Transcending Medium Emily Bate. Photo by Kristin Goehring

Transcending Medium

The Practice of Failure

Right now the world is in dire need of a lot of different things, but in my opinion one of them is for more women’s voices to be heard in the public. When I heard that musician Emily Bate has a theatrical choral project with a women’s chorus I got so excited! She’s a killer singer-songwriter, composer and “harmony fanatic” whose ethos I really connect with. If that weren’t enough, Emily’s choral arrangements really remind me of some of my all-time favorite vocal groups like Kate and Anna McGarrigle and The Roches. Both of these bands are comprised of sisters whose voices just blend together naturally. One of Emily’s current projects includes Going Down Mount Moriah, a theater piece based around a 9-voice women’s choir. As far as I know Emily doesn’t have any sisters in this choir, but combined the women’s voices come out sounding like they’re siblings who’ve been making noise together for many years. I’m delighted that Emily has opened up about her experience going from singing and songwriting to leading a hybrid theatre project.

-Mira Treatman, curator

So I want to say a few things about working between, amongst, around, and in the thick of different disciplines, and to talk about my little explorations in that regard.

My background is music—specifically, the DIY singer-songwriter scene. I put out my first album on home-duplicated cassette tape at age 15, and for years after that I made records in my bedroom, played house shows, and went on tour. By my late 20s, I’d run through that cycle so many times that boredom had set in hard. I was rewriting the same songs and singing them with less and less conviction.

I found my work so stale I’d slink off to play shows in secret, not even bothering to tell my friends. Then I’d play very boring sets to a bunch of nice people who deserved to see art that at least one person in the room gave a fuck about, and hurry home as fast I as I could to groan on my couch.

All sorts of things drive an artist to make work. In the deep throes of musical ennui, surprising myself became the only measure of success I cared about. I started writing little short stories, micro-short, just trying to make myself laugh or dazzle myself by revealing something true I hadn’t considered before. If a sentence made me shake my head and say “Emily, you are a complete freak,” I kept working on it. I didn’t consider myself a “writer”; I was just tinkering around, playing with little sentences with casual absorption, like a kid would play with toy trains.

I put some of these shorty short stories into a zine, my favorite amateur-driven form. Actually it was a zingle (a zine + a music single). You download the music, and then read the writing that goes with. The word “zingle,” which I invented, was so delightful I immediately wanted to make another one. And performing the zingle live, by interspersing the songs and the stories, was my first big, exciting, interdisciplinary “aha!” It was nerve-wracking to read stories out loud, but then I’d retreat to the safer territory of songs. The experiment had an exciting result: the quality of the audience’s attention was palpably different when I mixed writing and music. The quality of my attention was different, too. The ideas in both elements leapt out into the room, buzzing with possible connections, like a performance collage.

At that point, the floodgates kinda flew open. In a year, that zingle transformed into a 9-person choral theater piece.

Here’s the bridge between a little xeroxed pamphlet and a big staged show with choral arrangements. I got from A to Z, basically, by witnessing and participating in art of other disciplines and learning little bits about how different people make work. I went to see dance, theater, visual art, and performance art, instead of just folk shows. And I became a collaborator on other people’s projects. When I started creating music for theater, for instance, I got to shed the idea (very prevalent and annoying in the singer-songwriter world) that a song is primarily a personal statement of feeling. The songs I wrote for the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz were freer and wilder than the things I’d been writing before, since I was concerned only with being a frightening green villainess.

I gained so much by experiencing artistic process in other disciplines. It wasn’t always easy – in theater it’s completely normal to perform a work-in-progress that’s so egregiously unfinished you might stop mid-sentence and say “Now skipping ahead two scenes . . .” I co-wrote a musical, and every time we had a work-in-progress showing, I felt like I had peed my pants onstage and was pointing to the stain the entire time. Eventually it sunk in that these showings are a convention in theater, and everybody in the audience knows that. But nobody ever did that in the music world. Surviving that process, and seeing the positive effect it had on what we were making, was a big mental shift for me.

