The Booklist – 1 Year Later

Last fall I created a 50 book reading list as a companion for my year of 10 major creative undertakings.  Due to time constraints, budget, and discovery of even more pertinent titles, I have an updated list of 36 titles that I read in the past year in connection with this project.  It adds up to a mere 12,000 pages, a good 4,000 shorter than the original list.  If you’re in a hurry, I’d recommend starting with Scott McCloud’s Making Comics, Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, and Anne Bogart’s And Then, You Act.

  1. Show Your Work – Austin Kleon
  2. The Way of Acting- Tadashi Suzuki
  3. Zen in the Art of Writing – Ray Bradbury
  4. Making Comics – Scott McCloud
  5. Respect for Acting – Uta Hagen
  6. Deirdre of the Sorrows – John Mullington Synge
  7. The Cripple of Inishmaan – Martin McDonagh
  8. Talking Funny for Money – Pamela Lewis
  9. Poetics -Aristotle
  10. The Boy Who Fell from the Sky – Jule Owen
  11. Playwrights on Playwriting – Misc
  12. You Shall Know Our Velocity – Dave Eggers
  13. The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis
  14. Letters to a Young Poet – Rainer Maria Rilke
  15. Poking a Dead Frog – Mike Sacks
  16. On Directing Film – David Mamet
  17. Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
  18. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce
  19.  Daily Rituals – Mason Currey
  20. Stage Writers’ Handbook – Dana Singer
  21. Troilus and Cressida – William Shakespeare
  22. Will Write for Food – Dianne Jacob
  23. The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer
  24. Les Petits Macarons -Gordon and McBride
  25. Understanding Comics – Scott McCloud
  26. Making a Good Script Great – Linda Seger
  27. The Story Factor – Annette Simmons
  28. And Then, You Act – Anne Bogart
  29. Creative Confidence – Tom and David Kelley
  30. Art Before Breakfast – Danny Gregory
  31. Character Costume Figure Drawing – Tan Juaixiang
  32. Mastershots- Christopher Kenworthy
  33. Frames of Mind – Howard Gardner
  34. The Business of Music – Krasilovsky & others
  35. The Daily Book of Art -Gilbert & others
  36. The Act of Creation – Arthur Koestler

A Year of Kicking my Brain in the Face

This is it.  It has been one year since I embarked on my Finding the Framework challenge.  I would say that I had no idea what I was signing up for on Oct 1st, 2015.  But let’s be real.  I knew this would be a comprehensive and exhausting creative challenge.  I’ve pushed myself as hard this year as any year during my undergraduate career, pursuing projects that were well beyond my comfort zone.

While I feel that I could have gone further with many of these projects, I’ve come to terms with the fact that a year is still a finite length of time.  I’ve explored a wide range of avenues of artistic projects, and have ended up with a much clearer picture of where my strengths and interests lie than I had a year ago.

I’ll spend some time in the next few months synthesizing my experiences pursuing different artistic fields, but here at the 1 year mark, I’d like to briefly overview each category, and rate how successful I think each challenge was:

1. Write a novel – 8/10

novel

Last November, I completed a 50,000 word manuscript as part of National Novel Writing Month.  I’ve written similar projects before, and thoroughly enjoy the intensive one month writing project.  However, I know the draft has a number of plot holes and stylistic flaws.  I didn’t invest time in rewrites, and while I know I’ll be writing more prose fiction manuscripts, I don’t anticipate them reaching a professional level any time soon.

2. Write a full-length play – 10/10

playwriting

This is my jam.  Writing roadmaps for living, thinking people to play with and put into action in real time and space is a place where so many of my creative drives overlap.  I wrote a play Baikonur to complete thins challenge, which I’ve submitted to some workshops and am also revising on my own.  Buuut, just for good measure I also wrote the 50 minute show Outside the Lines, and the short plays Road Rage, Unknowingly Agnostic, Waiting for Kyle, Give Me the Chicken and a collection of monologues for both Caution: Not a Step and Find Your Backyard.

3. Perform in a play – 10/10

Acting.jpg

I performed in a 2 week run of Deirdre of the Sorrows at the Dairy Arts Center, for 2 weeks of my solo show Outside the Lines in the Boulder International Fringe Festival, and in short runs of Find Your Backyard, Caution: Not a Step, and Five 5ths of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth.  I realized during Outside the Lines, though- I’m really not looking for a career as an actor.  I am capable of acting, and sometimes I enjoy it.  But performing night after night onstage in major roles takes a huge amount of energy from me, and I know it’s not something I could sustain for a routine work schedule.  I will continue to end up on stage, but realizing that stage acting is not going to be my primary artistic pursuit has really helped to hone down my focus for future projects.

