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Sunday, May 24, 2015

An Ode to Failure

So on the wide horizon of Facebook this whole "post pictures from your artistic life for 5 days" thing is going around, and I'm no exception.  So up go the photos, usually live shots of performance, or backstage, or on the road, but pretty much always making life look way, way cool and interesting.

We need to even this up...because I know that my Facebook life looks a-m-a-z-i-n-g.  But FB life is not real life, it is all the good parts.  And even as a representation of "this artistic life" it falls far short of the mark, and I know why.  It leaves out all of my failures.

My failures hold an almost sacred space for me.  They are hard earned.  And in performance art, they are very, very public.  I learn from every act I make, but failures are the best teachers.  You don't develop a deeper understanding of connecting with an audience, or surviving in an industry, when people are telling you you are amazing all the time.  You get that by failing.

So on this, the 5th day of the Thing, I would like to devote to some of my favorite failures.

Fail #1.  Gala Luna Blanca, 2010. 

New Year's Eve, 2009-10, myself and a friend who is a highly accomplished opera singer created a duo opera/aerial hoop act.  We sang together in the beginning, the she sang for me while I performed on hoop.  We created this to happen juuuuuust before the stroke of midnight, planning that when I came down, we would immediately start the countdown.

At least I got some good photos out of it.  Thank you Jesse Lenihan!

The audience HATED IT.  New Year's Eve is not the time for weirdly sentimental experiments, and never, never ever fuck with the countdown.  We finished late, missed the countdown, I've never been heckled by an audience more than at 11:59 on New Year's Eve.  I felt so bad for my poor singer, who did a wonderful job of singing what no one wanted to hear.  Plus the volume was waaaay too loud on the mic, and an already powerful voice was amplified into piercing.  

Fail #2:  The Temple Dancers, 2007-2008

My first gig in SF the first time I lived here was a go-go dancing troupe made especially for a new nightclub.  We were supposed to be figureheads of the Goddess, an ode to the sanctity and beauty of the female form.  I was totally into it.  A few months into our operation, our leader got another offer out of town and peaced out, bequeathing our little band of ladies to my charge.  

This girl has no idea that no one cares it
took 2 hours to make this costume.
For a year, I did the scheduling, payroll, rehearsals, shopped endlessly for costuming bits, spent HOURS UPON HOURS of time sewing and creating costumes, and every single moment of it I was scrambling and fighting to keep our positions, always feeling that it wasn't enough.  And I was right.  

The first moment I realized I had vastly misjudged the environment the club wanted to create was when I was on the box and noticed that the projections were close up, slow-motion videos of bare ass flesh shaking hypnotically.  Now I'm not against twerking in the slightest, but that was not what I was there for.  My suspicions were confirmed when I was asked a few weeks later to fire 80% of the dancers because management thought they were too fat, or didn't like something else about the way they looked. I was furious, and filled with shame with every phone call I had to make.  What I had to come to terms with was, if I wanted to represent the sanctity of the goddess, I was in the wrong part of the industry.  Why didn't I just quit?  This was my primary source of income in one of America's most expensive cities.  I couldn't afford to quit.  Imagine going to work after that, pretending that you're not seething in rage.  You probably don't have to imagine, you probably have also done this.

A few weeks later, after I had to fire a bunch of my friends, I and the few remaining dancers were fired anyway, in favor of a well organized local go-go troupe that wasn't trying to portray anything other than beautiful girls who were really good at dancing.  

This girl is starting to figure it out.
From the club's perspective, this was the right call.  This troupe had a leader that was 100% devoted to go-go, years worth of costuming and experience, and most importantly, she wasn't mad, and I was.  Someone mentioned to the owner that he'd just fired someone (me) from their primary income source without a moment's notice.  I was told he had no idea.  

I learned that a nightclub is not the place to demand that people acknowledge the divine feminine.  It is a nightclub.  It will always be a nightclub, a meat market.  No one cares about your ideals in a nightclub.  That's not what nightclubs are for!

I learned to perfectly time in my body what 20 minutes of hardcore dancing feels like.  I learned that if you feel like you have no power and no respect, you are right.  Get out and go somewhere, work for someone, that actually values you.  I also learned, and this is the most important lesson, that I hate go-go dancing.

Fail #3  The Backup Dancing Lip Syncing Show 2009-10.

This is one of my favorite fails.  A 3-girl group of dancers/singers doing covers of popular songs for casinos.  Doesn't sound too bad, right?  As usual I jumped in head first and devoted the next 8 months to making us a success.  I turned down auditions (I was sure I had a sure thing), I created a website for us from scratch.  (I am NOT a website designer.  I just figured it out because we needed a website!)  We rehearsed every single day of the week, in a gym which was in a retirement home's community building.  In retrospect this should have been my first clue.  We choreographed dances to, and no I'm not lying, over 30 covers of hit songs, complete with lip-syncing and back up dancing.  We had a 2 hour damn show, doing everything from Nirvana to country music.

This is my "I'm in a freezing warehouse next
to some old tin and I feel sexy" face
I loved the other two ladies and still do, this fail is not a condemnation of them.  They are both talented performers and have moved on to bigger and better things.  Once again, we were just barking up the wrong tree, and we had made something no one wanted to buy.
We actually ended up having two gigs, a weekend at a grimy little bar in downtown Seattle, in which people came in off the street to make fun of us, and a humiliating run at Snoqualmie casino.  We were paid an absolutely insulting amount of money to do our exhausting 2 hour show in a smoke-filled room, for people drunk beyond all hope.  DUH.  IT'S A CASINO.  What did we expect?  We were no one to them.  We weren't freakin Cher.  We were three chicks dancing around and lip syncing.

The big heartbreak came when we thought we had landed an overseas gig in South Korea, with the USO.  I cancelled every gig, every class, for the entire month of June.  Then the booking agent disappeared.

I learned that if you want to sell something, someone has to buy it.  Don't ignore the 2nd part.  I learned that just because someone has had a career, doesn't mean they know how to lead.  I learned that nothing, absolutely nothing, is real without a contract.  And I learned that people will treat you no better than you demand.  This was the hardest one to swallow- watching three men smirking across the table at us and watching them talk down to my boss, who I respected, as though she were no better than a toddler asking for a cookie.

You will swim, or you will sink.  Don't let the bastards get you down.

1 comment:

Dalta Rex said...

I love this and you. I understand the struggles of sometimes doing things that you think are right at the time and in retrospect, you see that the only reason that you were meant to do those things at that time was so that the goddess could provide a learning situation for the future. I mean, my being a resident aerialist for a drag show was at the time... Um, fun. Career making material? No. There is a Japanese saying "fall down six times, get up seven". The more one fails and learns from these said failures, the closer she/he is to her/his success.