Post from September, 2020

Is It Worth the Trouble?

Monday, 14. September 2020 0:08

A friend of mine is a cold brew fanatic. For every pot he grinds the beans, measures the amount of ground coffee on a scale, and precisely measures the filtered water. And then he waits. Exactly 13 hours later, he drains the coffee concentrate and bottles it for the coming week. Recently we were discussing coffee and the subject of a certain coffee that he likes came up. “I don’t drink that anymore,” he said. When I asked why, he said that it was just “not worth the trouble.” It seems that that particular coffee causes problems for the grinder, which has to be stopped and started and unclogged repeatedly just to get enough coffee to make a pot.

Some of us are feeling that way about our art these days. In the last post, I mentioned some of the difficulties that photographers and theatre artists encounter when they try to pivot to a different way of doing things. Sometimes that new way of doing things comes with a very steep learning curve in addition to the unexpected difficulties. And then, the results are never quite what we had hoped for. The whole experience can be full of anxiety and frustration, and that leads some of us to ask whether what we are doing is actually worth the trouble.

Of course, some of us will answer loudly and immediately, “Yes!” Those are the ones who feel that because it’s art, it’s worth any amount of trouble. All that matters is producing, and circumstances be damned. Others of us might take a more measured approach. There have been, and probably always will be, projects that won’t be under-taken regardless of the external conditions. Those are the projects that are too big for the budget or that are too difficult because of their conceptual requirements. It may be that a project is completely beyond our capabilities. In the past when those cases came up, we would move on to other projects that were—because of their lesser cost or complication or requirements—doable. And we didn’t think less of ourselves for that.

So perhaps when it seems impossible for us to embrace an entirely new methodology and/or a completely new medium, we might want to cut ourselves some slack. Change is often difficult and always stressful, and a forced changed without a modification in schedule can be unmanageably problematic. So we might want to consider altering the schedule or the scope or the range of our work. We might want to find ways to make the situation into a workable one, or we may decide it’s just not worth the trouble.

Making art under the best of conditions is hard, but making art under extraordinary conditions we are experiencing in the US today is doubly difficult. Sometimes it does become a choice between bearing up under crushing stress or, as noted above, figuring out a way to make the situation more workable and thus more tolerable. And, of course, there’s always the third choice: declaring that it’s not worth the trouble and walking away. And we may find that we have different responses to different projects. Ultimately, however, which of these three paths we take will, as always, depend on each individual project and each individual artist.

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Pivot

Tuesday, 1. September 2020 0:04

If there’s one thing that 2020 has taught us thus far, it’s that things are not going to go right. And it’s not just the things that we expect to go wrong; it’s things we didn’t even see coming. No matter what art we are engaged in, we have to be ready to pivot. Some would say that this is just a variation on Bobby Shaftoe’s advice to “display adaptability,” but it’s more than that, or at least it seems that way. Things change and plans fail at a dizzying speed these days. Not only do we have to plan for normal contingencies, but we must plan for the extra-ordinary, and we must be able to do it quickly.

And sometimes that requires a whole new way of thinking, primarily because many of us are now working in uncharted territory. Even artists who are used to working alone are denied their normal in-person social network, or if they still enjoy that luxury, it is changed by the necessity for masks and social distancing. Things are even more difficult for collaborative artists. In addition to normal preparation, photo shoots, for example, now require immense preparation for health and safety reasons. This may include considerations that impact the work, such as lens choice, allowing the model their safe space and still getting the work done—so the pandemic influences the art, perhaps in subtle ways, but the influence is there nonetheless. Other choices for shoots are little better, risking the safety and health of photographers, models, and assistants, or postponing the shoot until who-knows when.

Theatre, perhaps the most collaborative of the arts, brings in a whole new set of issues that can overwhelm the savviest of producing organization. First is the choice of whether to attempt some sort of live performance with not only socially-distanced performers, but a socially-distanced audience as well. Most of us realized that this is not a practical solution. Then we pivot to some sort of virtual performance. And that brings with it a whole host of new considerations and problems. It begins with securing virtual performance rights. Since the agents who control the rights to live performances were, before April of this year, not in the business of granting streaming rights, they have had to pivot to incorporate that into their businesses. Because the process is new and because it requires decisions to be made out-of-house, it can sometimes delay a decision on rights acquisition for weeks.

Then there are the technical considerations: what platform or what combinations of platforms are the best for presenting theatrical fare like we have never done before? For many of us who have worked long in live theatre, there is much to learn—just in order to know what to try and what to reject. Sometimes, the most desirable approaches must be rejected because there is no way to employ them without exposing the performers and technicians to danger. And even after those choices are made, there are difficulties that come up for which we are not prepared: there seems to be no end to connectivity issues and timing problems and scheduling difficulties—because everyone involved in the production is dealing with all of those issues in their own lives, issues that are extra-ordinary, even after months of self-quarantining and coming to terms with the new facts of life.

So we have to be ready for nearly any eventuality—all the time—which means that we must be twice as prepared as we normally are, and prepared for brand new twists and turns. And yes, it can be immensely stressful. But art is what we do, so we, like any good basketball player, must be ready to pivot—sometimes with no notice at all.

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