Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Is it Worth the Risk? - Documenting Creative Process - Part One

The band was quite possibly going to fall apart. The past couple albums were major disappointments for many fans. Some thought the band had lost its teeth. After years of letting fans tape live shows, animosity was the result of halting these same devotees from distributing mp3s. The lead singer has a substance abuse problem he had to get a grip on. The newest member had enough and left the band. Things had gotten so bad that a psychiatrist was brought in to help the band mates tolerate each other as they attempted to create another album. Who in their right mind would let cameras document the pain and problems of all this? Metallica did. The result was a gripping dramatic and valuable music documentary called Some Kind of Monster.

I was only a casual Metallica listener. I bought the Black Album, And Justice for All (both used). I was ambivalent about older stuff like Master of Puppets... not enough to go out and spend a single penny adding it to my library. After watching Some Kind of Monster, I became more invested in them. I suddenly cared about the fate of Metallica on an entirely new level...rooting for the band as a whole, even if I was picking sides among the players. I was re-listening to the old stuff and comparing it to the new. I was spending time thinking about their work and consuming their art, and isn't that what every artist wants from an audience? And it was all a result of getting approximately 2 hours worth of in depth "fly on the wall" perspective during some of their most trying moments. They let me watch them exorcise demons, and... to continue the more than ever I want the band to be saved.

Now we certainly saw some stereotypical "Behind the Music" sort of moments. But, Metallica let us in on other more personal events during the creation of St. Anger that were sincere, honest, exposed. Seeing them deal with ghosts from the past, ex-bandmates, fathers and family...Watching them navigate the balance between creative control, personal expression/fulfillment...witnessing them struggle with experimentation in how they collaborate/generate material and how the dynamics of power between bandmates was affected/ threatened/ metamorphisized. Some Kind of Monster illuminates the creative process as a paradigm synonymous with Joseph Campbell's hero's journey. It is important to note that not all we see of the band is flattering, but that didn't stop them from creating and moving forward. Not every moment has to be flattering. This gaze at the seams of their persona, their craft, their approach didn't handicap, jeopardize or destroy them. The band might have taken a very similar journey if the cameras hadn't been rolling. But by letting the cameras roll, they allowed us into their process and we learn more about them as artists and humans. We become endeared to them. We become more invested in them and the art that they create!

Regardless of what you think of the new sound of St Anger (many old school Metallica fans wanted the old sound back), there is no doubt that this journey brought the band out from a very dark place and revitalized them creatively. Their self examination led to IMO some amazingly passionate songs that are staples of my daily playlist. And, I got as close as possible to being there while it happened becuase of that movie. I can't thank them enough...oh yes I can...I can buy their music...which I did and will continue to a result of that movie.


Tony Adams said...

That's something I've been talking more and more about with our company Especially in regards to marketing, which is not selling a product, but telling a story.

The only real asset we have is the people in the co., and those who work with us, so the more we allow people to get to know them and have a vested interest in their growth the better off the co as a whole will be.

Jesus said...

Tony, does that mean that you are finally considering doing the Men of Halcyon Calender?

I'm tellin' you that idea is solid gold! Wouldn't you agree dv?

Devilvet said...


uhhh...I suppose if you arent offended if someone airbrushs the images a bit...

Jesus said...

Good point.

I wouldn't need it, but I guess we would have to ask the rest of the crew.


RVCBard said...

I might reference this post on my blog later on (after the first draft of the first act is up).

Anyway, it may interest you that I'm posting my working drafts of my play on my blog as I work through it. I'm not sure whether I should post revisions as separate posts or simply edit previous posts (probably the former, but I probably tinker too much for it to work).

Devilvet said...

That is excellent RVCbard. So long as you feel compelled to do it...then I support you 110%.

RVCBard said...


Good to know, but the idea does suggest the question: Given that we're blogging and not just putting up a website, how can we take advantage of the more interactive aspect of blogging the creative process?

Most people only interact with the creative process through critique or reviews, but I wonder if there are other ways to engage with the work prior to production.

I'd be thrilled to have a "documentation" of the entire process of producing a play from page to stage. I'm particularly intrigued by the proposition of seeing (not just hearing after the fact) theater artists resolve production issues like budgeting, finding/using a space, and such.

As a playwright, I enjoy watching what other people can do with my stuff. The only reason I'd sit in on rehearsals is not to direct from the sidelines, but to learn about how actors and directors work and to put names to faces.

Furthermore, besides marketing shows in production, I wonder how blogs can be used to further collaboration between theater artists. Especially for writers, I think blogs offer a more interactive means of getting our work in the "right" hands than simply sending scripts to theaters and festivals in the hope that they'll notice and want to produce it.

I guess this is a long-winded way of saying that everyone is welcome to take a look at my blog.

Nick Keenan said...

I'm absolutely giddy about this.

Speaking of unflattering, however, in regards to an earlier question on optimizing the layout of your blog:

Remember that some folks will be reading you on a white background: Google Reader or bloglines. Instead of tags to change colors, you should delve into the CSS stylesheet template of your blog and create a few new tags to achieve this effect, so that your blue text pops up over the black, but stays readable on your RSS feeds.

Minor point, though. Back to the surreal life.

Devilvet said...


Thanks for the advice.

Devilvet said...

