Counterpulse, Arts Fundraising and Down’s Syndrome

capacitor

Capacitor dance photo via Facebook

Over the weekend I went to Counterpulse, a local arts organization that specializes in producing cutting-edge works of performance art. They have been in the same spot in SoMA for a decade but are moving to a new building in Tenderloin later this year. I had been there before and enjoyed the space and the mission of the place but hadn’t attended anything there in a long time. I didn’t realize that what I was attending was a fundraising event, but it ended up giving me a great perspective on the place.

mayday

I heard about the May Day event because of an email from Capacitor, one of the five groups performing on the night that I went. They’re an aerial-contortionist-dance group that I always find amazing and I look forward to seeing their work. They didn’t disappoint of course, sharing and excerpt from a longer work that will be at Fort Mason next year that I’m already looking forward to.

Capacitor has been working with Counterpulse for the past year. The other performances were a mixture of similar work helped along by Counterpulse and performances by other partner / sister organizations in the Bay Area like ODC theater. Both types of performance were interesting. There was a wearable technology performance where movement altered voice sounds in a captivating way. There were two pieces that had a humorous edge. And there was a solo dance performance using a oversized chair as an impressive prop. I loved the mixture of performances, the unique inspiration of each, the abbreviated look at the dance community in the Bay Area.

directors counterpulse

Counterpulse executive director Tomás Riley with artistic director Julie Phelps

What was interesting was that it was also a fundraising event. Before the show and during intermission was a silent auction where people could bid on items including wine, bodywork, art, bike tours, overnight getaways, book collections and more. Between the two final acts there was an “auctioning of the bills”. This was fascinating to watch. The directors of Counterpulse got on stage and shared a breakdown of the different costs of operating their new facility, asking people to take on a portion of the costs. They said it was a way for donors to let people really know where their money was going. And of course it helped to make their costs really transparent.

It was fascinating to watch what people would contribute for or not, something that seemed to be based on the item up for donation rather than the dollar amount. Someone who didn’t bid on anything else shot his hand up immediately to donate enough to cover one week of free yoga for community members. Another gave to cover the cost of one month of full health insurance coverage for one of the staff members. A few donated to help provide stipend funding for arts fellows. Three more each gave a month of rent costs to keep the doors open. Another wanted to give tangibly and offered her money to the cost of office supplies and toilet paper.

Sometimes it was uncomfortable, sitting there in the audience, waiting to see if anyone would give for something specific. There was a sense of pressure to give, even though the presentation of the process was congenial and friendly, and I was curious if some people were giving out of response to that pressure. It was also interesting, as an outsider who isn’t really familiar with this community, to see how much of the giving came from a combination of staff members, board members and longtime supporters that the staff knew by name. It made me think of how we are all so passionate about our own little communities, the niches we’ve found ourselves in that we’re willing to really give for. It made me think of Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking and how it’s so true that people really do want to give to others in so many different ways.

art of asking

One of the things that they were requesting donations for was the cost of maintaining the elevator in their new space. They mentioned that they were not required to include an elevator but wanted to do so as part of their ongoing commitment to full accessibility – not only so that people with disabilities can attend shows but so that dancers with varying accessibility issues can be welcomed to participate in the shows. This impressed me. I see a lot of live performances of all types and it made me think about how few have had visible disabilities of any kind.

writing with grace book

Right now I’m reading Writing with Grace: A Journey Beyond Down Syndrome, a book by writer Judy McFarlane who works with a young woman named Grace who has Down’s Syndrome and is writing her own book. Judy is starkly honest about her own preconceived notions as she first met Grace and how she had to confront her own biases. She delves deep into the history of Down’s Syndrome research and litigation, both in Canada where she is based and also around the world. One of the things she highlights is the way that Down’s Syndrome fetuses are frequently aborted. I have no opinion either way on this, other than to say that I think abortion is a choice that all mothers should have though it shouldn’t be taken lightly and always comes with pain even when it’s the right choice. But the idea of it struck me because I have always kind of accepted that this is a totally reasonable choice to have and McFarlane caused me to consider that perhaps the legitimizing of aborting an entire category of humans isn’t something that should be commonly accepted.

