Collaboration is Today’s Steam Engine

Published in Accelerate Magazine, 2016

If you transported a typical American man from the year 1900 into the 1950’s, he’d be amazed by the changes brought on by the industrial revolution.  Cars, highways, skyscrapers and airplanes flying overhead, electricity and its children—washing machines, refrigerators, televisions and TV dinners—would astound him.

Now take a man from the 1950’s and transport him into the 2000’s.  This man wouldn’t have nearly the same hurdles to overcome in terms of navigating the physical landscape; he could take a car or train home and, with coaching, he could soon enjoy reruns of I Love Lucy on an iPad. But the real differences in our lives today would probably give him great pause because our very culture has changed.  

As Richard Florida points out in his book, The Rise of the Creative Class, our time-traveler from the 1900’s would find normalcy in the 1950’s culture of business suit-wearing white men working in America, getting married young, starting families and working consistent hours until they’re ready to retire.  

The second time-traveler would eventually realize that the game of life has changed in subtler, but shockingly significant ways.  Men and women of all races and ages now embrace their careers, work together within flexible hours and environments, and choose to start families later in life, or not at all. Commerce is global and businesses can now offshore just about everything from bookkeeping to design and order-fulfillment, and people work in comfortable clothes from coffee shops, yet serve clients around the globe.  

Eventually our time traveler would notice a giant, yet somewhat elusive shift in our business world: this creative society embraces a “collective” working environment based on collaboration and innovation.

In the past, corporations grew through mergers and acquisitions and smaller entities didn’t share, they assimilated.  Seemingly endless natural and human resources were devoured and size mattered. As Alexandra Samuel reports for Harvard Business Review, “we’re now doing less consuming and more producing in our collaborative economy.”

Startups like Airbnb and Etsy offer platforms for individuals to share back-office benefits formerly enjoyed only by large corporations. Upwork is a one-stop shop for freelancing “anything that can be done on a computer,” and Fiverr is a clearinghouse of freelancers who will deliver services ranging from useful to quirky for $5.

Here in Hawai‘i, ProtoHub, Box Jelly, and ROC (Real Office Centers) provide communal workspace and big office niceties like conference rooms, kitchens, and social mixers to sole proprietors and small businesses.  The ARTS at Marks Garage offers community, space, and amenities for several arts-related organizations.  Hawai‘i TechWorks brings tech and design professionals together.  And The Cut Collective is a productive gathering of Hawai‘i’s clothing designers.  All of these organizations offer things formally unheard of in business—support and collaboration—not for the finance or glory of one single entity, but with an eye on growth and betterment of our industries, economy and society.

He may be shocked and doubtful initially, but our time traveler would eventually have to agree this cultural shift works.  Our figurative steam engine accomplishment of today is collaboration.

Single-Tasking

Published in Accelerate Magazine, 2016

The term “multitask” originally appeared in 1965, in an IBM paper describing the capabilities of the System/360.  Ever since then scientists have been asking the question: can humans effectively multitask?  

The short answer is: no.

The long answer is: you can do two things at once, but your attention to one or both of them will suffer if you try.  

The scary answer is: you’re actually harming yourself if you try multitasking on a regular basis.

Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D and author of the book Make Your Brain Smarter: Increase Your Creativity, energy and Focus says that “multitasking is brain drain that exhausts the mind, zaps cognitive resources and, if left unchecked, condemns us to early mental decline and decreased sharpness.  Chronic multitaskers also have increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which can damage the memory region of the brain.”

Multitasking is actually a myth.  Our brains don’t focus on two or more things at once.  Instead, when we’re working on a budget while reading incoming email, listening to a podcast and keeping an eye on a co-worker’s progress, our brains are constantly switching from one activity to another.  That switching is responsible for chemical reactions that are detrimental to your proficiency, efficiency and health.

The next time you’re working on your computer with a plethora of windows open and your phone nearby, remember this Michigan State University study:  300 students were given a computer test with interruptions in the form of pop-ups that required the students to enter a code.  Some of the interruptions lasted 2.8 seconds, and some lasted 4.4 seconds.  The students made double the errors when they returned to the test after the 2.8-second interruption and quadruple the errors after the 4.4-second interruptions.

Quickly switching from one activity to another also programs your brain to have a short attention span.  Leo Babauta, author of focus, A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction says “This is why it’s so hard to learn to focus on one thing at a time again.”

So, why do we keep doing it?  There’s a soon to be outdated perception of prestige surrounding the person with the plethora of windows open.  Also each of those beeps and whistle notifications from our phones and computers cause our brains to release an addicting jolt of dopamine.  When you switch back to your original task, your brain pings the “newness” alarm and the dopamine releases again, feeding our desire for more and perpetuating the brain-draining cycle.  

