Also, in case you are interested, here’s Emile’s Adams Mai Tai recipe from the podcast:
Concise Advice from the Interview is where I share bits of advice from my guests. Here are 12 bits from playwright and author, Emile Adams:
Bowling for Inspiration with Sally & Emile
Rest assured, SallyPALs, Episode 40 is coming! My daughter, author Emile Adams, and I discuss creative blocks and fueling the creative tank. It's a fun and informative episode. If you're having trouble getting started on a project, have stopped after a strong start, or suffer with Creator's Exhaustion, we've got a podcast episode that will get you back on track. I'm still editing so, bear with me!
No SallyPAL podcast this week. Hope you can hold out a few more days for Episode 40!
Hi Friend, Welcome to Episode 39 of Sally’s Performing Arts Lab Podcast. Today you’ll hear my long-awaited talk with the multi-talented founders of LoJoWerkz, Tim Long and Jerome Johnson. I’m Sally Adams, your SallyPAL podcast host.
Every week I talk to people like the LojoWERKz team about creating original work for a live audience. We talk about practical matters such as finding a great stage manager, scheduling for a show, and booking the right venue. My guests and I also explore social issues such as "open writing" and inclusion, women's voices, and celebrating "otherness". Check out the show notes on the blog to get links to the things we talk about and see photos of my guests. Send an email anytime to Sally@sallypal.com. Your ideas keep great conversations coming every week.
Check out sallypal.com/join for a cool free theatre resource. It’s never too late to sign up and have access to the Creator’s Notebook. I’m interested in knowing what creators need as a performing arts resource. If there are things you want included in the Creator’s Notebook, let me know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I read them all. Be sure and listen until the end of the interview for Concise Advice from the Interview, and Words of Wisdom from George.
LoJoWERKz Graphic Arts Version of Jerome and Tim at Work
LoJoWERKz Tim Long and Jerome Johnson met in 1991 at Okmulgee High School in Oklahoma when Tim was a young substitute teacher doing music and art on the side and Jerome was a high school kid into street dancing. Today the pair form the foundation of LoJoWERKz productions. The innovative stage and screen entertainment company blends hip-hop culture with traditional genres and has garnered some very high level attention. Tim’s companion art label, TuTchT IMAGING, creates graphic art featuring models of color.
Before collaborating on their first full book musical, A Song of Greenwood, in the late 1990s, the two LojoWERKz founders collaborated on projects for the church they both attended. Higher Dimensions Church in Tulsa, led by Carlton Pearson, encouraged the pair’s creative expression and led to a working partnership.
The Cast of "Roofless" from the 2016 Table Reading
LoJoWERKz' current project, Roofless, started as a dance concert directed by the inimitable Tyrone Wilkerson for American Theatre Company in Tulsa. They worked the Roofless script into a full-blown musical and were awarded a place in 2004 into the ASCAP Foundation/Disney Musical Theatre Workshop. When they were accepted, Michael Kerker, Director of Musical Theatre for ASCAP, told them Wicked composer Stephen Schwartz was really impressed by their work.
Tim and Jerome have been mentored by Kerker and Schwartz since 2004. In 2005 they won the Harold Arlen Musical Theatre Award. Since that time the show has been called “groundbreaking”, “genius”, and “the future of the musical” by people who know what they’re talking about.
Tim has a background in film. He’s a 1988 graduate of the famously innovative CalArts. And he and Jerome have been working on a new approach Roofless. They gave SallyPAL an exclusive reveal of what’s next for this amazing show and it’s going to expand the musical form on many levels.
Tim and Jerome already have some experience creating a blend of new and old they both love. In the short film HotFoot, Jerome choreographs famous hip-hop dance artist Lil Buck in a silent movie that also features Jerome’s eight-year-old son Sage.
I’ve followed Lojowerkz for a few years and it’s really great to see this pair experiencing the success they deserve. They're just good people and there’s more ahead for both of these extraordinarily talented friends. They talk about a lot of exciting new things happening in the worlds of musical theatre, film, and hip-hop, including Lin Manuel Miranda’s works, In the Heights and Hamilton, and the work of artists like Lil Buck. You’ll hear Jerome’s son, Sage, in the background. Also, his wife, Tyff, makes a brief appearance.
If you listen to the podcast, be sure and listen until the end of the interview for Concise Advice from the Interview, and Words of Wisdom from George.
Concise Advice from the Interview:
9) Being an outsider can be an advantage. Use it.
8) Keep moving forward and surround yourself with smart people, you’ll eventually get where you need to go.
7) Listen to critique for the grain of truth but take advice from people who know what they’re doing.
6) Don’t try to reshape what you have to fit the marketplace, but do get in the system to get to the caliber of advice you need.
5) Submit your work once it’s performance ready.
4) Get into legitimate circles to hone your voice and your craft.
3) A great idea won’t leave you.
2) Know your voice.
1) Keep putting your foot on the gas and go.
