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|Posted by The Fourth Wall on February 7, 2015 at 12:25 AM||comments (1)|
January is a fine time to reflect on the past year, especially when the weather provides some useful home-alone time. Looking back, we’ve had a rather epic year, marked by an array of accomplishments, including a move to Boston. (Lest you think we brought the full force of winter upon ourselves by moving to the northeast, it was this time last year that we were similarly penned in by dangerously cold conditions in Indiana. Winter is coming, and it has a way of finding us.)
Thank you to everyone who has been a part of our artistic journey so far! We hope you stick around. We’ve got big plans for 2015!
And now, we bring you the highlights of 2014.
- We won a competition! In June we were named First Place winners of the Savvy Musician in Action Chamber Ensemble Competition.
- Over the summer we performed at Fringe Festivals in Indianapolis, Rochester, and Houston. Our return to IndyFringe was greeted with rave reviews and overwhelming audience response. See you at IndyFringe this summer?
- In October, we spent 2 amazing weeks at Avaloch Farm Music Institute in New Hampshire. During our residency, we began staging Vassal of the Sun, collaborating with composer Stefanie Lubkowski, soprano Elisabeth Halliday, and a unique stage apparatus (we call it the Hamster Wheel) built by circus artist Phil Servita. Check out the early video footage:
- College touring included performances and workshops at The Eastman School of Music, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, the University of Louisville, and West Virginia University (where we are ensemble-in-residence for the International Flute Symposium).
- We appeared at the Mid-Atlantic Flute Fair and returned to the National Flute Association Convention (where we celebrated our 4th anniversary).
- We continued to perform on the roster of Arts for Learning in Indiana. In addition to our science and arts-integrated program “How Music Works – Vibration and Sound,” we began offering our signature program “Fruit Flies Like a Banana” for in-school performances.
- We were the subject of a wonderful article (followed by a rave review) at ClevelandClassical.com
- Our Facebook page surpassed 1000 likes in October. Thanks for the thumbs up, everyone!
- Performances in our new home base of Massachusetts included appearances at the Green Street Studios (Cambridge), Nave Gallery Music Series (Somerville), 1st Parish Church (Cohasset), El Sistema Somerville, Aeronaut Brewery (Somerville), and First Night Boston.
Happy New Year! Stay warm!
|Posted by The Fourth Wall on February 7, 2015 at 12:00 AM||comments (1)|
We are buzzing with new ideas and fresh energy here at The Fourth Wall after visits to the first annual New Music Gathering in San Francisco and the 37th annual Chamber Music America National Conference in New York. Emboldened by the spirit of working together to create great art, we are excited to announce our first ever call for scores. Up until now, our commissions have come out of conversations over dinner or drinks, but with the increasing popularity of Fruit Flies Like a Banana, we have become a means for audiences outside of the “new music” world to engage with today’s sounds.
Fruit Flies Like a Banana is a show format in which we perform over 20 pieces in 60 minutes with the order determined by the audience drawing cards from a deck. Modeled after the Neo-Futurist theatre company’s Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind our material ranges from slapstick to serious, vaudeville tricks to arrangements of Bach, and new pieces that have been written specifically for The Fourth Wall. Audiences are held at attention for the full hour, knowing that as soon as each piece is done, we will leap into their space, cards outstretched for them to choose the next piece. This leads to some really engaged listening and audiences frequently cite the “new music” pieces among their favorites!
With over 20 pieces in 60-minutes, we look for pieces that say a lot in a short amount of time. The sweet spot is 2-4 minutes and that’s what we’re asking for. If your piece makes its statement under 2 minutes, that’s great, but pieces over 4 minutes put too much of a squeeze on the rest of the program. The Fourth Wall is primarily a trio of flute, bass trombone, and percussion, but we have many secondary instruments to offer and can send a list upon request! In terms of percussion, the vibraphone is our workhorse with assorted accessories and a handful of drums available. We frequently perform FFLaB in theatre festivals where we have very little setup and tear down time, so minimal percussion sets are key!
This is a non-paying call for scores. Instead of financial reward, the works that we select will receive many performances across the country and we will offer composers high-quality video recordings from live shows. We also will always let you know when and where we are performing your piece so you can share the love across social media and keep ASCAP and BMI up to date.
Submissions for the 2015 summer season are due May 15th. To apply, please email us at [email protected] with your name, contact information, and any social media tags you use as a composer. Scores will be accepted as PDFs through email. Please send a full score plus parts and a sound mockup if possible. If your work is better sent as a hard copy, email us for a mailing address.
|Posted by The Fourth Wall on June 11, 2014 at 6:20 PM||comments (1)|
Posted by Neil
The Fourth Wall was recently named winners of the 2014 Savvy Musician in Action Chamber Ensemble Competition. This event is an experiential workshop on the emerging field of arts entrepreneurship, hosted by the University of South Carolina School of Music and directed by David Cutler. Over the course of four days, participants collaborate to develop arts-based business ideas while learning entrepreneurial concepts from experts in the field. The competition itself recognizes chamber groups for their artistic excellence and innovative event design.
So…what does it mean to compete in an arts entrepreneurship competition? Do the words “arts” and “entrepreneurship” even belong in the same sentence? Are business concepts and artistic ideals mutually exclusive, or is there way to integrate them without losing integrity? What does it take to be a “savvy musician,” and what does it mean to win such a competition? We weren’t entirely sure ourselves when we submitted our application, but here are some reflections after participating in the event.
