Posts Tagged ‘Washington DC’

FTH:K is cursed when it comes to weather. There’s a saying in the company: How do you know it’s FTH:K’s move-in day? It’s raining. It will be the day we have to pull our wooden set across the country and risk exposure to rain and warping, and then we the people packing the set into the trailer, will get wet. Time and time again. Heading to Washington D.C., we thought we had left our weather woes at the National Arts Festival, when could you believe it, we arrived in Washington where, far from wet misery, is experiencing it’s hottest weather in 10 years.

Outside of our climate adapting, it has been a great trip so far, rubbing shoulders with our Yankee counterparts. We’ve toured Gallaudet University, a University for the Deaf in D.C, and bonded with the good people of Quest Visual Theatre.

FTH:K was invited to perform at the opening ceremony of the World Friendship Volleyball Games which is currently being hosted by Gallaudet University. Random, I know.

What made it particularly cool was that, this audience of sporty people took to the snippet of Shortcuts so well. Even though there was a scary moment and where Christo hit the ground with his head instead of his feet (He’s alright now!)

Naturally, going to America, there was trepidation about what kind of food we might encounter (flashes of SuperSize Me) but even our resident Vegan, Jayne, has, despite her initial hesitations, enjoyed many great salads and been introduced to other Vegans. Tink says she has found the greatest beans known to mankind at the Red Hot & Blue.

Back in South Africa there’s the incredible BASA awards happening at the end of August, where three of our supporters are up for awards, in recognition of their support of FTH:K. The Citizen, up in Jozi, was instrumental in aiding our Listen With Your Eyes tour at the Market Theatre last year, as was Distell who has been a fabulous supporter since the beginning. Also, in that list was Pretoria Portland Cement (commonly known as PPC: useful trivia which might be the deciding point in your next General Knowledge Quiz), who sponsored our National Tour of Tales From the Trash last year.

How cool is it to have your sponsors get an award for doing the good work they do!?

We’ve had so many things change round this month, but one who has not even received a mention, was our blessed dinosaur; our photocopy machine, Beast. It was a quick and quiet funeral, and in a brief sermon held by Ma Ang and Ana, our photocopier was laid to rest. Beast was responsible for many an FTH:K programme, funding application and report but after several paper jams, botched copies, and failures to turn on, it was time to go. Beast has since been replaced by Beauty, but his hard work and loyalty, will not be forgotten.

In trying to take over the world, taking knocks is part of the game. So here’s to the uncomfortable weather and the dying office equipment, the FTH:K dream goes on!

More from D.C. to follow…

…it’s over!

 4th July - Fellows (smaller)

The classes have ended, the luncheon is finished, the Thank You gifts distributed, the debriefing session over, the last-minute shopping completed, and I find myself sitting quietly in my hotel room contemplating my return to SA.  It’s over.  Much, much faster than last year; much, much faster than I would have liked; and if it wasn’t for how great the programme has been, I would feel cheated.  The 2009 Fellowship has been more challenging than last-year’s programme largely because it has pushed us to be far more independent.  Last year was all about sessions.  We met with every staff member (it felt like) in the Kennedy Center.  Literally!  We were large human sponges sucking up the info that was being thrown at us from all sides, and most of us went home feeing totally overwhelmed.  This year, we had very few formal sessions, almost too few, and we were expected to be a lot more proactive and independent in our work.  I guess I wasn’t expecting this and so it was challenging.  In many ways, this year was about finding ways to apply what we had learnt last year, and as Michael says: the theory is the easy part.  Applying it is where it gets tough.

There are so many things I want to do when I get back.  One of the most important things is to make time for reflection.  To set time aside that can’t be used for meetings and admin and and and…all the things that have to be done on a day-to-day basis to keep the organisation running but that keep you from dreaming new dreams, planning new plans and generally inspiring you to keep going.  You can get so tied up in the daily grind that you lose track of what it is you are trying to do.  You know, head in the reeds and all that.  There’s so much to do when I get back.  Exciting and difficult.  And I want to do everything I can to not fall back into bad habits (obsessively checking my email, procrastinating on the jobs that need doing but that I don’t want to do etc) and really use this time away, this sabbatical, as a chance to click into a new gear.  More.  Focus.  Clearer.  Sharper.  Keener.  And I want to see the difference in FTH:K…am I impatient?  You think?!

And dang, I hope the weather is good to me when I arrive!  To go from hot, humid, lovely summer 8 pm sunsets to freezing cold (relative to the Russian Fellow), rainy Cape Town might just kill me! 