Check out the blog, SallyPAL.com, for articles and podcast episodes. You, too, can be a SallyPAL. Sign up for a FREE Creator’s Notebook insert at SallyPAL.com/join. Thank you for following, sharing, subscribing, reviewing, joining, & thank you for listening. Thanks to Hannah for emailing me, it was awesome to hear from you!
If you’re downloading and listening on your drive to work, or falling asleep to my doobadooba fubar like my sister does, let me know you’re out there. You need to share your stories. Storytelling through plays, dances, music, and other types of performances is the most important thing we do as a culture. I encourage you to share your stories because you’re the only one with your particular point of view. And SallyPAL is here with resources, encouragement, and a growing community of storytellers. All the stories ever expressed once lived only in someone’s imagination. Now, keep putting your foot on the gas and go!
Hi Friend, Welcome to Episode 38 of Sally’s Performing Arts Lab Podcast Show Notes and Blog. You've got your show. You've got your team. You might even have a few set pieces and costumes. But you have nowhere to perform. Today, I talk venues!
I’m your SallyPAL podcast host, Sally Adams. Every week I talk to people about creating original work for a live audience. Send an email anytime to Sally@sallypal.com. Your ideas keep great conversations coming every week.
Check out sallypal.com/join for a cool free theatre resource. It’s never too late to sign up to have access to the Creator’s Notebook inserts. I’m interested in knowing what creators need as a performing arts resource. If there are things you want included in the Creator’s Notebook, let me know by sending an email to Sally@sallypal.com! I read them all… Be sure and listen until the end of the interview for Words of Wisdom from George.
Finding a venue is one of the trickiest areas for the performing artist. We often think about venues as a place with a stage and lighting and seats for an audience. But there are so many other options. In fact, today it’s even possible to create a virtual venue. But we'll start with bricks and mortar.
When looking around for a space where you can invite an audience into an area to see a performance, you need a couple of things: Space to perform, and space for an audience to experience the performance. Traditionally, this is known as seating. But, of course, there are plenty of examples of shows with no actual seats for an audience. This could be anything from bringing their own seats as they would at a performance in a local park, or rave seating like Fuerza Bruta in New York where the audience stands and moves around for the entire show. You’ve probably seen live bands perform for dancing audiences.
For now let’s concentrate on the type of show where you're trying to tell a story to an audience and you want the audience to be focused on the story. This could be improv, dance, a play, an opera, you get the idea. When considering venues, there are two important things to consider with a story show: 1) Is the space appropriate to the production’s size? 2) Can every audience member see and hear the performance adequately?
Let’s address the first question. “Is the space appropriate to the production’s size?” There are performances where the performers outnumber audience members even when there’s a full house. This happens sometimes with children’s plays and dance recitals. Every family needs a ticket to see the kids perform. This is a pretty good problem to have. If you’re worried about the size of the venue and whether it will be adequate for the size of the audience, look around for local options. Churches and schools who rent auditoriums to large groups for fairly reasonable rates. Museums, libraries, and universities will sometimes fill the gap with large lecture halls and recital spaces.
More often than not, the problem isn’t having too big an audience, but having an audience that barely fills the front row. In a space is built for all-school assemblies it’s hard to enjoy a small show. A friend of mine who teaches at a public school in Tulsa, Oklahoma was able to solve this problem. A cavernous auditorium will swallow a small audience of parents and friends. My friend created seating on the actual stage. She then closed the main curtain. This created a space where the audience sat on three sides of a make-shift stage in the center of an enormous main stage. It kept the performance intimate. And the audience was able to enjoy the show without the gulf of separation many older school buildings have.
Other solutions include arranging for a show in a large room of someone’s home, or a backyard stage is an option. Many coffee houses and brew pubs have small performance areas. You can often find galleries, and dance studios that will open their doors to a performance group. There are plenty of basement theaters in big cities including New York and Chicago. As a member of an improv troupe I’ve had some great experiences performing in a yoga studio. There are so many options, it’s sometimes a matter of matching the venue to the performance.
In 2015, the avant-garde opera company the Industry staged it’s new opera, Hopscotch, in 24 cars on the roads of Los Angeles. Audience members were chauffeured in limos where scenes from the opera took place both in the cars and in parking lots. The company performed 24 live chapters over the course of 90 minutes. Tickets were naturally limited, so cameras and mics in each limo allowed director Yuval Sharon to live-stream the action to a central hub. Using 24 screens in the round, the public could watch the opera for free. Granted, this is a pretty expensive and technically challenging idea.
We can start to see options for performances that would allow for unusual venues that enhance, rather than detract from, the performance. Get creative, look around your community. What’s available? What environment enhances your story? I once saw an opera by Henry Mollicone titled, The Face on the Barroom Floor performed in a bar. Bars are noisy, as you can imagine. But like all venues, there are positives and negatives.
The second consideration regarding a venue is “Can every audience member see and hear the performance adequately?” This question can be broken down into three parts: 1) Do the site lines allow for every member of the audience to see the show? 2) Is the lighting adequate? 3) Can the audience hear and understand the show? (I mean, of course, can text and lyrics be understood not whether the ideas are too esoteric.)
