness that comes with standing in the same room as a famous work of art. I stand transfixed, perhaps in awe, or perhaps in distaste, but either way I can do nothing but make sideline commentary to the main event. My own voice is irrelevant here, overwhelmed by the enormity of the work at hand.

this is probably what they are playing

It doesn’t matter how hard you stare at it, Picasso, tragically, is not contagious. You will actually have to figure out how to make something this cool on your own.

And separate from my observations about the work itself are the direct comparisons to my own artistic experiences. Do I feel depressed about my own abilities? Hopeful? Exhausted? Do I wonder why the artist did it that way, and then realize that it sort of works, but that I would have done it differently, and then second guess myself because his work is hanging in a gallery and mine isn’t? Do I wonder if the endless meditations and comparisons to the works of others are pointless and in fact detrimental to my own creative process?

Because it has nothing to do with me. It has nothing to do with my compulsion to create art, which probably comes from someplace deeply personal that existed long before I could even articulate the word “art”. That urge to create is innate, not external.

washington, washington. six stories tall, made of radiation.

This picture came from my own imagination. As well as Washington DC.

Understanding the work of others and feeding off the cultural environment are vitally important — but sometimes you need to just shut yourself up in your room and do whatever the hell you want to. Paint a really hideous mural in honor of Duke basketball on your bathroom wall, or whatever. Outsider art is the shit.

And this is what we hope to encourage with Wall People. Even as we scour the internets for the latest experimental art movies, and articles on the work of Rauschenberg and outer space, what we really want to do is inspire you (and ourselves) to create something in your own words.

So check out for a bit. Get lost in the hypnotic rhythm of this cool thing Alyx posted about, or maybe the meaningless buzz of the next NCAA game broadcast (now that all ACC teams are out of the running), and tune out the discordant sounds of the world around you. Cease to observe, and try to figure out what you have to say for yourself.

“My early films come from my very deepest commitment to what I was doing, what I felt I had no choice but to do, and as such they are totally unconnected to what was going on at the film schools — and cinemas — of the time. It is my strong autodidactic streak and my faith in my own work that have kept me going for more than forty years.”  — Werner Herzog

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Every Monday we’ll post a round up of the things that got our creative juicing flowing. Have a tip for The Mondays? Tweet it to us @WallPpl 

“Last week I went to a Hari Kunzru reading for his new book, Gods Without Men. I can’t wait to read the book and found both him and his lovely fiance very inspiring. In case you can’t make it to one of his readings, check out this interview on The Millions; it’s great” – Alyx

“Gorgeous watercolor version of Google Maps” – Alyx

“Robert Krulwich thinks about two ways to think about nothing, using outer space and Robert Rauschenberg as examples.” – Alyx

Solipsist is a hypnotic short film by Andrew Huang which uses fantastical makeup, costumes, and editing to imagine a way in which two beings become one.”  – Alison

SOLIPSIST from Andrew Huang on Vimeo.

This 1934 letter landed Robert Pirosh a job at MGM, where he eventually wrote for the Marx Brothers and won an Oscar.  I’m taking notes for my next job interview….”  – Alison

“I’M SORRY DAVID LYNCH, I WILL NEVER LITTER AGAIN”  – Alison

A lot of people died while building the Brooklyn Bridge — including John and Washington Roebling, a father/son team that were the engineers in charge of the project. But the bridge turned out cool in the end, and then they named a street after them, so that pretty much made up for all the dying. We’ll call it a wash.” – Alison

“If you haven’t seen it already, go rent Beginners. Watch immediately.” – Emily

“This girl is awesome.” – Emily

“Our childhood friend William Litton pens an open letter to Michael Bay.” – Emily

 

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[via Kottke]

1. What would Breton and Masson think?

“SURREALISM, n. Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, or in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought. Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.” – Andre Breton

“What Gertrude Stein called ‘the wandering line’ is probably a key characteristic of my work, But it wasn’t the line that was wandering, it was me.” – Andre Masson, as quoted by Gertrude Stein

2. For me, this is perfect creative lubricant. When I’m suffering from writers’ block, this is exactly the sort of rhythmic abstraction through which I can find a special kind of blank canvas. It is on this canvas, or so the hoping goes, that the idea for which I have been waiting will appear. What are your creative lubricants?

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My oldest friend in the world and I are planning a trip to Scandinavia. She’s an au pair in Austria this year, and though life there is not as Von-Trapp happy as she hoped it would be, and she will probably have to climb, like, EVERY mountain before she’s finally free, and though we are both broke as hell, and though – oh for god’s sake, enough excuses. Let’s just GO.

Because – Scandinavia!

When you think it, you think chilly landscapes shaped by glaciers, slick urban centers and people who eat weird dried fish. You think fjords. You think midnight sun and a certain remote peacefulness, a place tuned into mainland Europe, but with its own complex identity. Also you think IKEA.

choo choooo

The Flåmsbana in Norway. Fun to ride, also fun to say!

And so we’ve gotten wrapped up in what we want it to be. She started in a Pinterest board, and there are pictures of wooden churches and sunsets on it, which are enough to totally derail any logistical planning and any realistic vision of the place we are visiting. We want the freaking sunsets, JUST GIVE US THE SUNSETS.