Anyway, the rest of this blog is dedicated to the wonderful Fellows, new and old, that have enriched my DC experience more than they know.  Today, I began getting scared to come back next year, knowing that this time 2010, there will be no “next time”.  The goodbyes will be final.  Kinda like the beginning of the end.  And then, not only will we no longer come back to the KC for this Fellowship, saying goodbye to our unlikely summer family, but we will also be on our own, standing alone, bravely leading our arts industries to new and better places.  And if that ain’t a scary, emotional thought, then I don’t know what is!  Although, that may be a little dramatic.  I don’t think our group of Fellows will ever be “alone”.  We are Kennedy Center Fellows and that means we share common goals, common methodologies and a network that has the potential to be the difference in Arts Management internationally. 

So, to my fellow Fellows, THANK YOU. I love you all.

The Three Musketeers Attentive disciples Denisse & Pavlina with Embassy representative Fation with his Embassy's representative Fation with his Embassy's representative 2 Yvonne with her Embassy's representatives Fation with ISF sponsors Federico & Natalie with Embassy representative Federico, Denisse & friend of the Fellows Fellows enjoy themselves too much too often! George with Big Tom Jiyeon, Patrick, Yvonne & Joyce     Papa Michael Patrick Lukas & Eva  Mohamed insists  My surrogate familyMama Caitlin Joyce with her Embassy's representativeMore discussionsNada with her Embassy's representative Nada with her Embassy's representative 2 Noora, Nada, Reem & the evening's generous sponsor   Patrick & Lucas Patrick, Caitline, Yvonne & TamerKheri & Reem Pavlina & Angela have a chat Pavlina, Denisse & Noora Reem with a friend of the Fellows South African - Palestinian sisters Tamer gives George some pointers Tanya doing what she does best The Czech contingency  Wendy with her Embassy's representative

The Great Falls - France & SA rideYesterday I joined (was roped into) a ridiculously long, off-road bike ride from Georgetown to see The Great Falls of the Potomac River some 17 miles away.  We’re talking a round trip of more than 50 kms!!  (This morning I have discovered pain in parts of me that I did not even know I had.)  The ride there was actually really nice.  We followed the Patowmack Canal (why this is spelt differently, I’m not sure) and the The Great Falls - stopping for waterPotomac River to the Great Falls Park and it was great to get out of the city a little, be surrounded by green, and be mesmerised by the chaotic system a turtle uses to navigate the water.  However, when we got to The Great Falls, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed.  The “Great” Falls??  I don’t think so.  The Modest Falls, perhaps.  Or The Great Rapids.  But not The “Great” Falls, surely?!  I dunno.  You decide.

The Great Falls The Great Falls 2

The Great Falls & Tink Perhaps I’m just being patriotic.  After all, SA is well-known for its beautiful waterfalls.  (And just to put it in perspective, click here and scroll down to go to a series of photos of some of the Falls we have in SA.)  Ok, ok, I know that I should not compare 1 example of Falls in a single State to a collection of Falls across a whole country but, hey, I’m the one writing this blog so technically, I can do anything!

Cape Town is having falls of its very own at the moment, but not in the way we would like.  In fact, it seems that this is going to be a recurring summer-winter contradiction in climate during my stays in DC.  Here, it’s sunny.  And hot.  And humid.  In Cape Town, it’s dark, cold and rainy.  The only similarity is that both are sporting a fair amount of water, just in different ways.  So, it feels strange to be looking at pictures of the flooding (again) in Cape Town while the sun streams in from my DC windows, and I am reminded that this Fellowship and my time in DC is a lot like a sabbatical – a step out of the daily grind to learn new things, absorb new ideas, breathe differently, so that one can return to that grind renewed and alive.  It’s a different world here in DC, not only culturally, geographically, or because of the work I am doing, but it couldn’t be more different to Cape Town at this time of year!  Don’t believe me?  I can tell you that DC looks in no way like this:

CT flooding 3 CT flooding 7 CT flooding CT flooding 5 CT flooding 13 CT flooding 9 CT flooding 6

So, now, you tell me who has the “greatest” falls?!

4th July - TinkIt’s no surprise that 4th July is a big deal in DC.  People take Independence Day seriously all over the States, right, so take the average American 4th of July celebration and times it by 20, and lo, you have the 4th of July in the 4th July - KC rooftopnation’s capital!  Every year, the Kennedy Center decks out its halls with an American feast, sets up its rooms with games, and offers up its terrace to tables of revellers both young and old.  It’s a real  family affair, and you can just as easily find an all-American hot dog as you can a fine crab dinner.  They have it all.  And we ate most of it!

