Tag Archives: music

!nsp!re – Walking Away From Your Dream

I wanted to share this article from Allison Ford on The Gloss. In it, she details her decision to “give up on her dream” of becoming an actress. Her words and perspective resonated with me; and I think anyone who has struggled with career choices could benefit from reading her story.

Here’s the thing: You can have more than one dream. So many who pursue a career in the arts become obsessed with the one thing they THINK they want that they become blind to all the other possibilities that are out there waiting to be explored.

This situation is exacerbated by parents and teachers who encourage students to “follow their dream” and “pursue their passion” despite being able to (sometimes) see that the student is poorly suited for the path they are choosing.

When I was young, I wanted more than anything else in the world to be an architect. It took a while for me to understand that unless I could muster some interest in math, my career as an architect was an empty, pointless pursuit. As it turns out, I loved the IDEA of being an architect; but not enough to put in the hard work it would take to become one.

That situation repeated itself with music. Again, I had a huge passion for music, living and breathing records, tapes, and going to see concerts. My parents bought me a guitar and after two years of practice, I had gotten to be… atrocious at playing guitar. I was unable to parse that musical dream into distinguishing between loving music and playing music.

And then, finally, there was art. Always art; since early in elementary school. I dove deep into sketching, painting, sculpture, oils, watercolors, graphics, batik, etc. I was going to be a great artist. Except for the fact that I wasn’t a great artist. I was fine but far from exceptional. That was a hard pill to swallow.

Once I got into theatre, I fell in love with scenery design. I had a teacher who encouraged that love and I made up my mind to be a set designer. My reasoning was that it was sort of like architecture and relied on my art training as well. But again, that dream died.

It died when I saw The Police on the Synchronicity tour in 1983 at the Houston Summit. That night, I saw moving lights for the first time (they were in their infancy). I didn’t know what THAT was – but I knew I wanted to do it. So on my way to becoming a lighting designer, I left at least four dead dreams in my wake; and I regret it not one single bit.

As it turns out, my chosen career combines elements of many of those discarded dreams into one pretty sweet package. Had I known that could happen 30 years ago, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble starting down paths I then abandoned.

But each of those paths added to what I ultimately became, so they were worthwhile after all. I still engage my passion and love for architecture, music, and art; in my career and in my life. So, ultimately, they don’t feel like discarded dreams – they’re just elements that added to the whole.

Pursuing your dreams has to be done with diligence, care, and thoughtful self-examination. Note that I said dreamS. You can have more than one!



Today, the first day of spring, is also Arts Advocacy Day. In case you’ve missed it, the arts and humanities are on the chopping block in the proposed federal budget.

It comes as no surprise to anyone reading this that I’m a huge advocate for the arts. I found this link incredibly useful in that it offers a variety of ways to reach out, respectfully and thoughtfully, to your representatives. Your reps (remember, they work for US) need to hear from you regarding your opinion on matters that important to you.

If being in band shaped you into a better math student (and it probably did – they’re closely related); if being in theatre helped you overcome a fear of speaking in public; if sculpting helped you decide to become a mechanical engineer – then you benefited from an arts education.

If a play made you think, or a dance made you feel, or a painting made you question, or a symphony made you weep – then you have been touched by the arts.

If those things are important to you, your family, your children, your community, our culture and society, I urge you to connect with your elected representatives and explain specifically WHY it’s important that the arts remain a part of the federal budget.

There are a variety of links on the page that explain in greater detail what I’m talking about. Click on each one to gain a greater understanding of how the federal money is distributed, used, and matched.

Click here for the Arts Advocacy Toolkit.

Click here for Americans For The Arts.

!nsp!re – An Evening at MorYork

Text Tile Art
Text Tile Art

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend the evening at MorYork. It’s tempting to call it an art gallery (which it is) or a studio (true also) but a better description might be what Los Angeles magazine describes as a “modern day cabinet of curiosities” in this article from March, 2015.

