Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Always finding new inspiration

Every year, I attend the Association of Arts Presenters (APAP) conference in New York. The conference is the world's largest networking forum and marketplace for performing arts professionals. Mor​e than 3,600 presenters, artists, managers, agents and emerging arts leaders from all 50 U.S. states and more than 30 countries convene in New York City for five days of professional development, business deals and exciting performances. It is always one of the most exciting weekends of my year and this year’s conference was certainly no exception.

During my stay in NYC this year, I saw over 30 performances including dance, music, theatre, and circus. I also had two faculty members and two students from Pinkerton with me and they all saw a bunch of shows on their own. I spent all day Saturday with Julia Sylvain, a Pinkerton sophomore who is very involved in the school’s dance program. In that one day alone, Julia and I saw the work of 17 dance companies. There were companies from all over the country. Some were ballet companies and one was a hip hop company, but for the most part what we saw was a lot of modern dance. Over the course of the past few years, I’ve seen so much evidence that as theatre artists we have so much to learn from modern dance. Of all the companies we saw, the one whose work resonated most with me was ODC Dance from San Francisco. Their work is visually stunning with exceptional grace and other-worldly strength. Upon returning home, I spent some time researching the company and found some very interesting parallels between them and theatre KAPOW.

According to the ODC website: “The organization was formed by Brenda Way in 1971 as a collective of artists at Oberlin College in Ohio where the name ODC originates (Oberlin Dance Collective). Adventure, a certain irreverence and the joy of moving were key ingredients to the core philosophy of our founding members. In 1976, the sixteen dancers, painters, writers, photographers and musicians of the collective bid farewell to Ohio, piled into a big yellow bus and came west to San Francisco to find a context for their artistic vision and social ideals.” Similarly, tKAPOW was founded by four of us that met doing theatre at St. Anselm College. I really love ODC’s statement about adventure and how they exemplified their commitment to adventure by packing up and moving to California. That level of courage is truly inspirational. See a video of ODC's work here.

In NY, I was able to see excerpts of ODC’s piece boulders and bones which was inspired by the work of Andy Goldsworthy and features and original score by ZoĆ« Keating, two of tKAPOW’s favorite artists. Sitting and watching a piece inspired by an artist that is often one of your inspirations and having that piece set to music by an artist whose work is often used in our training is a strange experience. Using these sources, ODC is creating beautiful dance while we look to the work of these artists when creating theatre (especially with our devised and other original work).

One of our resolutions for 2016 is to experience the work of other companies and I am so thrilled to have been introduced to this exciting company for the first time. I’m hopeful that the year will be filled with numerous other opportunities to see the work of great artists in a variety of disciplines.

~ Matt Cahoon

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2016 Resolutions

It's that time of year: the gym is crowded, various diets and cleanses are all the rage. Everyone is "turning over a new leaf" for the new year. We thought about some things we'd like to be sure to do in 2016, and here's what we came up with:

1. Engage audiences in the process
Last season we began a series of special engagement opportunities with our donors and audience members. The process of creation is often very private, but theatre is a collaborative experience. The cycle of sharing, discussing, revising, sharing again and continuing the discussion is at the heart of the rehearsal process. We’d like to widen the circle of participants and provide a deeper experience for audience members in 2016.

2. Experience the work of other companies
Re-stocking the well is an essential part of creative life. Sometimes that means setting aside time to read a book or color in a coloring book. One source of great inspiration and fuel for the fire/desire to create good work is to see good work. Be it dance, theatre, music, or visual art, in 2016 we want to see good work and share it with others. We’ll plan a series of “field trips” to re-stock our well and inspire our creativity.

3. Train with visiting artists
Over the course of the past several years we have hosted visiting artists as part of the annual Artists’ Retreat at Chanticleer Gardens in Dunbarton and have twice hosted trainings led by visiting artists at our studio space in Manchester. In 2016, we seek to expand training opportunities in both locations. A commitment to rigorous training has been integral to tKAPOW’s work since the beginning, but we believe that a critical aspect of our future success will be learning more about different approaches to theatre making. With this in mind, tKAPOW will plan and schedule a series of pay-as-you-go training experiences for local theatre artists.

