Grant Writing

I’ve been having these ongoing talks with the San Antonio River Authority for maybe two months. It was a bit confusing at first. There’s the San Antonio River Foundation, which is the non-profit arm of SARA (San Antonio River Authority), and it was through them that I first began interacting. This is because I have a friend who works for the Foundation. This is how these things usually begin. You know someone who knows someone.

My first plan was to find out how I might gain access to a portion of the river down by Mission Espada to mount a performance work with projection and dancers. I was gently steered towards using a plot of land which is slated to become Confluence Park (near the Mitchell Street bridge). I was a bit hesitant, but the more I learned, the more interesting the possibilities became.

The larger event with be called something like The River Fest. I’m not sure the full name has been worked out. It will begin at noon and last until nine at night. There will be art, and arts education projects. There will be food trucks. Bands. And when the sun sets, the project I am working on will be presented. I believe I gave some sort of vague working title such as “River: Giver of Life.” I have a basic idea of how I want the work to unfold. Now I need to reach out to the choreographers I have in mind. Shoot and edit several sequences. And through an equitable and, I hope, fun collaborative process, give shape to the whole piece. It will be a Jump-Start-At-Large performance art piece.

They have a good team at the River Authority/Foundation, who are planning some wonderful events to engage the public, with an emphasis on environmental responsibility.

I had a good meeting yesterday with the River Authority and I feel that things are well on track for a great event. The Confluence Park festival will be September 13.

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The other thing that has been dominating my time lately is grant writing. The San Antonio Department for Culture and Creative Development provides city funding to non-profit arts organizations. The process has changed dramatically this year. All of the organizations who have enjoyed previous funding will take a major hit. The funding amounts will be cut. And the percent of the grants which recipients are awarded will need to be matched by a greater percentage than ever before. So, I have been putting in long hours with other members of Jump-Start to get this massive grant in before the deadline. A wise decision, because it seems that the website where all of the grant language and support files to be uploaded is buggy and quite inelegant. After fighting with the website last night for several hours, I’ve finally concluded that it’s a bit more stable than I initially thought, but it’s still a fucking mess. (There’s an added problem that some of the other arts organizations have been, unintentionally, spreading misinformation. I need to stop listening to this sort of hearsay, because I keep forgetting how appallingly technologically illiterate are so many arts administrators). Anyway, the deadline is, I believe, Friday. Jump-Start’s self-imposed deadline was supposed to have been last night. If we get all this submitted today (which is the current plan), we will be well ahead of the curve.

And then the wait begins.

I’m not the only one in the organization who is nervous. Because we have moved to a much smaller space, and because of a few other challenges, we will be requiring a smaller amount of funding this year from the city than we have requested in perhaps over a decade. But the truth is, we really need every penny we’re asking for. There is no guarantee we will get the full requested amount (or, well, anything—though this, I have been told, is very unlikely). It’s frustrating to me because in spite of recent challenges, we have presented a large amount of programming, including quite a few events which we have added to our season in addition to our original proposed performance plan presented for the previous funding cycle.

Okay. This coffee cup is empty. Time to head over to the studio and see if we can’t get that grant finished.

Freezer-Full of Atrocities

I’m sitting here Sunday morning drinking coffee and making some hardboiled eggs. I’m also waiting on a phone call from someone who wants me to help on some sort of creative project. I understand that there is money involved. These are things I dread. I hate to tell people no. It is a huge problem in my life. I’m slowly learning to be firm. It has been my habit of telling people who I’m not keen to work with “maybe” again and again, so that eventually they will decide to disengage. Yes, I said that there’s money involved. I hate when the first thing mentioned about an art project is money. It never goes well. From a position of motivation, money is a killer. At least for me.

Who knows, maybe this guy will win me over. I’ve never met him, and maybe, just maybe, there’s a sliver of room in my upcoming wall-to-wall series of projects between now and March, 2015. But the thing is, these projects are all (with one or two exceptions) with people whose aesthetic and character I know and like and respect. Most are friends.

So, here are the ground rules (or, they should be the ground rules, if I weren’t such a weenie). I’ve lived in San Antonio now for a decade. If you’re a local artist (in any discipline) and our paths haven’t crossed, I want to know why. You don’t know who I am? I don’t know who you are? Well, I throw my net pretty fucking wide. Maybe you’ve recently awoken from a coma? Perhaps have been released from prison? No? Really? If you’re just getting into a creative career, or you’ve recently moved to town, I completely understand. Otherwise, take a number, because there are so many brilliant, community-spirited artists who I am dying to work with—and many have said yes when I’ve asked, or, better, they have reached out to me because they like my work; and, best of all, so many of these collaborations are already falling into place.

