Web Site: http://www.dramawhat.blogspot.com
Bio: Alicia Coombes is a dramaturg, director and writer. Growing up in rural Oklahoma as an outsider with a flair for the dramatic, she wasn’t exposed to very much art or theatre outside of rodeos and Halloween Hell Houses. Luckily as a teenager her family returned to the Bay Area and she quickly immersed herself in more arts and culture than she had imagined was possible. She still has a particular soft spot for the dramatic (and clowns, perhaps from the rodeo days). She graduated from San Francisco State University with a BA in Theatre with an emphasis in Dramaturgy. She was Aurora Theatre Company’s Literary Manager and Artistic Assistant for four seasons and served as resident dramaturg for the 2011-2012 Season. She has worked in many aspects of the theatre with several other Bay Area companies including Crowded Fire Theater, Marin Theatre Company, Z Space/Word for Word, Golden Thread, Woman’s Will, and CalShakes and is currently the Company Manager for San Francisco’s foolsFURY Theater.
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Denmo Ibrahim is an award-winning Egyptian-American actor, playwright, poet, CEO, healer, creative director and theatre-maker based in San Francisco. Her training from Naropa University in Lecoq-based Actor-Created Physical Theatre and her previous work as co-founder of ensemble theatre company Mugwumpin inform her process. Ibrahim has “spent years in the studio collaborating, devising, rehearsing, demolishing and breathing life into new playthings.”
In 2011, during an artist residency at The EXIT Theater in San Francisco, Ibrahim began working on a show exploring identity and tradition in America.
“[Producers] Christina [Augello] and Richard [Livingston] were very generous and gave me the keys to the space and free reign to create from scratch,” Ibrahim said. “All that freedom made me sick so I gave myself three rules: I could use anything that could fit in two suitcases, I was the only actor in the piece and it had to be funny. To make sure I’d stick to those three rules I decided to title it — mind you, this was before I had a show — FUNNY / A TRUNK SHOW.”
Ibrahim’s show (which has gone by many names and is currently called BABA) has been developed at fringe festivals and new play workshops from the Bay Area to the Midwest to New York. Ibrahim received the Highlight Award in 2011 for BABA and is in discussion with several Bay Area theatres for consideration in the 2014 season.
Art Animal had the chance to ask Ibrahim a few questions about her artistic process and inspiration.
Art Animal: What was your impetus for creating BABA?
Denmo Ibrahim: I’d never done a solo piece to date and felt inspired by the challenge. At this point, I still didn’t have a story. I played for two weeks creating character, situations, using wigs and costumes, trying to embody the space of clown and failing miserably at trying to be funny. It wasn’t until I’d shared my frustration with a friend of mine who’s created many solo shows who gave me a very good piece of advice. He suggested starting closer to my own life and choosing something real to draw from. I said I’m not really sure what I’d have to say. He said, “We all have a story we wouldn’t want anyone else to know – a secret. That’s the one you tell.”
So I decided to start personal. My parents immigrated to this country in the 70’s. My mother acclimated to this country quite well. My father held to more of a traditional view of family, roles and rules. In general, he had a harder time adjusting to the New York city life. After four years of a difficult marriage they separated. My father, still believing to be the head of the family, quietly took us out of the city, onto a plane, and intended to raise us in the country of Cairo, as he had been raised. We were told [my mother] passed away and as a child that was what I grew to believe. Until she emerged again a year later. Like a vision or your greatest dream that the person you’ve loved and lost would return, my mother came and took us back. This very jarring experience actually created a lot of hope for me, of what could be possible in this life. I imagine that in his eyes, this abduction was totally justified, even full of love. So I decided to create a show for him, of him, with him. I wanted to be in his shoes, literally, and understand him from the inside. I have a lot of inspiration to share with people that trauma becomes a gateway for transformation. I’ve accomplished a great deal in my life. And I owe it to that very early experience of separation.
AA: How autobiographical is BABA?
