Halfway There… AHHHH.

We are halfway through the semester, only two months away from graduation, less than two months away from the impending due date…

AKA cue the existential crisis!

This is usually the time I begin to second guess the choices I have made thus far. I spend more time thinking about ways I can scrap the “terrible” thing I have planned and make it into a new, better project and spend less time on working in a productive manner with the material I have spent the past two months collecting. I hope and guess that I am not alone in this feeling… (get your comment credit and re-assure me at the same time below!)

In reality I’ve lost inspiration. I’ve lost focus on what drew me to this project in the first place. I’ve let fear paralyze me from moving forward.

The irony: my project is all about how we can be more creative, productive, and fulfilled in our daily lives. Clearly I have not been giving the experiments my full attention. But this should reassure me, yes? I have started a puzzle, but I have all the pieces.

On the bright side, this will probably be a great story to share in my project; no one is at one hundred percent 100% of the time…

I wanted to use this blog post to jump back into my Capstone Project Process, but in writing it I’ve just realized that this being stuck is a part of the process… the process never stopped!

I imagine every tough moment, the ones we struggle with for a couple weeks, months, years, as a little badge on a Girl Scout or Boy Scout sash; once we have gotten out the other side of a rut, small or massive or any size between, we can wear that badge with pride because we powered through and are better for it. This little rut may be one of the smaller badges, but a badge it is.

Cheers to your process and your rut! May your sash triumphantly over flow.

Ritual : Writing :: Key : Gate

OKAY-

I was all about process oriented work in my gateway project (see “Project Process” in my ePortfolio). The mindful territory you enter when focusing less on the destination and more on the journey is incomparable and personally productive in perhaps the lease “actually” productive ways. Twyla Tharp has, of course, schooled me because I failed to consider the impact that ritual can have on process.

Rituals are something that I have absent-mindedly practiced in my acting and singing: working out before singing, steaming, nebulizing, doing certain physical and vocal warm-ups to free the body for work, taking the time to do hair and makeup (or if you’re lucky, just pop on a wig) before a show. Each of these rituals open the gates between reality and the adopted reality of a show or audition. My rituals are ever evolving from situation to situation, and I hope they continue to do so as I learn and grow as an actor and human.

I was also raised to practice ritual before bed: bath, or shower, brush teeth, pajama set, tuck in, read a book, turn off the lights, set up all of my blankets and stuffed animals just right. Only then could I drift off into optimal sleep. Sleepovers took some getting used to for me, and even now I stumble home from a party at 3:00am and put myself in the shower before even considering hopping into bed (no more stuffed animals though, I’m afraid).

But what about writing? I could sing, act, sleep without rituals; it just wouldn’t be as fruitful. I feel that ritual is perhaps where my writing process lacks, and what could really set my creativity and productivity free.

I have come up with a small grab bag of ideas that could perhaps be  a part of my ritual as I try and unlock the gates between my everyday life and my writing:

  • establishing my writing spot somewhere in public (I can get a bit unmotivated in my own space and have been known to use spare mornings, afternoons and even evenings for cat naps) and including the walk to the destination as a part of said ritual
  • establishing a specific desk set up (I’m very big on paper products, pencils, pens, you name it)
  • or listening to the same song or playlist on my walk

If I am being quite honest, this is the first time I am making it a goal to make writing something ritual worthy. That sounds quite negative… and I don’t mean it in a harsh way, as I do really enjoy writing. But I realize that I often depend on writing deadlines for motivation. I wish I didn’t. I wish that I would write on my own accord as things come to me, wish that I would listen to the little ideas that pop in my head for an essay or the lines of a poem or song or collection and roll with it for no other reason than the fact that “I am a writer; I write!”.

Hopefully ritual will help me kill the little vampires in my head that tend to suck the life out of these little muses that I hear inside me (Count Self-Doubt). As the forming of any habit, it will take practice and failure and a little more practice and perhaps a little more failure.

Let’s do it.

“Here she is, boys! Here she is, WORLD!” -Mama Rose

Alright everyone. We MADE IT. Here is my ePorftolio for your viewing pleasure.

Now, I must add that I struggled with the design aspect of this assignment, and will probably be changing that accordingly (I’m pretty sure each page has a different color scheme/design layout… oops).

But instead of dwelling on all that I did not do, I will celebrate how much I have learned this past semester about my own writing.

