Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Small Packages, Large Gifts

Boxing Day in America

All of my UK friends have today off --- December 26th, known as Boxing Day in Britain. (That's not due to a celebration of pugilistic sports, but because of gifts one boxes up for the postman and so forth.) In London, even the museums are closed the day after Christmas.

In contrast, America the Puritanical goes back to work today, or at least the mail sorters do and the UPS drivers and the hourly wage folks such as my wife, whose boss has a simple formula: if she doesn't work, she doesn't get paid. In my case, my next day at the Annenberg Community Beach House won't be until Saturday, the 29th. (Do come on down!) Last time I was at the site, somebody asked again about the transition I make from the high desert down to Santa Monica.

Well, here's my neighborhood this time of year, or part of it, anyway.


No, this is not my house --- I couldn't even afford the electric bill! But if it's vulgar or gaudy, count my neighbors in. Or to put it in the words of my former rock climbing partner, "Anything worth doing, is worth overdoing."

Light displays like this do raise the question of when is enough, enough. I think my personal vote is towards smaller packages. Hamlet says to his (spying) friends, "I could be bounded in a nutshell yet count myself king of infinite space." In other words, our minds are larger than the universe, so who needs a big car or 10,000 Christmas lights?

Even barnacles offer worlds and worlds of expanding thought.

Here's something so drab and commonplace it's easy to overlook.


This piling on Santa Monica pier has a mix of gooseneck barnacles, acorn barnacles, brown barnacles, mussels, and limpets. (Probably some crabs, too, if I looked carefully.) Most of these species have a fairly broad Pacific coast distributions, and can be found from Alaska down to the tip of Baja. Yet they really are small miracles. In essence, a barnacle is a small, self-housing crab that holds onto a rock or pier or ship bottom with its antennae and feeds with its feet. They can survive months of hot or cold, months of being deprived of salt water, and even months without feeding. Scrabble players take note: the first larval stages are called the nauplii (singular, a nauplius). There are some intermediate stages, but at one point in the life-cycle the barnacle is called a cypris (as opposed to the tree in Florida, the cypress, or a person from the island of Cyprus, who is a Cypriot). The late great marine biologist Doc Ricketts (made famous by John Steinbeck) says of a cypris that it has "three eyes, two shells, six pairs of legs, and an inclination to give up the roving habits of youth and settle down." He also says the larger kind, the goose or gooseneck barnacle, was eaten by Italian immigrants in the early 1900s --- probably a lost culinary art, since I've never seen them harvested these days. Posted warnings caution us about eating mussels, due I suppose to an excess of toxins. Look but don't browse (unless you're a starfish).


Santa Monica, like most beaches, has many treasures. There are the folks with metal detectors, hoping to find a wedding ring or lost Rolex. But I was surprised this week to find a rare shorebird hiding in the sand. As this photo above shows, footprints look a bit like craters on the moon, and if one is small enough and timid enough, the largest footprints make great windbreaks to nestle down inside of. You're protected from things that might want to eat you (house cats, Western Gulls), and you're out of the desiccating wind.

I wanted to paint this one in my journal, but didn't get around to it, so I will share a plate from the National Geographic Guide to Birds of North America. These Snowy Plovers are sand-colored and quite dinky, so are easy to overlook. They're here on the beach in front of the Annenberg site, though it's easy to miss them. You might see them down at the tide line with the Sanderlings and their larger cousins, Black-bellied Plovers, but I found them nestled almost out of sight inside footprints.

There will be a walk on Sunday, January 20th, to study these and other beach species; see the Annenberg Community Beach House website to make reservations. Other birds I have seen on site recently include Say's Phoebe and Allen's Hummingbird. I hope to sketch them into my journal too.

As for the sandpiper jobs, in England these little guys are called Kentish Plovers, and our Black-bellied Plovers are called there "Grey Plovers." Well, what do you expect from people who spell curb as "kerb"? They can't get anything right. (This is another example of why Latin binomials are so essential for scientific accuracy.) Part of it is the glass half full / glass half empty syndrome. Do we name a bird for its winter plumage (grey), or for it's brief but spectacular high Arctic breeding plumage (black-bellied)?

Of course these days, most Americans couldn't tell a plover --- the name rhymes with "lover" and not "clover" --- from a plumber's helper. Here's a shot of the children of friends of mine; all the parents are faculty members, all like to hike, and all have houses filled with books. Yet what is the heroin of choice for their children? The inevitable computer game.


It's normal to idealize our childhoods. Most of us do it, but at our own risk. Growing up in the 1950s, I remember racism and homophobia and alcoholism and domestic abuse all too well, and from too much personal experience. But it's also true, simple pleasures and small gifts went a long way back then. I was truly happy to get a yo-yo or a paperback book or even a candy bar. (My mother's generation was glad to get an orange, but as a child I was too jaded to appreciate such old-fashioned nonsense as a stocking filled with groceries.) Books were always a highlight for me. Yet apparently a book that my adult daughter remembers well is now out of print. In my house now we have a cat who climbs Christmas trees, and my daughter, Amber, thought we should update the home library to include a lovely children's story about just such a beast.


Nope, sorry, out of print! Luckily the magic of computers does begrudgingly include book searches, and so with access to used copies and expedited shipping, this title made it to my house in time for Christmas. I'll count that as one of the best presents of the season --- well, maybe that and the nerf gun that Amber got me, so I can fire warning shots over the cat's bow whenever she is sidling up too close to the Christmas tree.

The Snowy Plovers and the acorn barnacles are in Santa Monica now, and Hood will next be on site on Saturday the 29th. I look forward to meeting with you then.



Sunday, December 9, 2012

Zoltar Speaks

Predictions for the Next Two Weeks

On the Pier, Zoltar can help all of us.


Consulting him, here is what I have learned.

No, the world will not end this month.

Yes, the Artist in Residence will be back. But no, not next weekend as usual. Instead, Hood has a gig out of town, so will next be in the Marion Davies House on Thursday the 20th.