Lighthouse Mirror
Lighthouse Mirror

Located at 4959 York Blvd in Highland Park, in a building that formerly housed a Safeway and a roller rink before falling into dereliction in the mid-80’s when it was purchased by artist Clare Graham, it serves as gallery, studio, incubation, and event space.


The building, with high ceilings and wonderfully creaky original wood floors, is packed to the rafters with Clare’s work and collections of ephemera.

Floor Detail
Floor Detail


Furniture made from soda can pop-tops sits next to a display case filled with primitive carved sex toys. A whole series of art features stuffed animals sealed in plastic and bound together with twine.

An armoire inlaid with teeth
An armoire inlaid with teeth

Still other corners reveal furniture inlaid with human teeth, woodblock art, armoires covered in scrabble tiles, and display cases filled with animal skeletons and doll heads.

Skeleton and Vials
Skeleton and Vials
Caged Doll Head
Caged Doll Head

One enormous section of shelves near the entrance is filled with vintage carnival knock-down dolls while the opposite end of the space is dominated by a stunningly gorgeous lighthouse mirror.

Carnival Doll
Carnival Doll

It’s a mind-boggling, fascinating, and intoxicating environment. Added to the mix is Clare’s recent decision to invite music artists in to perform at MorYork. Alma Sangre (a trio with flamenco) and Edith Crash (LA-based French singer-songwriter) provided a lively evening during our visit, interspersed with drinks and munchies, all surrounded by this incredible collection.

Edith Crash
Edith Crash
Alma Sangre
Alma Sangre

The mix of art and music works, especially because neither is held up as being particularly “precious”. Clare’s work (which has often used recycled materials) is as much about craftsmanship as it is about anything. He’s an approachable artist who has a tremendous respect for, and love of, craft. That’s evident by his work on display at MorYork, and in the musicians that are selected to perform there.

If you’re looking for a deliciously surreal place to spend some time, I’d suggest taking a trip down the rabbit hole that is MorYork.


go do: PRESENTING (Part II)

In Part I of this post, I covered some of the practical issues in preparing for a presentation. Now that you know when and where you’re speaking AND what you’re speaking about, it’s time to begin collecting your thoughts, words, and images.

Consider theme. Most of the talks I give are meant to be inspirational, as opposed to informational so I tend to start by thinking thematically. Recently, I was asked to speak to high school students about the importance of arts in education. I knew I wanted to include a personal story, given that I have received the benefits of arts programs; and I knew I wanted to include a few statistical examples that reinforced the overall point of arts education. After some thought, I landed on a theme of creativity since that is common to all arts classes. My story and my data both spoke to the importance of arts education to those who pursue and (perhaps more importantly) do not pursue the arts; and how it improves their overall education (and aptitude in non-arts subjects). Having an overarching theme allows you to connect seemingly disparate elements into a cohesive presentation. You don’t have to put your theme in the title; in fact, no one even has to know you have one. It’s simply a tool to help guide you in assessing whether or not all of your points fit under one “big idea”.

Along with theme, consider your point of view. Audiences respond to speakers who know their subject and, perhaps more importantly, are passionate about their subject. Infuse your presentation with words and thoughts that originate in your core. If your words are rooted in conviction and reinforce your points, you will deliver them in a more genuine, honest way. Otherwise, your audience may sense you’re being disingenuous which will cause them to disengage.

Create structure. People are story-based. We crave a beginning, middle, and end. You can insure that you deliver on this by carefully considering your presentation in the context of your theme. Typically this involves presenting a point, providing illustrative information that reinforces the point, then referencing it back to your larger theme before moving onto your next point.