DI: The events in BABA are a bit absurd. Although I used an interview style to generate raw material and craft particular scenes or characters, the play is almost completely fictitious.
I should mention that the main character in BABA, Mohammed, is actually not based on my father. The physicality came from studying men raised in the Middle East of different sizes and ages. I worked that gesture in to my body until something clicked. The body of BABA is somewhat a compilation of many Middle Eastern men I watched. I listened to their tone, cadence, language and used this to create Mohammed. The language isn’t based on dialogue my father ever said to me. The writing came from a series of interviews I conducted of women who immigrated to the U.S. and the difficulties they faced.
I think most people think this is torn right out of my diary. It’s a far leap from the original. My dad is quiet, small in build, and to the point. Moe is larger than life, cunning, roundabout, and proud. I found this kind of character more intriguing. I discovered these qualities easily in the Middle Eastern women I met. The events surrounding the play, however, were real. And the reason why I wrote this is because I was part of the story and it was a story I’d never told and honestly never understood. BABA is a comedy about a very sad time for a hard working man who failed at the American Dream. And in creating it, I learned that. I discovered how much compassion I and the audiences have for him.
And so a fresh story arrived about men and women struggling between identity and tradition in America — a weaving of the personal and communal — and in a way I couldn’t conceive.
AA: Can you describe for me your process in creating this show?
DI: The show took a year to create. My process is a bit unusual. When it was still a draft, I’d submitted it to a festival in New York and performed in the East Village for a few weeks. There I could see with a live audience what worked and what didn’t. I took the next draft to Indiana and then to AlterTheater in San Raphael then to Minneapolis and back to New York. Each performance opportunity was a way to be under the gun. I knew it wasn’t finished but I couldn’t work on it behind a desk. I needed to be on my feet. I had to get my edits and notes live from the audience. So although it was exhausting and embarrassing at times, eventually I came out with a script I feel is ready to enter into production.
One of the major shifts in BABA as well was it started out with a full fat suit, mustache, props, and costumes. I was trying so hard to make it into something more. In the end, I found the essential gesture of him and was able to strip everything away.
AA: Can you tell me more about training (you mentioned clowning) and bringing that training to the development of BABA?
DI: My training is in the Jacques Leqoqs’ pedagogy in physical theatre. Because of my training I learned writing as a physical practice — in space and through movement. Clown wasn’t the right genre for this piece in the end but understanding style and form as a way of crafting a new work versus content alone is one of the unique things about my creative process.
AA: How many incarnations has it gone through?
DI: It’s gone through five incarnations to date all of which I consider to be drafts in performance. In December, I was honored to receive the Highlight 2011 Award from Noor Theatre where I presented its most recent version as a staged reading at New York Theatre Workshop.
AA: Tell me a bit about your experience with taking BABA to both the NY Fringe and Minnesota Fringe festivals in the same year? Were there differences in each audience’s response?
DI: The show was in a very different place in New York then it was in Minnesota. Minnesota’s audiences were incredible. The feedback was tremendous. I felt very inspired by sharing this story there and was very surprised by the booming arts community and support given.
AA: What’s next for the show? Do you consider it “finished”?
DI: I think after a long year of development, the show is ready to begin. But it’s not finished. It’s ready to be pushed, pulled and brought into a fuller expression. I’d intended to develop it on the road with the hope of producing it in the Bay Area. Now we’re talking to a few companies about the possibilities of a full production in 2014.
AA: What are some of the other artistic projects you’re working on?
DI: Well, in the theatre world, I often feel like I’m in the closet about my other life. I’m the founder of Earthbody, an organic day spa in Hayes Valley, and lead a team of therapists. I also formulate an organic bodycare line called Earthbody Organics and work one on one with people as a Holistic Coach. Currently, I’m in the midst of writing a book for creative healers in private practice who are interested in using the practice of business as a path for spiritual development. My life is my work. My work is my art. And these projects seem to fuel each other whether it’s for the stage, the book, the product or the business.
