PHOTO: still used for the 2017 #adventword project for the word #prepare
Here I am on a New Year's Eve with a new website and new blog. Looking back over the past year is all the rage, so I'll rage along.
A couple of notes about the end of 2016 first. The last time I did any performance art live, before an audience, was at the end of December at Notsuoh, a bar in downtown Houston, known for performance art and other oddness. I did a rare time-based piece (I usually prefer durational pieces) that I called Burning Hearts/Written in Ash. I stood on the stage in a white t-shirt, cut out Valentine style hearts in red construction paper, set them on fire, and wrote on my t-shirt with the ash. I wrote:
I was in a particular head space last year this time.
As is usual with me, it was a quiet piece, nothing "edgy" about it. I mostly note it because for a while I was doing performance art pretty regularly. Now it's been a year since I've done any (in a live venue, anyway).
Also at the end of 2016, I completed my second run of Intimacy With the World, my first-thing-in-the-morning self-portrait (or selfie, if you prefer) exercise. Another quiet, sort of durational piece, I call it my documentation of a performance of loneliness for an audience of no one. I ended it with a long essay about the experience of doing it a second time. It's still up over on Blogger. Follow the link embedded in the name above.
And with those two little projects to end 2016, I was intending to do a lot of writing in 2017. Not blogging---I burned out on blogging in 2016 and maybe I'll say more about that another time. But I joined a local Fieldwork session to start work on a full-length play. At the same time, I saw a call for work that wanted writing about illness and spirituality. I spent spring alternating between those two projects and ended up with nearly a first act of a play and an essay that I'm really quite pleased with. That essay tells the story of a mass on my pancreas and my prayer life during that ordeal. "Performance Art, My Pancreas, and a Desert Father's Prayer" is forthcoming in a book called Illness, Reslience, and Spirituality (more on that as it nears publication). The play, still without a working title, is languishing on my computer, waiting for a second act (and a lot of cleaning up of the first act). Hashtag: 2018 goals.
Also in spring, my friend Misha Penton invited me to participate in her site specific new music performance called Threshold. An abstraction and revisioning of the Demeter story central to the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries, Misha led Sherry Cheng, Michael Walsh, and me through the shadowy and echoing Silos at Sawyer Yards. It was one of those experiences that was particularly luminous (for being so dark). The day after the performance, I pondered how I treated it like any other performance gig---go to rehearsals, do the work, show up for the performance---but only in completion did I notice something really unique had taken place. Some of that came from the audience reaction, or maybe just the audience presence, but I suddenly wished I'd paid more attention. It was a reminder that nothing is "just another" and attention paid will likely pay off. You can see some really great photos from the event by clicking here. A music video---it's own event, not a document of the performance---will be released sometime in the next few weeks.
Then things got a little out of hand.
So here's the thing. I love the stories of Robin Hood. The 1950s black and white tv series starring Richard Greene delights me. So when I saw an audition notice on Facebook for an adaptation to be put on by the Company OnStage, well, I tried to resist and failed badly. I ended up at the auditions, hoping only to get cast as Friar Tuck. My history as a seminarian would have made that fun to do, not only for me but also for friends.
Alas, director Karla Brandau had other plans. She cast me in a dual role, a tiny opening-scene role of Alfred the Saxon and then the larger role as the Sheriff of Nottingham's assistant, Oswald the Unready. It was a hoot. It was a script meant to be broadly played, with much silliness among the derring-do. It had been decades since I've done that sort of acting and it was great fun. It was a lot of work, but at some point I decided it was like getting to play an extended Carol Burnett Show spoof.
But that was only the beginning. By the end of the Robin Hood run, the Company OnStage was announcing it's next season, a quite ambitious line up of evening and young audience shows for a new space they'd just acquired and would be converting into a theater. They needed directors. I put my hat in that ring. I read a script called The Quality of Life and it nearly destroyed me. "Yes, I would like to direct that, please," I said.