Learn From Your Competitors
Who made up this year’s field of competitors? Aside from TFW, there were two Runners-Up and two Honorable Mentions:
Ensemble39: an expert New Music quintet of winds and strings modeled on Prokofiev’s Op. 39.
Warp Trio: this elastic piano trio expands to include drums and a dancer, combining classical, popular, and improvised music.
invoke: a bowed and fretted string quartet that embraces classical & folk traditions, generating original repertoire.
Duo Anova: an uncommon pairing of cello and guitar which delivers uncommon sonic adventures.
Unlike most musical competitions which focus on a prescribed instrumentation or genre, this event celebrates uniqueness. But while this may seem like an apples vs. oranges proposition, there are plenty of commonalities here: unusual instrumentation, interdisciplinary collaboration, genre-bending musical offerings, active creation of new repertoire through commissioning & arranging, and performances in non-traditional venues. At the heart of these innovations is a desire to be true to ourselves. As ensembles and as individuals, this group seeks a level of creative control not usually afforded to classically-trained musicians. Others may call it innovation; we call it authenticity.
Uniqueness and innovation, however, can breed skepticism. Aside from ongoing arguments that entrepreneurship is impossible in art, there are myriad negative perceptions to be confronted. For many, entrepreneurship connotes hucksterism. Marketing makes one wary that we’re being sold something we don’t want or that someone is profiting off the gullibility of others. The use of buzzwords and phrases such as “thinking outside the box” and “paradigm shift” can elicit responses such as, “Gag me with a PowerPoint slide!” Even the word “buzzword” can raise one’s hackles. Innovation in business may be the road to success ("fake it till you make it"), but in the arts, it’s all about quality.
Highly-skilled musicians have impeccable standards. (And believe me, this talent pool is very deep with very high standards.) This can be a tremendous burden, however, when we choose to exert our own interpretive and creative freedom. Always mindful of the potential for being gimmicky, we constantly strive to transcend the gimmick and explore deeper expressive possibilities for ourselves and for our audiences. None of us wants to be innovative if that innovation will negate artistic quality. But we do have to entertain our outlandish ideas long enough to test their worth.
Research & Development
One of the essential rules of brainstorming is to reserve judgment. There is no such thing as a bad idea. In theatre improvisation, this concept is called, “Yes…And.” It is imperative to accept even the stupidest ideas and run with them. Classical musicians tend to resist this notion, lending a sense of isolation to the process of turning crazy ideas into meaningful works of high quality. This, in addition to an inborn emphasis on private study and preparation, can lead one to feel like the weird kid playing alone in the corner.
How validating it is, then, to make the rare discovery of other weirdos who have been toiling away, building their own fantasy worlds. Rarer still is public acknowledgement that being the exception to the rules can have exceptional value. Marketing an unknown product can be a hard sell, but in this setting, we didn’t need to convince them. They were already convinced.
Have faith, weird kid! Your wild ideas may yet prove valuable to someone else.
Uniqueness cannot be qualified. It is incorrect to say that something is more or less unique than something else. Something is either unique or it isn’t. The received wisdom is that uniqueness does not play well with others. So how does that impact a competition that celebrates uniqueness?
It is widely acknowledged that music is a competitive profession, but I’m pleased to say that in this particular competition, there was no trace of professional rivalry. When we are all applying for the job of being ourselves, competition ceases to have meaning.
So congratulations to the fine ensembles we met through this competition. We’re your new biggest fans, and we can’t wait to share the stage with you again!
|Posted by The Fourth Wall on July 30, 2013 at 5:50 PM||comments (1)|
posted by Neil
Starting tomorrow, the Commerce Department will count the creative process towards the nation's Gross Domestic Product. As reported in a New York Times article this week, the Bureau of Economic Analysis has revised the way it calculates so-called "intangibles" by including "research and development and the creation of what it calls 'entertainment, literary and other artistic originals.'”
It can be easy for anyone in creative lines of work to feel "off the grid" while pursuing artistic ambitions. The need to practice an instrument, for instance, doesn't follow the ups and downs of the stock market, chief economic indicators, or even the contours of economic recessions. (We don't exactly consult the Wall Street Journal to know when it's a good time to invest in minor scales, triple-tonguing, or legato playing.) Now, however, we have confirmation that the productivity of the practice room has been economically undervalued all along.
So do the hours spent practicing finally have financial significance? Not exactly. "Money generally needs to change hands for creative work to be considered an investment" and the work needs to have "enduring value." The production costs of albums and movies will finally be reflected in the big numbers, but no one will be logging our practice hours but ourselves.
