Sunday, June 8, 2008

Folksay video entry 07

Folksay video entry 06: The Music

The Grant

The scene: 

Washington, DC. Wednesday, June 4th, 2008. 5pm. The conference room of Dance/USA and the offices of CityDance Ensemble. 

The cast: Paul, Dina, Betsy and Mother Nature (soon to play a starring role). 
The plot: Assemble and deliver a major grant request for funds for a specific effort in Washington, DC to the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. The deadline: 7pm.

Fade in video: A table layered 3 inches deep in paper. Hands assembling frantically, someone jetting into and out of the room with more materials. Staplers flying. The mood: efficient. We've done this before. 

Fade in audio: Over a 60s Dragnet score. "Grant writing is an art. Its complicated, involves an absolutely byzantine set of steps, words, documents, signatures, support forms, paper clips, staples and sweat. Its also the life-blood of most arts organizations. This is particularly true for new projects, where grant money awarded makes the difference between a project going forward or grinding to a halt. The stakes are high, planning essential. You never know what can happen."

Camera pull-back: The process is winding down. Cut to the clock showing 5:15. Things are good. The last pieces are being assembled. The cross-check is being done. High-fives all around. 

Dina: Who's delivering this thing?
Paul: I can.
Dina: I thought Alexe could drive it there.
Paul: She's gotta get Natalie and I'm going that way anyway before getting the kids. 
Dina: Got it. Thank God its not raining anymore. That would be a mess. (fade in slight undertone, an ominous score, the harbinger of act II {note to producer: use live instruments if possible, go Midi and sampled if not -- can we get John Williams?}).
Betsy: Good job. Dina - great work getting all this together. 
All: Yeah, this is a good grant. Its exciting. Now we just have to get it delivered.....

Narrator: "Earlier in the day it had rained and rained hard. Sheets of water and torrents of rain, knocking out power around the DC area. But the sky had cleared and the streets dried. As the clock ticked towards 5:30, all was in hand."

New scene: Paul, standing by the window, looks out (exterior shot from across the street showing him looking) and sees dry streets. He looks down at the big blue umbrella --"Nah, I don't need that. Its not going to rain again and that thing is ridiculous. I'm going to feel like an idiot carrying that thing." 

Dina meets him in the hall with a box to carry the 10 copies, each over 60 pages, with the original, signed in flair, on the top. On the desk is a plastic bag in which to wrap everything. {shot lingers on the plastic bag}.

Dina: Here, use this.
Paul: Nope. Waste of a box. Don't need the plastic either. Gotta be conscious of all this waste -- I can just carry this stuff. Its just a bus ride and a two block walk to the Commission. What could happen? 
Dina: OK. You SURE? 
Paul: Yup.
Paul: Yup.

Shot at street level: Paul departs 1111 16th Street, crosses the street and arrives exactly in time to catch the bus up 16th. Money is tight, time is good. No need to grab a cab. Getting on, he looks up at the sky and smiles.....

Wide shot: In the distance, the sky is turning green.

Scene 3: Crowded bus. Wall-to-wall people. Everyone is grouchy. Paul keeps banging into people with his back-pack. He holds his 10 copies like a $100,000 newborn. Anything could happen if he gets jostled and drops them. Disaster. "You know, I should have just taken the bag. Or a cab."

Mid-way through the journey, up the hill at Meridian Hill Park, the sound of thunder rumbles over the engine and traffic. People start looking out the window. The anxiety level increases (fade in score).

Paul: "Uh oh." (definitely award winning dialogue here)

Wide shot: Exiting the bus, Paul steps onto a dry street. Two blocks to go. 
Sound: Thunder. Close. Very close. Surround sound calls thunder from two directions. The storms are converging.

{with a backpack containing a 17 inch laptop and assorted electronic equipment, and 10 loose copies of a grant, running is not an option}.

Heading down Harvard street, the Commission offices are only two blocks away. Dodged a bullet.

Cut to: One drop of water, tracked from the clouds, falls, slowly, endlessly down, zeroing like a buzz bomb on the cover page of the grant. Slowly descending. Slowly like a smart-bomb. It falls and falls and then splashes onto the page. Slow-Mo: Paul looks down at the dot of water. Then up. Then....The sky begins to open. At the mid-point between 16th and 15th the rain starts. No wind. Just straight down. Droplets the size of golf balls (artistic license here). Ducking under a tree, Paul takes all 10 copies of the grant and stuffs them under his very thin white linen shirt (good planning). "No problem. I'm so close what could happen."

At 15th street Neptune turns on the faucet. Think flood. Deluge. Sea World. Flipper. 

