Category Archives: Interviews

Bloody, Damn Sexy and Very Shakespearean: An interview with Tom Wells

DAVID BOWEN INTERVIEWS TOM WELLS

Two Pence production poster--197x300Tom Wells is the co-founder and artistic director of Two Pence Theater Company, an organization devoted to theater of the Early Modern period, including that of the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline playwrights, and Shakespeare in particular. They’re a performance company guided by Renaissance humanist principles devoted to human agency and the individual’s relationship to self and society. As they perform and entertain, Two Pence provides audiences a powerful introduction to another world and time that is much more like our own than we might first imagine. Two Pence also offers actors and other theater professionals a fertile training ground where they’re able to take risks and cultivate their crafts.

 Tom’s credits at Two Pence include directing the company’s inaugural productions The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet and The Merry Dogs of Reservoir; acting in The Malcontent and The Tamer Tamed; voice and text coaching for Richard II; and teaching classes and workshops including “Owning Shakespeare: A Workshop In Progress,” “Revealing Shakespeare,” “Shakespeare in Play,” the ongoing Two Pence Lab, and “Worthy Warriors” for theatre professionals, students, and U.S. veterans all around Chicago and Evanston. Before settling in Chicago, Tom acted, taught and directed for more than six years at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, and assisted with the Shakespeare in the Courts program supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, as well as numerous professional development workshops. In addition to his work with Two Pence, Tom is also a Designated Linklater Voice Teacher Trainee under Kristin Linklater and teaches at The Acting Studio Chicago.

 Tom and I have known each other since we were kids. The Internet hadn’t yet been invented, and Mark Zuckerberg was still doing all his friending at the sandbox. Given the technological wasteland we found ourselves in, it was good fortune that we lived three blocks from each other. Now that he’s in Chicago and I’m in Milwaukee, we corresponded by email while discussing Shakespeare, language, and the pursuit of something mysterious in a certain windy city on Lake Michigan’s southern shore. (David Bowen)

 David Bowen: How did Two Pence begin?

Tom Wells: I formed Two Pence Theatre Company in Chicago with co-founder and Managing Director Sarah Augusta near the end of 2008. Sarah and I met earlier that year through a mutual friend at an Actor’s Equity audition for The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We were both fairly new to the Chicago theater scene. I had been in the city for a few months, and she had just moved from Boston. We realized that we’d both undergone similar training, and we both lived for Shakespeare.

DB: What kind of training had you both undergone at that point?

TW: Sarah had gone to Emerson, and I’d spent a little more than six years acting and teaching at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts. Emerson and Shakespeare & Company both approach actor training using Kristin Linklater’s Freeing the Natural Voice methodology. Shakespeare & Company has also developed an elegant body of text and movement training that works symbiotically with Kristin’s approach to voice.

So Sarah and I shared a common theatrical language. And as we talked about it, we realized that there weren’t (to our knowledge) any theater companies with a Linklater voice training core. So we began to talk about why there was a vocal training gap in the many actor and improv training programs in Chicago, and whether there might be interest if we tried to fill it by teaching a class or two—and if that went well, how we might go about producing a play.

DB: What draws you specifically to Shakespeare?

TW: I started acting in high-school because some guy I knew (my best friend to this day) wanted to audition for a play.

So, I thought, well, I couldn’t possibly have a less successful freshman year experience in high school, so why not? And it was a huge, huge win. And then every year after I got cast in a larger role than the last, and it wasn’t until later that I realized that Shakespeare’s plays, characters, thoughts, and words really spoke to and through me, communicating the huge emotional experience I was having as a teenager.

And Shakespeare has been with me every step of my journey since. He’s the one I turn to when I’m having the worst day ever, or the best, and I just can’t quite find words specific enough to communicate what I’m feeling. I just open up some of the tens of editions of his complete works I own, or look through the Shakespeare app I have on my iPhone while I’m on the train, and inevitably, in whatever play I open to, I find someone feeling the way I do in that moment. The character’s life situation is typically much more complicated and immediate than mine, because the greatest plays compress and pressurize time so much, but there’s still that connection to people past and present that allows me access to a deeper awareness of my own experience, connecting my microcosm of an interior feeling life to the macrocosm of such life throughout all time and human experience.

