Portland!

This past Saturday evening, I arrived in Portland, OR, shortly after 8PM.  Having just spent 11 hours driving up from San Francisco, my rideshare deposited me at the Hipbone Studio, bags and all, so I could attend the Urban Tellers showcase put on by Portland Story Theater.  Despite the fact that I had been traveling since 8:30AM and was pretty tired, I was whisked into the darkness of the theater and spent the next two hours listening intently to the true stories unfolding before me.

Portland Story Theater is like a local version of The Moth (whose podcast you should subscribe to if you don’t already).  Their focus is on true stories, both personal narrative as well as historical events.  Urban Tellers is a workshop series in which “ordinary people” learn to tell their own personal narratives, and the showcase is where they get to present the results of their work.  The founders of PST, Lynne Duddy and Lawrence Howard, share my belief that through sharing our stories and connecting on that raw, human, level, we can break down barriers and build a better community.  They strive to do this in every work they present.

Lynne and Lawrence have also been my generous hosts in Portland, having spontaneously offered me a place to stay after I emailed them about PST last week.  The last few days have been full of wonderful conversation, lots of reflection, and excitement about my next steps.  I’m learning a lot about direct, simple storytelling, and have begun to think about my own stories.  Last night I got to sit in on the final post-performance reflection for the group of Urban Tellers that just performed, and tonight I will be sitting in on the weekly workshop of the group that will be performing in a few weeks.  I’ve connected with some wonderful people, and am looking forward to the rest of my week in Portland!

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, Oregon Coast

My store! They even spelled my name right!

Some overdue highlights from LA

Despite the fact that I have been in the Bay area for a week now, I just loaded my most recent photos onto the computer and realized how much I never wrote about LA!  So here are some highlights from my time there, for your viewing pleasure.

Also, please take a look at the (recently updated) Directory of Organizations page to learn more about all the wonderful organizations I’ve been coming across, as well as my new Photos page, where you can see the complete collection of photos from each city I’ve visited so far.  Enjoy!

Casa 0101 - a theatre company based in Boyle Heights, started by Josefina Lopez (of Real Women Have Curves)

The wonderful Boyle Heights farmer's market, complete with a young, hip group performing traditional Mexican music. That neighborhood is really undergoing a cultural revival!

ArtShare Los Angeles - another great youth-focused arts org. They offer classes in theatre, dance, and visual arts, focused on developing youth as professional artists.

Free movie by the Echo Park Film Cooperative's Film-Mobile! We saw a great movie (Hito Hata?) Filmed partially on that very spot 30 years ago.

Rizza, my new friend from couchsurfing, and I at the free movie in Little Tokyo (and enjoying our free Pocky snacks!)

Austin!

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Some of my more attentive readers may be wondering what I’m doing and why I haven’t posted about Austin yet… well the fact of the matter is, I’ve been too busy LIVING Austin to write about it.  I think that’s suited to the character of the city – it is a place to truly be lived in.  Over the last week and a half I have had the pleasure, with the aid of my dear friend Katie Visco, of discovering the most wonderful parts of Austin and the nicest people it has to offer.

Austin is a beautiful city, with lots of gardens, a beautiful river, and lots of nice people.  It is also unbearably hot and humid.  Despite that fact, I have managed to enjoy the best of it: swimming in Barton Springs, eating Amy’s Ice Cream, catching some good music, checking out the ubiquitous food trucks (I’ve never seen so many in one city!), perusing the food samples at the flagship Whole Foods store (it’s HUGE!), and just enjoying good company.  I have also, true to the mission of this trip, checked out a few great programs which I’ll post more about in the next few days: the Theatre Action Project, Grrl Action, and the Pro Arts Collective.

More than anything though, Austin has been a place to relax and reflect.  I’ve been thinking a lot about community building, what it takes, and what kind of environment it requires.  I have been very impressed by organizations such as the Ashe Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans and the Pro Arts Collective here in Austin that serve not only as arts organizations but also as conveners, connectors, and active voices in their communities.  They promote and foster the arts in a variety of ways as well as providing a space for the community to come together.  I’m not sure that I really have anything further to say on that at the moment, it’s just something that has been on my mind.

At any rate, I head off in the direction of LA tomorrow, and will be on the road for a few days.  Hope to post once more before I leave.

New Orleans: Overflowing with Art and Community!

