Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Following up...

Hey there. Don't know if anyone's still reading this. But I'll write it just the same. It's almost a full three weeks since camp ended. It's hard to have good closure at the end of an intense process like that, especially for me since I had to catch a 6 am flight the next morning to get to a rehearsal in Chicago (but don't let me complain, I love those relentless sequences in life when you turn immediately from one undertaking to the next). First of all let me say, and I am not the only person who thinks this, our final show was momentously awesome. All the pieces came together relatively smoothly, it was short, sharp and powerful. The dancers packed a solid, well-choreographed punch. The Musicians absolutely rocked out like absolute rock stars. The Visuals made work that MOMA should be drooling to get their hands on. Musical Theatre had incredible showmanship and compelling confidence on stage; the West Side Story collaboration with dance was one of the biggest hits of the night. The Actors took on an epic story and with total ambition made it clear, engaging, and inventively theatrical. (What costumes!). After some last minute technical problems (which took me about 5 hours to fix, in a franticness that lasted until just before showtime) the music videos were all a big hit. Thank you Mauricio. And I am rather proud of my little baby, the Montage, which we will have to upload to this blog or some website so everyone can see it. All in all, an explosive night.

It's hard for me to put all my thoughts together for final comments. Coming back to New York and stepping right back into the wonderful madness of this city, our work in Homestead can easily seem like a blurry dream. "Did that really happen?" And as I said, it's nearly impossible to accurately explain exactly what we did down there. Yes it's voluntary outreach, but it's also an arts camp, yes it's an arts camp but it's voluntary. No you don't get paid it's outreach. Yes I was teaching but I was doing a lot more than that. No we make the whole thing up ourselves. We are the camp. Yes.

It isn't all roses. There are disagreements and times when the group cannot agree; times when one person cannot get along with the group, or the group cannot get along with one person. There are issues with the students which are impossible to resolve in three weeks; there are issues which have no good solution. There are students whose lives are changed, and students who shrug it off and move on. But there is never a lack of surprise. The students whom you are sure couldn't care less are often the ones who are the most moved at the end, the ones who don't want to go home last night, who stay talking or playing or crying until the last possible moment.

And as a teacher you went there to give, you went out of some altruism in your blood, or some yearn to do good, or some distaste with the pattern you were living in. You went to impart your own wisdom and came back to find yourself with this whole new awareness about your self. This whole new sense of capability. What I thought I could do was such a limited idea of what I can do. Necessity breeds creation - there was no one else who could teach this, no one else who was available to hang lights, or edit this video, or lead up this class about this thing that I have no idea about, etcetera etcetera, and at the end you find that you did that. Because you had to. It's a nice realization with which to come back to the big bad world. That world which can often make you feel insignificant. And the best part is, no one told you to do this. Probably most factors in your life were telling you not to. Practicality, finance, career. Those factors which are now viewed in a wider perspective. Yes, it is the perspective more than anything. The perspective that makes you fuller, stronger, more capable, more giving, more vivavious.

And that makes you want to go get more of it.

Much love to all those teachers, and much love to all those YA's.

Till next time,


Monday, July 27, 2009

Hit the ground running...

Yesterday I arrived from a 26-hour professional obligation in New York City to our house in Homestead just in time for a planning meeting followed by several more smaller planning sessions. My writing focus teacher Meera had a brainstorm on our final project and our class the next day, and I helped the facilitators for our Future in Art class prepare for their elective (which I was basically informed of as I was planning). Then I continued to edit our montage (don't tell) into only a few wee hours. Tonight however is a true wee-hours session. Our relief editor magician Lucas Leyva came in tonight at 11pm to help with our quadruple-video-music-collaboration project. In case I didn't explain, we divided the camp into four groups to come up with a video inspired by the four directions: east, south, north and west. Cindy and Lucas are in the other house working on West and East. Tomorrow will be North and South day, most likely, although the other two will surely need some touch-ups. We need to film a sunrise for East, for instance, the logistics of 1 which I have no real clue about.