DB: Why should people go to the theater? What might other people get out of seeing work that was composed four-hundred years ago? Does it have to do with this self-awareness you’ve described?

TW: I don’t know why people should go to the theater. There are too many shoulds in the world already, and I don’t want theater to be another should in people’s lives. I think we get out of seeing theater the very same things the Greeks, the Elizabethans, and everyone else got out of seeing theater composed in their own time. I think that the question “Why am I going to the theater?” is actually one of the gifts people get before, during, and after seeing theater. Questions are the most divine tools we have in our toolbox, and I think it’s in a spirit of inquiry, the question, where true theater begins, and where the most rewarding experiences of theater can be discovered. If self-awareness is one of the rewards of seeing theater, and I think it is, then we must begin with questions.

Etymologists would tell us that the Greek word for theater was theatron, which means literally “a place for viewing,” but I would like to suggest that the theater is the place from which we view the gods. The gods without. And the gods within. The suffix -tron denotes “place,” and the word thea has two meanings: “to view” and “goddess.” Thea meant Goddess. Theo meant God. So, theo-logy is where you study the god(ess), the-rapy is where you talk about the god(ess), and thea-ter is where you get to hear, feel, and see the god(s) speak. And by god(ess) I mean the images, the myths, the archetypal characters and stories that have been passed down from human to human since before recorded time. And these stories are still being passed down—the same twelve or so stories, some would say—in the theater. It’s the very thing that connects the Millenial Generation, Generation X, and our parents’ generation, and back and back to theater that was wrought five-hundred years ago. And not just in an intellectual way, but in a very visceral, tangible way.

DB: Are there plays or roles or passages from Shakespeare’s work that have been particularly transformative for you?

TW: Yes. And even now, as I’m thinking the line in my head, it occurs to me how cliché it sounds to choose it, but here it is: To be, or not to be, that is the question. It expresses a divine understanding of what it is to stand on the precipice and view life in all its sublime horror, angst, and utter beauty. I don’t think anyone has ever written or said it more simply. I mean, this is the essence of the microcosm of man inside and out, and the macrocosm of life on earth, and the universe.

I think that thought alone gave birth to a new self-consciousness that we have been wrestling and coming to terms with since Shakespeare grappled with it himself. And the most important part of the line is the part at the end: that is the question. That is the quest-ion. That is the quest in life, and the question that every human embodies with every breath of every day.

The most exciting thing for me about the plays from this period is the way that the Elizabethans and Jacobean playwrights used the English language. Book after book has been written on the subject. They understood that the language you use, as an individual human walking around on the street of your hometown, in small town Wisconsin or Michigan or wherever, that to talk about that teeming, seething, sensual stuff happening on the inside of them, of you, was and still is in direct relationship to the words. Language shapes your experience of the world. That’s a fact.

DB: How have Two Pence and its projects evolved since 2008 to explore the language of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and how have you involved other actors and audience members in the quest?

TW: We began by teaching a text-based class called “Owning Shakespeare,” and then we produced Romeo & Juliet at The Evanston Arts Depot just north of the city. After a hugely successful six-week run, we ended up in the black financially. A huge deal in any theatrical venture.

The next summer we produced the pastoral comedy As You Like It, directed brilliantly by Kathryn Walsh. Several actors and a lighting designer got excited by what we were trying to create, and Sarah and I had been dreaming up new programming, so we agreed that it was the right time to grow the company. Associate Producing Director Kathryn Walsh, Director of Education Lucy Carapetyan, Grants Manager Michael Mercier, and Production Manager Jessica Carson became company members and all helped create As You Like It.

Since then, Eliza Hofman has come aboard as Literary Manager. We also produced Richard II at Chicago’s Athenaeum Theater; added A Dead Man’s Hand—Chicago’s only reading series dedicated to Jacobean playwrights—and developed middle school residencies and a high school festival (inspired by Shakespeare & Company). We also teach The 2P Lab—a free actor training program—and throw a “Fun(d)raising” mashup and cocktail mixer each summer. We keep having great ideas and huge successes.

