Thursday, July 9, 2020

Gear, Gear, and More Gear - Preparing For Virtual Work In The Fall!

I have been part of touring theatre companies.

Ah yes, I certainly have. 

I spent two summers of high school building, painting, maintaining, and producing props with a cast. I helped construct backdrops and frames.

I was part of erecting those frames, putting up backdrops, and breaking the whole thing down, stowing them, and preparing for the next travel show.

I also did traveling theatre at university.

I even did a couple of shows after graduating. I looked around at the life of being in a small, traveling theatre company and said, "You know, this is not how I want to live my life."

So, I bid adieu to that part of my life and moved on to other things.

Storytelling is light on the gear.

I don't have puppets, a set, props, or costumes.

I don't have backdrops or lights, or anything like that to cart from place to place.

In fact, I have my mat - which is made from recycled coca-cola bottles that I bought in Australia, and my sound system when needed.

That was in the before time.

I have been performing in a little nook in my living room. It took me months to figure out how to light it so I didn't have crazy shadows and I could be seen.

That required lighting that I did not have.

Ultimately, I figured it out.

The David was polite enough about the situation as the summer went on, and then he started making these comments.

TD: "Have you considered a backdrop?

Me: "No."

TD: "You should think about it."

A few weeks later.

TD: "Have you looked at backdrops?"

Me: "No."

TD: I thought you would have looked at some backdrops."

A few days later

TD: "Backdrops?"

Me: Oh, yeah. I'm going to order some."

Every single day after that.

TD: "Backdrops?"

Me: "I'm doing it!"

It took me a lot of searching to find backdrops I liked. I finally settled on these two from an outfit called GladsBuy.

Bookcase from GladsBuy
Brick Wall from GladsBuy

These are not virtual backgrounds, they are actual backdrops made from vinyl. They have grommets in the top of them to hang on a frame. I've used them on a couple of occasions already, and they look great.

After buying these things, I related the whole annoying process to my daughter. She sat down, pulled out a pen, and designed a backdrop for me that incorporated the themes of my business.

I ordered that one from BackdropSource.

without lighting

with bright lighting

Then, a friend of mine who was watching all of this play out online, called me and offered to make me a custom backdrop. I said yes. So, I went from having no backdrops to having three and one on the way in a matter of days.

Well, if you have a backdrop, you have to have something on which to hang it.

Luckily, I know all about backdrops.

So, more gear.

I headed to efavormart, and ordered a frame for my new backdrops.

I put it together a couple of days ago.

It is lightweight, designed to be put together and taken apart. It takes less than five minutes to put it up or stow it. It comes in its own little pouch and fits in a closet. What more could I ask for?

Oh, I know what I could ask for.

I have to figure out how to light this new situation without huge shadows on the canvas.


Well, it isn't like I'm going anywhere...

Happy discovering!

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Showcase Trailer

I know, I know.

I'm not officially posting until tomorrow, but I got this done and I couldn't wait.

Here is my virtual trailer.

It is going to go on ARTS COUNCIL Websites.

I'll blog about the ins and outs of this thing tomorrow!

Happy Getting Ready for 2020- 2021!

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Waiting For My Artist Card: Negotiating Prices in the Age of COVID-19

I've been waiting for my artist card for years. I'm sure there has to be one. There must be.

How do I know this?

I imagine it is sort of like this but with artist stuff on it
Because negotiating a fee for storytelling, or any art, is tricky. For some organizations or people, when they get into the process of hiring an artist, they are flabbergasted at how much it can cost.

Some organizations want an artist to come, but they are annoyed that they have to pay you at all aside from covering dinner.

Some organizations are shocked to find out that you won't come for free or work for a pittance.

Some organizations think they've offered you plenty of compensation and they don't get why one hundred dollars is not sufficient for your time. You are only going to be telling for an hour!

Some people complain that they are hiring you to do something you love, so why are you charging so much?

Clearly, there is a formula on the artist card that must look something like this -

Artists love their work. +  They are only banging on drums/telling stories/singing for x amount of time. + They are only working with families/children. + They are not traveling far. + They really are having fun. + I am offering them exposure. = They really should be paying me for giving them this opportunity.

I suppose that is why some people approach fee negotiations with an artist like, "I guess I'll toss them a bone. I'm sure that will be sufficient."

Luckily for me, I don't negotiate fees. I leave that to The David. I let him wrangle with people over dollars and cents.

Yes, in the best of times, it is hard to negotiate a fee.