I think we’re all familiar with anxiety around being bad at something. But circling back to the writing I did for my “zingles,” creating something outside your discipline is an exciting chance to play in that anxiety and push through. Since I’m not an actor, I’m not devastated if I don’t act well. If somebody asks me to act, I say “fuck it” and see what happens, without feeling overly exposed. It is an opportunity to safely practice failure, since I will certainly fail many times in my primary discipline.

The failure practice allowed me to be creatively ambitious again. I wanted to create a theater piece with music and movement, and I didn’t know what I was doing. It wasn’t a painless process—the giant roiling knot of out-of-my-league anxiety was a big thing—but the fresh air I’d gulped in as a collaborator had helped me cultivate bravery. I plunged forward in some combination of curiosity-plus-anxiety, and it produced lots of work. I think my ideal creative state is a tightrope walk between the two. If, inside of a challenging and high-stakes moment, you can become really present and interested in the outcome, whatever it might be, you’re onto something.

Plus, here’s the great part: nothing’s wasted! Whatever didn’t work out as planned is information to use next time.

Which brings me to how I’ve started to evaluate the creating process, once I’ve finished something. After I make something new, I’m really interested in 1) how the piece worked out in the world and 2) how it felt to make it. When combatting self-doubt, encouraging yourself out of a creative slump, or battling other creative demons, how it feels is a really important consideration. For instance: I created a really rich piece of theater that connected with the collaborators and the audience. It entailed emptying my bank account, not sleeping for 3 weeks, and walking around with the sensation that my head was clamped in a vice. After my show ended, I spent some analyzing how those sacrifices felt as I was making them. It was important not to trick myself into giving a particular answer, or judge myself for what I actually want. It’s all information I can use to change or commit to my process, and keep myself working for the long haul.

I know that a major criteria for my sense of success will always be chasing the spark of surprise. I can’t think of any reason to create something otherwise. The surest way I know to find that surprise is by stretching myself sideways, into other artistic worlds, and playing in the spaces in-between.

Catch Emily Bate and collaborator Erin Markey at L’Etage on August 24th, in a buddy comedy performance project masquerading as a night of duets. The show, called “Hey Girl! That’s My Girl!” features a full band. For tickets & info visit emilybate.com.

long-exposure-flash-light_small

Transcending Medium

On Changing Bodies and Art Mediums

I have known Zornitsa Stoyanova for just a few months now, but I’ve been seeing her work in dance performance and film/media for much longer. Most recently. I was enraptured (“I saw” just seems too bland) by her dance film dark matter, screened at <fidget>’s Fall Experimental Music Festival. Aesthetically; of course, it was exquisite. But I was more captivated by incredible, somehow inherent meaning by manipulating Mylar with her body (and later the film via editing). The Mylar and her body transcended their culturally associated meaning, although I am not able to verbally articulate exactly that their meaning became for me. Her work completely transfixed me; and so, quite simply (and selfishly), I wanted to see more.

-Kat Sullivan, curator

I was four months pregnant when I produced my most ambitious project to date—an evening-length dance installation event for five performers and ten audience members called shatter:::dawn (May 2013). Like every self-producing artist, I did everything for it: costumes, lighting design, set, and performance. I was obsessed with light and reflectivity and used Mylar to create the set.

By the time Fringe Festival started in September, my body—a big house of flesh—was waddling down the street in pain. My overly flexible hips were pinching nerves deep in my pelvis, the pain worse than natural birth itself. After getting chiropractic adjustments, I was able to sit, walk, and sleep, but dance was off the table. For the rest of the year I put my creative energy into making baby mobiles and rearranging the house. I knew that I would take a break to give birth, but never expected a whole shift of interest and medium.