DB: What are some of Two Pence’s upcoming projects?

TW: We’ll be opening the Chicago premiere of Thomas Middleton’s Women Beware Women on September 8 at The Den Theater in Wicker Park, one of Chicago’s ultra-hip neighborhoods. Kathryn Walsh will direct, and previews begin September 4. Women Beware Women is sexy, passionate, and deadly—a play that uses those “Machiavellian Italians” (a favorite Early Modern trope) to explore sexual politics, their consequences, and what happens when a gender imbalance impedes one sex’s ability to survive and thrive.

We’ll also produce the The Fall Festival of Shakespeare: Chicago, our flagship education program for high school students. Then in February or March of 2015 we’ll produce an original adaptation of Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker’s city-comedy The Roaring Girl, which I’ll adapt and direct. And then Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night, or What You Will in the Fall of 2015. We’ll also continue to explore the Early Modern period with the Dead Man’s Hand series. And we hope to raise funds for these projects and many others at our annual Fundraiser Gala Shakespeare Mash-up: Shake Wars: Revels, Alliance!

DB: Let’s talk a little more about the Dead Man’s Hand reading series. What draws you to Jacobean playwrights? Aside from Middleton and Dekker, which other playwrights have been part of the series? Who else would you like to include in the future?

TW: I love the Jacobean plays because they are bloody, damn sexy, and very Greek. And very Tarantino at times. Incest, patricide, genocide, murder, revenge, rage, jealousy, secrets, shame—all those feelings that we’re too polite to talk about. And those Jacobean playwrights really exploded the theatrical form, experimenting with dis-unity of plot and character. And because I’m still learning about Shakespeare’s many collaborators, comrades, and admirers, there’s the excitement that comes with exploring the unknown. There’s so much that’s been studied, written, known, and assumed about Shakespeare and Elizabethan theatre that it’s really exciting to unearth these other plays written by his comrades and competitors, and explore the personal and theatrical connection to them, as well.

In 2014, we got Francis Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle and Aphra Behn’s The Rover up on their respective feet. Aphra Behn is the first female playwright of the period that we’ve explored.  And in the past we’ve read John Fletcher, John Marston, and Ben Jonson.

As far as what I’d like to see us do in the future? I would love to do a reading of Nick Udall’s Ralph Roister Doister, Philip Massinger’s The Roman Actor, James Shirley’s Hyde Park, and then even more obscure playwrights like Margaret Cavendish and Mary (Sidney) Herbert.

DB: What’s the Chicago theater scene like, and how does Two Pence fit into it?

TW: The Chicago theater scene is eclectic, dynamic, and mostly centered around contemporary and new works. I think it’s the best town for theater in the country. There is a sort of movement springing up where small theater companies are producing Shakespeare, but—this may be a bold claim but I’m gonna make it—I think that Two Pence is the only store-front theater company in Chicago whose specific mission is to produce Early Modern playwrights.

And we’re also the only theater company I know of in Chicago committed to training actors of all ages to speak the thoughts and words of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. That’s what we’re really passionate about. There are several small companies who are using modern methods of actor training (Improv, Meisner, Stanislavski, etc.) to work on Shakespeare, and that’s been going on for years. But it’s my experience that Early Modern playwrights demand a different type of training. To fully embody Shakespeare’s words, an actor has to embrace a different way of experiencing the cosmos, the physical world, their inner being and language, the language they use to express the connection between. This requires a more specific way of approaching the plays of that period. And Two Pence (inspired by the body of work created by Shakespeare & Company in Massachusetts, and American Players Theater in Wisconsin, and other companies) fills that particular space for theatrical production and training in the community.

I think the best productions of Shakespeare’s plays trust the story of the play, and make Shakespeare’s words the star. And when Shakespeare’s words are the star, everything becomes illuminated because of the light of the consciousness with which he wrote. So, that’s what we’re gonna keep working towards…the light.