Yes, the next blog will talk about many interesting things, such as.....


...what our hats reveal about our collective psychology. And also.....


the working process behind the "lost stories" project. Should this young man renting bikes be part of the narrative? (More on this soon!)

Also, coming up in the blog in the next few weeks will be previews about the January and February evening workshops. One session will be about creating great, publishable flash fiction and one will be about instant photography and writing. Both will talk about the pleasures of small details.


Last, I want to do a nature blog. There is for example a relationship between this bird species and syphilis.


(No need to fret. You can't catch it from this seagull. It's a story, not a cause-effect relationship.)

At Zoltar's urging, I also want to talk about the symbolic representations of nature around Santa Monica --- not the venereal gulls themselves, but our appropriation of animal images.


He predicts that these will be long, interesting posts --- due up soon, just as soon as I am back in a week. See you then!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Is Santa Monica the Original Eden?

Postcards from Paradise

Of the many things that the readers of this blog can be thankful for this coming holiday season, among them has to be the fact that we don't live in Wisconsin.


I find this postcard --- which was purchased in Wisconsin just in the last year or two --- rather amusing, not least of which because it violates all of the "Photography 101" rules for how to make a pleasing and dynamic composition. (Which would include, for starters, not sticking the horizon line dead center.)

Of course, most postcards portray idealized versions of their subject. In the case of the Wisconsin card, they're announcing how bucolic and charming farm life remains, along with sharing in some mutual congratulations about how hardy everybody is to get through these hard but picturesque winters. Santa Monica has been idealized itself now for just about a hundred years, going back to hand-tinted photos reproduced in rather garish color.


Early landscape painters were drawn to this slice of the coast as well. I don't have a date on this painting below, but would guess about 1925. The caption will follow, underneath. Isn't this grand?


This is by Benjamin Chambers Brown, and comes from a lovely little collection titled California Colors: 1865-1942. The title for this painting is Santa Monica Palisades. Apparently no Mexican fan palms or Canary Island date palms have been planted yet, but that most Southern Californian of trees, an Australian eucalyptus, already is reaching reasonable girth on the left.

(A separate posting may have to explore the symbolism of palm trees in Santa Monica, including those on --- or seen from --- the Annenberg Community Beach House itself.)




 In a cartoon from the New Yorker c. 1970, a husband and wife are on vacation in a tropical location, only she is reading a magazine titled "Holiday" while there. He cautions her, "Don't tempt fate, dear."

As I shared with the visitors on Monday who came to hear the Don Bachardy talk, since I drive to the Annenberg site from the desert, for me it's an especially vivid and almost hallucinatory transition. From Joshua trees to Kaffirboom corals, and from this...


to this....


So in answer to the question, is 415 Pacific Coast Highway a bit of paradise? The answer must very nearly be "yes, indeed, and with extra sprinkles on top." Of course none of us wants to wander around Eden alone, and so this next Saturday, when I am typing away on the second floor of the Marion Davies Guest House, I do hope you will stop by and give a wave. Bring something maybe you've been thinking about doing something with --- a poem for a Christmas present, or a memoir about growing up. I'll be there at 11 a.m., and will stay until it closes to visitors, which is usually 2 pm but on this Saturday, due to an event, may be as early as 1 pm. (Check the website or call.) The following Saturday I will be out of town leading a group of British birdwatchers on a tour of Florida, but I will be back on site on Thursday the 20th, and again, Saturday the 22nd.

I look forward to meeting you.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Strange Impossible Genius of Don Bachardy

more thoughts on the upcoming event, Monday night

The Beach House will host the world-class (and world-famous) artist Don Bachardy on Monday night, and in advance of that, I just wanted to explore a few ideas hinted at in the previous blog post.

Don Bachardy has been part of my life well before I ever met him. A poetry mentor, Robert Peters, lives with his amazing life partner Paul Trachtenberg, and it was in their house --- filled with books and art and magic and laughter and thought and home-made plum cobbler --- that I first saw a Bachardy original. It was a portrait of Peters that had force and truth unlike anything I had seen before:


I grew up in a working class neighborhood and the people around me didn't collect art or own nice books. Now, older and more experienced, I am used to that option more, and the idea of owning a signed original or a limited edition is part of my day-to-day reality. But the first work by a living artist that I saw away from a museum was Bachardy's painting of Bob Peters. He's a smart and formidable thinker, Robert Peters is, and the author of "no holds barred" criticism. He looks out here ready to tell the world exactly what he sees.

One might notice that it is not a pretty picture. Bachardy is always honest but never intentionally flattering. If you want somebody to lie to you, he ain't your boy.

Portraits though are complicated things. One of the things I want to cover in our dialogue will be the dual issues of presentation (how a work is framed, lit, hung, and seen by "us," the public) and interpretation (how a work is explained or understood or conceptualized). If we take this Ingres from the Norton Simon, for example....


.... it's usual to talk about the identity of the sitter, and of course the wonderful technical skill in how the paint is handled, the light, the expression of masculine ideals, and so on. Yet we also have less obvious things, such as the frame itself, the way that the fame (or lack of fame) of the artist "hides" the work, or even our own fatigue as we stand there, inside the museum itself, hungry or late for an appointment or wondering when the parking meter will expire.

The artists, too, have to get through a certain amount of static. Last blog I mentioned fame as an issue for the artist to deal with as well and I hope we can have some fun exploring this. What about the very basic materials, such as the paint sets themselves?


What does an artist's choice of color mean, and how should she or he handle the liquidity or opacity of the medium itself? In this portrait of me by Bachardy, I came to the sitting in a medium blue t-shirt. Look how fabulous that shirt becomes, though, once he decides to paint my portrait on top of a previously painted abstraction.


A sitting is a contest of wills, a partnership, a dance, a seduction. We'll talk about this on Monday night, and about the role of the sitter in the collaboration that makes a good piece be great, or, conversely, dooms the effort to failure. Just as a side note, I will say that being looked at intently (and holding a still pose) is much harder work than people suppose.


