Building Bridges with Music from Main Street to Sesame Street: Judith Clurman

12 Judith Clurman art

Judith Clurman, Emmy and Grammy-Nominated Conductor

“Becoming a musician is a life-long process” says Emmy and Grammy-nominated conductor, vocal educator and choral specialist, Judith Clurman. Ms. Clurman has conducted symphonies, ballets and choral ensembles worldwide, She has premiered over fifty works by America’s most revered composers. She is the former Director of Choral Activities at The Julliard School and has been a guest teacher and conductor at Harvard University and Cambridge University in the UK. She created and for nine years served as Artistic Director of the Lincoln Center Tree Lighting, where she collaborated with leading artists of popular, jazz, and classical music. She also served as the Associate Music Director for Season 39 of Sesame Street.

Ms. Clurman is currently the Music Director and Conductor of Essential Voices USA (EVUSA) that promotes the love of music and the art of ensemble singing. The group mixes professional and auditioned volunteer singers. Under her direction, they have performed on National Public Radio, at the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting ceremony, and as part of the New York Pops series at Carnegie Hall,   Clurman conducted select students in a performance at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  EVUSA’s most recent recording, Celebrating The American Spirit, features guest Broadway starts Kelli O’Hara and Ron Raines.  This CD is a perfect example of Clurman’s eclectic approach to music. Ms. Clurman is known for building bridges and putting together unique collaborations in music.

Clurman is also tuned in to recent changes in the music industry. She says, “People learn a lot from what they can find online, so we need to be imaginative and listen to our audiences. Musicians – all performers – are faced with a whole new set of challenges in what Clurman refers to as a ‘YouTube world.’  If we the want the public to come hear and experience live music in concert halls we must teach them how to distinguish levels of quality.  Remember that an mp3 is not the same as a finely engineered recording and live music is not perfect and edited!”

Ms. Clurman points out, “Arts education in this country is increasingly at risk. In the past, learning music in schools taught socialization and community building as well as introducing students to how to sing in choruses and/or play in bands and orchestras. Young people were not scared to have fun together and experience all different types of music. Learning music also taught children discipline and fine study habits. They even learned about healthy competition with their fellow students. “

“To pursue a career in music requires discipline, as I found when I was a young child and then as a student at The Julliard School. You cannot become an artist over night. You must realize that you are going to have ups and downs and face many challenges. You need to learn about your own strengths and weaknesses. You need to learn how to use your imagination. You must be willing to take chances, take risks, and not copy someone else’s performance that you hear on a recording. You must learn how to be you.”

“In the ideal world, a young artist would find a mentor who would support them emotionally and teach them. They must learn that success will take time. They must learn that they cannot be afraid of failure.  They must learn that success is about being true to yourself. They must learn that they need to find their own special passions!”

Judith Clurman’s devotion to supporting American music, to uniting and nurturing seasoned and young professionals in her ensembles, to championing young composers, and to creating imaginative programming have made her an inspirational and greatly admired figure in the international music community. Her current and former students can be found in major opera companies, musical theater productions, and conducting positions worldwide.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Advertisements

YOLANDA KONDONASSIS: ON MUSICIANSHIP AND EVOLVING AN AUTHENTIC BRAND

World-Renowned Solo Harpist

12 Yolanda 1NPR Tiny Desk Concert

In pursuing a career as a musician, the common thread – both now and twenty years ago – is the need to sustain high quality in as many areas of your field as you can. Of course, the most important thing is always what you bring to the table artistically – and while luck may be on your side, you can’t depend on it. That is why you need to be educated in a variety of ways about the business that supports your work. No longer can an artist afford be remote and detached from all but their art.

It’s important to understand your particular audience and the market you serve. You should know how to read a contract and write a proposal. You also need to know how to present yourself and your work in a way that will resonate with both your colleagues and your audience. Know that you can’t afford to be complacent, even when you reach the level where you have arts managers and support systems in place.

I believe you should be in a position to know how you want to brand yourself, rather than having it done by someone who is an expert in marketing, but doesn’t know what you’re trying to do with your art, who you want to be, or what you’re looking to create.  If you leave it to others, you can get into trouble and find yourself promoting a version of yourself and your art that isn’t really you.