Strangers with promises of money and grand ideas they’ve taken to label “art” is one of the main reasons I unplugged myself from the San Antonio film “community.” Too many gormless individuals with dollar signs in their eyes and not one iota of aesthetic. To be less dramatic, I don’t feel we shared the same values.

And it suddenly occurred to me that today is Father’s Day. I am reminded that my unreasonable and irresponsible approach to life will most likely mean that I will die poor—perhaps evening poorer than I am at the moment, if that’s possible—and that these behaviors of mine which result in financially poor choices were most likely learned from my father. Though I doubt if he were alive, the either of us would think twice about these decisions. His or mine.

So, I sip my coffee and wait on a phone call for a potential paying gig I plan on wriggling free from, under the assumption it won’t be fun. (And, I could be wrong. And maybe this person has no interest in working with ME.) I check on the eggs and return to making notes for the dozen other projects I have in the works between now and March of 2015 which I’m fairly confident will be quite fun, though not so financially rewarding.

[Later edit: Oh, yeah. The guy never called.]

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Jump-Start has begun a series of performances for the months of June. Cafe du Jump: 8 x 8. Eight nights of eight, eight minute performances on an eight by eight foot stage. Admission $8. Performances begin at 8pm. You get the picture.

 

Graphic by Amanda Silva

Graphic by Amanda Silva

My offering is a performance piece titled “A Freezer-Full of Atrocities.” It has been changing each week. For week two, I brought a couple of company members on stage to help out. I also added some video projection. I’d like week three and week four to each become more complex and layered. For last night and Friday night I was also doing tech. So I had to set the lights, audio, and begin the video before climbing down from the tech booth and getting on to the stage. But, the truth is, we are all doing multiple tasks.

Also, I was asked by fellow company member Pamela Dean Kenny to write a monologue for her. I asked her if she had any ideas. “I do. How about an eight year old girl giving a Ted Talk on silverfish?” I can so do that! And so I did. She was perfect!

Two more weekends. I wonder if I can convince the rest of the company to extend the 8 x 8 through July.

W-I-P Crème 2014

Wednesday (yesterday) was a fairly typical day for me. After a couple cups of coffee and a banana, I grabbed a camera and two c-stands and headed over to Our Lady of the Lake University on the westside. I met up with Amber and her dancers. She was presenting a piece from her dance company, SpareWorks.dance, later that night at W-I-P Crème (this is the season’s best works from the Works in Progress series). Amber needed the c-stands because the piece, “Taken In Arms,” involves a translucent plastic sheet to be hung in the center of the stage. And she needed me, because I would be providing the video projection.

“Taken In Arms” was previously performed for a SpareWorks.dance fundraiser a few weeks ago. In that iteration, Amber was one of the dancers because of scheduling conflicts. So, one of the things they were working on for the Wednesday rehearsal was to get Jenny Been Franckowiak up to speed on the piece. The other dancers were Laura Beth Rodriguez, Charles Perez, and Eric Flores. This isn’t a particularly good photograph, but it’s indicative of these wedge-shaped tableaus (tableaux?) Amber creates out of bodies. These assemblages look incredibly striking with theatrical lighting.

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The next stop was to drive home and load up some equipment to video tape a performance over on the southside. Among URBAN-15’s various outreach programs is the teaching of drumming and dancing to kids, mainly elementary and middle school children. I was asked to video document a final performance at New Frontiers, a charter school on S. Presa. I met up with George, Catherine, and Jonathan at the URBAN-15 studio, and we carpooled about a mile or two south to the school.

There was an assembly room with a stage area at the far end on the second floor. Beautiful. Hardwood floors, large windows along one wall, high ceilings. I set up my camera on a tripod and tried to guess the audio levels. George warned me that the acoustics were horrible. And as the kids began filling up the space, I realized what he meant. The kids were typically unruly, but the stamped-tin ceiling and the wooden floor were making the chatter a mushy wash of high decibels. Here are a couple of kids mugging for my still camera.

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It was to be a short performance. I’d been told in advance that we’d start off with the young drummers. Next, the drummers would be joined with the kids from the dance class. And the final piece would be drumming with the dancers (lead by Catherine) moving into the audience and getting the kids and teachers to join them. I was curious how this final bit would go. I wasn’t sure if the teachers knew it was going to happen. They seemed overwhelmed as it was, trying their best to utilize some strange social engineering sign language to get the kids to shut up — a sort of countdown with three fingers, two fingers, one finger, and a fist. There were words shouted as well, but I couldn’t make them out over the general din. For the most part, the kids were quiet by the time the fist appeared. (Maybe it was supposed to be a zero instead of a fist….) Whether or not the teachers received the memo that fifty hyperactive kids would be given permission to join a chaotic conga line, I don’t know, but it was exhilarating to watch when they knew they were expected to join in. The photo below just doesn’t do justice to that sweet moment when the whole sea of kids collectively lost their shit.

