Sightlines: Music, Then & Now

Article by Michael Hauser, with introduction by Mike Wangen 

Here is a thought provoking article by Michael Hauser, known as the father of flamenco in the Midwest, having brought this art form to the area in the early sixties.  His parents were both well known artists: modern dance pioneer Nancy Hauser, and sculptor Alonzo Hauser.  After several trips to Spain to study, he built a career here as a teacher and performer.  With his brother Tony, an accomplished classical guitarist, they performed as the Hauser Guitar Duo.  He was also the co- founder, along with dancer and choreographer Susana Di Palma, of the well known Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theater.

The Nancy Hauser Dance Company of which Michael speaks in the accompanying article was known as one of the leading modern dance companies in the Midwest.  Upon Nancy Hauser’s passing in 1990, daughter Heidi Hauser Jasmin became the artistic director until recently, when she retired.

Laura Horn does a flamenco dance as Diego Rowan-Martin, left, and Michael Hauser play guitar at the Festival of Nations. Photo Credit: Pioneer Press, Chris Polydoroff

Laura Horn does a flamenco dance as Diego Rowan-Martin, left, and Michael Hauser play guitar at the Festival of Nations. Photo Credit: Pioneer Press, Chris Polydoroff

It is always easy to look back, of course, and say that “those were the good old days”, but from the perspective of a musician who has been active in this area since the mid-sixties, I believe they were.

In the early sixties, I returned from studying the art of flamenco in Spain.  My passion was the guitar, both in its solo form, and as the main instrument used to accompany the dance and the song.  Prior to that time, I had taught myself by carefully listening to the few phonograph recordings in my parent’s collection.  Very few played this type of music in Minnesota in those days.

There seemed to be a great hunger for live music, and art in general, a hunger that lingered on until the mid-eighties or so.  When I returned from Spain in 1963, shortly before the Kennedy assassination, I soon found employment at a nightclub in downtown Minneapolis, the Running Fox Inn.

Naturally, I was quite insecure at that point. I wasn’t really ready for the stage, but then nobody else performed this style of music, and it seemed wildly appreciated, as did most musical genres of that period.  People were familiar with what we all did, and in my case, they would often see flamenco on the Ed Sullivan, or the Johnny Carson shows.  In addition, perhaps three major classical or flamenco guitarists, such as Andres Segovia, or Carlos Montoya, would perform at the Guthrie or Northrup Auditorium, as well as one or two major Spanish dance companies.

That, of course, is long gone, and one has to depend on small non-profit presenting entities such as the Minnesota Guitar Society, or the various small dance presenters.  The volume of interest is no longer there, a topic of which I will address shortly.

In 1967 my mother, Nancy Hauser the modern dance pioneer, classical guitarist Jeffery Van, two other individuals, and I each invested $2,000.00 to form an arts organization known as the Guild of Performing Arts, on Cedar Avenue, near the West  Bank of the U of M campus.  There we rented a building and created a small theater which was used for intimate performances by local musicians and dancers, and even a cutting edge radical theater company known as the Minnesota Ensemble Theater founded by Joe Walsh.  It was also home to the Nancy Hauser Dance Company, and on the second floor was a large space perfect for a dance studio.  In addition, there was a small art gallery.  Other styles of dance were taught as well, including flamenco, and Indian.  The building also housed three music studios where guitar lessons were given as well as voice and other instrumental lessons.  We even had space in the basement for a working area for the printmaker, Paul Jasmin.  It was a wonderful thing we had created, and to this day artists who spent their formative reappear now and then to talk about the “old days”.  Many have gone on to have successful careers.  There were a number of dancers who began with my mother, and ended up in New York making names for themselves.  The actress Jessica Lange got her start there, teaching mime.  Dick Van Dyke walked in one Saturday,  being in town for a meeting.  He had been at the Guild the previous night to hear a chamber group and wanted to know what might be going on that night!  The Vietnam War was raging, and so were the protesters, all up and down the West Bank.  Kids would come in from Edina and other suburbs, park their cars along the edges, change into their hippie attire, and join the protests, their parents being none the wiser.

During the early to mid-seventies, non-profit organizations came into being, and thus did the Guild of Performing Arts.  The National Endowment for the Arts came into full bloom, and suddenly we were all touring.  The NHDC did residencies all over the country, Flamenco dancer Susana Di Palma, my brother  guitarist Tony Hauser, and I (we were known as Trio Flamenco), toured Alaska and Hawaii for three months, as well as other communities throughout the country.  It was a golden era for all of us.  Funding was available for all the arts.

