Category Archives: Life of Art Interview

Life of Art interview: Mike Fotis

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

My name is Mike Fotis. I live in Minneapolis. North Minneapolis to be
exact.  I am a writer/comedian/improviser. My head is kept dry and my
belly is kept full because of my job as the Co – Director of the Brave
New Workshop’s Student Union. That fancy title means I help run our
school of improvisation.

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

My creative practice is simply this. JUST DO SOMETHING. My instinct is
to not do anything until all of the answers in my head have been
answered, until I think my plan is flawless. That’s dangerous for me
because it completely stalls me. Just create something. I know that
sounds cheesy, but fuck. Don’t be perfect. That’s boring.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration from my comedian pals. I like to be around people
who are passionate about their craft. It helps me feel a little more
normal.

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

Read my post about creative practice.

How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?

I get away from it. I swim. I play sports. I watch a baseball or
football game. I can’t be around art all the time.

What does success look like to you?

In some ways, I feel like I’m at the very beginning of my success. My
goal is to support myself as an artist and I’m very lucky to be doing
that. I love my job. LOVE IT. Moving forward success will mean that
I’m able to continue growing the school while still expanding my
opportunities to branch into other endeavors.

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

That comedy is hard to do. And that smart comedy doesn’t exist. There
are probably other things too.

**

I can’t tell you how glad I am that Mike was willing to answer my questions – he’s one of my favorite Twin Cities comedians and improvisers. One of his current projects is a podcast for METRO Magazine called the Mike Fotis Storytime Explosion. If you’d like to hear Mike interview me about being a teacher, click here!

 

Life of Art interview: Heather Meyer

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

I am a playwright and actor and improvisor. I also work with The National Theatre for Children as a production associate creating educational comedy shows that tour around the country.

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

Heather. Chicken. Cat. Comedy gold.

I work best when I have a lot of things happening. You know that saying that goes something like “if you want something done, give it to a busy person”? Well, that is how I have recently realized I work best. So I fill my time up pretty well and then give myself short deadlines to produce work. I also find that improv is like working out, it keeps a lot of gears and muscles in shape for both the actor part of me and the writer part.

 

Where do you find inspiration?

Eavesdropping on strangers.

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

Usually, I just push the cat off of my laptop.

How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?

Doing other things. Like entering a cake into the MN state fair (I did not win a ribbon) or learning hula-hoop tricks. I also have a blog that I self-indulge all over the place on www.cultureofdoingthings.blogspot.com

What does success look like to you?

I like when people remember my name after I meet them.

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

Usually it’s concise and a little funny.

**

Thanks much, Heather! In case you’re not a Minnesotan, her MN Fringe show – Your Responsibility for Sex Failure – was a total hit this summer. Congrats!

Life of Art interview: Angeline LeLeux-Bajzek

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

My name is Angeline and I live in Tulsa, which is the place I grew up in and left as soon as I could. 20 years later, I’m back, to be closer to family. The roof stays over my head, at the moment, solely because I am married to my husband (who has a job, after nearly a year without one, hooray!) and we haven’t completely decimated our savings account. I am a piano and Alexander Technique teacher who has a few students and hopes to have more very very soon.

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

I’m a pianist and Irish fiddler, a photographer, and a blogger. The music is an essential piece

Smart girls try lots of creative things.

of who I am because it’s been part of my life since I was three. I understand that there are some people who approach their music as a beloved muse that brings them happiness and sunshine, but for me it’s more like an irritating, everpresent relative that you can’t stand half the time but love to pieces anyway. I’ve recently gotten back into photography because I like noticing the little details and patterns of the world and working with light and shadow to make them more interesting, and I blog because I am seriously worried about our food system. I’ve learned that, without discipline, nothing happens, and that I can do several things reasonably well but not one thing astoundingly well. And, that I’m okay with this. Most of the time.

 Where do you find inspiration?

This is going to sound sappy, and I am really not a fan of sap, but it’s true: My husband William (http://william.bajzek.com/) is better than I am at everything. He’s an intuitive musician with a great ear who loves to practice, he understands the mechanics of photography and the rules of artistic composition, and he writes clearly and precisely. I’ve become better at everything I do since I met him, partly by osmosis and partly because I’m just trying to keep up, but also because he’s happy to discuss any and all topics of interest, talk through points of musical interpretation, read what I write, and point me to online photo tutorials. Besides that, I go to concerts and take lessons and classes and…just try to pay attention to what’s going on around me. I rarely get inspired to practice music, though – I have to force myself to sit down and do it, and it’s been pretty spotty lately.

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

Mostly, sheer force of will (see note about practicing, above). Recently, I’ve tried writing longhand in a notebook when I don’t feel like getting anything done – something about seeing all of my lame excuses laid out on paper showcases their stupidity better than anything else.

How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?

Sometimes, I do something else, as opposed to the thing that wasn’t working out right. Other times, I read a lot. Periodically, I curl into a ball and whimper. I’ve also been known to do all three at the same time. One of them usually works.

What does success look like to you?