Bachardy does not work from sketches or make preliminary studies: he looks and paints, directly, more like a bull fighter than somebody, say, rehearsing a play. I have seen him do it a dozen times with all manner of sitters, and how he does it remains beyond description. He starts with the eyes usually, but his "pencil" is the brush itself: he looks, dips the brush in color, and makes magic happen.


This lad portrayed here is one of the "orphans" about whom I plan to write. He is shown here reclining on pillows (not drawn, just implied by negative space) which adds to his slightly strange, dislocated, lost-in-space attitude. It may be hard to see in this blog version, but he his pierced nipples. Another topic we'll try to deal with Monday honestly and yet delicately will be the issue of sexuality and art. After all, this close-up from the Norton Simon will seem like "normal" high-class art, not pornography, or at least will be that for most people.


 A gal's luscious bottom is accepted as okay, especially if we thrown in a classical allusion or some white drapery. Yet what if this were a loving and detailed perusal of a man's backside, ripe as summer pears? We accept a passive heterosexuality as normal and allowable, but gay art or even just a neutral male nude and oh my goodness, things get tense quickly. Bosoms and booties, yes; nipples and nipple rings, no.

Size matters, and often we see art (as here on this blog) in less than ideal formats. Bachardy and I both happened to see David Hockney's last big show in London, the blockbuster event at the Royal Academy of Art, and that included some monumentally-sized pieces.

We should talk about what it's like to make and see large art, and if art history books can even portray those pieces convincingly enough or not.


This is one heck of a big baby, fresh from the womb and still bloody with the trauma of birth. (This shot is from Christchurch, New Zealand, but that art museum is now closed, after a series of major earthquakes.) Size, materials, presentation: all of these add (or subtract) from the art experience.


Great portraits capture the spirit of the times, besides helping us to understand the sitter himself. This self-portrait by Nussabaum from 1943 shows him with his Jewish identity card hiding in a ghetto corner, a ruined landscape towering above him. The painter is clearly a wounded, trapped animal in a brutal, prison-like world. The painter had reason to be fearful: within a year, the Nazi genocide took his life.

We are used to thinking of art museums as places to study paintings, but in our day to day lives, most people think of their iPhones as an essential tool for memory, not a sketch pad or even a drawing function on an iPad. Don and I on Monday are going to talk about the way that photography influences people's perceptions of what a "portrait" should look like, and the reasons a painter might resist or by-pass photography.

In passing, I should mention that Don Bachardy lives in Santa Monica and his main gallery also is in Santa Monica too. Craig Krull Gallery in the Bergamot Station complex (2525 Michigan Ave) shows Don Bachardy's work in small but well-curated exhibits, and it's my understanding that there will be another one in early or mid-2013. It's something to look forward to. That's an art space that also is generous with photography, and Craig Krull Gallery exhibits another artist I admire greatly, the photographer Michael Light (shown here with a very very large book, at an event a few months ago).


At the end of sittings, Bachardy asks his collaborators (victims? ... it depends on one's perspective --- as implied above, some people expect to be flattered in a falsely beautiful version) to sign and date the works. Maybe in a few hundred years a handwriting expert will find a Ph.D. thesis in the analysis of how different people present their names. Some even practice on a scratch pad first. Here the novelist Danny Vilmure signs his recently completed portrait.


If all of these theoretical issues seem a bit technical or like a lesson in "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin," I want to promise our Annenberg Beach House community that even if I were prone to going off the theoretical deep end, Don won't put up with it. He's funny and very very very much alive, with a sly wit and an immense awareness of the world around us. Nobody ever uses the words "pretentious" or "stuck up" about him. He will keep me honest and on track.

There will be a question and answer period on Monday, and I do hope to see you there. We start at 6:30 pm, in the Annenberg Community Beach House and Cultural Center, 415 Pacific Coast Highway, just north of Santa Monica Pier.

A map can be seen on this link:
http://beachhouse.smgov.net/visit-us/getting-here-and-parking.aspx


Don Bachardy and I look forward to meeting you.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Welcome, Yes --- a Few Reasons Why Writing is Fun

Thoughts on Writing (Very Brief....)

I am the in-coming Something-or-other in Residence (writer? artist? token outsider?), and starting Saturday 01 December 2012, I will be in the Guest House for a few hours every Saturday, waiting to talk to...well, you, as a matter of fact.


As this picture above will verify, I have several talents, one of which is taking self-portraits in hotel mirrors (in this case, in a small guest house in Sri Lanka). We can talk about that if you stop by, but really, what I love to do is work with folks who just are trying to find a voice in writing. Ever want answers to questions like these??

How does one use the "I" voice?

What background information does my reader need?

Hasn't it all been said before?

Do I need to copyright my rough drafts?

Why is modern poetry so ugly and strange?

These are the kinds of things I love to talk about. My main publications have been in poetry, but I have won awards for essays, too, and I currently am finishing a work of fiction. Anything you want to write, I probably know somebody who knows somebody who can help make that happen.

First though we need to get a draft up and running. Feel free to stop by any time during my office slots (hours and so on will be posted here and on the Beach House website) and bring as little or much as you've gotten down so far.

You may have to knock loudly to get my attention, if I am staring raptly out the window of my second-floor office. I will be driving in to Santa Monica from the Mojave Desert. This picture below is not my house, but is a shot taken not too far away. Santa Monica will seem like paradise, other than the brief section of the 405 that I will be traversing.


Besides Saturday hours, we have an evening event coming up soon too, on a Monday night at the start of December. Local wit, writer, thinker, and painter Don Bachardy is coming to the Beach House to do an interview with me. One of the pictures we are going to talk about is his portrait of Jack Nicholson.


I just saw Bachardy do a marvelous talk at the Huntington Library last week, and he received a very warm welcome indeed. One of the issues will will cover on the Monday, 03 December, talk will be what makes art "good" or not, and how one makes interesting art given the burden of history. There will be a slide show, too, as part of this, about which more information will be available soon.