Throw in a global pandemic and you make things even harder.

In the before time -

"We have fifteen libraries. We have this much money, how many of them will you visit if we pay you x amount?"

In the now -

Client: "We want a virtual show and we want to stream it to all fifteen of the libraries for two weeks, and we want to pay you as if you have only visited one branch on one afternoon because you are recording the show. That seems fair.

Artist: "Umm. No. I'm sorry. I can't afford to do it like that. Let's talk about a fee for each library in your system. Certainly not as high as if I was there in person. That way, I am in every library, you have programming for your entire system, and I am compensated for the work I am putting into preparing this program for you.

Client: "What? You want us to compensate you for essentially working every one of our libraries this summer even though your show is pre-recorded?  That is unreasonable. The formula on your artist card says that creating pre-recorded virtual programming is much easier and less expensive to produce!"

I really need to get hold of this artist card.
this is the TIR apartment in Jonesboro!

Since it is being used against me on a regular basis, there must be a way for me to use it to help my situation.

I could take it to my mortgage broker. She'd say, "Wow, I didn't know you had an artist card. Considering this formula, I am going to drop your mortgage payments by forty percent!"

How about grocery shopping? I could present my artist card right before my credit card. "Wow! You're an artist who loves what she does. Your groceries are going to cost fifty percent less than everyone else who has to work for a living!"

Oh, at the bookstore! "Wait! You're an artist? Well, here are all of your books at ten percent of what everyone else has to pay for books!"

Yes! My artist card, the card that makes people assume they don't need to pay me, should also alert the people that I have to pay that I shouldn't be charged full price for anything!

Sadly, my artist card has not come, so, I am still in the position of negotiating a fee.

Here is a blog post I wrote years ago with some tips about setting and negotiating a fee.

I reread it this morning and was surprised to see that it still holds.

We have adjusted our fee structure because of COVID.

My travel expenses are nonexistent, but there are other expenses we have to contend with.

We have a pro Zoom account.

We have a premium Vimeo Account.

I upgraded my laptop.

I bought a camcorder.

I bought an external mic.

I've purchased lights, backdrops, frames on which to hang the backdrop, editing software, upgraded the internet to the fastest speeds allowable in my area, and spent hours rehearsing, recording, re-recording in various parts of my house to find the best place to make solid sound without echoing or feedback. I've invested hours and hours in educating myself about how all of this works. We are combining years of education, brand new skills, and our knowledge of our craft to make art in a new way with an unfamiliar tech world.

What a client is getting on the other end of this process is a high quality, well put together, specifically crafted piece that is designed for this particular medium that displays our artform to the best of our ability.

That is no small accomplishment.
That is not cheap.
That is not easy.
That is not thrown together.
That is not an afterthought.

If we charged what our work and dedication is actually worth every single time we stepped into a venue, nobody could afford it.

The price we quoted is already a steep discount unless it is in the six figures.

You are more than worth the fee you charge.

If we do not fight for the right to be properly compensated for our work, we won't be, and nobody will have any idea we should be.

That was true in the before time.

It is still true now.

Then again, my artist card might come today.

Happy making art work for you!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

What do you mean I can't go on tour? : Rethinking A Lifestyle!

Worth every second of down time
For my entire adult life, aside from a few years when I was either gestating, giving birth to or using my body to feed and nurture developing human beings, I have been on tour. 

I visit my home for periods of time, but most of the time I am engaging in the rough and ready life of hotel rooms, staying with friends, thousands of strangers, new places, language barriers, avoiding gluten, and generally being a public-facing introvert. Ambivert. Donna Marie Todd assures me I am an ambivert. 

I have been home for four months. That's right - FOUR MONTHS, and I'm not recovering from anything or distracted with babies.

My brain went into shock mode for a couple of weeks -

What is going on?

How am I going to make a living?

How long is this going to last?

Luckily, I live with my business manager. Did I say "luckily"? It has its moments...especially since I am doing it full time now.

The David and I
Within two weeks, we'd moved into action mode -

- Find a virtual pathway

- How much performing do I have to do live? Can I pre-record shows?

- Is there a model where we can capitalize on this new situation so we can survive

- What is the next step?

Within a month we not only had a new business plan but a new model that was working well.
We were able to make headway on the money we'd lost when COVID stopped our season.

We started thinking about how our new model translated into the Fall.

We made plans, and begin to carry them out on a massive scale.

- National contact list - go!

- How does this software work?

- Do we need more technology?

- How do we price this?