I have learned:

  1. that even if I try to outline, I’m going to end up throwing it out of the window the first pass anyway in attempt to get thoughts to page before they drift away from my brain.
  2. that I am over-ambitious in many of my ideas. This is not a bad thing, as long as I keep my expectations in check!
  3. that re-reading a piece of your writing after you have stepped away from it (for at least a couple of hours, if not a day or two) is one of the most illuminating forms of revision.
  4. that I still have no clue what I enjoy writing the most, but I’m not really that mad about it.
  5. that reading great work is inspiring.
  6. that I am only as limited as I perceive myself to be.

Hopefully, I will continue this experimentation with my writing and continue to play with new forms and modes. I am grateful that I ended up joining the Sweetland Minor in Writing, and look forward to how my work in the courses, with my peers, and under the professors’ guidance will continue to influence these formative years of my writing education.

“When a Person’s Personality is Personable…”

Excuse the somewhat irrelevant lyric… I mean, C’MON it is genius. And for whatever reason it popped into my head as I began to think of a title for this blog post (hopefully my group members will kindly shut it down in revision, but until then it stays). Here is the full lyric, for your pleasure:

When a person’s personality is personable / He shouldn’t oughta sit like a lump / It’s harder than matador coercin’ a bull / To try to get you off of your rump. –“You Could Drive a Person Crazy” from COMPANY, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

GENIUS.

And completely irrelevant.

More importantly, I will be using my experiment #3 to try my hand in writing a personal narrative essay.

The personal essay is a form of the genre that I have always been drawn to as a reader. These were the works that I read right before deciding to pursue this minor in writing- mostly essays and essay collections a la Cheryl Strayed, Rebecca Solnit and Joan Didion.

This genre is quite broad (over 400 years old) and includes many different forms: diary/journal entry, letters, newspaper columns, valedictions (aka a formal farewell), etc.  They often center around different major themes: ambition, food, death, race/ethnicity, family, disability, etc. There aren’t set rules for this genre, rather conventions of the many forms.

I view the genre as a combination of personal storytelling, and a sort of amateur philosophy. The combination of conversational and lively first person point of view with the act of “formal” writing (i.e. writing, re-writing, researching, editing, synthesizing… going through all the motions) makes for a fully realized and unique piece (unlike a blog which is personal and reflective but traditionally not given as much time and weight).

Recently, I read an article in The New Yorker about how popularized the personal essay has become. Each of the titles mentioned seemed to be one-upping the last with shock factor- a cliché I hope to avoid entirely. I think the main problem for these essays is the lack of specific audience. I hope to avoid the “first person industrial complex” by answering a specific question for a specific audience.

The question at hand: When did I become so obsessed with product and material success, and how is it hindering me as an artist and person?

A bit loaded, as of now, but I think it is a universal question that pops up in many a creative individuals’ mind.

Among the overwhelming amount of possibilities, I’ve decided to roll with the idea of doing an essay that might appear in a newspaper/magazine column. My audience will be creative individuals who may be struggling with the pressures of being “successful” in a creative field.

Think a little bit of NY Times Modern Love, without the focus on external relationships and love, meets Cheryl Strayed’s advice column, “Dear Sugar” (an online advice column that was published as a collection in the novel Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar)*. With this form in mind, I’d like to approach this question using the following conventions:

– anecdotal introduction: Hence the personal in personal essay. The personal narratives I admire use an authentic personal story, or observation, as an avenue to discuss/question/analyze a more specific human experience. These authentic stories earn a writer credibility and trust whilst also serving as a great hook.

– humor: Even in the darkest of times, often more in the darkest of times, humor is a universal language. The personal stories that deal with the heavy stuff often use a humorous approach- it is human to dilute the struggle with some giggle.

– relation to a larger theme: In this case, success (and general happiness/well-being).

– not terribly long in length: Modern Love posts are fairly short, whereas Strayed’s advice columns varied in length. I am going to make it a goal to keep it between 1,500 and 2,000 words.

– conversational tone and unique voice: More formal than a blog, but as casual as you would see writing done in a print publication. Ideally, if it were actually a column someone would be able to recognize my writing style from another essayist. (Hey, this kinda ties in my irrelevant lyric… but not really).

Hopefully, this genre choice will allow me to join the conversation of the benefits of process-oriented creative work by sharing my own personal experience with “The Process Project” (my origin piece was a reflective journal entry on how my work on the project affected me as a student, performer and person, making this the least radical of my experiments, but I think it will serve it well).

*One little exception: I will not be addressing anyone specifically, as done in the “Dear Sugar” advice column. 