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Next I drove home and swapped out equipment. I loaded up an old standard definition camcorder, my laptop, a tripod, a computer monitor, and a shitload of various cables. I drove over to Say Sí for W-I-P Crème.

There were seven acts, I believe. And we only had about an hour to rehearse and tech in the space. I needed to set up my computer and monitor in the wings. I put the camera on the tripod, and hooked it into my computer with the longest firewire cable I have. I snaked a 70 foot s-vga cable along a side corridor to hook it up with Say Sí’s projector. I was having an issue with the output image which eventually resolved itself. (I hate when electronics “fix themselves” and you never know what the problem was and when it might happen again.)

Here’s a picture I took just before showtime out the window of Say Sí. The “Art Is” is part of a longer quote stenciled on the glass. Some generic art-positive bromide, which seems not so precious and patronizing when it’s floating in the clouds.

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We were up first. The plastic sheet was set up. (This was to define the space for the performers, not to project upon.) A large white plastic cube was placed behind the plastic sheet. It had LED lights inside which slowly morphed different colors. And the projection was hitting a screen on the back wall. My camera was perpendicular to the back wall, allowing a side view of the action behind the screen. I used a VJ program to shift the imagery between video scenes of the dancers shot on previous occasions as well as the live camera feed.

The performance went off fairly well, I assume. I wasn’t in a good spot to see what the dancers were doing or even how the projections looked. All in all, it was a great line-up. I loved Fabiola Torralba’s piece, which I had missed at the last W-I-P. Amazing! And it was great to see Zombie Bazaar perform “Polly” again. He’s an out-of-focus Instagram. That’s talcum power in the air.

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Here are some of the Zombie’s near the snack table during the post show reception. That’s Martha, Hunter Moon, and Michi.

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I packed up all my crap, stopped by Taqueria Guadalajara for something to eat, and headed home.

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The Year (So Far) in a Blur

I may well have transitioned into an unprecedented phase in my life, where I am supporting myself strictly through freelance creative work. The problem is, I have been too busy these last few months to really look at my finances and make a clear assessment.

We’re coming up on June, and I really haven’t had much of a respite for the 2014 year so far.

I helped move Jump-Start Performance Co., a local theater company, from an 8,000 square foot space to a 2,000 square foot space. That was a protracted and inordinately frustrating ordeal. We had the final event in the space in early January — the annual performance party.

I was also in the midst of putting together Tales of Lost Southtown, a full-length play. There was about 40 minutes of video vignettes which I produced for the show. The live action portions all had me playing the narrator (a slightly modified version of myself), which involved memorizing quite a few lines. Because Jump-Start was between spaces, we had to turn the URBAN-15 studio into a 150 seat venue suitable for presenting a play with a heavy load of multimedia elements. Add to this, we had a different guest artist each night, and it’s no wonder that things became a bit complicated, logistically.

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Photo by Annette Landry. Kim and I in a scene from Tales of Lost Southtown.

There was also a preview reading of Tales of Lost Southtown presented at Gemini Ink, San Antonio’s preeminent literary organization. I was joined by my director and cast.

My short film, Feeding You, screened twice to packed houses at Say Sí. This was part of the Poet Laureate Short Film Project. I was chosen along with six other local filmmakers to craft a short film in response to one of Carmen Tafolla’s poems.

I was contracted by the King William Association to run a free workshop for artists and arts organizations to use the tools of digital media to better present their work and programming to their audiences and potential funders.

I am attached to two Artist Foundation grants. The one involving lead artist Amber Ortega-Perez (dancer and choreographer) is well underway. We already have two shoots in the can, and we have presented elements of the eventual piece as works-in-progress at the MAP event; a SpareWorks.dance fundraiser at Our Lady of the Lake University; and W-I-P Crème (which will be staged this coming Wednesday).

I’ve been shooting various scenes around town for two multimedia projects a friend who is a public artists is trying to get funding for.

There is a show for Australian TV which I’ve worked on the other week, where I provided the video interview of a well-regarded San Antonio artist. I believe the contract I signed mentioned something about non-disclosure, so I’ll leave it at that.

Coming up I have an eight minute performance art piece which will be presented every Friday and Saturday in June. This is for Jump-Start’s June variety show, Café du Jump: 8 x 8 (8 eight-minute pieces presented on an 8 foot by 8 foot stage for eight nights in June). My piece, which I should be writing right now, will be titled “A Freezer Full of Atrocities.” I have the title. Now I need a concept. But, really, no worries. It’s just eight minutes.

For August I, along with four other authors, will each present a 15 minute (give or take) presentation — poetry or prose — in reaction to one of Matisse’s illustrated books. This will be produced by Gemini Ink for the San Antonio Museum of Art. We will present the pieces at SAMA as part of their upcoming Matisse exhibition.