We made plans about supporting our community - 

- Donating to causes we believe in from Food Banks, to Arts Councils, to Storyteller Relief Funds

- Contributing to artists whenever possible

Then something odd happened.

I was suddenly at the end of the planning and whirlwind prep. I looked up into a sea of days with nothing too much to accomplish.

If I wasn't doing anything, it had nothing to do with procrastination. I really didn't have anything to do.

I like procrastination. It means you have duties you are ignoring. What happens when you really don't have anything to do? What does that even mean?

Yes, I could rehearse or write, but I don't actually have any "real" deadlines. 



I am not a self-regulator. I rely on my touring schedule to help me remember what day it is! 

I started freaking out a little. A type-A personality without a feeling of impending doom in the pit of my stomach because I've agreed to something that is slightly out of my wheelhouse is a dangerous thing. How can anybody live like that???

No. I was very freaked.

Then, The David took me in hand and told me that it was not healthy for me to be so unfocused.

That's when it happened.

I bought a planner. 

I haven't had one since The David took over my touring schedule almost two decades ago. 

I started writing in it almost immediately. 

I suddenly realized that counter to what I thought, I am really busy. I mean, really really busy!

Apparently, I have board meetings, group meetings, artist meetings, work meetings, programs to write and develop, and things that I need to accomplish.

There is so much more to my life than just touring!

Who knew? 

With my days spread before me like an uninked sea, it occurred to me that this would be a good time to start some good, achievable habits.

I've always had Non-fiction Thursday, but, I thought, what if I expanded this out so that I accomplished different things every single day?

So, I have a new way forward.

Monday - Check-In. This is when I will call people, spend the day on social media. maybe watch some storytelling. maybe work on my projects, maybe not! Ha

Tuesday - Recordings! - If there is something to record from intros to story sets to new stories, or education modules - this is the day I will get that done!

Wednesday - Free Day! Clean the House! Possibly do some reading for fun. Date Night!

Thursday - Non-Fiction Thursday. Blogging, admin, the stuff I won't do unless I'm forced.

Friday - My new day! Fiction Fridays! woohoo! I get to work on fiction all day! That's it! Just fiction!!!!

Saturday - 3 - 5 in Liz Weir's Barn I need that. Otherwise, work on projects Family Game Night!

Sunday - Work in the garden, sit outside, make sure you enjoy the outside...that's all I'm sayin'

I am looking forward to my new schedule. 

I better be.

I doubt I'll be touring again for the next year!

Keep your spirits up!

Wash your hands!

Wear a mask!

Social Distance!

Choose your life! 

You've got to live it anyway, you might as well live it on your own terms!

Happy Not-Touring - 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Skills of a Lifetime Are Useless: Rethinking Performing

I have a degree in theatre from Northwestern University!

I trained with Rives Collins!

I was mentored by Nancy Donoval, Sue O'Halloran, Beth Horner, Jackie Torrence, Janice Del Negro, Jim May, Syd Lieberman, Donald Davis, Jay O'Callahan, Dovie Thomason and many others!

I know how to read an audience. I know how to find the sweet spot in the story that reaches out and grabs people's hearts.

I know how to approach an audience and find a place where we can build a community together.

I know how to use stories to reach through generational and cultural barriers.

I know how to craft stories for different age groups, and adjust those stories in the blink of an eye if I feel the need to do so.

In the world of a global pandemic, none of those skills matter.


I didn't train to be a sound engineer!

I didn't train to be a video editor!

I didn't train to be a film director!

I didn't rain to design lights!

I didn't train to be a tech director!

I didn't train to design soundtracks!

I know how to tell stories.
I know how to tell stories to live audiences.

That's what I got.


Yeah, typically it is monkeys, but I like frogs

1. I cannot see my audience.

There could be five, or five hundred people in the audience, and I cannot see them. Even if they are on the screen I cannot see them. I have to focus like a laser on the camera. If I don't, it will look like I"m not looking at anybody.

2. I cannot hear my audience.

So many of my stories are about creating communal sounds, chants, calls, and expressions, that without them, the space around me isn't full of anything. It is very odd.

3. I cannot interact with my audience.

I cannot take a quick poll of a raise of hands, point to someone who is having a particularly good time, laugh with someone, share a quick look with a particular person, or identify someone who is lost or looking confused and bring them back into the fold. In fact, I can't do anything at all when it comes to making individual personal connections.