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The Mothership Hackermoms have created a child-friendly artist’s dream on Adeline Street in Oakland: the room is furnished with a long table covered with various projects, a squishy leather couch and subversive art on the walls. A dresser’s dummy sporting a vintage lacy bra greets you at the door with a sign that asks guests to “Stuff our donation bra!” A small door at the end of the room opens up to a parallel room almost as large as the main one and is filled with toys and the accoutrements for kid-friendly arts and crafts.
The Mothership Hackerspace opened in April of this year, marking the latest rite of growth for a small group of “hackermoms” in Oakland. The group began with an email from founder Sho Sho Smith to a few women she had met through another hackerspace, a community-built and run space where people come together to build, make, tinker and learn, usually with a creative “hacker” twist. The focus of any particular hackerspace is usually dictated by the membership, but can often involve technological or dangerous equipment for soldering or circuitry, making them generally adults only.
Before deciding to open the space, Smith had just given birth to her second child and her husband was in cancer treatment.
“I really needed a large creative life and understanding community to replenish my energy of the terribly draining effects of caring for two young children and a husband with cancer,” Smith said. “As a result, I was a better mother, caregiver and individual because I had this life of my own where I could build something in the midst of potential death and destruction. Good news: he just beat cancer.”
The group grew from there, meeting in living rooms for the first nine months or so. Sometimes the women would pool their money to hire childcare, sometimes their kids would play with each other under supervision from the older kids, and often their kids would do their own projects alongside their moms. Soon, the women were looking to find their own space to keep equipment and branch out. They now have about 20 paying members, who have access to the space 24/7. Many members have Etsy accounts to sell Hackermom Art such as “booby” hats (knitted beanies that make breastfeeding kids look “anatomically correct”), linocut prints and “O-BAM!-a” superhero onesies. They also offer workshops to the community in all sorts of creative pursuits, from screenprinting to sport hooping to terrarium gardening to pallet-gate building.
Founding member Samantha Matalone Cook makes it clear that the women built this space for their specific needs, and that while this may seem exclusive, they do not apologize for building a space with their own desires in mind.
“There is possibly a finite number of families interested enough in what we do to join us,” Cook said, “but that is true of any group. So, like in motherhood, we make it work.”
Many of the members, in fact, still belong to the original group in which they met. Right now, their membership only includes women, but they do not specifically forbid male or non-mothers from using the space. Still, the nature of the group remains true to the fact that there are children playing and learning alongside the adults.
“I’d love to see a hackerspace in every neighborhood and in every school,” Cook said. “Ours in particular brings back the village for women. I have seen the incredible benefit in our space among the women with infants and young children. The mental break, the time to focus on oneself in the flurry of hormones and constant feedings and feeling overwhelmed has too many benefits to mention. You walk in to MSHM and everyone understands.”
Visit www.mothership.hackermoms.org to find out more about the Hackermoms, their art, and workshops.
Sheila Callaghan wants the theatre world to know that it has not “lost her to television.” Her goal has always been to write for both stage and screen, and right now she’s successfully doing both. She’s settling in to life in L.A. (“after living in denial and Brooklyn for awhile”), has written for the popular show United States of Tara on Showtime, shot a pilot for the USA Network and has produced over a dozen plays featured at prestigious theatres all over the country – from off-Broadway to Louisville to Los Angeles.
Her latest play, Port Out, Starboard Home, is a production over three years in the making, and will be opening September 10 in San Francisco as a coproduction of Z Space and foolsFURY Theater. Port Out, Starboard Home (POSH, for short) is set on a cruise ship and explores what happens when people pay for a spiritual experience, and the fallout of getting the experience they paid for.
Callaghan took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to Art Animal about her new show and starting a career in Hollywood.
Art Animal: This play is described as “written by Sheila Callaghan with foolsFURY Theater. ” What was your first encounter with foolsFURY Theater, and what has the process of developing POSH with them been like?
