What did I learn from All Good Men?

Last Thursday and Saturday evening we completed the first shows with my company – Bettmann Dances. You can connect with Bettmann Dances on Facebook, or through our website. As we move into the next stage with this project, and begin preparation for my 2010/11 project, I’m trying to harvest lessons. They are diverse.

  1. Ask for more of what I need from the dancers. It was really hectic at the end, in part because I was passive about asking for rehearsal time. This is a difficult thing to manage. I didn’t want to ask for too much… we were all working volunteer, and if you ask for too much, they simply say: ok, no, bye. But in the last week of this production I had the feeling that everyone was frustrated by mis-management. Doing big projects takes a lot of time. There’s no way around that. And if I don’t ask for it, I end up simply ‘grabbing it’ through rehearsals that run over. Which is not good process. I’m gonna work on being more proactive and efficient in my scheduling.
  2. I got some really great audience feedback. Someone told me that the piece was ‘epic’, which I consider positive. This was a show of tremendous complexity. It wasn’t very abstract. The characters were complex. The soundscore was complex. There were 22 separate scenes, including the dance scenes. What I learned was to take strength from what is there, and not get depressed about what’s not there. I want people to be astounded by my work. I’m not lowering that bar. But for my first show with my company, having no financial support for myself or my dancers, I feel like we actually brought something deep and rich to the stage. One audience member thought it was very ‘work in progress.’ And while I hate that, I actually feel ok about it. I don’t really love most of what I see in dance today. Thats not a knock on my peers — most of them feel similarly. I created something thoughtful and rich that did not succeed in being undeniably powerful. Next.
  3. I ended up in a conflict with my producers. Though I got my marketing materials in on time (I have the proof – it’s not a question) our listing in the fringe guide was incorrect. They are refunding me $100 of the $700 participation fee, but refused to make any corrections online or in print. The impact on my ticket sales for this run was probably more like 200-500 dollars, but there was also the lost opportunity of getting my company’s name, and this show’s name, in front of the public. Very dissapointing… As a performer you are actually the small fish in the large producing pond. I learned that I can’t expect anyone to take responsibility for their mistakes if they don’t have to. And in my position, they simply don’t have to. I am the small fish. It’s appropriate for me to lower my expectations, so that I can be less frustrated if people don’t respect the work it takes to put something like this together. It’s not important to them, and I can’t expect it to be. A related lesson: I don’t have support where I might always expect it, and I have more support some places where I don’t expect it.
  4. There is no way to get anywhere close to what we did without a huge amount of help. Pretty much last minute I got a group of friends to serve as voices for the recording of the script. Pretty much last minute, a dancer I’ve known for a few years (Sylvana Sandoz) jumped into the production when the dancer originally cast, bailed. I can’t get anywhere close to presenting my vision without a huge amount of goodwill and effort from other people.
  5. I need to be more effective with development for my company. I did get one new board member, which is great. (Welcome aboard, Ashtan.) I had benchmarked myself to get two. I’m still hopeful, but need to recognize that I have to allow myself time to share my vision with more people who might be interested in supporting these productions. The additional lesson learned is that people want to support interesting quality productions, and are willing to really give a lot if you can provide them with that opportunity. My friend Amy wrote a preview on her blog, and a new friend, Jessica McCoy worked for free technical directing the production. I was really impressed with her work as a lighting designer/technical director… Jessica gave a huge amount and took very little to manage. Her ability to work effectively and independently on my behalf was awesome.
  6. This isn’t anywhere close to a complete list, but I need to work on some other stuff now.

I had so much fun doing this show, and am really looking forward to turning it into a film over the fall. There is a place for substantive, joyful, complexly beautiful work. I managed not be heavy-handed. I managed not to offer easy answers. It was complex, and interesting…. next. Here is the review we got:

Bettmann creates a jewel mining the commonalities in poetry, literature and dance in ‘All Good Men’

By Ron Moore, DC Examiner

Somewhere over Washington, D.C. this week Dylan Thomas is smiling. The epic poet like many writers, made a living writing in different genres as the life of a poet is all too often of the starving artist variety. Like the film auteur who makes three films to satisfy commerce so he can make one to please his muse, Thomas toiled as a working writer. But even in his pulp dramas the lyricism is still present.

Robert Bettmann took Thomas film script “The Doctor and the Devils” churned it with his creative sensibility until the cream rose to the top. Skimming off the lyricism he created a new work, “All Good Men” that premiered Thursday night at D.C.s Capital Fringe Festival with an additional performance tonight. It is truly a jewel and a tribute to the commonalities between poetry, literature and dance. Using a dramatic presentation of the script as his score Bettmann creates a symphony of movement literally bringing form and texture to the content.

Emily Horton plays a doctor with a moral dilemma; the purchase of cadavers for the teaching of anatomy seems to produce more bodies than natural circumstances should allow. As she struggles to maintain the demands of a career and reputation with the consequences of what is certainly murder the struggle is played out in exchanges with cohorts and family. The workaday movements belie the inner tension ultimately leading to the poignant stillness of contemplation as bodies literally pile up behind her.

As the doctors wife, William Smith is a whirlwind of expression. His solo dance is stunning and graceful and his character, the fulcrum of the relationships and tensions in the piece makes him the shows anchor.

