Life of Art interview: Kevin T. Houle

Who are you and where is “here” for you right now? 
I’m a husband and father, part-time office administrator, and community theatre director living in St. Paul, MN. I sit at a computer most of the day and put my organizational and administrative skills to work for a company that assists radio stations sell commercial time to regional and national advertisers. My artistic outlet is directing plays for local community theaters.
Is "community theater director" code for rabble rouser? You decide!

What is your creative practice and what have you learned from it?

I’ve been involved in theatre in one form or another since I was 14 years old. I’ve worked onstage, backstage, in administration, and production. Over time I completely lost my taste for performing and being in front of an audience, and after trying my hand at all the different aspects of theatrical production, I discovered that I’m at my creative best when I can help actors make discoveries in rehearsal which can lead to evocative, memorable moments in performance. I also learned that directing, like other disciplines, straddles a line between craft and art, and while I can always strive to master my craft, the eye of the beholder is what defines it’s artistic merit.
Where do you find inspiration?
Is “everywhere” too general of an answer? Reading, people, nature, TV, music, elite athletes, my wife’s dedication to her job (she’s an elementary school teacher), my daughter’s smile – they can all provide inspiration and motivation. One that that really gets me energized is reading about  the process other artist’s go through, because we all share the process of creation, but that process is as individual as the art being produced. I’m a firm believer that a quality process will lead to a quality product.
How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?
In community theatre, those barriers often involve limited financial resources, so it usually takes a more involved planning process to come up with creative ways to produce quality theatrical experiences that don’t cost and arm and a leg. That process demands strong and constant communication with your designers and production staff. With actors in rehearsal, it’s a lot of trial and error and I will suggest alternative ways to say a line or play a scene until we find the best way to communicate things clearly.
How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?
I’ve cut back significantly on the number of productions I’m involved with and have become pretty choosey about what kinds of projects I’ll take on. Significant time in between shows and time spent with my family always reenergize and regenerate my creative impulses.
What does success look like to you?
For me success is watching actors make discoveries in rehearsal – figuring out the playwright’s intent and then choosing the most entertaining and interesting way to communicate that to an audience. Helping and guiding actors through that process is what defines success for me as a director. It’s nice if the show is financially successful and/or well-reviewed, but I consider it a success if the actors found the process of putting it together to be a fun, challenging, and rewarding experience.
What do you want people to know about you and your work?
By doing most of my work in community theatre, I’ve been able to work on a broader range of productions than a lot of professional directors. I’ve directed a wide range of dramas, comedies, musicals, and children’s shows. I’ve done full-length plays, one-act plays, and 10-minute plays. I’ve directed plays by Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Noel Coward, Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, Woody Allen, Horton Foote, George Bernard Shaw, and many, many others. Community theatre has allowed me to share a professional sensibility and process with people who might be theatrical newcomers or veterans. Professional and semi-professional theatre can sometimes be quite insular and self-important, but community theatre allows anyone to be involved in one of the world’s oldest and greatest art forms – whether as a participant or an audience member.
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Thanks for sharing your perspective, Kevin! I love that community theater is an “everybody in the pool” kind of endeavor. It convinces me even more deeply that anyone can have a satisfying creative life if they’re willing to make the time for it.
You can find Kevin on Twitter — follow @kevinhoule.

Life of Art interview: Jane Devin

Nonfiction writer Jane Devin has just self-published her first memoir, Elephant Girl, under extraordinary conditions. I’m so glad she was willing to share a bit about it.

Who are you and where is “here” for you right now?

I know I’ll be here in Albuquerque until August 30th, when my temporary lease expires. After that, I’m not sure where I’ll go.

I’ve been taking life month by month, sometimes day by day, while working to get my book, Elephant Girl, off the ground. I’m lucky that there are people who’ve supported my efforts. Without them, I’d likely be living down by the river without a van.

What is your creative practice and what have you learned from it?

