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.

Wappo Pick-Ups

Hetaerae is coming along well. This is the upcoming Jump-Start performance written by Laurie Dietrich, and co-directed by Sandy Dunn and myself. Laurie will star as the narrator. There will be three other women in the cast. Yesterday, we received commitment from our final cast member, one of my favorite people and an amazing performer. Next week Sandy and I will meet with our cast in an informal gathering. Then we all jump into the work of character-building, rehearsals, and whatever else one does when putting on a play. I’m glad I’m surrounded by seasoned professionals.

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I haven’t been biking much lately, so when the temperature got up into the 80s back on Tuesday, I had no excuse. I hoped on my bike and headed south to Mission Espada. The wind was coming in strong from the south, so I had to fight it all the way. At least it meant that the return trip would be fun and fast with a strong tail wind.

The construction on the river redevelopment is still plodding along throughout that section between Military and Mission Espada. Construction crews are completely chewing up the area around Mission San Juan. The old, abandoned bridge over the canal is being dismantled. Sad. I shot a couple of films on it. It was handy because if you set up the shots right, you could give the illusion of shooting on a two-lane blacktop bridge without having to deal with traffic.

On the return trip, I fell afoul to a blustering northern cold front. I hate when the wind changes, creating head winds both coming and going. These were some feisty gusts, and I found myself constantly down-shifting, even on level ground. I noticed a fellow cyclist pull over. I’m not sure if he was exhausted fighting the wind, or just wanted to use his phone to photograph the whitecaps the wind was raising on the river.

I took a break under a pavilion near the Roosevelt Street bridge, to watch the clouds and see if the wind would die down. As I was trying to post this picture to Instagram —

clouds

— I got a call from Gustavo. He needed to shoot some more on the Wappo vs. the World film. CineFestival wants their sponsors mentioned in the film. We’d already done a few, but needed to included more. Would I be able to help out Wednesday afternoon. I said sure, hung up, and fought the winds all the way home.

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Wednesday I met up with Gustavo, Jim, Robb, and Yvonne. We headed over to la Casa del Alebrije, at 1601 Guadalupe. It’s an old house on the westside which, in March, will open as a place providing snacks, art shows, backyard performances, and so on. Gustavo put on his mask and, in character of Wappo, did a short commercial for the business which will be placed at the end of one of the Wappo webisodes which will begin to air online next week.

casa

Next, we drove out to Lisa’s Mexican Restaurant, way out on Bandera Road. They treated us very cordially. We shot a Wappo spot for Indo beer in the bar. And then we shifted over to the restaurant side to do the plug for Lisa’s. Finally, we broke for a late lunch.

Not a bad day’s work. I just need to figure out how to get paid for this sort of stuff (with something other than enchilada plates).

Here’s Wappo with some Indio Beer.

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And here we have Yvonne Montoya (Program Director at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center) and Jim Rodriguez (DP on this project), they’re standing beside the cool metal beaded curtain separating the bar from the restaurant at Lisa’s.

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Wappo Wrappo

Well, last night we wrapped on a short project, Wappo vs. the World.

Gustavo Stebner contacted me a couple weeks back to help out on a project. He was coming to town to put together a short film to be used as promotional material for CineFestival (the nation’s oldest and longest running Latino film festival). The piece will be broken up into a few webisodes, building up to the opening night of the film festival, which runs February 23 – March 2, 2013. Gustavo wrote, directed, and is currently busy editing the episodes. The story involves a masked wrestler, Wappo, as he transitions from a career as an underground wrestling sensation, to greater fame. Along the way he battles vampires, zombies, and the wrath of a spurned woman.

Some of our actors remarked on what a calm set we were all working on. I found myself pointing out, on no few occasions, that when you spend eight days to shoot fourteen pages, you can maintain a certain relaxed atmosphere. True, it also helped that we all like one another.

I keep finding myself on these pro bono gigs. But I did realize the other day that I am getting better at being selective — if the project isn’t financially rewarding, it is always fun. Here are some random pictures of the shoot.

Wappo vs. the World

Laura Evans

Doctor Nikki.

Wappo and Claudia G.

Gustavo finishing script

Wappo in pawn shop.

Zombie 4

Berkowitz clowning with class.

TJ zombie smoking.

Gloria with gun.

Gloria looking back.

Gustavo driving.

Laura with Jim and Gustavo.

Gloria backing up.

Zombie 1

Zombie 2

Zombie 3

Wrap party

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Years ago, back when my friend Pete and I were working on our digital feature (Vaya Con Dios, Asshole) I was playing around with Garage Band. I built up an industrial drum and bass sort of tune and laid down some dialogue from the film. Specifically some semi-ad lib rants from Marc Daratt, in the guise of a televangelist. I quite liked the outcome. (I have no idea if it still exists on a hard drive somewhere….) I had this idea that I would do a playful musical collage for every project. Sadly, this never happened.

However, I began playing around with the program Ableton Live recently. I built up some dubstep-esque track and began layering some of Martha Prentiss’ monologue from my recent short film with her (“Celebrating the Solstice”). The rough edit is parked on Soundcloud. “What’s the Soundtrack to Your Apocalypse?”)

I put it on my iPhone and it’s in my playlist I listen to while running. Twice. Surrounded by the likes of the Flaming Lips, Cafe Tacuba, the London Apartments, and the rest of my workout miscellany. It amuses me in that, if I take the River Walk route downtown to HemisFair Park and back, I inevitably hear my Martha song whilst running past a location we shot at in the film.

Insert Stigmata Here

Wednesday

It got down to 28 degrees last night, if I can believe my iPhone. At least there’s sunlight out this morning. Yesterday was cold and dark and miserable. I don’t think I even bothered to leave the house. Probably I should find a better way to heat this place than my kitchen stove. Also, it wouldn’t hurt me to get my water heater finally fixed. I know I’m not looking forward to forcing myself to take a shower before my noon meeting. I suppose if I had something resembling a real job I might be able to address some of these issues more easily; but, damn, it’s been so long since I’ve pulled a regular paycheck that I’m not really sure how one goes about getting a job. On occasion I might look for employment opportunities online. Always I give up once I come to the qualification portion. I’m not really qualified to do anything. And, really, I’m much too old to get in at an entry level position (particularly in fields I really don’t care about). I’m slightly heartened that though this meeting I have at noon isn’t for a job, as such, it probably will result in a moderate stipend.

The meeting is at Jump-Start. I’ve been asked to co-direct their next show. Laurie Dietrich invited me to team up with Sandy Dunn to direct her upcoming play, Hetaerae. I’m looking forward to working with the both of them. There will be a portion of the piece presented a week from today at the W-I-P, so it will be nice for us to hear feedback from that night’s audience.

Here’s a picture of Laurie, to promote the next W-I-P. I believe Dino Foxx took the picture, and as such, we’ll just assume he digitally inserted the stigmata.

JanWIP13webfront

I’ve never directed for the stage before. Probably I have more experience than I think, though. The three full-length pieces I’ve worked on, allowed me to observe the process from pretty much the beginning of working with actors through to the striking of the set. Each production had different directors, so I’ve seen how various people manage similar tasks differently. Ultimately it’s a spare production, with only four performers, and most likely a minimalist set design. Laurie, who wrote the piece, will be the central performer. She’ll be of great help, as she’s one of the city’s most accomplished directors for the stage. And Sandy’s been working in theater for, I assume, over thirty years. They are also kind and polite (more or less) and won’t make too much fun of me when I do or say something stupid.