Let’s talk about site lines first. By site lines, I mean: Is there an unobstructed line of site between each member of the audience and the area you want them to see? You might also include consideration for areas you do not want them to see. These include back stage, the mechanics for onstage effects, or the venue’s bathroom door.
Check the site lines by parking yourself in various areas where an audience member might sit and actually see things from that perspective. You don’t necessarily have to sit in every seat to determine if site lines are good. But you know that if there’s a pillar in the middle of your seating area, you want to avoid putting someone behind it. This actually happened to me when I saw Dreamgirls on Broadway. I guess a cheaper ticket in this case meant sitting behind the pillar that held up the balcony section. I spent the entire show leaning left and right and getting friendly with my neighbors.
You definitely don’t want the audience distracted by things like bathrooms and exit signs. It's really annoying when exit doors open onto brightly lit hallways during a performance. It’s important to give your audience some guidelines. I often say in this podcast that your audience is the final collaborator. Give them parameters so they can be engaged as collaborators. Remind audience members before each performance to turn off cell phones, and thank them for coming.
If your audience is new to live theatre, remind them that the actors are also live human beings engaged in telling a story. I’ve seen people take flash photos of dancers leaping and held my breath waiting for the dancers to land safely. Those announcements concerning flash photography are important for many reasons, including your performers’ safety. Once you have site lines and site line distractions managed, make sure the performance area is well-lit.
There is a big challenge when setting up for an audience. That is, lighting the show so that the audience can see it. This is where traditional theatre venues have an advantage.
Most theatrical spaces are already set up with stage lighting. If not, there are a lot of ways to light a stage from the super cheap to the hyper expensive. If you’re on a tight budget, a church or school venue may have lighting available for you to use on the cheap. they can sometimes even provide a lighting person. You can usually expect to pay your lighting person for rehearsals and performances.
There are also companies that rent out lights. And lighting professionals who, for a price, will go to your venue, set up lights, teach you how to operate their lighting system, and retrieve the lights when you're done. Prices vary, but you can go and look at prices online or even talk to someone local about the costs specific to your needs. The lighting for a one man show is usually much less complicated than the lighting for a full cast musical. You might also consider asking organizations if they already have lighting for their venues.
Sometimes parks departments have warehouses where they’ve stored lighting for years along with the holiday decorations. Sometimes they may not even know what they have. My husband, George, likes to say, “If you don't ask, you don't get.” So it never hurts to ask if the venue has lighting equipment. Always have the equipment checked out by a knowledgeable person. Fire hazards are real in the theatre world. If you’re working on a shoestring budget, consider a daytime performance in a mall or small park.
Another thing you might ask about at a venue is sound equipment. This is a little trickier when you're working on an outdoor stage. Poor sound at an outdoor event can send audiences running for their cars, and it’s tough to adjust for the outdoors. Again, the people who provide your lighting may also have sound equipment.
In Tulsa, a sound company I've worked with many times called Lone Wolf Audio provides professional guidance along with top notch equipment. The prices are reasonable, and they won’t make you feel like an idiot when you need to learn how to use the equipment. Matt will talk to you about your show’s sound and make sure you have what you need. Ask around in your community. The best technical people may not be the most expensive. You'll be able to get recommendations just like you do for hotels or doctors.
In 2013, my daughter, Emile, put together her first production outside of high school at the Equality Center in Tulsa. The closest thing to a play they had done up to that point was a drag show. They basically gave her a low set price for the venue and set her loose in the small warehouse. She got a good deal from Lone Wolf Audio and Matt, the owner, came to set up her lighting. The space was small enough and the actors were loud enough to be able to perform without sound equipment. After rehearsing the show in our house for a few weeks, she moved the play to the Equality Center Warehouse. There the actors set up the stage and rehearsed for a week before performing for a full house. I hear the Equality Center now has a permanent black box theater.
Knowing your space and what you can do in that space can be helpful. Many performance groups have a theatre or studio home where they can perform. But your home venue may not be perfect for every show you produce. If you have a venue available at a price you can afford but your show is not appropriate to that space, consider trading with someone who has a home space perfect for you show. It’s a great way to cross-pollinate your audiences and develop professional contacts and courtesies. We’ve been able to share costumes, sets, equipment, venues and even staff members at various locations.
There’s a relatively new type of venue gaining a foothold in the world of live performance and that’s the digital venue. Watching a live performance on a screen has been around since the early days of television when you could watch nearly everything live. There’s something Homeric about the experience of sharing an event performed live. Just ask 103.4 million Super Bowl fans. And while I understand there is a difference between being in the same room with the performers and watching them on a screen, you are, at least, still sharing the moment.
A few years ago I downloaded an app called Periscope so I could stop at a truck stop while traveling with my daughter, Emile, and we could watch a scene from her brother, Will’s, play performed live at a New York theatre. The connection was iffy, and the camera work was not great, but it was a thrill to be sitting in the middle of Nevada in a parking lot watching a live New York performance.