There are several ways to create your structure. Analytical, logical types may want to start with an outline in a word program. Others might choose to create mind maps. I actually prefer to work in Keynote. Many presenters believe this is a bad idea, because it can place too much emphasis on “snazzy visuals” instead of content (and it can, so beware). My work, however, inherently relies on relaying concepts in a visual way so I find “thinking” in Keynote to be very helpful. I usually start with a theme/title page, then create pages for each of my points and fill in some preliminary information. This forces me to stick to my point when I’m putting info on the page. I can instantly see whether or not it fits on that page or should move to another. It’s essentially an outline built in Keynote, but it works for me. Your approach can also depend on the style of presentation. Experiment with a few different approaches and use what works best for your style.

Create connection. People also crave connection. Anyone can stand up and read stats from a slide. Make your presentation personal by sharing a story that illustrates your point (bonus points if its humorous and allows people to see themselves in a similar situation). Take a look at this video on TED. In it, Sir Ken Robinson establishes his points, but then goes further by telling several compelling stories that illustrate his ideas; some are about other people, some are about him or his family. What stories do is open a window between the audience and speaker, allowing the audience to see themselves  (or someone they know) in these stories; creating a connection. This brings the audience closer to the storyteller and makes it easier for them to digest the ideas the speaker is presenting.

Collect your visuals. Eventually, you’ll need to start gathering all of your images. I’m primarily motivated and moved by visuals; so I allow a lot of time to browse for images and video that support my subject.

You’ll create a folder for your talk. In it, create a subfolder for notes, another for images, and another for video. Then search through your own files and the internet, remembering that this exercise is all about volume. It’s okay to harvest a LOT of images. You’ll edit later (more on that in part II).

Go for striking, uncluttered, high-contrast images because those tend to read best from far away AND can be seen clearly even when the projector is dim or low-quality. Steer clear of the banal and the literal. You want the visual to support your idea, not bludgeon the audience with its obviousness.  To that end, don’t be afraid to be abstract or whimsical.

Collect high-resolution images (aim for 1920×1080 minimum). Crop out any extraneous or distracting details. Rename the file to something that is easy for you to remember or locate quickly; and place all of the files in your respective folders.

One last point on visuals. Someone went to the effort to create the visuals that you find so wonderful. Be an awesome human and give them credit. The easiest way to remember the creator is to put the credit info in the file name; but the best way is to right-click on the image and fill out the meta-data (using Properties on PC or Get Info on Mac). Both platforms provide editable fields, allowing you to enter the creators name and other info, along with tags to make it searchable.

So now you have your thoughts together, an outline made, and a collection of images and video. What’s next? Part III will cover creating your visual presentation and rehearsing. Part IV will cover presentation day.


!nsp!re – A Chorus of Volunteers

I recently lit the 25th Anniversary of the South Cost Chorale at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center. SCC is a chorus based in Long Beach, CA. One of the unique qualities that sets them apart is that they aren’t a gay chorus, or a straight chorus for that matter. They are open to anyone and everyone who enjoys (and wants to sing) choral music. I realize that, in this day and age, choral music is a somewhat tough sell; and it’s to their credit that they (and other choruses similar to them) are celebrating milestones of longevity.

South Coast Chorale (Photo: Joey Inigo)
South Coast Chorale (Photo: Joey Inigo)

I was asked by the producer to light the anniversary concert. Knowing that the chorus is all volunteer, I understood I was to be donating my time as well. These gigs are always easier/more fun if you’re surrounded by people you know so I asked two friends of mine to join me as programmer and assistant designer. They,  too, donated their time, as did the stage managers and other production personnel.

I do a few events like this every year; and I’ve been asked why I volunteer to do something I would normally get paid to do. The answer is: I respond to passion – to people who do something for the sheer joy of doing it. The other reason is, quite frankly, I’m not good with the conventional methods of volunteering; so this is a small way that I can actually offer something of value.

South Coast Chorale (Photo: Joey Inigo)
South Coast Chorale (Photo: Joey Inigo)

The volunteer environment is fueled by everyone’s genuine desire to be there; and that the purpose for being there is contribute something. In this case, it was their voices. Their voices, raised in song, to celebrate each other and their community. Their producer and their artistic director are both passionate about the group and what they can do; and the outlet it offers both the singers and their audience. How can you NOT respond to the powerful pull of passion?