Artistry tends to be an evolution and it’s a long process. I tell my students that if they continue to evolve as they should, they will be very different artists at age forty than they are when they graduate from conservatory. The real education begins when school ends, I have found. The bottom line is that you can only be true to yourself at any given moment, but do recognize that your vision is going to change over time. No real artist decides who they are in their youth and stays that way for the duration of their career. That’s why it’s important for you to be in the driver’s seat and to know how you want to present yourself and your music. You have to think about how your music will make the leap from your studio to the eyes and ears of others and how you can be actively involved in that process.

There’s a difference between knowing your audience and pandering to it. On one hand, you can’t ever take your audience for granted and you must respect them, even when they may not know where you’re headed. But at the same time, it’s up to you to take them on your journey –  and if they trust you, they’ll go along for the ride. Ears and eyes move in new directions slowly, but they do move, and it’s an artist’s responsibility to persuade them to stretch and evolve.

With regard to marketing, there are so many effective things you can do, and the Internet is at the heart of most of it these days.I don’t think email blasts are that effective, but I do have a website, which serves me very well, though it does have to be updated regularly. With social media, I feel there is a certain disconnect between trying to focus on your art and checking your social presence constantly. You do need to engage, but not just to put out unformed thoughts or post random activities. While the immediacy of social media is wonderful, people can easily get into trouble with it, so my advice would be to think carefully about what you want to say, or skip it altogether.

Resources are enormously important and you need to know what the people in your particular field are reading, doing, buying, and joining. Read your instrument’s trade journal, join the musician’s union, and talk to people in your business and in other related fields. Stay up on what is going on in your arts area and ask yourself where they might gaps that could be filled with something you offer. Think about attending a conference, take a seminar, or give one. The Internet is a great tool, but face-to-face contact still matters.  It’s easy to get caught up in cyber-hype, but resist the urge to let it substitute for real relationships. The best and most valuable assets in my career have always been one-on-one relationships with trusted managers, producers, colleagues, and mentors.

As a final thought, I would say that while a good marketing system goes a long way in helping to get your art out to the world, make sure you stay grounded and avoid getting addicted to the hype and affirmation that will inevitably begin to follow you. Know your own nature and surround yourself with quality people whenever possible. At the end of the day, you will always go home with yourself, so you better be someone you know and respect.

Yolanda Kondonassis is celebrated as one of the world’s premiere solo harpists and is widely regarded as today’s most recorded classical harpist. Hailed as “an extraordinary virtuosa” and “sheer luminescence at the harp,” she has performed around the globe as a concerto soloist and in recital, appearing with numerous major orchestras such as The New York Philharmonic, The Cleveland Orchestra, the English Chamber Orchestra, and the Hong Kong Philharmonic, to name a few. With fifteen albums and well over 100,000 recordings sold worldwide, Ms. Kondonassis’ extensive discography includes her recent Grammy-nominated release of music by Takemitsu and Debussy entitled Air, as well as the world-premiere recording of Bright Sheng’s Harp Concerto, written for Ms. Kondonassis. In addition to her active performing and recording schedule, Ms. Kondonassis heads the harp departments at The Cleveland Institute of Music and Oberlin Conservatory and has presented master classes around the world. Visit www.YolandaHarp.com.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Teaching Life Skills and Art Curation: Eliot Lable

Eliot Lable, Artist

"People in Gear" - A Collaboration with Eliot LableEliot Lable, who explores the tough subjects of violence, evil and intolerance in his art, has for the past seven years run NURTUREart‘s Education Outreach program in Brooklyn high schools that teaches underserved students in the New York area how to curate art and also how to work cooperatively with others. NURTUREart’s education program gives students the opportunity to meet and learn from professional artists and curators who expose them to contemporary art and teach them skills that can lead to future careers.

The program runs throughout the school year and culminates in an exhibition at the NURTUREart Gallery. It teaches students art handling, installation, press and marketing and preparing for an opening reception. Students are given the opportunity to visit studios of area artists, go to art galleries and art institutions, and to learn to write about and critique art.

Lable started the program in 2005 with then art teacher Sarah Hervert, who is now a middle school assistant principal. Their goal was to involve the many artists who have studios in their area, and it has grown to include multiple schools. In 2010, NURTUREart added an education coordinator to help expand the program and to develop new partnerships. The organization is a non-profit that’s received support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, NYCulture, WNYC, The Greenwall Foundation, The Leibovitz Foundation, and The New York State Council on the Arts.