As a teasing introduction, though, here is a preview. This is one of the paintings we will be talking about. (This is NOT by Bachardy, but recently was on view in the National Portrait Gallery, London.)



I look forward to meeting my new friends in Santa Monica, and will be posting updates here on this site regularly. Until then, please look at your calendar and see if you can't come down next Saturday to introduce yourself and chat about writing, portraiture, hotel mirrors, or the desert versus the beach.

See you soon!

Charles Hood

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Beach House welcomes Charles Hood, 2013 Writer in Residence!


For the fourth Writer Residency at the Annenberg Community Beach House, the Beach House is proud to host author Charles Hood! 
Hood will be working on a series of fictional biographies currently titled Back Stories, based around the “orphaned portraits” of renowned Santa Monica painter Don Bachardy. Among the portraits Bachardy has made of the known and the beautiful (Tom Ford, Ginger Rogers, Henry Fonda), he also painted sitters whose identities are now lost — a friend of a friend of a friend, a surfer he met on the beach, an amateur model. Hood’s project weaves a fictional history for these unnamed sitters, welcoming them back to the common narrative. 

A Los Angeles native, Charles Hood has been a dishwasher, a factory worker, a ski instructor, and a nature guide in Africa. He attended Glendale College, Cal State Northridge, U.C. Irvine and the University of Utah, and also did Fulbright work in New Guinea, translating tribal poetry. For birdwatching, photography, or writing research, he has been to the South Pole (on a National Science Foundation Artists and Writers Grant), to each of the continents, and most of the way to the North Pole. His ninth book won the Hollis Summers poetry prize and will be released this spring by Ohio University Press; his eighth book, 25 Tigers, came out last month. His current projects include a survey of the Solar System titled 200 Moons, and a meditation on faith and history titled Melville in the Holy Land. Hood teaches writing, photography, and journalism at Antelope Valley College. He lives in Palmdale with a wife, a cat, a dog, two kayaks, and five mountain bikes.
Hood’s tenure begins November 26th 2012 and he will be working in the Marion Davies Guest House through February 4, 2013. All are welcome to stop by to ask questions and discuss his (or their) work during public drop-in office hours weekly from 11am-2pm: currently Sat 12/1, Sat 12/8, Thu 12/20, Sat 12/22, Sat 12/29, Sat 1/5, Sat 1/12, Sat 1/19, Sat 1/26, and Sat 2/2. Please check the blog for updates, including schedule changes.

His first public event is a conversation with Don Bachardy at 6:30pm on Monday, December 3rd. Make reservations at http://annenbergbeachhouse.com/beachculture.

He will also be conducting writing workshops on January 14 and February 4 - more info at the link above.

Friday, October 5, 2012

All's Well That Ends Well


I didn't have time to blog as we got closer to the performances.  There was too much going on, as you got from my last entry.  But what you didn't know was that one of my main performing collaborators had a kidney infection, and we found out the day after my last entry, which was 3 days before our first public showing of the performance.  Was I stressed?  In a way, I got very Zen.  This is beyond my control.  We can't rehearse...we're 3 days out...and we haven't rehearsed in 3 weeks because my collaborator was in Canada, I was in Norway...if she ends up not being able to do it, how do I make a duet into a "solo"?  It was much too much, so I just chose to relax into it, laugh a little, and put some positive vibes out there.  What is meant to be will be, and I will roll with it.

My collaborator healed.  She rested, and on Thursday Sept. 27, we did a technical run of the show.  Of course, she was still very weak.  It was the first time we were EVER putting everything together, and actually, we still didn't even have the whole last 10 minutes of the show!  Somehow, it would come together.

On Friday, I met with her to rehearse a little and actually fix what the last section would be - the section in the fountain.  And on Friday evening, we had our first audience.  The show actually went quite well, outside of some fountain issues that we had, and a lack of communication between our Stage Manager and our Sound Technician.  The only way to communicate and call the cues in this large space is via walkie.  When her walkie was taken, our sound guy couldn't get his cue, which meant myself and all the performers were walking around and around in circles wondering why the music wasn't turning on!



The setting sun creating a magical backdrop to the performance.  It was very moving, as a performer, and I'm sure, as a viewer.  It was the first time that I could feel the spirit of this piece.  And I did feel it.  As the director/choreographer/performer that is juggling so much in such a short period of time, I knew in my mind what I imagined the spirit to be and to feel like, but it was only in the moment that I could experience the fruition of this and the affirmation that what was imagined...came to be.  It is my reward as a performer to get to experience this, this in-the-moment pleasure of connection with my audience, with the other performers, with the discovery of what each moment means, without knowing, without intellectualizing or controlling or designing it to necessarily be a certain way.  Live performance is ephemeral.  And this makes it all the more special and valuable, because it lives and is passed on in our hearts and minds.  It was a shared experience, and it is gone forever.

The rest of the performances went very well.  Saturday afternoon my family was here, and we had a fantastic audience interaction session during the "motivational talk show" scene.  I'll never forget one large tatooed man's affirmation.  I picked on him, and asked him - "So, what do you tell yourself when you wake up in the morning, or before you go to bed?  What gets you through the day?"  And his answer:  "I'm in love".  Wow.  Say it again, I said.  "I'm in LOVE!"  I got him to repeat it again and again, his voice booming out into the space...
The audience was loving it!  My little bro said it was his favorite part!  : )



There were many beautiful moments, not least was seeing the community performers grow more and more comfortable and confident, really owning their roles and being the leaders and guides that they were meant to be.  My main performing collaborator, Meena came through beautifully.  Her presence and our connection seemed to really resonate for people in the audience, and I was told by many how powerful it was to see us dancing together.  Those are wonderful things to hear.



The Q & A after the performances was always interesting.  I think I got the most profound feedback and questions after the Friday Open Dress Rehearsal.  It was wonderful to see and feel people getting so involved and knowing that as esoteric as my topic might be, it is did resonate for others and touch upon something deep in themselves.  It's not something that we can necessarily articulate - but something that lives in light and shadow, in poetry and imagery.  Art has the potential to "speak" of those things that we can't always put into words or express ourselves.  I love that it does that for me, and it is why I am an artist - so I can do it for others.  To move and be moved.

