showing not telling

I’m deep into Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run. I like Springsteen’s music (yes, since that video with Courtney Cox in 1984), and have been particularly drawn to his quieter solo albums like Nebraska, and The Ghost of Tom Joad. I’ve never been quite enough of a fan to go and see him perform, although his concerts are legendary (check out the 12 minute half-time performance at The Super Bowl in 2009 for a sample).

The autobiography is captivating: epic, vulnerable, loud, and full of heart. It’s like reading a dream – a very big dream – and it’s astonishing to get some insight into his ambition, his fragility, and his love.

Here are two brief quotes that have stayed with me.

On respecting audiences:

When you came to work with me, I had to be assured you’d bring your heart. Heart sealed the deal. That’s why the E Street Band plays steamroller strong and undiminished, forty years in, night after night. We are more than an idea, an aesthetic. We are a philosophy, a collective, with a professional code of honor. It is based on the principle that we bring our best, everything we have, on this night, to remind you of everything you have, your best. That it’s a privilege to exchange smiles, soul and heart directly with the people in front of you. That it’s an honor and great fun to join in concert with those whom you’ve invested so much of yourself in and they in you, your fans, the stars above, this moment, and apply your trade humbly (or not so!) as a piece of a long, spirited chain you’re thankful to be a small link in.

On playing and shutting up:

I know how it works. I’ve done it. Play and shut up. My business is SHOW business and that is the business of SHOWING . . . not TELLING. You don’t TELL people anything, you SHOW them, and let them decide. That’s how I got here, by SHOWING people. You try to tell people what to think and you end up a little Madison Avenue mind fascist.

It’s SHOWtime. We go on. The audience seems reticent, the room feels uneasy. That’s my responsibility. You’ve got to let the audience feel that they’re coolly within your hands. That’s how you help them feel safe and free enough to let themselves go, to find whatever they’ve come looking for and be whoever they’ve come here to be.

On the Shore, mecca to the bar- and show-band elite, rabid disciples of the James Browns, the Sam Moores, the hard-core soul showmen who brought it every time they hit the stage, we come from where “professionalism” is not a dirty word. One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . Motherfucker! That’s the time for action, for living, for manifesting life, for BRINGING IT! . . . NOT for dipping into the black recesses to pick the lint out of your belly button.

Advertisements

anamnesis italiano

In 2009 I made a short film called Anamnesis with Cormac Lally, Bagryana Popov, David Corbet, and Liz Jones. Around that time I asked Marika Rizzi to do an Italian translation of the text in the film. I remember the translation process to be quite challenging as the differences between English and Italian tested my understanding of the film as I knew it. In the time since Marika did the translation I’ve been learning Italian and it is fascinating to recognise the choices she has made in making the poetics of the film make sense in Italian. A simple but important example is her choice to use the ‘you singular’ form in Italian (tu) as opposed to the ‘you plural’ form (voi) – a distinction that does not exist in English.

www.skellis.info/work#/anamnesis

conflicts of interest – letting us know that they know

The thing about conflicts of interest is that they are inevitable. I’ve experienced them from various sides: I’ve benefited from them, missed out because of them (perhaps), others have benefited from them because of me … you get the idea. I’ve seen them involve friends, colleagues, husbands, wives, partners, families, former lovers. In a few situations the conflicts of interest were named, but nothing was changed or adapted because of them. In even fewer cases (perhaps two that come to mind) the conflict was named and the decision-making process was adapted. In all these cases we could never know who – or how – people have been privileged or disadvantaged by the conflict. Indeed, I’d argue that in any decision-making process our cultural, racial, gender-based, political, aesthetic, social (the list could go on and on) understandings of the world and people act as conflicts of interest (we just call them biases). Given all of these things, how could I ever know that I’m making the best possible decision for the people and organisations involved?

But the really insidious thing about obvious conflicts of interest (marriage, partners, friendship, etc) is how they affect other people. The simple perception that there is a conflict of interest – by those just on the edge of the event or decision – is enough to cause righteous frustration, anger and bitterness.

In the dance community people just say that conflicts of interest are inevitable because “it’s a small field”. But this is not the problem. I know of no organisations in dance that have publicly announced conflicts of interest and the steps they took to counter the conflicts.[1] Such a simple action would at the very least let the dance community know something they already know. More importantly, the organisation responsible for the conflict of interest would be letting us know that they know.


  1. But I’d love to hear different.  ↩