Today there are options like FaceBook Live, Life On Air, Livestream, Periscope Producer, Roomsapp.live, Snapchat Live Stories, Streamup, Stringwire, Twitter Live, UStream, YouNow, and YouTube Live and especially for live casting theatre, there are Crowdcast and HowlRound. But almost any platform works. Keep in mind, permission is still necessary for live streaming anything or anyone. If you don’t have permission from the creators and performers, you don’t get to live stream or record the show on any platform.
I hope this podcast helps to kick start your search for the perfect venue. Speaking of kick start, in addition to places online to find live streaming options, you’ll also find ways to fund your projects. I’ll go into some detail in another episode. But, just as there are uncommon venue options, there are also some funding options to consider when creating your event.
I hope you'll check out the blog, SallyPAL.com, for articles and podcast episodes. You, too, can be a SallyPAL. Sign up for a FREE Creator’s Notebook insert at SallyPAL.com/join.
Thank you for following, sharing, subscribing, reviewing, joining, & thank you for listening. Thanks to Hannah for emailing me, it was awesome to hear from you!
If you’re downloading and listening on your drive to work, or falling asleep to my Homeric form like my sister does, let me know you’re out there. I want you to pursue your dream and share your stories. Storytelling through plays, dances, music, and other types of performances is the most important thing we do as a culture. That’s why I encourage you to share your stories because you’re the only one with your particular point of view. And SallyPAL is here with resources, encouragement, and a growing community of storytellers. I want to help you tell your stories. All the stories ever expressed once lived only in someone’s imagination… Now… Go find a venue!
My oldest child, Sarah, and her fiancé, Classic Dan agreed to open the first SallyPAL clip show. This episode features bits of the first 18 SallyPAL podcasts. And I’ll share the second 18 in the next clip show. You’ll hear about the value of reinventing work, and creating new performances with open casting options. We also talk about acknowledging the audience and making choices before and during shows. We also discuss pushing through obstacles to make something new and fresh! The show features Emile Adams, Steve Barker, Sheila Black, Daniel Bowers, Jana Hunter, Will Inman, Angie Mitchell, George Nelson, Nicole Perry, Darian Silvers, Lisa Stefanic, Wes Vrooman, Lisa Wilson, Michael Wright, and Nicole Zimmerer. You'll hear about the trend toward inclusion in performing arts as well as the frustration with outdated theatre practices. I know you’ll enjoy hearing these moments again. I invite you to revisit the episodes. I’ve included a show breakdown that lists the times you can find various guests in this clip show episode. That way, you can skip around and listen to the parts you’re most interested in hearing.
Darian & Will take a Selfie with Sally
Will Inman and Darian Silvers had some things to say in Episode 2 about why it’s important to reinvent existing works. They also mention why storytellers need to collaborate. You’ll hear them share about “Animal Farm”. This version of an existing show is a revamped musical performed in Houston in 2017.
(2:33-Will) Reinventing the Work; (3:50-Darian) Making Something New; (4:17-Darian&Will) Collaborating
Daniel at The Folger with the Bard
In Episode 3, Daniel Bowers highlights the fun and excitement of building a reality on stage.
(6:29) Telling a Story on Stage; (7:31) Building a Reality on Stage
Emile, Becket, and Sally Talk about Theatre
Emile Adams confirms that feeling in Episode 4 while discussing her original play, “Fever Dream”.
(8:08) When the Lights Come up on Your Show
TV Writer Jana Sees a Funny World
Jana Hunter is the executive producer with her husband Mitch of the ABC show, “The Middle”. In Episode 10 she talks about storytelling to a broad audience.
(8:45) Storytelling to a TV Audience;In
Angie and The Spontaniacs!
In Episode 14 Angie Mitchell expresses the fun of developing new forms or games in improvisational comedy.
(10:34) Developing new Forms
(10:34) Developing new Forms
George Considers Character
In Episode 16 George Nelson echoes the feeling of creating original characters for both practical and profound reasons.
(11:49) Creating Characters
In Episode 14 Angie Mitchell talks about pushing through her early improv failures. And Jana Hunter from Episode 10 talks about the value of HER improv training with LA’s Groundlings.
(12:48-Angie) Pushing through Failure; (4:05-Jana) Creating Stories on the Fly and Being Comfortable in Your Skin
Wes Has High Hopes and High Expectations
Wes Vrooman in Episode 6 believes telling stories is important. Also, he points out, a new crop of storytellers seems ready to tell stories in exciting ways.
(15:10) Young People Telling New Stories
Lisa Contemplates Educational Theatre
Lisa Stefanic in Episode 8, George Nelson in Episode 16, and Daniel Bowers in Episode 3 encourage actors and directors. They advise artists to be flexible and create characters and stories that resonate with audiences.