4th July - Egypt & Albania celebrate The celebrations start with an Independence Day Parade from Constitution Avenue to 7th and 17th Streets, featuring marching bands, military and specialty units, floats, and VIP’s.  Then there’s the Smithsonian Folklife Festival which includes music and dance performances, 4th July - the Fellows with the Statue of Libertycrafts and cooking demonstrations, storytelling and discussions of cultural issues. The National Archives celebrates with special family programming celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the White House Visitor Center offers games, crafts and other activities celebrating America’s Birthday.

Then the real fun starts, and on big screens 4th July - Tink & Abe Lincolnthroughout the Center, you can watch and listen to it all.  First, the concert on the Washington Monument Grounds (the U.S. Army Concert Band and the U.S. Army Band Downrange plays) then the Capitol Fourth Concert.  A 4th of July tradition in the nation’s capital includes a live concert by the National Symphony Orchestra (resident at the Kennedy Center) and several “pop artists” performing patriotic music on the West  Lawn of the U.S. Capitol 4th July - Happy 4th 3Building.  This year, the “pop artists” included Barry Manilow, Aretha Franklin, Natasha Bedingfield, and the cast of Sesame Street.  Seriously.  And there was a short address by Obama himself.  Of course, the highlight of the whole day & evening is the incredible fireworks display 4th July - Happy 4th 4that happens at about 9:15 pm.  The fireworks are launched from the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and light up the sky over the Washington Monument.  It just happens that the Kennedy Center terrace is a prime viewing location.  It really is incredible!  OK, every animal for 30 kilometres is scared out of its wits, but hey, it’s Independence Day!  Needless to say, we had a blast!

Just for the record, we gave the Independence Day celebrations a 4th July - Noora & Denissegood run for their money the night before when we hosted our annual National Dinner.  We first did this last year to welcome two of the Fellows into the group when they arrived late to the programme.  The premise is simple: everyone cooks something traditional from their country and we all get together and nosh.  It was a great success last year and so we decided to do it again this year with the new Fellows as a way of spending some time with them.  They have been doing a lot of classes, as we did last year, so we have not seen them too much.  Michael had said 4th July - Katerina & Lucaswe need to network more and there’s nothing like a multi-national meal and a bottle of genuine Mexican tequila to seal a bond!  So we had food from Romania, Czech Republic, Mexico, Argentina, Croatia, Kuwait, Egypt (although, I’m not sure pasta counts, Mohamed!), South Africa, Kenya, Palestine, China, France, and many more that I can’t think of right now.  But there was lots.  And it was good.  Last year Johann’s bacon and banana pizza was treated with total disdain by all the Fellows but this year, after he “made” it again (bought a bacon pizza and cut some banana onto it) Fation took a bet with him that if any of the Fellows ate his pizza, he’d pay him $50 per slice.  (Did I mention that no one ate a single slice last year?!)  In the space of 1 4th July - Johann & Abe Lincoln minute, both Yvonne (Romania) and George (Kenya) had tucked into said pizza, and later Yvonne even went back for more!  As far as I know, Johann is still waiting for his $150…

Last year I made a lentil bobotie so this year, sticking with the banana theme, I made banana bread which, unlike Johann’s pizza (which I believe is still sustaining him in the way of left-overs) disappeared chop-chop, as all decent banana bread does.  Vive le banan!

Even though Friday was a Public Holiday here (4th of July falls on a Saturday this year) we still had a morning session with Michael.  Particularly cool about this session was the fact that we had all the Fellows together, both the first- and second-year groups.  As you may know, this is the second year of the International Summer Fellowship Programme and every year, a group of new participants is chosen.  So, we were the first group last year and are now in second year, with a new group of first years having been selected.  Next year, there will be three groups coming to the KC concurrently (first, second and third years), which is how it will continue for as long as the KC chooses to run the programme.

Is this making sense to you? (KC joke…sorry…)

So in this All-Fellow session, Michael explained that he wanted to call on a few of the second-year Fellows to talk about some of the things that they had implemented from the KC since their Fellowship last year, and what had worked/not worked.  First up, he calls on Zvonimir  who runs an awesome Festival (now two) in Croatia that (broadly explained) deals with the notion of “The Other” or “Queer” in a sense of everything outside the norm.  Zvonimir is one of those guys who is someone you learn from all the time because he’s good at what he does without being self-righteous about it.  So whenever you talk work, he oozes confidence and a clarity about how he does what we does without even realising it.  He spoke about getting rid of the many complimentary tickets that the Festival used to give out and that had become expected by everyone.  (Michael’s BIG on the abolition of comps, citing simply that your work is not worth no money at all, and if it is, you shouldn’t be doing it!) So Zvonimir explained that at first, people were a little peeved at being denied comps and some people pointedly did not buy tickets as a result.  However, after the Fest closed and they could crunch the figures, it appeared that while attendance was down, the Festivals still pulled in more revenue on ticket sales than ever before, meaning one of two things: 1) comping people significantly eats into your income; 2) that people were prepared to pay money to watch shows.  So, why comp someone who is prepared to pay to see your show anyway?  If they want to come, they will come.  And if you set up the understanding that you don’t ever offer comps, people will get used to it.  (Of course, your price point has to be appropriate.)  Michael also pointed out that Zvonimir’s fundraising had been made significantly easier by setting up a second Festival, so even though he is now needing to raise more money than before, the project and its impact is much greater so sponsors are more interested in getting involved.  Another teaching of Michael: don’t be scared of big projects; they are often easier to pull together if done cleverly.