4. Perform in a dance showcase – 6/10

dance

If I had world enough and time… This year started off well.  Back when I sat at my desk job, swimming in tens of dollars of expendable income, I could pay for aerial dance classes in my free evenings, and jazz dance classes during my lunch breaks.  And then I began to get more serious about my artistic pursuits.  The expendable income went away as I began sinking money into producing shows.  And the free evenings went away as I began designing costumes and teching shows.  And then the lunch breaks went away as I transitioned to freelance work.  And so the dance went away, and I was left rehearsing my movement pieces alone in apartment with no appropriate dance flooring.

But gosh darn it, I performed my dance piece anyways.  There was music, I moved around in a relatively coordinated manner, and people clapped at the end.  That’s all that matters, right?  Caution: Not a Step was honestly much better received at the Ft. Collins Fringe than I thought it would be, and this was definitely an activity that stretched my boundaries as an artist.

5. Produce a show – 10/10 

Production.JPG

Prior to this challenge, I had only officially produced 2 theatrical events outside of college- one staged reading, and a one-night only dinner theater show.  Now, in the past 6 months alone, I have produced a 30 minute dance theater showcase (Caution: Not a Step), a 50 minute play (Outside the Lines), a 75 minute variety show (Find Your Backyard), and a 10 minute act for a fundraiser (Give Me the Chicken).  Now that I’ve realized that I possess all the tools to make original live entertainment happen, I have a feeling the fun is only just beginning.

6. Produce a music album – 7/10

Album.jpg

To stick to the original challenge, yes, I teamed up with composer Nigel Deane to create a soundtrack for Outside the Lines.  And by that, I mean I threw some ideas and words at Nigel, and he came back with fully formed auditory masterpieces.  But hey, team effort, right?

But, in the world of audio production, this year I realized another major field where my various interests overlap.  Audiobook production.  I took a class on audiobook narration starting the first week of this challenge, and it caught my attention.  One year later, I’m finishing up the editing on my 10th audiobook title.  I had never even thought that it was a plausible freelance gig to pursue, but all it took was a little creative push and some support, and now I have a whole new avenue of creative projects.

7. Create a webcomic – 4/10

Webcomic.jpg

I absolutely love comics.  I now also realize how much time, effort, and creative energy they take to routinely produce.  And patience, big time.  Technically, I did create a webcomic this year- Best Fiends.  However, I have only completed 5 strips, and haven’t developed any routines or patterns for consistent drawing and posting like I had hoped to.  But through my research and attempts, I have a much better understanding of the process of creating webcomics, and certainly have more practice than I did before this year.

8. Create a short film – 5/10

Short film.png

I had really hoped to spend a week out in the sand dunes shooting a short post-apocalyptic comedy with actor friends from around the country.  I had kind of hoped to spend a weekend in an empty office building filming a comedic short about internships.  I had vaguely been interested in drawing strange cartoon hedgehogs on old brown paper packaging and animating them to music.  But then I got sucked into all my other projects and put all my resources into show producing.  So I ended up with some eclectic promotional videos instead, like this one.  and this one.

I hope to put together at least one more project from footage and ideas I got from this year.  But for the time being, you can also have a link to the Five 5ths of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth footage as consolation.

9. Display an artwork at a gallery – 2/10

Gallery.JPG

Yeah… about the whole “gallery” thing.  I’m not going to pretend that I can casually teach myself to be a successful visual artist from a couple of books and youtube videos.  I had kind of planned to just display an artwork in a nearby community arts collective on one of their open studio nights.  And then I stopped by one of their events and realized that a lot of their events were centered around talking through their experiences with mind-altering substances and sharing paintings of flowers resembling genitalia.  Thanks, Boulder.

Ironically, I now actually work part-time in a building with several galleries, and talk through art with paintings and have actually made a couple of sales.  I’m refining plans for a collection of sarcastic art jokes masquerading as a gallery, but I couldn’t rush through it enough to fit it within the official year of the project.  Stay tuned though!

10. Learn to make macarons – 8/10

Macaron.JPG

I am so glad I added this challenge on to the end of the list.  Honestly, I think this was the category that I had the most growth in.  I started at a skill level of absolute zero as far as macarons were concerned, with my first batch ending up as sticky, almond-flavored glop.  Now I have the process down to a relative habit, and can whip up a batch with little effort, complete with a custom maple-brown syrup filling.