Sheila Callaghan: I heard of foolsFURY in the 90’s, when I was trying to learn all I could about collaborative groups in theater. They had a good reputation, but I hadn’t seen any of their work. Then years later I had a play in the Bay Area Playwright’s Festival called Lascivious Something. Ben Yalom [the Artistic Director of foolsFURY] was on a retreat with the playwrights and artists of the Playwright’s Foundation, and that’s when we met. I want to say the first time we really talked we were stoned around a campfire. I remember him telling me that none of my work was right for his theatre company, and I was irritated at that – but he was right! His company is highly collaborative, and uses techniques to move through time and space in a way that my text-based plays can’t really take advantage of. He mentioned during that retreat that sometime in the future we should try to put something together, and I agreed. A few years later he and the Bay Area Playwright’s Foundation teamed up to commission me to write Port Out, Starboard Home.
AA: Why a cruise ship?
SC: I was working with this new gang of people, watching them do their work: Viewpoints, Sharing Weight, moving their bodies through time and space and navigating each other’s speed and gravity. I started thinking about how they might move in a confined space, a tight room. I wanted it to have a significant context, explore a bunch of people who can’t leave – like Sartre’s No Exit, except not really, they can leave, but something like that. It seemed like a place to start, and Ben never said “no,” so, there it was. Plus, we had some grant money so it was a great way for all of us to go on a “research” vacation. I’d never been on a cruise. FoolsFURY went on a cruise in 2008 as part of the development process, and they did their excercises on the ship while taking notes and impressions of the experience.
AA: Is this how they contributed to the writing of it?
SC: The writing was very collaborative. It turns out that I got pregnant a few months before the cruise, and for health reasons the cruise company wouldn’t let me go. So foolsFURY went on the cruise without me! They brought back footage, pictures, anectdotes, and I collected it all and read through it. Some of the text is actual notes taken from what they overheard on board. Some of it was just ideas that they played with and I watched and then we sketched it out into scenes.
AA: The play features a baby. How did being a mother-to-be affect your writing of the play, and how has being a mother affected the development of it?
SC: I’ve actually always been fairly ambivalent about being a parent. The baby thing came from Michelle [Haner, a company member of foolsFURY], who brought her 7- to 8-month-old kid and carried him around the whole time in a BabyBjörn. She was more internal about her material since she was carrying this baby around. Her experience was all about her connection to her son’s experience. Most of the other material from the other company members was less introspective. They were more interested in the people around them as a sociological study, but this woman with her baby, she was more interested in her own experience.
AA: Switching gears for a bit – what was your first foray into writing for Hollywood? What was your impetus for heading in that direction?
SC: To me, there was never a switch. I always wanted to do both. You can’t make a living as a playwright anymore. It’s impossible. So you have to be okay with writing for television and movies and teaching, and I always wanted to do it all. I got my Master’s Degree in playwrighting in L.A., specifically so I could learn to do both. I wrote my first screenplay in grad school and won a pretty prestigious prize: it didn’t get me anywhere but it did give me some confidence to keep going. I did move to New York after graduate school because I wanted to live there and try out theatre there before getting too far in to the L.A./television world without trying the stage.
AA: How has your experience been as a woman writing for both stage and screen? Are there similarities and differences for each, or has the experience been about the same for both?
SC: [Laughs] Well, I’ve never been a guy, not sure how it compares, but now is a great time for women in TV. There are so many strong female leads, strong female voices and stories. With theatre the complaint lately has been that there aren’t enough female voices on stage and backstage, and that’s true for larger theatres, definitely. But I’ve been lucky to be produced by smaller theatres, and there are tons of female playwrights who are getting their work out there. The thing is, I know a ton of female playwrights who have to stop writing for the stage to have babies. If you’re writing for television, you don’t have to stop. You can afford to hire help or you’ll have a more flexible schedule. In theatre, there’s no money. If you aren’t making theatre, you have to teach; if you are making theatre, you have no time. You definitely don’t have money. So maybe it’s just a hard time right now for female writers to keep producing and hustling for theatre. I get so annoyed when people say theatre has “lost” me to Hollywood. I can’t afford to write plays for theatre exclusively: no one can.