South Coast Chorale (Photo: Joey Inigo)
South Coast Chorale (Photo: Joey Inigo)

Volunteering has also been proven to carry a number of benefits. Obviously, you can make new friends and contacts, allowing you to connect with people whom you might not normally meet. It can help increase your self-confidence and can combat depression as well as lower symptoms of chronic pain or heart disease. It can provide career experience to someone young, who is building their resume; teaching you valuable job skills. Perhaps most importantly, in many volunteer situations, you are helping others or contributing to something larger than yourself – both of which result in increasing happiness in your own life.

Of course, everyone is busy, and finding a way to incorporate volunteer opportunities into a busy schedule is not without its challenges. But I believe the benefits are entirely worth the sacrifice.

If you’re interested in volunteering, there are a lot of organizations out there who utilize volunteers. Animal shelters, rescue organizations, youth groups and sports teams, libraries, senior centers, museums, and community theaters are all great places to start looking.

!nsp!re – Young Drama Students Honing Their Craft

Recently, I had the great pleasure of participating in the International Thespian Festival, held annually on the campus of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. We were treated to unusually cool temperatures and only a little rain, which made the week all the more pleasant.

The campus at University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
The campus at University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

The festival is produced by the Educational Theatre Association. It features a full week of activities for high school drama students. Some of the activities include performance and technical competitions (National Individual Events), college auditions, a wide variety of workshops for directors, choreographers, actors, techs, and playwrights, and fully-staged student plays and musicals. Among this years shows were, “Catch Me If You Can”, “Of Mice and Men”, “Mary Poppins”, and “Violet”.

Students rehearsing onstage (Photo by Matt Conover)
Students rehearsing onstage (Photo by Matt Conover)

Also included is an opening night event staffed onstage and backstage by specially selected students. Opening the festival this year was “An Evening with Shaiman and Wittman”, featuring the writer/composer duo of Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman, a cast of eight students, and two Broadway singer/actors.

Rehearsing "An Evening with Shaiman and Whittman" (Photo by Matt Conover)
Rehearsing “An Evening with Shaiman and Whittman” (Photo by Matt Conover)

The student technicians are mentored by seasoned pros and are afforded a unique learning opportunity; given that the show is blocked and choreographed in a day and teched in about an hour, with no cue -to-cue or other rehearsal.

Lighting focus with me and student Sam Molitoriss (Photo by Matt Conover)
Lighting focus with me and student Sam Molitoriss (Photo by Matt Conover)

It’s a great way for the students to learn how to pull a show out of thin air. I worked with three bright, motivated students and enjoyed my time with them immensely.

Me, with my three lighting students (Sam, Jalyn, and Madison)
Me, with my three lighting students (Sam, Jalyn, and Madison)

The students were also treated to a special cabaret featuring Broadway performers Carla Stickler and Justin Brill.

Carla Stickler, Broadway's current Elphaba from Wicked
Carla Stickler, Broadway’s current Elphaba from Wicked

This week drove home for me, yet again, the importance of introducing and nurturing a love of the arts in our nation’s schools. Only a small percentage of arts/drama/music students choose to pursue a career in the arts. Those who do pursue a career in the arts face a mountain of challenges; made all the more daunting by a culture that devalues artistic contribution and rewards “celebrity” instead.

Those who do not pursue a career still carry a love of the arts into adulthood, introducing their friends, family and children to art, drama, music, and dance; four forms of expression that make us more well-rounded humans; that teach us more about ourselves.

It’s difficult to not be cynical about the state of the arts in our nation. With threatened cuts to the N.E.A, arts programs being cut out or scaled back in public schools, and theaters, operas, and symphonies folding all over the U.S., the outlook appears bleak. This, despite the numerous studies conducted within the last five years concluding that the arts support and cultivate creativity in the nations youth and that creativity is the number ONE quality sought by the world’s business in their leaders.

The conclusion ought to be obvious to our political leaders, but it’s clearly not.

In order to not cave into that bleak cynicism, I volunteer my time to work with these students through the California State Thespians. The time I spend with theatre students rejuvenates my own passion for my chosen career. I see their youthful drive, their unbridled love for their craft, their excitement, energy, and clear sense of purpose and it re-inspires me all over again. I hope they find their experience to be as enjoyable and rewarding as I do.

!nsp!re – Failure (And Why It’s Important)

A while back, I had a Facebook conversation with a couple of friends  about the Oscars; specifically which musical performance we thought was best. One of my friends said, “Please don’t tell me you thought it was U2”.

That sent the conversation off in a different direction, with him maintaining that they hadn’t done anything good since “The Joshua Tree” and me begging to differ. He then posted a youtube video of “Lemon” from their “Pop” album – not their greatest song, and certainly not their best album. I responded that I’d support risk-taking artists over the ones that churn out the same music album after album. His response was, “Well, having the bravery to fail magnificently over and over is commendable”.

I started thinking then about the nature of failure and how we define it. In U2’s case, what is failure? With 145 million albums sold and 3 of the top-grossing tours of all time, one would tend to believe that they have garnered more success than failure. Even when a new CD doesn’t sell as well as it’s predecessors (“No Line on the Horizon“, for example), the tours still sell out and break records. Most people would be perfectly happy with that sort of “failure”. So, are these critical failures? Artistic failures? Failures of expectation?

Deciding upon your definition of failure is important. If you have a clear definition of failure (and of its lovely opposite, success), you’ll be better able to recognize them when they present themselves. For me, the greatest failure (as trite as it sounds) is in not trying. Sometimes, that’s extremely difficult. It’s tempting to stick with the tried and true, especially when there are deadlines looming. Because of that, I actively challenge myself to try new (or at least new to me) ideas as much as possible.

In the case of “Pop” which sold 1.5 million copies (dismal sales for a major band), one could argue that fans expected a different album than what they got. That’s because U2 decided to not sound like U2. They wanted to experiment and it failed in a big way. What followed “Pop” was “All That You Can’t Leave Behind“, one of their finest efforts critically and commercially. The failure of “Pop” forced the band to examine what they were about and what they wanted to do, and what their fans expectations were. This illustrates to me how important failure can be IF YOU LEARN from it.

The difficulty comes in discerning what lessons failure is trying to teach us. Failure is often accompanied by embarrassment, frustration, and disappointment; none of which are helpful when you’re trying to decrypt the situation for lessons. At that point, I shut off the negative voices in my head (I swear, it’s a veritable opera in there sometimes) and focus on evaluating my failed idea or plan (and my execution of it) to look for clues. To embark on that questioning path with all of the other baggage accompanying you is a sure way to lead to an unclear answer.

The other thing I take way from this is that the only way to succeed big is to aim big; the risk is, of course, that you’ll fail big. Many people are just not willing to fail big. In some ways, who can blame them? Our political system, business climate (and often, sadly, our art environment) demands and rewards only success. No one is “allowed” to fail gracefully. This mindset forces many people to scale back their risk; it rewards timidity and sticking with what is known; instead of fostering creativity and innovation. In a 2008  commencement speech at Harvard, J.K. Rowling said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” I couldn’t agree more.



!nsp!re – MarchFourth Marching Band – Fearless Makers of Musical Art


Today is March 4th so I thought this would be appropriate.

Founded in Portland, OR on March 4th, 2003 to play a Fat Tuesday party, MarchFourth (or, as their fans know them, M4) have since evolved to a spectacular touring act. I had the privilege of seeing them when they opened for Pink Martini at the Hollywood Bowl about 8 years ago. As we got off of the shuttle bus, we heard this loud ruckus coming from down the hill. As it got closer, we saw a mix of musicians, dancers, and acrobats making their way toward the Bowl, marching and dancing through the audience that was arriving to see the show.