Switching your brain from one task to another also burns glucose, and depleted glucose levels cause us to get tired and experience brain fog.  If you feed that lethargic brain fog with what it craves – glucose in the form of sweets and starches – you’re giving yourself another cyclical reward (and possibly several unwanted pounds).

Kevin Lee of Fast Company suggests that we break the multitasking habit and focus on one activity at a time, with as few distractions and interruptions as possible.  Practice minimalism by making a to-do list first, then silence your phone, close your email, open one window at a time and focus on a rhythm for your work, rather than allowing random, real-time alerts.  Work for 25 minutes, and then take a 5-minute break to rest your mind.

If you want to take it one step further and really up your game, take some time to reflect on the work you’ve done.  Business psychologists from Harvard, UNC and HEC Paris recently published the results of a series of productivity experiments finding that people who take time to reflect on their activities perform significantly better on subsequent challenges.

Now go do one amazing thing!

Great Gusto

Published in Abstract Magazine, 2016

 

Is “binging” necessarily a bad thing? Most definitions I’ve read include the words; “to excess” and “more than desirable,” which begs the question of ‘desirable’ by whom, and how far is too far?

For those of us with Netflix et al, we binge (and yes, even binge to excess, which is double the definition and really saying something) and go all out on movies, documentaries, and particularly television shows. This has not always been the case; I remember originally trying to watch 24 when it was on television, waiting patiently for each weekly installment before ultimately losing interest.

Everything changed for me one time when I got quite sick and one of the prescriptions my doctor gave me kept me wide awake for most of the next week. So I Netflixed nearly the entire five seasons of Breaking Bad. Despite the fact that I suffered for seven days with two inner ear infections, I had a pretty good time.

I haven’t been as sick since then but I’ve kept binging, absorbing hours of Game of Thrones,

Downton Abbey, Arrested Development, Twin Peaks, and Lost with great gusto and aplomb. I’ve even rediscovered Jack Bauer and caught up on my 24. Binging has given these shows new life.

Netflix conducted a study, which found among other things, that 61% of respondents said they regularly binge-watched shows and that 73% have positive feelings towards binge streaming TV. Naturally, show creators have taken notice of this phenomenon.

“It’s very possible we wouldn’t have made it…without this creation of these technologies and this cultural creation of binge-watching,” says Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan in an interview with Wired. “Under the old paradigm – using the old technology of simply having first runs and then reruns on networks – I don’t know that we would’ve reached the critical mass that we reached.”

Despite the popularity, Slate.com’s Jim Pagel argues that binging TV shows disturbs the integrity of individual episodes and destroys the pleasure found in cliffhangers. No time to mull over Red Weddings, or the Dharma Initiative, or the Man From Another Place.

James Poniewozik of Time Magazine is on the other side of the fence, noting that the surest sign a medium is changing is when people start to romanticize the very features of it that used to be condemned, and that the episodic nature of television is an advertising, rather than a storytelling, device. Poniewozik compares watching to reading: sometimes you tear through a novel in a weekend, other times you savor it over the course of a month or twono harm in either method.

Consider “House of Cards,” (a Netflix original series) where every episode of each season is released all at once online, and it’s up to the viewer to decide how quickly or slowly they’d like to consume it.

No one’s even quite sure what constitutes a “binge.” According to a Harris Interactive Poll, watching just two episodes of something in one sitting qualifies. But that means simply catching a couple episodes of Parks and Recreation in a row counts as a binge–a dubious idea considering that’s less than half the time it takes to watch your average movie.

Maybe it’s just time to retire the phrase, “binge watching.” After all, binge eating, drinking, shopping, and working all qualify as serious medical issues. But there must be some ways to go all out or ‘to excess’ that aren’t destructive–what of getting ahead on our gardening, exercising, or household projects?

Are those hours spent curled up in our favorite chair with a good book considered a binge read? How about time spent pursuing our life goals? I don’t think anyone speaks of Michael Jordan as having binged on basketball, or Neil Armstrong on a moon-binge.

We need to find a word to use when we immerse ourselves in what we love, completely, for an extended period of time, and while remaining healthy, responsible, and safe. Because that’s what I want: to grab life in great big heaping lumps; one moment, experience–or episode!–at a time.

 

Paper Scripts

Published in Abstract Magazine, 2014

For the cast of theater production, the script is everything: Bible, Rosetta Stone, and map. A single bundle of paper contains the story we’re telling and our starting point to performing that story well.

