Good Nature (Joy Dances)(Part 2)
Spectacle and the Sustainable
In 1998, when I was a jobbing actor in Philadelphia, my rear end featured in a Nike advert (that wasn’t the intention but (butt ha ha) that’s what happened lol). I was cast as one of hundreds of extras in an absolute spectacle of an ad. Four city blocks of Philadelphia were closed for three days as runners were choreographed into sequences. Rain was manufactured by powering water from hose pipes hung off high buildings we ran through. The experience was extraordinary. It was better than any performance I had been witness to reaching more people, creating a dynamism and excitement en masse. For three days we’d rock up at 530 in the morning ready for action as hundreds of people would show up and observe as we, the hundreds of runners ran en masse in the set choreography through manufactured rain as it was filmed from different angles till the sun went down. Incredible.
I had been frustrated by the performance world structure for a few years at this stage of my career. Having graduated from my university with a theatre degree I was now working professionally. I worked for a well regarded theatre company ‘The Womens Theatre Ensemble’. All the professional theatre companies were always fighting for audiences, and, as it turns out it was the *same* audiences, the same 10-15% of the population who would circulate through our stages. Why did we continue to operate in this loop?
In my mind this was *an* answer to the question- something we created in real time utilising film as a way for something in the future. When I finally saw the finished product (and my rear ha) my response was ‘that’s what it felt like’, *not* that’s what it looked like. I recognised the power of film in manifesting something past present and future simultaneously with a huge possibility to bring people together expand their ideas about things. This of course was before technology was hand held and such possibilities cost millions (as did that 1 minute ad).
And the Nike advert filming brought in everyone- from every sector of society - age, culture, class, you name it. I also saw a new potential for film, in engagement on a different level. This (in hindsight) was prescient of where we were going as technology developed and become more personalised.
Fast forward four years and I had the amazing fortune to work as a film producer travelling the globe for eight years with Hannaywood Studios under the guidance of the dear and sadly departed Head Cheese, Tony Abram.
Tony was an amazing force in my life, his influence, support and generosity cannot be overstated. Tony allowed me to make films with the crews after they were done for the day. He allowed me to play. Witnessing the bones of high end professional filmmaking, meeting an array of film talent on many continents and on such an intimate level and then being given the opportunity to ‘try stuff out’ was an unbelievable gift for which I will be eternally thankful.
It also gave me the experience of going to the Cannes Film Festival and Film Market. I had the absolute pleasure of walking the red carpet (numerous times and years) in beautiful gowns bought from boutiques in Paris and meeting the ‘top’ of the industry.
What struck me was how few genuinely good films, or genuinely artistic filmmakers got produced compared to the many thousands that were out there. The Cannes Film Market had tens of thousands of films for sale every May, however, whether one got purchased or seen was down to who you knew. So many good films got shelved because they did not have an advocate to fight for them. A lot of really terrible films made lots of money because the sales agent was able to make a case for it. A lot of talented individuals with no advocate never progressed. For someone whose inclination was to ‘just make stuff’ this was really frustrating to witness.
What’s more there was huge waste involved. We had a film studio in Dublin that produced many known big budget films of the day. Sometimes sets would cost three hundred thousand euros. And then go in the skip (garbage). I thought, why are we not working more creatively and regenerating communities with these funds? It was also a model wherein when we filmed in other countries it was a flash in and flash out with our crews. Locals were not consulted or involved. It was (and is) so exploitative on so many levels. And I thought, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Social media changed things for these media outlets. In the beginning it seemed the online world was going to provide an egalitarian platform for a more divergent mix of people to show their work. And to an extent it did.
It was because of this new media my Broomielaw dances went viral (2010/11). Let’s be clear, I would have been dancing down on that Riverfront regardless of whether it got filmed or not. I started dancing one day (and a subsequent 484 days) because I wanted to and the space seemed to need it. But it did get filmed and the clips got shared online and on legacy media, and I started commenting on twitter (also new) and it felt quite exciting. In the meantime most people (in particular in the early days) who had no idea that I had been recorded heard about me via word of mouth. And found me and danced, or had chats, or sat and watched. It created a corridor of joy for nearly two years. And despite it’s viral presence it only existed because it was happening everyday in real time.
I could make the association of this artistic expression with the bones of the Nike advert. The Broomielaw was a natural amphitheatre with office blocks overlooking to the North, a train bridge heading in Glasgow Central Station to the East and the motorway bridge to the West, the single pedestrian bridge from the South of the City ‘the Squinty Bridge’ was alongside, a large tract of housing was directly to the South of my location. As I floated and twirled in bright colours, and people witnessed or watched the spectacle in my activity and every sector of society engaged in the thousands- the suited businessman, passing grannies, itinerant homeless man and skateboarders all chatted….and danced. It generated community but whats more, it escalated the Nike experience seeding more direct and greater participation and creativity. I had regulars coming to dance and chat. Not just regulars but tourists. I had amateur and professional filmmakers collaborate on projects rooted in the spot. It still is the base material for local colleges to learn filmmaking. A location that previously was just a thoroughfare for commuters and pedestrians became a community centre with me and my dancing at the core.
What’s more where the Nike advert cost millions, this only costed my time. (and lots of shoes which I quickly wore holes in). It was local, ethical, sustainable, inexpensive and very very effective.
There are power words used in relation to food economies and trade - sustainable, ethical, local etc. But in the arts if we tap into this idea it means recycled paper, using a bike instead of a car. But not developing a arts practice that is actually working with and sustaining what is present. Such commitment takes time. And industries, even arts one, don’t allow for that. And that needs to change.
Stay tuned for Part 3 Good Nature (Joy Dances) Part 3….