According to Lable, “the best part of program is that it reinforces what students learn and teaches them how to work with each other through curating a show. It gives them a purpose and also improves their writing, editing and other skills”.

In talking about his own work as an artist and educator, Lable says, “As a complex person, there is an artist side of me and an art educator side. The art work that I create in my studio is typically connected to a subject that I find personally captivating. The challenge then is to convert this idea into a visual entity that truly represents the initial captivation. I feel that another part of me wants to share with students the immense joy of making art work.  Also a part of me believes that the process of making art can be a stepping stone for learning”.

Eliot Lable’s work, which explores the subjects of violence, evil, torture, death, intolerance, fear and aging, has been exhibited in many solo and group shows, including in Finland and Costa Rica.  He’s received numerous grants, including a Fulbright Fellowship to Finland; and two Council for Basic Education Grants, which were sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and Time Warner. His work is in the collections of the Museo de Arte Costarricense in Costa Rica, and in Helsinki, Finland, the City Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as in private and corporate collections.  A permanent sculpture, commissioned by Public Art for Public Schools (PAPS), can be seen at the entrance of the School of Cooperative Education in New York City.

Anyone interested in learning more about NURTUREart or Eliot Lable’s work is invited to contact him at info@eliotlable.com or 718.706.8622.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Bringing Your World to Stage: EbzB Productions

Serena Ebhardt and David zum Brunnen, Founders, EbzB Productions

EbzB Productions is a professional touring company dedicated to developing original theatrical productions to promote integrity, self-discovery and positive transformation of individuals, artists, audiences, and communities. They believe the performing arts encourage positive transformation through discoveries unveiled immediately and upon reflection.

1. What have been the key factors in evolving your careers and your business?

Understanding the business aspect of show business. Negotiating contracts, bookkeeping, public relations and marketing are just as important as raw talent to an artist.

Cultivating real and positive relationships with everyone you meet. We are not talking about “networking” or “social networking”, we are talking about developing real and respectful friendships with your community. Some of our most enjoyable and lucrative work has been the result of ideas generated among friends. We’ve had surprise opportunities with our latest productions from people we knew when we were just starting out – 40 years ago!

Everyone you meet has something to teach, offer, and benefit your development and career. For example, while working at Hedgerow Theatre near Philadelphia, Serena was offered a part-time position by Susan Raab of Raab Associates, a children’s book marketing agency (and now host of this blog). That job, relationship, and friendship not only gave Serena valuable experience in learning professional publicity techniques, database building, technology and relationship building; it also resulted in a valuable friendship which has returned thousand-fold for Serena. Twenty years later, Serena hired Susan’s son, Jeff Raab as an actor in a production she directed. These long-term, cultivated relationships prove most valuable to career success.

 2. What would you advise newcomers?

Educate yourself. Get your university degree. A broad-based education is mandatory because it enables empathy and understanding for the people, events and politics conveyed on stage. Take classes in marketing, business, and accounting as part of your major or electives. Design an independent study that focuses on organizational administration. Actor Conservatory training is great for technique and career networking, but it often doesn’t help you understand the content and context of the material you will perform. It is not enough to perform a song or monologue technically. An artist should be able to interpret, apply metaphor, understanding, and value.

Get as much experience as you can auditioning, performing, working on the tech crew, and volunteering in the theatre’s administrative office. It’s so important to understand all the jobs in the theatre so that you can appreciate everyone’s contribution to your success. You never know when the stage manager may have an opportunity to recommend an actor. He will recommend someone with whom he enjoyed working and who makes him feel appreciated.

Trust your instincts. If an audition or job offer violates your personal values, decline it. It won’t ruin your career to say no. Hold onto your integrity – it is the only thing you can be sure of in this business.

