Wednesday, December 24, 2008

New Blog-site for "The Culture Pages"-- check it out!

Hey, Everyone-- I'm moving!

I decided to create a different blog for "The Culture Pages", and start the new year on a blank slate. This year will be a prolific and transformational one, I can already tell.

I received my big check in the mail from the Minnesota State Arts Board-- all of it at once! I can't tell you how affirming it is, to know that the state ... you, my fellow Minnesotans, support me in my art. (Yes, your tax dollars hard at work!) I will do my very best to, well, aspire to the lofty ideals I wrote into my grant.

So won't you please join me, in moving over to my new blogging abode at:

(Press Release-style Summary:)
The Culture Pages is an ongoing collaborative investigation of the evolution of culture, digging up the roots of our generation's sense of disconnection to the natural world.
The creators and cast of this production will use video, puppetry, butoh dance & more, when we present our findings onstage in November 2009.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Branches on the Evolutionary Tree

Thoughts on Race, Culture, and Evolutionary Change....

1. "Race"-- the physical similarities we share with other humans based on our place of origin, is just that: adaptions our bodies have made to survive in a particular place.

2. "Culture" is a collection of norms and behaviors we've evolved over time, recognize as useful to our own survival (ie. rules on how to best cooperate as a tribe) & are transmitted through "traditions" and training to our young. Deeply instilled values grow over generations.

3. Feelings of competitiveness and mistrust between members of different cultures and races have deep roots. Conflicts between different tribes enable one cultural/racial group to win greater access to resources and territory.

4. Because of the travels made by our ancestors, "America" is a mishmash of cultures and races and overlapping/conflicting cultures and values. Over generations, transmissions of traditions and values between grandparents to grandchildren change drastically, as the "main culture" of America makes different demands, and the children see the teachings of their culture to be less and less relevant to what they feel is really needed for them to survive.

5. Children begin to mistrust or disregard their parents' teachings. (And some with very good reason-- as the parents have gotten pretty messed up by their own upbringing!) Culture begins to shift and sway more dramatically and less predictably than ever before. Alongside this phenomenon is the increasing saturation of mass media, and mass marketing. Television and "popular culture" replaces parental messages about traditions and values... the essential problem being that the shaping forces behind the mass media are likely to care less about the child's well-being than the parents do. The child is left on their own to sort out which messages to adopt, and which to reject-- with varying degrees of success.

6. America seems to be a nation of individual, self-created pockets of culture. The population of some areas still has strong cultural ties-- especially in rural areas. In other populations, especially urban, individuals seem to have a very fluid and changing concept of "culture"-- and form much smaller, much more specialized "tribes" within the larger population. They live side by side, but do not intermingle much. It is here that the teaching of "tolerance" between cultures and races has required the effort of these different groups to maintain "peace."

7. The "peace" that exists now in urban America is not really peace. "Tolerance" is different than "Equality", and true Peace is impossible without Justice. Justice = a reckoning, through honest conversation, resulting in greater understanding, acceptance, and compassion on the part of all-- leading to a natural and self-motivated desire for fairness and equality in all aspects of our relationships.

8. We have so far to go. Our inability to truly see other humans as our brothers and sisters is only the first step. It is equally vital for us to see and honor the links and relations between ourselves and our fellow creatures and plants. We are all part of the same tree: this is the tree of life-- literally!

9. We have the intelligence and the ability to think forward, and to re-form, consciously, our cultures to include certain values that are not only for our "tribe"'s benefit, but for the benefit of all. It is within our capacity to know what is "right," for the benefit of the whole. It is possible, through understanding and compassion, to cultivate a natural and self-motivated desire for balance in our relationships to all who live in the branches of this great tree.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Another Beautiful Fall Day

On Monday, having heard that the stock market had plummeted, I thought to myself, "Oh, boy-- this is it!" and was immediately filled with an contradictory blend of regret and acceptance.

