Category: viral content

“It’s Chaos. Be Kind.”

by Andie Bottrell

The truest words I’ve heard all year have come from Patton Oswalt, quoting his late wife Michelle McNamara:

 “It’s chaos. Be kind.”

In his latest Stand-Up special for Netflix, Oswalt recounted that she hated the phrase “everything happens for a reason.” She would say, “It’s all chaos, it’s all random, and it’s horrifying. And if you want to try and reduce the horror, and reduce the chaos, be kind. That’s all you can do. It’s chaos. Be kind.”

Be kind. Be gentle. Be forgiving. I’ve been echoing these words to myself all year–both in regards to others and myself. Stay open. Stay vulnerable. Stay tender. I’ve been thinking about my clenched fists. The way they tighten both to keep things in, that maybe I should have let go of (like a dream being realized in a specific way), and the way they tense up in defense, when perhaps they should reach out to and for help and resolutions instead.

I came back to Missouri from LA not really by choice, and never planned to stay more than a year.  Four years after coming here, I finally felt financially stable enough to start planning my return to the coast, or a coast anyway. I remembered my time in New York fondly and thought maybe I should go back there. So, I went and visited. And it didn’t feel right. So, I decided LA made the most sense. I made a lot of logical, sound arguments for it in my head, but some part of me was hesitant. I didn’t understand why. I worried that hesitation was just fear–fear of repeating my first 6 years and never progressing further. Fear of financially floundering again, of not being able to act as much as I have been here, of being away from my Mom. I didn’t want to be motivated by fear. So, I told myself: I’m moving back to LA in September. I started telling friends and family and my boss. I got boxes for packing.

Then, the possibility of making season two of my webseries Seek Help came up. I wanted to make it, and it seemed like we might be able to–so I decided to stay past September, and since I was staying past September, I auditioned for the play Good People and got cast. And since I was staying for those things, I had to renew my lease and they didn’t give me a 6 month option like I was hoping, it was 1 year or pay a lot more and do month to month. So I signed a 1 year lease. I told my boss and he said, “That’s got to be awful for you–having to defer the move 6 months longer than you wanted.” And I realized it wasn’t awful for me. It was easy.

I took some time after that to sit quietly alone with my thoughts and journal. And I had an epiphany. This was my epiphany: Acting is not EVERYTHING. I still feel blasphemous even saying that because I wouldn’t want anyone for one second to doubt how incredibly important it is to me or think that I’m saying that I’m giving up on my dreams of being a working actor. I’m not. However, life goes SO quickly. For 31 years (give or take a childhood), I’ve pursued whatever avenues I could to become a working actor on TV, Film and Theatre. I thought it would happen before I ever got to high school. It didn’t. I thought it would happen in my 20’s. It didn’t.

“It” being a regular on a TV show or consistently working on TV, Film and Theatre–the shows/films people all over the country know about and watch. Anything short of that…I never allowed to feel like “success.” I was grateful for every opportunity and job, but in my mind, I was still failing. And at 31, the thought of going back to LA and knocking on doors and getting all those “No’s” and “You’re great, but too tall”…even the thought of achieving my dream now as I always dreamed it…I just started questioning how fulfilling that would really be? I love the work, but the work is always the work no matter where you do it. I love working with people who are great at what they do and challenge me to be better. That would be great, no question. I would love to be respected and known (and paid!) as a full-time storytelling vessel. But I also know that sometimes you try and try and try and it never “works out” how you wanted or thought it would.

For a decade I’ve been saying that I want to get involved with CASA (court appointed special advocate–they speak for the child going through foster care in court) and fostering/adopting. I always said, you know, someday….when/if I am ever stable enough financially and in one place long enough. Everything hinged on achieving my acting dream in this one specific way–a way that most people never do, no matter how incredibly gifted they are or how diligent their hustle. Life is an expansive tapestry of experiences–and I’ve been zeroed in on just one thing for so long, never even considering the possibility that maybe if I un-clinch my fists just a little, I could hold some other things in my hands, in my life. I could make a little room and be a part of something bigger than myself.

Maybe it’s my age, but I crave community these days…I want to build a family, a group of close friends and collaborators. I’ve long had more love to give than people in my life to give it to. I’ve spent a lot of time alone in my apartment, hogging resources I could be contributing. Forgive the length of this post–I just want you to understand that when I say that I am not moving back to LA, I am staying in Springfield, MO, that you know that it is not about fear or trepidation. It is not a giving up on my dreams–they are still very much in the forefront of my mind, still daily on my to-do’s–rather, this decision is one to expand my life in new ways that I hope positively contributes to my community, and enriches the work and stories I am able to tell.