3. What about Do’s and Don’ts?

  • Do be kind and respectful to everyone you meet.
  • Don’t talk behind other people’s back. You never know when the God mic is broadcasting your intimate stage whispers to the crowd in the greenroom.
  • Do get a signed contract when you work.
  • Don’t go against your instincts.
  • Do get attractive promotional materials (head shots, website, resume, demo reel, classic audition clothing)
  • Don’t spend exorbitant amounts of money on your promotional materials. Keep it simple and within your budget. You can upgrade when you can upgrade.
  • Do have a support system. That system should not only include fierce friends who make you laugh, but also equally important activities that make you feel good about yourself when you’ve had a bad day at the theatre.
  • Don’t assume that Broadway and Hollywood are the only definitions of success in the acting business.
  • Do develop your talents to serve in other aspects of life – perhaps as a teaching artist, or drama therapist, or as a communications director. The skills of an actor are extremely useful in corporate, educational, and medical environments.
  • Don’t sell your soul for fame and fortune. Both fame and fortune are simply by-products of a job well done and a life well lived.

4. What resources have you found most helpful?

National Endowment for the Arts  – for information including on Presenter Consortiums

Unified Auditions – StrawHat, SouthEastern Theatre Conference, League of Washington Theatres

Unions – Actors’ Equity Association, Screen Actors Guild

Arts Councils – Local and State Arts Councils

EbzB teaching artists are dedicated to the promotion of dramatic art as a valuable educational tool. They’ve been trained by The John F. Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts “Artists as Educators: Planning Effective Workshops”; The Lincoln Center Institute‘s International Educator Program and the National Center for Creative Aging as teaching artists. EbzB is also endorsed by the North Carolina Arts Council‘s Touring Artists Directory.
Founded in 1998 by Serena Ebhardt and David zum Brunnen, EbzB Productions celebrates the profound impact of storytelling through theater in a repertoire of productions, flexibly designed for easy touring to all types of performance spaces. They’re an award-winning husband-wife, actor-manager team who bring over forty years of experience to the stage. Their careers have taken them from off-Broadway and the U.S. to Canada and Europe. In addition to performances, EbzB Productions, Inc. runs student workshops, residencies, and professional development seminars.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Reality TV vs. the Traditional World of Dance: Envisioning the Future

Ann Marie DeAngelo, Choreographer, Producer, Director, former principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet

1. What do you see as the major issues in the dance world today?

I see a very deep-rooted issue, which has to do with the ability to have a vision or dream, and stick to that goal over the long-term, which is nearly impossible in our fragmented society and in our culture today. This is more about the creative process than economics.

2. How are changes in arts funding impacting careers?

The thing about the lack of arts funding, is there’s a lack of time to rehearse and to create, therefore there’s no process happening. We’re losing the ability to coach work, which is how you develop the art, and if you can’t do that, you basically have a sort of half-baked creativity that gets thrown up on stage.

What that does to young dancers, is require they learn quickly and they can easily get injured.  The industry is trying to figure it out. In fact I was just resetting a piece I choreographed for a company where exactly that happened  Companies are saying, “how can we deliver the same product in less time with less funds, and maintain the same standard?”  It is emblematic but companies have more productions to deliver with the same or less time, and maybe more dancers, but also more dancers they have to replace.

3. Is the field more entrepreneurial?

I think the field is very entrepreneurial, in the sense that there seem to me to be more dancers wanting to be choreographers and directors.  But it doesn’t mean creators are having an easy time producing good work, or much due to the lack of funds, and more people wanting exposure.

4. Is social media changing the relationship with the audience?

The only thing I can say in regards to audience building for a dance company is that with the onset of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars’, it’s the first time in America where dance has been on a main channel. So now it’s okay to be a choreographer, and for a guy to have tight pants on and dance, but I don’t think that’s necessarily increasing the performing arts audience. Schools are growing. But now there’s a dichotomy in what they’re teaching – there’s the traditional route, which is ballet, modern, musical theater; and then there’s the commercial route.  There is a whole new dance competition circuit evolving that I am not really a fan of.

These are big industry, as the recent article in the New York Times said, where you’re taking young kids, teaching choreography and claiming it’s dance. It’s not. It’s really based on gymnastics, then they teach some pirouettes, some jazz and some hip-hop moves, and have these thirteen-year-olds learning choreography with no foundation.

I think everyone is trying to figure out how to use social media. Certainly Justin Bieber got discovered, and Susan Boyle wouldn’t be Susan Boyle without it. I just don’t know how that translates for others. I do think you need to put your work on the web, since there are now scouts who look for talent there. I think it’ll work well for some and not for others. In a way, there are more outlets and opportunities.