|Posted by The Fourth Wall on July 11, 2013 at 10:15 AM||comments (0)|
posted by Greg
I love Alan Gilbert. There, I've said it. Since taking the helm of the New York Philharmonic in 2009, he has organized some of the most exciting concerts and created a new face for what a top modern orchestra should be. In addition to programming a lot of fantastic contemporary repertoire and working hand-in-hand with some of today's greatest living omposers, he has mounted three phenomenal, large-scale, multidisciplinary operas...no...shows...no...theatres musicales....ummmm...supercool things! Gilbert and the Philharmonic first collaborated with Doug Fitch and his live animation company, Giants Are Small, to stage Ligeti's "Le Grand Macabre" in 2010. I had the good fortune to see the show live and it was an outstanding spectacle. Janacek's "The Cunning Little Vixen" was the second collaboration in 2011 and just two weeks ago, the NYPhil, Gilbert, Fitch, and Giants Are Small came together again to mount a production called "A Dancer's Dream" - developed at the University of Maryland with James Ross, who has done some fantastic collaborations with Liz Lerman involving dancing musicians and will hopefully discover our work someday soon and invite us out to play... - which is inspired by Stravinsky's "Petrushka" and "Le Baiser de la Fée". In this latest production, the musicians of the Philharmonic got into the act with choergraphed foot stomping, costumes, a little dancing, and a live tea party in the middle of the band. As we here in The Fourth Wall get ready for our first orchestra show in November with the Capital City Symphony (more on that soon), it is exhilerating to see the heavy weights of the orchestra world embracing the hybrid arts!
|Posted by The Fourth Wall on May 29, 2013 at 8:35 AM||comments (1)|
Posted by Neil
One of the many pig-farm-raised, Canadian, magician horn players in the world, Jeff Nelsen has thrilled audiences and inspired studentsfor over twenty years. So far he’s enjoyed touring with Canadian Brass (8 years), teaching and mentoring at Indiana University (7 years so far… ), giving a TEDx Talk about Fearless Performance, playing on Broadway (2 full show runs), soloing on 5 continents, and performing with dozens of orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, Chicago, and Boston Symphonies, and the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras. Jeff is also proud to be a magician member of “The Academy of the Magical Arts” at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, California.
Jeff Nelsen’s Fearless Performance seminar takes place this week at IU. We spoke at his home in Bloomington as he was “swimming in Fearless concepts in preparation for the seminar.” Our conversation progressed in a decidedly non-linear fashion, with multiple digressions into such topics as the artwork of Brian Andreas, Alex North’s unused original score to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and “The West Wing.” Occasionally, he would dive back in to his seminar writings to hone concepts like the difference between discipline and diligence.
Neil: How do you introduce yourself to people you’ve never met? What do you lead with?
Jeff: I find, “Hi, I’m Jeff” has worked pretty well for me. It so depends on who I’m meeting. Like, massively. Cause I grew up on a pig farm. A friend of mine kicked my ass about owning where I am in the horn world and the music world. I am near the top of the horn world, and I realized that I don’t wanna be that. You know, I’m doing the best I can. That’s why I was so shocked the first time I won a professional audition. I was like, “Really? That was good enough? Because I thought I crapped all over it, in my opinion. Wow! Okay! Thanks!”
And how many musicians have those stories? Winning the audition, thinking you’ve played like crap, versus losing the audition, thinking you rocked it. It’s all over the place.
Yeah. And it’s really hard to read why you didn’t get the job. There are too many variables. But it’s never anyone’s fault but your own. I like thinking in terms of responsibility instead of blame. Blame is in the past. Responsibility is what I can affect into the future. ...did you ask me a question? But what’s interesting is that I want to be liked by all, and that’s one of my strengths, I think. I feel like I can do that well, and it helps me help people and helps me do what I want, and everything in between. So I keep my successes pretty quiet, I think, and when I find myself with musicians, sometimes I find myself dripping one out here and there. So it really depends on who I meet. What do I lead with? Usually a joke. Usually something funny, y’know. But other than that, there’s no …y’know, my dad was loved by all. Dad grew upon a farm, my mom grew up in the city, and she wanted me to step out there and maybe be disliked by a few people and have more opinions. So it was a great mix.
And for people who are not in the classical music world, how do you describe the French Horn?
I say it’s the big, curly, one-legged trumpet. And if you’re crying in a movie, the French Horn is playing. I say I get to perform and teach all over the world. It’s wonderful. It’s a great honor and opportunity to do that. Yeah, I’m always explaining what the French Horn is, for sure. We get to play all the great repertoire, be it Classical or Broadway, movie soundtracks, video games, and all that.
Fiction or nonfiction?
[pause] …c’mon, Jeff, have a simple answer on one of these, alright? I love movies, but I spend my time with nonfiction. But I love “Lord of the Rings.”
So it might be media-dependent. For movies or something you watch, you want fiction, you want the escapism. Whereas, maybe the books you read…
“Books I read”…yeah…I mean audio programs I listen to driving between gigs.
So the books you hear are more informational.
Yup. Yup, I would say that. Neat.
Poetry or prose?
The Swedish Chef. My dad did a really good Swedish Chef, and he was Swedish. But it would be a toss-up between Swedish Chef and Beaker. It’s something about no English words. Nothing decipherable.
And yet you know exactly what’s going on, except sometimes with Beaker.
You do, he doesn’t!
Right, whereas the Swedish Chef, he knows exactly what he’s doing, and we get to see the fallout.
Yeah, very clear communication there.
[For fans of the Swedish Chef and Beaker, might I recommend my all-time favorite performance of Danny Boy.]
Complete this sentence. “The older we get, the more_____”
…the more opportunities we have to give back, help, contribute, change the world. Help people keep hope.
How long is a piece of string?
I’ll try not to answer in a quote…”long enough to touch the ground” [Salinger’s answer to the question, “How long should a man’s legs be?”] Great question. A little longer than it needs to be. Just in case.
