A few weeks ago, I learned that I will be the next artist-in-residence at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA. It's a two-year gig, that pays quite well ($10K/year) as these things go. My task is to explore this historic and beautiful place, where 98,000 people are buried with their stories, and create and produce new, site-specific theatrical work to be staged at Mt. Auburn.
I'm the third artist-in-residence, being preceded by filmmaker/multi-media artist Roberto Mighty and composer Mary Bichner. In doing preliminary research for the project, I've had a chance to explore some of the work they created at and for Mt. Auburn--Roberto Mighty's project Earth.Sky and Mary Bichner's Spring & Autumn Suites. Talk about setting a high bar. Sublimely beautiful work that meshes so well with the atmosphere and landscape of the site.
Beginning a project like this is an interesting exercise, because it requires both great eagerness and great patience. An eagerness to dive in and explore is required, but it's just as important to have the patience to hold back on committing to any one structure or story or set of characters. I don’t know what I’m going to find, and I don’t want to go in with too many preconceived notions right now. I need to read and listen and watch, and let the place and the stories of the place wash over me.
Equally important is trust, both in my experience and whatever talent I have. I have to trust that what I find interesting enough to explore and express will find a form that is useful and suitable and beautiful, not just for myself but also for the audience. If I start thinking too early about how to make it good, or what will the audience think, I’ll crash the car. Sure, I want whatever I make to be excellent and impressive, and better than anything I’ve ever done before. But thinking about that too early in the process introduces the judge and editor to the seedling of an idea, and they will surely stunt it.
I’m getting a sense of the scope of what I’ve taken on, and it’s scary and awesome. And feels more like an honor to have been selected than ever. Doing my best means approaching the project mindfully and with energy and commitment. The rest will follow.
Blood on the Snow, and with the MIT Museum on Both/And were both situations where the initial approach wasn't necessarily obvious, and both required a lot of research on my own, as well as research that was guided by experts. At Mt. Auburn, their staff can help guide me in my explorations and I certainly won't be shy about asking questions.
So if you're looking for me over the next six months or more, you might want to look at Mt. Auburn Cemetery--I'll be wandering and looking and reading and listening and thinking. Which feels like a pretty great job.