5. Why did you pursue your career in such a multifaceted way?

My aesthetic to blend and work in a multifaceted way actually started when I was struggling as a ballet dancer to get into a company. I was too small for most directors and, even though I was a virtuoso and powerhouse (not words you usually attach to ballerinas), I was outside the box. My dream was to one day have a company of misfits – versatile authentic artists – who were also outside the box. That turned into everything I ended up doing as a choreographer, director and producer…..mixing dance forms – and working in a cross-pollinating way. It creates a unique product that can’t be repeated – something you can only experience and take in the magical impact  of once. This may also be the future.

6. Are there trends you find exciting?

 Yes and no. One trend is something I started doing in the 80’s when I helped revitalize the Joffrey when it moved from New York to Chicago and I was the associate director, called a pickup company. It’s basically a format and paradigm used now, but was a larger version. It’s not always good, because you have to assemble people who have lots of other jobs to have them do a particular show, and then you disassemble. It’s very fragmented, and what you assemble appears to be a company, but in fact it isn’t.

The upside is that’s eventually where funding’s going to be, and it’s what I’ve been trying to sell and market. I’m not 100% successful at it yet, but the concept is to support projects instead of funding a company all year round when in actual fact it doesn’t work all year round. When you realize that if you have six months of work and you’ve got four seasons as a ballet company that are 4 days each, that’s hardly a year’s worth of work for you to be spending on an organization’s administration.

There’ll be another way of working in the future where people just fund individual projects that will be assembled for the time needed. Since we’re also working more globally, I see these projects funded internationally. That’s another conversation, but what it means in terms of trying to put a piece together when it’s fragmented, is you can’t really get to the core of what it is in the way you could before.

7. What’s being done to bring new audience to dance?

I think organizations are doing more educational and outreach work, as well as finding ways to make programming accessible. I think artists are beginning to create more full-evening work, and returning to story driven pieces – I know I am.

8. How can dancers create opportunities to showcase work?

Studio showcases, workshops, appearances on fund-raising events.  Creating video tapes of the work on their Sites.  Having a website.  I’ve discovered most small and new companies that work on a project basis are creating without a full deck of cards (or any deck!). Dancers are busy with multiple jobs or, if in the area of a dance company, trying to juggle opportunities for money or exposure. Either way, it is impossible to coordinate schedules for one person or twelve,  studio space (which there’s a dearth of), and cohesive time.

It used to be you’d look for somebody with a specific job description to be executive director, development person, or a performer and they’d need to of course have the education and experience. The new paradigm is to look for someone who has multiple skill-sets organizationally and artistically.  Then hire someone else who has a different skill sets to cover five other jobs. All of a sudden, I’ve got three people and myself, and we can do the work of a forty person staff, which is what I do now successfully.  That’s where I think we need to go from an organizational point of view.

Ann Marie DeAngelo, is a choreographer, director and producer. She was a principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet, whom Time Magazine called “one of America’s most promising ballerinas”. She was featured in Backstage as a “multiple-career artist”, and her dance career spanned almost three decades. As leading ballerina with the Joffrey Ballet she performed in works by the most renowned choreographers including: Balanchine, DeMille, Robbins and Tharp. She performed internationally and later founded her own experimental dance troupe called Ballet D’Angelo, and she was founding Artistic Director of Ballet de Monterrey, the first privately funded arts organization in Mexico; and was Associate Director of the Joffrey Ballet. One current project is, IN THE MIX, a story about dancers from multi-genres who are at the top of their fields, exploring the trajectory of what happens as each pursues their career.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Introducing Modern Art to Preschoolers: “Mousterpiece”

Jane Breskin Zalben. Author/Artist

1. How can your books be used to teach a love of art (Mousterpiece) and performing (Four Seasons)?

I have been told that both are perfect venues to teach the love of art and music. All I can say is that if you do something that it meaningful, write about it, and it comes through to the reader, then in essence, it teaches a lesson and shows without telling in a heavy-handed way what it means to be an artist, to do what has meaning in life, to make a life of art. Art was always my life since I was little. I think that comes through in Mousterpiece. It is who I am. It is who the little mouse, Janson, is. She discovers what it is to be a true artist. I also played the piano as a child. In the same vein, Ally, the main character in Four Seasons: A novel in four movements based on the seasons of Vivaldi’s sonata, is a child piano prodigy at Julliard in New York City and learns to discover, like Janson, (I just realized this link!) what it means to be a true artist for herself. I was not a child prodigy, but my younger son went to Juilliard as a violinist and composer for nine years as a child so I knew my “material” to say the least.