Who or what is your nemesis?
The fact that I have to go to sleep every day, dammit! I’ve been trying to do better, to get those 7 or 8 hours in, because lack of sleep physically hurts the brain. And I love going to sleep, I love that moment, but can’t it take just five minutes? Or could I at least remember the dreams?
What do you think of the beer bottles labeled with liquid level markings for musical pitches?
That’s genius! I’m shocked that it didn’t exist before or that I didn’t know it existed.DUH!
Snakes: cool or creepy?
Yes and yes?
Yeah. Amazing animals. And it’s great to see the glass in between them and us. Canadian Brass was on tour in Virginia, and I really needed to take a leak, so we pulled off to the side and this huge black snake went by right where I was about to step, and I screamed for my life and jumped back in the car. They told us there were huge water moccasins out there, and I was like, “WHAT?!” Because in Alberta, you can just run all the way into the woods, and it’s totally safe. So for months after, the two trumpet players would stay in my house in Toronto and they would hide fake rubber snakes. I would go to the gym at 6 at this point, and there was one in my protein powder, and I just went, “Huwaaaah!” and yelled really loud, so I at least woke them up. The ones that got me were in the shower. And they served food one time, and there was a snake on my plate. It was rather traumatic.
So beware who you trust with your deep-seated fears.
Yeah. Or they’ll help you through it. Yeah, amazing animals. And they move like that? Genius. Who needs legs?
Which composer’s or musician’s spouse interests you most?
Jeff Nelsen’s! ... umm…Mahler, I guess.
[OK, raise your hand if you thought a horn player would name Alma Mahler as most interesting spouse.]
How will you survive the zombie apocalypse?
Dude, are you kidding? Do you know how great that’ll be for Fearless Performance? Hmmm…I’ve been studying up watching “The Walking Dead.” Shot to the head, right? Wait, I’m Canadian, I don’t have a gun. I’ll have my American wife protect me. Wait, are we even supposed to survive the zombie apocalypse? …ummm… Feel free to use any of those answers.
How are you unlike the horn player stereotype?
I think there are two stereotypes. There’s the person who really obsesses and controls everything, makes sure they play all the notes, gets everything right. And then those who say, “Fuck it, miss notes, but make music and tell a story.” I think I’m closer to the “Miss notes, make music, get over it” type. Unlike? ...hmmm… I grew up on a pig farm. That probably separates me from most. And I think having quit for three years freed me up from having my self-worth wrapped up in every note. So I don’t think I have as much to lose when I play. Canadian Brass afforded me a full two hours to make up for any missed note. That’s different in an orchestra, where you have just two moments. Really good question. I’ve got a 7am routine that I do that keeps me growing every day, and I never warm up. Because I never cool down. Warm-ups can become very dangerous, because they can become physical, with way too much focus on this little thing here, the lips. Everything else is more important. I can pick up the horn now, after a week off, and I can play, really, quite well. And I’m surprised every year with how well. My system serves me really well.
There are people I know who never risk taking even a day off. And then there are people I know who sometimes pick up the horn and go, “When was the last time I played? Oh, that’s right.” And then play and go, “Oh.Yeah. I’m doin’ alright.” And I think to get to that point, there’s a certain amount…sort of like Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 Hour Rule”…you have to have acertain number of performances under your belt, so that if you take time off, you can come back to it, and you just know how to deliver.
A huge part of that, I think, is how important we keep our lips. Cause I’ve taken a month off, picked up the horn and played a very high, loud, easy, high C. That alone means these muscles are not the most important thing. It’s ability, not strength.
As an observer of fear, which group of musicians would you say is most at-risk?
Maybe the most at-risk not to deal with their fear would be string players. They have so many more notes to learn than I do, but they’re not as exposed in their string section. Then I’ve found they come to me when they have an audition coming up. A lot of string players come to me for auditions. Interesting. A question I haven’t really thought of before. And, more of a general thing, would be professionals who’ve won their audition and have their gig, and they stop studying. Singers study their whole life. A lot of opera singers study their whole life. Instrumentalists stop studying. They think, “I’ve got my job, and I deserve a break.” And they do, but a break doesn’t mean to stop studying.
Interesting. I wonder if one main difference is that a vocalist’s instrument develops much later, when they are more self-directed in their learning experiences. So maybe they are more motivated to continue learning.
Yeah. And the other thing is that instrumentalists don’t audition every year. Vocalists are employed for six weeks at a time, so they need to keep up their connections, and they can take 30 auditions a year. But instrumentalists get their job and don’t want to audition again, because it’s such a hellish trip.
If you were to get a tattoo tomorrow, what would you get?
Either in Latin, around my wrist, “Learn. Love Well. Let Go.” A Möbius strip kind of design. Or a big heart with an arrow through it with “Nina” and “Rhys” …with room for more kids.
In your experience working with fearful musicians…
Which is redundant. All musicians are fearful.
Right. So of the people who are most fearful, do you think more of them overestimate their skills or underestimate their skills?