AA: Have you noticed the success of one – either stage or screen – translating into the success of the other?
SC: Writing for television teaches you to listen to the others in the room, it teaches you to have confidence and speak up, to be efficient with your storylines, not to be too precious. Those are great skills to build for the theatre, which allows for more indulgences as far as storylines, monologues. They each teach me something that I can take to the other.
AA: Are you a writer who devours reviews of your work, or do you avoid them at all costs?
SC: I would love to tell you I ignore them, but of course I can’t. I don’t pay them too much mind, but I want to know what the temperature is around the production. So here’s what I do: I’ll skim the headline, first line, last line, if it’s bad I’ll walk away for a LONG time. If it’s good, I hate to say this, but of course I read it. But if it’s bad here’s my petty revenge: I’ll go back and read it months later, and by God I’ll find a pull quote from a terrible review to put on my website. Even though I’m a little immune to the emotional fallout of the reviews, since my work gets such mixed responses, I like to do that little bit to feel better.
AA: What has been your favorite project so far?
SC: There’s four that float to the top. The shooting of the pilot for USA [Network] was an amazing experience, I want fifty more like it. Amazing people, enriching, exciting experience – it was not right for the network, but it was lovely. Three of my plays – Kate Crackernuts in L.A. with Jessica Kubzansky directing, Dead City in New York with Daniella Topol directing, and That Pretty Pretty, or the Rape Play in New York with Kip Fagan directing – those were all amazing experiences.
AA: Are there one or two prevailing themes in your work to which you keep returning?
SC: I’m told I have a dead or absent parent in most of my work. I didn’t notice it before someone pointed it out, but it’s true. I’m meticulous at language; I see it as musical. I write about identity and loneliness a lot. Loneliness plays a huge part in Port Out, Starboard Home, actually. All these people stuck on the ship together, and they each have this experience alone.
AA: Do you write characters with aspects of your own personality? Which of your characters most closely resembles you?
SC: Sure, every writer I know is schizo that way. I think every writer seems a little multiple personality disorder-ish. You immerse yourself into each character; there’s part of me in every one. I do research for technical details, not emotional ones. For my pilot for USA [Over/Under] there’s a wife character that everyone says is me, but she’s way more aspirational than me, she’s far more…cool. In my play, Scab, there’s one character that you can pretty much identify as me at the time.
Port Out, Starboard Home will receive its world premiere at Z Space in San Francisco on September 10, 2012, and it will move to La Mama in New York in November. Over/Under will be released as a television movie within a year on the USA Network. You can find out more about Sheila Callaghan at www.sheilacallaghan.com and buy tickets to POSH at www.foolsfury.org.
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When friends and actors Chloe Bronzan and Jessica Powell noticed that their male counterparts consistently scored higher-paying and more frequent acting jobs, they decided to do something about it. In 2010, they created the Symmetry Theatre Company in San Francisco along with Chloe’s husband, Robert Parsons, also an actor, and produced their first play (Show and Tell by Anthony Clarvoe). With its success, they commissioned Patience Worth by Michelle Carter in 2011, and just closed their third production, Emilie by Lauren Gunderson.
Symmetry Theatre’s aesthetic is to tell stories in an abstract way, featuring extraordinary events and people; for instance, an elementary school classroom blows up, an uneducated housewife composes volumes of critically-acclaimed literature through seances or the work of a female physicist’s ghost was the link between Newton and Einstein. In other words, it is extremely unlikely that you will see Symmetry do a dysfunctional family drama.