Most scripts primarily contain lines of dialogue and a smattering of stage directions with suggested instructions. A director will first read the script to find answers, to make creative decisions that fit in his or her grand scheme, and to form the basis of who to look for when casting the show.

Once brought on, actors like myself dissect the script. We learn all we can and make choices about the rest: who we are, why we do what we do, and how we feel about every other character and everything involved from one moment to the next.

I am proudly paperless in most aspects of my life, but the moment I am cast in a role, I begin a racy affair with my script! Immediately, I lavish it with attention, reading it again and again and again.  I highlight, analyze and research, then saturate it with my own imagination and choices. It is my beloved, my compass and guide, and the key to discovering my character.

The script is with me through rehearsals and it’s where I take sacred notes, writing my blocking (stage navigation) and thoughts about the performance. Out of rehearsal, the script is with me still, with spare moments devoted to gleaning more from it. Why do I say that line?  What makes me say this and what must I think of the actor to whom I say it?

In time, I understand the answers to my questions and my lines begin to come to me on their own–in the form of reactions–but the comforting paper script is there, holding my hands, during the rehearsal process. When I gesture, whether in frustration, anger, or ennui, the script is an extension of my arm.

But after a point, things change. I still respect the script, but it has become restrictive, kind of a hanger-on. I glance at it, grateful for the support it feeds me, but I know the time approaches for us to part. Even before we reach the date that the director has asked for us to be “off book,” with lines memorized and no further need for the paper script, I can feel (dare I say it?) irritated by my beloved script.

So I thoughtfully set it down near the stage and begin a scene without it. It’s within reach if I falter–

INHALE

–and of course, I falter!

I forget everything I’ve learned and have to consolidate sentences, substitute words, and make up lines entirely to get through. I call LINE! for the rehearsal assistant to prompt me with my next line of dialogue if I forget and I feel exposed! I reach hungrily for guidance from that tattered paper darling of mine and grab it.

EXHALE

And for now our relationship remains intact. The rehearsal process continues again and then…it’s time. The play is opening and the time for the paper script is over.

Thank you for the character you brought to me, I say to the script, but I’ve outgrown you and frankly…there is no room for paper in my life.  

…Until it’s time for another play. And the next script comes along…

 

I Grew Up in Church

I grew up in Church

With a God who loved me conditionally

 

For God so loved the word that

If you think or say or do or are the wrong thing

You must suffer eternal damnation

 

I grew up in Church

With a mom who loved me conditionally

 

For mom so loved her daughter she told her to

Sing in the choir and be there for Sunday School, Advent, Easter, and Lent

Or you’re not a good girl

 

I grew up in Church

With a dad who loved me unconditionally

 

For Dad so loved his daughter that

If she behaved incorrectly

He was ashamed and walked away

 

I grew up in Church

Where I loved me conditionally

 

For I couldn’t love what I learned in that Church

So I couldn’t be loved

Not even by me

 

Yet Another Similarity Between Theatre and Church…

Churches and theatres across the country share a common phenomenon at Christmas time: people you don’t see in those buildings any other time of year walk through the front doors.  I propose that those visitors make their annual appearances at both establishments for some of the same reasons.

I don’t mean to sound trite, but this annual pilgrimage phenomenon is so consistent in the theatre world that we sometimes refer to the Christmas show as our “cash cow,” because we know you will come to that show in droves.  You’ll bring the kids, your employees and their families, grandma, dad and your daughter’s chatty friends.  Not unlike the late December trek to Church, you’ll dress a little nicer.  You will also laugh a little louder and clap a little longer and sometimes you’ll cry softly.  Regardless of the show, the venue or performers, you will most likely enjoy yourself and you’ll be back next year for more of the same.

Much like Christmas services at Church, in the world of Christmas entertainment, relatively little has changed over the years (it seems The Sound of Music has inexplicably slipped into the Christmas movie and music repertoire… but that’s another editorial altogether).  From A Christmas Carol to A Christmas Story, we consumers who love “new” and “better,” find ourselves lining up for “old” and “exactly the same.”

There are three forces converging to make those Christmas shows so special.  First, the stories themselves are wonderful affirmations of humanity and hope.  They are stories of family, redemption, the joy of giving, all-conquering love and of a brilliant little baby’s humble birth.  Whether it is a grand production or a grade school pageant, those stories touch our hearts.

What makes those stories so impactful is the second force at play here: we all want very, very badly to feel those emotions of togetherness, warmth, generosity and the promise of unwavering love.  Let’s face it, we can’t always guarantee those feelings on our own, but we can feel them every year when Ebenezer Scrooge realizes he hasn’t slept through December 25th.  Those warm fuzzies are as reliable as tears at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life every year.

And that brings us to the third wallop delivered by those old stories: we only tell them once a year.  It’s like a fabulous pair of shoes you’ll never get tired of because as soon as you wear them, they get tucked away in your closet for another year.  And by the way, these Christmas shoes never go out of style.

Whether you visit a theatre – or Church – once or several times each year, I’m glad we have this season to affirm our hope and humanity together.  Cherish the stories, relish the feelings and savor the shows.  Let’s hold on to all of it as long as we can and have a very Merry Christmas.

Donna Blanchard is an actor, director and freelance arts grant proposal writer

Nailing It

Nailing It

April 30, 2010, 1:43 am
Filed under: Uncategorized
Chicago Street Theatre February 4, 2010

During intermission of the opening night performance of “The Pillowman,” a fellow walked up to me with money in his hand. He said “I want to give you this donation, but only if you promise to produce more shows like this one.”Yes sir, I can promise that – we have such great respect for important works such as “Letters Home,” “Coyote on a Fence,” “Doubt” and “The Pillowman” – it is both our honor and a certain artistic calling to bring them to you.

We had a full house on opening night and every single person I spoke with was buzzing with excited observations and conversation. Seriously, it is a thrill to witness a piece of art that brings you close to each of its characters and surprises you with new information and plot twists throughout your stay in our auditorium. To tell you not to miss this show seems too trite… so instead, I’ll suggest you not miss the experience currently playing on our stage.

AS I WAS TYPING THIS LETTER, I received an email from a patron who saw the show this weekend. I’m sharing a bit of it here (I kid you not, this just arrived):

To Whom It May Concern:

On Saturday January 30, 2010 , my wife and I had the privilege of seeing one of the FINEST performances we have ever seen.

…Timmy Gleason and Josh Eggleston were both exceptional in their performances; [they] brought life and a high standard of acting to their characters. With Timmy Gleason’s character being involved in every aspect of the play he had to hit his mark at every turn. Timmy not only hit the mark he absolutely nailed it.

Over the years we have seen many plays with local and/or national talents and this was truly one of the finest performances of acting that we have seen in many years!

There you go – I couldn’t have said it better.

See you soon!

Donna Blanchard
Managing Director
Sponsored by Bang Bang Beauty and Boutique
http://bangbang-boutique.com

P.S Director, Traci Brant continues her Director’s Blog on our “Pillowman” page and we’ve begun a new Teen Artist blog on the “Ascension Day” page. Enjoy the peak behind the forth wall.

P.P. S. I would love to have included links to those blogs in the above paragraph, but the email system we currently use won’t let me (it erases everything that comes after “.com, net and org”). The folks at Vendini tell me they’re working on this problem and should have it solved within the next couple of months. Until then, please don’t think I’m too lazy to insert hyperlinks! You can click on the show links below… those will take you to the specific show pages.

Ascension Day

Ascension Day

April 30, 2010, 1:51 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

February 24, 2010

We’re breaking new ground at Chicago Street Theatre once again.  Ascension Day is a teen drama, written by Timothy Mason.  It is hard to describe the excitement I feel when I talk about this show and what it means for CST – our artists and audiences.

First, let me say that if I had to give this show a rating, it would be PG-13.  It is set at a Bible camp in 1947… and teen exploration into adult behaviors had already been invented by then.  I wouldn’t describe this show as racey, but I want to make it clear that this isn’t Father Knows Best either.

And that is why this show is so exciting.  The “real” teen years are largely ignored by theatres, playwrights and publishing houses.  This is a rare opportunity to witness an honest glimpse into the rollercoaster ride that is burgeoning adulthood.

We’re not just giving audiences an intriguing production, we’re offering our teen artists something that doesn’t come along very often… the opportunity to explore the real issues of the script on stage and the tumult of running a show back stage.  Yep, the entire cast and most of the crew of Ascension Day is teenagers; teens who are given training and direction and expected to deliver professional results.  And they’re doing it – it’s amazing to watch!

This ground-breaking show is something we hope to include in our seasons for many years to come.  Our spring family show, will not only focus on and provide great roles for our talented teens, but will also include our Mentorship Program, developed by our Director of Education, Lisa Formosa-Parmigiano.  Interested young folk are given options such as lighting, sound, set design, decoration, costuming and marketing from which to choose.  In each of these categories, they’re not only given a hands-on education, but they are responsible for their arena of work.  They’re learning a whole new perspective on the phrase “the show must go on” ‘cause they’re the ones running it.