As 2014 rolled in, I wanted independence from the small human sucking me dry every three hours. Despite my healing vagina, breasts heavy with milk and the extra belly flesh having a mind of its own, I wanted to dance. Trying to pick up where I left off, I went to rehearsal with the Mylar from my shatter:::dawn set. I was hoping to discover something new, to exercise, and to find a way to create another performance. But I was so sleep deprived that the first couple of rehearsals were mostly indulgent solo naps. That plus the added cost of rehearsal space made it obvious that I needed someone to be accountable to. I started filming myself and inviting friends to improvise together. We did a few shows with these improvisations, but most of the time I found myself behind the lens. I was certain this documentation would lead me to my next choreographed work, but instead the photos and videos took off by themselves. Upon seeing my images on Facebook, an acquaintance from high school invited me to participate in a large photo exhibit in my native Sofia, Bulgaria. It was completely unexpected.

shatter:::dawn 2013 – flyer and picture of the set. The set photo was one of four that was selected for the European Month of Experimental Photography in Sofia, Bulgaria, Oct. 2014. Photos by Zornitsa Stoyanova.

For the rest of that first year as a parent, rehearsal times were sparse. It was so expensive to pay for a studio and a babysitter, so photography quickly turned into my art outlet. It required much less time than creating performance. Often, I would put my son down for a nap and run to the basement to try some long exposure photos. This was when nap time was about an hour and I had to do laundry, cook, clean, and steal some time for art. I started calling these “experiments in light.” It took me many months to realize that I was taking selfies. There was no compositional reason behind it; it was due to the fact that I had no space, no money, and no time—just myself.

long-exposure-fiber-optic-lightlong-exposure-flash-light

One gloomy January day in 2015, I walked into rehearsal with the decision that I would make a film. I had babysitting all day, which made this idea possible. After months of judging every tourist, I had finally given up and purchased a selfie stick. I knew that I wanted to work with moving background and stationary body; beyond that, I just improvised. It was the first time I shot anything using the selfie stick. At the end of rehearsal I had about 20 minutes of footage. I went home and started playing with editing. The footage was horrible. I thought back to shatter:::dawn’s flyer where I creatively hid my nudity by mirroring my image, and this got me obsessed with symmetry. In less time than I had labored with my son, the first short film Chrysalis was born.


Note: Shot on my mobile phone, Chrysalis has been shown at 2016 Philadelphia Screendance Festival, Outlet Dance Project Dance on Film Festival, Movies by Movers, The Iron Factory Dance on Film Festival and Vox Populi Gallery.

One day my husband, also an artist, mentioned how the Mylar photos were much more exciting and mysterious than the long exposure ones and that the medium could be pushed further. He was right. I hadn’t fully understood Mylar’s potential, its behaviours with light and the imagery it could create. I became interested in how it has a life of its own; an inorganic material, when mirrored, created organic and obvious (to me) maleness or femaleness. I was mesmerized by the alien vagina creatures and kept pushing it further in both the film and still images.

Now I’m using a lot more time in making my film and editing. Inhabiting a shape shifter birthing body has influenced me tremendously, making me seek images of abstracted explicitness and sensuality.


My body and mind are not the same as three years ago. I’ve produced an organ (placenta) that was discarded; I produced a human and gallons of milk. Now my breasts are stretched and empty, my stomach muscles separated. My vagina is scarred and my mind split, one side always thinking about the frustrated little screams and stomping feet of my toddler. Thanks to my residency at The Fidget Space, my performance project, three years in the making, is finally going to happen the last weekend of April 2016. My piece is not going to be about the Mylar from 2013, it will be about my experience as a female body. For the first time as an artist I’m weaving personal narrative into the show and I’m excited and scared.

As part of this show I’m also doing a solo visual art exhibit for First Friday in Old City.* That exhibit will include some of my photography and videos and will be a small fundraiser for the show later that month. I need very little money to put on the solo, and I’m hoping that some of the proceeds would go towards creating a small residency for mother-performance artists at Mascher and The Fidget spaces.

Being a mom has not gotten easier, but I’ve gotten better at managing my time. With every image I take and video I shoot I learn something new about digital art. I’m ever-curious about abstraction and perception of the human/female body and continue to explore how it works in live performance and visual art.

play-with-niko

2014 nighttime play photoshoot with my son.