During the eighties, When Reagan became president, much of this went away, mostly due to budget cuts.  Many of the smaller arts organizations lost their funding, as the bulk of the funds went to support the larger organizations such as the Minnesota Orchestra and the Guthrie Theater.  Small but dynamic arts organizations which had become the breeding ground for young artists disappeared, to be replaced by the larger institutions which by the very nature of their size, were unable to create the type of atmosphere conducive to the creative spirit.

Then, as the nineties approached, two major forces arose which would change the art scene for the foreseeable future, the unavoidable crush of capitalism, and the rise of the digital age.

Capitalism by its very nature does not know morality, nor does it acknowledge creativity unless it is self serving.  It feels nothing, it is simply a force that in its early stages contributed to growing this country, and now is slowly destroying it. It is a force that cannot be stopped any easier than wholesale greed can be stopped.  It is what has created such creatures as Donald Trump.  

The wonderful diversity that I remember, of music in the fifties and sixties, is gone.  One of the functions of capitalism is to force everything down to its lowest common denominator, thus making the product available to the masses, who themselves are becoming dumbed down through this crushing process.  When it became apparent that billions of dollars could be made by producing simplistic music with nothing more than a primal 2/4 rhythmic pulse, all efforts to enlighten people’s lives with any other style of music died.  Music became entertainment, and no longer what you would really call music.  

A symptom of the lowering of musical knowledge is the overwhelming presence  “bands playing songs” as opposed to the multiplicity of wonderful forms and formats of performance, symphonic, chamber, jazz, tangos…all the various dances and forms are rarely in the general public’s awareness.

The digital age has altered the playing field as well.  Many young artists of all genres are finding exciting and innovative new ways to adapt the new tools they have to their own artistic expression.  And those with curiosity are able to use such resources as Google and YouTube to discover, enjoy, and learn almost any musical or artistic style which exists.

However, I worry about their ability to make a living.  Certainly being diverse will help.  It gives me a good feeling to know that these youngsters, in the end, will be responsible for saving the music I learned, and the music I once listened to.

The downside is the fascination by many with devices such as smartphones.  Whereas once folks enjoyed their meal or drink listening to musicians hired to perform for their pleasure, now the majority are finding their handheld devices to be more exciting.

I perform regularly at a club near the University of Minnesota and the first thing I see many patrons do when they arrive is to slap their digital devices on the table and begin viewing them.  They may or may not speak with each other, most likely not, unless to giggle at something one of them just discovered.  Then, they’ll take a selfie.  They have become distracted.

We are early on in this new era and I hope that as the novelty wears off, people will return to listening to the diverse forms of music that still exist in the world as well as the musician sitting right in front of them.

Soapbox: Cutting Up the Pie

Article by Wendy Knox
Freelance Director & Artistic Director, Frank Theatre

“Fed up with complacency”. The words swoop onto your screen: Frank Theater’s website gets right to the point. I still remember my first Frank show: The Adventures of Herculina, in the winter of 2000. Looking at the credits now, I realize just how many of those people either were already very highly regarded or would become so - a testament to Frank’s tremendous place in the local arts scene. Wendy Knox is Frank Theater’s Artistic Director, founder, a national director and member of SDC, the directors’ & choreographers’ union. A brilliant and challenging thinker, Wendy pushes those around her ever forward, and we’re grateful for it. Here, Wendy muses on how we pay - and think about paying - people in the performing arts.

Pie and Photo by Diane Mountford

Pie and Photo by Diane Mountford

I’ve been thinking about the various ways in which we cut up the pie.

I recently took a job from a large arts organization that offered me a fairly paltry directing fee—not even what I would make working for my own theatre, and less that I might make directing in many academic situations. I negotiated a slightly higher fee and, for whatever my reasons were, accepted the job. Shortly after that, I learned that an actor I had cast in the production had negotiated a weekly salary on par with Guthrie’s scale, far beyond my personal scale of what Frank Theatre or an academic institution would pay. Then, I learned that the set designer’s fee was even lower than the scale of Frank Theatre. The discrepancies in the scale that we were all being paid on, for the same project, puzzled me and led me to contemplate the idea of ethical budgeting. The situation also echoed an earlier “Class and the Arts” discussion on money in the arts, the secrecy of salaries and our collective discomfort at talking about the dollar signs.

