Article 25

Yoga, Light and Glitter Glue

In Uncategorized on 01/22/2016 at 3:30 pm

Teresa Robeson II.JPGBy Anne Skove

Inspired by Mason Currey’s book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, we have approached a number of artists to find out what makes them tick. Each month three individuals who paint, write, sing, dance or otherwise create share their habits with us. This month we feature Kerry Ginn, Teresa Robeson and Susan Emerson.

Susan Emerson’s pep talk

“I think ritual or superstition for an artist is similar to an athlete getting a pep talk before a game. It’s our way of doing “self” pep talk. Being a performer, particularly an actor or singer, is a very vulnerable profession. If the performance is not well received, it’s very personal, because you are the instrument.

“So rituals help you get centered before show time; they help you focus and go out with confidence, so you can do your best – and trust that your best is good enough.

“Over the past few years I’ve been doing a one-woman cabaret called ‘The Ripple Effect’ as a fundraiser for various charities around the U.S. Because this is a one-night-only event, and I only do the show once or twice a year, I find that my rituals in preparation for a ‘Ripple’ event are much different than when I do a full run of a play.

“My personal ritual before a ‘Ripple’ performance – besides my vocal warm-up – is yoga. I find that doing a familiar yoga routine calms me and centers me and also really helps me focus. Of course, for months prior to the show, I am also vocalizing at least four times a week and reviewing the show. This isn’t easy, as I now have a very full-time day job with a lot of travel, but that discipline is absolutely necessary, even if I have to find the time in the cracks of my day.

“As for preparation, I learned the lesson of preparation years ago while understudying Petula Clark in the Broadway tour of Sunset Boulevard. A wise friend told me the day I was cast to pay close attention each day in rehearsal, then come home that night and learn all that had been blocked that day. Now understudy rehearsals typically don’t begin until after the show is open and running, but my friend told me that you have one chance to show the production team what you are capable of, and that chance may not wait until after you’ve had your understudy rehearsals.

“Sure enough, Petula got sick right before we opened, during dress/tech rehearsals, and the director asked me if I could step in. I could and did, and was able to give a performance rather than walk through holding a script, which had very positive ‘ripples’ for my career.

“Do I ever get bored with rehearsal? Sure, sometimes. Once during a particularly tedious rehearsal of Nunsense II – The Second Coming at Ford’s Theater in D.C., I was laying on the stage, waiting while the director was working with another actor on their part in the scene. Above me was the balcony where Lincoln was shot and below it was the picture where John Wilkes Booth’s spurs nicked the frame as he leapt to the stage to escape. I saw my first musical on this stage as a child (Godspell) and it suddenly hit me how incredibly blessed and lucky I was, to be in this theater and on this stage making my living as an actor, and that I should get up off my butt and be grateful, not bored.

“Is it hard, particularly when you aren’t currently in a show, to continue to practice? Yes, especially when there are so many other demands for your time. So it takes discipline. And I think it takes a recognition of how lucky you are to be able to do this. So honor your gifts. Practice. Prepare. Get centered. So that you can then go out on stage, forget worrying about technique and just be totally in the moment, having a great show.

Moonlighting as a vice president of a health-care communications company, Susan Emerson is an award-winning actress, singer and writer who has appeared in regional theaters around the country, as well as Off-Broadway and in Broadway tours. Her one-woman show, “The Ripple Effect,” combines humor, stories and music from Broadway to pop to bluegrass, that explore how one person can make a difference. On Dec. 4 Emerson performed “The Ripple Effect” at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Cincinnati to benefit Cincinnati Union Bethel, its Off the Streets program and the Anna Louise Inn. She is a resident of Clifton.

Teresa Robeson and the light

A25: Thank you for being our token (thus far) Hoosier.

TR: Thanks so much for inviting me to participate, Anne! I might be your only token Hoosier-Canadian.

A25: You are both a writer and a visual artist. Do you work differently for each of these, or are your creative habits the same for both?

TR: I do work quite differently for one than the other. When I’m writing, I have to have no music playing. Not only are words to lyrics distracting (especially if it’s a song I can sing along with), but even orchestral or instrumental pieces evoke certain moods in me that might not jive with the scene or chapter I’m writing. Can you imagine listening to Mozart’s Requiem while writing a tender or humorous interaction, for example?

Doing art is different, though. I can listen to anything at all and it doesn’t seem to affect how I approach an illustration, regardless of the subject of the illustration.

Also, while I can write during any time of the day where I’m not interrupted often, I find that I can’t really do serious art (though I can doodle) after it gets dark. Even with good lighting, my eyes don’t like the strain that nighttime places on them.

A25: Edith Sitwell famously said, “All women should have a day a week in bed.” While Currey maintains that the rumor that she wrote in an open coffin is “probably false,” Sitwell did indeed write in bed (ditto Truman Capote). Where do you work best?

TR: I love critiquing (I’m in three writing critique groups) while on the treadmill desk! The movement seems to help me think. I usually walk at about 2.8 miles per hour, which seems to be perfect – enough movement to not lull me to sleep, but not so fast that I can’t type properly.

When I write, I like to sit in my favorite comfy chair – or more often these days – I’m at my standing desk. I would love to write in bed, but it’s not conducive to typing.

