I went a little bit out of my element this past weekend and attended a dance theater workshop with one of San Francisco's most passionate artists, choreographer and artistic director Joe Goode. I've seen a few of Joe's performances over the years – most recently "Poetics of Space," which was more of an interactive experience than a performance. Audience members witnessed and participated in outpourings of passion in small spaces with the performers, sometimes as intimate as one-on-one exchanges. For me, the result was transformative. At a time when I've been so frustrated with the rapid change that has been happening in my city, when I attended this performance, I felt that I reconnected with the heart of San Francisco, right in the same location where it always has been, in that one block of Alabama Street between 17th and Mariposa – a community filled with artist studios, experimental theater and dance that has inspired me for decades. It's all still there. Still funky and quirky. Still surprising and inspiring. Still surviving and thriving against the odds.
So when I saw that Joe Goode was offering a workshop called "Start Simple" that was open to everyone, not just dancers or performers, I knew that I needed to go. I needed to heal my heart and soul through a weekend of practicing what Joe calls felt experience and embodied sound.
As a filmmaker, my art is mostly removed from any physical expression, which is probably why I need to balance myself out by practicing dance and yoga in my personal time. When I watch the Joe Goode performers, I'm inspired by how passionate their movement is, and how pure their verbal expression. The slightest touch carries the most profound emotion, and everyday words become unforgettable.
During the fourteen hours we spent during the Start Simple workshop with Joe and one of his dancers Marit Brook-Kothlow, we explored how to create powerful collisions between our words and our movements, how to use our voices in a lyrical way, and how to draw inspiration from our surroundings and add meaning to it. The workshop certainly pushed my boundaries because I am used to hiding in a dark room full of people while my art is projected on a wall. In the edit room, I weave together other people's faces and voices to tell a story, but I'm too afraid to be the one in the spotlight. The truth is – I am petrified of pouring out my soul in front of a group of people. I don't ever want to feel that vulnerable.
I learned a few things this weekend about how to overcome that fear. First, I found it easier to perform with a partner. Realizing that my partner needed me in order to tell his story, I knew I had to be there for him. I also really enjoyed combining movement with spoken word; the release of physical energy relieved my nerves while I told my story.
I learned from Marit that proximity to my audience and making direct eye contact with a few people removes the separation from audience and performers. The performer invites the spectator into a direct conversation, which doesn't seem artificial at all, and much more like the way we normally communicate with everyone we meet in our every day lives. We are no longer on stage and being judged. Art is no longer out there and something that they do, but something we embody and feel.
Joe led us through some writing exercises that would help us shape our stories. Although I felt a little guilty over the subjects he asked us to write about (people in our lives), I realized later that I can parlay this technique into whatever I write, sing, dance or make films about. For example, in personifying the Earth, I dive deep into my relationship with her. What would she say are my greatest misgivings? If I could change one thing about her, what would it be? And how do I communicate this story to others? How do invite people to enter that space with me? Such techniques for dance and theatrical expression can be translated into film of any genre about any subject. And I look forward to doing more of that.
The bottom line is this: I was drawn to the workshop because I have been feeling frustrated. I've been angry about what is happening in San Francisco and I wanted to participate in the City that I cherish. I dove into the creative process of Joe Goode, and the repercussions of this weekend will continue to ripple throughout my life and work. I'm grateful to live in a city where I can explore new pathways into the soul and touch the creative energies of great artistic shepherds.
Thank you Joe and Marit for an incredibly mind-body-soul expanding weekend right here at home.