2. What do you see as connecting threads in your work?

The common thread is emotion. I do not avoid inner feelings and how people interact or relate to each other, whether it is for young children or young adults. We are complex human beings whether we are three or eighty-three. Some of us just choose to forget or deny the inner workings of who we are. I like to tap into and remember those feelings of separation anxiety or fear or heartbreak, and of course, empathy and love.

3. How does your work as an artist inform your book publishing?

Well, I am an artist – a painter – who happens to do books and am passionate about the form and structure of a book as an art object. I loved slip-cased books, books tied with silk ribbons, ragged thick paper on the trim, marbleized endpapers, embossed cloth bindings, vellum over a title page – that is why I originally fell in love with bookmaking. Of course books look different now, and that challenge I appreciate as well. Every detail down to the spacing of the typography on the page. Now, I like experimenting more in a book. With both the ideas and the materials used. I have done work on the computer, overlays like an animation, mixed media, collage, but in the end for me there is nothing like the water color on a gorgeous piece of paper painting with a triple zero brush taking my time with my nose to the surface for hours hunched over a drafting table! I consider it “serious business” and don’t take lightly the years spent on creating a book. I have done around 50 books – all kinds – and I like to push myself as an artist and a person to experiment and challenge myself to do something I haven’t done before. To grow.

4. Do you cross-promote the two?

I try, but it is almost like two different fields with different editors with their own passions. Some are better at novels, while others at a shorter form. I love music. Many people have mentioned it enters a lot of my work, in timing, space and intensity. I have used it in both age groups – novels and picture books. Sometimes people know me as a young adult / middle-grade author, and most know me as a picture book author/artist. I began my life as an artist, but felt I needed to say more so I began to write novels when my children were little and napped. I had stopped doing picture books for a few years to get away from all that! They no longer are small; I feel even more intense now about writing novels. The link between the two is that in a novel you are there visually with the characters, and in a way, it is like doing art. I disappear into another place that feels real in that fictional world. I love being in it and feel consumed by writing the story when I am working on a novel, like Four Seasons (Knopf 2011) which took about 3 or so years, and Leap (Knopf) before that, which I developed into a screenplay – another visual form with dialogue. I have had eight published between doing the picture books.

5. Is there an art technique you’ve learned recently that you’d be willing to share tips on?

I have experimented so much in these last ten years with so many different techniques that I find it actually interesting. I get bored when I look at some illustration work and the style is the same again and again. For me, it personally shows no growth. I know people often want the same old thing from an artist, but for an artist, that is not always exciting.

What is exciting is the journey, the process of working, revising, and knowing there is never an end because even when the book is done, it could always be redone in another way. There is a time though, you have to say, move on to the next one.

As a former art director, teacher at the School of Visual Arts, chair of the Society of Illustrators, I can say I have seen a lot of techniques, and in the final analysis the tip is what works for the individual. There are no rules. The key is to wake up and do what you love and keep trying to make it better. I think that is the plight of the artist. The process. The work. The time alone in a room to create.

Jane Breskin Zalben the author/artist of more than 50 children’s books. She’s just published “Mousterpiece: a mouse-sized guide to modern art,” which is receiving starred reviews. Her young adult novel, “Four Seasons” had jacket blurbs from Judy Blume and Gordan Korman and fan e-mails from Bunnicula author, James Howe. She travels around the U.S. and abroad to talk about her children’s books.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Creating Documentary Theater on Civil Rights: Mike Wiley

Mike Wiley, Actor and playwright

Brown Versus The Board of Education

 

Blood Done Sign My Name – credit Steve Exum

1. Why did you choose to go out on your own?

I got started out of necessity, drive and hunger – the reasons everyone does! But also, I knew I didn’t want to have to wait for someone to give me a job, and I didn’t want to have to work in another field, just to be able to afford to work in my chosen field at night. So many people end up waiting tables or getting jobs sitting behind a desk, just so they can do theater.