@RVC Bard

Well there is some potential ground in your comment to examine.

I've sort of set up all these homework assignments for myself so maybe I can try to formulate some thoughts about ways to critic each others scripts in process...

Also does creative process content have to be "live" for lack of a better word?

My first instinct thought is that if you want people to offer feedback to what you write as script...well there is a problogger article that says usually only 1 in 100 reads will lead to a comment.

So, you'll need to cultivate relationships first before you get in depth analysis of what scripts you put on line.

If all you want is alittle encouragement, that is easier to come by. I've posted lots of stuff, and asked pulbicly and privately for get alot of digital thumbs up or digital shoulder shrugs...

But, it appears to me that you want something more...

What do you think?

RVCBard said...


Let me give you a bit of background.

I'm involved in a playwrights' group now. We do sit-down readings and offer feedback (mostly for short scenes or 10-minute plays), but we don't dig much deeper than that. Because we meet monthly and focus on maybe one or two writers at a time (out of about 10), it's hard to get a sense of a script's development. By the time a writer's turn comes again, it's been months since they last presented a very short part of their overall work. If all you do are 10-minute plays, this works fine, but if you have something more ambitious in mind, it's hard get the in-depth stuff you need.

I think I do want something more than encouragement or feedback. I think I'm looking for an online dramaturgy group that welcomes all kinds of theater artists and takes an exploratory approach to playwriting while sharing the insights gained from their role in a production. I want to push the boundaries of what is possible with limited space and budget. I really want to see what theater is capable of. That is, short of actually meeting and doing the damn thing.

Devilvet said...

I work with a similar once a month sort of group and have had the same sort of obstacles.

Again, I think that you'll need to establish relationships with specific individuals before you start getting the level and depth of feedback you want.

So, how do we enable those sorts of relationships where over vast distance people become familiar, intimate, and sincere enough to speak to our work in process?

I'm not sure. Commenting to each others' sites has been a way to introduce each ourselves to each other, but getting 2 or more folks to reach the next step...there a challenge. How do we do it? Is it simply a matter of time? i.e. even though the internet can shorten the distance between people, is able to shorten the time it takes to reach a level of familiarity that enables the discourse you are talking about...

For example, I would have no problem talking to Scott Walters about something I was writing or the familiarity is not an ever both these guys have gots lots of "fish to fry" so I might even be able to get them to read it, but are they going to be able to make the time to give me a critic and reading that delves the way you want it to?

I think this is possible, but there are obstacles...what do you see as the obstacles that need to be overcome?

Devilvet said...

I will also add that a benefit to be embraced by a group like the one you are in, is that due to the limitations of time the group can spent on a work, you can get the sort of response similar tot he way a majority of non art making spectators would respond. I.E. they can bring their intelligence to what ever is in front of them at this minute, but contextuality can not be assumed. That lack of retention your writers group has for your piece over a multi-month period is an approximation of the contextuality a fresh audience will bring to your work in the moment.

RVCBard said...

So, how do we enable those sorts of relationships where over vast distance people become familiar, intimate, and sincere enough to speak to our work in process?

I think my experience as a not-exactly straight woman of color can help here.

The concept of minority space is worth adapting to this model. To elaborate on the post, one of the main differences between minority space and privileged space is the environment. Privileged space often - even unintentionally - serves to maintain the status quo (which is often problematic for people on the margins). As a result, the environment feels imposing and judgmental rather than open. OTOH, when I'm in minority space, I feel freer to express what I think and feel about things because the atmosphere is one of sharing. It's not about agreeing with or liking everyone or everything. It's about shared visions, values, and/or experiences.

This is the sort of environment I want to foster for artists who are in the midst of creating something. We're looking for feedback more substantial than "liked it" or "didn't like it" feedback, but we're not quite ready for a review or critique. We're still trying to figure out what our plays are doing, but we aren't quite ready to find out if it's any good or not.

Liz Lerman's method seems like a great starting point for fostering this type of atmosphere. Why am I not surprised that a woman thought of this?

Devilvet said...


Well if these concepts enable you to create the sort of environment, space, whether digitally or actually where you find what you are looking for...then I think it is a wonderful place to direct your energy.

I will say that I find alot of the langauge, terms, and not so subtle implications proposed by you here seriously complicate the conversation I'm trying to have.

If you want to discuss that further lets move it either to or you and I can go off the blogs if you can email me at devilvet at gmail. I tried to find your email but I couldn't. Feel free to reach me it you are inclined too.

There is unquestionably alot of value to be had when one discusses how gender, race, or minority identities affect or even dominate pathways of creative process, but that isn't specifically where my focus is regarding the advocacy of creative process. I think it is a worthy endeavor...just one I'm not qualified or compelled to speak to.

RVCBard said...

I will say that I find alot of the langauge, terms, and not so subtle implications proposed by you here seriously complicate the conversation I'm trying to have.


RVCBard said...

There is unquestionably alot of value to be had when one discusses how gender, race, or minority identities affect or even dominate pathways of creative process, but that isn't specifically where my focus is regarding the advocacy of creative process. I think it is a worthy endeavor...just one I'm not qualified or compelled to speak to.


I was drawing parallel lines, not perpendicular ones.

Devilvet said...

Public apology not necessary, but drop me an email when/if you have a mind to.