Please join me in supporting our teen artists by supporting this production.  Bring your friends and tell you neighbors.  We’re making something really great and necessary happen here – be a part of it and let us know what you think.

The show opens this Friday and runs through March 7th.  Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students, seniors and US Veterans and you will receive one free ticket for a child 12 and under with each purchase of an adult ticket (please use your discretion for age appropriateness – see paragraph #2).

And two more things (now that the hyperlink function works on these emails, I’m going to use it!): Classes for kids and adults begin in March: http://chicagostreettheatre.art.officelive.com/Education.aspx and it’s time for our annual fundraiser, Encores!: http://chicagostreettheatre.art.officelive.com/Encores.aspx.

See you soon!

Donna Blanchard

Managing Director

Chicago Street Theatre

http://chicagostreettheatre.art.officelive.com/default.aspx

Sponsored by Bang Bang Salon and Boutique

http://bangbang-boutique.com/

Moved to Tears

I’d Better Stock Up on Tissue

April 30, 2010, 1:55 am
Filed under: Uncategorized
Chicago Street Theatre April 5, 2010

I have to tell you, I am nearly moved to tears at the outpouring of generous attention given to us in response to the donation request letter I sent out a little over a week ago.  Already, 71 of you have taken time out of your day and money out of your wallet to answer my request for “ten lousy bucks.”  Indeed, several of you have contributed more than ten dollars.  Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Please know that we understand and appreciate the value of every dollar and your ten dollars are no more “lousy” to us than they are to you.  I am so grateful that so many understand our need and appreciated a little levity in the donation request.

It is my job to concern myself with the bottom line of this organization, but I’m moved nearly to tears more by the sheer volume of envelopes found in our mailbox this morning.  71 envelopes is a wonderful thing to find in our mailbox!  71 people received our letter a few days ago and immediately wrote a check, filled in credit card information or put cash in the envelope.  71 people sealed that envelope, put a stamp on it and mailed it already.  What a fabulous start!

I look forward to going to the mailbox each day.  Please, feel free to make me cry in gratitude for many days and weeks to come!  J  (you can also make me weep with joy via PayPal if you prefer).

And again, without you… our donors, subscribers, sponsors, ticket holders and members, we wouldn’t be here.  Whatever your contribution, THANK YOU!

Please don’t forget, we will be holding our second round of auditions for The Heidi Chronicles tomorrow night (April 6th) at 7:00 pm.  We’re looking for three talented men and five talented women.  Come join us!

I hope you had a wonderful holiday and that you are taking time to enjoy the beautiful weather (Monty and I got our bicycles cleaned up and ready to go for the season; we haven’t actually hit the trail on them yet, but are looking forward to our first ride of the year).

See you soon!

Donna Blanchard

Managing Director

Chicago Street Theatre

Sponsored by Bang Bang Beauty and Boutique

Dawg!

Dawg!

April 30, 2010, 1:53 am
Filed under: Uncategorized
Chicago Street Theatre March 16, 2010

You know what I love?  I love it when we go to a great party with fabulous food, quality entertainment and spectacular people AND we get to come home with silent auction goodies.  Well, despite the fact that it looked like we’d gotten out-bid on all of our choice items at our fundraiser, Encores! last Saturday, Monty did manage to surprise me with a couple of silent auction treats.  What a great night!  If you’re looking for proof, just check out the photos.

We thank all the guests, volunteers, performers, sponsors, auction item donors and top-notch team at Strongbow for a lovely and successful evening.  And thank you to Donna Lind of Lind Digital for capturing it all in photos.  You all make supporting a great cause SO MUCH FUN!

Well, there’s no time to nurse my aching dancing feet around here – we keep moving on.  Classes just began last week for our youngest students and adult classes begin this Friday.  If you haven’t already, please check out the new line-up of Master Classes Lisa’s got planned for us.  I’m excited and anxious to participate.

We’re busily working on getting our 2011/12 season posted on the website with the full compliment of performance dates and times.  I’ll let you know as soon as we’re ready to go live with that.  And speaking of the website, Traci has found a fun little gizmo for us.  When you go to our auditions page, you’ll see a box in which you may insert your email address to receive alerts when that page is updated.  So now our website will let you know when it’s time for you to come back for more.  Dawg, that’s cool!

Remember 15 years ago when the internet was just a strange toy for geeks and cell phones weighed about 27 pounds and it cost $.35 a minute to use?  I’ll ponder how we ever got along without email notifications and texting as we get ready for the next class and rehearsals for And Then There Were None tonight.

Have a great week and I’ll see you soon!

Donna Blanchard

Managing Director

Chicago Street Theatre

Sponsored by Bang Bang Beauty and Boutique