Here is my Director/Choreographer's note from the program:

One of the challenges of making any new work is about making choices. There are many ways to tell a story, and the process of filtering through which way is best can be a long and winding road. Working here at the Annenberg Beach House to create a 45 minute piece that makes use of the architecture of this gorgeous space gives me a multitude of options to work with, and it also diminishes those choices in a wonderful way. The space determines the choice, as does the short creative process, and I find, that as much as I loathe having to “rush” a process, I also love the intensity that it brings to it! Instincts take over, and choices must be made in the moment. Being in the moment is a large part of what this piece is about. Everyone struggles to different degrees with their “selves”, their connection to their best self and their journey through this obstacle course called Life. We want to be present, in the moment, connected, on the right wave-length, in-tune, but so often, we simply aren’t. I have a great compassion for the individual and collective journeys that we are on. Though the feelings around this topic are complex and difficult to package into a neat and tidy performance, I hope that through my explorations here at the Annenberg Beach House, the path that winds through the site will lead us to a place where we might feel a little less separate, and a little more connected.


I have already moved out of my little office and am writing this from the San Francisco Bay Area where I am home visiting family.  I won't forget the adventures of creating in and for this space - the Annenberg Community Beach House.  I am thankful for the opportunity, and hope that it isn't the last time that this piece is performed and shared.  Could the city of Santa Monica - could cities in general - create a budget for ongoing free performances for the community?  Could this event be repeated one weekend per month for 6 months so that the artists involved in the making of it have the pleasure and the financial renumeration of repeat performances?  Could it gain momentum so that more people could be exposed to it?  The economy of dance, especially dance outside of the mainstream, has an intense working period and a short performing period.  I would like to see that changed.  I would like for there to be a longer term performing scenario for the incredibly hard work that goes into making a new piece.

How can this be accomplished?
I've been in Los Angeles for 6 years and I'm in for the long haul (as far as I can tell).  I've never been any one place for more than one and a half years, so for me, this is a huge thing!  I'm invested in seeing and creating new opportunities for dance that are longer-lasting and more sustainable, and I'm interested in being a part of that.  Fewer and fewer dancers are able to commit to making new, creative, paradigm-shifting work, because we don't get back what we put out.  And we burn out.  We can't hold on to our dancers, our collaborators, because we can't pay them what they deserve.  We feel guilty.  We feel in debt.

Nothing I'm saying is new.  And nothing is beyond the possibility of change.  If and when I figure out how to create an economy that benefits all through a system that presents dance for longer, I will push it.  Audiences benefit.  Performers, technicians, choreographer/directors benefit.  All of us that "pushed out the baby" (the artistic event), for the sheer love of it and love of the arts, can now watch it (the baby) be nurtured and grow.  Are my metaphors getting too obtuse?  Well, that's what it feels like for me - every time I make a new piece - BIRTH.  The baby is born.  Now...who's gonna help feed it?

Always,
Sheetal


                                                   


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chaos

Wow...I'm so tired right now, I'm not even sure this blog will be coherent.  As I write this, my costume designer is at my house, sewing machine on my dining table, and making last minute alterations....except...the alterations are much bigger than she expected.

It's past midnight.

Meena, my collaborating performer, is out cold on my couch.  She's going to stay the night because otherwise she would have to bus it back out to Mid City.  Yeah.  She doesn't have a car.  In L.A.  Can you believe it!  She's my hero.  Amazing.

And me?  Well I've just been to Norway and back in the last 6 days.  That's 20+ hour journeys back and forth, with a performance in between.

I am so ready to hit my bed, but we need to get these alterations done because Tiffany is working on the set of a TV show right now, and she has 12 hour days, so there's no other time!

Anyway, it's all coming together, but of course, the last week is going to be a HUGE push.  I hope that everything goes smoothly, but I expect it won't.  I expect the worst, so that I won't get steam-rolled.  I expect the worst, so that my hopes don't get dashed.  I expect the worst, so that I can prepare to put out the best.  And like I said in the last blog, no matter what, the show will go on!


Monday, September 17, 2012

Sing Out Loud!

Community Performer Rehearsal #2!

On Sunday September 16th we had our second rehearsal for our community performers.
It was a bit stressful in the beginning because I got a message from one of the performers that she couldn't make it.  She got a job, last minute and had to take it!  She's a free lancer, and money's been tight.  I totally understood, but it does make my job harder.
Still, we managed.
We just held a space for her in the choreography and will quickly get her up to speed the next time we meet, which is this Thursday for our first and only tech rehearsal!

Anyway, the rehearsal went well.  We reviewed all the material and figured out a system of cueing.  Very high tech...Myrrhia, my awesome stage manager will basically call one of the performers on his cell phone, and that will be the community performers (aka CP's) cue to open their umbrellas.  Then 30 seconds later, she'll call again, and that will be the cue for them to start walking.
There's no other way to do it!  A walkie is too big for the CP to carry throughout the piece, and with the starting point for the CP's all the way out by the ocean, and Myrrhia up by the beach house, the cell phone saved the day.

What was nice about this rehearsal is that we talked a little about "intention" for the CP's.  I wanted to make sure, in the short rehearsal period that we have, that they can connect to the work and understand their role and intention, because that makes all the difference in the performance quality, and in their enjoyment.  We also had a lovely moment after lunch.  While we were sitting in the courtyard, I taught them the song "How Deep is the Ocean".  Some of the older women already knew it.  The rest learned it, and we sang out loud, with people all around us.

I told the CP's to sing with abandon - to not be shy.  Sing in a way that others want to sing with you!  We still have a lot of work to do to get them to that level, but hopefully it will just be there for the show, because we don't have much more time!  This whole process is so compressed.  They are really going to have to just give it their all, whether they feel totally prepared or not.  That's showbiz.  : )

Another really nice thing that happened is that the CP's started taking ownership and coming up with ideas, problem-solving together for the benefit of the show.  That made me really happy.  The team-work aspect is a huge part of doing ensemble performance work, and I'm glad they got to experience the pride of coming up with good ideas and seeing them implemented.

