Surviving the Field

Surviving the Field

Written by : Melissa Monteros

Okay, is this happening to anyone else?

I’m losing my mind trying to keep up with all the roles required of me to create and present artistic work.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean this as a complaint but more as an observation. I have always been a fierce worker that dedicates all of my waking hours to my work as an artist, but lately, I am tied to my computer for 12 or more hours a day.

When I’m lucky, I spend two to four hours in the studio (on those same days), which is a luxury! How is this sustainable for an artist? It isn’t! So what to do about this? How do I devise a strategy to survive this? My answer is to go back to my roots and remember the words a friend said to me, “Just do your work, the rest will follow.” And yet, here I sit, at a computer again to reflect on making and presenting work today.

The Professional Series is a part of the University of Calgary’s Division of Dance season. It focuses on the presentation of work by established artists. This year it is a three-weekend festival focusing on creative connection and collaboration between visiting international artists from Poland and Austria.

To bring this year’s version of the Professional Series together, I have been the general manager, travel agent, production assistant, rehearsal director, costume consultant and more. But I know I need to do this because it is a chance for us, the W&M Physical Theatre, to share the work of some of our international colleagues from Poland and Austria with Calgary audiences. It is also an opportunity to work on a new creation, WE_SELLE.PL , in front of an audience, allowing us to work out our ideas and present and discuss them with a live audience before we premiere the work in Poland.

The departure point of our new creation is the Polish play Wesele (The Wedding), a defining work from the turn of the century (1901) by Stanisław Wyspiański. Our take on it begs a comparison to the current political climate in Poland. Wesele has had a tremendous influence on Polish culture with its deeply Polish symbolism addressing political corruption and the clash between the classes. At this wedding, the guests, who symbolize the nation, waste away their chance at national freedom. They continue dancing “the way it’s played for them” (a Polish folkloric proverb) like puppets, failing in their ultimate mission.

It is a play of corruption and folly, and a fun way to explore the huge shifts in politics taking place today.

Back to my roots and how they have helped me to survive. Yes, Los Angeles, where I was born and lived the first 35 years of my life. Yes, to my roots and experiences in the contrasting life I discovered in Poland in 1991, where I found a place for my true artistic voice.  Let me share some of what I carry with me from those experiences.

Seven things to know about every Polish artist I have worked with:

  • They are as serious about art as they are about social welfare and politics
  • They are almost as serious about either vodka or cigarettes (or both) as they are about art
  • They know their theatre history
  • Status or acknowledgement matter desperately, or not at all
  • The stars are rich, the rest are broke
  • Interdisciplinary is the natural state of their work and I never hear that word spoken there
  • They believe that artists make a difference

What do I love about Poland? 

  • Artists are not afraid to be intense. The Poland I have known best, existed through the early 90s and the first decade of the millennium. Life wasn’t easy there and art, social welfare and politics had real meaning.
  • The expectation is that art strives to have an impact. While the idea that art is entertainment has gained ground in the last decade, it has not replaced the long history of work that held that theatre, and art generally, were designed to speak the truth.
  • Audiences are experienced in viewing and discussing art
  • Young people come to the theatre and talk about it with you after!

Seven things to know about Southern California:

  • It is so beautifully warm, and the ocean so near, that you can forget all of the things that are wrong with it.
  • There were orange groves everywhere when I walked (yes, alone) to school as a child
  • Spanish is spoken almost as often as English and it there is great diversity in the population
  • You can find spectacular fruits and vegetables all year
  • Your winter wardrobe are closed shoes and a light jacket
  • Edgy artistic work is thriving but completely on the fringes
  • Not driving is not an option

What do I love about Southern California?

See above.

All of the above serve me as a survival guide. I arm myself with these memories to keep me focused on who I am as an artist and as the basis of my artistic impulse. The passion, intensity and belief that art matters from Poland together with the release and ‘let go” attitude of California and the multi-cultural environment it embraces, allows me to thrive and drives my work and the importance of the constantly-changing political environment of both. So when I want to complain about the many roles required of me, I remember to be grateful for the broad base of skills I have acquired and to keep my intensity without apology. I celebrate the possibilities I have to work as an artist. I treasure both the challenges and the support that have come my way. And I remember my roots.

melissa headshot

MELISSA MONTEROS is the Artistic Director of W&M Physical Theatre, which she founded in 1994 with Wojciech Mochniej. She has been a guest teacher and performer for dance companies, universities and festivals in Europe and North America, and her artistic work is informed by her frequent collaborations with international artists. She was a Fulbright Award recipient to Poland and is named in the Report on Contemporary Dance for the Congress on Polish Culture (2009) for her contributions to contemporary dance. With Mochniej, her work has been seen in Austria, Estonia, Finland, France, Poland, Sweden, Germany, Italy and Canada. Monteros is a Professor at the University of Calgary in the School of Creative and Performing Arts and Chair of the Division of Dance.

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