The latest Two Pence production, Thomas Middleton’s “Women Beware Women” directed by Kathryn Walsh, runs through September 26, 2014, and tickets are going fast. Find out more at http://www.twopencetheatre.org/see/.

This is a portion of the interview. For the full interview, check out the print edition of GLR Summer 2014,

 

 

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Capturing the spirit of Detroit: An Interview with Jim Daniels

JIM DANIELS INTERVIEWED BY MEREDITH COUNTS

Meredith Counts recently had the opportunity to interview Detroit-reared and Pittsburgh-based fiction writer and poet Jim Daniels, whose newest book of short stories, Eight Mile High, was released in the summer of 2014 by Michigan State University press. What follows is a portion of the interview. For the full interview, check out the print edition of GLR Fall 2014, which will also feature Daniels’ story “Pearl Diving.” 

The two stories from your new book Eight Mile High  that have been published in the Great Lakes Review – “Pearl Diving” (Fall 2014) and “Our Lady of No Mercy” (Summer 2014) — take place in a mostly Polish Catholic neighborhood of assembly line workers in Warren, Michigan. It’s such a specific place with its own landmarks and rules and characters. I wouldn’t assume it’s directly from your memory, but it reads as very real. Could you talk about the importance of place in your writing, in this collection in particular?

JIM DANIELS PHOTO FOR GLRPlace has always been important to me in my writing, and it’s often been wrapped up in social class—both a physical place and an economic place, and how those two things are linked. I’ve always had a little chip on my shoulder about the people I know the best and care about the most not showing up enough in our literature. I want to say, these lives are important and deserve our attention. In a lot of my earlier writing, I tended to blur things, referring to Detroit as a more general term for the metropolitan area rather than go into distinguishing the city from its surrounding communities.

For Eight Mile High I decided to zoom in even more on Warren, and even more particularly on the area next to Eight Mile Road, the border with Detroit, where I grew up. Anyone from Detroit knows Warren is not Detroit, and I wanted to focus on the distinctions, this white working-class community next to Detroit. I want this book to be like a magnifying glass or a camera with a zoom lens—to intensify the experience by limiting it geographically. This area in particular tends to look generic, the streets anonymous, but what makes them distinct is the people—the lives lived on those streets.

While the work is definitely fiction, I did want to capture the spirit and feel of the real place.

You grew up in Michigan and you’ve been living and teaching in Pittsburgh since 1982 but your fictional eye is still in your hometown; you are still sending characters in your stories on trips up north and following their lives in neighborhoods designed around auto assembly plants. Are you a Michigan writer no matter where you go?

Michigan has its hooks in me. It’s always pulling me back. I can’t say for sure why, but while I have written about other places—including Pittsburgh—Michigan is definitely still home for me. I am close enough (5 hour drive, though on the Ohio Turnpike, it seems longer….) to get back frequently to visit family in Michigan. I’ve got the emotional and physical distance to give me some perspective on the place, but still very attached to it too. Many of my initiatory experiences took place there, and I inevitably return there in my work.

My wife kids me about my Michigan pride—Michiganders have a state pride that Pennsylvanians simply do not have, with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on opposite ends, and, as I believe James Carville said, “Alabama in the middle.” I think exploring that territory in multiple genres—poetry, fiction, film—has hopefully allowed me to keep making it new without repeating myself too much.

Tell us some of your favorite writers from the Great Lakes region?

Jim Harrison might be my favorite because I came across his poetry (he’s a great fiction writer, but I really love his poems) early on when I was in college and first beginning to read contemporary poetry.  Phil Levine, of course, though I came to him later. I should stop there, otherwise I’d be going on and on….

Besides my teachers, the first living poets I met were Conrad Hilberry and Herb Scott, two Michigan writers who I learned a lot from—they made the whole thing real. Hey, these ordinary guys publish poems! And they weren’t crazy or assholes—and most importantly, they weren’t dead.

One of the stories in Eight Mile High that leaves the neighborhood is “Raccoon Heaven.” It’s about a sort-of-reformed drug dealer and his disastrous attempt at a healthy marriage and a normal vacation cottage. His story gets worse and worse and it’s sensory, like he’s remembering this time in full, with his whole body. The rotten fish alone… It would be a terrible story to read while hungover.

