7 More Practices for Artists in 2018

This is the second and final post on the Grey Noise blog exploring a little bit of the skills we as artists (and as human beings!) can dedicate our time and energy to practicing this year. These and the previous suggestions are based on Artistic Director Jess Meyer-Crosby's personal list of "18 Practices for 2018." For the first half of the public version of the list, click here.

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Saying "Thank You"
Out loud. To the people who matter most to you. Make sure you're not taking for granted that the people who have helped you get where you are now know how much their help has meant to you. You'll find this strengthens not only your personal relationships, but your career and professional reputation as well.

Healthy Indulging
I'm hoping to get better this year at telling myself "A craving for ice cream doesn't mean you need a whole pint of Chunky Monkey. A single scoop of peanut butter swirl will be fine," as well as other less-specific but just as useful phrases... The first step for me is practicing healthy indulging--smaller portions, healthier but still cravable alternatives, etc. 

Actually Reading the Facebook Articles You Save
Don't laugh. If you're like me, you save so much incredible content curated by your amazing friends and the Facebook pages you follow with the supposed intent of reading the articles (they look so long...) at a later date, only to never open them again. Imagine how educated you could be if you took the time to read them when you saw them! If this seems impossible, take a few minutes an evening to read the top article you've saved that day.

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Wearing Only Clothes That Scream "You"
It might not seem like an important skill to practice, but committing to a wardrobe that screams "this is who I am!" can be an important and easy step in living authentically. This means wearing clothes that fit your personal style and your body. Comfort is key. This is your year to stop being someone or something that you're not. Only put it on if it makes you happy, and if it does, wear it without a thought for what anyone else thinks. Clothing is a daily opportunity to express yourself creatively. Don't pass it up! If you don't have time to put together a fashion masterpiece in the mornings, look online for easy outfit "formulas" that make you smile and are practical for your life.

Making Messes
Fear of failure often keeps us as artists from pursuing the messier facets of our art forms. If I screw up, then the mess was all for nothing! we tell ourselves. I'm committing to practice getting my hands dirty this year, mainly through the mediums of painting and sculpture. I keep reminding myself that I have a lot to learn, but I also have a lot to offer.

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Active Free Time
When people ask me what I do for fun, I want at least one of the first five things that pop into my head to be a physically demanding activity. Why? I want to keep my instrument honed (my body, that is) preferably while having fun in the process. Ben and I both like rock climbing, so that seems like a promising place to start. Other great ideas are swing dancing, pickup basketball, hiking, swimming, and even parkour!

Art That Scares You
In a similar vein as making messes, overcoming fear is a crucial part of the artist's journey. And it's not a one-time victory over fear. It's a constant practice of taking on projects and challenges that scare you a little. 

7 Practices for Artists in 2018

If you're like millions of other people the world over, you may have begun this first month of the earth's latest lap around the sun awash in "resolutions." I (Artistic Director Jess) have never been a fan of the concept of a resolution, as it is all about willpower. "I resolve to be a better person." It's as though if we are only resolute enough, all of our goals will somehow be achieved. How many of you have known this to be less than true?

I'm more of an actionable steps person myself, which is why I believe in "practices" more than resolutions. I ask myself each year (and sometimes more often), "What specific skills do I want to practice this year? What things can I actually dedicate time and energy to that will help develop me into a more effective person?"

The start of 2018 was no different for me, as I continued in my tradition of selecting 18 practices to focus on much as I had selected 17 practices in 2017. This year, however, I used my list as a basis for others like me who might appreciate some guidance as to specific skill-building steps for the new year. Although this list was written with artists in mind, many of the principles can be universally helpful to anyone looking to make positive change.

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Unplugging
You knew this would be on the list. This particular step has been made a whole lot easier for me personally by not having a cell phone, but I don't know about you--I still have access to at least two computers when I'm at home plus all that Netflix and my Playstation have to offer. Reading a book during downtime instead of turning something on, sipping coffee without anything playing in the background, sitting and spending time with your partner with no chance for interruptions, ending the barrage of constant news and notifications--all things that most of us need to practice in this ultra-connected age.