50/50 split, I think. I’ve experienced both. A lot. It’sprobably a 100/100 split, actually. Because they do both. They over estimate their ability to do it without studying their fear, and then they massively doubt themselves. And that’s how it manifests. But it’s not about not fearing. It’s about dealing with it when it comes. Fear is fine. It’s fearing fear that’s the problem.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Yeah. It’s a destructive choice. If you don’t study it, that’s a long-term choice. You think if you can play your scale just a little bit faster, that’s all you need. Be a technician. So there are the technicians: How you do it. And the musicians: What you think Mozart meant. And the performer: Why you’re up there. What you think when you walk out there. What you think when you miss a note. There’s a different skill set for the “building” stage versus the “sharing” stage. And you should practice both. Practice crossing the “magic line.” I have tape to practice crossing it. You practice standing there, letting go, you read your inspirational sheet, what you want to do well. Then cross it, read it again when you get to the stand. Even in those ten seconds, expert doubters let it grow again. Execute: now, now, now. Practice being present just on one or two notes. No learning onstage. Love well and let go, but no learning onstage. My mom, who teaches singing, says, “If you’re listening, and the audience is listening, then who’s singing?” So record yourself. Learn later, because you don’t have time. That’s in the past. You don’t have time. You don’t have time to think, “I should have practiced more today.”
What impertinent question didn’t I ask?
What is the biggest concern that matters the least? What are the worries that should be #20 on the list, but end up #1? Like, “What is my audience thinking during my performance?” That is the number one, most useless waste of energy, because we can’t control their perception, just our own presentation.
For more information about Fearless Performance check out www.jeffnelsen.com
|Posted by The Fourth Wall on May 17, 2013 at 3:10 PM||comments (8)|
Posted by Neil
Playwright Emily Goodson spoke to me at Soma Coffee House in Bloomington, having already consumed a pot of coffee on her own. Even before I asked any questions, pertinent or otherwise, she launched into the following monologue, charting her path to writing a new musical, “Spun,” which opens Friday, May 17 at the Bloomington Playwrights Project.
Emily: I was working at Snorkel-Mart, and I was bored. It was the slow season; it was around spring or summer when everybody’s already got their snorkel, what do they need me for? So I just manned the phones. And I wanted to write this drama about women and about sexuality. So I sat down and I wrote ten pages. It was very serious. And then I just put it away. I didn’t touch it for a while. Then like a week later I came back and started rewriting it, only it turned into this weird, slapstick comedy called, “Lady Bits.”
I like to write jokes, and it was totally an excuse to write jokes. So I just set up a staged reading at the BPP. I had written a few things at the BPP before,but only for “The Blizzard,” only the one-minute/two-minute plays. I wrote a play called “Time Machines Can Be Funny Sometimes.” And “Bird Rap,” which is a rap about birds. A very good one. It’s a really good rap about birds. Fine rapping about birds. And it’s scientific, too. It’s educational and it’s uplifting, and I used “muthaflocker,” instead of “muthafucker.” So when I told Chad [Rabinovitz, BPP’s Producing Artistic Director] I wanted to do a staged reading of it, he was like, “Alright, I‘ve seen some little things you’ve done before.” So we did the staged reading, and it went over pretty well. And so he asked me to take it to IndyFringe. So, sure enough, we got it cast, took it to Indy Fringe, opened to great crowds. It did really well. Out of nowhere, Chad asked if I would pen the book for a new musical with Jeremy Schonfeld, who wrote the music and lyrics for “Kissing Frogs.” They wanted to write a comedy, based on this one song that Jeremy wrote, called “Rock n’ Roll Fag” So I swear I began writing a musical around that one song, and like it always does, it turned into something else.
So now it’s a musical about two people, a brother and asister. The brother comes home after eight years, and his sister hasn’t seen him since the night of their mother’s death. And so they’re back and now the father’s dead and he comes home to settle the estate, but the problem is since he’s been gone, like a lot of rust belt cities right now, the city’s fallen into complete disrepair. I mean, the neighborhoods are blighted, there’s very little occupancy, huge crime, so he wants to keep the house and she is trying to convince him that the property values are crap, and you may not owe a mortgage, but you’re still gonna owe property taxes and every time a neighbor moves out they burn the houses to keep the squatters out. So this isn’t a neighborhood you’d wanna live in. You know, there are packs of wild dogs. A lot of it was inspired by moving to Detroit with my husband in July. You drive through that city and you can’t not be affected by it. We call it “Ruin Porn.” There are lots of people coming in and taking pictures of the blight. You can’t drive down Woodward without… In some neighborhoods there is abandoned lot after abandoned house after burned down house. They leave these abandoned buildings up too, because the city doesn’t have the money to raze it to the ground.There’s an old record studio bigger than half the hotels in Bloomington, with just roofs crumbling, and that’s just one. It’s gigantic. There’s one neighborhood in the north end that’s just one block after another is abandoned. Like 10% occupancy.
For me it was really kinda beautiful at first: “Ruin Porn.” But you start driving through it every day, and you begin to feel like, “This isn’t beautiful, this is tragic.” People live here.
Is that original song still in the show?
No. No no no. There was no reason for it. I tried to add it back in, but they were like, “What? You can’t just put this song in wherever.” You know, they’re in the middle of a conversation about their dad’s death and then sing “Rock n’ Roll Fag!” No, no Emily.
It’s so crazy. I’vehad this experience myself choreographing a piece, or working on a piece where there’s an essential idea that gets the ball rolling that is your inspiration from the start, and then you get to the end of the whole process and you go, “Wait. Where is that first thing? Everything else came out of that, and now it doesn’t belong anymore. How did that happen?” Well, you file that one away, and it may be useful again.
