On March 12, 2014, I premiere a major part of the performance project I’ve been working on for the past year — What’s on [My] Mind?
What’s on [My] Mind? is a transmedia performance. Working in multiple mediums — monologues, music, social media, virtual worlds, and blogs —I explore how race, identity, kinship, and annexation conspire to determine a person’s (a family’s, a nation’s) fate. Born into a historically significant, multi-racial family which presents as white, or “passes,” I create an intergenerational persona, connecting with my Afro-Hispanic-Californio ancestor — Ysidora Pico de Forster — to explore how one’s individual lifespan generates larger, eternal questions of identity and legacy.
In October 2013, while working on this project, I stumbled upon a MOOC offered by Stanford University’s NovoEd platform, Practice Based Research in the Arts. I needed some hard deadlines — because in addition to being a writer and performer, I am also a mom and high school English teacher, roles that threaten to deplete even the strongest reserves. My project, which is funded in part by an Individual Artist Grant from the Houston Arts Alliance, has a final deadline of March 31, 2014 that I must meet in order to get paid. So I signed up to participate in the MOOC, knowing there would be “assignments” and “due dates.” There was only one prerequisite for participation: “practitioners” (students/artists) had to bring a creative project to focus on for the duration of the 10-week course. I brought What’s on [My] Mind?
Breaking-up the “massive” student body into teams of six (MOOC is an unfortunate acronym for Massive Open Online Course) set this MOOC apart from the others I’d taken in the past — that, and the fact that the majority of students in the course are true-blue practicing artists. I enjoyed the good fortune of being on Team Blueberry Blintz, and my interaction with my teammates catapulted me into a collaborative working process, which continues to this day. Even though the MOOC has officially ended, our group continues to collaborate, communicate and share our processes and projects on a regular basis. The synergy of our teamwork keeps revealing possibilities for performance that, had I continued working independently, I might not have not found: for example, the transmedia nature of What’s on [My] Mind?
Currently, there is a facet of the performance happening over on .Re/act in preparation for the February 28, 2014 #1850charla on Twitter. This performative element took off after I proposed it during a Google chat meet up with Blueberry team members Vanessa Blaylock, Michael Masucci, and Molly Ross. Isabella Medici, of the famous Florentine Medicis, commenced the conflict, and soon multiple characters congregated.
It’s been interesting and invigorating and frustrating to witness the #1850charla part of the performance unfold. As I hinted at above, I have little time to orchestrate my contributions to this part of the process, as I’m currently working on memorizing monologues and rehearsing music for the March 12 performance. I’ve been happily floored by the responsiveness of some participants. It’s exciting for me when participants grab onto an idea and begin playing with it (what more can one ask for, except that her idea hooks people?) So, initially I felt okay with letting the story gather momentum without me and go wherever it went. However, as the prime mover for this participatory element, I am learning that I must be more responsible to the participants, especially if I desire to make the process additive rather than subtractive.
What do I mean “additive rather than subtractive”? It means that I can’t just drop the idea into the water and see if it floats or sinks. Boring! and potentially harmful. If I want the experience to remain positive (I don’t mean uplifting here; I mean generative), I need to be more responsive within the framework of the unfolding story. That way, at the very least, there are more directions the story can take. Without enough participation — variety — doors begin to close rather than continue to open. There are fewer entry points for new participants, fewer windows of opportunity for current characters to fly through, should they want or need to find a new path, unfold a new conflict.
Just today, I was thinking about how the transmedia genre (a story created by multiple discreet authors) contrasts with a genre like poetry. In in a poem, authority is achieved by a single author through strong metaphors, theatrical lineation, compelling implication, voice and diction. It seems to me that in the transmedia genre, “authority” is established first and foremost through participation. S/he with the most posts controls the narrative. What happens when the story takes a turn that causes participants to drop out in frustration? Of course, the implicit issue is one of control and letting go. But how much of either am I responsible for as the prime mover? My learning curve in this transmedia genre is still very steep.