Working in the theatre, or the arts, in this country, we confront such varying correlations between the work we do and the remuneration we receive from various organizations and projects, and a huge variance in the personal satisfaction that we gain from both. Oftentimes the gigs that are volunteer, or community theatre based, where no one is paid, are seemingly the most free of the friction and dissatisfaction of many paying gigs. How many times have I worked a volunteer gig where no one is bitching about what they are not being paid or what they are being asked to do, or the shortcomings of the working situation? Simultaneously, how often do you hear artists who are working at the most lucrative joint in town complain about anything and everything about their job, including the size of the paycheck? This is not to advocate that it’s far better if we all work for free, nor to dismiss the complaints of those well-compensated artists as baseless. Our own ethics drive our choices as to whether or not we accept various jobs, and I suspect that our personal satisfaction can often be linked to our perception of the ethics of the budgeting of the organization that is employing us.

For those who cobble together their working lives on a freelance basis, the formula in evaluating whether a gig is worth it or not necessarily factors in all kinds of dynamics: Is the project itself interesting? Is the venue a place you have wanted to work? Is your bank account exceptionally low that month? Are the artists involved people who inspire you? Does the project offer you a chance to learn, to grown, to expand your own skillset? Making the decision to take on a gig usually involves a highly personal algebraic formula of many of those factors, where solving for “x” incorporates the amount of dollars exchanged multiplied by the non-monetary currency you hope to gain from the experience. Like many people, I’ve found that sometimes the gigs that pay the least can be the most rewarding while those that offer the biggest paycheck can often cost you the most in terms of non-monetary resources, i.e., be the biggest pain in the ass.

As someone who budgets for an organization, these are the ideas that bounce around in my head as I am slicing up the pie for an annual budget. I’m well aware that many artists in town simply can’t work for the money that Frank Theatre pays, and I have been told that many times. I am more mystified than anyone why we have not been able to raise enough money to pay artists a more significant amount of money, and I also know that Frank couldn’t do the work that it does without the significant contributions that the artists make simply in choosing to work for Frank. And given the pie that we have to serve up to those who work for Frank, I also know we try to make ethical and equitable choices as we slice it up. Our very first project 27 years ago was funded by a $3,000 contribution from a benefactor. That was the entire budget for the show, and anything that we took in at the box office was split evenly between all involved. As we began working on an Equity contract, the Equity and non-Equity actors were paid the same amounts. As health insurance and rate increases came into play, I begrudgingly have had to sacrifice some of that parity in the budget. When we tackle a large-cast show, I know I will have “x” number of Equity actors, and then a pot of money that needs to be divided among the non-Equity actors. Occasionally an Equity actor will ask to negotiate a higher salary, and I simply can’t do it. It forces me to confront the ethical question of how can I pay someone (who is likely working for Frank for the first time and already being paid more than the non-Equity cast members) an even higher amount when there are non-Equity folks who have worked for Frank for nearly 20 years while being paid much less? I WISH that everyone were being paid more, but I can’t help but feel that if there were extra crumbs to be spread around, they couldn’t go to the highest paid folks—they would HAVE to go to those who are making less and have a demonstrated commitment to the theatre. While I recognize that nearly everyone who is working for Frank is doing the theatre a favor by working for our paltry sums, my conscience says that those who have the longest affiliation and the smaller paychecks are the ones whose salaries need to be rectified first. The ethics that drive my budget decisions won’t allow me to simply reward those who have the most experience negotiating, or who have an agent, or who just have the most audacity to ask (and good for them!). I’m compelled to try and make equitable decisions that recognize who is involved, what their experience is, what their relationship is with Frank, what the role is, and at what point a piece of the pie becomes simply crumbs. Above all, given Frank’s circumstances, I try to be as fair as I can with our resources and as honest as I can when presenting an offer.

I recently had a non-union actor attempt to negotiate his fee from Frank. It was his first time being hired at Frank and I was unfamiliar with his work. Personally, I was happy that we had been able to budget all of the non-Equity folks at the same rate (which doesn’t always happen) that, I thought, was a fairly respectable small-theatre rate. He sent me an email, asking for a 20% increase in his fee. While it’s true that it never hurts to ask, I was a little taken aback, and my little bit of pride at making what I thought was a respectable offer took a hit. I responded that I had no room to negotiate. He quickly replied that he had been advised by a fellow actor to “always negotiate up,” but he was happy to accept the fee that was offered. I followed up with a suggestion that it also helps to know the terrain in which you are negotiating, and doing it in person or via phone would be a better idea than email. We all want to believe that the producers are offering us their best possible deal; sometimes that’s true, sometimes it’s not (as I learned in my recent experience). We want to believe that the producers are being straight with us. I told this actor what the deal was with Frank, explained that I thought I was doing good with the offer I made him, and I was disappointed that it was not perceived as good enough, and also offered that I understood that some folks simply can’t work for what we can pay. Giving him an idea of the greater context of Frank’s resources, he understood the process more clearly.  And hopefully, that exchange will help him in his next negotiation.