That’s how I felt. I was inspired by two things. It was that song, but also, before I moved…do you know who Tracy Bee is? Josie Gingrich? They’re writer friends of mine. Fantastic. Tracy was the director on “Lady Bits.” Josie is a YA author in town. When we were bored, we used to always send each other writing assignments and read our assignments out loud over wine and cheese. We’d have a good time. It was very pretentious yuppie fun. Either I sent it to Tracy or Tracy sent it to me, but it got stuck in my head and it hurt. It was this one assignment: Write a story about a person who’s been given something they don’t want. And I was like, oh okay, so I started thinking about inheritance and wills, or the opposite, to die without a will. And then what happens to your stuff? What happens to your stuff when you die? What happens if someone else dies and you get their stuff? What do you do with their stuff? Because you kind of collect your own stuff.
Is there a montage sequence? The “renovation rag.” Cause it’s a musical!
I’ve got two jazz hands and a heart, haven’t I? Of course I wrote in a renovation scene. But most importantly, the musician I’m working with has a way of tugging at your heartstings. He’s got some great numbers in there. So, we’ll see how it goes. I totally didn’t expect myself to be doing any of this.
Which brings me to my first question...
How do you introduce yourself to people you’ve not met before?
Hi, my name is Emily. If they say, “What do you do?” I say, “I am a playwright…and I…work also.” That’s recent, though. I used to say, “I’m Emily. I work at Snorkel-Mart.”
When did you give yourself permission to use that title?
I felt like I had to have at least one professional production under my belt, which now I’ve got…a few. Actually, I wrote and produced a play when I was seventeen with the Monroe County Civic Theatre. It wasn’t good. It was actually really bad. It was clever. It might have had some cute moments, but it was what a seventeen-year-old writes when someone says,“Write a play, seventeen-year-old!” It was a lot of fun, and I loved that group of people involved in that. “The Blizzard” was really the first. We got a bunch of plays when I was cast in 2010. We just wanted to fix a few, and then we started writing a few, and then writing a few more, and then Chad put them in, because they were fun. And then we took it to IndyFringe. Yeah, so I consider them somewhat professional productions. They’re ridiculous though. Don’t get the idea that I write anything deep or meaningful. One play I wrote had each character playing an object in the lunchroom, and this guy gets a drink of water, and it’s spit from a girl’s mouth. And then they make a smoothie in my mouth, and I was a blender, and they just shove bananas, orange juice,something else in my mouth, and I just swoosh stuff in my mouth and spit into a cup, and Ben Smith had to drink it. So Ben Smith will always have my undying adoration. I adore him. I have the utmost respect for that man. I love gross-out plays. But, after that, when I did “Lady Bits” was when I thought Ican actually call myself a playwright. This is what I want to do, and if I think about it, what I always wanted…I wasn’t a theatre major in college, I wasan English major. I didn’t want to act, I wanted to write.
But certainly acting has created some great opportunities for you.
Absolutely. But I wanted to write fiction, though. I wanted to write books and novels. I wanted to write the Great American Novel. As does every 20-year old.
Why haven’t you yet?
Because I’m not a good writer. I’m a total fraud! What I’m good at is telling jokes. So, dialogue I’m good at, I can do all dialogue. I can tell a story through, just, talking. So, for me, it’s a way to tell a story through talking. So, yeah, I feel alright about calling myself a playwright now.
Which of thesenumbers is most significant to you: 1, 3, or 7?
I like 7.
How long is a pieceof string?
A piece of string? I would say a piece of string is…that long. [Puts index fingers about 5 or 6inches apart.] It’s not long enough for you to use it for anything but tying into a bow when you’re bored at a meeting.
Poetry or prose?
Oh, see, this is where people really disagree with me. I really like poetry. But I like poetry that’s written in the style of prose.
The angry one. Animal.
Complete this sentence: The older we get, the more_____ we become.
I would say, “The older we get, the less blank we become.” I feel like I’ve got a lot written on me right now, and I’d like to erase some of it, and have some space where I could write some new stuff like down here [pointing down her right arm], like new history. The rest is just covered. You don’t know what to do with it.
You could use some exfoliation.
Yeah, I need to get a pumice stone.
What don’t you do anymore?
Drugs. I answered that too quickly. Should I have thought about that?
Who or what is your nemesis?
Can I say that name? There’s a person. I have a real-life nemesis. Well, I don’t think that’s fair to say she’s my nemesis anymore,because we don’t care about each other anymore. I mean, is it lame to say that it’s probably just my own laziness and lack of ambition? That’s probably my biggest problem. I have so many ideas and so many things I want to do, that I get tired and want to watch “New Girl.”
...cool or creepy?
No no no! No snakes! Snakes make my insides throw up inside of themselves and then have vomit just rotting in my body. It’s the most disgusting thing. Snakes…BLUhahLARluhuh! Gabe and I had a snake in our house.In. Our. House. In the house. I was hysterical. And he thinks it’s so much better because it was a baby snake. It was the size of…a piece of string!...however, when I see the baby snake, I think there is a big, pissed-off mamma snake somewhere, who’s like, “Where’s my baby, yo?” So I panicked and tried to call 911. So Gabe had to take the phone, and then I made him search the whole house, and then my dad was like, “If I was just outside your house, and you told me there was a snake in there, I wouldn’t stop to help you.” My dad’s afraid of snakes, too. FYI, snakes are not considered an emergency at 911.