That is a point I have been thinking about a bit. Having no clue here is part of the learning; it is almost a requirement. Adam tonight said, in our little goodbye pool party to the seniors, "In high school it was hard to learn that I didn't know anything and now I'm happy to know that I don't know anything." Terribly paraphrased, sorry Adam.
We learn the importance of planning well and the necessity of improvising; riding by the seat of our pants; "hookey-jooking" as the saying here goes. There is an art to the hookey-jook. The ability to stand in front of a mass of expectant young faces and realize that the plan you made is not going to work, or that there is a better plan, or that you have no plan at all. And going. Trusting your fellow facilitators to jump in at a moment of doubt, and trusting your own instincts to tell you where to jump. Heading face-first into that unknown with crazy energy and absolute focus. The hookey-jook unhinges your ideas of your own self-limitation and also humbles you with the actualities of the space and the moment. It is not a technique, it is an approach. How to find your way when you lose your map or realize its been made by a fatigued cartographer with too much to do. How to stand there transparent but full; a wide-eyed clown ready to change the world. And of course radiating positive energy. That is the great savior. That is what keeps the students invested, and its what sparks your mind to realize what to do next.

For me, the next thing to do is to edit this madness.

Long focus time tomorrow, in preparation for the final show.

Second-to-last men and women's group. The women will have a soul-enriching discussion and the men will be outside playing soccer. May the best person graciously accept to win.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

So now then...

It's late already.
We have tipped the scales of our time here, and now are nearer the end than the beginning. Tomorrow is our second, and second-to-last, Friday. That seems absolutely impossible. Like everything in this nomadic life, as soon as you've got the hang of it, it' gone.
Of course, it feels like we're getting the rhythm of this thing but this rhythm is always changing, and I have a premonition that nothing we have done will prepare us for the final week. I have the sense of a surfer who has just begun to ride a wave, unaware of the tsunami rising behind him. In a good way.
Our collaboration projects are reaching the finality of their filming, which means next week will be a windfall of editing. Then there is the final performance, which takes a lot of intra-discipline work, and even more logistical athleticism, moving masses of people on and off stage with order and precision. Then there are the explorations, the affirmations, our writing notebook, and of course the final montage (which I already started working on - don't tell anyone that I didn't wait until the last possible second to begin it this year).
And I, personally, have a strange break in the action: Saturday morning I fly to New York for 26 hours to rehearse a piece for the Ravinia music festival in Chicago, which begins as soon as camp ends. It will be a bizarre change of scenery, like some subliminal message in a film, and I know my mind will be nowhere but here. But hey, gotta do it.
I haven't had the time or the inclination to consider how I will re-submerge into the "real world." I do know I will be a recharged battery, with a wider scope and a more unlimited sense of self and possibility. I may also need a nap.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Everybody's Sick!!!

Yes its true. Some virus with a predilection for humanitarian educators has descended upon our house. We found out today that many of the YAs are sick as well. I feel that we are officially teachers now - it seems a right of passage for teachers. I, knock on healthy wood, still feel fine. But it's taken a toll on a fair percentage of our small group, and noticeably affected the overall energy. Even so we had a very productive day today. Our collaboration music-videos are way more successful than I, for instance, anticipated. We had two elective classes today: Art Appreciation and Live Art, in preparation for our field trip to the museum tomorrow.
Both were very unique classes; one a seemingly-academic introduction to the various classifications of art from the Classical Period to Street Art, the other an exploration in Site-specific art. We are planning to create a site-specific theatrical piece tomorrow, somewhere outside the museum. Lots of bodies moving in seeming chaos, then into distinct choreography, with an AIA twist. Should be fun.
This year's high-school experience, I have realized, is all about the work. More than the last time I was here, the teachers are focused on stepping up the artistic proficiency of the students. Teacher-student relationships and the therapeutic virtues of this work are in our approach and vital to it, but the work itself seems to be an equivalently strong priority this year. Perhaps that is why we have gotten feedback from some students that this year is more"serious" than years previous. Yet it is also why each teacher has reported remarkable breakthroughs after the first week, in the classroom and out of it.
So as long as we can stay healthy, we can continue and augment the path we are on.
Thinking about how little time has passed, and how little there is actually to go, it seems impossible we've accomplished this much. But when you are in this work, the time is different. Each day is overloaded with little chapters. So we are confused with what day it is, what time it is, because we don't think in hours and days as much as moments, tasks, tiny beautiful second-long epiphanies.
That said, it does get late quickly.
And early even faster.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Almost done with our first week. There is so much to say that this will be my shortest post. We have had a full, full, full week. The work never stops, from breakfast till pass-out.
Our focus groups have been very successful, as have our electives. This week our electives included a fight combat class, a step class, a clown class, and a theatre games class. Tomorrow we are planning an "inspiration" class, where we explore what has inspired us as artists. I have found that the YAs are very interested in us as professionals, and our life is revealing to them, not just about us but about the world outside as well. That is one of the many things that makes this experience especially unique; none of us are exclusively teachers by occupation; we are active professionals in our respective fields.
Also, despite our tiredness, we are increasingly energized by each other, and by our awesome students. I have become more and more sensitive to the energy of a room; how much more work it takes to motivate a room that is reluctant and tired than an excited room, even if that class requires more athleticism.
Our music videos are taking shape, slowly but surely, and I am as trepidatious as excited about editing all four of them during the last week.
Our group is together virtually 24 hours a day - we are building a totally unique relationship, in class and out. And getting along remarkably well, considering all the time and intensity. I am motivated to begin the next week. And to chill out Saturday and Sunday.
There are many challenges, which are proven microscopic when compared to the rewards.
Time to burn a dvd for tomorrow's showing of our 2-minute films (which we shot in an hour each) and then my welcoming though slightly neglected pillow.