Then in the story “Our Lady of No Mercy,” after a disturbing revelation, the narrator says “Okay, it’s all on the table now. Or, most of it anyway. I don’t blame you if you get up from the table. I don’t blame you if you lost your appetite. Me, I’m always hungry. Me, I never get full.”

Eight_mile_highDo you feel that way as a writer? I sometimes do. What’s so important about writing the ugly stuff?

Yeah, I guess I do. I tend to have a dark sense of humor, so sometimes I’m surprised when some readers find the work depressing and I think it’s kind of funny in some twisted way.

But I do think we have to go there—where the ugly stuff is—if I find myself hesitant to write about something—scared, even—I take that as a good sign. You want to say, oh, that hole’s deep enough, but you have to keep on digging if you want to be honest with your readers, and with yourself.

I’ve got to go with my man, Celine, here—I used this as an epigraph for my second book, Punching Out:

“The greatest defeat in anything is to forget, and above all to forget what has smashed you, and to let yourself be smashed without ever realizing how thoroughly devilish men can be. When our time is up, we mustn’t bear malice, but neither must we forget: we must tell the whole thing, without altering one word—everything that we have seen of man’s viciousness, and then it will be over and time to go. That is enough of a job for a whole lifetime.”

In trying to give a quick synopsis of the “Raccoon Heaven” I didn’t manage to convey any of that dark humor, but it is there for sure. This plague of algae and the illegal fish that eat it, the former homeowner with her yappy dog, the sinister neighbor children with their George-and-Lennie-vibe – it’s funny-grotesque, weirder and weirder stuff piling up.

Have you read this one out to groups yet? It’s the kind of story that if you read it out loud to the right crowd they’d be roaring…

I have yet to read that story aloud. I’ll have to try it and see if the tone comes through.

You write fiction about big issues – death and grief, sexual abuse, domestic violence, shame and addiction. Yet the stories in the end are about the people, not the abstract issues, because there’s also hand-holding and cigarettes and porn and pancakes and unlikely alliances. It’s like story tax, if you kill a character, you have to give the reader something else to keep them reading, to keep us from getting up from that table? Like if there’s a death, you have to give us some pancakes. Is it all intuition? How do you balance the ugly with the sometimes sweet and often mundane?

Story tax—what a great way to put it. I guess looking at the list of subjects, it is a pretty dark book, though I think there’s more humor in this one too. I do hope it is about the people, in the end. With all of our flaws, we still love each other.

For me, maybe it is all intuition, though maybe I do try and add humor as a survival tool. I don’t think I consciously try to balance things—in life, obviously, we can’t. Things are always tilting one way or another. We’re just trying to keep our balance, which I believe is a form of dancing, in order to stay alive. Even though we know that too is going to ultimately result in failure, death. So, eat the damn pancakes, right?

Coney dogs vs. Cheesesteaks?

Coney dogs—not even close. I’ve been taken to the best cheese steak places in Philly, and all I can do is shrug. What’s the big deal? Now, coney dogs, that’s a whole different story. They’re the perfect food to come from Detroit—they have the personality of Detroit. Nothing subtle about them. When I had a Detroit News paper route, every Friday after I collected from my customers, I would go to this coney place on Ryan Road and get two coney dogs and a root beer and sit at the counter with my piles of change and eat like a king. In winter, taking a coney dog in my frozen fingers and taking that first bite—pure heaven.

Visit the MSU Press for more information on Eight Mile High

 

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GLR editor Rob Jackson writes “About a Character”

This is part of a blog relay to which GLR editor Rob Jackson was invited to participate in by Chicago writer Don DeGrazia. You can see Don’s answers to the same questions, which speak to character, here, on Paulette Livers’ blog. She was invited by novelist Thaisa Frank, whose responses can be seen here. Rob has in turn invited GLR editor Dave Megenhardt and contributing editor John Counts who will answer the same questions next week … as well as tag three more writers.