Symmetry Theatre’s next project in April 2013 will be a production of The Language Archive by Julia Cho, a story about a linguist’s inability to articulate his feelings of love.
Their mission is multi-layered: to create professionally-produced theatre that will excite, stimulate and challenge audiences. They also strive to produce plays acknowledging that women’s stories are just as important as men’s, hopefully heightening public awareness and the theatre community at large for the need to create more “balance on the boards.” Finally, Symmetry Theatre only chooses shows with at least as many female characters as male, and gives at least as many Actor’s Equity (AEA, the stage actor’s union) contracts to women as they do men.
The founders of Symmetry Theatre were not the first to notice the lack of female voices in theatres in the area. After joining Actors Equity, Valerie Weak, a local actor, felt as though she was giving great auditions but losing parts to non-union actors.
“I didn’t suddenly suck at being an actor overnight,” Weak said, “so why wasn’t I getting cast? Over the years I’d noticed the trend of being in shows where more of the union contracts would go to men than women.”
The Screen Actors’ Guild reports statistics on member diversity, but AEA does not, so Weak decided to start counting actors to determine the degree of her suspected disparity. She started the Counting Actors project on her blog and has been posting the results every month for over a year. Other Bay Area theatre professionals have submitted their counts as well, adding to her data. The results were telling: most months, men largely outnumbered women in the categories of directors, writers and total actors.
The response to Weak’s work has been positive.
“I get thanked pretty regularly and people tell me what I’m doing is important,” Weak said. “I think part of why the response has stayed positive is because I put up the numbers in a fairly neutral presentation. It’s ‘here are the shows, here are the total actors, here are the men, here are the women’ and the reader can be the one to say ‘this sucks’ or ‘no wonder it’s been so hard to book work lately.’”
Weak feels that the best way to continue the conversation is to offer alternatives – like what Symmetry Theater is doing – and to support work made by women with time, money, and energy. She tries to advocate for playwrights telling women’s stories and companies offering roles for women, and to encourage dialogue between theatregoers and artistic staff.
While in theory many larger theatres are trying to be more inclusive, in practice the results can be disheartening. As Bronzan of Symmetry Theatre says, “I’ve never met a theatre colleague who has said ‘Women should not be equally represented on the stage, female playwrights are not as good as male ones, and female directors don’t know what they’re doing,’ but each year when show seasons are announced, there doesn’t seem to be much progress toward parity.”
Just like the public’s response to Weak’s new research, Symmetry Theatre has received positive reviews.
“We’ve been delighted to see both theatre goers and colleagues be so supportive of our mission and work,” Bronzan said. “Getting financial support has been a little more challenging. Grants are very hard to come by because there is now so little funding and so much competition. We hope to eventually get enough support to be able to do more than one show per year.”
Bronzan does mention, however, that there are a few misconceptions. One is that Symmetry is a feminist company vying for the exclusion of men in theater.
“We just want to present work in which the female characters are equally developed and interesting, but our shows do not have to be only about women,” Bronzan said. “We also believe that women should not have to work under different circumstances than men – which is often the case in theaters that hire both union and non-union actors – the non-union actors are overwhelmingly female. Therefore, we make sure that we do not hire more male union actors than female, though we do hire both.”
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Local artist Holly DeFount didn’t intend to crank out an original hand-painted tarot deck in one year. She was feeling creatively blocked and had given herself a personal artistic challenge: create one piece of art every single day for a year. She chose the Artist Trading Card format, creating a mini-painting on a card measuring 2.5×3.5 inches. These small works of art are traditionally given and traded amongst artists, but when sold are called “Art Cards, Editions and Originals,” or “ACEOs” for short. Each day she posted her ACEOs, detailing her successes and failures to her Facebook and Etsy pages. She’d give a little background behind her idea and the process, providing inspiration to others while holding herself accountable to her goal.