I have been in New Orleans for all of three days now and I have already visited and/or stumbled upon a host of awesome community and/or youth-focused arts organizations.  (Note: please view the full list on my new “Directory of Organizations” page!)

I have to say, traveling in this manner (by planning my trip around visiting community-arts orgs) is by FAR the best method of tourism I’ve found.  You really get to see the heart of the community by the ways in which they invest in the arts, and you get to see the type of artwork that really shows you who these people are.

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending an end-of-year showcase put on by several different school groups that operate under the umbrella of the Young Audiences program.  Young Audiences does a number of things, but this particular program pays teaching artists living wages to go into schools and educate kids in their art form.

The event was held at the Ashe Cultural Arts Center (where I will be attending a women’s health class tonight – I have to go put on my workout clothes in a minute!) and it was AWESOME!  There were easily 70-100 youth performing last night in all manner of performing arts, and the room was surrounded by their visual artwork as well.  It was a true community event.  I don’t have time to write more now, but please take a few minutes to view the video I made of the performances last night!  Apologies for the sound quality – there were a LOT of people there.

Goodbye Tennessee, Hello New Orleans!

As I prepare for my flight to New Orleans later today, it has just occurred to me that I will be making my first time zone change of the trip.  I’m not sure if this has any real significance, apart from the fact that I will be gaining an hour of my day today, but I feel that it is something to be celebrated.  A Next Step! A New Beginning!

This move also makes me nostalgic for the place I am about to leave. Tennessee has been good to me, in many ways, and I will miss it.  The community of Jonesborough welcomed me with open arms – they fed me, hugged me, loaned me bikes, gave me rides and free chiropractic adjustments, and generally made me feel at home.  Within days of being here I could walk down Main Street and recognize people.  I have also enjoyed the rolling hills of eastern Tennessee, and the general feeling of being in the country – though I can tell you I will NOT miss the sound of the donkeys heehawing in the middle of the night!

An Ode to Jonesborough:

This town,
deceptively quiet
rolling hills and countryside,
is invaded 5, 6, 7 times a day
by trains.
Hurtling hulks of metal
barreling across the land,
blowing whistles incessantly: wooooot wooooot!

The silence of my oversized bedroom
in this extra large country house
is interrupted by loud hee-haws and moos
at all hours of the day and night.

And here I am,
stranger in this noisy/quiet community,
welcomed in as part of the village.

Forest Gump’s momma may have said that
life is like a box of chocolates
but I think it can equally be said that
life is like a treasure hunt:
You never know what you’re gonna get.

Pots of gold come disguised as ordinary people –
when we enter the theatre we become alchemists,
bringing out the gold in one another
through honoring our stories.
This is no bland small town America:
Jonesborough, proud home of pioneers,
Daniel Boone, Davey Crockett,
the gateway to the Frontier.
Holding strong against the tides of change,
holding fast to the stuff they’re made of.
Proud to call this place home.

Big Old Victorian House

Cool statue thing

Ancient Ford Truck

Cows! They were kind of angry.

Barn

Front Porch

New York, DC, and Knoxville – Oh My!

So I started writing this four days ago… apologies for the delay!

This has been quite the week!  After leaving Boston on Monday I spent two and a half days in New York, took a bus to DC and spent approximately 36 hours there before busing to Knoxville, where I spent about 24 hours before finally taking a bus to Johnson City where I got picked up and taken to my final destination for the next month: Jonesborough!

While in New York, I had the opportunity both to visit NYU and also to attend the aforementioned “Artistic Review Day” at CUNY.  I was seriously hoping to have a strong sense of where I want to go once I’d finished, but in fact I was more torn than ever after my visits.  There are so many factors that make each program unique and wonderful, and it has been very hard to figure things out.  Ultimately, however, I looked at the two curricula side-by-side and I realized that CUNY is just more what I’m looking for right now.  The unfortunate thing is that I won’t find out if I’ve been accepted to CUNY for a few more weeks.  I’ll keep you posted on what happens with that!

The Artistic Review Day was an exciting event.  It was very small – there were only 6 prospective students in attendance that day (they will be doing several of these over the next few weeks).  We began the day with a three-hour interactive workshop, in which we played several theatre games, many of which I’d never played before.  These all built up until finally, for the last exercise, we split into two groups and created a piece based on a visual prompt, in which we were given instructions to consider a specific audience and create something that would raise questions for that audience.  The interesting thing that came out of this for me was the way in which our piece ended up raising questions/awareness within myself.  My group decided to gear our piece towards an audience like ourselves: people in the midst of making a big decision, taking a step forward into a next phase of life.  Through performing this and asking myself what I was facing, I realized how much fear I have about what I’m doing and what I’m about to do, and yet at the same time how much I know that I need this.