I felt if I did that, it would be easy to start to fall in love with the ease of regular work, and it would take the edge off my desire to work in my chosen field. I’ve seen it happen with others where after a while the day job increases and other becomes hobby.

I knew I wanted to work in theater, act and be creative and steer my own ship all at the same time. I didn’t have a Masters in acting – I had a communication degree, which someone talked me into doing. So, it was good that I understood advertising, marketing, and the skills of design to be able to funnel that into my theater work and to build it about myself.

For several years, I was an actor in New York looking to play multiple characters because I realized, if I could do that, I could do solo plays. I knew I could write, and I just wanted to write pieces I could use full-length or for short, 45-minute performances. Plays that could be performed at a theater, school or college, in regional theater, or on tour.

I wrote, One Noble Journey about Henry Brown. I wrote it because it was a slave narrative that was incredibly moving with things that rang true and funny to me. I hadn’t come across slave narratives that were funny before, so my reaction to Henry Brown’s was sort of nice. It’ s the story of Henry “Box” Brown, who decided he was going to actually mail himself in a box to the North in the middle of summer to escape, which was crazy, but it was the only way he could find to free himself.

For me, writing my own pieces was a way for me to free myself – so Henry Brown was that for me. Before that, I was a sort of a slave to type – I was expected to play an African- American man of certain age and build, whereas now, I didn’t have to be a certain sex, height, type, or color. I could do a solo show and be a white or black male, even female, or child – I could play all of the characters! Doing a one-man show allows me to bridge the worlds of theater and storytelling with few props and no costumes changes. I found I don’t need much of a back drop, just me using mostly voice and posture, and a willing audience.

What I’ve learned, is that the audiences are interested in me and in watching the transformations I make from one character to the next – how two seconds ago I was a young African American male, then seconds later an elderly female pretending to be a white male. What the audience is attracted to is watching the act of becoming the other.

2. How would you suggest someone get started writing their own work?

You just need a pencil and a library card. There are so many true stories out there waiting to be told. The same is true with oral histories, they’re out there waiting to be picked up and be told. If an artist comes along and illustrates or adapts it, then the story lives again, but now it has dimensions it didn’t have before.

I’ve found it’s important to make the commitment to do the research, and then, to get meaningful feedback once you’ve written the 1st, 2nd or 3rd draft. At that point, you or another person should read the piece aloud – so skip the step of having someone read the text you written, you’ll get more across if it’s done aloud.

3. What are your feelings about what’s happening now with performing arts & the arts in education? How has that impacted your work?

I was just reading now in our area about some regional theaters having closed. I’ve found the business model I have has worked because it can go to where theater is wanted and needed. You don’t have to bring in bus loads to a place to see it – and you don’t have to go to a metro area. I bring theater to where people are. Sometimes it’s in a theater, sometimes a local cultural center, other times at schools and libraries – I’ve performed in galleries too. The objective is to give them a great cultural experience, presenting arts and history, and to make it enjoyable and even funny. It can be done affordably, so they don’t need to go to the school board for funding and approval to do it. That makes sense strategically, and I can do it because it’s just me and a stage manager to cover for us to make the trip and mount the performance.

Mike Wiley is an actor and playwright, who’s spent more than a decade fulfilling his mission to bring educational theatre to young audiences and communities across the country. In the early days of his career, Wiley found few theatrical resources to shine a light on key events and figures in African-American history. To bring these stories to life, he started his own production company.

Through his performances, Wiley has introduced countless students and communities to the legacies of Emmett Till, Henry “Box” Brown and more. His most recent works include a one-man play based on Tim Tyson’s memoir Blood Done Sign My Name and The Parchman Hour, an ensemble production celebrating the bravery and determination of the Freedom Riders who risked their lives to desegregate Southern interstate bus travel in 1961.

Mike Wiley has a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is the 2010 Lehman Brady Visiting Joint Chair Professor in Documentary Studies and American Studies at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In addition to his numerous school and community performances, he has also appeared on Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel and National Geographic Channel and has been featured in Our State magazine and on PBS’ North Carolina Now and WUNC’s The State of Things.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta