act one: unicornification
a few months back, while being driven to the tarrytown train station by charles, my assistant camera for a shoot that i was a cinematographer on with director marta renzi, he inquired, “when people ask you what you do, how do you identify yourself?” it was a very poignant question, and one that comes up often in the university courses and workshops i teach. it is also a topic that has challenged me on a personal level over the years...and as i am always doing so many things...there isn’t an easy answer.
in 2014, while doing the artist’s way, i started to refer to myself as a “wild artist”.
this occurred from my personal dissatisfaction of trying to identify as one thing when i am not one thing, paired with the exhaustion of having to recite “the list.” it also arose from the fact that i didn’t want to follow the trend of calling myself a unicorn as many others at the time were doing. this hipster term is sometimes used as a reference for those who can magically do it all. it also has sexual connotations, (we won’t go into that here but you can always google it).
check out some of the the urban dictionary’s definitions for unicorns.
these are my favs.
A unicorn is somebody who knows they're magical and isn't afraid to show it.
"I'm a unicorn, or a bicorn." - Brittany S. Pierce
Kurt Hummel is a unicorn.
by klainevines September 27, 2011
these descriptions resonate with me beyond the surface level of the love and idolatry they speak of. for me the unicorn metaphor goes deeper because i've heard it used as a reference to artists that takes me into wonderment. as freelancing artists some of us find ourselves working in multiple fields because we do more then one thing well or/and (sometimes) because we need the work. we fall into producing, or managing positions, we work inter-disciplinarily, or cross-disciplinary, trans-disciplinary or even work in multiple roles within the same field. this is where the term sparks my interest, and not just the term but the philosophy behind the word, the metaphor and the expectation that comes from that idea, how it is showing up in our field and how as freelancing artists, unicornification is inherent.
and now for a tap dance
my mother often reminds me of my birth story. of the nurse who first held me after I was delivered. i squirmed in her arms and she exclaimed to the room “this baby’s got rhythm in her bones!”.
and so, i became one with rhythm.
when I was 8, my parents took me to my first piano lesson. they got me an upright baldwin piano to practice on, and although i loathed setting the kitchen timer for 30 minutes and practicing my scales and weekly lessons, i absolutely adored writing lyrics, singing and making up my own music on the keys.
and so, i became a musician/composer.
my sixth grade teacher, mrs. solis, had our class read anne franke and then write poems in response to the material. prose seeped through me and i started to keep journals into which i poured poetry.
and so, i became a poet.
in seventh grade i asked my friends to teach me the dances they were learning at their dance studio during recess.
and so i became a dancer.
in middle school i started painting my walls and pieces of wood, plastic and found objects. and so i became a painter.
as a senior in high school i finally got the nerve together and auditioned for the school musical and was given the lead dancer/chorus role.
and so, i became a musical theater performer (junkie).
for college my father suggested to choose music instead of dance as a major, since music was more “reliable” as a profession. i got into ucla on a french horn scholarship and by the end of my freshmen year transferred into the world arts & cultures department so i could study multiple forms of art.
and so i became multi-disciplinary.
as a junior i studied for a year abroad in ghana, to learn west african music and dance.
and so i became a cultural anthropologist and a world traveler.
in the late nineties through the early aughts i choreographed plays, musicals, operas and dances.
and so i became a choreographer.
I also wrote songs, was a spoken word artist and in a band and recorded several demos and songs.
and so i became a recording artist.
in 2002 i worked with puppets for the production of oliver.
and so i became a puppeteer.
in 2007 i directed my first film and in 2008 i directed my first musical.
and so i became a director.
in the late oughts after my viral break into dance film and invitation to teach at ucla i was asked to write a review of a book.
and so i became a critic.
based on my own films that i edited, i was asked to edit other people’s short and feature films.
and so i became an editor.
as i became more known in the dance film world i was invited to sit on panels.
and so i became a panelist.
i was invited to sit on the screening committee for dance camera west, dances made to order and the enroute film festival, and invited by the topanga film festival to put together a dance film showcase, and so i became a film curator.
i produced the world sacred music festival, the dance and music festival of topanga canyon and the topanga canyon film festival.
and so i became a producer.
i produced, edited and wrote downloadable educational toolkits for the first feature documentary participatory film to be shot in every country of the world on the same day, “one day on earth”...
and so...i became...a unicorn.
my point, rather tediously made, is that i am many things.
my list is long, and tedious to tell. and i didn't tell you everything...i'll save that for a night at a local brooklyn bar over a glass of whiskey.
am i flirting? yes i am.
and not to say that doing something once equals you are that thing. everything on this list, are things that i've done again and again and again and because of that, i have a lot of experience and specializations in a lot of areas.
sometimes i've been told i have too much experience, that i am "overqualified" for a position.
i've been criticized that my CV is too long.
how’s that for irony?
so with a list this long and a life full of hard work, persistence and passionate dedication to the arts, how is it that most years of my life i did not feel comfortable calling myself an artist?
act 2 the unificornification of academic job postings
you may have noticed, in an academic job search, the calls put out by universities and colleges are expecting that we be unicorns.
here’s a great example from the chronicle of higher ed, i’ve italicized the areas of irony and boldfaced the unicornisms:
The Department of ### at ### University invites applications for an anticipated tenure-track, assistant professor position in Dance. The anticipated start date for this position is September of 2016. The successful candidate will be teaching all levels of undergraduate studio courses in modern/contemporary dance technique and choreography. Additionally, participating in departmental concerts through choreographing or setting repertory on students. Other duties include supervising and mentoring student work as well as participation in student recruitment, academic advisement, and fulfillment of assigned departmental activities and responsibilities.