Scene: Paul, hunched over like an 85 year old with advanced osteoporosis. Save the grant at all costs. Crew expendable. Laptop expendable. Save the grant. 

He hits 14th street, the Commission in sight. He steps towards the curb. Closer. Closer. And misses the light. And the rain has a sense of humor. Forget flood. Hurricane. Noah -- "What's an ark?"

45 seconds later he hits the steps of the Commission. Water tracks into the door. Pigpen done in a pool. Drowned rat. 

Laughter -- he's friends with all these people. 

He realizes he cannot get the grant out of his shirt. So he unbuttons it. Oatmeal. The grant is the consistency of oatmeal. Peeling it away, layer by layer, he gets to the original, pressed close to his chest. The cover page is last. And half of it sticks to his chest as the other half separates. He looks down. Alexe's signature, in marker, has bled onto his rib cage. The first CityDance tatoo. Very romantic. 

"Umm...yeah. Here's the facilities grant." 

"What's it for?"

"The new space on 14th. Dance floors. Lighting. Walls......


Sound of thunder. Laughter. Fade to black.

Narrator: "Grant writing is an art....."

Friday, June 6, 2008

More than the sum....

By Paul Gordon Emerson

What makes a dance company work? What are the intangibles of success -- the things that don't show up in the box score? For me the most fundamental ingredient lies with the people in the studio, in the company, being far more than the sum of their individual parts. There are lots of ways that that can be realized and expressed, but one that isn't talked about enough is the "extra mile" ethic. Today was one of those days. 

Here at the end of the season, 7 days from the 2007-2008 season's last major public event, everyone is tired. Everyone is nursing injury. Some of those injuries are more significant than others, but every nagging knee and aching ankle affects our ability to get things done, and when you're a week out getting things done is absolutely essential. You don't take the stage at the Music Center at Strathmore half prepared. You got all in or you don't go in at all. But you also have to be smart about what that means. Its easy to say "I don't care how much it hurts, I have to dance full-out." Wrong. You have to dance smart and, sometimes, you have to dance not at all. Kathryn whacked her neck totally out of place, and while she would have fought through it she did the right thing -- she went home to take care of it. That's actually the epitome of teamwork and of professionalism -- know your limits and adhere to them. 

But that's not what this is about. This is about Gisele, who is the newest member of the company. This is about someone who has walked into an established culture and done so carefully and quietly. But more, its about this -- today, after Kathryn left to take care of herself, Gisele stepping into ALL of Kathryn's parts in "Folksay" having never rehearsed them with the cast. She watched in the back. She studied. She observed and she learned. And suddenly, instead of a crippled rehearsal things got done. And while we were working on "Ghost of Tom Joad" I spotted her in the back, in the corner, learning Kathryn's movement. I didn't ask her to do that. I didn't even THINK to ask her to do that. But I damned sure saw her doing it -- out of sight. It wasn't for my benefit. She wasn't trying to impress anyone. She was being a teammate in the the very best sense of the word. 

If I were to give a young dancer a word or two of advice about how to make it in a dance company, I would recall today. I would remind them that dance companies are a team. They make it collectively or they fail collectively. And they succeed when people do things without being told to do them. They step up. They make sure that, in a moments notice they can walking into a part, or onto a stage, and keep the company running at its best. You'd think this would be obvious, but its not. 

My respect is earned by many things, but one of the most fundamental ways to earn it comes from the intangible -- and that is in the recognition that a successful company is more than the sum of its parts. I've watched this season as Ja'Malik has made sure he knew parts that weren't his, just as, in years gone by Eileen Mitchell would stay in the studio sometimes right through lunch to be absolutely sure she was ready to nail her parts. Those things matter. Deeply. They are about caring for the people with whom you work -- all of them. Not just because someone might get injured and you need to step in for them; for the other people on the stage whose work has to be honored and respected. And they are about respecting the audience and the stage. For me that's motivating. It makes me work harder because I know that people are in there doing more than you ask. 

Christopher, who isn't even supposed to be dancing, is in the entire concert. He's the Rehearsal Director. But he was needed and, wrecked knee and all, he's on stage. I could run down the entire list of dancers in the company and give you an example of where they are going beyond. Today was a specific, but special, illustration. Today was something that sets a tone, sets a standard, and does so without calling attention to itself. Things done for the right reasons are usually done quietly. You just set out to do them and that's the end of it. 

What could have been a wreck of a day became a very good day. That's what makes a company work. That's what makes a team. And today was a reminder of how rich, remarkable and unexpected that can be.