What won’t you eat?
Really, not much. I won’t eat dog.
Besides working at Snorkel-Mart, what’s your non-artistic dream job?
I would want to own a restaurant. A Mexican restaurant. And I would want to call it The Nosy Pepper, because it’s jalepeño business! Get it? And we would do Mexican food, but instead of lettuce, we’d use cilantro, and people need to learn that it’s a delicious, leafy green.
You know what I, until recently, wouldn’t eat? Cilantro. I’m one of those people for whom the taste is like soapy metal pots.
Oh, I use to be like that, but then I went to Austin, TX and couldn’t get anything without it, and now I can’t get enough of it. If Icould crush it up, bottle it, and wear it as a perfume, I would. It’s beautiful.
Which writer’s spouse interests you most?
Zelda Fitzgerald. She burned down a mental institution. Well, she died in a fire at a mental institution. Something like that.
Do you think she freaked out and set the fire because of a snake?
I can justify burning down a house because there’s a snake in it. I have no problem with that. And I think insurance should cover that. Fire in case of snake. There’s like a box, instead of a fire extinguisher with a sign: “Burn down house in case of snake.”
Do you read movie credits?
Usually, yeah. Because I’m hoping for a gag reel. And I like to see people’s nicknames, like Michael “Sparky” McDougal…oh he did the production design.
How will you survive the zombie apocalypse?
I’ll become one. I really don’t want to become a zombie, but I can’t camp outside. I mean, I really like the idea; it’s adorable. But I can’t kill anything. I would be worthless. When I’m thirsty, I bitch so much. I don’t like to be hot. I don’t like being cold. I feel like I would just give up and go ahead and join the bad guys quickly. I would sell out real fast. I’m not really a survivor.
What is your favorite swear word?
The one I use most often is the “F” one. But I like saying,“Goddammit,” because it sounds like an old-man thing to say. I remember it was the only thing my dad used to say when he was really mad, and I always thought that’s a Man’s swear word. You can drink Scotch and say, “Goddammit.” And then spit and slap something.
Where don’t you get your ideas?
I steal from everything and everywhere. I feel like I steal every conversation I’ve ever had. Or things about people’s personalities. I’m really interested in people. I find them really fascinating. So I guess if I’m alone in a chair, maybe I wouldn’t, but then I even, even when I was a kid, I had stories going on in my head. I had TV shows going on in my head, and was casting myself as characters. I remember getting in trouble when I was a kid,because I wrote something that had a boy that my sister liked, and my mom thought that I was hitting on my sister’s boyfriend, and I was like, “He’s the astronaut in my…nevermind. Yeah yeah yeah.” Because I didn’t want to be like, I have this separate life that I’ve created, another world in my head, because that’s even crazier. That’s happened twice; my mom thought I’d had an affair with a married man when I was seventeen, because I used a name in a monologue. I used to write monologues. It’s funny that I wanted to be a fiction writer, because I would write monologues or poetry. And she always used to find monologues that, without a character name at the top, looked like a letter. So, to this day, I have to be like, “I was not sleeping with him, Mom. I was seventeen and he was thirty. I was not interested.” But it sounded better than, “Don’t worry, Mom, I’m just a crazy person.”
How are you unlike the writer stereotype?
I don’t know. I’m lazy. Well, I guess writers are lazy. I kind of feel like I’m a fraud, a little bit. I just want to tell jokes until it’s time to say something serious, and then I’ll do it as a joke. And I don’t always need to make a point. Though, neither did Thomas Pynchon, am I right? That guy. I hate that fuckin’ shit. Postmodernism can suck my ass. I don’t know how I’m not like a writer. Well, I’d say I’m more like a sorority girl than a writer…though I don’t think I would fit in there, either.
I don’t think anyone who has ever met you would liken you to a sorority girl.
Sometimes I feel like I just don’t fit in anywhere. I’m just a weirdo.
You are the eternal square peg.
Yes. There is no hole I fit in. But I’m trying to shove myself into this one, so we’ll see how it goes. What is the stereotypical writer? Like, moody, smokes cigarettes and wears berets. No that’s painters. Writers throw toasters out of windows and sleep with prostitutes. I don’t do those things. I’ve never, to my knowledge, thrown a toaster and I’ve never paid anyone for sex. Yet.
Okay, help me critique this expression that I just made up over breakfast this morning: “They get along like two poops in a drawer.”
I like that idea. That’s fantastic, because if you’re in adrawer, by yourself, and you’re just one poop, what do you do, except find another poop. That’d be great. I love it. You can stink up the whole dresser! Together! Why have just one drawer, when you can stink up the whole dresser. I like that. That’s a good one. My sister and I have always had a running joke that whenever we would write each other letters I’d say, “I love you the way a rabbit would love you.” And we kind of went back and forth, we were like, “Is that gross? Is that weirdly sexual?” No, rabbits are soft, and they have pink noses and their ears are like this [holds palms up on top of head]. I like absurdity a lot. That’s a good one. I will use it. I am trying to get my gay couch joke to catch on. What do you call a gay couch? A homo-sectional!
What question didn’twe ask?
You did not ask me how much I weigh. But don’t. Because my mom will ask that later. We’ve got it covered. Joking.