Episode 8 (16:52- Lisa) Be Flexible
Episode 16 (17:17-George) Play Characters That Resonate
Episode 3 (18:02-Daniel) Buy in to the Story’s Truth
Nicole Perry from Episode 11 ponders the impact of a dancer portraying the truth of a character.
(19:05) Do Characters Affect Your Spirit? and Being Seen
Wes Vrooman in Episode 6 introduces a conversation for inclusion. It is echoed by Lisa Wilson in Episode 7.
(20:03-Wes) Plays with Options; (20:41-Lisa) Importance of Representation
Nicole Fights for her Rights
Nicole Zimmerer from Episode 9 opens the conversation up to include physically disabled actors and storytellers. While Nicole Perry from Episode 11 zeroes in on the reality of body-based casting.
(21:37-Nicole Z) First Wheelchair Actor on Broadway; (21:51-Nicole Z) Disabled Characters Played by Disabled Actors; (22:35-Nicole P) Body Based Casting
In Episode 6, Wes Vrooman expands on his earlier comments. He also encourages storytellers to get out there and tell their stories.
(23:39) Relatable Stories Need to Be Told
Sheila Loves Words
Sheila Black from Episode 13 and Michael Wright from Episode 15 both caution writers to set aside worries that don’t have anything to do with the expression of the work.
Michael Values Story
(24:53-Sheila) Don’t Worry about Perfection; (26:13-Michael) Audiences Experience Stories not Themes
In Episode 10, Jana Hunter shares some memorable advice she got about how best to create with an ensemble.
(27:35) Collaborating: “Be nice and Contribute”
Steve's Big Advice
Also, in Episode 17, Steve Barker gives the best possible advice.
(28:07) Write, write, write!
Lisa Supports Women Playwrights
In Episode 7, Lisa Wilson sums up the value of storytelling.
(29:01) Storytelling Is Culture
In Episode 2, Will Inman points out that an audience is always the final collaborator.
(30:35) A Live Audience Is the Reason to Do Theatre
I hope you enjoy the SallyPAL clip show. You might find an artist who piques your interest. Episodes are available on most podcast platforms. Check out the blog, SallyPAL.com, for articles and also show notes. You, too, can be a Sally PAL! Sign up for a FREE Creator’s Notebook insert at SallyPAL.com/join. Thank you for following, sharing, subscribing, reviewing, and joining. And, by the way, thank you for listening.
If you download and listen on your drive to work, or fall asleep while listening to my NPR-inspired narration like my sister does, let me know you’re out there. Storytelling through plays, dances, music, and other types of performances is the most important thing we do as a culture. That’s why I want YOU to share YOUR stories because you’re the only one with your particular point of view. Also, SallyPAL is here with resources, encouragement, and a growing community of storytellers. I want to help you share your truth. All the stories ever expressed once lived only in someone’s imagination. Now… go tell someone who you are!
David Blakely encourages storytelling for all the right reasons... and some nefarious ones... Hi Friend, Welcome to the blog and show notes for Episode 36 of Sally’s Performing Arts Lab Podcast, "Storytelling in Plays". Today, I talk with HTC’s Playwright in Residence, David Blakely. Every week on the SallyPAL podcast I talk to people about original storytelling for a live audience. Send an email anytime to Sally@sallypal.com. Your ideas keep great conversations coming every week.
Check out sallypal.com/join for a cool free theatre resource. It’s never too late to sign up for access to the Creator’s Notebook. I want to know what you need as a performing arts storytelling resource. If there are things you want in the Creator’s Notebook, let me know by sending an email to Sally@sallypal.com! I read them all. If you're listening to the podcast, be sure and listen until the end of the interview for Concise Advice from the Interview, and Words of Wisdom from George.
I’ve known David Blakely since I was 15 years old. I was a theatre club member at Tulsa Memorial High School. (Shout out to my Masque & Gavel buddies). In the intervening years, David got a law degree from Duke University, and an MFA from the University of Iowa. Now, 40 years later, David is the playwright in residence for Tulsa’s only all-original works company, Heller Theatre (or HTC). He's also a playwriting professor at Rogers State University. David Blakely is a prolific playwright with performances of his works in various locations around the country at any one time.
Most recently, David's been in rehearsal at HTC for his one act, “Four Ways to Die”. The play is based on Dennis McAuliffe’s 1990 nonfiction, “The Deaths of Sybil Bolton”. “Four Ways to Die” follows a journalist uncovering what exactly happened to his grandmother during the systematic reign of terror that killed dozens of Osage people in the 1920s. The play features Steve Barker from Episode 17. The play can be seen at the Tulsa Nightingale Theatre April 6 & 7, and April 13 & 14, 2018 at 7:30pm. For information on this and other original works of storytelling, as well as the Second Sunday Serials, visit HellerTheatreCo.com. We discussed David’s work, “For Your Examination” in which he and his co-writer, Anna Hudson, gathered monologues from homeless Oklahomans.
