Thursday, May 19, 2005

Workshops lately...

Over the last couple of weeks I have taken part in a couple workshops that were interesting.

One was at Links Hall, put on by the Chicago Seminar on Dance and Performance that invited several local performers to teach around the theme of “Improvisation and Spontaneity in Practice and Performance”.

This one was interesting because it seemed like the teachers worked together smoothly with little prep. They seemed to know each other but I didn’t get the sense they sat down and planned out how to best teach together or anything. They had some simple structure were they split up the time more or less equally, established a set list and then ended with a bit of improvisation among themselves for the students. Adrian Danzig, a clown performer in 5oo Clown, broke his section up further and spread his time out throughout the workshop. He also performed a bit during his time which seemed be a (clownish?) attempt to keep things light and to put himself out on a limb before asking the class to do the same.

I would also mention that Adrian brought his toddler to the workshop and this little boy would wander around rather wobbly and clown like, get scooped up by his mom or go sit with Adrian. It was nice having him there. His intrusions were physical wanderings into a room physical wanderings. We were all spread out doing our own exploration and he seemed to do the same. During the few more structured bits his mom kept him safely out of the way.

Most of the tasks were put to us were simple, movement-based tasks that reflected a dance bias in the room both among the teachers and students I thought. Physical theater was represented though by Brian Shaw of Plasticene theater…and there was the clown of course. Molly Shanahan, Angie Hauser, and Asimina Chremos where all primarily dancers who perhaps reached beyond that box a bit.

Each teacher tried to build on the thing the teacher before was working on which was nice. I found most of it directed us inside towards discovery...things like "feel your foot". There were rarely moments of performing alone before the class so mostly I felt supported but anonymous in my experience.

The most interesting moments were when the teachers would question each other's methods for more clarity. Asimina Chremos came of as rather practical minded to me when she took a couple chances to cut through a rather hazy suggestion by looking for a simple physical explanation or context. Brian wanted us to "feel down to the root of our toes" and Asimina asked where was this root...down towards the center of the earth? I just interviewed Asimina for my series of dialogues with Chicago performance artists and we talked about that some. I had some tech issues during the recording so I hope I can find a way to include it when I post some excerpts.

This workshop was free which was great and kind. I wondered why other types of improv…vocal, character, and so on…where not included by the organizers. The best thing I got out of it was a bit of insight into how these artists work in contrast with the methods of their local contemporaries.

Another workshop I attended was a political training with the Creative America Project in a room at Columbia College. Creative America is the brainchild of Tom Tresser, an ex-actor and current business and political consultant kinda guy. The thing comes tasting a bit badly of a sales pitch at first glance, but the basic idea is to train and support artists to run for office. I was interested and thinking it would be good research for me since I was considering putting together a politics performance.

It was a long 9-5pm day. I had a cold and was exhausted.

The opening section was Tom making a rather sloppy argument for creatives running for office. He threw out lots of inconsistent categories of numbers meant to reflect things like the lack of artists in office and the economic importance of the arts. He alternated between this large argument of invitation that asserts everyone is creative and that America was founded on a creative act (see the Declaration of Independence) but then also wanted the professional "creative class" to understand their importance but lack of representation. In general it sounds ok but his argument seemed sales pitchy and weak, he avoided questions, the technical stuff was a mess and annoying, the space was awkward, and ultimately I felt like he was pushing an agenda on me rather than helping me recognizing my potential as an artist and offering me means to take political action using my skills in a concrete way.

This sort of project seem to me to come from the thinking into the role of the arts in civil society...but Tom never mentioned the idea of civil society, he never suggests what is needed to support it, nor how artists could provide some of that. It is interesting that he is taking action but he seems to have outrun the ideas so far.

This is supposed to be a non-partisan thing but obviously it seemed like mostly liberal/dems of some sort or another made up the crowd. Tom seemed to be successful in calling on the dislike of the current administration in the room as a tactic for getting the audience involved. The trainers were both admitted democrats but attested to have run trainings for both parties and independents.

What is this group? I am not totally sure. The training later by a couple of campaign pros was useful and to the point, I thought. There was also a talk on Art and Education given by an attendee/volunteer from the last training, which I thought it was a good idea as it made space for some of the leaders and knowledge in the room. The audience was an interesting mix of art folks, political types and educators. Lots of willingness to lead in the room.

I liked the closing section as well where we got in small groups and put together a platform and put forth a canidate to give a stump speech. I also like that Tom invited a storyteller to open the whole day with an excerpt for a Langston Hughes story “Jazz Jive and Jam”.

This group will be very visible I think so it will be easy to see where it goes from here.



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