Archive for Finding Inspiration

An Epiphany of …..

My stress level has been growing over the past year.   In some ways, it came to a peak last night and that made me realize something.    Last night I was in tech for a dance version of “Wizard of Oz” featuring over 100 kids between the ages of four and 18.    I am the lighting designer and also calling the show.  Tech was stressful.  The theatre is a rental, and the budgets are (like in all arts) tight — the producer cannot afford overtime.   At one point we were 40 minutes behind schedule. For lots of reasons, I am less prepared on this show than I like to be (although in this case I am as prepared as I can be).  I worked through our first two breaks of the evening (which is not uncommon).   Durring the third break, I decided to get up from the tech table, hit the restroom and water fountain. Those important tasks completed, I returned to the tech table and saw I still had a few minutes left, and decided to check my messages.

The messages had nothing to do with the show I was working on, nor any other show I am working on.  In fact they had nothing to do with my work or art at all.   They did send my already high stress level through the roof.  I quickly realized what was happening, and in trying to de-stress myself from the messages so I could focus on the show, I just sent my stress level even higher.

Well, I made it through the night.  We actually got back on track and finished 5 minutes early.  On the way back to where I’m staying through the Los Angeles traffic I reflected on what happened, and how to make it not happen again.  I came to the following conclusions:

1) Lighting dance (especially with talented dancers and great choreographers) is one the the most joyous exciting things in my life.   Yes it can be stressful, but the rewards are so great it is worth it.

2) A large part of my stress seems to be coming from a lack of releases for my stress.

3) I constantly decide that my time to do art for arts sake, and my time to get physical exercise should be subjugated to other commitments (i.e. they are just for me, and therefore selfish and therefore unimportant).

4) I’ve never been good at saying “no” to requests.   I have gotten better.  I have learned to figure out when I just cannot do a show, and I try to help the producer that wants to hire me to find someone else.   For a long time, I did what ever was asked of me at work regardless of what it meant.  In the last year or so, I’ve gotten much better at saying “no” there as well.   I need to get better at saying “no” in other areas.

5) My “selfish” stress relievers are not selfish, they are actually important.

This whole process got be back to thinking about a time several years ago when I no longer wanted to attend theatre in my free time.   Somehow my involvement and love of theatre resulted in me avoiding going to the theatre.  I found a solution to that — I stopped going to the shows that I “really ought to see,” and started going to the shows I wanted to see.   I’m now going to the theatre more.  (In fact, now the biggest things keeping me away from the theatre I want to see is the 3 hour drive to San Fran or LA, and the cost — not my dislike of theatre).  I’m enjoying going to the theatre more now as well — even when I am attending for professional/work-related reasons.

I found a solution to that problem that made me a happier person and a better artist.  I need to find a solution to the current problem, and I think I can.

I’m very simply going to set goals, and find a way to track them.  The draft version of the goals are three fold:

1) Art for arts sake 5 times per week.   Writing articles for theatre publications counts. Working on my text book counts. Composing music counts.  Painting, other writing, photography, etc.  counts.    Designing shows I’m being paid to design: Does not count.   Painting/building a set/hanging lights/installing theatre gear (paid or not): Does not count.

2) Exercise 5 times a week.  Riding the bike around Woodward Park or to Central Fish, or around down town: Counts.   Riding the bike to/from work: Does Not Count.   Going to the Gym: Counts.    50 Sit ups and 50 push ups at home: counts.  Long walks with the dog: counts (i.e. not just around the neighborhood).  I think the minimum requirement is 30 minutes of exercise per attempt at exercise.

3) Eat healthier.  I’m not sure what that means.  Less cookies.  Less red meat.  More vegetables.  This combined with goal 2 will help me loose 20 pounds by Christmas or 4 inches off my waist measurement.

With these goals, some other things in my life are going to have to give.   One organization that I volunteer a good bit of time with is going to be told “no.”   When my husband and I are on different schedules, if that means exercising without him, then I have to do it.

SO What does all this have to do with theatre design? (Since this is a theatre design blog after all.)

Well, the answer in one simple sense is:  Dying from a stress related heart attack at age 40  is not good for my attempt to become a famous writer about theatre or famous designer.

In the broader sense, every job in the world has its own unique demands and stresses.  Much of the work of the artist has the stress of the job *plus* the stress of the next job.  (If one design sucks, you have a harder time getting the next design gig.)  Forcing myself to have less stress allows me to focus on those things that are most important to me: My shows, my teaching and my family.

Healthy people have less stress.   I would feel better about myself if I weighed 30lbs less and could fit into mediums again.   I am happier and have great feelings of accomplishment when I work on my art and my writing.

Being happy and excited about design makes makes my designs much better than when I’m angry and bitter about designing.  I need to make myself happy.

Inspiration Spots

One of my pet peeves from student designers is “I didn’t do my assignment because I wasn’t inspired, and you have to be inspired to design.”

I remind them that if they want to make this their profession they either have to be able to design when not inspired, or inspire themselves.  (The muse only really comes to those who hunt her down and capture her themselves).  That said, I do not poo-poo the value of inspiration.  One of the things I have discovered in my life is that, in this world there are inspirational places.   Places where you sit down, and the karma, or feng-shui or whatever magically align all your creative juices.

There was a particular tree I used to sit under during my undergrad years, and under that tree for the first time Shakespeare made sense and for the first time I could sketch design ideas for hours. (They still looked like random squiggles, but they were very meaningful squiggles to me).  By the time I got to grad school I could usually inspire myself without external aids.  (If you read the previous “Blast from the Past” the fear of Ritchie was very inspirational.)

Since my dearest husband completed his design for the back yard, I have found a spot out there that inspires me.   Oddly enough, it currently only seems to work from about sunset until eight or so in the morning.  After that the Fresno heat saps the inspiring characteristics from the spot.

I began to wonder what this, and that marvelous tree in front of the library at USC have in common.  They are outside.  They both have a bit of a breeze.  And although both near high traffic areas, provide one with a sense of solitude.  This feeling eases my emotions.  For me, once my emotions are level, and I am calm, the ideas flow freely.

Will this location work for everyone … or even anyone else?  Probably not. I know designers who have to be stressed out for the muse to awaken.   I know designers who can’t work unless they have a #2 American Naturals pencil in their hand.  It doesn’t matter what it is.  If you are a creative person, you need to find that moment, location, smell. and/or action that frees your mind from everything else and focuses it on the work.  If a designer was successful at acting class (I wasn’t) and mastered emotional recall (I could barely comprehend it, much less do it), so much the better — you have your creative spot with you where ever you go.  If you are like me and don’t have the ability to conjure it anywhere, study it, learn about it, figure out what the key ingredients are.   Then when you need it, you can find it — or a pretty good substitue, and once you have that, you can be inspired when ever you need to.