Having heard from my grandparents, and read multiple accounts of what the Great Depression was like, that's where my imagination lept. No more teaching art to kids (what kind of trivial, luxurious occupation is that?) = no more income. No more savings (if the banks had folded under), and, in short, nothing but my health & some friends I could turn to. I wouldn't be able to pay rent on my apartment anymore... I only have a few weeks' worth of food stored up in my pantry. What would I do? How would I feel safe in the city, as the cost of basic foodstuff skyrockets, as a black-market emerges to squeeze out the last bits of advantage we might have saved up, in order to elbow our way through this mess, and survive?

My most immediate regret was, "Oh, I really should have pursued my dream while I still had resources available to me-- (to acquire 'ownership' of a piece of land, and begin an eco-art-farm on it)-- If only I'd at least gotten a start on it!" and, "I knew this was coming-- I created an entire performance about my knowing this was coming--(The Survival Pages) and still I wasted my time & procrastinated because my present situation, however much I knew it couldn't last, was too appealing to give up."

Today, as I look through the sunny windows of my apartment, I realize that I really do have a perfect life -- "Perfect", as recently defined in a note by Kim Thompson, as "being able to look your friends in their eyes and to tell them that you tried with your whole heart" (having lifted that quote from a sappy movie she'd watched recently).

I eat good food, full of fresh veggies from my CSA-share (tho sadly, received my last box for the season on Saturday)...
I make enough money to live on, from doing something I actually LOVE and am so well-suited for-- teaching art to kids, community arts projects.
I have so many wonderful and dear friends, who actively practice community-- we help each other out. We have intentional gatherings. We spread the word about what's going on. We're creative, and plucky-- in short, not a bad network to be part of when a crisis actually does go on. (The MayDay Parade really being, in essence, a joyful practice in crisis management-- ;-) )

I feel like this Wall Street crisis is like a kick in the pants, for me personally, to make a decision already & start acting on it:

How does one simultaneously plan for hope & prepare for disaster? This life I have is so good, but leaves me so precarious when this unsustainable Titanic of a market eventually sinks.

This time we are living in is so much like teetering on the brink of all those graphs, showing us scenarios for our choices: Either a sudden crash, or a gradual decline. The longer we continue unrealistically denying the gravity of our situation, the worse the crash is going to be. The sooner we accept this inevitability -- that our fate is inextricably linked not only to global markets (as it now stands) but more importantly, and more honestly, linked to the GLOBE-- this planet & its fragile, fragile systems that we've already taxed to the max.

Obama or McCain? Work for Change or Prepare for the Worst? Keep living in the city, or move to the country & start building my "eco-bunker"-- with the thought in mind that this could then become a place to go, for all my resourceful, plucky friends, once they found it necessary to escape the city, as well.

I heard this quote by Milton Friedman in an interview of Naomi Klein, on Democracy Now last week, as the call to protest the bailout plan was mounting-- explaining how, in times of crisis, these crazy & unjust policies make their way through: Patriot Act, Pre-Approval for the Iraq War, this bailout...

"Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable." -- Milton Friedman, US Prof.Emeritus-Economics, University of Chicago

What I'm wondering is, perhaps it's time that this time of crisis produces real change, on my own part-- and spur me to take action based on the ideas & dreams I've had lying around for awhile, now-- To say, Now is the time to take them seriously. Now before time has REALLY run out...

I also wonder if it's possible, to push our legislators into picking up some of the OTHER ideas that are lying around, waiting to be actualized, and be proactive for once, in promoting them-- rather than waiting for the other side to propose their horrid solutions & being limited to protesting THAT. It doesn't take too much brains to figure out:

a) The entire premise of the market, as it's now configured, is based on non-sustainable and unjust practices. It's been getting further & further out of control, as far as destruction to the planet goes, destruction to our local economies, human rights, and our own ability to have a truly democratic society.

b) The whole thing needs massive reconfiguration in order to survive ITSELF-- to propose sweeping changes that turn the priorities of "the market" into a force that serves THE PEOPLE and THE PLANET-- recognizing that certain things, like fresh water or fresh air, clean oceans or climate-stabilizing forests, are too precious to ever be worth a dollar value. To recognize that by allowing companies to exploit workers in other countries, we are ultimately undermining any progress we made in our own country, hard-fought in the Labor Movement generations ago, to keep our own jobs & preserve a locally-functional & self-sustaining economy. For the political system to somehow gain the guts to admit that the market has long played a heavier role in their decision-making than the "good of the people", and take the necessary regulatory steps to prevent that from being possible any longer (election reform).