I don’t know that I have a creative practice. . .I’ve been writing for so long and I think for me it’s less about process than it is about space. Space is hugely important to me. I need a space I feel comfortable in — one that I can feel like I own — with no intrusions, a coffee pot, a sense of privacy, and the ability to close out the rest of the world. If I have those things, the stories just flow. If I don’t, then my writing is much more stilted and uncertain.

Where do you find inspiration?

People. It’s always people for me. I’m endlessly fascinated by other people’s quirks, beliefs, and ways of being. Tiny twists in the road, events that at the time didn’t seem so important, even one sentence can dramatically change someone’s life or the way they feel about something.

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

Well, I didn’t have a comfortable space to write Elephant Girl in, so I ended up writing the whole book in the cab of a borrowed truck. Not a big truck, either, but a small Ford Ranger. It was the closest I could get to private and secure. I went to the Starbucks parking lot in Los Lunas every day for eight months, parked in a far off corner, and called it my office. (ed: if Jane can finish a book sitting in the cab of a pick up truck, I have absolutely no excuses. None.)

How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?

I’m a very visual person, so art is inspiring to me. I particularly love paintings and photography. Sometimes a picture will evoke a whole story that may not have anything to do with the image itself, but rather the way the image made me feel. In fact, right now I’m writing a book based on a longstanding habit I have of writing letters to my favorite artist, Vincent Van Gogh. Letters to Vincent should be done by the end of the year.

What does success look like to you?

From the time I was a kid, it’s always been the same. A tiny house by the ocean, two dogs, a mahogany desk. . .a bowl of fruit on the table, white curtains that billow in the breeze. A four poster bed and a weekend lover who really does love me. Going grocery shopping in an old convertible. Wearing a warm, gray sweater and a pair of jeans. Just to lead a very simple, loving life as a writer with a room of her own.

What do you want people to know about you and your work?

It’s here! The book that took me over four decades to write is on Amazon. I want people to read it — I think it’s the best work I’ve done so far.

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Jane’s blog can be found at JaneDevin.com. You should totally check it out. It’s awesome. Plus, she’s got a Kickstarter fundraising project set up to help her promote her book. Please consider contributing.

Life of Art interview: Claire Skinner

Today, I’ve got an interview from Claire Skinner, whose photography and persistence are both quite impressive.

Who are you and where is “here” for you right now?

My name is Claire Skinner and I run Rocklawn Arts which exists solely online for now. I’m a sci-fi loving geek who got into photography as a kid so that the clouds in my paintings would be more realistic.

What is your creative practice and what have you learned from it?

I’m a photographer who also likes to write, create digital designs, build kinetic sculptures, and design furniture. From photography, I’ve learned that most people don’t look at things carefully or pay attention to the whole scene in front of them, so it’s a good thing I do. Earlier this summer, my dad remarked, “You’re making me see stuff I didn’t even know was there,” about photographs of the garden he works in daily.
Circle With Fire Escape
Where do you find inspiration?

Most everywhere: plants in my backyard, art books, CreativeLive, architecture, visiting new places, looking at shadow patterns. Just holding a camera most always gives my inspiration a boost.

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

I’m working out a procedure for keeping up with archiving, evaluating, and post-processing my photographs as I take them, but there is an avalanche of backlog still to address. Breaking the process into small steps makes it more manageable.

I also keep track of what I work on and post it each week in my Life of Art SitRep series to keep me accountable and help reduce procrastination.

How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?

When I don’t feel like shooting, it helps to go for a walk, visit somewhere new, or learn something. I also pursue other artistic endeavors to get my creativity flowing via different avenues. Sometimes it’s just nice to take a break though.

What does success look like to you?

Greater exposure for my photography. A studio and workshop, the ability to financially sustain the space and tools needed to pursue all of my creative impulses.

What do you want people to know about you and your work?

Through September 10, 2011, I’m donating 50% of my proceeds from Rocklawn Arts on Zazzle to 50 for 50, Colleen Wainwright‘s amazing fundraiser for WriteGirl: a nonprofit for teen girls with a 10-year-long, 100% success rate of sending their seniors to college.

My photographs and designs are available on a wide variety of cool gifts: cards, printspostage, mugs, magnets, iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch cases, Keds sneakers, and other delightful sundries.