As for the following few days, it was a whirlwind of DC, bus, Knoxville.  I spent a wonderful Sunday at Sunday School and Feast with the Knoxville Baha’i Community before getting on the bus to Johnson City, where I was picked up by my hosts in Jonesborough.  Enjoy the pictures below!

Anjali (my lovely hostess), me, and Katie having delicious muffins for breakfast!

Two Vagabonders meet up in NYC!

Welcome to Tennessee!! View from the bus 🙂

My lovely host family in Knoxville, the Bahrami's

…and I’m off!

I have officially left Boston! I’m currently in New York, where I will visit the City University of New York and New York University over the next two days.  I will also get to have a lovely visit with my former roommate Anjali!

Not quite two weeks ago I was given my first applied theatre-related challenge for the trip: to create a performance piece of no more than two minutes, based on a contemporary theme or event.  They suggested, but did not require, that we use a newspaper article as a stimulus.  Specifically, their instructions were as follows:

This is an opportunity for you to:

  • Create an original “fragment” of work
  • Demonstrate a sense of theatricality and/or presentational qualities
  • Show your ability to use your chosen content to pose questions, stimulate thought or otherwise challenge your audience

Your audience will include members of the Admissions Committee and fellow applicants.

You could:

  • Write and share a short monologue
  • Use images (tableaux) and music to show contradictions
  • Create a character who needs help from the audience
  • Use song or dance/movement
  • Facilitate a brief discussion using an image (tableau), picture or text as a stimulus

We are looking for your potential to engage an audience, but you should not think of this as a conventional audition. We do not expect a polished final product.

In all my years of high school and undergraduate theatre, and even my brief stint doing community-based theatre at the Bauen Camp, I’d never been asked to do anything quite like this before – at least, not as a solo artist.  I was terrified.

I let the idea sit for a few days and kept an eye out for interesting articles. One evening my roommate, Zahra, brought a very disturbing news story to my attention: five American soldiers have been accused of planning and carrying out elaborate plans to kill Afghan civilians.  What’s worse, after killing these innocent people, they posed for photos with the bodies, as though they were hunting trophies.

In speaking with Zahra about this event, we wondered how someone could possibly be so cruel – you can’t possibly see someone else as a human being and treat them this way.  These soldiers had completely dehumanized the people they killed, and we wondered why.  Does it stem from the fear of the unknown? Prejudice? Why have people performed hate crimes throughout history?  I knew I had to create my piece about this incident.

So the next step: how do I turn this into a performance piece? What medium do I use?  I tried to think about my strengths as an artist, and I immediately felt that it was very important for me to incorporate song into this piece.  The song “Strange Fruit,” made famous by Billie Holiday, gave me an inspiration, and I decided to rework the song as the foundation of my piece. I sat down to write, and came up with the following piece.  When performed, it will be a sort of spoken word poem, beginning and ending with singing.  Wish me luck at CUNY on Wednesday!

[Sung] Many years ago
Southern trees bore strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.
Now Afghan fields yield strange crops
Blood in our hearts – when will it stop?

[Spoken] Five American soldiers, killing for sport.
But these are no hunting trophies.
They are innocent men, women, children.

How many times must we see history repeat itself?
Auschwitz and Birkenau,
Bosnia, Rwanda,
Laramie, Cambodia,
The list goes on…

Crimes born of hatred,
Hatred born of ignorance.

Are we so afraid of losing ourselves –
So afraid of people we don’t understand –
that we must prove our strength through intolerance?

That is not strength.

The only crop that we sow
With fear in our hearts
Is a strange and bitter fruit.
It poisons us from the inside out,
Weakening our souls until all that’s left is an empty shell.

No.
This will not do at all.

We must tend these ravaged fields
With hearts of love, with seeds of peace.
We must stand up and face
that which we are most afraid of,
and embrace it, with open arms.

Only then will our trees grow fruit that is sweet.

[Sung] Those southern trees
Don’t bear fruit no more
The blood is gone
But the wound’s still sore.
The poison runs deep
It’s hard to dispel.
Open your heart
To the story it tells.