We also talked about Francis Ford Coppola, Samuel Beckett, PDQ Bach, and "Oh! Calcutta!" In addition, we mentioned Ernie Kovaks, and Saturday Night Live. And we talked about language including the use of American Sign Language in theatre. We also discussed Will Inman’s play, "The Lesbian Exhibit". Storytelling was at the heart of our conversation. If you listen to the podcast, be sure and listen until the end of the interview for Concise Advice from the Interview, and Words of Wisdom from George.
Today's Concise Advice from the Interview includes nine bits of advice from my SallyPAL podcast guest, playwright David Blakely.
9) Nurture storytellers
8) When appropriate, ask those you mentor to give you advice for your work
7) Don’t be afraid to try new things
6) You have a vision and a voice and it’s important to discover it
5) You need to get the audience’s attention to tell the story
4) Get inspired by supporting young artists
3) Allow the subject matter to dictate the form of your work
2) Mine situations in stories for all their potential
1) Allow your characters to face complicated issues. Write the tough scenes
Check out the blog, SallyPAL.com, for articles and podcast episodes. And sign up for a FREE Creator’s Notebook insert at SallyPAL.com/join. Thank you for following, sharing, subscribing, reviewing, joining, & thank you for listening. Thanks to Hannah for emailing me, it was awesome to hear from you!
I want you to pursue your dream share your stories. Storytelling through plays, dances, music, and other types of performances is the most important thing we do as a culture. That’s why I encourage you to share your stories because you’re the only one with your particular point of view. And SallyPAL is here with resources, encouragement, and a growing community of storytellers. I want to help you tell your stories… All the stories ever expressed once lived only in someone’s imagination… Now… go write the tough scene!
Playwright David Blakely will be on the podcast Monday, March 19! I spent two days in New York and didn't record a single interview! I did, however, shop for wedding dresses with my oldest daughter and ate lunch at a Swedish coffee place called Fika and dinner at a Japanese-Mexican fusion restaurant called Mamasushi. Robin Sokoloff at Town Stages, I promise to come see you on my next trip! This one was fast and furious. Power outage at home meant no working in the podcast tonight so, rather than posting Thursday this week, I'll hold off and post next Monday. Shout out to Hannah for the emails! I loved hearing from you and knowing that one of my younger daughter's best buds from middle school is listening to the show! Emile, Pat, George, Steve, and all my SallyPALs, hang in there and I'll have a great interview up for you in a few days!
Welcome to the blog and show notes for Episode 34 of Sally's Performing Arts Lab Podcast. No interview today. Just me and some thoughts about criticism and collaboration... Oh, and some new music! Every week I talk to people about creating original work for a live audience. Send an email anytime to Sally@sallypal.com. You're my podcast collaborator. As always Concise Advice and Words of Wisdom from George are near the end of the podcast episode.
I recently posted an episode of SallyPAL on "Fear of Failure and the Imposter Syndrome". A couple of things came up the following week that made me realize I needed to do a show on seeking and responding to criticism. First I should point out that I have not always been very good at either seeking or responding to criticism.
Today I want to introduce a new way of thinking about it. Lately, I've started to recognize that critique can be really useful. When you get critique that you know is useful you're not always sure it's worth the effort to make the suggested improvements. You might accept that the appraisal is accurate and you've actually considered making a change to the work based on the unsolicited advice. But you balk because of the work involved in making the changes. When someone else notices the problem that you decided wasn't really all that noticeable, it's kind of a bummer. Now you have an opportunity to address the problem… or you can be annoyed that someone noticed the problem you thought wasn't noticeable, and take it out on the person offering the evaluation.
Here's a thought: Criticism is a contribution to your project. Rather than see your critic as someone who's slamming you, think of that person as a collaborator attempting to make a contribution to the work. A collaborator wouldn't say anything at all if they didn't feel they had something helpful to say. If you see your critics as collaborators, you can change how you respond to criticism. Sometimes all there is to say is, "Thank you," or "I appreciate you noticing that." But sometimes what a critic says will cut you to the quick. If your knee-jerk reaction is negative it could be because the criticism is accurate and that's a tough pill to swallow. I'll give you a couple of examples from my own experience, one from a couple of decades ago and one more recent example.
Back in the days when I was writing a lot of one act plays, I had several pieces accepted into a local festival. I was invited to participate in workshopping the plays. The director was someone I really admired. I was an actor writing on the side but I didn't really think of myself as a playwright at the time. But the company had accepted four of my plays.
I got a lot of good suggestions for changes from both actors and the director. Instead of really looking at these suggestions and considering how they would change the work, I ran home, made the changes and returned the next day with the suggestions incorporated into the script verbatim. I spent no time asking myself, "Is this what I want for my work… Is the suggestion valuable enough to make the change to the script?" The people making suggestions seemed to have a lot of confidence… and I… did not. After this happened four or five times, the director gave me some pretty good advice. He said, "Sally, when I offer a critique, I want to have a dialogue with you. I'm not telling you to go home and change the script. You have to decide if the change is right for your work."