I like to do art at my standing desk, too, although the surface is not as large as my usual work table … but the work table is too low and my back hurts from bending over.

A25: Performance artist Marina Abramovic’ says, “In my personal life, if I don’t have a project, I don’t have any discipline. … Only when I know that I have to do the performance, then I absolutely concentrate on that in a rigorous way.” How does one work if there is no deadline, no book deal, no art show, no buyer on the horizon?

TR: As you know from approaching me to do this interview, Anne, if I don’t have a deadline, I impose one on myself. Most of the time I have deadlines of some sort – either because critiques have to be done in a time fashion or because it’s my turn to submit a story to one of my critique groups.

When I had an agent (she recently unexpectedly quit the business), she would give me loose deadlines; or, when editors request an R&R – “revise and resubmit” – I would have a firmer but still loose deadline. Contests, or agents and publishers who are only open to submissions for a short period of time, also create deadlines.

When I attend a conference or workshop, there may homework to hand in at a specific time or I may have to refine my portfolio to bring on a particular date.

A25: Any other anecdotes about how you work, not covered in your answers above, are most welcome.

TR: I wish I could say I had very good work habits – that I arise with the sun and write or do art for several hours before I allow interruptions into my life. But that would be a lie. Instead I work in fits and starts. I don’t like to get up early; and because we home-school (my older son is a freshman in college now, but I still home-school my younger son) and have a mini-homestead, I am constantly being interrupted by the kids or things I have to do with veggies and stuff.

There are times in the day when I do have a solid block of two to three hours with minor interruptions that allow me to work with greater concentration. I also find that I am the most productive the closer a deadline looms – old bad habits from college never die – or if I’m in a Zen mood.

Teresa Robeson lives on a little hobby farm with her scientist husband, kids and chickens, where she writes mostly speculative fiction and nonfiction for all ages. In art, she prefers to do portraitures as well as illustrations for children in ink, charcoal, watercolor and pastels. More about her can be found at teresarobeson.com

Kerry Ginn’s ‘quiet brain’

A25: Picasso reportedly stayed up late and slept in. Writer Ann Beattie told an interviewer, “I really think people’s bodies are on different clocks.” What is your internal clock like? Does it help or hinder your work?

KG: I’m learning to plan my work time to naturally fit with my internal clock so it won’t become a hindrance. I expect different things from my brain at different times of the day. I like to have an array of activities on tap that I can access whenever I can steal some art time. I’m a morning person, so I’ll have more luck with the more cerebral work in the early hours of the day (wrestling with bigger questions and decisions within the work, generating lists of tasks to tackle during the more auto-flow hours of early evening). My brain is tired by the end of the day, but most of my available work hours are at night. I try to have my environment stocked so I can let myself work on autopilot. This is my time for generating the stuff (patterns, scribbles, tracings, cut-outs) that will work its way into a finished composition during active brain time.

A25: Many of the habits chronicled by Currey involve food. Composer Erk Satie “once consumed a thirty-egg omelet in a single setting.” Louis Armstrong enjoyed Chinese takeout and red beans and rice. David Lynch ate at Bob’s Big Boy. Writer Nathaniel Hawthorne “ate a bowl of chocolate crumbled thick with bread,” according to Malcolm Cowley. Oliver Sacks ate tabouli and sardines for dinner, or sushi if he had company. Van Gogh worked for long stretches without eating. Eating and cooking are part of everyone’s rhythm of the day, all our lives. How do these routines fit with a creative routine?

KG: My cooking is very much an extension of my creative life. My time in the kitchen is as valuable to my psyche as my time in the studio. They are both so important. My son calls it “finding the thing that helps your brain be quiet.” For him, it’s piano. For me, it’s cooking and making art.

I do try to structure my weeks so that I can entertain friends and family on a fairly regular basis. Cooking helps me connect with people. I like trying new things and encouraging others to try new things. I also like that cooking is so much like painting. It’s a dialogue between you and the materials, whether you’re working in glitter glue or garlic scapes. If you listen and trust, your work will tell you what it needs.

More and more I’m bringing art supplies to dinner parties. Bringing community together for good food AND art making. You can be 3 years old or 83 years old. No marks are bad marks. Just play. I have quite a collection of collaborative canvas scraps that instantly help me recall some amazing times with friends and family.

A25: Currey notes that writer Patricia Highsmith “was inspired to keep … gastropods as pets when she saw a pair at a fish market locked in a strange embrace” and “eventually housed 300 sails in her garden in Suffolk, England, and once arrived at a London cocktail party carrying a gigantic handbag that contained a head of lettuce and a hundred snails – her companions for the evening.” What connection exists between pets and art?

KG: I don’t currently have any pets. I do have kids, though. I think both kids and pets help to remind you that the world is bigger than just your own needs. The world is bigger than your art. Sometimes our time is best spent connecting with and taking care of others. This tends to be my default setting, and I need to remind myself to take care of my own needs every once in a while. Thus, no pets … for now.

Kerry Ginn is a visual artist and educator in Cincinnati. She received her master of fine arts degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning. She loves bright colors, wonky shapes and glitter. She also loves helping youth find their voice. She has been involved in youth development for over 20 years and is an intervention specialist working with students with disabilities.

 

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