It changes – I’ve earned (or am about to earn) money for everything creative that I do, but I can’t say I’m supporting myself at the moment, so I don’t feel terribly successful right now. On the other hand, having the ability, the funds, and the time to continue studying and trying things out looks a lot like success, from certain angles…

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

I have a lot of websites; here are some of them –

Piano and Alexander Technique: http://angeline-leleux.com

Irish music: http://castlerockduo.com

Photography portfolio: http://angeline-leleux.com/photos

Blog: http://inherfield.com

**
Thanks a million, Angeline, for your candor and enthusiasm. I know all about that curl up in a ball feeling, and I’m glad a not-me someone was willing to share what that’s like!

Life of Art interview: Elisa Korenne

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

I’m a singer-songwriter, storyteller, performer, teaching artist, and writer in rural Minnesota.  My bailiwick includes rock/folk/blues music, a multi-genre variety of original songs and stories about oddballs in history (most recently, my show ‘Oy Vey’ is Jewish for ‘Uff-da’ about Jewish immigrants to the rural Upper Midwest–there were some!), and the memoir I’m writing about moving from New York City to rural west central Minnesota.

Artist with panache rocks hat with veil.

I change my email signature regularly depending on who I feel the most like on any given day.  I collect income from a hodge-podge of performances, song commissions and royalties, grants, teaching opportunities, articles, and the occasional consulting gig (in a former life, I consulted for non-profits).

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

I try to devote a few solid hours each morning to creating.  This works most of the time. I’ve learned that creating is a process, an unfolding that cannot be rushed.  I’ve learned that the best work takes a lot of time—usually much longer than I want it to—and that I need to honor the process for my best work to come forth.

Where do you find inspiration?

In those weird moments when what someone says makes a firework explode in my head and I think, “There’s a song in that!”  In spending time with other artists, especially those working in other genres.  In books.  In art galleries.  In theater.  In music.  In local history museums. In storytelling. In oddballs.

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

I journal, mull, fret, and freewrite. Then I talk to friends and other artists about it until everyone is bored, especially me. Then I stop trying to fix it and just let it go, and the solution usually comes in a whoosh in some way I would never have actively figured out.

How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?

I do something fun and creative, ideally something that engages me with art or nature:  I visit a museum, take a hike, swim in a lake, go to the theater, listen to different kinds of music.  Oh, and when that doesn’t work I go shopping and indulge in gourmet chocolate hazelnut tortes or the like.  Living in the country, it’s easy to find serenity in the slow pace here, so what I most need is excitement and a concentration of creativity.  That’s when I go visit the city.  Spending a few weeks every year at artist residencies in different places around the country is also reinvigorating.

What does success look like to you?

On my worst days, it looks like my name plastered all over the tabloids.  On my best days, it’s that moment when someone comes up to me after hearing a song of mine, and tells me how it changed them; how they felt understood, heard, and spoken to.

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

You’ll want to listen to my songs on repeat.  You’ll be inspired and engaged by my performances.  You’ll be enthralled and amazed by my songs and stories about oddballs.  And you should buy my albums. And my book, when it comes out.

Learn more at www.elisakorenne.com.

Here are some links to her music: Road Trance and Honest Lies

To become a fan of Elisa’s work, follow her on Facebook

**

Thanks, Elisa! As many of you know, Elisa was my director for the show I produced at the 2010 Minnesota Fringe Festival. Her creative talents are awesome and she gets bonus interview points for using the word bailiwick.

Life of Art interview: John Hayes

Many thanks to everyone who has been keeping up with these Life of Art interviews – just a few left to post! Here is the perspective of musician and poet John Hayes.

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

John Hayes here, & I’m in a very new “here,” as I just moved to Portland, Oregon from rural southwestern Idaho.  I’m excited to be back in an urban environment—had lived in San Francisco prior to the Idaho move, so I’ve been putting myself thru alternate urban/rural culture shock over the past 15 years.

I teach guitar to supplement my “regular” income, which is thru Social Security (disability due to a significant lung condition.)  The latter has its drawbacks certainly, but on the other hand, it is “steady.”

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

I have two creative practices, & in most ways, the twain never meet.  I’ve been involved with music since childhood, but from my teens until age 40 my focus was on poetry; I went the MFA route, but never really got comfortable in the mainstream of the poetry biz.  In the mid 90s, I put poetry aside & went back to music with a will, & have been performing in several incarnations from the late 90s on.

That is one shiny guitar!

In 2008, I began writing poetry again, & have done so in fits & starts since.  But music remains my consistent creative outlet.

Where do you find inspiration?

In both poetry & music, I draw from emotion—I suppose I’m an incurable romantic!  As far as music goes, as a solo performer I play old blues from the 20s & 30s, & you have to connect with a strong emotion to put that across.  In terms of poetry, my work seems to do with “memory & desire” (to quote a famous poet.)

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

I believe I’ve learned patience over time.  With poetry, I no longer try to force things, & am satisfied to write when I feel the need & not write when I don’t.  The fact that I can always pick up a guitar & play helps!  But even with music, one goes thru “plateau” phases; you have to be committed to the technical aspects of playing while also cutting yourself some slack to grow organically as a player.

What does success look like to you?

Musically, I love to perform, & I love to connect with an audience.  The audience needn’t be big nor the venue the hippest place going, but I feel I only grow musically when I share the music with others.  Success as a poet?  I believe my answer to that would be too complicated for the scope of this interview, but it wouldn’t have to do with publications & awards.

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

Perhaps it’s not so much a question of “knowing,” but of connecting emotionally.  If I can connect emotionally with a musical or poetical audience, then I’m fulfilled.

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.
**
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.

**

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.