Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Library of the Human Imagination

Jay Walker has his Library of the Human Imagination, I have my studio.
Sure, it's a studio, I have microphones and digital recording interfaces, but I keep all that stuff in an old armoire; mostly my studio is all about being inspirational.
One of my favorite places in the world is the campus at UCSD. One of the reasons I love it so much is because they have so many  things there simply because they're thought-provoking - things like talking trees and teddy bears made out of boulders, they designed the whole place to elicit lofty thinking, which of course makes sense in that it's an institution of higher learning.
I built my studio based on that same philosophy. It's a place to inpire my thoughts and imagination, to record my performances, and to give me a good place to pace while I'm thinking.
Because it's supposed to inspire my thoughts, I'm all the time adding things to my collection of artifacts.
My latest addition is a display of two velociraptor skeletons, locked in combat. Unlike Jay Walker, I don't have a real raptor skeleton, mine are plywood 3-D models. I placed them on a shelf above the door and illuminated them with LED Christmas lights. I think they're pretty cool.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Project Development

I've already booked a showing of my Summer Reading Program for 2012: Les Voyages Fantastique. Which got me thinking - I better send out my postcards, libraries seem to be booking the summer pretty early.
And besides getting the postcards out, I'd better write the show.
I'm trying a new creativity technique to develop this show. Recently I read about a thing called a Mood Board.
I am very adamant about consistency in my programs. The music, the stories and the in-between patter, it all needs to follow a consistent theme and flow nicely from one thing to the next. In Les Voyages Fantastique, my idea is to develop several stories, people them with the same characters, and link them all into a single forty-five minute monologue. In as much as I'm taking material from various sources - Andrew Lang, the Grimms, Baron Munchausen and Hollywood; I want a consistent feel through out the entire program.

This is where the mood board comes in. You paste pictures, drawings, colors, textures and ideas, things that develop the look and feel of a project onto a big board. Whenever you start designing an aspect of a project you refer to the mood board for direction. If you need inspiration on your project, refer to the mood board. If you find something that adds to the look and feel of the project, add it to your mood board.
Now, this is a storytelling project, which is a language art, and besides body language and presentation style, there isn't a visual design component - but there is.
I see the stories in my head, and I tell you what I see, and when you hear my words you see the story in your head. I want to portray the story in a specific way, to describe a particular look and feel. Not only does this color the way I tell the stories, but it also steers me in deciding which stories to tell.

I started the board with the flying ship that I drew from Ed Emberley's Big Purple Drawing Book. The ship has a specific look and feel - the colors are purple, gray and black, the textures are reminiscent of a Jim Shore sculpture, the shapes are whimsical and exaggerated, together these items describe a specific kind of story and a specific style of telling.
I chose the name Les Voyages Fantastique with Jules Verne in mind, but I look at what I have and Jules Verne doesn't fit. The project started with the Fool of the World and the Flying Ship and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. With that in minds, coupled with the colors and textures of my flying ship, there is another Frenchman whose work does fit the project - George Millies, so I added his moon to the board.

I've added drawings, textures, colors and pictures to the board, but I've also discarded things: I started to add the "Daring Escape" picture from my King Kong cards, because this is about adventure, but it didn't work. The colors are bold and the action it describes is nail-biting, it simply doesn't work here. Instead I added a picture of a Victorian-era soldier riding a zebra - this definitely fit the feel of the project.

I have six months to write the program, which might seem like  a lot of time, but a project like this could easily get away if not cared for. The mood board is definitely a tool that will inspire me and keep me on a path to a really great show. I already get the sense that it's a tool I will use again.

Friday, December 2, 2011

MC Show

I've got a big MC gig tomorrow. Over the last couple of years I've been getting a lot of opportunities to MC at music festivals, but this one is very different.

First of all, it's bitter-sweet, this particular hootenanny is because a good friend died. I think, should I be more solemn, or my own bigger-than-life self? But, Allen was a fan, and he liked my over-the-top self, so I think the theme (for me anyway) is to thine own self be true, he would've wanted it that way.

Secondly it's a rush - fifteen performers in four hours - whew!

The weird thing about MCing is that you have to tell someone else's story - many people's stories.  And it's tough, it takes a lot of research and a lot of practice.

In the end, it's a lot of fun, I don't call myself an MC, I call myself a host. I think it's my job, to not only intro the performers, but to keep the audience hot during the break, and that's where the fun is. Kind of like Johnny Carson.

I won the lottery

People win the lottery all the time. In fact, I won the lottery...

As a working performer I get hit with a lot of things saying: "You should be listed in our web directory, all the big bookers book from our directory."

In my day job I'm a business software engineer, I write software that records people's voices, analyzes the spoken sounds into digital computer commands and uses those commands to operate complex financial back-end systems (it's actually a lot more complicated than it sounds), and I recognize the difference between an anecdotal analysis and real numbers.

Whenever I get a request to join a web directory I ask for real numbers:
"So, you want me to pay fifty dollars a year to be listed in your directory. On average, how many bookings a year do your clients receive, as a result of being listed in your directory?"
"I got my last three gigs through the directory."
"That's anecdotal. I'm making an investment, I need to know what my possible ROI is going to be before I can give you my money - fifty dollars is a lot of money to a performer."
"But, I got my last three gigs through the directory."
"Let me put this another way. Considering my time investment, advertising and supplies, I need to work three gigs to repay that fifty dollars. If you have X number of people using your directory then I need to know if three times X gigs a year are being booked through your directory."
"I got three gigs through the directory."
"Did the average performer listed on your directory get three gigs?"
"I don't know."

When the California State Lottery started the smallest prize a person could win was five dollars. I don't know what the smallest prize is today because I haven't played since I won. At the time, the chance of winning a prize, any prize, was one in fifty-six. I played for sixty-one weeks in a row and won five dollars.
When the subject of conversation invariably turns towards cloud-talk (you know: "what I would do if I won the lottery?"), I regularly tell people, "I won the lottery."
"You did, then why are you still working?"
You see, I did win the lottery, but it cost me sixty-one dollars to win five, not a very good ROI. Then at least I knew the facts: that the odds of winning the big prize were one in thirteen-million, and the odds of winning any prize were one in fifty-six, and I still came out behind the odds.

The fact that I won the lottery, and that many people win the liottery, is anecdotal, it's meaningless. What's meaningful is statistics.
You see, being listed in a directory may or may not be a good thing, but who knows? Maybe everyone is booking through your super-cool directory; but you don't know that, and that means I'm buying a pig in a poke and I don't even know what  a poke is.
My work as a performer is just that: work. I have to treat it like a business and that means being logical with my investments. I would shell out money left and right to be listed in directories if they could tell me what kind of results others are getting.

(---Warning, this is not an endorsement of any web service, It's simply a statement of fact ---)
I should mention that ConcertsInYourHome.com actually offers you a guarantee. They can't give you real numbers either, but they do say that if you honestly put your back into it, build and promote a proper profile, and you don't get a gig, then they'll give you your money back - that seems pretty fair considering a lack of statistics.

I did play the lottery one more time. I once got a fortune cookie that literally said I would win money in a lottery, so I ran down to the store and played the numbers on the back of the fortune - I lost.