In a matter of months, it became clear to her audience that many of her art cards resembled tarot. Her cards were full of archetypal imagery, esoteric subjects such as alchemy and numerology, and rich in symbolism. As an artist interested in collecting and reading tarot cards, she had often considered (and quickly rejected) creating her own. However, as the months passed she returned again and again to her accidental project and had finished a complete tarot deck by the end of the year.
Holly’s daily practice not only inspired others and rekindled her own artistic drive, but paved the way for her to finish a project that seemed too daunting to even start. Today, she has funded the first printing of the complete deck, titled The Incidental Tarot, with Indiegogo. She is currently writing the companion book to The Incidental Tarot, which details each card and gives common meanings and background behind the imagery and symbolism of each. She is also finishing her first novel, as well as working on a slightly different artistic practice: creating a new work of art each week in any medium or style.
Art Animal: Which ACEO piece most represents you?
Holly DeFount: I did do a couple of self-portraits within the ACEO challenge, but the one that really resonates for me is the one I did on my birthday, exactly one year after I started the project. It’s called Benevolent Durga, the Hindu goddess who is often shown riding a tiger. I’ve had a really strong vision for a few years now inspired by two events that happened around my birthday – December 27 – in 2007. The first was on Christmas day, when Tatiana, the Siberian tiger at the SF Zoo, attacked some rowdy teenagers and ended up killing one of them. She was shot dead by police, and that tragic event lodged in my consciousness. Two days later on my birthday, [the former Prime Minister of Pakistan] Benazhir Bhutto was assassinated. I feel a deep metaphorical connection with these two events, and the Benevolent Durga was the first art piece to come out of that connection for me. I see them both as powerful, majestic females shot down in their prime, and have taken them on – in their positive aspects – as my personal totems to some degree.
AA: Do you have one that you would never want see again?
HD: I do have a handful of ACEOs that really gave me grief at various times over the project; but oddly enough, they are frequently the pieces that my audience loved. So even though looking at them now kind of makes my skin crawl, I can understand that there is an appeal in them beyond my aesthetic. So that’s a nice artistic validation.
AA: Do you have one that gives you warm fuzzies?
HD: I have a couple of favorites – warm fuzzies, if you will. One of them is one of the tarot cards – The Empress. She is just exactly what I intended to express: warmth, nurturing, beauty. She has a welcoming quality that I just love. The other is called Familiar, a kind of fantasy piece: a white, blue-eyed cat with wings. Very whimsical and happy-making.
AA: You say you didn’t mean to start out making a tarot deck, but that your audience noticed it happening before you did. How long did you resist before giving in to your fate?
HD: You know, the calls for a tarot deck were coming in within the first couple of weeks of the project. I scoffed for about two months, thinking there was no way I could pull together a cohesive theme for a tarot deck with such spontaneous and “incidental” drawings. But the more I listened, and the more the drawings came out, the more I realized that my style and my intuitive creativity were the theme. And so The Incidental Tarot was born. I think I made the conscious commitment to do the deck sometime in April, about four months into the challenge.
AA: Were there ever points in the year when you nearly quit one or both projects altogether?
HD: I never thought I would quit the project. Either one, actually. Which is odd because I am a classic “almost-all-the-wayer.” But having the audience see my work every day and come to clamor for it became an automatic motivator. Even on my worst days when I was ready to pull my hair out, the feedback I got from them was so rewarding and encouraging – I wouldn’t dream of letting them down. It was a great accidental way of becoming accountable to my commitment.
AA: You say you’re an “almost-all-the-way-er.” Are there any other projects that you’ve worked on for years that you’ve gone back to after this challenge and wrapped up or finally finished with new focus?
HD: [Laughs] Well, yes, my as yet unfinished novel comes to mind. The eternally present and beckoning pull of the narrative in my head. The beauty of the ACEO project was that I could complete it in baby steps every day, and I was largely accountable for what needed to be produced along the way. The bigger projects, the projects I have put the most intention and planning into are the ones that get lost in the dark annals of my mind. But I still have hope!