Monday, July 13, 2009

First YA day!

Amazing first day. Our high schoolers are simply wonderful. I can't wait to see what amazing-ness we come up with over these next three weeks. Conversations were easy to start, there was a general willingness to participate and, from my point of view, a growing curiosity in what the teachers brought to the table.
The group does still need some time to gel. The spectrum of energy-output is vast, which is to be expected. This is an experience requiring much collective agreement, a lot of bravery on the part of the individual, and a lot of trust on the part of the group. Our young artists are at varying levels of experience; both in their art and with AIA. The ones who have come back (and there are many) have so many wonderful memories of years past, and the ones who are new are full of fresh energy. Ditto with the teachers. So there is a wide variety of experiences and expectations, and it is our challenge to create an entirely new experience, as vivacious as previous years yet all its own; unprecedented.

Also, we are going to challenge our young artists to do the same. We are full of love, compassion and passion. But we are also full of belief in the potential of our students, and we have decided to be relentless with them in our insistence of their fulfilment of that potential. All the members of this camp have come here for a reason. It is our obligation to be honest with them, and tell them the truth of the artist's practice and lifestyle. Art isn't always pretty. And it is often hard and unpleasant. It is a daily practice. It is like love, which is not all romance. I am still learning it. So it is what I will teach.

We do not need to be masters to teach. What we need is to be active participants, living what we teach. I do not know what a master is - it sounds boring, immobile. I thrive, we all thrive, in the continuanal striving toward further, deeper, more profound, more detailed discovery.

"If something's in you burning, and you're not paying attention, are you living?"


I am inspired by our Young Artists, and am so thankful for them. We all are. I am already rejuvinated in the artistic cavern of my soul, not to mention the humanistic one.

Miss the banana bread though.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


This was our first day off, and it was nothing of the sort. It was a day of planning and revelation, of frenzy and a calm coming together of the group. We discussed some inter-group issues which needed to be discussed, and came out of it refreshed. Then we worked on the chant, and came together one last time as a group, just us, before we let the world in. There was so much love in the room that everyone walked out in a kind of stupor, as if just waking up from a cathartic dream.
This camp is a party. An exhausting, difficult, unyielding, monumental, overwhelming party requiring superhuman amounts of work, but a party nonetheless.
And tomorrow our YAs come (young artists, if you are not up on our lingo) and we will realize what all our work has been for. And we will dedicate all our waking moments to them, and they will end up teaching us more than we ever expected.

Also, Mauricio was here for like a second and a half and made us banana bread before he left, which was devoured in as much time. It was kind of the biggest thing about the day, besides the collective revelations and emotional epiphanies and all that normal everyday stuff.

Tomorrow, it really begins.