4. I do not have a cohesive audience.

I am at my home, and every other person is somewhere in their own spaces. They cannot hear or feel or sometimes even see other people listening. They are having their own private little show, and they are not drawn in or carried along by the energy of anyone else in the audience.

I don't have one audience I have twenty or more. Each one encased in their own little room.

5. I am a floating head in a box.

I do not have the full use of my whole body. My movements have to be curtailed, I have to be aware of what the camera sees, blurring effects, my background, and anything that comes into camera view becomes immediately distracting because everything else has been carefully eliminated so as not to be distracting!

Luckily, I am not yet dead. This means I can still learn some new things. Actually, it means I must!

We are all on a learning curve.

Nobody knows what this looks like.

I have been recording stories since the second week of March. I finally got the hang of it in the last two weeks of May.

I have done more reading about lights, and movement, and the camera, and microphones, and Zoom, and Vimeo, and who knows what else in the last three months.

I have joined groups, asked for help, left groups, asked for help, started groups, asked for help, cocooned, reached out, gone into despair, recovered from despair, shouted my defiance, sheepishly apologized for being a jerk, learned programs I never knew existed, spent money I didn't know I would ever need to spend, worked through fear, anxiety, worry, and frustration.

Then, days ago, the world turned itself right-side up.

Everything started humming. I have found peace in the storytelling work.

1.  I imagine the person or the audience. I imagine how they are reacting, and I tell as if they are right there with me.

2. I make space for the reactions that I feel belong there.

3. I interact with them anyway, and anyone watching can play or not

4. Every single audience is having their own personal experience, and that is lovely

5. I am engaging in a form of media that more people have seen than storytelling. If this is a way to introduce them to my art form, then so be it.

Most of my shows are pre-recorded.

I started uploading shows to our Vimeo with password-protected content. The client can access the content and share it, but nobody else can. When their time ends, we change the password, and the show goes back under lock and key.

I felt like I was starting to get the hang of it. Then, on Tuesday, a pop quiz arrived.

One of the services I offer to libraries is a customized intro. They give a shout out to the Friends of the library or something like that. It is a promo that's just for them.

One of the things I figured out how to do was detach the audio from a clip and replaced the image. So, I got this idea.  I recorded the shout out, took out the video, and replaced it with the sponsor's logo.

I was feeling all clever. 

Apparently, the sponsor saw it and decided that they wanted something better. They have their own studio department, and they whipped up a smooth commercial for summer reading, sent it to the library, and said they wanted to replace my "commercial" with theirs.

The library sent me the sponsor's spot, said they could do the substitution. All I had to do was give them the footage of the show.

Our new business model does not allow for people who are "renting" the material to download it.

Two months ago, I would have had to wake up my son and ask him if he could do this. Six months ago I would have taken it to my daughter and asked her if she could do it.

This morning?

This morning I downloaded the commercial.
Went into my back up disc, found the original show, put it back on my laptop
Loaded the new commercial and the old footage into my editing software
Replaced the old commercial with the new one
Downloaded the new show onto my laptop
Went to Vimeo and isolated the video that needed updating
Replaced the old show with the new one without needing to change the link, and finished my breakfast.

My old skills are not much use right now, but my new ones?

My new ones are pretty awesome.

Happy Learning!

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

What if I Whisper?

Why won't you hear me?

What if I whisper? Will you hear me then?

One hundred years ago I tried wailing and weeping. I wept at the feet of the conquerer. I wailed for the loss of my sons and daughters. I wept for my lost lands and the nations destroyed by the colonizers. I begged and pleaded and my voice rose to the pitch of a shriek in the night as I walked in misery. You took my sadness as a trophy.

What if I whisper? Listen

I ran. I used my feet, and my cunning, and my hope against you. I banded together with others, and we fled from your hands and your eyes and your empty heart. I was not alone. We fought in silence, and our stories and our songs led us to a place of temporary peace. It felt like victory, and for a moment it was. I thought you would see us for who we were. I was wrong.

What if I whisper? Stop

I also tried defiance. I spoke when you wanted me to be quiet. I stood when you told me to sit. I sat when you told me to stand. I was silent when you wanted me to speak. I left the kitchen, and the schoolhouse and the secretarial pool, and I got the right to vote. I went to the places you told me not to go and I dared you to force me to stay where you said I must. I defied you at every turn. I am still fighting for the right to be seen.