And I love her, but she’s sort of crazy. She showed me a spreadsheet she made when she was brainstorming for another trip, and it’s the most terrifying thing I have ever seen on Google Docs. It includes possible itineraries for eleven different possible trips, and I do not even know how to read it. Because the world is overwhelming in its options, and she is refusing to choose, instead outlining a million hypothetical trips and hoping that at some point the decisions will be made – by someone else? Or just circumstance?

This is not her spreadsheet. But it is in the same spirit, I think.

But that is wanderlust. It is the planning, the keeping-open-of-options, the eternal anticipation and eyes-toward-the-horizon of it. Always hungry for more, no matter how full you are. Treating today as just a stumbling block for tomorrow’s adventures.

She makes these spreadsheets because the present is not enough for her. Her present is frustrating and inescapable, and her future an overwhelming unknown.

For me, too. I sit here, having meant to write this post for the last two weeks, but instead I sit hunched over on my bed, Googling pictures of polar bears and reading reviews of ludefisk restaurants on obscure internet forums. There is this one restaurant that would be the best, you guys. There’s a little old lady there who serves food out of her kitchen and it’s all authentic and she’s really wacky? And it would be sort of magical? You know?

…for god’s sake, WHAT am I doing.

I’m not even going to the arctic, polar bears are irrelevant to my travel plans, this is absurd

So Scandinavia becomes the the call to arms, where we get ENTHUSED about stuff that doesn’t run the risk of being later crushed by cold hard reality. (That too, is wanderlust.). We open each email to each other with the word “FJORD!” in all capital letters, it is our new greeting, and in it is embodied all of the heaving excitement about life that goes beyond articulation.

Because – and I should have said this before – wanderlust isn’t about the place you go. (But you knew that. You’re a smart cookie). It’s about you, and all the shit you want to get away from, and all the shit you dream you could do somewhere else. Because maybe if you are sitting in a chair in Helsinki instead of one in Brooklyn, you will totally be able to write this blog post.

HOWEVER:

And aren’t I happy? Didn’t I dream of this? A master of wanting, didn’t I fantasize about this exact existence for three years before my plane took off for Russia? (Yes, yes, yes.) Why, then, do I sit in my bedroom in Kamchatka, watch movies about Kamchatka on my computer, and long to travel to the place I already am? Why do I ride the public bus here and start shaking with the sudden awful desire to flee?Wanting to go is a hard habit to break.

Julia Phillips of The Hairpin has got it nailed. Because it’s the love of that launching off, that feeling of anticipation, of floating, that is so glorious. The moment when the plane touches down can never equal it.

And you realize that, oh crap. You will actually have to make your life be extraordinary, regardless of which continent you’re on or whether you’re looking at a glacier or a subway. To a certain extent, life is the same wherever you go, and the thrill of wanderlust is a delightful little fib you tell yourself to let yourself expand bravely in new directions.

It’s awesome, that feeling — I’m not disparaging it. But I think the real trick is to plan your real life like you do your vacations, with all the feverish delight of one thousand Pinterest brides-to-be and the mightiest spreadsheet ever known to Google.

So Bon Voyage — no matter where you may ( or may not) roam.

­­

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Every Monday we’ll post a round up of the things that got our creative juicing flowing. Have a tip for The Mondays? Tweet it to us @WallPpl 

“This Mike Daisy piece from The Stranger is about how theater has failed us.” – Emily

On the lost style of silent film acting: Even though I’m a little familiar with silent film, what he describes here is just a totally alien film landscape. The dark intensity of it, and the intensity of the viewers, is something we’ve lost –the rawness of those early days, like the wild west of cinema. People leaping from their seats, overblown plots and grandeur.” – Alison

“I was actually not aware of the fact that places like Japan and India offer public transit reserved for women only. An interesting phenomenon, and people seem divided on whether it’s pro or anti feminist.” – Alison

“The delicate process of Fed-Exing horses to the Olympics.” – Alison

“Helen Keller’s description of experiencing the top of the Empire State Building.” – Alison

“This is from awhile ago, but I just found this blog post that actually does the math to determine how feasible it would be to support oneself through college working three jobs. Hint: it is not! But the process is exhaustive, if not scientific, and does a pretty good job of demonstrating how unlikely it is that most college students would be able to pay their own way.” – Alison

“There’s an entire subreddit dedicated to lucid dreaming – and techniques to help you experience them – putting the paranormal aside on focusing on the science of sleep.” – Alison

“Alison and I are drinking the same water this week. Here’s a great Radiolab short on lucid dreaming.” – Alyx

“Notcot has some great photographs from Muji’s Product Fitness 30 exhibition at the Design Museum in London. Muji asks what would happen if we used 20% less material to make all our stuff. Examples range from cotton swabs to pot lids to futons.” – Alyx

“I’ve been having an intense love affair with Zadie Smith’s essays recently. I just tried to look for my favorite quote from her collection Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, but I can’t pick so you’ll have to read them all yourselves.” – Alyx

“Great news! You know all those times when you want to cite a tweet but don’t know how? Those days are over, my friends. The MLA has come up with a standard format for Twitter citations. Finally, my bibliography is back on track.” – Alyx

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