My lack of confidence was weakening my work. I didn't put any thought into the changes. I wasn't thinking, "This is a really good idea, I'm going to look and see if it works for the story I'm telling." Look, everyone will have ideas for ways to improve your work, but only you have the original vision. If you become an automaton taking all suggestions and making changes without considering their impact on the story you set out to tell, the work will suffer. It doesn't mean you can't take suggestions. Many of the suggestions I got actually did improve the scripts.
The automatic acceptance of any and all criticism is no healthier than the creator who accepts no criticism declaring, "It's my work, dammit, and you can't tell me what to do with it!" Dismissing criticism out of hand is not much different than the automatic acceptance method. When someone suggests a change, let your mind rest on the idea of the change rather than the specific suggestion. It may be that the suggested change doesn't really work but the need to address the section is valid. Rather than assume the person who wants to improve your work is trying to control it, it's possible they see something you are missing. Step back from the piece and look objectively. Could an improvement be made?
I always like to say I'll try anything once. If it doesn't improve the work, at least I've tried it and it might provide a springboard to an even better idea. Something else you might consider is your opinion of the critic. Even jerks can have good ideas once in a while. The best people can have terrible ideas and, occasionally, the biggest jerks can save a production. One of my favorite questions is, "Does this change serve the story?" Know what story you're telling and make sure everything in it serves that thread.
A more recent example of criticism that I didn't really want to hear happened last week. Rather than being oppressive, it was surprisingly healthy. The person who offered the critique is my sister and she's just an awesome human being so I'm more likely to listen to what she says. As she's carefully offering her suggestion, I'm thinking quietly about it. (Remember my story about taking suggestions without thinking?)
In this case, my sister noticed my silence and may have assumed I wasn't receiving the criticism well. In fact, her ideas were really good. Here's what she suggested. On my podcast, I have a section (if you listen regularly, you'll be familiar with it). It's the section where I say… "It's time now for Concise Advice from the Interview." She began by telling me what she liked about the section. This is a really great technique when you want to offer criticism. Since she's a teacher, she has some experience with this method.
My sister said she likes that I take a pared down version of the advice people give over the course of the interview and put it in its own little section. As she's sharing this, she pointed out that a podcast is a more intimate experience for the listener than it is for me as the producer. I am aware that I might be speaking to several thousand people while the listener is rarely listening to more than one or two people. What she said is that the announcement for Concise Advice from the Interview was a little loud, even jarring. She called it "theatrical". No surprise since that's my background. My first thought was, "But I like that bit!" and, "I don't want to change anything," and "What if other people like it?" or the less compelling, "What if other people are used to it?"
After 37 episodes I still haven't received any real criticism or even suggestions aside from Beck's idea to add Concise Advice (a really good suggestion, by the way, Beckett). That echo-ee section where I announce Concise Advice from the Interview is part of the recipe for the show. It's like the date nut bread recipe where you add caraway seeds despite the fact that you and everyone else who politely eats the bread hates caraway seeds. What if you keep the recipe the same and just leave the caraway seeds out?
After talking to my sister, I agreed that Concise Advice from the Interview could be more intimate, could be a little quieter, I could do it differently. I could even change the title. Then I started thinking, "what if I changed it just because my sister suggested I change it? What if there are a bunch of other people who like the way I'm doing it?" Well, maybe there are, but I haven't heard from any of them.
The opinion that should matter most is not the opinion of a true fan out there in the world, or even the opinion of my sister. The opinion that matters most is mine. How do I feel about the criticism, and even more importantly, is it valuable to the work? The announcement for Concise Advice from the Interview might be jarring to someone who actually listens to the podcast (she admits, of course, that she listens to it as she's falling asleep at night).
What I realized when listening to my sister's advice is that the podcast may be an intimate experience for many listeners. Maybe I need to pay attention to getting my sound levels consistent (I've been struggling with my sound levels for months).
About making my podcast more intimate, I thought, "What if I spoke to just one person and that person is you? You and I could have a one-to-one exchange." This led me to another thought: I could improve how I use social media and make the show more accessible. An obvious way I could improve is for you to reach out to me. I do read my emails. It's easy to do because I don't get very many. I have thousands of people listening to the podcast but not very many are interacting with me.
You and I… we're collaborators. Some of your suggestions could show up in the podcast. Concise Advice from the Interview was a suggestion from Beckett Adelman. I love that he was listening and proposed putting advice from the podcast interviews into their own section. It's one of my favorite parts of the podcast along with Words of Wisdom from George (which might have been my daughter's idea).
Your ideas will get noticed. I want to collaborate with you on the creative project that is this podcast called SallyPAL. While I'm working to improve the podcast, I'm doing other things like creating a small recording space where I can smooth out my sound levels and not have to deal with things like the dog snoring and the washing machine running in the background. I'm working on smoothing out that AM radio voice I get when I've had too much caffeine. I'm committed to doing the best work I can do, but I need your input to know how the podcast is occurring for you. Are you getting useful information? Are you entertained?