A Daily "Making" Habit
What do you make? You are a maker, no? You even fancy yourself an artist most of the time. So make art. Write one poem a day. Draw one sketch of an item in your home a day. Try one recipe a day. Play for fifteen minutes a day. Stop making excuses for yourself, and actively practice the craft you espouse.

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Personal Brand-Building
Every professional and entrepreneur needs to practice this skill, but it is arguably even more important for artists. Keeping my LinkedIn profile and the theatre website updated and stocked with portfolio pieces, certifications, coursework, and past projects will probably take a lot more time and effort than I think it will... But it will also prove valuable in advancing my "brand"--that is, what I want people to think of when they hear my name or the name of the theatre.

Asking Lots of Follow-Up Questions
We all know on a head level that this is the best way to build meaningful connections and be likable, yet it is so hard as humans to stop talking about ourselves for two minutes. Hence, the need for practice. What sets a follow-up question apart is that instead of an interrogatory "Where did you go to school?" "What's you favorite color?" barrage, it plays off of something you heard earlier in the conversation. "What was your favorite place you visited when you were in Italy?" "You like cooking? What's your favorite cuisine to cook?" "What's it like being a live-in nanny?" This way you're not only fostering a connection, you're demonstrating that you are listening, which automatically makes you much more likable.

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A Hobby
And I specifically mean one not directly associated with your craft. I'm learning guitar and reading a lot of books about standup comedy lately. Setting aside time for these and other hobbies make me a more well-rounded person, helps avoid burnout, and actually adds to my skill set, making me a better and more marketable artist in the long term.

Clean Eating and a Hearty Breakfast
For me 2018 started with a challenge to eat nothing besides meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, and couple kinds of nuts for 30 days. You know, real food! While I won't keep my diet so strict after the month is up, the purpose of this activity is to remind me to see food not just as a social tool and a source of pleasure, but as fuel for my art. Personally, I can't function as a professional and sometimes as a human without a BIG, filling, healthy breakfast. Oh, and one that also takes approximately two minutes to make... Success for me took a couple days of scouring the depths of the interwebs for recipes.

Listening Just to Understand
Not to respond. Just to understand people whose experiences and perspectives are different from yours. This practice may be the hardest, but it also has the potential to be the most rewarding.

Positive change can be challenging because it often manifests as an internalized list of what not to do. Sometimes it looks like the expectation that new habits will be magically easy to form because a new year has begun. The concept of "practice" can be empowering and help you to be more gracious with yourself. You are not a whole new person because of another revolution around the sun. You are the same person--a great person!--who is practicing habits that matter to you.

Why Medieval Scotland?

At Grey Noise, we always find glimmers of our own stories within the classics. This is without a doubt the best way to insure that our interpretations are living, breathing representations of the human experience instead of rehashed works that were revelatory when first written but now have outdated elements. We set out early on in our production of Strindberg to find where our team's truth could be uncovered in a story based in class struggle and misogyny that look very different (though perhaps still a bit too familiar) today.

 Heraldry from the Crosby clan (England) and their ancestors the Bruce clan (Scotland)

Heraldry from the Crosby clan (England) and their ancestors the Bruce clan (Scotland)

In this process we realized that there a good deal of British and Scottish ancestry in our little troupe. It was quickly decided that Maid Julie would place the events of the play in a politically tense era during which many of our own ancestors may have lived--medieval Scotland. This setting has made the time-tested story even more relatable for much of our cast and crew, and the added personal element is both interesting and compelling.

 Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

Scottish History Sets the Stage

At the time that King Alexander III of Scotland passed away in 1286, the claim to the Scottish throne was highly contested. Leaders of every clan felt themselves or their sons to be the best candidate to succeed as king. In an effort to stave off civil war, these Scottish magnates asked King Edward I of nearby England to arbitrate the proceedings. They made numerous concessions to allow Edward's involvement in their politics, and during the following years many British nobles made themselves at home in neighboring Scotland.

When John Balliol finally took the Scottish throne as the magnate with the strongest claim in 1292, Edward I was less than thrilled about the prospect of returning control of Scotland to the Scots. In 1296 he invaded, deposed King John, and named himself Scotland's rightful ruler. The following year, an army led by one Andrew de Moray (and a fellow named William Wallace whom you may have heard of) took on and defeated the British forces at the Battle of Sterling Bridge--thus setting off the Scottish wars for independence. Maid Julie takes place in this window of time defined by the British occupation.