Sylvana Christopher Sandoz performs with such intensity that it is unsettling; but she leaves you wanting more. Her brutal dispatch of one of the victims is played out with such ferocity that it leaves you nearly as breathless as her victim.

Bettmann as the doctors assistant struggles with his affections for the local bar girl, his grief at her loss and the moral balancing act required by his need to sate his loss with justice while realizing that society will offer no satisfaction. Bettmann plays out the balancing act as a man literally stuck in place; his dilemma pulling him yet his plight is fixed.

This leads to Jenny, poignantly performed by Rachel Merga who provides the bittersweet emotional and human core of the drama. Her hopes and desires squashed by reality take shape as Merga gracefully suffers her destiny. The dance with fate followed by its aftermath is as striking in its simplicity as it is beautiful. Her performance left you desiring a further fleshing out of her story to understand how her journey brought her to this tragic place, but especially for more of this stunning performance and performer.

The only truly discordant note was the scheduling by the Capital Fringe Festival of a boisterous performance next door that diminished at times the audiences ability to hear the score. But that distraction served as an indicator that this is a compelling piece as the audience leaned forward so as not to miss anything. It would be unfair to assume that festival organizers could match shows with harmonic tones since the festival is an amazing feat in itself but it did play a part in the overall milieu and the performers deserved better.

A new show especially by a new company is a living organism and will grow and develop and find its way. Bettmann has created a work of art that establishes his ability to mine gold out of our literary vaults and craft his discoveries into complex and beautiful pieces.

This production will be turned into a film over the next few months. Its a work that serves as an example of artistic craftsmanship and one that should inspire writers and poets to think of their work in terms of dance. Bettmann shows us the essence of literature and it is that essence that makes great art. One hopes that this performance and these performers will give us abundant opportunities to enjoy their contribution to this worlds desperate need for art and beauty.

July 18, 2009

Transformative Use

I am in the midst of producing a dance theater production titled All Good Men. All Good Men began its life as a dance theater adaptation of a Dylan Thomas filmscript (The Doctor and the Devils – originally published 1953.) I have not sought permission to adapt and perform the script.

Completely unrelated: Michael Jackson passed recently. I was never a teenage girl, and we didn’t have cable when I was growing up, so while I appreciate his music, MJ never meant much to me. But a lot of my friends are in full Triple M swing (Michael Memorial Mode), and one of them recently posted the following on facebook. It’s a bunch of clips from Fred Astaire movies, set to MJ’s song Smooth Criminal.

While enjoying the cool of the video, I couldn’t help wondering how long this will stay up; there is no way the music has been licensed (or it would have a permission granted credit), and I’m quite certain that the movies haven’t be licensed either. To see a longer post on copyright, click here. In case you don’t want to read that:

If someone makes something, they own its copyright. The term of copyright can expire, but in the case of both MJ music and Astaire movies, I’m certain that’s not the case. Copyright permission is – therefore – required. There’s a lot of legal work happening now about transformative use. Transformative Use is using part of something copyrighted to make something new – that you then own the copyright of. The famous Barack Obama picture by Shepard Fairey is a fine example.

Obama_Poster_ColfYou can see stuff about that here, here, and here. Fairey talks about it here and here. This video of Fairey talking about his work is also worth a view.

With Transformative Use one is re-working an existing piece to create something totally new. Tansformative use is one of the concepts that exists within Fair Use law. A Fair Use – Transformative Use defense of a usage does not mean that a usage is legal. But judgments in Fair Use defended lawsuits usually hinge around impact on the value of the previously existing copyrighted product. Does the value of the AP photograph decline because of Fairey’s use? Does the video bring down the value of MJ’s or MGM’s catalog? Does my production bring down the value of Thomas’s work? With Fairey’s pic his usage certainly didn’t devalue the original photograph. With the MJ video – if a song or video is available for free, people won’t buy it (as much.) With my production, I’m pretty sure I’m not harming the value of Thomas’s product. But that is not something I get to decide. The copyright holder gets to decide that.

Aside from the impact on the value of a prior work, there is the issue of credit. I am crediting Thomas, and the video credits Jackson and the film participants. The Ap is suing Fairey to get credit for the photograph (as you can see in one of the links.) If whomever posted that video doesn’t have permission -even though the usage is transformative- I wouldn’t be surprised to see it get pulled.

Tickets now on sale for All Good Men in Fringe Festival


Thank you to everyone who came out for the open rehearsal of All Good Men yesterday at Artomatic. My mother emailed me the quote in the picture above – by Pearl Primus – and I thought I’d put it up here.

All Good Men is not about prejudice, but more about ‘the hate that hate made‘. As independent as we may be in this free nation, we all influence each other. More than any moralizing about prejudice, that is what All Good Men deals with. Tickets just went on sale, CLICK HERE to buy your tickets for the July 16th or 18th performances.

To see some clips from the open rehearsal, click here to find Bettmann Dances on Facebook.

Thank you to to Ashtan, Allen, Jessica, and the dancers for sharing themselves at the open rehearsal. I’m confident that we’re on our way to something worthy of our collective voices.

I’ve decided that rather than trying to have the dancers voice the theater sections, we’re going to pre-record those. Creating a music/theater score for the performers is really going to free us up to be inventive and bold in our performance. Recording session this sunday. Buy your tickets today!