Meanwhile, artistic director Stacy Bakri really needed to get the first two shows of the season settled with a director. She, herself, took the first evening show, but the first young audience show, Poe! Poe! Poe! was still open. I'd read that script and said I saw possibilities. I'm not an enormous Edgar Allan Poe fan, but of course I went through a phase in junior high where I read more than a couple of his stories. The script was mostly a collection of his stories and poems and I'd worked with poetry before with my Breath & Bone/Orts Performance productions, Jill Alexander Essbaum's Necropolis and Wringing Out Light.
So Stacy asked me to direct Poe! Poe! Poe! (or PX3 as I liked to call it). Okay, sure. Then a couple of weeks later, she offered me the play I really wanted to direct. Suddenly, I'd committed the next nine months or so to Company OnStage.
Not that I'm complaining.
Then there was that little catastrophe known as Hurricane Harvey. All the work that had gone into converting their new space (and then some) had to be ripped out. There was a week or more when we weren't sure if, pardon the pun, the Poe would go on.
But the Company OnStage has an amazing number of volunteers who set to work and rebuilt was destroyed and (and then some). We opened two weeks late and lost a weekend of performances, but yes, the Poe did go on! The PX3 cast was amazing and resilient in their work to make that show come together under chaotic circumstances---and I'm not only talking about my directing.
I'm also really grateful for the experience. Besides people saying really nice things to me about it all It built up some directing muscle. Most of what I've directed in the last 10 years or so has been performance art, which is different from theater (there's probably a few blog posts in that subject). I feel like I'm going to be a much better director for The Quality of Life because I did PX3.
And since PX3 closed, I've been back to mostly writing. I have a few things out awaiting judgment from editors and theaters.
Then there's Instagram.
For the last few years now, I've participated in the #adventword project hosted by the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. They basically invite the whole world to post pictures to social media in response to one-word prompts. The idea is to create a worldwide visual advent calendar. Since it had been nearly a year since I'd last made any performance art, I was a little itchy to do so and this seemed like an opportunity. So rather than a picture, this year, I made videos for each day.
Even though these videos are all under 60 seconds (the limit for Instagram)---well, it was a challenge. It was also a good year to take ont he challenge. Since Christmas fell on a Monday, advent was the shortest it can possibly be. Still, 23 videos . . . what was I thinking?
Well, I'm glad I did it. I had a ball, really. Furthermore, because I'd used the hashtag #performanceart, I got views and likes from other performance artists around the world. Not bunches, but enough to give me some encouragement. So much of my work emerges from my faith life, and these videos were no exception. I often am slightly disappointed that I don't seem to engage many churchy folk with my work, but I've also always said that I've wanted my work, however Jesusy, to be in conversation with other contemporary art. In a micro sort of way, I feel like I accomplished that with this project.
It was also the first time I every found any use for Instagram. I think I'm finally getting the hang of it.
All in all, 2017 was a creatively satisfying year. Between the writing, the theater, and the performance art, I exercised most of my creative muscles. Looking forward to 2018, I have The Quality of LIfe to direct and a few writing projects already in progress (some spilling over from 2017 goals, but that happens to many of us, right?) On top of all that, I started a new position at my day job at the end of November and I'm hopeful about what that will make possible in the coming year, too.
I'd feel like a Pollyanna poser if I didn't also say that 2017 was hard, too. I've felt like so much inside my personal bubble has been great, but step outside the bubble and things are pretty hard. The political climate is nothing but toxic in my view and I don't have much hope for a detox anytime soon. I don't even believe our calls and letters to elected officials make much a of a difference right now (although I encourage keeping them up---we have to create the record that we didn't just go along with all this). What I do believe, however, is that our vote still matters. If you're feeling the toxicity, too, please be sure you're registered to vote and then make sure you get to the polls. Every time! And that's all I have to say about that. For tonight, anyway.
Everyone's life is different and when some are doing well, there are plenty who are not. I hope we all find strength through the hard times and also experience joyous good times.
Happy New Year, everyone!