Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Eating the Big Apple: Self Producing Work In NYC, By Emilyn Kowaleski
This piece is late, unforgivably overdue. What excuse can I give? My computer dropped onto the subway tracks? A piece of scenery dropped on my head? I was consumed in tunnel vision, tackling a recent production of my work? Or most honestly, I am a young artist, mastered in over-commitment, but admittedly, not yet mastered in time management. “There is never enough time!” I cry, shaking my fists melodramatically to the ceiling. I was underwater trying to solve the myriad of artistic challenges in front of me and the financial and logistical ones that accompanied them. However, the unforgivable irony of the matter is that The Field is a buoy that I've found and clung to for support in those arenas after I dropped myself into what felt like the ocean-like task of making and self-producing my own work in New York City.
I graduated from liberal arts school in New York, a few years ago, from a program I loved that taught me many things about making theater and that whole-heartedly encouraged me to go out and start creating work. But what I discovered when I graduated was that; I didn’t really know how to do that on a practical level. Outside of college, rehearsal space didn’t exist for sign up on the third floor in front of the production offices. I didn’t get to attend a class anymore where people were forced to sit and look critically at my work. I didn’t know proper grant writing language, or how to get a residency, or really how to convince anyone that I, a bright ideaed, starry eyed, post-graduate deserved time, money and resources to create that work, especially when I am one of thousands. I had no track record in the big bad apple, so I just started biting in wherever I could.
Two years past graduation, in hungry searching of finding the existing remnants of my cushy college life, and building patterned practices of producing work, I found The Field. There, behold: cheap rehearsal space to be connected with, fundraising workshops, and people to meet with every week who would watch and respond to my work. I started with the later. I signed up for Fieldwork, where I could again, play, try, fail and build in front of an audience who would tell me what they were seeing. I had just begun the first stage of development on a piece called Root of the Rosebush that is based on a series of interviews I had conducted with people about their history with relationships from first crush to present day. I didn’t know what that piece would be, or how to construct it really. I just wanted a place to experiment and a chance to know how my words and images were affecting others; I found that in Fieldwork.
Six months later, after I had built that piece into a first draft and was looking to develop it further, both financially and artistically, I knocked again at the doors of The Field. I signed up for Jumpstart and another session of Fieldwork, back to back.
For Jumpstart, I was delighted to turn up at American Table, met by the smiling but serious face of Fran Krimser. “Ok,” she said handing us a packet of information on budgets, networking and fundraising that set off palpitations in my idealistic artist heart that was childishly screaming “But why?! I just want to make things!” My adult brain knows, of course, that this is part of that work. Thankfully, she made it easy. “I’m not going to spend three hours of your time talking at you generally without applying this to your project specifically.” She breezed us through the packets, took us through some exercises and let us practice how to talk about our work. Then, she sent us on our way with the homework of creating a budget, a project description, and development and potential sponsor lists. A week later, I met with her individually to discuss how best to proceed with my project. She told me how I could make the timeline more manageable, where I could slash the budget and bit, by bit where I could raise the money I need. She articulated the marketable strengths of the work and advised me on an application to present a workshop production at Dixon Place, which, in thanks to her, I ended up receiving. My heart palpitations have not gone away, still staring at the gigantic apple in front of me, but they have slowed. It was as if someone had sat down and helped me cut that apple into manageable pieces that I could actually start to chew.
Fieldwork, on the artistic flipside, operates in much the same way. Every week, artists meet and present roughly ten minutes of work for feedback. By showing chunks of a larger piece that I was building, I was able to test flavors, and focus on fine-tuning particular moments as I wove them into a whole. Jumpstart was a process of learning how to market my work. It was all about finding the most captivating language with which to articulate what I was doing. Fieldwork was a process of discovering what about my work itself was intriguing to an audience. Fieldwork is magical. It a safe space for creative trials, with caring eyes to greet it with observations that fuel the work. It is easy for me to view Fieldwork as a delicious treasure, and Jumpstart as a necessary chore. However, what doing the two programs in tandem taught me, was that this all of it actually feeds same important skill set that is necessary to develop as an artist—Learning how to articulate descriptions of my work and make it in a way that engages people.