Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Charting Karen Paisely

Diane Scott, the Professional Development Program Manager of ArtistINC, has asked me to write a series of articles about artists, their process, their development and sustaining principles; how they meld their passion with the practical. She’s given me a great script from which to work which lurks at the end of this worded meandering. Also, she’s challenged me to speak with artists not in the visual-category of creativity.


Here goes…

Karen Paisley

passionate – practical – performing – power

...the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre’s Artistic Director; actor, director, business leader, Mother to Holland and James, wife of co-collaborator actor director Bob, and excellent cook. When I arrived at the MET this afternoon, a cast rehearsed the upcoming production of “Enchanted April”. Bob has a role, Karen’s not directing or acting in this one but she’s stewarding the ship, USS MET.

…for artists, think using metaphor.

Karen and I grew up by the sea; she in Murfreesboro, North Carolina and me in Avalon, New Jersey. Sea, ships, sails, ballast, cargo, steward, deck, mast, beach, channel, navigation, wind, weather, sand, inlet, chart, course, rudder, helm, sailor, crew, captain, anchor and stores.

…fellow artists, pick your metaphor. It’s what you do. You take metaphor and make it something beautiful. Steer your ship with care, anchor in your harbour, off-load your cargo at the docks, take stock, and treat the merchants well. They desire your treasures, very much.

I’m veering off-course here, from Diane’s lovely script, so back on track, here’s the scuttlebutt from Captain Karen, a checklist for your cruise:

- In our careers we make conscious and unconscious choices. Often we have mentors, salty dogs, experienced people who advise. Sometimes we do this advising on our own. Karen’s been her own compass and she now trusts her azimuth…she secretly longs for a mentor. Secret’s out. Meet your peers when you can and along the way, someone just might do that mentorship thing with you. Chances are you’re a mentor, too. If you are, enjoy…

- Do you have talent? Do you love this enough to do it a lot, all your life maybe? Does it bring you joy?

- Pay attention. Be self-critical. Listen to criticism. Discern. Be self-celebratory as well. Yeah!

- Energy abounds in the theatre world, Theatre people are always the loudest. They project for a living, and often for free.

- Theatre resides in the audience, not on stage. Sell tickets.

- Reach out to people. Write and meet people who do. Reach out of the theatre, your studio, to schools, the library, neighborhoods, businesses, the community at large. Reach out and give a little nudge. Enchant. Your art does that too. It will enchant and connect you with people. Sell tickets, sustain.

- Things take shape before the play, obviously in the theatre but also outside it. People, your audience, anticipate the art form, get excited, and you can excite them. They bring something in the door and take so much more home after the play. Remember that “supply chain”. Remember your favorite metaphors.

- The arc of a season, what plays to select, what songs to sing in your set, and in what order, the ark that you build for your show, the setting, the welcoming aspect to all of this, the presentation of your art. Find a curator like Karen if you can. She curates…

- Try to balance your life. Karen missed a load of Holland’s soccer games, James has grown up in the theatre, literally. Regrets, she has a few, but then again to few to mention… One night, James shined a spotlight on her when it looked like the misfired primary spotlight was going to ruin a scene. He had her front. Holland heard her Mom sing for the first time after a long time while being Karen’s dresser for “Light in the Piazza” last year. Missed soccer games a distant memory replaced by Holland’s tears of joy. Great stuff. Balance involves imbalance, right? You know all this, you’re an artist. I’ll continue anyway…

- This collaborative art form, it’s done together and together is tough. Migrant actors moving from fertile field to stage, to this theatre culture to that theater spelled with an “er”, with this funding, or that captain on the bridge. Migrant sailors from ship to ship.

- For Karen this MET ship is her day job, but if you’re thinking of a day job, consider one that either helps you practice your passion, or one that doesn’t suck you under like a tidal undertow off and away from you beach.