Experiment #2: Playin’ with Playbill.com

I came across the idea of minoring when I decided that I needed to have a more “practical” degree, that will help me lock down a “real person” or “survival” job when I inevitably move to New York after graduation. This vernacular is thrown around jokingly by BFA’s and sometimes not so jokingly by others; while the need for another job is a reality (auditioning three times a day doesn’t pay…at all), I don’t agree in the slightest that a BFA is impractical… but that is a conversation for another time.

(lol maybe too aggressive for the topic but, come on, Queen E is FIERCE!)

On the lines of practical, however, I’d like to think that my writing for Playbill.com one day would be a happy marriage between my two degrees.

As a Musical Theatre major at the University of Michigan, we are taught to make the signature yellow and black site our homepage. The past two years the website has become a once-a-day to keep the doctor away sort of thing.

Let me link the site here for your convenience bc #blogging!

The website serves as a newspaper, encyclopedia and social hub for those in the industry and those interested in theatre. Diving into the site, I am realizing how vague the organization of the articles are. Regardless, on Playbill.com you’ll find:

  • information about the past, present and future projects of directors, actors, producers, designers, composers/lyricists, playwrights, etc. (called The Vault)
  • News and features of current and upcoming productions (i.e. where to find tickets, a compilation of reviews aka “The Verdict”, other publicity like “First Look” or “Opening Night Photos” that makes you wish you could afford the ever-climbing ticket prices)
  • Weekly Grosses on Broadway and Off Broadway
  • Fun “tid-bits” for lack of a better word on what’s going on with members of the Broadway community (I guess Idina Menzel’s sister wrote a memoir? Sure, cool), interactive quizzes, photo collections “Through the Years,” etc.

 

 

As an experiment, I’d like to take a crack at writing a few features for THE PROCESS PROJECT, a five-week workshop I was lucky to be cast in last fall, a la Playbill.com. The Playbill.com platform would be a perfect way to reach an audience of theatre enthusiasts (goers, performers, producers, etc) to tell them about the innovative project.

I would approach it as a documentation of the five-week process, starting with a main feature article introducing it to the public (to get everyone “hype”) and then following it with smaller updates (at the mid-point, the end, and maybe even the present status). The first feature would allow me to showcase what makes THE PROCESS PROJECT unique compared to the average workshop while still including the important and eye-catching information. The smaller updates are mostly for keeping any changes or advancements in the news.

 

Here are a couple of things I plan to keep in mind whilst writing the features:

  • Mostly fact based information: no reviews or opinions, unless quoted by an individual who was interviewed.
  • Mostly unbiased, and definitely third person POV: The perspective is that of an outsider in real-time (I’ll have to remove my bias as a cast member for my project)
  • Name-Drop-it-Like-It’s-Hot: this industry is all about Hyper-linking the names involved and including all the juicy, somewhat “braggy”, details helps get people excited and adds credibility.
  • Short and Sweet: Most of these feature style articles are meant to be brief updates on pieces that have already been written about. For my project, I’ll do one fleshed out “initial” feature that really dives into the exciting aspects of THE PROCESS PROJECT; the other will be small updates that can link back to the larger feature (and vice-versa).
  • Multi-Modal, in as many ways as you can: Theatre is, at its core, a sensory experience. That is probably why you won’t see a feature without a visual and/or aural element (always a picture, and often a promotional video or link to the music). Although we don’t have any pictures of the cast of THE PROCESS PROJECT all together (it was a tech free zone), pictures of the creative team can help draw an audience in.
  • Lots O’ Links: Did I mention the importance of connections?

 

 

 

 Here’s an example of a feature, and a little “Go Blue” moment for all of you James Earl Jones fans out there! The article itself is packed with the exciting information about the concert. Each of the bolded and underlined names/titles in the article are hyperlinks to their Vault profile, a.k.a they have accumulated a decent amount of credits. The three large images identify the big name stars, just in case you missed their names in the bold type title. If there had been any rehearsal footage of the event, as some concerts usually put out for publicity, it would have been featured toward the bottom of the article.

 

 

Traveling back in time to feature THE PROCESS PROJECT is a totally different twist on my origin piece, a chicken-scratch journal reflection on my experiences last fall. Writing these features will be, ironically, a more “practical” reflection of the project in its entirety (“practical” in this case meaning more thorough, factual and purposeful, I suppose). Ironically, THE PROCESS PROJECT is still in the works in New York, but quite low-key as of now (the creator had to take a little break to win a Tony this past June, NO BIG DEAL). Maybe a real playbill article is in its future!

Either way, I am excited to try my hand at emulating one of my most used sites.