c) Yeah, RIGHT. Like people are ever going to have the initiative to find out even these 2 basic, basic truths on their own, as long as the media news (for those who even watch news) has them bought & sold into believing their story & looking past everything that's left out of the story. Yeah, RIGHT... like people aren't eventually going to get tired of hearing "Green this" and "Green that" and eventually slip into the same old lazy, consumptive, & shortsightedly destructive patterns. Yeah RIGHT, like anything short of an all-pervasive, unprecedented BUY NOTHING effort from the American people is going to send the message to Wall Street OR Capitol Hill, that business as usual is no longer an option.

d) If not now, WHEN? (When it's already too late, and all the things we might have done to make a difference weren't done, and you're left with the nagging thought-- Oh, shit... I guess I really should have...)

That's it for now. I'd love to know your thoughts about all this. I'm calling up the Obama campaign to find out how I can help register voters, as part of my own personal d)....

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Top Blog Picks (If you've only a moment to browse)

A quick note--

If you are here to browse this blog & would like guidance, most of the blogs on "development" & the ideas behind the piece are in June/July 2007... (One of the most revealing being the one from July 21, 2007, "Labor Pains".)

Postings after October 2007 are about my November performances, as well as a few about ideas for future work, updates about the Fringe Festival, and a little about how I had to change the piece for this run.

Hope that helps!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

On Chaos, Rules, and Sacred Trees

I went to visit a friend of mine recently, who lives in a different city.

He brought me to a park, where there was an old, sacred tree in the center of the park... offerings placed within its scarred cracks. Old, but alive, and filled with energy from all those who knew of its presence and drew inspiration from it.

When we approached the place where the tree stood, there was an empty patch of bare dirt. Planted next to it was a tiny sapling.

The tree was cut down by the park, presumably because they feared-- because of its age-- that someone would try to climb it, crack a limb, get hurt, and then sue the park for damages...


If you are curious about the ending of my performance, and why it is different than the original "Survival Pages" presented in November, here's the story:

There's a tech director for the Fringe, whose job it is to oversee the technical aspects of people's performances, and work with artists to set guidelines to ensure that performances work within different venue's capacities... presumably, to ensure that artists do not attempt things onstage that would damage the space, the venue's equipment, the performers, or the audience.

A month ago, I spoke with him about the different aspects of my show-- I'm going to have a big pile of dirt (make sure you lay something down on the floor for easy clean up... check) -- I'm going to suspend a wall of newspaper (bring along a self-supporting frame, because you can't hang anything from the ceiling... check) -- and last, I'm planning to bring a second projector, with my own operator who can set up and break down in the 10 minutes I am allowed before and after shows, for the final scene.

(To explain, the final scene ends with the projected image of a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, which becomes part of my body as I walk toward the audience... as in the image above)

To this request, to have a second projector, the answer was a firm and decisive "No" by the Fringe tech director. His justification for the rule, is that he is convinced that it will not work (based on his experience) and that he cannot allow me to "ruin" my show by allowing me to try it. (His letter is below)

Hi Malia,

I can't wink and unofficially let you do this one. I'd agree with you that there's no harm in trying if neither of us had any idea whether it would work, but that's not the case here. This year is my 10th Fringe Festival, which means I've seen what works, and what doesn't, in over 1300 different Fringe shows. I'm 99% sure that setting up a second video projector is not possible to do well during the Fringe, and 100% sure that it's not advisable. With that experience and knowledge, the ethical choice for me, unfortunately, is to disappoint you now, when you have the time to come up with a different plan, rather than in your all-too-short tech rehearsal.

You argue very persuasively that this effect is important to your theme, and understandable to the audience, and is very dramatic. What you haven't convinced me of is that there is no comprehensible, dramatic, and effective way to convey your message without using 2 video projectors. You created this piece under very unusual circumstances, with a lot of funding, tech support, and time. That situation rarely, if ever, comes up outside of universities and fellowships. Professional theater at every level involves compromise. There's never enough time or money to do everything you want, and being able to come up with multiple ideas to work around your constraints is an important part of the process. If you spend the next month working to build a creative and beautiful ending for your show that doesn't jeopardize the whole thing by relying on too much technology in not enough time, you will come up with something that not only works, but may even be better than the first version. Even in the worst case scenario the audience, having never seen the extra video projector, will not know they've missed anything.