Onward and upward!

Till the next,

Sheetal

Monday, September 10, 2012

Our First Community Performer Rehearsal

On Saturday September 8th we had our first rehearsal for our community performers.  There will be 7 brave and spirited members of the community who are not professional performers, but will be performing in my new piece at the Annenberg Beach House on Sept. 28, 29 and 30!

Rehearsal started at 10am with the "name game".  This is a great ice-breaker and a way for all of us to remember each others' names and get a little movement work-out at the same time!  Basically, we stand in a circle and one by one, we put a gesture to our name.  Everyone learns the name and the gesture, and then we move on to the next person, accumulating  until we have a whole phrase that consists of everyone's name and gesture!  It's really quite fun, and the participants all seemed to get into it!

After that, we did some exercises that help with focus and awareness while moving.  Basically, a lot of the choreography that the community will be doing will be about moving as a group or moving in canon.  So, rather than "dancing to the music", the group will be dancing to each other.  They watch and listen each other to know what comes next!

Eventually, we made it outside where we put our ideas in the actual space.  I gave everyone a beautiful salmon/coral colored parasol, we walked down to the beach, near the water, which is where our performance begins.  Then slowly, with the voiceover of a Rumi poem in the background, followed by me singing the 1930's love song, "At Last" by Etta James, the group moved as a unit, with parasols moving in unison, from the ocean up to the boardwalk.  The group did fabulously, and we got a lot of people wondering what was going on.  "Is it a wedding?"  Of course, I'm sure it looked like a rehearsal for a wedding.  And considering that the theme of my piece is "duality" and the relationship between the Personality and the Soul, between our self and our higher self, between self and the beloved...the metaphor of a marriage ceremony is quite apt.



Standing in the sun isn't easy.  I know.  I've been dancing in it this whole summer.  I've noticed how difficult it gets to focus when outside under the hot sun for too long.  My brain starts to melt.  This definitely happened with our group.  After lunch as we worked on the middle section around the rock and palm garden, I could feel the energy of the group start to wane.  Back were getting sore.  Brains were melting for sure.  They were troopers.  We took plenty of water breaks and sat in the shade whenever possible.  At least the idea to work with parasols had an aesthetic AND practical purpose!

My next rehearsal with the group is Sunday Sept. 16.  We will be reviewing and refining everything that we learned and working with some new material for the motivational talk show scene, when I invite my Soul as a guest on my show.  : )

Meena is in Canada for a couple weeks, so our rehearsals are on hold until she is back.  We made a lot of progress in the last week of intensive rehearsals.  Still a bit to do, including finalizing what happens in the fountain and our scene together in the motivational talk show.

More to come!

Always,
Sheetal

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Creating for the Space

In the last couple weeks, Meena and I have been packing in our rehearsals.  We've finally finished the first long dance section, which is about 12 minutes and takes place mostly along the boardwalk and in the rock and palm garden.  It's been a lot of fun working in the garden, tailoring our choices to help show off the beauty of the space.  The next section to work on will take place in the installation of chairs and fences, just in front of the guest house.  Again, for me, the choreography is about showing off the lines and detail of the space that we're working in, and this is definitely a different way of working for me.  As anyone who works mostly in a theater space will tell you, creating a site-specific dance challenges your brain to add a whole new layer, a new dimension, to how you create meaning through movement.  I love it.  Even before working on the beach house residency, I have been drawn to spaces in the environment, and will often see whole dances there, in my mind's eye.  But now, it's even more so!

Musically, Ellen and I have been swapping ideas and drafts back and forth, and we're starting to get a feeling for the arc.  Still, there will be plenty of adjustments to be made closer to the premiere, but it's nice getting a feel for the over-all sound world of the piece.

Costumes, same thing!  Tiffany is working on the outline, or the silhouette of the costumes for Meena and I.  I had to dissuade her (much to her dismay) from using too much chiffon, because with all the hands on/body-on contact we have with the vegetation in the rock and palm garden, our costumes would be hot mess getting stuck on everything!

I won't be on site this week because I'm in Dusseldorf, Germany, but you'll see me again the following week, after Labor Day.  Come say hello!  And then, on September 8th, we'll have our big group rehearsal day with all our community performers!  Can't wait for that.

See you at the beach!

Always,
Sheetal

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hot Pavement, Recording Session, and Panelists...Oh My!

We're moving quickly now.  This last week, Meena and I have been choreographing and rehearsing our main dance scene which will take place on the boardwalk and in the rock and palm garden.
Usually, during the hot, daytime hours, we try to find some cool indoor space to work out the movements.  You might find us rehearsing in the Garden Terrace, or up in the Sand and Sea room, and then in the evening, as the sun sets and the crowds disperse, we try out our movements in the actual space.  It is challenging to dance barefoot on the cement, and we have to be careful of not practicing a move over and over on a floor surface that has no "spring" to it.  Although in India, where I trained in a form called "Kathak", for several months in 1996, there are no sprung floors.  It's very rare that you find that kind of comfort in India, and in many other countries where the resources for the arts are even less than what we complain about here in the U.S.!  After one week of pounding and slapping on the hard floor for 6 hours a day, my feet swelled up to the size of grapefruits!  That won't happen here at the Annenberg Community Beach House,  but still it's a challenge.  Add to that the grittiness of the sand on the boardwalk, and hot pavement, and it's hard not to grimace!  Still, we love what we do, and I am very excited about this piece and about working WITH the challenges in the environment.

This week I hired a costume designer, which is very exciting!  Her name is Tiffany Maxwell, and I get a great feeling about her.  Her work is edgy with very interesting detail.  Of course, she is going to work with our theme and also with our movement and the actual environment that we're in (including a dance that happens in the Splash Pad), so it's something totally new for her and a welcomed challenge!