I leave you with a tease from my latest dance short—Legs Apart.

To all the mom artist out there—be brave and keep breathing. It gets easier over time. Paying someone to watch your child while you sleep is worth it. And don’t be afraid to become something else entirely.

* Editor’s note: due to 1fiftyone gallery + performance space being temporarily shut down, Stoyanova’s gallery show has been cancelled. She will be holding a crowdfunding campaign, for which she will post details on her website.

Franz Kafka etching by Jan Hladík

Transcending Medium

Hearing the Work Aloud and Following Narrative Threads

I chose Valerie Fox for Curate This because her work, whether dark or whimsical, is always sparked with surprise and humanity. She has an affinity for randomly encountered things, such as found objects and pieces of text, and with her darting consciousness she finds amazing ways of stitching her chance finds together. A Drexel University professor, poet and fiction writer, blogger, manuscript developer, and artistic collaborator, she continues to dazzle in many realms.

– Lynn Levin, Poet

In these pieces I am trying to follow through more on the narrative threads that I often include in my poems. I am trying to explain more, give more detail. Also, I started to hear the work aloud and think about it as something to be performed.

The pieces involve a lot of free association and twists (which I started to think of almost as events unfolding or being conjured up in a play). I also am starting to realize I may be returning to a style I tried when I was much younger. The voice here feels less like the personae in my poems, and more like someone walking out and starting to talk on a stage. I am fond of meta-fiction (in its many manifestations) and that’s here too. Part of my poetry-writing process involves getting to a place where I trust the voice. A big goal here was to get to that place in work that wasn’t poetry.

Here is my story, magic not included

You see this outline of a person, crouching behind glass in a storefront. It used to be a place selling shirts and ties. Now there are old things and some antiques. Handmade linen baby gown, Depression glass cake plate, silver cigarette case. Her paws want to grab that cake plate and hold onto it.

This storefront is the center of a world. It’s not an alcove. The storefront connects money and food. Let’s say this is about me since it is. The items in the storefront are clues hiding in plain sight, all about me. I thought this was a minor incident and that I’d have trouble remembering it. Or, I thought it was a too troubling incident and I’d have trouble remembering it.

Back then there was a picture in the living room of a ship tossing about in a stormy sea. That’s how I got the idea I was a sea-vessel. I had some musical phrases in my head about that picture. One was like a quote from Marie Antoinette. I was all dissipated.

In the middle of this story I have to back up in my own footprints.

A friend of mine who hated me half the time made up this game. I would be blindfolded and pluck plastic eggs from her basket, known as the Basket of Fortune. The one I usually plucked was purple and turned you into a monkey, no, it just makes you think you are a monkey.

I didn’t like talking on the telephone but was nevertheless always waiting for a call—The Call.

I had this car when I was nineteen that was maroon but everyone called it brown. It came with a postcard attached to the rearview mirror featuring the famous wide-eyed stare of Franz Kafka. Every time I looked in that mirror I saw this haunted and cloudy face. I probably should have discarded that face, but, I had a pretty fair idea that to do this would be wrong. Wrong so you shouldn’t do it like how you aren’t supposed to clip the tag off a mattress or kill a praying mantis.

Poverty may be relative. So may affection. Religion plays an important part in my life. At age ten, it made me keep wanting to look back. Luckily I never turned into salt. I just kept falling over my feet. That’s what head over heels means. But all I really wanted was a live bird.

I kept wanting this specific live bird I never got. I eventually did get a sense of renewal when I decided to let the musical phrases out of my head. I put them on pieces of paper and glued them all over telephone poles, mailboxes, corner fences, and public restroom walls.

Are these the right streets crossing one other or going one way and not the other? I can’t tell, I don’t go back there much. If I get some money I will try to go there.

I am a wrecked ship.

Con Spirito

There was once a girl who liked to sing. She sang about 60% of her waking hours. She loved her violin teacher who had a positive attitude and heart-warming way to say things, like: Pop out your wrist, Imagine you are a deer, If you don’t eat it is okay to skip your practicing, Play music with your friends, Sing out the notes!