My dream now looks a little like this: Buy a house, make it a home. Get involved as a volunteer advocate for Foster Kids and eventually foster to adopt. Continue to make my own projects and try to improve with each one–try to get my scripts sold or made and audition for projects (only the ones I really, deeply want). I hope to travel to the coasts semi-regularly. I hope for many more lunch dates with my Mom and many more collaborations with my friends and artists I look up to.

After I made this decision, I told no one…for weeks. I sat with it, waiting to see if I would change my mind again. But I pretty much knew it was the right decision when, the day after, as I was driving to a work event, I started crying…they were tears of a mixed bag of emotions: relief at no longer living a life solely in pursuit of “yes’s” that may or may not ever validate me in the way I always dreamed, sadness and acceptance of letting go of that expectation, and excitement for all the new dreams I could now dream. It’s a little corny, but for the first time in my life, I felt like a “full-grown woman.”

Life’s not working out how I thought it would…mostly, honestly, it’s been chaos. And in that chaos you have one choice that belongs to you alone and is totally in your control, and that’s how you respond to the chaos. You can project meaning onto it, you can let it disorient you, you can fight the chaos and try to control it, or you can adjust your perspective and your goals, and look for ways to grow with each new challenge and curve that gets thrown at you. You can loosen your fists and let life flow through you.

“It’s chaos. Be kind.”

This weekend my friend, Lisa Murphy, who plays my wife in Seek Help was saying how “it” was going to happen for me. And I said that it didn’t matter anymore whether or not “it” did…it didn’t matter because I was already doing “it.” I don’t need anyone’s permission to live my life how I want. I’m going to act, and write, and create my whole life and that’s more than enough. Let me tell you, finally being able to say that and know it and mean it feels amazing. And what’s perhaps most incredible, is that this gift was a gift I gave myself. It was “just” a perspective change, but one that took me a couple decades and a whole lot of failed attempts at controlling the chaos to realize was always there just waiting for me to see it, claim it, and be free.

PS. My poetry and art collection book “Let’s Talk” is now available on Amazon.com, and in my Etsy shop for 20% off!

Brown, Blue and Elemental Love

by Sue May

LA FPI Video Blog Brown from Simplexity MediaWorks™ on Vimeo.

Fire: The rapid oxidation of a material. The exothermic chemical process of combustion. The release of heat, energy, light and various other reactive products.

Meghan Brown’s disposition is reflected in her clear blue, kind eyes much like the sky reflects the ocean. During our interview, Brown’s self-knowledge is as apparent as her self-confidence, which translates into the ability to be vulnerable. A self-aware artist who also has the ability to embrace her vulnerability is what ultimately distinguishes the average from the extraordinary creative being. 

Brown’s ability to create an extraordinary netherworld is a testament to her old soul.  The Fire Room is a well versed, visually poetic confession of grasping at true love beyond the grave.  Here ghostly protagonists navigate through combusting emotions as the narrator and her silent chorus bear witness to the release of love’s undeniable heat.

In graduate school, I studied award-winning films in a specific manner because I was sure it would help me become a better screenwriter. First, I would watch the film as anyone would; second, I would watch with the filmmaker’s commentary; and third, watch with the sound off because, after all, film is behavior. Due to its visual ardency, if you had to, you could watch the Fire Room with the sound off.

Playwright Meghan Brown and the Fugitive Kind make a great team. Enjoy the interview.

Directed, Shot and Edited by Sue May

Produced by Simplexity MediaWorks

 

Poeisis, Blindsided and Women on the Fringe!

by Sue May

In ancient Greece the playwright was poeisis: the act of making plays and the root of the modern word, poetry. It is said that poïetic (Greek for creative, meaning productive or formative) work reconciles thought with matter and time, and person with the world (Wikipedia).

The Hollywood Fringe harkens back to the 5th century’s annual Athenian competitions where notables such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes established theatrical forms, which modern playwrights still rely upon. A lot has changed since these male playwrights, with their all male cast and crew, occupied the festivals of ancient Greece. With the hopes of uniting its colonies and allies, Athenian politicos exported the “festival” to help promote a common cultural identity. Today, LA FPI promotes “Women on the Fringe!,” with the hopes of uniting and supporting women playwrights.