4. Provide artists with opportunities to expand their own training
As mentioned above, training is an important piece of tKAPOW’s identity. Something that we’d like to do in 2016 is to make funding available to allow artists who work with tKAPOW to take part in training with other companies or in complementary fields that we believe may benefit future tKAPOW productions. So, attend a theatre workshop, take lessons in a certain instrument, or practice circus skills as part of an aerial silks class, we hope we can help pay for it. We want to encourage our artists to gain skills that will add to future productions.

5. Incorporate music into our work more fully
Truthfully this is one of those resolutions that I put in the list every year. Working with Sandy on The Burial at Thebes and Dave on Macbeth really added a great deal of texture to those productions and we are excited to find other ways to integrate music more fully into future productions. With Raining Aluminum, the new piece that we are premiering in June 2016, we are collaborating with Cynthia MacLeod, a fiddler from PEI. It will be fascinating to see how Cynthia’s work on the soundscape for that piece influences the storytelling. I look forward to exploring ways that music can be used in new and perhaps unexpected ways to improve our work.

6. Expand our audience base by performing in new locations
In 2015, we were fortunate enough to perform in Manchester, Derry, Concord, and Portsmouth. Everywhere we went we met new people who truly enjoyed our work. In 2016, we are already scheduled to do a workshop in Boston and I look forward to finding new performance venues. In September, we met with a number of presenters from Canada about performing up there so who knows maybe we’ll be visiting Tim Horton’s instead of Dunks when we need a caffeine boost in the new year.

7. Create a “bring-a-friend” program to introduce new audiences to our work
We know that our audience members are the best advocates for our work. We hear such lovely feedback following performances both in person and online. We want to find a way that you can share tKAPOW’s shows with a friend and get some benefit out of it. Whether that is a reduced ticket for yourself, a buy-one-get-one offer, or some kind of loyalty program, I don’t know yet, but we’d love your help in introducing more people to what we are doing.

8. Increase participation in Open Training
Just today, we fell down a YouTube hole of watching clips of Wheel of Impressions from The Tonight Show. Both the musical editions and the one with Kevin Spacey (which is a master class in vocal work itself, you should watch it) reminded me that training, training, training is so essential to creating good work. Training your ear, training your voice, training your mind, training your body: these are the tools of the craft. To excel at your craft, you need to train. It’s not about having great physical prowess or building incredible strength or inhuman flexibility. It’s about training your instrument to do what you need it to do when you need to do it, so that you can get out of your own way and be in the moment. In 2016, we will continue to share the trainings we practice, and new trainings that we find.

9. Research and learn more about the world in which we live and work, approaches to theatre creation, understanding of cultures with which we are unfamiliar.

At this time of year we often spend a lot of time reading. We read a lot of scripts, yes, but we also read about different training methodologies, philosophical texts, books on textual analysis, and the occasional book that seems unrelated to anything (Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World and I Am Malala are on the pile this year). It is part of tKAPOW’s mission to present great works of dramatic literature from across ages and cultures, but it never really feels like we have dug deep enough. The world is a big place and, the more we learn about different cultures, the more we understand the universality of the human experience. In 2016, we must travel more, read more, and meet more people who can help us tell the stories that need to be told.

10. Recommit to our aesthetic
We talk a lot about what makes a tKAPOW show a tKAPOW show and always end up back at the same place, aesthetic. So many great artists have contributed to shaping that aesthetic over the years and, in 2016, we will continue that work to define who we are as a company through the way that we produce work. Intimacy remains a key element of our aesthetic, as does accessing character through physicality, approaching all production elements artistically, and--I hope--endeavoring towards ingenuity. This is truly the work of a lifetime, an un-achievable resolution that will nonetheless remain forever a goal for this company, in 2016 and for many years to come.