- Learn about grants. Think of them as recipes. Learn to make a good basic sauce, for you’ll be at sea a while, Matey. Find a salty dog grant writer, copy, repeat, swab the deck a few times, walk the plank, and dive in. Learn a basic dive, ten add a few nice twists that make it all you. You know this, you’re an artist. You’ve taken risks before and know the terror of standing on a stage, on the edge of the planks. Channel some of that wind-defying courage onto a page that shouts a bit about you. Ahoy, there!

- The theatre scene in Kansas City, depending upon how you spell it, used to be a bit hierarchical to Karen, but now the waters seem wider, without a fleet organization per se, no Admirals, but with a lot of powerful creative captains; many of them women.

- Collaborative council societies are good, Karen believes. It’s fun to weigh anchor with fellow seafarers but the shipping schedule is busy and there’s not often time to dock and come ashore. When you have time to do so, meet your peers, celebrate, ruminate…

- Input is good. Value your in-put-ers. Some will include your audience.

- All the neighborhoods and harbours in the city have something good to offer. Some places have passionate patrons. Some parts of town contain collaborators and volunteers. Even the suburbs has nice folks aching to go somewhere and have fun. Sell tickets.

- You can hold more in your hand if you open your palm. Karen said that or something like it. Make a fist, if you wish, but you’ll get a bit tense and you’ll just be clutching something small or nothing at all. In other words open up. You’re an artist. You know that. This sensual thing is all about sensing and sensing requires open pores, dilated pupils, outstretched hands, passages ready for fragrances, taste buds budding, ears open…

- The Ark that is the MET is full now after six years at sea. Consider your cargo in relation to your ballast. She has a great crew and she needs them, each and every member. Once alone at her dining room table which belonged to her Mom, when Karen started this MET with Bob, it felt a lot like alone. You can relate, I know. From table to Arts Incubator third floor to 1824 Walnut garage, to present dry-dock at 3614 Main, it’s been a journey thus far, creatively and geographically, conceptually and literally as well as metaphorically.

- Financials started in a ledger, handwritten like ships log, each and every precious doubloon counted in and out of the chest. Find a way that works for you. Now the MET uses QuickBooks thanks to few volunteer crew. This helps keep the ship afloat and gives early warning to those who need to man (or woman) the pumps.

Interview over. The Captain’s called mid-ships. A new crew member (an actor) arrives, requests permission to come aboard.

Stick to your core and find your metaphor…

Pictured, left to right, James, Karen, and Holland


Diane's script...

Mapping your career
• What should an artist consider when creating plans for his/her art practice?
• What key strategies have you used to learn about areas where you possess weakness?
• What resources in your network or the community have you found to be the most useful to further your art/business practice?
• What strategies have you used to successfully sell your work art fairs?
• What one thing would you differently in regards to your art/business practice, you had it to do over again?
• How do you balance family with your art practice?
• Discuss your perspective on the pros and cons of a day job?
• What type of day job do you feel is the best compliment to a successful art practice? Why?

Finding money
• What strategy do you use to keep up on potential grant opportunities?
• How do you balance the time needed to apply for grants with time for your art practice?
• What techniques have you found beneficial in successfully applying for grants?
• What strategies to you use to keep good financial records?
• Why is important to maintain good financial records?

Promoting your work
• As an artist who was new to Kansas City, how did you navigate the Kansas City Arts Scene?
• How have you developed a network of peers?
• How important to your art practice and art business is the input of your network of peers?
• What challenges do you face in promoting your work in Kansas City? How have you overcome these challenges?
• How do you determine how much you should charge for a piece of work/project?
• What strategies have you found to be most successful in the preparation and distribution of press releases?

Finding opportunities
• In your experience, which neighborhood(s) in the Kansas City area are most hospitable to artists, and why?
• What are the benefits of having a studio space in your home? What are the benefits of having a studio space outside your home?
• What impact have residencies had on your art practice and your career?
• How do you afford an outside studio/rehearsal space? How important to you is it to maintain an outside space?

Getting legal
• When is it important for an artist to have a contract?
• Why did you form an LLC?
• Why did you choose to not form an LLC?

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