I know this isn't the answer you wanted, and I'm sorry, but it is the one that will give you the best chance of a great experience in the Fringe.


So why do I find this so outrageous?

Basically, his reasoning is based on the premise that he knows better than I what is possible during a Fringe Show, and that it's his job to "take care of me" --

Never mind that I have experience of my own (having done this show last November with similar time restraints for the set-up of a second projector), and have proven to myself and to my crew that we can set up a projector in plenty of time to meet the 10-minute deadline for setup and break down. (in rehearsal it took her 5 to 6 minutes, a deadline we practiced several times, with success every time)

If the second projector would have failed, it would have hurt no one, would have no effect on Intermedia Arts' space or equipment. The sole risk faced would be mine, alone, as the creator of a piece that I spent nine months developing, and finding just the right ending for.

To me, the main issue is that this one person has the right, because a projector falls under the realm of something technical, to exercise veto power over this very central and key element of my production... for no reason other than that he wishes to "protect me from my own inexperience" -- believing that this would make my show better. (Never mind that Fringe shows have a reputation of being all over the map, in terms of artistic quality-- being decided by lottery, it is the very spirit of the Fringe that you can present a show, whether it's absolutely terrible, or highly inspirational.)

What gives him the right?

In his letter, he speaks about compromise.

I have no problem compromising with rules that make sense to me.

However, this is my piece, I am the one who knows what is best for my show, and if I were about to "mess up" my show by trying to have this ending the way I intended, why should it matter to him?

To me, I feel like he has cut down my sacred tree, and told me, "Here's a sapling. It's a tree, isn't it? Surely it should be able to replace whatever else you intended to do."

I am filled with anger, grief, and indignation -- not just for my situation, but for all the sacred beauty that is cut down around us everyday, for reasons that just don't hold up, when you consider what is lost in the process. This scenario, to me, is a tiny piece of a drama that's played out every day-- the destruction caused through the actions of those whose cultural world-view requires control, clear hierarchy, order, and obedience... and who view any uprise or challenge to their authority as unreasonable and deserving of being utterly squashed.

He wishes for a scenario that is clean-cut, with no potential for chaos, for accident, for the messes that can happen when plants are allowed to grow the way they are meant to grow, or when artists are allowed to make their own mistakes.

I know I could have done it--
to make this ending fit within the guidelines of "10 minutes in, 10 minutes out"... required by the Fringe to ensure fairness to all performers. I also know, that in a worst-case-scenario, (the projector bulb burned out, the butterfly-image glitched, or things otherwise didn't happen according to plan) -- that I, personally, as the artist and creator of this piece, would have been okay with that.

Yes, I am stubborn.

But the plain fact of it is, is that there is no other ending with the power and meaning of my final scene, as originally done. Believe me, I racked my brain for other solutions, I asked friends, I tried out multiple scenarios, but, in reality, the entire performance rested on the culmination of this final image-- the energy I cast toward the audience with my movements, with the visual power of metaphor-- the simplicity of seeing the butterfly, cast on my chest, embracing its beauty and holding it sacred.

To me, this moment was more than a theatrical end... it was a prayer.

Unfortunately, the debate over having this second projector or not became a battle of egos... He is utterly convinced that I have an obstinate disregard for rules of any sort. I am convinced that he has overstepped his rightful bounds as a tech director.

In the end, I had 2 choices: To drop out of the Fringe, and not do the show at all (at considerable expense, having paid over $700 to make it this far).... or to stay, and let him have his way, and do my best to imbue this new ending with as much integrity as I can...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You...

Photo by Usry Alleyne
Welcome to the blog-site for The Survival Pages !
You'll find all the entries here for the conceptualization and development of this performance, originally created in 2007 for the Naked Stages Program.

The Fringe Festival.