AA: Which card was the first one you made specifically for your new project-within-a-project?
HD: Coincidentally, the first card I consciously drew for the deck was The Red King – also happens to be the first numbered card of the Major Arcana. Not sure why I picked him to start with; each day I kind of dipped my hand into the virtual hat and picked out what I was going to draw on a whim. I rarely planned to do certain cards or ideas on specific days. But I guess it is apropo, since The Red King is about manifestation and the power of the creative will.
AA: What made you deviate from traditional tarot decks – changing the suits, adding the talismans, changing certain major arcana?
HD: What can I say? I’m a rebel! No, actually, most of my deck is based on very traditional meanings of the cards (even though the illustration concepts are largely original). Tarot is an archetypal symbolic language that sort of evolves around a couple of different schools of thought; mine are largely drawn from the Rider-Waite [tarot deck] perspective. I did add my own angle to many of them, either based on my understanding of the esoteric elements – earth, air, fire, water – or on numerology. I also drew from some current events for many of the cards; for instance, my version of the Tower, called Phoenix, was directly inspired by the earthquake and nuclear meltdown in Japan last March. Even before I had committed to doing the deck, I knew that image – that event – resonated perfectly with the destructive and cleansing nature of the Tower. And I do like to add my own twist to things. Everything needs a little shake-up every once in awhile.
AA: One thing about your deck that I rarely see in other tarot decks is your expressive numbered pips, displaying the suit of the card. You do such a great job of conveying the symbolism of the card through the minimal structure of number and suit. What made you choose to do this instead of designing more intricate artwork or more stark layouts of numbers like many other tarot decks?
HD: You know, it just happened to be the most efficient way of portraying the energy of the cards in the amount of space available. Since each drawing is only 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches, I really couldn’t illustrate an active scene for each of them, as many traditional decks do. I tried very hard to get as much potency into each card as possible, while keeping compositions simple and bold. Also, for me, I think many of the more complex scenes in other tarot decks actually distract from their overall effect, making you overthink their interpretations and try to apply them to very specific circumstances. The magic of “reading” tarot cards comes from letting them speak through your subconscious in a very fluid way. Overly complicated or detailed scenes can get in the way of that flow.
AA: How many decks have you sold? Would you ever endeavor to create another deck from scratch?
HD: I’m terrible with numbers – I haven’t counted – but it looks like I’ve sold about 300 or so decks retail, including the pre-orders from the Indiegogo campaign. We are going to be distributing them wholesale to stores and catalogs as well, though we’re just getting around to that aspect of the marketing. The first few months have been spent “introducing” the deck to the tarot community, building the website and polishing up the manuscript for the companion book. As for ever doing another deck – I certainly wouldn’t rule it out, but I can guarantee you it won’t happen in less than a year ever again!
AA: Have any of your other ACEOs inspired other projects? Have you made artistic cards of future/past characters you’ve written about, or drawings that manifested into other artwork?
HD: As yet, I haven’t really adapted any of the other ACEOs into other projects. I just recently finished the manuscript for the companion book to The Incidental Tarot, and that has taken up a huge chunk of my creative brain since I finished the deck itself. So I’m just now getting back into a space where I can create new things again.
AA: What’s next on your artistic horizon?
HD: As I mentioned before, I have this nagging novel that is begging to be finished and illustrated. It is a “mytho-real” story about an incarnated Celtic goddess and her adventures over a thousand or so years. It’s about 2/3 written and still needs a lot of revising and editing. But I plan to do NaNoWriMo [National Novel Writing Month] again this November, and I really, really hope I can at least finish writing the story this year!
To learn more about Holly’s The Incidental Tarot and her other artistic projects, visit http://theincidentaltarot.com/. To purchase a deck or print of her artwork, check out her Etsy shop: www.etsy.com/shop/RavenandRoseArts. You can follow all of Holly’s artwork and musings at http://ravenandrosearts.com.
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