On top of these official challenges, I have also ended up fully submerged in all the arts world related activities that falls between the lines of the categories I laid out.  It’s a little ridiculous how much things have changed.  At the start of the challenge, I was an assistant at a small publishing company who did performing arts on the side.  Now, I’m a freelance artist working for a number of the region’s big arts groups for a living.  In the past year, I have been paid to work as a costumer, carpenter, welder, props manager, stage manager, actor, producer, playwright, director, stagehand, lighting technician, sound engineer, projection designer, makeup artist, house manager, and box office manager.  I’ve taken some substantial risks, failed spectacularly a number of times, and racked up a huge pile of rejections.  But letting go and leaping into the unknown has led me to a crazy new life as a fully fledged member of the artistic community.  I still have a long way to go, but I really can say: I found the framework.

Finding the Framework: Dance Performance

I set out to perform a dance in a show at some point during Finding the Framework, and by golly, I was going to perform a dance.  Due to schedule and mostly not being able to afford dance classes and recital fees for local programs, I made the totally reasonable decision to just produce another show and do a dance piece in that.

focofringe

Caution: Not a Step was a variety showcase that incorporated sufficient movement and musicality that parts of it could indeed be considered ‘dance’.  There were also the usual shenanigans – stand up comedy, handstands, backwards Shakespeare, and impromptu juggling classes with audience members set to ragtime music…

Juggling class.jpg

The show was in an arts collective warehouse on the outskirts of Ft. Collins and I had absolutely no time to market or promote the performance.  Somehow though, I still had larger crowds for some of my 30 minute acts than for some of my full Boulder Fringe performance of Outside the Lines.  It was great to get to bring a weird, experimental show to a community that was so ready to embrace the full fringe-eyness of the festival.

Throwing My Hat In the Ring

The 2016 Boulder International Fringe Festival is well under way now, with all of the acts having performed at least half of their shows.

Outside the Lines is probably one of the hardest projects I’ve ever done- certainly one of the hardest I’ve ever done without a larger creative team.  I’ve been working on the writing for 8 months, designing for 5 months, rehearsing for 2 months, and now it’s finally being performed for a paying audience.  I made it!

But then I look around.

To be realistic, most of the shows in the festival are better than mine.  There are shows in the festival that have performed in New York, Canada, Scotland, and Australia.  There are Off-Broadway actors, people who have been doing this for decades, people with sponsors, or organizations supporting them, or carefully cultivated audiences who will attend anything they produce.

I’ve thrown my hat into a broad and impressive ring full of artists.  I believe that I do have a distinct message, a story in my show that only I could tell.  I’m fairly confident that I have a premise and setting never before used by an American playwright.  But that’s not going to make my show stand out over the others.

I got reviewed by ALOC Media, the local indie artist press.  The review itself isn’t great, but it’s honest.  It evaluates the show in its context, relative to its neighbors.  I could spend years honing and refining my script and performance, and still be out of reaching the competition.  Adam Smith of the SF Neofuturists has a great piece, Theatre Show that makes bolder, more compelling meta-theater choices than anything I’ve seen live.  John Fico has a solo show Made For Each Otherthat does everything I’d ever want a one-man show to do (compelling story, song and dance, well-structured narrative, cross-dressing…).  Studio Playhaus, a dark horse group of young theater entrepreneurs, has toured up a marvelously polished production, EllieIda, that is jam-packed with fast paced physical comedy, well executed non-linear narrative, and powerful feminism.

It’s a crazy beautiful world of independent art out there.

Outside the Lines – Soundtrack!

Well, I set out in October with a goal for this year to produce a music album.  As someone with a horrible singing voice, only moderately horrible ukulele skills, and no music composition training, I had no idea what was going to lead to that result.

But over the year I’ve been realizing more and more how much I enjoy collaborative projects- specifically, collaborations with skilled and passionate artists.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve gotten to work with Nigel Deane on a number of shows in the past 3 years, and contacted him as soon as I decided I needed new music as part of my Fringe performance.  He’s worked tirelessly on the project all summer- flying in to Boulder for a week of rehearsals and recordings, and writing, editing, and composing back in Texas for 2 months.

Now the soundtrack is finished!  You can listen to all the tracks here.  I’m excited to be performing to this score in a frighteningly short amount of time now.

I hadn’t expected to be part of the creation of an album of new music in this context- as a writer collaborating with a composer to create symbiotic music and text.  While most of it is going to be a live mix of text and music, I really like the way Nigel mastered this track, bringing the music together with the spoken word of a non-representational flashback segment.  The credit belongs to Nigel, as well as my wife Grace and the guitarist Nathan Fenner for their skillful contributions to the album.  But as this is exactly the sort of way that I want to help catalyze new music projects in the future, I’m going to chalk this up as a Mission Accomplished for the album goal.  Yay music!

 

Outside the Lines- Set Design

IMG_3811

The set is ready!

