Sunday, January 28, 2007

Catching up

It has been a busy month, busier than January usually is. No complaints! I like to work.

IPAY went well (see my last post). I'm glad I got a spotlight showcase, especially glad that it was an evening show. The organizers weren't sure that anybody would show up--there were about 130 people when I went on! I think the presenters (people who book artists, not the artists themselves) were hungry for more performances. There were some excellent showcases during the day, but for various reasons many would be a challenge for American presenters to book. Or maybe the audience came to the evening spotlights because there were free drinks. No matter, it was a great crowd, with some lovely juicy faces right in front.

I had a fine time telling stories at the Village Presbyterian Preschool just after IPAY. I did three shows. In the first, I had one of those tender souls who fell apart before one of the stories got resolved. I could see her start to go, her mouth open in that lima bean shape (thanks to Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo for that description), trembling slightly. "I don't like it!" she wailed. This was the story "Cheep and Cackle," which I tell to little tinies quite often. It had too much conflict for her. A teacher swept this child up and carried her out to be comforted. The other teachers reassured me that this was usual. When they came back, the little girl sat in the nest of the teacher's lap, watching me accusingly for the rest of the program. Ah, well. It reminded me of my friend Jayne's daughter, who got upset by the song "Poor little bug on the wall" because of the lines "No one to love him at all, no one to blow his nose, no one to tickle his toes." I do my best to shift the tone down when I see a child getting upset, but it doesn't always work.

The second show there was for two-year-olds, so was about 20 minutes long, just what they could manage. The third show was a group of intrepid four- and five-year-olds, ready for everything. I love it when something in my performance connects with a classroom experience--the kids in one of those classes had just played mancala that morning, so they were excited to hear about it in "Unanana and the Elephant".

Since I last wrote, I've also been back to Salina for some fun in the schools this past week. This is the second time I've done a writing day there. In the morning, I met with all of the fifth graders at Sunset School. I told them stories and introduced them to a few ideas about writing. Then I met with the three classes individually. We talked about writing, about backstory, about looking at the world like a writer, and we did some writing together. Fifth grade is perfect for this: they put their pencils on the paper and wrote their hearts out for the timed writings.

In Salina I also gave a workshop for teachers and librarians on using puppets and story stretches. Long day. The next morning, I told the entire story of "Tristan and Iseult" for 6th graders, starting at 7:40 a.m. Fortunately, the fire drill began AFTER I'd finished the story and was just doing a little extra with the students. Then I went on to another school to tell stories to 2nd graders, then 4th graders.

That was an intense two days. Good, though.

Now I'm home catching up on paperwork. I'm booking heavily for summer: I already have almost 40 performances in libraries set up for June and July. I promise to get the calendar on my website up to date soon!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Getting ready for IPAY

This week I'm going to the International Performing Arts for Youth Showcase, where I'll do a 10-minute Spotlight Showcase. This is my first time showcasing at IPAY. Showcasing? Doing my absolute best storytelling work in 10 minutes, so the folks watching will say, "Hey, let's hire HER for our festival/school district/arts residency program/library system/performing arts series." This year the showcase is in Cleveland, at Playhouse Square. One of the fun parts of the experience is getting to see what the other artists do. Last year in Philadelphia I saw some wonderful performances. It's also nice to hang out with the other folks after hours.

The other part of this booking conference is the exhibit hall. Fortunately, there is nothing scheduled at the same time as the exhibits, so the presenters (that's the arts world word for the people who hire artists) will come and visit artists and agents in the booths. There are specific rules: all AV equipment must have headphones, no performing in the booths, artists and agents must stay within their booths. The first time I went to one of these, I didn't really understand the rules. Now I'm thankful for them. It would be awful to have a gamut of artists all vying for attention--tuba players, mimes, children's actors, drummers, storytellers all trying to show their work (live) in the same place at the same time. Staying in the booth means that other artists and agents can't poach presenters from your space.

Exhibit booths can be tricky. What to give away? Demo CDs, program lists, brochures, business cards, of course. The first booking conference I went to was Arts Midwest in KC (2004). I spent hours visiting websites that sell conference give-away crap. Did I want to order expandable sponges, pens, sticky-note pads, mugs, kazoos, all emblazoned with my logo? Should I give away candy? Chocolates or hard candies? My search led me to think about buttons (badges). After comparing prices at approximately 549 companies, I decided to buy my own button machine. It would pay for itself in the end, I reasoned.

And it has. I've used buttons with storytelling-related slogans at two Arts Midwest conferences and one IPAY, and in November I made buttons to sell at the Bizarre Bazaar, with other kinds of slogans on them. Here are some of the story buttons:
All my stories start with a seed of truth
Truth is immutable, facts are flexible
And then what happened?
Once upon a time...
Quick, tell another one before that one gets cold!
What's your story, morning glory?
And they lived happily ever after...or did they?
What if?

Standing in an exhibit booth for hours can be a little, umm, tedious. Watching people dig through the variety of buttons to find just the right one makes it just a bit more interesting. I've learned that I'm no judge of what people will choose. Sometimes the presenters slow down just enough to wonder what my work is like, as they're selecting the perfect button.

The buttons are ready for this year. Now I'm trying to decide if I'll take candy. Yesterday I had the idea of giving out atomic fireballs (hot cinnamon jawbreakers). Would people like that or would they curse me? How would it be subliminally? I'm reminded of the year we were camping in Canada--1967? 1968? Cold War nuclear fear times, anyway--and my sister offered a fireball to the customs agent at the border.

Back to IPAY. If you're awake at 10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Friday, Jan. 12, beam some good thoughts in the direction of Cleveland.