Of Lords and Peasants

The medieval social structure presents a perfect example of the "haves" versus the "have-nots." It is an era in which the strict social hierarchy was palpable and class-based oppression was a very real factor. One common model of society in this period of the middle ages was feudalism.

Under a feudal structure, there was, of course, a single king who presided over a kingdom. Beneath this king were the nobility, also called lords and ladies. These were people who were born into "good families" that owned land--a rare and valuable commodity in the close quarters of Western Europe. Next in the hierarchy were knights. You've heard of these guys. They were essentially charged with protecting the lord's property from outside threats, and in exchange the lord would given them plots of land called "fiefs" on which they could live and raise families. On these fiefs would often live many peasants or "serfs" who would farm and maintain the land in exchange for the knight's protection and permission to live on his property.

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This was a system that made a great deal of sense to those making up two-thirds of the pyramid, but obviously it wasn't as ideal for the peasants. As far as their lords could see, they had everything they could ever want in terms of land to farm and freedom from worry, but freedom is exactly what these people lacked. In one sense, Maid Julie is the story of an ambitious serf willing to do whatever it takes to take back that freedom.

The Timelessness of Strindberg's Script

 Colin Farrel and Jessica Chastain in the 2014 film adaptation of  Miss Julie

Colin Farrel and Jessica Chastain in the 2014 film adaptation of Miss Julie

August Strindberg's Miss Julie is one of the most-produced plays in contemporary history. Like the works of Shakespeare, it has stepped onto multiple stages at various locations across the globe every single year since its inception in the early twentieth century. It has been staged as Strindberg intended it when he wrote of a wealthy Swedish estate in 1888, but it has also been set in an English country-house in 1945, Manhattan in the roaring twenties, and even Putin's Russia in 2015.

Most theatre historians much more qualified than us here at Grey Noise would likely give one or two explanations for the play's astounding success:

1) The script Miss Julie is in the public domain. It is desirable because it can be produced without royalties and adapted to fit any theatre company's needs.

2) It is a damn good play. The characters are complex and their relationships are compelling. The dialogue is colorful. The emotional build effortlessly brings audiences along for the ride.

In our hubris however, we would like to offer a possible alternate explanation for the way in which this work has swept theaters the world over.

Miss Julie is a story about a power struggle between two people. More symbolically, it is a story about the first stirrings of the shift of power between the upper and lower classes in Strindberg's lifetime. When the play's first production went onstage in 1906, it addressed the relationship between the aristocracy and their servants-- think of the forces at play between the classes in Downton Abbey. But perhaps the reason why the script has had such a long and vibrant shelf life is because it is the story of a relationship that has had analogs all throughout human history.

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Prior to Strindberg's time, there was the notable struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeois in revolutionary France. There was the infamous Protestant persecution of the Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland, which provided the backdrop for a 2006 translation of the work produced by the Theatre Royal of Bath, England. In the years after Strindberg's career was the oppression of countless people groups, most heinously the Jews, in Europe during World War II. Later still was the American Civil Rights Movement. This was the period during which Toronto's CanStage decided to set their adaptation entitled Maid Julie: Freedom Summer. This production installs Julie as the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner and the servant as her father's chauffeur--a black man. A similarly poignant production was staged in Cape Town, South Africa by the Baxter Theatre Center. Mies Julie was reworked to fit the narrative of the nation's troubling apartheid history.

As one can see, Miss Julie has been adjusted again and again to give a voice to the oppressed whom history would like to forget, but who have continued to rise all the same just as they did in Strindberg's original text.

  Mies Julie , Baxter Theatre Center 2012

Mies Julie, Baxter Theatre Center 2012

The historical examples where Strindberg's dynamics apply are endless, and many are fiercely politically or even racially driven-- feudal Japan, the persecution of early Christians in ancient Rome, the Islamic Moors in medieval Spain, the British occupation of India... The tale is ongoing and cyclical, and therein lies its appeal. Humanity will always continue to see new powers rise only to be overtaken by those they trampled upon on their way.

There will always be stories to tell, and Strindberg has provided one darkly beautiful format in which to tell them.

For more information about why we specifically chose medieval Scotland as our setting, stay tuned for the following post.