I made some last minute changes involving me not wanting to have to do carpentry in the parking lot, and now I have all the final pieces for what building the world of Outside the Lines!

More info about the show.

Reflections on Mastershots

Mastershots

I first read this book in high school, and it was central to developing how I understood techniques in filmmaking.  I had read books about the styles of films, about screenwriting, and beats, and story arcs.  But here was something different.  Here was a book that directly connected the movement and focus of the camera to the movement and focus of the actor.  It created and explained the visual techniques for camera placement as a powerful element of storytelling.  As soon as I read it, I began incorporating these techniques into my film work, and created some of my best shots.  (I was going to include some of these as an example, but then I rewatched the footage I made at 17.  SO MUCH NOPE.  That’s going to stay buried forever.)

Rereading it now, I still found the approach to be both effective and accessible.  Many theater directors about how they’re not trying to make a play like film, not trying to convey everything in a detail oriented, realist fashion.  This book tries to help the aspiring filmmaker not make films like film.  It coaches tricks and shot set ups and dolly movement to create moments on camera that lead the viewer into the scene.  The camera is more than just a recording device.  It’s a part of the story, a contributing tool for character, storytelling, and emotional impact.

And if nothing else, it also gives you really good insight for seeing what’s happening when you’re watching a movie.  It gives the reader the ability to sit there watching a movie and go “ooh, they’re panning the camera down with the actor to mask the appearance of the antagonist and enhance the surprise.”

At which point all your friends will throw popcorn at you and tell you to shut up and stop ruining the movie.

Troilus and Cressida Revisited

This winter I read and wrote a little about the play Troilus and Cressida.  It made my reading list because it was announced as part of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival‘s 2016 season, and I had never read it.  I attended their auditions for the season, but didn’t land a part.  I thought, “oh, well, at least I’ll get a chance to see it this summer” and that was that.

Then in May I got an email asking if I wanted to come in and help hang some lights for the festival’s outdoor space.  That’s the thing about arts immersion- when you establish yourself as a generally useful person, a surprising number of people start asking you to lend a hand on projects.

I was hired to hang lights, then when the lights were hung I was asked to work in carpentry for Comedy of Errors before it opened.  Then Comedy opened, and I was asked to help in the metal shop.  After the metal shop, it was over to the props department to help sew banners. And after the banners it was the crew changing sets in rep in the outdoor space…

I was initially asked to help with the first two weeks in May, before the festival even opened.  Now it’s August, and I’m spending all of next week as part of the team striking the festival.  It’s been a crazy summer, learning and practicing a whole range of skills that weren’t even covered on my list of fully immersive arts experiences for the year.  When I read this play a year ago, I never expected that I’d be getting to build and raise the gates of Troy every week this July, nor that I would get to tear them down myself before the summer was over.

Troilus and Cressida Set 4
Photo credit- Colorado Shakespeare Festival

Shoestring Projection Design

My show Outside the Lines opens in 2 weeks, featuring live performance, original music, and dazzling projection design.  The catch- I’ve never learned projection design, and I don’t have the time or software to do the colorful particle animation that I really wanted to use.

It hit me this morning that there’s a much easier way to create video of colorful fluid patterns than to digitally render them.  Hint: it involves actual colorful fluids.

Shoestring Projection design

This is my first attempt to create atmospheric projection with no budget, 15 minutes after having the idea:

I am most pleased with this development.

Sketching is not Just for Studio Artists

Art Before Breakfast

I’ve been reading about drawing in a number of different contexts recently.  Danny Gregory‘s book Art Before Breakfast is a fun and lighthearted walk through all the different things you could be sketching and doodling during the day.  It’s a low pressure tutorial that walks you through some of the various styles of sketches you can make of all the objects and places and people around you.  It’s educational, but it’s also very encouraging.  It pulls away the notion that you have to be committed and focused to making perfect drawings in order to be able to make visual art.

Character Costume Figure Drawing

On the other side, I also just finished reading Tan Huaixiang’s Character Costume Figure Drawing, a book with a very singular focus- helping artists create more effective renderings for costume design.  It’s not trying to give a history of art, or train you in a specific technique.  It covers the very specific ways to convey character and detail in drawings of people and their clothes.

There’s a lot of professions where being able to create visual examples of your ideas is a huge asset.  The book Creative Confidence talks about this, including basic exercises in helping people have the drawing confidence to communicate visually as part of pitches and project ideation.  Whether you’re drawing on a whiteboard during a math class, creating the rough draft of a new webpage layout, or designing the newest fashion patterns, the willingness to draw out ideas is a huge asset.

I just got to put this into practice.  I use a lot of photographic visual sources for my theater design, but it’s always nice to be able to put your own images down on a page as well.

Money Shot costumes