An Insight Conversation with Angela Wheeler and Insight Artist and Managing Member Vieve Price.
VrP: What was your overall felt sense of The Shop?
AW: The Shop was an overall very exhilarating experience. I was familiar with John's [Gould Rubin] approach to devising, and I wanted to re-engage with that part of my creative practice. But I also walked away with a more confident sense of myself as an artist.
VrP: What was it specifically that enabled you to walk away with a more confident sense of yourself as an artist?
AW: I was reassured in my ability to be spontaneous, to create free of judgment. Being in a room with other artistic collaborators who were just as open and willing to dive in freely and accept whatever the results may be was so refreshing.
VrP: Ah, so spontaneity is important to you, as well as being in a room where you feel free from judgment. What happens for you when you are able to be spontaneous and judgment free?
ArW: I feel more open and willing to make choices, to communicate my thoughts and feelings more freely through movement or speech. I don't hold myself back or get in my own way.
VrP: And when you are willing to make choices, what happens for you as an artist- how does this affect how you see yourself as an artist?
ArW: My ideas flow more freely, I am more open to receive the things around me and transform that into artistic expression. There's something magical that happens for me when I'm in a room full of other artists - my mental/social censorship start to fade and I fall into an unapologetic flow of ideas. When I'm able to do that I feel validated as an artist. I'm reassured in my own ability to create.
VrP: Sooo good....”an unapologetic flow of ideas” is such an awesome way of describing it! Can you talk a bit about what happens when you are in a room where the other artist and collaborators are not so willing to dive in freely and accept whatever results may occur? What does this do to your sense of yourself as an artist?
ArW: Depending on my relationship with the people there are two things that usually happen. If I'm comfortable enough with the people in the room, I have a tendency to take the lead, to suggest ideas, to attempt and spark something in others so they can actively participate. I try to find any common ground between the people in the room that can be a springboard. Or, if I don't know the people extremely well, and there are others who are very dead set on working a certain way - I will start to internalize. I'll just write in my sketchbook and close off from the process because I don't feel productive in that kind of setting. When others are less willing to be collaborative, it really brings down the whole experience for me. As an artist it feels forced, and inauthentic.
VrP: So, picking up on the latter part of your answer, if you start to internalize and close off from the process, and the process feels forced and inauthentic, this is a far cry from how you want to see your self - your authentic artist self. There is a gap between you as free and creative and authentic and you as closed off and internalizing rather than sharing. It sounds like a personal gap. Is that right?
ArW: Yeah absolutely. It can be a social gap as well depending on who's in the room with me. As a 5'3" younger woman it can be hard sometimes to feel like I have a valid voice in a room if older men are dominating the energy and creative process.
VrP: Right! It’s really not the way you want the process to go, someone dominating and taking over. As you said, if you know the other artist you do everything you can to spark something in them so that they can actively participate because to you, this is the authentic and good way to collaborate.
ArW: I think that's why I started to shift from acting to directing towards the latter half of my acting training! And in The Shop, the parts of the workshop that focused on self-producing let me know that I'm on the right track in my artistic career as well.
VrP: What is it about directing and making that shift? Is it about having more critical control over the process?
ArW: I found in directing I was getting more control, creative freedom, and I could use my strengths in organizing to actually create something. As opposed to replicating the ideas of someone else that I may or may not have actually engaged with. And being a trained actor I could easily communicate with the actors in the rehearsal room because I spoke their language.
VrP: Replicating someone else's ideas that you may not or know is something that is not appealing to you as an artist..?
ArW: Depends on the situation. I have to be passionate about the idea to want to dedicate time and energy into making it come to life. If someone else has an idea and I feel in my core that it's really something special and needs to be produced I am totally for it!
VrP: Yes! So finally, talk a bit about your hoped for future as an artist, as a director. You said that the self-producing part of the Shop enabled you to know that you are on the right path-what path is this?
ArW: Ahh, ok so this is a question I ask myself all the time. I'm currently working towards building up enough directing experience to apply for an MA/MFA directing program where I can actively and freely practice as an artist. But at the same time I'm the Executive Producer of a new theatre company in NYC where I actively utilize and develop my arts administration skills. So my hoped for future is that I can lead an artistic life where I can actively balance those two passions. Where I can collaborate with others to create socially conscious and thought provoking works, and also support Shellscrape Theatre Company shellscrapetheatrecompany.com. The Shop enabled me to recognize that I have the ability to create unapologetically, but that I'm also very in tune to the process of producing work in NYC (Fiscal sponsorship, applying for grants, fundraising tools, etc.) The Shop also reassured me that there are multi-hyphenate artists everywhere trying to do exactly what I want to do!
VrP: Huzzah to all of this!!!! Thank you so much, Angela!
But it shouldn’t be. If we reposition our thinking about power in order to see it as something that is created rather than won, we can put ourselves in a power-collective, rather than a power struggle. There is certainly no lack of power in the world. It is abundant and free! So there’s no need to fight over it so disastrously.
Instead of power, let’s talk about empowerment. Empowerment requires a gift. It’s the most glorious gift because upon giving it, you find yourself with more of the thing you gave in the first place. I’m sure this translates into economy, faith, relationships and myriad other modes of transactions in our lives, but I’d like to talk about what empowerment means an as artist.
Truthfully, when I made the decision to pursue acting as the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I was totally high on power. I had experienced what every newly zealous thespian does when first struck with the feeling of being in CONTROL. I had the power to make people laugh, cry, gasp, and maybe even question their own morals and life choices. But as I pursued acting and my passion for it further, I realized that the real magic of it was being able to relinquish all power within it. The saying “leave it all on the stage” refers to that special ability to give up the idea of control and instead turn yourself over to trust. It takes an enormous amount of skill and practice to be able to do it successfully, but it’s nothing short of magic when it happens.
So how do we translate the empowered dynamic between artist and audience to the process of making art? In other words - how do we empower ourselves in the business of art, not just in the creative elements of it?
The hard part is that there is not currently a system in place that supports a more holistic way of working as an artist. The hopeful part is that the current system is crumbling under its own problematics, opening up space for something new to emerge. The way forward right now is infuriatingly simple: Just Make Your Art. Make your art in the way that you want to make it. Don’t wait for permission or for someone else to do it. Be radically independent. Your uniqueness, your artistic vision, is your superpower.
That doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. Gather the people that you want to. Form your own power collective. We’ve adopted this strategy within The Private Theatre and it’s fascinating to watch this new system and the work that comes from it evolve. As we move forward with producing theatrical experiences, performance pieces, and our artist workshop we hope to expand our collective, bringing other empowered artists into our community in order to learn from each other and share all of our creative gifts. I thoroughly believe that the more we share, give, support one another in our work, the more empowered we all become.