Well, the girl doesn’t like to practice playing her violin lately, or yet, or at least a lot, despite it all. But she likes her regal instructor’s advice. She likes being in the middle of things like songs and improv-ing and warming up for the next number.

She has decided to play with eyes closed. She also likes to walk and play at the same time. Yesterday she tried playing and hopping. In her head she imagines lines being drawn between lots of different kinds of notes and some sparks going off.

She doesn’t wish to be the subject of any kind of debate.

There’s this other thing about the girl. When she sees some people, she can see how they will die. How a person will die appears across their forehead in words. If the person has on a hat, the girl cannot read their future. She also cannot read her own future, even if she sees herself in a mirror.

She sees the words with about half of the people she meets. She is informally conducting a study to determine why she sees the futures of some but not others. As far as she can tell, she is more likely to see the words on the faces of strangers.

Once she got on a train and everyone on the train had “train-wreck” written across their faces. At the next stop she got off. She is old enough to take the train by herself, all alone. She puts that into a song.

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Transcending Medium

night slip: A Poem by Julius Ferraro

Transcending Medium is a prompt which asks artists to create a work of art in a non-preferred medium and treat it as critically as they would a project in their chosen field. I chose poetry, which I haven’t touched since college, but thought was close enough to my preferred medium that I could treat it critically.

i

The wide open sky.
Sky as broad and blank as the earth
As the sky
a great, wet sky
wet sky

when
open
we
lose
legs
all
around

ii

Not rightly.
What is a play without a vision.
What is a vision without a dollar.
What is a dollar without a passion.
What is a passion without a body.
What is a body without a liquid.
What is a liquid without a pool.
What is a pool without a cutting oar.

I wear these sunglasses
sometimes
but
they
aren’t
hiding
anything.

I
want
to
reduce
                     you
to a
powder just by looking at you.

there
are
many
                     flies
thought
the
same
once

there
are
many
                     flies

that
much
is
true

how
to
write
to
someone
other
than
myself.

1

Poetry of the moral Universe,

I got seven glimpses of the same thing at the same time.

Hot motion peace has no place.

Growl at it

Slant not known

Guns are significant

Where the whores won’t go.

Encounter night slippage

men have curves

yet everywhere

cooked brass shapes on my night eyes blue yanked out on grids blue whale harmonics

taking up two taking up.

Looking out over the arc

A pitcher of pounce

(god grant me)

Brought on blue wails

. The great American wails.

2

I we don’t half open think

around ten tonight

I’ll be here

it’s a
kind

of
sleepiness:

on to
brighter
ways

the earth is
still yet
he stands before me living

. is
what
you like.

a brief
a moment
all a dreamy rules

somewhere else, you see
a hand, he take
an exit

. violence
meticulous
. a deliberate
. a cheese sandwich.
where

I have hands
(see through white)
(and peruse online catalogs)
skin why
that says it all.

spreadsheets
for everything
delights

night cats on blue paper the Finnish product is awful kind.

3

Seven glimpses
he’s talking about

poetry
that doesn’t rhyme
isn’t a vegetable

inside joker Orlando
the greener pastures
the one that’s true

I read
too much
( )

I read
too much
( )

I read
too much

that much is true

the hot hands a clinical approach a God it’s hot a many kind a people

Coherent form

the next good thought

Julius Ferraro is a journalist, performer, playwright, and administrator based in Philadelphia. He is co-founder of Curate This, has served as theater editor of Phindie, and writes for thINKingDANCE, Philly.com, The Smart Set, and the FringeArts blog. His recent performances include Micromania, The Death and Painful Dismemberment of Paul W. Auster, and The Mysteries of Jean the Birdcatcher with {HTP}, On the Road for 17,527 Miles with 14th Street, and his Phindie Fringe Bike Tours. With the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program’s Restored Spaces Initiative he coordinates community-led environmental arts projects.