(Photo credit: David A Brown / dabfoto creative)
I travel a lot for work, and have worked internationally pretty regularly as an actor, teacher, and playwright, over the past ten years. I find myself Skyping and Vibering about work almost weekly; for the past three years I’ve also split my time between rural Illinois and New York, while my wife is in grad school. I know AirBnB and VRBO like the back of my hand. I can Yelp or Chowhound a good restaurant at the drop of a hat. I can use websites as verbs to your heart’s content. (I can verb websites?) I am used to the mobility of contemporary creative life. I live the life a fair number of artists do: I have elite status on an airline, but I sometimes have trouble making rent.
All this is to say that, in a time when both travel and communication are easy and normal, rather than glamorous and unusual, it’s easy to forget the value of real time meetings. What I discovered this past month on my TCG Global Connections-funded trip to Bristol, London and Liverpool, to work on my ongoing project City Council Meeting, was that showing up and talking to people, on their turf, is sometimes the only way to move a project forward.
Mallory Catlett and I spent six days criss-crossing the UK. We met with people we knew, like the awesome Alex Bradley and Helen Cole at In Between Time in Bristol, and built new connections with Joann Kushner and The Tate Liverpool, as well as checking in with ArtsAdmin in London, who I’d known a bit before.
What became clear at each stop was that, even if we got to meet with a potential partner and collaborator for an hour, or spent most of our time talking shop and socializing, we were making progress in a way that could only happen in person. We had dinner at Alex and Helen’s house and met their beautiful daughter for the first time, as well as seeing the venues where they work and getting an impromptu car tour of their hometown. In London, we found out our usual ArtsAdmin contact was on her way to a new job and we forged a great connection with her successor. In Liverpool, we spent time with two likely collaborators, saw a local government meeting that would not normally be open to the public, and began making plans for multiple projects with the Tate and artist Joann Kushner, whose Welcome To My World project is beginning to give voice to a whole generation of young artists and other citizens there.
At nearly every meeting, one of two things was sure to happen: either we’d clarify something for a partner about our work, in a way that helped them better understand how we could build something together; or we’d brainstorm an identifiable, accomplishable next step. This is the kind of thing that, while Skype and emails are wonderful, happens so much more easily over a cup of coffee or a beer, between awkward silences or remarks about the landscape. While I am not very good at small talk, I now recognize its value more than ever.
One of the things I have loved about my peripatetic life is that travel makes me more curious. Another is that work makes me more fulfilled. This trip helped me put two and two together: my curiosity about where we were made the work more fulfilling for everyone. I couldn’t have made that connection without this program.
Aaron Landsman is a writer, performer and teacher based in Brooklyn, NY and Urbana, IL. His current project, City Council Meeting – made in collaboration with Mallory Catlett and Jim Findlay – has been presented in Houston, Tempe, and New York, with upcoming shows in San Francisco and Keene, NH. His previous works have been commissioned, produced or presented by The Foundry, PS 122, and other venues in New York, Texas, Cleveland, Minneapolis and Tempe, and internationally in Belarus, Serbia, Norway and the UK. Aaron is the current resident artist at ASU Gammage, in Tempe. He is developing several new projects: Empathy School, a performance for a moving bus, with filmmaker Brent Green at EMPAC; a multi-platform project called Perfect City; and the play Running Away From The One With The Knife, directed by Mallory Catlett, at The Chocolate Factory in spring 2015.
The Global Connections program was designed by TCG and is funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Learn more here.