This is an episode about dealing with criticism. But it's also an episode about collaborating. I think the two go hand in hand. If you're a creator, your collaborators have to be free to express their opinions. When you're directing or stage managing an original work, it can be downright dangerous to say anything to the creator for fear of upsetting them.
Creators, we get upset for three reasons. The first is: "I intended to do things a certain way and I wasn't able to make it happen." The second is: "I didn't communicate my idea the way I intended. I failed to express the pictures in my head and the sounds in my brain." The third and final reason for me to be upset with the work is this: "Things didn't turn out the way I expected them to. When someone on the team tells me, "This isn't what I thought it would be," and they echo the thoughts I've been having that make me feel embarrassed and uncomfortable, it's frustrating."
When you're upset it's the perfect time to stop… breathe in… recognize the downward spiral… count to ten if you have to… and do not take out your frustration on the messenger. As soon as you do, that person begins to shut down and they'll stop sharing. And you're no longer collaborating. The work will suffer if you're not open to hearing suggestions. But after hearing those ideas, don't assume everything everyone says is golden and you must immediately change the work. When you assume everybody knows better than you, the work suffers because you shut down.
The best response you can possibly have to criticism that will encourage self-expression and collaboration is to 1)stop, 2)hear the criticism, 3)process it in the moment or, if you can't process it in the moment, let your collaborator know you appreciate their suggestions and tell them you need time to process and you'll talk with them about it later. 4)After that, take the time to process the critique.
If criticism is upsetting, ask yourself, "Why is the thing this person has said to me so upsetting?" or "What is it that bothers me about this criticism?" You might find that you have decided their assessment is about you as a person and not about how to improve your work.
Don't assume changes are necessary because someone offered an idea. Sometimes the answer can be, "I've considered your idea but I've decided to stay with the original version." Or you might say, "I've thought about your suggestion and I'm going to make a change. I'm not doing exactly what you suggested, but your idea produced another solution." Finally, you might say, "I thought about your suggestion and I love it. I really appreciate that you're sensitive enough to the piece to tell me when you think it's not working. I'm going to implement your suggestion."
Looking at criticism as an attack on your character is a sure way to shut down the creative process and enter the downward spiral. If, however, you can hear even the harsh criticisms as contributions to the work while maintaining your artistic vision, then you've got a place to stand. You can say, "This is not about me, or my personality, or my character flaws; this is about the creative process.
You might help a person on your team know how best to communicate when they have a criticism. Some people have a way that sets teeth on edge. I've been tempted to reject a critique because I didn't like the way it was delivered. See if you can distinguish between the critique and the delivery. Once you can tell what's useful, you'll be able to have great conversations with your collaborators.
You can be vulnerable with your team. It's okay to admit to them that you may be anxious while reassuring them that you want their input. You can actually say, "I'm feeling vulnerable about the work. It's an original piece and I don't know if it's actually any good." You can request critiques in private, or suggest critiques be in writing. You can even make them anonymous.
Being honest and being an adult can actually bring a collaborative team closer together and foster compassion while improving the art. Keep it light. I used to tell students to take the work seriously but not to take themselves seriously. Laugh as much as possible. It's a great tension reliever. If you're a creator taking a step toward producing your work, you are strong enough to deal with criticism like a grown up. Have faith and be gentle with yourself and your collaborators.
The art comes first. It will have a life of its own separate from its creator. You must be willing to allow your work to grow and become the best it can be. I am so excited for you to produce your art and to have a chance to experience the joy of creating and collaborating. You are growing as an artist and so is your work. Embrace moments of vulnerability because, trust me, those are moments of brilliance. Listen to criticism and welcome collaborators. Accept what's useful and set aside what's not. I wish you all the best and I know you're going to have a great collaborative process.
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Thank you for following, sharing, subscribing, reviewing, joining, & thank you for listening. I want you to get your work on the stage in front of a live audience. SallyPAL is here with resources, encouragement, and a growing community of people like us. I'm Sally and this is Sally's Performing Arts Lab.
Next week I'll be talking with playwright David Blakely. I hope you like the new music and you'll listen again. Send your suggestions… and your critiques to Sally@SallyPAL.com.
If you're downloading and listening on your drive to work, or falling asleep to my verses and choruses like my sister does, let me know. I want to collaborate with you… All the performances you've seen on stage once lived only in someone's imagination… Now… go collaborate!
I'm taking this week to upgrade and update some of my apps and equipment. I am also looking to make some changes in the podcast format. I will keep Concise Advice and Words of Wisdom from George, but I'll be adding a bonus track from another work (either a podcast in development or a new song or performing arts piece). I'll also start sharing ideas for the "arts incubator" I've been talking about with friends for over a decade. I will still have interviews with creators and other performing arts peeps, but I will be changing the music and some other things. I'm still not sure if anyone will like the new do, but if we're talking creativity, I've got to take a risk now and then, right? I'll talk atcha the first Monday in March 2018. Be sure to tune in. My first interview of the upgrade will be March 11 with playwright David Blakely!