Next in the hot seat was Noora who has a traditional dance troupe in Palestine (yes, it does exist) and does unbelievable work under pretty tough conditions.  Her group has been going for 30 years and has developed a solid support structure of people who would literally die for the organisation.  Michael visited her group earlier on in the year and was very complimentary about everything she is achieving there.  For this session, he asked her to speak specifically about her Board and the involvement of each individual on it.  She explained that every Board member does something specific for the organisation (on a voluntary basis) from performance, to technicals, to fundraising, to management, and you are only invited to sit on the Board after 7 years of service to the group.  The commitment of the Board Members is clear and is something many arts organisations would be envious of.  She also started a Membership Programme (paying an annual amount of money towards the sustainability of the organisation and receiving certain membership benefits) and reported that she is successfully getting it off the ground.  Noora is a do-er; one of those women that makes things happen no matter what the circumstance, and her passion, commitment and never-failing sense of humour is a pleasure to be around and learn from.

Just as I’m getting into this all, listening to my fellow Fellows talking about their successes, feeling proud on behalf of them, feeling lucky to know them and get to learn from them, Michael turns to me and says, “So Tanya, what have you been up to in South Africa?”  Now, I’m not expecting this because, with only a limited amount of time with Michael in this session, I am expecting him to call on one of the Czech Chicks, or the Egyptian contingency or Nada from Lebanon, all with so many successes and experiences to share.  But he calls on me.  What have I been doing in South Africa?  So, I start.  Now let me just say upfront that I exist in two perpetual states about the work I am doing for FTH:K: on one hand, I am really proud of what we are achieving. None of us are trained in management or administration.  I’m a trained dancer and theatre-maker now turned Arts Manager, after all, so I try to celebrate all our successes, big and small, always remembering where we started.  On the other hand, I am constantly impatient to see results, to be doing more, developing faster, getting securer; and too often I find myself fixated on that which we haven’t yet achieved rather than that which we have.  Pride vs. Self-Criticism.  And as I start speaking, it is this very conflict of pride and self-criticism that plays out.  My role in the scenario is that of Pride while Michael picks up the script for Self-Criticism.  I begin talking about our success in doing away with the expected Opening Night complimentary tickets, without much fallout from audience members.  FTH:K’s work is worth at least R20, it appears.  He lets me take a point here.  But on feeding back on our Membership Programme, Development Committee and staffing issues, Pride takes a series of knocks.  Membership is not growing fast enough; there are concerns around the Development Committee make-up; and all the Fellows get involved in a discussion around whether my take on employees (MUST potential management employees be avid theatre supporters in order to be successful at their jobs?) is correct.  Pride feels a little deflated.

The session ends and a number of Fellows, old and new, comment on how “harsh” Michael was on me.  And I’m left thinking: was he really?  Was I called to speak as a bad example?! (Akkk!!  Pride whimpers in a corner at the thought!) Or was Michael simply making use of my thick skin to direct difficult commentary through me, to the rest of the group?  It could be that, given he believes that SA and the USA have a lot in common in terms of arts environments, he had expected more growth in less time from me.  Maybe he wanted to be harsh with me to motivate me, eliciting the response of, “Well, I’ll show you…4000 members coming up!”  Maybe, quite simply, it’s just that my big mouth encourages people to want to put me in my place!  Certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

And as I am mulling over this, with Fellows and a few shots of tequila, I remind myself of what this Fellowship is all about: learning, planning and networking.  Can I learn something from Michael’s criticism?  Yes.  Can what I have learnt from him help me do my work better in SA?  Yes.  Will my work in SA help achieve the vision and aims of FTH:K?  Absolutely.  So, what’s the problem?!  There is no place for ego and pride in this Fellowship.  It’s about developing and growing, and that may happen in challenging, sometimes de-motivating ways.  But hey, if you can’t take the heat, get out of Arts Management!  And I am reminded once again that the performing arts world is not for sissies…