What do you wear tosleep?
I don’t like pants. I don’t like socks. T-shirt and underwear.
So is this a musical or a “MUSICAL!”?
It’s a musical. There’s no dancing. No jazz hands. It’s not an ensemble piece. There are only two people in the whole play. There was no need to cast anyone else, except the two principal characters. This is just as dialogue-focused as it is music-focused. So what we’ve been doing is we build a scene, build until you reach an emotional point, then release it into a song. So the dialogue build build and then start over. So they are two very sarcastic characters who, you know, “put the -ism in defense mechanism,” so the only time they feel anything is through the songs. So there are 10 or 12 songs. I should know that. Since I have rehearsal at 3:30. And I haven’t revised scenes 2 and 5 yet. It’ll be mostly the delete button, which I’ve found makes me delete a lot of jokes, but the one thing I’ve gotten to keep is my Star scene, which I really wanted. I like to put outer space in all plays. And what I’ve really been trying to do is reference Good Will Hunting in every single play. I don’t have that in there yet, but I’m gonna get it in there. Good Will Hunting is my favorite movie to quote. At all times.
“Spun” runs Friday,May 17 - Saturday, June 1 at the Bloomington Playwrights Project.
|Posted by The Fourth Wall on May 6, 2013 at 5:15 PM||comments (1)|
Posted by Greg
Hilary, Neil, and I all really enjoy playing with orchestras both back in our respective sections and in front as soloists. There is nothing quite like the musical bear hug that comes from performing with 60, 70, 80+ other musicians! The orchestra world, however, has been facing pretty serious challenges over the last few decades with strikes, financial shortfalls, and the ever present need to build donors and new audiences. This is why I get so excited when I read about some of the creative new initiatives like what the Seattle Symphony did a couple weeks ago.
I highly recommend Dana Wen's article linked above, but in short, the orchestra presented a chamber concert of NEW MUSIC featuring works by three members of the orchestra alongside great pieces by Chinary Ung, Anna Clyne, and John Luther Adams (whose house we visited when we were in Fairbanks!). I love this for two reasons: one, NEW MUSIC, the Ung, Clyne, and Adams are great pieces that are seriously fulfilling musically while at the same time have a lot of audience appeal! Two is that this program give audiences an intimate introduction to some of the humans who dwell within the orchestra. Very little is more exposing than composing and hopefully this program and the pieces by Krimsky (principal bassoon), Anderson (principal bass), and Hausmann (principal oboe) will entice audience members to return to see the full band in action. Furthermore, giving patrons a personal connection to individual members within an orchestra draws their attention and allows them to focus more closely the next time they see a show. Way to go, Seattle Symphony!
|Posted by The Fourth Wall on May 1, 2013 at 11:55 AM||comments (0)|
Posted by Greg
NEW MUSIC! When I see a group like Alarm Will Sound, So Percussion, Eighth Blackbird, Ensemble Dal Niente, or ICE (the International Contemporary Ensemble) booked within driving distance on a day and time when I can travel, I go and it’s always worth the trip! I partly go because these are all phenomenal groups who are successfully presenting contemporary music and I would love to play with them at some point, but usually what seals the deal is the programming. NEW MUSIC! I really like new music. New music is the now dated umbrella term used to describe all kinds of music emerging from the western classical tradition since around 1950. It may sound like this:
or this: Music in Similar Motion
...or this: Drumkit Quartet
Something about the freshness of the music and the dedication and care it takes to program and execute that kind of repertoire allows me to forge a deeper relationship with the performers and sounds coming from the stage that I usually can with older repertoire. Of course there are musical clunkers out there and sometimes performances are imperfect, but I feel I can rely upon the musicianship of the aforementioned groups to carry my attention and give me an exciting experience. Like going to see the Chicago Symphony or New York or LA Phil, if you plunge into a concert by AWS, So, 8bb, Dal Niente, or ICE, you know you will be seeing passionate musicians playing at the top of their game. Also, by supporting new music, I know that I am helping to shape the future of our musical landscape.
In the last nine months, I’ve made several trips to Chicago and St. Louis to see some truly spectacular new music concerts and it is my most recent trip that has inspired me to write this post. As the final show of their inaugural St. Louis season, Alarm Will Sound presented 1969 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center. 1969 is a wonderfully conceived show thought up by AWS’s artistic director Alan Pierson (who I have a total music crush on for his work with not just AWS, but also his neat programming with the Brooklyn Philharmonic). The show draws much of its inspiration from a failed meeting between Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Lennon (played by actors in the production, a third actor portrays Luciano Berio), but has speaking/singing roles for nearly every ensemble member as a variety of major figures from the time help outline events of the year (MLK and JFK assassinations, Nixon presidency, Vietnam, and more) and draw us as audience members into a rapidly changing world. Of my recent voyages for new music, 1969 was the show most similar to our work in The Fourth Wall. Though this is not AWS’s first “hybrid arts” show, it’s the first I’ve been able to see live and it has given me some wonderful new ideas for TFW. Stay tuned!
|Posted by The Fourth Wall on April 30, 2013 at 12:55 AM||comments (1)|
Posted by Neil
An elegantly simple idea + fiendishly tricky engineering + gravity = JOY!
The punchline to this video is that it is an ad for a phone called "Touch Wood," which must not mean the same thing to a Japanese audience. Something gained in translation?