Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Make friends with your fears": An informational interview with Aby Wolf

On October 29th I met up with Aby Wolf, singer, songwriter, and visual artist at Spyhouse Coffee Shop In Minneapolis for an informational interview. We talked about her path in music and art and about the creative process.

(photo by Sharolyn B. Hagen)
"Aby Wolf has an American Idol–worthy voice that would likely win her a callback on the show, probably even from hard-to-please judge Simon Cowell. It’s rich, thick, soulful. You can even imagine her singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl. It’s that stirring a sound. The songs on Wolf’s debut album rightfully showcase her pipes. She’s engaging enough musically, as on the rousing R&B–driven number “What U Waitin 4,” to almost make you overlook her writing chops. Her lyrics are gracious, tender, and often gazing well into the future, where she’ll likely be sitting pretty atop the charts." —Jessica Chapman, Minnesota Monthly

When I decided to do this project I obviously was eager to talk to singer/songwriters, so I was very excited to meet with Aby. It was so great talking with her because she is so honest, purposeful and self-aware.

Aby is from a small town in Illinois, and always knew that she wanted to be a singer. She credits 2 experiences as what sealed her path:
1. Going to Illinois all-state choir while she was in high school
2. Singing back up at a Honey Dogs show

After high school Aby moved to Minneapolis and originally started at the U of M, but ended up switching to MCAD to pursue drawing. While working on visual art she also began writing music, and in 2009 released her first album, Sweet Prudence. Her first album was a "feeling things out" process of what it's like to put your work out there.

We talked quite a bit about what it's like to release creative work out into the world. Aby noted that it's kind of scary when your dream space and reality come together; it seems like this is something that Aby's going through right now. I think that a lot of people can relate to that (myself included), and I think that's one thing that prevents people from following their dreams. When your dreams merely in your head and your heart they're safe. Nothing can mess with them.

Aby also told me about how she takes voice lessons from a Buddhist teacher, which is SO COOL. She's also been involved with the The Minnesota Zen Meditation Center. Again, AWESOME.

Aby believes that it's important to honor your individual artistic process, which is also just great advice. She fits her process into her everyday life: her creativity is always there. Aby tries to "breathe life" into her day job as a server, which I imagine is necessary so that she's not too burnt out to be creative. I asked Aby if she ever feels pressure to pursue a more "normal" career, and she responded that the pressure isn't that she should get a "normal job," it's that she make a living off of her music and art.

We also talked about the amazing book Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, which we've both read. A big lesson from this book is that it is important to let in the ideas unedited. Also, discipline is necessary because creative work is not always fun. Writing is a process of struggling and wrestling, it's an interaction. You have to step back and actually listen to what that interaction is. You can't force it and the interaction becomes the song.

When it comes to material, Aby said that lyrically, we don't need grand new ideas. Her work tends to be about returning to the simple things she already knows.

It was great to have someone be honest; the rock star/artist mythology is that songwriting (or really creating any kind of art) and performing comes naturally and it's easy for people who are meant to do it. That is not really me, and it was great to have Aby shatter that myth for me.

Both the rewarding and difficult part of her career is that it's never easy. She directly has to face her fears in singing and performing. Sometimes it's rewarding and sometimes it's hell. It is what it is. It's not perfect or easy. Aby feels like she doesn't have a choice in her path. There is all of the momentum behind her; everything has led her to this place.

Aby's thought's on finding one's path: "If you're working hard on something that's meaningful to you, the lessons you learn will be applicable throughout your life." Aby's (amazing) advice is to learn how to make friends with your fears. It's not about trying to get past them because they'll always be there. Aby's resources or "keys" are Art and Fear (again!), and The Artist's Way, which I've done (twice!) and want to do again.

Aby's advice for someone who wants to follow their dreams: Just do it. Make friends being afraid. She deals with this everyday. Your future is completely dependent on where you put your intention. You have to surrender to the fact that it's scary and hard.

After talking with Aby, I just feel so good and so relieved. The advice above was very comforting to me. I sometimes doubt my dreams because they involve doing things that don't always come easy for me, and things that quite honestly scare the living daylights out of me some of the time. Aby is living proof of how great and rewarding it is to make friends with your fears.

Thank you so much Aby! You are amazing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

J.K. Rowling's Harvard Commencement Address

"The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination"

It's absolutely amazing.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Informational Interview with arts administrator Judy Bartl

On November 5th I met with Judy Bartl, Program Director of the University of Minnesota/Guthrie B.F.A program in her office in the Rarig Center on the U of M campus. Judy had so much wisdom and light! With her entrepreneurial spirit and passion for the arts, Judy has worked a huge variety of jobs (she once sold tombstones!) and has always been open to new experiences. These qualities are what brought her to where she is now: at a job that she loves.

Here's a bit about Judy:
“University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program Director, has contributed more than two decades of experience in the theater to the BFA Actor Training Program. Her arts management path took her from The Guthrie Theater's Company Manager to Mixed Blood Theater as Director of EnterTraining. She has also spent time as 'J' in J&S Casting - Casting Directors who worked with Disney films, the Ordway and many commercial projects. Her personal experience for this Program comes from playing the role of Mother for over 20 years.”

When Judy graduated from college she wanted to pursue a career in acting. However, gradually and naturally her path brought her to the administrative side of the arts. It was never her plan to end up in academia.

Judy was a company manager of the Guthrie Theater, and when the Guthrie created the B.F.A program with the University of Minnesota, Judy was asked to be the Program Director. In most instances Judy has been able to “create” her own jobs and enjoys that as program director she gets to create her own “business” within the greater structure of the University.

Because of the wide variety of things that Judy does for her job, there's no typical day, which is something that Judy likes about it.

Judy says that the most rewarding part of her jobs is watching the students develop, from the time she meets them as high school seniors to when they graduate with their B.F.A. The parts Judy doesn't like about her job are having to evaluate her faculty. They're artists, and she wants them to feel supported. Also, she doesn't like that there is always a lack of money and they are continually fighting for more funding.

I asked Judy about how the current poor economy has affected her field and she said that changes have mainly occurred in dealing with parents who are concerned about their kids wanting to major in the arts. Also, more and more arts management companies need strong leaders to deal with these difficult times.

Also, a current trend in the theater world is trying to get younger audiences, by changing theater conventions. For example, "conventional" theater doesn't exactly appeal to today's young people: no talking, no cell phones, have to dress up, etc.

For those interested in pursuing arts administration, Judy recommended getting a degree in arts administration or a business degree. It's good to study a broad spectrum of things because the career entails so many things.

Something I'm really interested in is work/life balance in the arts, so I asked Judy about that. She shared that because the arts are so demanding, it can eat you alive if you don't set boundaries. Judy wishes she would of sat down and thought about what her priorities were earlier in her career.

I also wanted to know what it's like to be a woman in arts administration. Judy shared that being a woman is always a factor in the workplace. You need to behave in a certain way; there are great role models, like Hillary Clinton.

Judy's advice to women is that it is important to be true to yourself. Women can bring positive things to the work place. Women tend to be better listeners, are more organized in some ways, are better at multi-tasking. Competition among women breeds negativity; women can get where they want by being strong and confident. However, in the arts, gender dynamics are not as clear cut, which puts a different spin on it.

Learning about Judy's path has taught me to stay open to new experiences. It's alright to be thinking about the next thing, don't get too comfortable, especially in our current economic climate.Judy has had an exciting journey because of her openness to new experiences. All of her experiences have led her to where she is now; she wouldn't change a thing.

Thank you Judy!