You can get free standard shipping (details at my shop), so buy a postcard or something and help me help Colleen raise $50,000 for WriteGirl.

Please help spread the word!

Rocklawn Arts on Zazzle.
Rocklawn Arts on RedBubble.
@RocklawnArts and @claireofRA
on Twitter.
Taller Than Average Tales

Life of Art interview: Gemma Irish

Thinky and sassy and pretty all rolled into one.

Who are you and where is “here” for you right now?

I am a playwright, and possibly an actress, and also a Director Assistant at a giant corporation during the day, which allows me to pay my rent, have health insurance, and put money towards my eventual retirement. I’ve worked out a sweet deal with my boss where I work long days Monday – Thursday, and then have every Friday off to stay home and write.

What is your creative practice and what have you learned from it?

I am not an every-day writer. On Fridays, I write for long, concentrated periods of time and go really deep into what I’m doing. On not-Fridays, my writing looks more like verbal scrapbooking – collecting thoughts, ideas, inspiration, new words, weird wikipedia articles, etc.

What I am trying to learn from my practice is patience. You can’t rush the creative process. A play takes as long as it takes to emerge from the messy jumble of ideas – I just have to sit back and try not to control the process. Man, I love to try and control the process.

Where do you find inspiration?

The newspaper. The internet. I love watching people on the bus and trying to decide where they are headed. I know this sounds crazy, but I actually love seeing bad plays because I like to try and understand why they weren’t successful. I love a good trainwreck.

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

Talking to other artists about their process has been really helpful to me – oh, you mean you go through the over-obvious first draft, too? And sometimes you feel lonely when you are working on something? Me too!

How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?

I take long walks. When I lived in Brooklyn I used to set out across the Williamsburg Bridge and just walk uptown until I felt sane and happy again. Sometimes that was ten blocks, sometimes it was fifty.

What does success look like to you?

I struggle with this – I want people to think I’m cool. I know that’s pathetic, but that’s often what I think success means. But that is not what success means! Success has to do with connecting with other human beings – if my play goes deep, gets honest, makes you connect to something in your own life, which then makes you feel connected to the human existence, that’s success.

I will also say that I hope someday someone besides me produces my work.

What do you want people to know about you and your work?

I don’t think we choose art, I think it chooses us. Also you can’t lie when you make art – it keeps me honest. I appreciate that.

Life of Art: Elisabeth Donato

In this interview with Elisabeth Donato, we learn more about how someone can have a creative life even if s/he doesn’t identify as an “artist” in any particular way. Useful lesson, I think.

Who are you and where is “here” for you right now? 

My name is Elisabeth Donato; I was born in northern France, on September 4, 1952, but I have lived in the United States since 1975. I worked in business for 14 years, and then decided to switch careers, and got a PhD in French Literature. I am now an Associate Professor of French at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.

What is your creative practice and what have you learned from it?

Ocean smiles are the best kind.

I do not define myself at all as a writer, even though I have been writing “creative” pieces (short poems and essays) for the past 10 years or so. I kept a blog, which I took very seriously, from June 2004, to July 2010. I do not have a “writing routine.” I usually get cracking on the spur of the moment on a new creative piece, and it may take me months to complete it, because my job takes up most of my free time during the academic year.

What I have learned from writing creatively is that it is very difficult and requires a lot of discipline, quiet time, and concentration. I have also learned that it is extremely cathartic but also dangerous. Words have the power to heal but also to hurt people very deeply. One also learns tons about oneself through writing creatively. Finally, I have learned to fear the trappings of narcissism – I tend to write way too much about myself, and I really want to move away from that.

I also learned that my relationships with writing in French and writing in English are very different – and my writing “voice” is not the same in French as it is in English (I write mostly in English.)

Where do you find inspiration?

By paying attention to what goes on around me, by observing people and my environment. I also read a lot, both books (I prefer non-fiction) and articles and essays online.

