Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fun with research!

I've been meaning to write a blog entry lauding the virtues of research for quite some time now.  For me, there is a unique sense of satisfaction in pushing beyond my own assumptions and common knowledge to find aspects of a piece that I didn't even know existed.  The excitement of settling down with a new stack of books (or laptop and search engine, as the case may be) is equaled only by the payoff - new information that can forge a strong connection between two or more disparate elements of the current production.  I can't imagine a better way to ensure creation of a fresh story than to build directly on personal experiences or exploration.  And then, of course, there are the extra, not-immediately-useful tidbits that accumulate as a by-product of the process.  Oddball facts about ancient Egyptian boat building techniques (they used twine to hold the ships together!), "fancy rat" breeding, or current theories on neuroplasticity are a pretty sweet frosting on the research cake.

All silliness aside,  I am always deeply grateful to my information habit when an unexpected deadline looms.  Knowing the material inside and out allows for added innovation and flexibility as new opportunities present themselves or obstacles are encountered.  Maybe someday someone will write an aria about the heady pleasures of research - but probably not me - I'll be too busy learning about rural Oregon history, the relevant physics of asteroid mining colonies or the finer points of Zoroastrian liturgical ceremonies.  

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Arts and Crafts and New Websites

I've been thinking a lot lately about William Morris, the Arts & Crafts movement, and their credo that artisans should design and build their own work.  It was a belief hearkening back to the craft guilds of the middle ages, which they romanticized as a golden age for creativity and personal freedoms; and rooted in a dislike of the increased specialization and mass-production of the industrial age, where workmen were assigned one small aspect of a large, centrally administered project.  It's a concept that applies in some interesting ways to the opera world, where specialization allows for the production of large collaborative works.  If the singers spent the rehearsal process fighting with the director, for example, while the stage-hands were off rewriting the score, we'd all be in a lot of trouble.  But in the entrepreneurial world there is a lot to be said for pitching in at every level of your organization. Now that Heretic Opera has been in business for a few years, I have learned at least a few things about running an arts start-up:

1) The best way to build a new business or organization is to focus on your core mission (in our case, producing new operatic works and finding ways to make them profitable in the marketplace).  When Heretic Opera was first founded, there was some discussion about how to provide the services that are common to more traditional opera houses.  Over time, we realized that the best way we could contribute to our community was to leverage our resources into developing emerging formats and cross-disciplinary ventures.  The bigger non-profits haven't figured out how to maneuver in these fields yet, which gives us a chance to experiment and innovate in a way that's not often available in the classical performing arts.

2) No one is going to be as passionate about building your dream as you are.  While friends and supporters are usually pretty happy to help out in areas they know well (and everyone loves pitching in at the exciting, this-is-so-cool moments), there are going to be a lot of days or even months where it will be only you, in your tiny office (should you be lucky enough to have one), just building the company bit by tiny bit.  There are moments when it is hard to believe the work you're doing will ever make it out into the real world.  So keep yourself and your company moving forward on the core mission.  Here is what will keep you motivated and feeling connected, all those late nights in your office:  the promise that, pretty soon, you will have something cool to share with your project partners.  Maybe even the world, someday.  And then it feels like meaningful collaboration again.

3) While strong creative partners are indispensable, it is best to keep the day-to-day operations of the company well in hand.  When we first needed a website for Heretic Opera, I cajoled someone into designing one for me for free, and another person into maintaining it.  (I am nothing if not thrifty.)  Here was the problem:  it didn't really represent us very well, because we were still evolving the best way to communicate our mission, work, and goals for the future.  Over time, it became more and more impossible to ask people to donate hours to our website updates when they had their own lives to live.  Our website languished, and the multi-media content that we prepared never made it online at all.  I considered hiring someone to build us a new website, but that would have used money intended to support the development of Valentine.  And I still would have had to pay them to make regular updates. So I decided to see what my options were for basic website design on my own.  Much to my surprise, my web host offers a drag-and-drop builder that supports multi-media content.  Who knew?  While the customization options are limited, I was able to build a nice-looking and easily navigable website without too much trouble.  The best part is, I can update it at any time, from anywhere, all by myself.

Like William Morris, I think we all still dream of a golden age for creativity and personal expression.  I don't know if the dream of the medieval craftsman is still attainable, if it even was.  But I do think that with focus, hard work, an understanding of the tools best suited one's hand, it is still possible to create personally meaningful work.  Which is why we all get into this in the first place, yes?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Updating, and Moving Along

Heretic Opera was founded to support the creation of new operatic works, establish a hybrid business model to drive success in the entertainment market, and to be as transparent as possible as we created, experimented, and fine-turned our process.  One of my passions (and the driving concept behind this company) is the idea that artists have a responsibility to share fresh, honest, and innovative stories based on life in the modern world.  I believe that this means that artists should have direct access to the means of creating and producing, as well as financially benefiting from, their own works.  In my experience, young artists are too often taught a form of hyper-specialization that is intended to make them more appealing as a performer for hire, but does not prepare the student with the tools to explore or realize their personal visions.  So I wanted to make my experiences as an arts entrepreneur accessible, in hopes that it would inspire emerging artists to think "well, if she can do that, I bet I could."  What I didn't anticipate is how describing your process as you go can be not only difficult, but actually distracting from the task at hand.  I also didn't realize that there would be long stretches of time where I would be doing work that I considered either too dry or too nebulous to share with anyone.

This year, Heretic Opera is beginning our second recording project and moving forward with a multi-media approach for our first opera, Valentine.  My personal routine is less blog-worthy than that sounds, however - full of research, scheduling, and office work for the foreseeable future.  Still, I hope to be able to find compelling moments to share and shed a little light on the daily life of a start-up opera company.  Or you can always check our Twitter feed.  I'm pretty confident in my ability to write 140-character posts on a semi-regular basis.