SiloWhat is the name of your fictional (or historical) character? Where is the book set?

Her name is Mona, the book is set in a small town in rural Ohio circa 1990.

What should we know about her?

She comes from privilege and is wise in many ways beyond her years (19) she learns much from running away from her bookish parents and living among people who share few of her values.  At least that’s what she thinks at first…

What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?

Her main conflict is with her father who, though not overtly stated, has probably been a bit controlling. She has obviously disappeared to punish him. She knows that she will return to the world that she is accustomed to but during her self-imposed exile she makes connections with people, who possess the ability to do good and also horrific evil, and that in itself starts her education with real world experience that because of the inertia of the past will only finish back in the classroom, at least for the foreseeable future.

She is forced to relinquish her wisdom teeth at the beginning of her exile…hmmm?

What is the personal goal of the character?

She needs to take a break. She needs to figure out things for herself in an environment very different from where she grew up. Nothing about her current life or the expectations placed on her make sense to her. The  strange surroundings give her a strange freedom to create the next moments that follow, or at least that what she thinks. She does find out, however, that the power of history is so overwhelming that she has to face that no matter how intense her will is, she will be humbled in the face of forces far beyond her own self.

 What is the title of this book, and can we read more about it?

Silo Pilgrimage. The book is coming out in the fall.

 Rob has invited three writers to keep the blog relay going. Next week you can check out the responses to these same questions from John Counts, Yoko Morgenstern and Dave Megenhardt.

JOHN COUNTS lives in Whitmore Lake, Michigan and works as a crime reporter at The Ann Arbor News. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in the Chicago Reader’s Pure Fiction issue, Midwestern Gothic, Wayne Literary Review and “A Detroit Anthology.” He coordinates the Narrative Map ESSAY project for the Great Lakes Review. You can find him online at www.johncountsontheinternet.com.

YOKO MORGENSTERN received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Tsukuba in Japan, and a Post-Graduate DIPLOMA in Canadian Journalism for Internationally Trained Writers from Sheridan College in Canada. Currently she is doing her M.A. in English and American Literature at the University of Bamberg in Germany.

DAVID MEGENHARDT is the author of the novel Dogs in the Cathedral, published by Red Giant Books in October 2012. He is the founder of the spoken word troupe Toad Theater. He works in Cleveland as the Executive Director of United Labor Agency, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting economic and SOCIAL inequities and lives is Shaker Heights, Ohio with his wife and two daughters.

 

THE ART OF CONNECTING: Ani DiFranco interviews painter Jim Mott

Ani DiFranco interviews painter Jim Mott about his travels, his ongoing Itinerant Artist Project, and his upcoming Great Lakes Tour. For more information about the project, visit Mott’s website, www.jimmott.com

AJimMottNI:  Maybe you could start by telling me where the idea came from for the Itinerant Artist Project.

JIM:  The IAP arose out of my dissatisfaction with the marginal place of fine art in our culture. I wanted to experience something different – for myself and for art.  I grew up in a home where art was valued, as were civic spirit and community service.  Art-making was considered a potentially important contribution to the community.

By contrast, after grad school, my life as an artist felt too disconnected from other people’s everyday lives, and the gallery system didn’t really help; it felt too exclusive and inaccessible.  I liked that some people were willing to pay for my paintings – I still do!  But that wasn’t enough.  And something about turning art into a commodity, buying and selling it, distorted what I thought art was all about, anyway: the exploration and sharing of meaning.

I had a lot of complaints about the relationship between art and society, and about the artworld itself.  Maybe at the heart of it all was the weakening sense of community in today’s world. Art didn’t make a lot of sense to me without something like a community to work for.  People sometimes leave home and take to the road to escape the influence of community; I guess I went on the road to find it.

ANI:  Maybe more Woodie Guthrie then Jack Kerouac. Were you thinking of other people who had done this sort of thing?