A couple days ago, we had a great recording session with the composer for the work - Ellen Reid.  I worked with her once before on a multi-media piece for the Artwallah Festival at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica.  She's great to work with.  The recording session took place at my house, and out of the session, a title for the work emerged!!  "I Am You".
I don't want to give away too much about the piece, but we had a good laugh at my various interpretations of a New-Age Motivational Speaker.  Ahhh...I love my job.  I love that I get to make up things in my head and then put them out in the world.  I just think that's the coolest thing ever.  It's like, I never had to grow up!  I just get to keep imagining things.

Anyway, this Tuesday August 21st is my 2nd Public Workshop/Event at the Beach House and I am curating a fantastic panel of artists to discuss, ruminate and answer questions on the topic "The Art of Being An Artist".  I'm so thrilled to bring together this diverse cross-section of directors, choreographers, animators, educators, dancers, composers.  The list includes:  Shyamala Moorty, Anaitté Vaccaro, Jonathan Beard, Jones Welsh, Juliette Carrillo and Adnan Hussain.

Come on out Tuesday August 21st at 6:30pm for juicy discussions, participatory exercises led by the panelists and some refreshments after.  The sun will be setting, and it will be divine.

See you at the beach!

Always,
Sheetal

Friday, August 3, 2012

My MUSE is in the HOUSE!

It's been a very nice week, in terms of getting some creative juices flowing!  I love it when I hook in to the tide of inspiration and the instincts that I have start to get affirmed in the external world.  That's when I know my MUSE is in the HOUSE! (The Beach House, that is).

For example...little things.  I'll have an image of a dance scene, and for some reason, a song will pop into my head.  The title of the song is somewhat reflective of the theme that I'm working with, but the song is so old, I can't really remember the words.  Could it really be the right song to use?  I'm not poring through catalogues of songs to find the right one...I just have the name of this song in my head...could it really be right?  I check it out on YouTube, and...it's perfect.  They lyrics give a different perspective on the theme that I'm working with, which is...?
DUALITY.  I don't have a title for the piece yet.  It will come.  But for now, here's a little about what I'm exploring:

The theme of the work is on the nature of “Duality”.  The piece has poetic and spiritual undertones and is an exploration of the conflict between the Soul and the Personality, the Spirit and the Flesh. That we are ultimately striving to be in tune with our “selves”, to find harmony between the eternal and the physical, the mind and the body, thoughts and feelings, fact and faith - between that part of us that knows everything and the part that is still learning.  From the time we are born, we experience duality in our separation from our mother’s womb. The piece explores the joy in union and the pain in separation, and the inevitable duality of earthly human existence.  The poetry of Rumi may serve as textual and/or imagistic inspiration.  The general theme of Rumi's thought. like that of other mystic and Sufi poets of Persian literature, is essentially that of the concept of tawhīd - union with his beloved (the primal root) from which/whom he has been cut off and become aloof  - and his longing and desire to restore it.
And have I told you who I am primarily working with as my dance/performer collaborator? Meena Murugesan! You'll get to know her more in time as well.  We'll be posting some fun videos of our work together.

So, is this piece a duet?  Yes...and no.  It is a duet, but there is a community aspect to this piece.

Here's the part where I ask YOU, yes, YOU, reader, to be part of this event, this site-specific dance-theater piece!

First of all,  You do not need to be a performer!  

You may also invite your friends or family, if you think they would be interested.  In other words, feel free to pass along this notice, invite others to this blog, email me with questions, etc.!
Before I go into the specifics of how I would like to work with you, I want you to first just imagine yourself on the beach with many others you know and love, and some new folks that you may not know, but who are obviously awesome...

Imagine the particular lightness of being experienced when your routine is unexpectedly broken, add to that the high you get from being outdoors, multiply that by a game of volleyball, a burger at Back To The Beach Cafe (veggie burger offered as well) and a few laps in the outdoor pool, and divide that all by an assurance that your involvement will add a great deal to the success of this performance!

Here's how I plan on working with YOU:

I want the community performers (that's you) to represent "humanity"; the world that we are born into; this earthly existence.  You will carry red umbrellas and at times, move as a group in unison, and at other times, break off as individuals or "families".  You create the visual architecture that frames the piece.  There will be simple choreography, possibly some text or song (if it's appropriate) and improvisation.

Of course, there is a rehearsal schedule and some commitment needed from you.  So PLEASE think it over carefully before you reply with a YES!


REHEARSAL TIME REQUIREMENTS:
Saturday September 8th from 10am-5pm (to learn material)
Sunday September 16th from 12pm-4pm (only if needed)
Tech Rehearsal: Wednesday THURSDAY September 27th, Time T.B.D. (2-3 hours to remember and refine)
PERFORMANCES
Friday September 27th 28th, 6pm (call time is 5pm)
Saturday September 28th 29th, 1pm (call time is 12pm)
Sunday September 29th 30th, 1pm (call time is 12pm)

I need to get RSVP's by August 10th.  Please email me if you're interested at: sheetal@sheetalgandhi.com

JOIN ME ON THE BEACH!!!

Till the next,
Sheetal



Friday, July 27, 2012

Surveying the Scene

I can easily imagine the days of summer slipping by as I sit in my office, window open, looking out onto the blue sea, taking leisurely walks along the boardwalk, dipping my toes in the water, grabbing a latte from the Café, sunnin' my skin to a darker shade of brown (much to the dismay of all my relatives in India)...but wait...what?  WHAT?  I have to WORK?

It's true.  I betta work it, cuz I got dis fly gig...and I'm going to make pretty dance on the beach!  Ok, so maybe it won't always be pretty, but it will be pretty interesting.  Here's my first video blog from a few weeks ago, when I first took a walk around the grounds, seeing what areas inspired me.  I invite you into my process, as I continue to update you on the inspirations and challenges and unexpected moments...and look forward to sharing the journey with you!