Thought, matter, time, person, world – words poetic in their own right – remind me of my first interviewee, Jeannette Rizzi, and her one-woman show Blindsided. Jeannette is all heart. She kindly met me outside of the Hudson Theatre to assist me with parking. She warmly introduced me to her all male crew (some things never change), and eased into rehearsal as my camera rolled

Aspectabund and luminous, Jeannette graciously reveals her-story and altruistic nature in thought, word and stage presence. Throughout, she holds a mirror-like inner-strength reflecting confidence coupled with gratitude, attributes only those who practice self-love can embrace, as her comedic foothold sets the tone. Thought, matter, time, person, world—inspiring, comedic, altruistic, confidant, gracious and self-love, these words resonated within me as I left the theatre. Blindsided is a gift of truth and beauty from writer and performer, Jeannette Rizzi. Enjoy the interview.

Directed, Shot and Edited by Sue May

Produced by Simplexity MediaWorks

** Check out my next Video Blog “Fancy, a Parable and the Modern Age! (LA FPI)” at Miles From Malibu a Webzine!

 

How To Make Theatre Contagious

A Guest Post by Laura A. Shamas

With so many entertainment options available now, the question is: How can we encourage interest in theatre so it will thrive in the twenty-first century?

Recently, I read a bestselling book Contagious: Why Things Catch On. It’s written by Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Although Contagious is written as a marketing primer, I was struck by how much of it was applicable to theatre and to the arts in general.

It’s hard to determine what makes things popular today. Berger writes that it’s not merely the quality, the pricing, or the advertising of the projects/products that catch on. He reports that although we spend a great deal of time online, only 7% of word-of-mouth happens via Internet-related channels: “We tend to overestimate online word-of-mouth because it’s easier to see.” Social media may display the interests and activities we’ve chosen to share, so the record is available at a glance, but the activities we have offline are just as important and are just as influential. Most of us do not have the time to respond to every update or tweet. When Berger polled his college students, he found that less than 10% of their friends responded to a message they’d posted online. He reminds us “that Facebook and Twitter are technologies, not strategies.”

So what does work? Berger has found six principles that make things “go wide.” Berger describes the anatomy of virality, although not all components are necessary for each and every case of a popular share. These ideas are easily remembered in the acronym “STEPPS”:

1) Social Currency.
2) Triggers.
3) Emotion.
4) Public.
5) Practical Value.
6) Stories.

1) SOCIAL CURRENCY. Do you know insider info that makes you seem cool? Can you share something that you know will be considered “remarkable” or unique? If so, you will share it; it’s human nature. Berger underscores that we find it “pleasurable” to talk about our interests and attitudes. This makes us “look good,” Berger says; it gives us social stature.

Breaking patterns that others have come to expect also gives us social currency, like doing something in a novel, unexpected way. Leveraging game mechanics (by allowing others to see how well we do in a points system, as with airline miles or Foursquare) is another way to gain currency because games motivate us via “social comparison.” We measure our scores next to our friends’ tallies.

Making people feel like “insiders” also boosts their social currency; this is done by giving scarce, unique, exclusive offers to customers or clients.

Berger’s thoughts on social currency made me think about current theatre practices. Theatres have long used “special pre-show receptions,” a chance to preview a show, or even an opportunity to attend certain rehearsals to give subscribers “insider” cachet, such as in Arena Stage’s Theater 101 class.

But what more could we, as theater professionals, do to promote “remarkability” and innovation? Mixed Blood Theatre’s egalitarian Radical Hospitality is a recent idea that breaks previous patterns related to how theater is “sold” to an audience. Or how about doing a play in one’s living room for only twelve people at a time? What else can be done that’s surprising to change the ways in which theater is experienced today?

What can a specific play do that is “remarkable,” completely surprising, or new?

2) TRIGGERS. Daily, we each share about 16 or more opinions about an organization, product, or service, Berger says. That’s a lot of “word-of-mouth.” Why do we do it? Timing is everything.

Something in the environment “triggers” our need to share. Did you know the sales of Mars bars escalated during the 1997 NASA Pathfinder’s mission? Or that Rebecca Black’s 2011 hit song “Friday” always got more YouTube hits on that actual day of the week than any other? These are examples of “triggers” that resonate in our everyday lives.

Berger explains that even negative reviews can be positive for business, if the reviews introduce a project’s existence by giving it press.

If you want to lay the groundwork for triggers for your product, you can “grow its habitat,” according to Berger, “by creating new links to stimuli in the environment.”  This can be done by directing attention to related messages or associated ideas in your project’s arena. The more often you can make a project come to mind, the better.

In this chapter, Berger notes that movie theaters depend on immediate word-of-mouth, as weekly box office reports convey.

But it is also true that ongoing word-of-mouth or “repeat business” helps to drive entertainment sales. So I wonder: How do we “grow a habitat” for theatre? Is it related to the DNA (or identity) of a specific theater or should it always be more play-specific? Or both? How do you grow a habitat for a new play? What are the environmental “triggers” needed? What is the relationship between the cultural zeitgeist and the community in terms of “triggers” that may need to be seeded and tended?