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

I remove myself from the piece that I was trying to write, leave it aside for a while, or throw it away altogether. I spend a lot of time cogitating about my creative writing, most often in bed, at night. I also keep a small Moleskine notebook in which I constantly take notes about what I observe, and jot down ideas for essays or poems, so as to keep the creative juices flowing.

How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?

Because writing is not my primary avocation – it is more of a “hobby” for me, I never really feel “artistically depleted.” However, I’d like to create a new blog that wouldn’t be a “personal” one, and I have found myself unable to come up with a decent concept for it. Maybe this is a symptom of artistic depletion…

What does success look like to you?

Well, the ultimate success related to my writing would be to have a collection of my essays published. But the first success on that front would be to complete a collection of essays, of course! It would also be nice if it were somewhat successful commercially.

What do you want people to know about you and your work?

Most of my relatives, friends, colleagues, and students do not know that I write, and I’d like them to be aware of that aspect of my life. I had a few pieces published, over the years, in my university’s literary journal, and it was nice to get some recognition that way. I’d like people to discover, through my creative work, my perspective on the world, on life and times, and to realize that I have some writing talent and a decent sense of humor.

Life of Art: Scot Moore

Wow – interview three already? Now we’re cookin’ with gas! Please welcome Scot Moore to château Voix!

Who are you and where is “here” for you right now? Please include what do you do to keep food in your belly and a roof over your head.

Scot Moore.  For me, the physical “here” is Minneapolis.  The metaphorical “here” is… progressing.  I work a customer service job in the financial industry to pay bills and have benefits.

What is your creative practice and what have you learned from it?

This is serious business, people.

I’m a writer and an actor.  As I’m currently on hiatus from acting, though, I prefer to focus on the writing.  I’ve learned I have a voice and something to say.  I’ve also learned to invest in a decent wrist brace.

Where do you find inspiration?

Most commonly, I find inspiration in the things that piss me off.  I’ve learned that taking those issues head-on results in mediocre material, though, so I’ve also been inspired by people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert who are able to see these things through satire.  Moderating the approach to the material (taking your own viewpoint out of the equation) consistently results in a better product.

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

It depends.  My preferred method is to ruminate on the issue until the solution presents itself.  However, in the instances where it doesn’t or when I’m on a deadline I simply go with the first logical solution and see where it takes me.  Many times, just having a solution out there leads me to a better one.

How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?

I do something else for a while.  I’ll pull out my guitar and practice for a few days or so, which benefits me in multiple ways.  I get better at guitar and my brain is forced back into a learning mode.  I also will take a few days off and just refuse to think about it.

What does success look like to you?

Feedback.  I mean, ideally, success would look like a bestseller and $1M, but for now it’s feedback.  I like when people are interested enough to provide feedback.  When I get consistent feedback that something is coming across as something other than I intended, I’m truly grateful to those who provided it to me.

What do you want people to know about you and your work?

I take the work seriously, but not myself.  I’ll spend all night trying to pound out the right words, but if I can’t take feedback and listen to others, my material can only be so good.  If I take myself too seriously and don’t leave room for improvement then I’ll miss opportunities to make it better.  Also, I’m a Scorpio and like long walks around the lakes.

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Many thanks to Scot for his answers. His website is http://www.scotmoore.net/ and he’s directing a show for Freshwater Theater!  The Book of Liz opens on September 10.

Are you creative? Curious about what the Voix blog is up to? Would you like to answer a few questions about your Life of Art? Visit this post and leave a comment, you can jump in the sandbox with the rest of us.

Grappling with bystander responsibility: an essay

Do you remember high school? What about the fights that broke out in the lunch room? Remember how chaotic and stressful the school environment felt after seeing one? Yeah. I wrote about that.

My student Belinda got into a fight last year. It wasn’t a prissy, slappy, name-calling fight, either. It was a reality television-worthy, punch- throwing, eye-bruising fight that didn’t end until Belinda’s opponent had ripped the weave out of her hair and waved it around in front of the student spectators…

Read more of this essay at the Teaching Tolerance website. Teaching Tolerance is a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. A place to find thought-provoking news, conversation and support for those who care about diversity, equal opportunity and respect for differences in schools. Check them out!