Also, in August, I will present a multimedia evening installation / performance at Confluence Park. This will be dance and video projection. I will be collaborating with Fabiola Torralba. I’m pretty sure she said yes…. This will be a Jump-Start-At-Large event, free and open to the public, with the generous assistance of the San Antonio River Foundation, who have been kind enough to offer us this beautiful space on the southside.

There will also be Oscuridad: A Night of Fairy Tales For Grownups. This will be the first “main-stage” show at the new Jump-Start. It will be written and designed by the ensemble. I hope to write at least one of the stories. And help on the video and tabletop puppet designs.

There will also be my fourth year collaborating with Seme Jatib for her November show for her dance students at St. Mary’s Hall. I’ll be doing some sort of video something.

And who knows what else I agreed to do. I’m very lucky that many of these projects are paying me. A couple, fairly well. This is important, because my part-time paid job shifted into a part-time volunteer job. So, what once was a gig which subsidized my creative work, has become the volunteer work which is being meagerly subsidized by the creative work. I’m not yet sure how I feel about this.

As ‘Twere With a Defeated Joy

Well, I’ve certainly been remiss lately as to the upkeep of this blog. I could use the excuse that I’ve been too busy, but that’s not really the case. True, I’ve initiated and collaborated on over a dozen creative projects this year. But, as per usual, I tend to find myself with mountains of free time. This comes from not having a day job; however, I do spend an inordinate amount of time stressing over how to pay my bills one week to the next.

This most recent project actually ate up quite a bit of my time. Jump-Start Performance Company and the Classic Theatre of San Antonio (who operate out of the same space in the Blue Star Arts Complex) decided to collaborate on a staging of a play by Shakespeare. For reasons never divulged to me, Hamlet was decided upon. (A problematic decision, in my opinion, in that there are only two female characters in the play). As a Jump-Start company member — and a new one at that — I felt it incumbent upon me to attend all open meetings and “play dates” concerning this collaboration. There had been talk about video projections. Perhaps with the ghost. Whatever the case, I made it known I was available to do whatever might be needed. That that “whatever” would be acting was certainly an uneasy possibility sitting in the back of my mind. But when I learned I had been cast as King Claudius, I did my best to let it be known I have no real acting experience. The production has two directors. ST Shimi, representing Jump-Start, and Diane Malone, of Classic. They didn’t seem terribly troubled with my lack of experience.

Laurie Dietrich did the cutting of the text. She took it down to the bare essentials of the characters of the court, removing the larger political drama. But I still found myself with 221 lines to memorize. And when I cautioned all involved that I’ve had my cell phone for over a decade and I still don’t know my own number, I guess they just thought it playful self-deprecation.

It was hell getting all those lines down. I spent at least five hours each day drilling. But, somehow, after an ugly and turgid (for me) week of tech rehearsals, I managed to do a serviceable job on stage for the first three performances. I still have another three shows this coming weekend, but I’m fairly confident I’ll survive.

It’s a mixed blessing to be surrounded by so many talented people. On the one hand, they’re always there to help out and give guidance; but, also, they bring to their performances a polish and competence that I really can’t match.

What I’ve learned is that while I don’t particularly like acting, it can be rather fun. When I was whining to fellow company member Chuck Squires about how I was drowning, he said I should trust the process. What the fuck? But, he was right. There’s this point when the lines are internalized and you walk out on stage and they just spool out, automatically. Yes, I have dropped a line or stumbled a few times, but when it’s all going according to the “process” it’s exhilarating, like all those things that move fast and don’t need conscious decision-making, such as driving, riding a bike, making music, etc. Just stand out of the way, and let it happen.

Here I am in costume backstage between scenes.

King Claudius

It seems ludicrous that one’s first acting gig should be a major character in fucking Shakespeare. And I’m getting paid for the job, and quite well. The fact is, it took me a long time to get to this point. I’ve spent much of my life avoiding bringing attention to myself. I don’t doubt that in my youth I suffered from social anxiety disorder. And even in college it took a great deal of inner resolve (and the occasional black-market pharmaceuticals) to manage to read aloud my own short stories in creative writing classes — and that was to an audience of fifteen people, tops. But, in the last seven years or so, I’ve been pushed on stage to introduce people, hauled in front of cameras in TV studios to talk about events, asked to participate on a few occasions in staged performance art pieces, and so on, until I really don’t think twice about getting up in front of a few hundred people. There’s no way I could have even thought of doing this a decade ago. For this production my biggest fear wasn’t so much a room full of slack-jawed gawkers staring me down, but the fear I’d fuck up and let down the rest of the cast. Ultimately I’m encouraged by the fact that even at my advancing age, I can still overcome some of my pesky and debilitating neuroses.

This has certainly been one of those opportunities where I’ve been forced to work outside of my comfort zone. And I highly recommend it.