3) EMOTION. Theatre artists already know this axiom: “When we care, we share.” But Berger attaches a component to emotion that goes beyond empathy/sympathy: awe. This was my favorite part of Berger’s book, as he discusses our love of mystery and “the experience of confronting something greater than yourself” which enlarges one’s own “point of reference.”

This section reminded me of works in depth psychology, where awe is seen as part of the numinous or “mysterium tremendum,” the transcendent spiritual force that both attracts and repels.

Berger cites Albert Einstein’s idea that the mysterious is the power of “all true art and science.” I’ve been in “awe” in the theater many times: in awe of excellence of artistry and aesthetics, in awe at the brilliance of execution, in awe of the communal act of artists joined together onstage to produce drama. Berger’s emphasis on the importance of “awe” as an emotion really rang true for me as an artist. Yes, awe-inspiring projects catch on!

We feel affinity for those with whom we’ve shared emotions and secrets, but also with those who make us laugh, according to Berger. If you can crack me up—well, now we’re connected.

The science of “physiological arousal,” an active state in which we’re ready to move or react as needed, is at the core of why emotion matters in virality. Berger uses the image of “kindling a fire” as a metaphor to express emotion as a marketing force. He also reports that exercise (jogging, walking) promotes more emotional sharing.

In theatre, we’ve long known that emotion is what drives human beings. Berger’s exercise discussion made me think of interactive theater like Sleep No More. There’s always a lot of well-deserved buzz about shows that require the audience to move. Does walking around or being physically active while viewing a show contribute to the audience’s desire to spread the word post-show?

4) PUBLIC. Is your project publically visible? We imitate the behavior of others. Can we observe other people supporting your project? Berger reports that we mimic the behavior of others because it provides information about how to live: “social proof.” If others are eating at that restaurant, it must be good. (I wonder if it’s also related to the idea of crowd-sourcing.)

Where do most people put their theatre tickets? Away, in pockets, purses. One idea that Berger suggests directly about theatre is intriguing: “…if theater companies and minor league teams could use buttons or stickers as the ‘ticket,’ instead, ‘tickets’ would be much more publicly observable.”

Berger also explores the concept of “behavioral residue,” something that lasts after the experience. That made me reflect further: certainly, shirts and swag promoting a show should be categorized as part of this.

5) PRACTICAL VALUE. Berger calls this component “news you can use.” Is your project part of a money-saving “deal”? Is there valuable information to impart? Can it help get a discount? Berger suggests that the precept of “practical value” may be the easiest to apply.

To apply “Practical Value” to theatre-making: we certainly award discounted tickets for Student or Early Rush, or preview sales. There’s a financial “deal” aspect to that, as producers have known for a long time.

But is there another way to explore the concept of “practical value”? Can we make the case for the necessity for the arts (art, music, theater, dance, literature)? Can we show it’s not practical to live without them? Is there a way to impart to twenty-first century audiences that art is “fit for action,” as the etymology of “practical” shows?

6) STORIES. Berger begins this final chapter by relaying the story of Odysseus and the Trojan Horse, a Greek myth that has been retold for thousands of years. It has a message; it’s a good narrative. Berger then uses that myth as a metaphor for the function of story relatable to products and brands: a good story may contain valuable information more entertainingly told, and thus, is more memorable, more sustainable.

Berger believes that a product should construct a “carrier narrative” shell that will get people talking, like the Trojan Horse itself. He also cautions that this narrative should be embedded to the plot, so that it’s directly related to the product—not tangential.

The element of story is easy to connect to theatre-making. Writers certainly know something about “story as vessel” for information, since we often struggle with how to artfully hide exposition in a good tale. We know about the value of story, whether for a one-person show or an ensemble.

But what is the story of a specific project? Often, we limit promotional narratives to the bios of the creators, or an issue that brought the creative team to the project. What if you can create “the story” of a play in performance in order to attract an audience, as a meta-narrative? Should the show have its own origin story?

Berger ends Contagious with an epilogue and a checklist, and the good news that you don’t need a big budget to apply these steps to make your project “go viral.”

As we seek audiences for our art, perhaps some of Berger’s ideas can point the way towards imagining a more “contagious” future for theatre artists and audiences.

Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger, published by Simon and Schuster, New York, 2013.

To see author Jonah Berger discuss Contagious: Why Things Catch On and each aspect in detail, click here.

Laura A. Shamas is a co-founder of LA FPI and currently volunteers as an Outreach Agent. 

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