What it really has me thinking about, I suppose, is the many different types of people there are in this world compared to the small percentage of which we consider “normal”. People on the autism spectrum, people with developmental disabilities and physical disabilities, people with major learning disabilities, people with mental health issues … there remains so much stigma around all of these things, stigma I admit I work with constantly inside my own self to varying degrees. And how each of these is considered a disability that diverges from the “norm”. But with the percentage of people affected by any one of these things, can we really say that the “norm” is norm at all?

I’ve learned a lot about the thinking process of people with autism as well as the learning process of people with dyslexia. Now in reading about Grace’s journey, I’m seeing yet another side of the same coin. And what it forces me to look at is my own value system in regards to “intelligence” and “knowledge” and “being smart”. I’ve always been smart by the standards of society. I’ve always gotten great grades in school and been able to carry on intellectual conversations on a wide range of topics and enjoy being well-read. And yet, it’s only way of learning and interacting with the world, so what I cling to as “smart” for me excludes entire categories of people who learn and express in other ways.

I realize this isn’t a new concept by any stretch, that this is something that people with different learning styles have been telling us for a long time. And yet it’s somehow impacting me in a different way right now. It’s subtle. I’m not sure what it means or will turn into or if it’s just reorganizing my thinking a little bit, which will likely reorganize my perception of and experience in the world. It’s all in process. And where I am at today.

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The Balcony at the Old Mint

the balcony

I worried that I’d be too tired to go see the play I’d committed to seeing last weekend. It was a school weekend for me, which meant that I’d be in classes for almost eleven hours, classes that are intense and emotional and engaging. And yet, I felt so drawn to the play that I decided to push past the wall of tiredness and see it anyway. I walked the short distance to see The Balcony at The Old Mint in a windstorm, which seemed to appropriately set the stage for the ominous, slightly surreal play.

I’d been to The Old Mint once before, to see a lecture with my sister on sustainable gardening when the building had first reopened to the public. I was mesmerized then by the unique architecture of this historic space, with its cavernous rooms and dungeon-like vaults and labyrinth of doors opening one space onto another onto another into a courtyard. There couldn’t have been a better space picked for this play that is immersive without being interactive (a key point, because I love to be right-up-in-the-thick-of-it but definitely wasn’t in the mood to interact as a part of the theater).

balcony

The play begins in the rooms in the basement where gold used to be stored in the days when this was a money vault. Four different scenes happen simultaneously and the viewers get to wander from room to room at their own whim. I was a little worried about this part because I had mixed reactions to a similar set-up at a Speakeasy-themed play last year. I loved that one in the end but it took awhile to adjust to moving about without direction. In this case, the vignettes stood on their own and I didn’t feel pressure to catch every scene of The Balcony’s four starting scenes. Additionally, the cast of characters that weren’t in the scenes were available in the hallway to quickly direct viewers to the spots they might want to check out next. The thirty minutes went quickly and I enjoyed stepping in and out of various scenes.

Truth be told, I might not have known exactly what those scenes were about if it weren’t for the handy program that provided me with that information. The combination of walking in and out of scenes with the old-fashioned language made catching the nuances of the plot difficult. But I think that would have been the case had the play taken place in a more linear fashion on a traditional stage as well and this setting worked better because it offered a close-up, intriguing look at the set and costumes and characters. It was a good experience.

the balcony 2

The group was then ushered upstairs and the following five longer scenes took place one after the other, allowing the story to unfold and become clearer as the time went on. Mind you, it’s a French play written more than 100 years ago, so it’s not clear in the way that a contemporary play is clear, but the story of a revolution, the play-within-a-play, the specific characters’ stories all do become clear. Each scene takes place in a different room so the whole group of viewers comes into the room, led by costumed ushers who generally fit well into the scene.

balcony4

I have to say that I loved the costumes of this play. Some of them (the dress of the Queen, for example) reminded me of couture wearable art that you might see at a DeYoung fabric / fashion exhibit. Others were more handcrafted and cheesy but in a way that worked. Streetwear was combined with unique artistic elements that were eye-catching and interesting.