What if I whisper? Please

I clawed my way to the light. My mother worked hard. My father worked hard. My children worked hard. We all worked for the things you would not share. We pressed and pressed and worked. We died working. We died trying. We died hoping. We knew that every single one of us was a brick in a long road. We knew that we could not build that road overnight and that it would take untold years to build it sturdy enough so that each new generation would be able to go just a bit further. You cannot crush that road. We have made this land brilliant, interesting, rich, culturally rich, musically rich, and we have built it with our hands, ideas, and work. You can ignore or belittle our legacy, but we know who we are.

What if I whisper? Acknowledge

Sometimes I lose control of my anger. It explodes in fury and hopelessness. I howl for the injustice and I lash out all around me. I demand that you see me and hear me and understand. I need you to know that if I sit too long with my hands folded and my heart torn that I will bleed beyond my body and it will ignite in flame and destruction. I shout so loud I shake the streets and the air blackens with soot as the sirens call out all around me. How can I be making all of this noise and still you cannot hear me?

What if I whisper? Understand

How do I say to you that my sons and daughters are just people?
How do I say to you that my son's lives are as important as your son's?
How do I say to you that my daughters are as worthy as yours?
How do I say to you that my life matters as much as yours does?
How do I make you see that you have no right to torture me?
How do I make you see that you have no right to starve me?
How do I make you see that you have no right to leave me without shelter?
How do I make you see that you have no right to imprison me for money?
How do I make you see that you have no right to force me to work in horrific conditions to put food on your table?
How do I make you see that you have no right to stop me and frisk me because you can?
How do I make you see that if I am driving in a car and I have done nothing, you have no right to stop me?
How do I stop you from calling the authorities when I'm just trying to do normal things?
How do I stop you from shooting me because you feel like it?
How do I get you to take your knee off of my neck?

What if I whisper? Injustice

I have wept!
I have wailed!
I have run!
I have worked!
I have fought!
I have been silent!
I have stood in peace!
I have rioted!
I have protested!
I have died!
I have been murdered!
I have knelt in silence.
I have walked in peace.
I have voted despite how hard you work to stop me.
I have spoken in the face of violence and fear.
I have written the words of protest and anger - love and peace.

Still, You Will Not Hear Me!

What if I whisper -

Your life is built on a foundation of my bones

We cannot go forward until we clear the ground and start again

I will no longer let you keep pretending you don't hear me

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Other Parts of Life - There Are Wonderful Things Afoot!

There are so many pretty amazing things going on in our world. In North Carolina, it is feeling more and more like summer!

My garden is doing its thing.

My cats are still a little nutty

My daughter is still drawing on herself.

My son sill wears a black overcoat on sweltering days.

Some of you might not know this, but I moonlight as a professor at Hogwarts on the Hill.

I am Professor Melinda Menagerie and I teach Care of Magical Creatures.

This morning I got an email from the Headmistress. They have decided that this year's classes are going to happen no matter what.

Each professor will prepare a packet for the students. The parents will come by Platform 9 ¾  to pick it up on the day in question, and the classes will be available on a private channel.

I live with 2 visual artists and one of them specializes in 3-dimensional digital art.

You know what that means, right?

This year we are totally studying dragons! I'm going to be in videos with dragons! I am going to hold a little dragon!

I get to pick up a dragon egg! No, wait! Maybe we'll make dragon eggs as one of our crafts!

I don't usually do crafts. Never a good time to start!

Actually, I picked up something that I'm pretty sure looks like a dragon egg!

Okay, it is an emu egg, but it will serve!

Hey! Maybe I could make dragon eggs and put little plastic dragons inside so that when the kids get them home, they could use their wands to pacify the eggs, then crack them open and there would be little plastic dragons inside of them.

That could be fun. We would definitely get to work on our wand forms.

That means I could be making dragon eggs this summer!

So many things to do. So many things to do.

I am also going to transfer more stories to video for the fall.

We touring artists are going to be disease vectors, so I doubt our presence will be welcome even if schools do open.

I'm also going to be doing some virtual residencies.

So much planning!

Libraries are still booking shows.

The David is still sending out marketing emails.

Oh, that reminds me - If you want to take a workshop with Sue O'Halloran and the David about this brave new world of virtual storytelling and the marketing thereof, you can sign up now.

Right Now.

The David

There are lots of wonderful things happening. The world has not ended. I am going to get on my bike when I am done writing this on non-fiction Thursday.

Tomorrow is going to be for recording.

Saturday I will be Zooming with London.

Sunday I have set aside for the writing group with incredible women who make me a better writer and a better person.

This is my new anthem...except the part about the trumpet. Substitute telling stories and we are good.

Happy Remembering There Are Other Things!