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Art Essay: Imagine in New York

By Mark Laiosa
ART TIMES online April 2013

Taking inspiration from John Lennon’s 1971 song, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters met in New York City bringing energy and creativity from around the world as one could witness in over one thousand showcase performances, lasting from 20 to 75 minutes in the hope of having a manager, agent, or presenter book them for the upcoming season. 

Before the marathon program of showcases from hip-hop and break dancing, to a variety of world music and dance troupes to European music ensembles, there were two pre-conference forums.

The Jazz Connect conference was co-sponsored by JazzTimes and the Jazz Forward Coalition.  It was a day of hands-on, practical information and best practices for jazz musicians and people working in the jazz idiom. Covered were the basics of running a business, promotional opportunities, networking, and social media.  The overall impression was of jazz musicians realizing that there is more to the gig than blowing your horn, so to speak. The energy and rapt attention of attendees was a constant factor during the APAP pre-conference and conference sessions.

Down the hall was the World Music conference, and it was a world of music and I wondered if  “classical” music was world music, it isn’t from Mars. What was once known as ethnomusicology and performance practice has been cast in an easier and shorter phrase for the mainstream, world music. The tools for marketing are the same as the Jazz connection; I felt they there were information silos.  The Jazz Connect and World Music conferences can use the same accounting tools and social media to get the word out about their ensembles.

The pre-conference session The New Opera-Theatre of the 21st Century had a group of panelist discussing the younger generation of composers, one of the panelist and composer, David T. Little, spoke of using interviews with Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans in his Soldier Songs. Recorded interview excerpts, electronically generated sounds, a mixed chamber ensemble, called Newspeak, joined with additional musicians and Baritone David Adam Moore performed this heartfelt exploration of soldier’s and family’s experiences. What the work shares in common is meager production funds and small ensembles.  This is where creativity comes to the front, and where I pointed out during the question and answer part of the session to Beth Morrison, of Prototype and her push to use the term Opera-Theatre, that all the labels come down to “story telling by every means necessary.”  A good deal of time was spent searching for a label; even a concept from the 19th Century was mentioned.  Wagner’s Gesammthkunstwerk (as Wagner spelled it) was mentioned, a blending of music, drama, and stagecraft.  These are exciting times as new conventions are established and existing conventions are either pushed aside or customized for new technologies.

Pre-conference panels, especially the 2013 Dance Forum reflected the changes in American society, shifting demographics and its influence on ensembles and presenters, and ultimately what we see on stage.  Other sessions explored the crucial side of presenting the performing arts, Tuning Up Your Board, a collection of ideas and best practices, and methods that will create a more efficient board.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, star of stage and screen, used the fact that John Lennon wrote Imagine at the Hilton Hotel in 1971 and shared some of his insights on creativity for all aspects of programming and the performing arts.

An exciting feature of APAP is the Pecha Kucha, from the Japanese, roughly translated means a chit chat. Six speakers, from different disciplines, theater, dance, or music for instance, have six minutes to present images or a video to open up a highly interactive discussion with the audience and speakers.  Many ideas whizzing by, note-taking was a sure way of falling behind.  At the end of the session my eyes were crossed, yet I came away energized and inspired.

To help performing arts programs, thrive a series of consultations are offered from the NEA for Dance, Presenting and Artist Communities, and international affairs programs. Chamber Music America was on hand to help ensembles with commissioning and residency grants.

For the legal aspects of the performing arts, were the GG Arts Law presented mini workshops that covered foreign artists, taxes, and A Copyright Guide to the Digital Galaxy, to help understand the use and license on the internet, digital media, and social networks.

There were four days of showcases in the Hilton Hotel and nearby dance centers.  At times the halls of the Hilton sounded like a recently discovered Charles Ive’s score with Saxophonist Igor Butman and his big band wailing away while strains of Saxophonist Kevin Kizer’s Quartet gave a jiving counterpoint.  The boards were alive as well with gender bending Compagnie Virginie Brunelle from Quebec and the contemporary ballet group Cedar Lake. International acts among them, France, Czech Republic and Japan filled out the roster. 

The APAP was a chance to experience unusual acts.  RadioTheater’s King Kong, brought a recreation of the “golden age of radio” presenting old time radio with sound effects and Foley.  Another sensory experience was EarFilms: “To Sleep To Dream,” you are blind folded and listen to a live story teller. It’s a  fairy tale set in the future, enhanced by a surround sound that gives a sense of distance.  The music score makes it a theater of the mind; everyone “sees” a different show!

Children were not forgotten with a youth and family showcase, a blend of comedy, illusion, mime, and music for the next generation.  Comedy for adults ranged from stand up comics to the Up-right Citizens Brigade, with a sharp witted improve ensemble that moved quickly from theme to theme, government, the economy, to personal relationships.

For classical music lovers there were showcases of young musicians at Carnegie Hall and seminars on the business skills needed to have a successful career.

The yearly conference of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters offered support to management and artists in furthering artistic expression that will get American audiences to Imagine.

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