The successful candidate must be able to work collaboratively with students and other faculty, as well as having skills and interests that lay in possible future administrative duties within the dance program. Further, one must have capability to use technology for creative or pedagogical purposes. Online course development and delivery would be welcomed. Additional responsibilities include; serving on audition, jury and department committees, while actively contributing to regular curricular development and review, engaging in service to the University as well as the broader scholarly and professional communities, and engagement in professional theatrical productions and related performances.
An advanced degree (MFA or PhD) in dance or equivalent outstanding professional experience and demonstrated university teaching experience are required for this position. Expertise is required in one or more of the following areas: teaching modern/contemporary dance technique, choreography and improvisation. The ability to teach in other areas of specialization such as modern dance partnering, somatic work, dance production, and etc. would be preferred.
hopefully this helps you better understand the unicornification that is happening in our field.
and if i may mention, the above call has grammatical errors. so even though they expect you to be perfect, they are not.
act 3: the wild artist
in the 90’s in los angeles, fresh out of undergrad from ucla, people would ask me what i did.
my response at the time was, “i am a dancer”.
to which most people responded “so you strip?”
was it my age? was it my gender? was it my body? was it my demeanor? was it my city?
was it that most people i was hanging around were in their 20’s living in la la land.
i often wondered what led people to this assumption.
after months of getting the same response, i started to answer the question differently.
“so what do you do?”
“i am a choreographer.”
this answer often lead into deeper conversation where i usually had to explain to an interested listener what i do.
“wow, that’s so cool!”
whenever i took the leap into the shadows, the dark side of being a dancer, by insinuating that being a choreographer isn't all puppies and kittens, people would just keep smiling with that dreamy sparkly look in their eyes…imagining i lead the life of paula abdul.
so for several years i called myself a choreographer. and i choreographed a lot!
even though at the time i was doing much more than choreographing.
i was writing songs, i was performing spoken word, i was in a band, i was directing my own dance company, i was making costumes for that company, i was producing large party events in my loft in the south bay, and i was making the best damn cappuccino foam in west hollywood. and tips baby! i was making tips!
my dance company was performing a lot. at underground art gallery openings, raves, and cirque du soleil parties and we started to collaborate with media artists on video, interactive and cd-rom projects. around this time “cannibal flower” started, and my company was one of the regular groups to perform at the monthly roaming art gallery parties.
i was constantly creating and yet i did not call myself an artist.
i literally could not speak those brave words.
i kept mousing around it.
around this time one of my dancers in my company repeatedly told me that i should start teaching.
“i don’t want to.”
“but you really should cari ann, you are so good at it.”
“nah...i don't want the responsibility”
i truly didn’t want to. i was very much against it, in so many ways, it is ridiculous to me now the thoughts i had about it then.
fifteen years later, it turns out that teaching is my absolute fav thing to do.
just goes to show that you never know...and not to believe everything you think.
4 operas, several musicals and tons of dances later, in 2000, i was invited to choreograph a show at a performing arts academy in culver city by my dear friend will pellegrini. i ended up staying for 8 years, founding a dance department that i chaired, writing curriculum, directing a musical, and choreographing 3 plays, 8 musicals and over 30 dances.
it wasn’t until then that i changed my answer into a list.
i teach, and i choreograph, and i direct, and i run a dance department and i make films and i and i and i. of course it was the 2000’s and whereas in the 90’s it was cool to be elusive, in the 2000’s it was really cool to be totally overextended, a workaholic and multi-disciplanary, multi-dimentional, multi-everything.
i was overwhelmed.
suddenly there were too many things to say.
i was going in circles.
i wanted to focus on my art.
i decided to go back to school.
so i returned to ucla, wac department to study with the ones who influenced me so in my undergrad. to pursue that mastor mentor apprenticeship style thang.
grad school, broke me, werked me, reorganized me, brainwashed me, and degreed me.
i made 12 short films in 3 years.
i read too many books.
i got really really focused.
i didn't have time to pee.
it was the best of times. it was the worst of times.
i gained an incredible cohort that i keep cherish to this day and keep close contact with.
and most importantly i learned how to create new ways of explaining what i do.
in 2014 i decided to get the book and do the practice of the artists way. this was much more beneficial to me then grad school. through this process i again changed the way i refer to myself but more importantly i changed the way i think of myself and what i do. i yearned for a one word term to sum up all that i do in an efficient and compelling way. in 2012 anna b. scott invited myself and david roussève to be featured artists for her program called the "wild mind" which sparked my use of the word. during that time i found myself referring to our field as the wild frontier. it all aligned for me, synchronicity at its finest.
so i changed my signature on my email to read "wild artist" and everything changed.
things shifted dramatically in my career. and for me, personally, there’s a new sense of freedom i feel to do anything, and to be ok with my multi-disciplinary range of talents. i no longer beat myself up psychologically for not doing enough of this or that, but rather indulge in the ever changing and exciting new projects that come my way because i’m not pigeon holing myself as one thing, or dividing myself between too many things. nor am i claiming anything as my specialty.
the moment i changed my signature in my gmail settings to read “wild artist”, i took flight on a new creative path that bore my new class “dancing with devices”, which took me to nyu to teach, led to conceptualizing vr projects with itp/opera on tap that are now funded through big grants, and a landed me in an international project that looks at how art and dance function across borders with nyu's global institute for advanced study, my new alter ego "trixie" showed up, and...drumroll please...i made a new dance called "turbulence" that premiered at the triskelion arts dance comedy festival.
perhaps it was the surrender to the unknown which allowed anything to happen. or maybe it was the word wild that allowed wildness to arise.
whatever the case, i’m sticking with it. it’s the best i’ve ever felt and it’s the best i’ve ever been.
i am a wild artist.
and being wild is way better than being a unicorn. we already have enough of those! ;-)