JIM: This was back in the late-1990s. There were a few key influences that came together at that time to make me think that I could do something more productive than complaining.  You were actually the first of these.  I remember a conversation I had with you and Scot (manager for Righteous Babe Records) where you said if you don’t like the way things are, make something different happen.  That wasn’t necessarily directed toward me, but it struck home.  I’d just started on a different career track and was considering a return to painting. You joked that if I was going back into art I’d have to learn to live with other people. I wasn’t sure what you meant – probably that I could expect to be poor and would need housing – but at some level I equated it with your touring life as a folksinger: How might a painter be more like a folksinger, more connected to the people I paint for?

Around that time I heard a lecture by the art critic Donald Kuspit. He said the most important creative task facing the artist today is the creation of an audience.  In the same lecture he mentioned that a lot of people involved in creative work don’t live creatively.  Those were good challenges to grapple with. I’d never thought of life as a medium to work with.

Then a friend lent me Lewis Hyde’s book, the Gift, which draws on traditional cultures, folk stories, myth and poetry to make a case for the importance of gifts, the realm of gift, and gift economies – as opposed to the market economy – in the life of the community and the imagination.  Hyde specifically addresses the artist’s dilemma:  art is a gift that should flow freely, but to survive in a market economy we have to turn it into a commodity. The Gift helped me to see clearly the values, the dimensions of life, that commercial compromises tended to exclude – and that I wanted to stand up for somehow rather than surrender.

Courtesy of jimmott.com

Courtesy of jimmott.com

Together these influences got me thinking that maybe I could be a traveling artist and operate within a little micro-culture, where art could support me while functioning as a gift.  It took me 3 or 4 years to actually get up the nerve to hit the road.  I never wanted to travel.  I get pretty anxious about going out on the road.  And painting.  And just about everything, actually.  Touring can be kind of rough…

ANI:  Yeah, yeah, it can be rough for an artist, especially a painter – you’re used to being so solitary.  The social energy you expend to be interactive almost exceeds the creative energy you get to put into your work.

JIM: It’s also good input, though.

ANI:  Definitely.  It feeds soul more than it sucks energy.  But that was something I thought about when I was considering the various kinds of art I might pursue – some seemed so exclusive, solitary and disconnected, some so connected and integral to what’s going on.  That’s one reason I chose music.  I think that’s similar to the feeling you had and have of wanting to be connected and relevant in this society.

JIM:  Yes, but I wanted to do it with painting, because it’s what I do best. And there’s a lot of value in it, even if it’s not a mainstream medium these days.

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CLEVELAND: ALISSA NUTTING IS NOT A DIRTY GIRL

nutting

Michael Heaton sits down with Alissa Nutting, author of “Tampa.” An excerpt from the Fall 2013 issue. 

Michael Heaton: This book is pure filth. Yes or no?

Alissa Nutting: Gauging the purity of filth strikes me as a difficult task. I will say that there are many types of filth in the book an assortment of elements from the Periodic Filth Table are represented and cause dangerous chemical reactions. Various layers of filth compete against one another in a grotesque carnival of pageantry.

MH: Summarize reading this book.

AN: It’s like stopping in front of a house because you see something very disturbing going on through the window, then when you peek in more closely, you spot a television screen in the back of the room, and what’s playing on the television is even more disturbing that what initially made you stop. It is a Russian nesting doll of impropriety.

MH: Are you going to let your mother read this book?

AN: My mother is incredibly protective of her soul, of her general mental landscape of decency. She will not read the book.

MH: Your protagonist Celeste Price is a peeping tom, an adulterer, a narcissist, a pedophile, a chronic masturbator, and a liar. What are her good points?

AN: Easy on the eyes. Somewhat wizardly with sarcasm. Her patronizing thoughts about absolutely everyone else demonstrate a type of commitment to equality.

MH: How difficult was it to live with this woman in your head while writing this book?

AN: She was a pretty demanding mental roommate, to be honest. Parts of my spirit that were once a lush and radiant garden now look like dehydrated bacon from prolonged exposure to Celeste. One corner of my heart was removed, and in its place she put a Ziploc sandwich baggie filled with tobacco chew spit, etc. I may never fully recover from the act of scarification that was the writing of this novel. That sort of damage never heals.

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