Always,
Sheetal

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Duality and Joy with Sheetal Gandhi, new Choreographer in Residence

2012 Choreographer in Residence Sheetal Gandhi and her collaborator Meena Murugesan have been spotted already casing the site, wandering from sand to View Deck and points in between! Beach House guests can observe Gandhi (and perhaps participate...) as she creates a brand new dance piece throughout the grounds. The culminating dress rehearsal and performances take place at 6pm September 28 and 1pm September 29-30. Rehearsal schedule and updates will be posted to this blog. She'll also be conducting two lecture/demo/workshops on July 29 (at capacity) and August 21, so if you want more info and you aren't already on the Beach House email list, join now!

About Sheetal Gandhi:


Sheetal Gandhi is Choreographer in Residence July 23 – September 30, and is creating a new site-specific dance piece on the Beach House grounds, presented in free outdoor performances September 29-30 at 1pm. She is blogging about her residency experience at beachhouseair.blogspot.com. Reservations for the performances will be available in August at annenbergbeachhouse.com/beachculture.

Sheetal Gandhi is an inter-cultural, multi-disciplinary choreographer and performer based in Los Angeles. Her interdisciplinary work layers movement, complex rhythmic structures, theatricality and live singing - referred to as "eloquent, inventive…virtuosic" by the Philadelphia Inquirer. By exploring traditional forms of dance and music through decidedly postmodern compositional structures that comment on global and multi-layered contemporary society, Gandhi’s work references the past, grounds itself in the present, and evokes the possibilities of the future. Her career has spanned genres and disciplines including work as creator and performer in Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion and playing a leading role in the Broadway production of Bombay Dreams. Gandhi is a recipient of a 2012-13 NDP Touring Award for her acclaimed solo dance-theater work, Bahu-Beti-Biwi and her work has been presented at The Painted Bride (Philadelphia),  Maui Arts and Cultural Center and Kahilu Theatre (Hawaii), Black Magic Woman Festival (Amsterdam), The Lab Theater (Minneapolis, MN), Highways Performance Space (Los Angeles), REDCAT (Los Angeles), Erasing Borders Festival (NYC), National Asian American Theater Festival (NYC), among others. She received a 2011 COLA Grant for the creation of a new multi-media dance-theater work entitled Human Nature, and is a participating member of the 2012 Choreographers in Mentorship Exchange (CHIME) program. Gandhi’s passion for intercultural exchange has recently been supported by a Cultural Exchange International (CEI) fellowship in Amsterdam and an invitation to attend the Tanzmesse International Festival for Contemporary Dance in Dusseldorf, Germany.  She continues to engage in collaborations with artists and communities both locally and abroad, embracing opportunities to expand the limits of imagination, creativity and human compassion.  sheetalgandhi.comsheetalgandhi.com

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Taking Flight

Sorry, but I AM having serious withdrawal. I mean 6 weeks of going almost every day to one of the most beautiful houses on a beach FILLED with beautiful houses, and getting to work on the most beautiful poetry in the English language, and on, arguably, maybe the most beautiful of all the plays in the canon………well, even someone with a less addictive personality than my own might fall into delirious ecstasy.

Perhaps I overstate. I’m prone to it. But this summer residency at the Marion Davies House was truly sublime. Even when we couldn’t do some things because the historic status of the house itself might be damaged. Well, we just did what Salty Shakespeare does-----we went around and found another way. And often a better way.

But that wonderful sunken terrace on the west end of the house became a playground for us; and I’m pleased to say, I believe we used it to full advantage without harming it at all. I think the actress who owned it originally, in fact, was watching from somewhere and loving every minute of our improvisational antics. And in the last performance when Sam Hardie as Hamlet put his arms around a woman watching from the south wall, and said, “To England?” and she nodded and giggled-------well, it seemed like Marion herself giving approval to the whole affair.

I know. My imagination explodes. And now it’s over and I go on to taking a meeting in Starbucks today with a guy interested in bringing Salty Shakespeare to the Tube. Who knows. Salty Shakespeare is never planned. We go forward laughing into the darkness, stepping off cliffs and assuming we’ll know how to fly.

May all our flights be as exhilarating as the Annenberg. Thank you!!!



Nancy Linehan Charles
Artistic Director, Salty Shakespeare
www.SaltyShakespeare.org


 Photography by Margaret Molloy

Friday, July 20, 2012

LAST DAY


Okay, well, I’m crying. Full out. It’s our last performance of HAMLET today, and the last day of our summer residency with the Annenberg. Last day of pretending we’re Scarlet O’Hara living in luxury at Tara.

Feels like leaving summer camp after two weeks of bonding with the other pre-teen girls, over campfires and marshmallows. And smoking behind the cabins. Too much information.

So before I drown in metaphors, let me say it has been an amazing experience. Ya know, actors can invent their magic in a barrel if that’s all that’s around. We’re like cockroaches: we WILL survive after everything else is gone…….doing one last scene from WAITING FOR GODOT or……HAMLET. We endure, no matter what.

So to be dropped into this beautiful setting for 6 weeks was like being knocked on the head and waking up in the Emerald City. But with all your best friends in tow. And we flourished. Audiences seem to like our HAMLET, filling up waiting lists as long as your arm. It’s a lot of work for only six performances but I believe we filled those with energy and focus and inventiveness enough to make Marion Davies proud. And maybe William Randolph Hurst. Who might have given us more money.

But I digress.

Sometimes, when I was alone and leaving that big house late at night, exhausted from a full day of rehearsing, I could feel the ghosts of all those early Hollywood celebs, all decked out in costume in the photographs in the entrance hall…….and I’d think, Wanta do a play??? Our costumer, Jaymee, could take that clownish thing you’re wearing and make it into TITUS ANDRONICUS, if she chose to.

We’ve loved it. Bye, Gigi and Liz and Melissa and Naomi and Alex and Art and everyone who helped us. And Nan. Of course, Nan. We couldn’t have done it without you!

Nancy and Linda and Tom
And the company of HAMLET, 2012


 Photography by Margaret Molloy