Traveling & Working Abroad

by Tanya Kane-Parry

in National Conference

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(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Art | People} blog salon curated by Caridad Svich.)

How does a white, privileged woman from the U.S. not sound like a pompous ass when talking about working abroad and the experiences that have led to what is commonly referred to as a “global perspective”? Our country is brimming with brilliant, talented artists and educators from all over the world, whose life experience from outside of our borders enrich our own cultural landscape and discussion. So,what, then, can I add to this that would be useful, meaningful, relevant, and not just grandiose and self-congratulatory?

I’ve been studying, working and traveling abroad since I was sixteen. This does not make me “special” – lots of folks have done/are going this. I speak several languages (also, not special), I make art (definitely not special) and I teach (again, not special[A1] ). But, perhaps what I can bring to this discussion is the idea of going with No plans, No expectations and simply saying “Yes!” to everything that comes your way.

So, where do you want to go? Why there? Hopefully it has nothing to do with your art or your profession – you just want to go. Great. Buy a plane ticket for just YOU, alone. Make a reservation for the first two nights in a local hostel in the city where you land, and then talk to every person you meet and ask “where should I go?” Then, buy a bus ticket, a train ticket, a boat ticket, and go. Easy.  Don’t worry if you don’t speak the language. If you are coming from years in the performance realm, you’ll quickly learn how to interpret the body language, gestures and vocal intonations to get a rough idea of what is going on. And, mostly likely, you’ll bump into a 12-year old who is studying English and will happily help you in order to practice speaking.  Be sure to buy that kid a meal and get them to tell you all about his/her life. You’ll be quite amazed!

Stop by the local school or university. See if there’s any art or performance happening. Go and see it, and stick around to meet people. But, this is not “networking” – this is an “adventure” and you must stay open to be invited to join folks. Say “Yes!” to that meal with that family. Say “Yes!” to the invite to go out on the boat with the fisherman and his family. Say “Yes!” to the monk who wants to show you the grounds, quickly jumping over ancient stone steps in his long robes and Nike jacket.  Say “Yes!” to see the local parish’s community production (best theatre I ever saw!!!). Say “Yes!” to the grumpy old man sitting alone in the café chain-smoking cigarettes – turns out he’s one of the most important writers in the area!

Stay away from the tourists. Stay in cheap, family-run places. Eat there – you’ll usually be invited to join them ‘cause you’re the only American that has ever stayed there, and they’ll want to talk to you! Sit with the women after the meal; help out in the kitchen – ah, the things you’ll learn there! And be prepared to honestly answer their questions about American politics and sex. Oh, yes, if you’re a woman traveling alone, be prepared for lots of “awkward” questions: where is your husband? Why isn’t he with you? What – you’re not married? No children?! Don’t you like sex?…..

And, after you return to your home, and get re-accustomed to regular running water and electricity, ask yourself – “Now, what do I want to say through my art?”

Make sure to “rinse and repeat” this process every couple of years to avoid the build-up of complacency, privilege and ego.

Now  – having told YOU what to do (that’s my tendency, as a director), I guess it might be useful to share a bit of what has come from my many sojourns and adventures.

When I work abroad, I stay alert to the “cultural norms” of that location. It’s my job to figure out what’s “usual” here, and then explain myself when I ask that we “deviate” from that norm. At the same time, I need to figure out how to harness that “norm” so that it is useful in the project and also assures the local artists[A2] . I have to ask lots of questions and patiently wade in confusion when I have no idea what is going on around me. Things may fall apart briefly, but that’s ok. Sometimes that same breakdown can reveal incredibly possibilities!

I’m drawn to visual, physical-based theatre and performance that can puncture through the intellectual trappings of language and get right down the visceral and emotional experience. I approach every project as an ensemble-based, collective creation: everyone in the room together, all trying stuff out. We don’t need to know where it’s going…let’s take the ride together and see where we land.  I spend a lot of time watching, listening, and then following my gut. I ask that everyone participate in problem solving, be it technical, thematic, content, etc. Someone in the room will have a great idea, and it doesn’t have to come from me! Maybe the final project is disastrous. Well, in the end, our work in live performance is ephemeral, so its really only the process and experience that we take with us. And, many times, that experience is the most wondrous product!

Tanya Kane-Parry is a director and choreographer in theatre, dance and opera. She has lived, traveled and/or worked in Spain, France, the former Soviet Union, Israel, Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Argentina and Nepal. This summer she is going off to East Africa, and then in the fall she is working in Barcelona, Mallorca and Sevilla, then trips to Italy and Greece. Tanya is the Artistic Director of the performance group, Opera del Espacio, and is a full-time faculty in the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance at Cal State L.A. where she teaches acting, dance, Viewpoints and Experimental Performance.

 [A1]But you are special! I get rhetorically what you are doing, but I wonder about another beginning that shows your travel background…

 [A2]I get a little confused because I thought from what you wrote previously that you travel and then incorporate into your art later. (I know that you do both, but the order is unclear to me.)