The most compelling reason I can think of to get a graduate degree in fine arts (because everyone is always looking for at least one reason) is that you get the opportunity to learn how to work with the challenge of other brains. Granted, sometimes the challenge is meaningless, like when you are sitting around in a workshop or critique and every single person has to say something so someone says, “Why don’t you tell the story from the perspective of the underwear?” But when you find another brain you trust, that understands what you are trying to do but can come at it from a different direction, whether it belongs to another student or a teacher or a guy you met on MUNI, then you’ve discovered art-making gold, maybe life-making gold in general.
Of course, you don’t need to get an MFA to find people to collaborate with. But it helps (or at the very least, it helped me). Collaboration can be as little as having someone look at your painting and say, “did you mean for that to look like a giant penis?” and as much as spending every day with ten people for six months writing and performing a musical about the Arab Spring. The point is that unless you are a crazy genius living alone in the woods, one of the most important things I’ve learned about making art that other people want to experience, is that usually it takes at least two people.
Because this is the Bay Area, opportunities to witness collaboration and participate by sitting in an audience and laughing, crying or squirming, are everywhere.
On Thursday June 9 and Friday June 10, Kirk Read is hosting Formerly Known As at the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco. In its third year, this festival of performance pieces by male and trans sex workers is all about collaboration in more than one way. According to Read: “…collaboration is particularly important for male and trans sex workers since we tend to be such lone wolves in our working lives. I went on a hooker trip to Los Angeles with Philip Huang, one of this year’s performers…TT Baum and his partner Jed do collaborative performances all the time… Krylon Superstar is performing this year as part of his duo Double Duchess. The festival has definitely moved away from just solo performance toward artists who work together.”
I once saw Kirk dress up like Carol Brady covered in blood and do a monologue about murdering the Brady family so I can only imagine how insane and awesome he will be with the help of other brains. Tickets start at $10 and the show starts both nights at 8 pm.
If you want to experience another kind of crazy multi-brain magic on June 10, Literary Death Match will be destroying the Elbo Room in San Francisco from 7 to 9 pm. According to Executive Producer Alia Volz, LDM, a competitive reading series with celebrity judges which has internationally presented 131 shows in 36 cities, is collaborative on every level. This is collaboration under fire, with celebrity judges, the readers and the audience all coming together to create something no one could choreograph even if they wanted to. According to Volz, “The writers bring basically incomparable worlds to the stage. How will the judges of our June match choose between blind memoirist Belo Cipriani and accomplished performance poet Paul Corman-Roberts? Impossible! The styles are too different… Every episode is a rollercoaster.”
So get on the rollercoaster and watch out for flying pies. Tickets are $7 in advance and $10 at the door.
If you want to do more aerobic audience work, check out the Reading of Golden Dreams & Everywhere Man Sneak Preview at Bird & Beckett Books and Records on Thursday June 16 in San Francisco. This event celebrates two project from Invisible City Audio Tours, a group that produces self-guided walking audio tours incorporating literature, art and geography. Even though the audio tour they will be previewing, “Everywhere Man,” was written by only one person, Jim Nelson (that one person) says the whole project is and will be very collaborative. A group of artists will be creating hand-drawn maps, photographs, an accompanying book, and original music. Nelson says that even the process of writing the story itself was collaborative, with friends giving him ideas which ended up in later drafts: “Why I like this is because it’s not that the story was designed by committee, but rather influenced through some observations by people I was working with. And there’s another aspect of collaboration that’s important: these are people I respect as people as well as for their talents, and that pushes me to produce the best work I can. Who wants to be the weak link in the chain?”
So go to a couple of readings this month and be the final (most important?) brain in the room, the thing that all artists need most of all: someone watching and participating in the art they create.