Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mel Edwards' Votre Vray - Where I've Been, and Where We're Going

Since I've begun the interview process (thank you, Ladies!) many people have been asking about what my artistic focus is and what I intend to do with the interviews. Because this project is multi-faceted, so is my answer. Let's begin with the questions I ask those I interview.

1. How do you feel when someone calls you an artist?
For a long time, I have had difficulty with the term artist, mostly because the images I associate with the term do not match my self image. Do I create? Absolutely! What is my modality of choice? I'm a word wrangler with a theatre bent. My earliest memories were of standing on the hassock in the middle of the living room belting out nonsense words to entertain my mother. So, when someone says, after a performance, "You're such an artist. You have a gift. You're so talented. I could never..." I tend to bristle. Sometimes I'm bold enough to ask, "Is brushing your hair a talent?" When they look at me like I've lost my mind, I explain that for me, telling a story or creating print media is an extension of the way I think. My mother says, "It just flows out of you." My father calls me a wordsmith. I say, I'm a woman who loves words and showbiz. If that means artist to you, then feel free to call me an artist.

2. When you create a show or a story how is that emotionally empowering for you?
Storytelling isn't the same as theatre. I get to interact with the audience as I lay out the bones of a story. It is incredible to be able to stand up, say what I came to say and interact with those I'm sharing with. Nothing is more validating for me.

3. Who in your life or what in your life encouraged you to keep going forward in your path to be a creator of your own work?
I have a master's degree in storytelling, but that didn't empower me or encourage me, except it did motivate me to get the damned thesis done and graduate before I lost my mind. I would say those who have been my friends have always let me be me, even if my best pal of 35+ years rolls her eyes each time I start a new project, she still says, "Of course!" when I describe what I'm going to do and why.
That's not to say my folks didn't want me to be happy with a teaching career. They did. They wanted me to have more of a regular income than an artist has, but in the end, the sadness in my heart because I had no time to create and live my dreams cost me more than any low-paying performance gig could have.

4. Is it still scary for you -- ever, often, always -- to put yourself out there?
You mean, do I sweat, get weak in the knees and all that? Sure, sometimes. It depends upon the audience and the personal connection to the work I'm sharing. This Votre Vray project, even though I'll be sharing stories of dozens and dozens of women, will be my most personal project yet. If someone I've never met hates it, it will be their problem. If one of the women I profile hates her section of the story, I'll feel badly because my whole goal is to make her look and feel good about who she is and what she has accomplished.

5. Can you envision yourself doing anything else with your life?
That's one of my biggest problems. I can so easily teach or work at an editing desk or do something else related to words that when I worry about my financial future, I tend to grab at the first opportunity that comes my way. I have to learn to honor my own voice, my truth, enough that I can say, "No thank you. That is not what I do anymore," and mean it. Even if I fear being divorced, hungry and homeless. I just have to truth if I follow my truth, I will find my way. Each time I have done so, it works.

6. What is the best advice you have been given or can give in regards to following a creative path?
Do whatever it takes to find your truth, and don't be a weenie about it like I was. I quit my degree program in theatre in 1990 and have paid dearly to get back in that direction. I've wasted a good portion of my lifetime doing what other people thought was a wise career move, and even if I am National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certified to teach English, I'm not going to do it if it costs me my creative spark. I love kids, and love to teach, but I will do it on my terms. Otherwise, it simply isn't worth it to me anymore.

Goals of Votre Vray:
1. That by September 2008, I'll have stories completed of over 100 women artists following their dreams.
2. By October 2008, I'll have created my one-woman show of these stories to take on the road. A percentage of box office receipts will go directly to offering small scholarships to women who want to take classes or workshops in the artistic modality of their choice.
3. The stories of these 100+ women will be published in a book, hopefully with at least one image page of their work per participant, and at least will have contact information or web links to them and their work.
4. To build a strong web community where artists can come for news about others in their field and find inspiration to do their work.
5. To help artists find their truth, and with that, their way in life.

Whew! That's a tall order, but that's what this gal is all about (even if I'm only 5' tall)!

Until next time, keep creating!

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