Employing a twisted-glam-punk aesthetic, the band is comprised of a percussion corps, a brass section, and electric bass and guitar. They play a wild combination of Louisiana swamp music mixed with African rhythms, Brazilian motifs, and gypsy elements whipped into a frothy music melange that is then filtered through American jazz, funk, and rock. They top it all off with stilt-walking acrobats and dancers.


Their shows are full of infectious energy; real musicians making real art in real time. They have begun to tour more internationally and the response from global audiences has been incredible.


I suppose the thing I like most about them is their fearless approach. They’ve taken a genre (the marching band) not known for radical innovation; and have stirred in all the combined musical influences of its members and come up with something new. As a band, they’re the equivalent of a brilliant mash-up. All of the ideas seem to come from a place of “well, why not?” which makes them somewhat unique in the musical landscape of today. On paper, the band makes no sense; certainly not from a marketable, money-making standpoint. Once you hear one of their CD’s or (especially) see one of the live shows, it all makes PERFECT sense. Why WOULDN’T you want a marching band to be like this?


See videos and photos, learn more, and buy stuff from MarchFourth marching Band HERE.



!nsp!re – Thomas Lauderdale’s Portland Loft

Pink Martini with Storm Large
Pink Martini with Storm Large

I recently saw Pink Martini in concert at the Segerstrom Concert Hall. Even though I’ve seen them six times previously (dating back to 2002), this was my first with singer Storm Large (who now shares lead vocals with original singer China Forbes). It had been a while and I had forgotten what a great experience it is seeing and hearing them –  such an incredibly talented group of musicians who seem to genuinely enjoy what they do.

I went to the show with a great friend and, during intermission, was telling her about this article I had read in Portland Monthly about the loft that Thomas Lauderdale (Pink Martini’s bandleader and pianist) lived in.

Thomas Lauderdale at home
Thomas Lauderdale at home – Photo: Lincoln Barbour

The article (here) details how Thomas and his then-partner, Philip Iosca, a notable designer and artist, remodeled Thomas’ 9,200 square foot loft in the Harker Building.

The Harker Building and designer Philip Iosca
The Harker Building and designer Philip Iosca –
Photo: Lincoln Barbour

Thomas was renting the building early on for $400 per month but was able to buy it once Pink Martini’s first album became successful. In the article, Thomas says, “The message with this building is that you can do something fantastic and not go broke. It just requires problem-solving, ingenuity, and a certain sense of humor”.

The Harker Building - Living Room
The Harker Building – Living Room – Photo: Lincoln Barbour

Philip opened up the space which was a warren of hallways and bookcases, allowing light in; and creating large rooms for entertaining.

The Harker Building - Dining Room
The Harker Building – Dining Room – Photo: Lincoln Barbour

What I enjoyed most was seeing how a designer known for his minimalist approach worked with an avid collector to curate his home into a beautiful design statement. When two artists work together, the results can be even more incredible, as this project demonstrates!



!nsp!re – The Best of 2013: The Year in Creativity from The Creator’s Project

Quick share from one of my favorite sites, the creator’s project. They’ve compiled their favorite art and tech projects from 2013 here.

Clicking on the links or pics below will take you to videos on the Creators Project site.

My three favorites are:


An interactive installation created for the STRP Bienneale; it’s an experiential environment in which people can tap and play giant laser rods, creating sound and light.

Marshmallow Laser Forest
Laser Forest


Created by Tao Tajima, this video, combining captured video and CG lasers, is incredibly cool.

Laser Night Stroll
Laser Night Stroll


Finally, this video blazed around the web earlier this year. Using automated Kuka robotic arms combined with real-time projection mapping, Bot and Dolly is a mind-boggling piece.

Bot and Dolly
Bot and Dolly

Given what 2013 was like at the high end of tech and art, I cant’ wait to see what 2014 brings.

Go here to learn more about The Creators Project.