The caliber of the actors is also notable. Not that I’ve ever questioned that here in San Francisco where we have amazing small theatre groups. Still, there were several characters in this play that really stood out as amazing actors. Irma, the Queen, was seductive and powerful. Carmen was glorious in tall heels and extravagant facial expressions. Sometimes the actors cast into specific roles were unpredictable, seeming to reflect the make-up of San Francisco’s diversity in a way that worked for this play. See the full cast here.

balcony 3

The final scene plays out in a large room that looks out onto a courtyard and a portion of the scene is actually watched through the windows. It’s a unique experience. If you want to see a unique historic play in a unique historic building (a building that you really should visit even if for some reason you don’t make it to the play), The Balcony runs Th-Sat this weekend and next weekend. Tickets here.

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SmartChick at the Blog Carnival

It’s been awhile since I contributed one of my blog posts to a blog carnival. I love blog carnivals but sometimes it’s hard to make the time to submit posts to them since there are so many other things to be done in terms of web writing work and writing promotion.

However, a post of mine is finally featured in a new blog carnival. My thoughts here on how to be a smart shopper were included recently in the Fabulous Festival which is all about fashion, beauty and shopping. My post was in the shopping category. Other posts in this category were about vintage shopping and buying socks for men. There were also several posts on dresses in this category including wedding dresses, prom dresses and celebrity dresses.

Posts that fell specifically into the fashion category were on a wide range of topics. These topics included military jackets, vintage lingerie, bustierspajamas, hats, mending your own clothes and making clothing donations. There were also book reviews and interviews. In the personal style and beauty categories are posts on jumpsuits, recycled fashion, acrylic nails, shoes, spring fashions, big hair, mineral makeup, skin care (including wrinkle prevention) and the man purse.

Happy reading!

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Celebrating National Poetry Month Is Fun

People seem to take poetry way too seriously. I think it’s because of the way that poetry was approached in school. We were asked to deconstruct the meaning of every line of poems that probably didn’t interest us. Sometimes a red wheelbarrow is just a red wheelbarrow, you know.

But poetry is meant to be fun. Even when it’s not happy, even when it is intense, it is meant to be an experience that we immerse ourselves in. It is meant to be something that we enjoy.

Celebrating National Poetry Month is all about bringing that fun back to poetry. It’s about honoring the fact that poetry exists in our history and in our modern lives. It’s about finding that poet that you can fall in love with and reading his or her works again and again. It’s about attending poetry readings and feeling the energy of a crowd or getting lost in the page as you pen your own poems for no one else’s eyes.

There are many small things that we can do to celebrate poetry but the main thing is to stop looking so negatively about it, to stop taking it so seriously, to stop thinking that we know what it is and instead to give it a chance to reveal something new to us. Who knows, it may just make us laugh with glee!

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Always Let Your Kids Be Creative

I read a lot of books about creativity. I read a lot of memoirs by artists and writers. And I know a lot of people who make art their living, their way of life or an important hobby that they would never let go. What all of this intake of information about art has taught me is that most creative people have blocks that they have to deal with when it comes to their creativity. And like most of our issues in life, those blocks were often built during childhood.

Spend any significant amount of time with children and you will see that they are naturally imaginative. It isn’t just in the way that they play – although it’s clear there with their fantasy games and make-believe. It is in the way that they approach life, with the curiosity and wonder that we associate with being a kid. It is in the way that they solve problems and in the way that they negotiate friendships.

Adult artists know that they can learn a lot from kids about all of these things because kids don’t just ‘think outside of the box’. Kids don’t even see the box. Or they see the box but what they see is a potential fort or ship or space for drawing on.

Unfortunately, it happens all too quickly that kids are taught that the box is a box. They are limited by life and education and experience. Their imaginations begin to dwindle. This happens as a part of life. But it also happens directly as a result of the failure of parents and teachers to encourage the ‘not-just-a-box’ thinking that kids naturally have.

I’ve written an article today with 20 tips for encouraging your children’s creativity. I hope that you will read it and add to it because I think that one of the most important things that a parent can do is to encourage kids to continue to be creative. It isn’t about being artistic, although that’s a nice side benefit, but rather about being creative in life so that it always seems that problems have solutions even when they aren’t obvious to them. It’s about celebrating life and the wonder that it holds. These are things we all need more of and things that we shouldn’t take from our kids earlier than life gives it to them.

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