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7/23/06
Crawling over broken glass.

Dear Kim:

Today, I went to a rehearsal of the Apple Pie piece created by LGBT teenagers that I am producing tomorrow for Friendship and Justice, a progressive Catholic organization at St. Margaret's of Scotland parish tomorrow.

It was a tough one for me.

About two years ago, I conceived and directed the first version of Apple Pie that premiered at the Contemporary Art Museum. We worked under difficult conditions to put the piece together. Insufficient time. Conflicts over the vision and responsibilities with some of our community partners. Lots of problems with the kids. Some were not getting along at home, others got kicked out of their houses. Others had parents who were missing in action.

It was a mess.

Two years ago, the artist and producer in me went into overdrive, making sure the show looked good visually, had a cool setting and interesting physical staging. I corralled the kids, disinterested in the usual and sometimes legitimate adolescent excuses of why they could or could not do something. I talked about responsibility, pushed them to rehearse, be on time, learn their lines. I was sometimes playful, but often stern and occasionally cranky.

Essentially, Sarah, my assistant and I played good cop, bad cop.

She bandaged their psychic knees, make continual adaptations for them, drove them to and from rehearsal, fed them treats.

They adored her. They didn't much like me.

And yet, I made the show work, at least artistically. Although it sure could not have worked without her, too. Big time.

Did the kids learn from my work ethic and standards of excellence? Hard to say. I'm inclined to say no because for the most part, we did not connect well. I will probably never know.

I am tough with the DisAbility Project as well. Tougher. But it is a different population and one with whom I have had plenty of time to develop a meaningful relationship in which they get that I both care about them as people and expect excellent art.

Maybe I am not good at quickies. That is, quickie art. Quickie relationships.

This time around, we are also working on ridiculous deadlines but decided to go for it anyway. I think it is a very important project. We have a mostly new group of kids who seem much more committed and stable.

I assigned the project to Sarah and Jackie, an Artistic Associate with the company and decided to take a step back and see what happens when my detail exacting self is out of the picture.

It was very interesting. At the run through last night, the cast seemed very supportive of each other and integrated. Unlike last time, there were no teenage divas in the room. Divas who both wanted to be the center of attention as well as to act out against a perceived mother figure.

The space and exchange felt very different. The kids had a obvious investment in the project and it was clear that they had dug the process and each other.

So that was wonderful. About that, I felt very pleased.

The artist in me—who usually edges out the educator—cringed where the staging felt unimaginative or the acting was poor or the diction sloppy.

While I was deeply appreciative of the work that Sarah and Jackie had done with them in some realms, I also struggled with what I saw. And my struggle was complicated by the echo of my own 17 year old self who was suddenly in the room. Who was a really gifted actress and who would have crawled over broken glass to get it right.

(Kim: I think the biggest misconception about artists is believing it is their gift that makes the difference. It is the sweat equity.k It is a mystery how we get students to adapt that realization. We can sometimes get them to work hard to please us, but it is more difficulty to get them to "get it right" for themselves.)

I told myself that who I had been was irrelevant to the moment we were in and tried to stay present with the kids and directors who were in front of me.

I wondered if it was sufficient if what we did was meaningful for them and their families.

I wondered how what they did will be perceived by the audience, especially if it not someone they know.

I wondered what it means to have certain standards.

I wondered to what degree certain standards need to be more flexible depending the circumstances.

I wondered why my standards are frequently so much higher than other people around me.

I wondered how I could learn to be more generous and more forgiving, to the people with whom I work and towards myself.

Jackie asked me for feedback and I was gentle and encouraging. Very gentle.

Later,

Joan

Saturday, March 4, 2006