A Professor, A Friend, and Dancing Mormons: Examples of Multimodality in a Handful of Texts

Multimodality in Everyday Texts

            These days, I find that my consumption of texts is at an all-time high; between my varied and hefty course-load and my slight addiction to social media and creative digital content, there is rarely a time of day that I am not interacting with multi-modal texts (I don’t know if I’m necessarily proud of this, but it’s true nonetheless). Below are some of the texts that I interacted with this past week.

 

Professor Wagner’s Musical Theatre History- Lyrics Lecture

  • Visual
  • Linguistic
  • Gestural
  • Aural
  • Spatial

The original chair of the Musical Theatre Department, Professor Brent Wagner, has since retired as leader of the group, but has continued to teach a couple of his original courses- one of them being Musical Theatre History (truly one of the best classes I have ever taken folks, let me tell you). Last Tuesday we continued our lecture of lyrics, focusing mostly on the work of the legendary Irving Berlin. We first discussed the lyrics to songs, such as “How Deep is the Ocean” and “Always,” printed on a sheet of paper which are traditionally written in poem-like lines based on their phrasing and rhythm (linguistic/spatial). Then we went through to identify the important words by speaking them aloud, in and out of rhythm (linguistic). After a close lyric analysis, Professor Wagner passed out sheet music for another song by Irving Berlin, “Play a Simple Melody,” and headed to the piano; we all sight read the music to his accompaniment to better analyze the significance of and relationship between the lyric, melody and harmony (aural/visual). For the songs we did not sing, we listened to popular recordings (i.e. Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “Remember” which gets me every time). Professor Wagner highlighted important musical elements with a conductors’ hand (gestural).

 

Letter from a Friend

  • Linguistic
  • Visual

One of my close friends from home sent me a thank you letter along with a collection of her published photography that I purchased. The front of the card featured a generic spring-colored floral wreath and a matching calligraphy “thank you!,” which was accompanied by a scribbled note on the bottom (linguistic/visual). The inside included the second verse of one of our all time favorite jams, “212” by Azealia Banks, in my friend’s iconic handwriting- all capital letters (linguistic/visual). I would post a picture of the inside, but those who know the song can agree that it is not entirely appropriate for the blog (but man does it slap)!

BOOK OF MORMON National Tour

  • Linguistic
  • Aural
  • Visual
  • Spatial
  • Gestural

Our department was lucky enough to get offered comp tickets to the National Tour of the musical BOOK OF MORMON that performed in Toledo, Ohio this past week. Not only would I never pass up the opportunity for a free show but I was also part of the 1% of people in my community that had not yet seen the Tony Award winning hit, so I snagged a ticket. The crude yet comedic show featured all the aspects of a multi-modal project- from the Playbill to the pristine nametags on each Mormon, the men belting A’s to the extremely heightened physicality of each goofy character (linguistic/aural/visual/spatial/gestural).

 

Facebook Post/Habitat for Humanity Fundraiser

  • Aural
  • Visual
  • Gestural
  • Spatial
  • Linguistic

After the ruthless natural disasters that have hit southern North America, many people have turned to social media to spread awareness and to encourage donating to aid the thousands of people affected. Just this evening I came across the post of a friend who has friends and family who’s homes have been devastated by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. He shared his family’s story, stories of his own experiences in Puerto Rico this summer, and statistics that highlighted the poverty in Puerto Rico within a written post [not pictured] (linguistic). At the bottom of the post was a video of him singing a beautiful, call-to-action ballad called “If You’re Out There” by John Legend (aural/gestural/visual). Attached below the video, you were given the option to donate to a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity in Puerto Rico with the simple click of a button (spatial/gestural).

 

It is interesting that three of my four examples used all five of the modes of communication. It may be due to their relationship to the arts/performing arts. Regardless, I find that each of these texts exists, or existed, in a unique situation. In the case of the “lecture,” the multi-modal aspects made the ideas and theory easier to learn and comprehend (Professor Wagner caters to an audience of performers quite well, knowing that this style of academic analysis goes hand in hand with aural and gestural modes in much of the work we do). In my opinion, the Facebook post would not have caught as much attention if not for the unique combination of video and post; the arrangement of the “one-click” donating beneath the video is also a very effective way to encourage an audience to take action, rather than just become aware. As for the musical, I expect nothing less than five modes from a performance of that caliber; the theatre is meant to entertain and communicate, and productions like the BOOK OF MORMON do so with grand spectacle and a certain flair. It’s interesting to compare the simplicity of the letter from my friend; it is just as effective as it provides the audience (me) with personalized gratitude which, in this case, doesn’t require many modes. In short, each of the choices made by these authors was strong and purposeful in the context of each rhetorical situation.