Ah, I question a bit, why I felt so compelled to get this show into the Fringe. The Minnesota Fringe is a scene unto itself-- with over 400 shows across the Twin Cities area over the course of 2 weeks, all vying to get audiences to choose their show over someone else's...

Still, I received so much positive feedback about this performance from audience members who came to the November 2007 debut of this solo show... it seemed a shame to let the nine months of labor boil down to a single weekend, with no returns. So, I've thrown myself into this chaotic Fringe-soup to see what will become of it.

How you can help! (Yes, I need help! -- I've figured out that I need at least 150-200 people to come see this show, just to earn back what I've put into it cost-wise!)
  • Come! And bring friends!
  • Spread the word (especially if you've seen this show or other work of mine & believe in it enough to vouch for it!)
  • Write an audience review on the Fringe website ( there's this "star-rating" system, which most Fringe-goers rely upon to see whether a show is worth going to, in other audience members' opinions.
This performance is a direct and poetic response to all the ecological doomsday countdown we have entered into. It is not so much an effort to inform as it is to feel my own way through the blaring sirens of environmental emergency. It's not your typical Fringe show (if there is such a thing as a "typical Fringe show"...) in that there's not slick sarcasm, non-stop laughs, or charged sexual content... (all the things I've been told "sell" well in a Fringe context). Basically, this show is an attempt to create the kind of show that I wish to see, when I go out for an evening of performance-- a piece that is honest, from the heart, with elements I can recognize from my own life, and that is visually/thematically ripe and juicy.

Beyond getting "Star" ratings, I'm burning with curiosity to know your response & connection to the piece-- so please do consider adding your 2 cents to the Fringe-website's audience review, once the show is up and running!


I've created a short 5-minute preview of the show (check out the link on this page, titled "Survival Pages Preview"). If you're curious about other aspects of my work, I'm about to get my own web-page at (It should be done by the time the show opens...)

Thanks for visiting this blog, and do browse the other postings on this blog to read more about my thoughts and process in the creation of this piece.

PS. Al Gore recently gave an inspirational speech on restructuring US energy policy, now on YouTube-- I highly recommend checking it out! (click on the link, on the right of this page)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

To the Southwest and Back Again...

This is a photo from a short Butoh Dance on the Great Sand Dunes of Colorado.

(If you want to wreak a video camera, bringing it to a place like this is a good way to do it!)

In April, I went on a 3-week road trip with a friend to the Southwest.

If you have never been there before, go... I can't believe it has taken me so long to witness, in person, the gorgeous wildness that exists there.

Some prominent discoveries:
Earthships, a self-reliant, earth-based structure made of old tires, glass bottles, and aluminum cans-- in Taos, New Mexico. I want to live in one someday!

The Hopi Prophecy. As told by Grandfather Martin, the prophecy-keeper. Information which will rattle you to your core. They speak of the coming environmental disasters as "The Great Purification." Even more eye-opening to discover that the prophecies had foretold the coming of the Spanish conquistadors, both World Wars, and the landing of the "Eagle on the Moon"--

Wise Fool New Mexico. A (mostly) female troupe of stilters, aerialists, puppeteers and community artists. Hooray for new connections! They just came to Minneapolis, to perform their piece, "Flexion", which is touring the US. (info not necessarily as pertinent to the The Survival Pages as it is to my other artistic side with Chicks on Sticks and festival arts!)

White Sands National Monument. Where else can you see people sledding in New Mexico, over fields which bombers practice raids by night? Where else can you see a sunset perfectly reflected over miles of powdered crystals? A magic, magic place.

Hot Springs! Need I say more?

Other than a sharing a bit about this trip, I mainly wanted to post the fact that I now have dates for the Minnesota Fringe Festival performances of The Survival Pages at Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave S.... so mark your calendars now! They are:

July 31, 8:30pm
Saturday, Aug 2, 4pm
Sunday, Aug 3, 1pm
Tues, Aug 5, 8:30pm
and Friday, Aug 8, 7pm

And tell your friends!
(The Fringe Show relies on buzz to get any kind of attendance! I've heard it takes people hearing about a show from at least 3 different sources before they will consider going. Word of mouth goes a long way!)

Thanks! And I'll be writing more soon.