Unfortunately, not every producer is straight with us when we are negotiating. And we’re also not privy to the details of the budget of every organization that we negotiate with. There are different revenue streams, and different programs that require and receive different levels of budgeting. Frank runs a couple of educational programs that are funded by grants specific to their educational purpose and allow us to pay a much healthier rate then our productions do. But, in looking at an organization, I think it’s fair to want to be able to get a sense of their priorities and ethics by looking at how their budget works. If the top executive is getting paid upwards of half a million dollars to run the organization, and you are being offered a wage that is comparable to a small, local theatre, it’s fair to want to ask questions. If an actor friend is being paid a significantly higher rate for a similar role in the same show, it’s fair to want to know why. You can’t always get the answers, and asking the questions themselves can cause friction (again, an echo of the conversation of Class and the Arts discussion of how we talk about money in the arts). You may or may not get the answer you want, or, more frequently, if you are able to negotiate a higher rate, it will often come with the admonition to “not tell anyone,” thereby maintaining a secrecy about the rates at which artists are paid and keeping us in a subservient position to the producer.

I recognize that budgeting within an organization is going to vary from one theatre to the next. I also recognize that the priorities of one organization will vary wildly from one another. I maintain that there should be an ethical basis to budgeting, even as an organization maintains its own priorities and values. When you serve as an MRAC grant panelist, they offer some good advice that could come into play here. They advise that you can evaluate the proposals however you want as long as you are consistent. I would suggest that same advise can hold to budgeting: being consistent as to how you value and remunerate the artists you hire, and determine the rates at which you pay your artists and your staff from a consistent basis.

In other words, don’t serve the actor half a pie, while the director is getting a decent sized piece and the set designer gets a sliver. I mean, we’re all sitting at the same table.


Sightlines: An Interview with Leslye Orr

Interview with Leslye Orr, edited with introduction by Mike Wangen

Leslye Orr began her theater career in the mid seventies as an intern at Children’s Theater in acting and dance.  Legally blind, she looked for ways to contribute there and studied to become a vocal teacher for actors, serving in that role for 10 years with CTC as well as performing her own work.  She was, and is, a strong advocate for people with disabilities working in the arts and in the population at large.

Today she and her husband, Zaraawar Mistry, operate Dreamland Arts, a small performance space in St. Paul dedicated to producing their own work as well as giving a creative outlet to many other local artists.

Leslye Orr.  Photo by Lauren B. Photography

Leslye Orr. Photo by Lauren B. Photography

I grew up in Sioux Falls SD. And our high school used to sponsor class trips to Minneapolis to see shows at the Guthrie Theater.  I believe it was in 1972, we would get on the school bus at 4AM to drive to Minneapolis, watch a matinee at the Guthrie, eat dinner, and then watch a second show there in the evening.  The Guthrie was a Repertory company then so they would be two different shows.  I remember seeing actors like Frank Langella and Peter Michael Goetz in shows like A Midsummer Nights Dream and thought it was the coolest thing ever.  So, I thought of studying theater at the U of M.

My mother had seen an article in the Minneapolis Tribune about the Children’s Theater Co. which was going to build a new theater near the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and we began going to shows there.  We loved the shows there, and,  I found out that they had a Summer Institute program which I began attending.  So I began spending my summers here.  The night before my first class I had seen Oklahoma at Chanhassen Dinner Theater and had met a dancer there who was stretching in the lobby.  It was Myron Johnson.  The next day I discovered that he was teaching my dance class at CTC and I was petrified to go up to him because he seemed like a movie star to me.  I had a red gingham body suit and blue nylons, not having anything else to wear, but, was quickly told about the Danskin dance clothing store.  At the end of the summer I was asked to stay on as an intern as they were opening the new theater and needed help with that.  When the theater opened in the fall we discovered that the winterized bricks meant for the outside walls had been put on the inside and they had to spend the next 2 years fixing that.  The concept for the theater was that it was meant to be warm and womb-like with all rounded edges.  Unfortunately, the beautiful granite walls along the side had no handrails and kids were constantly running into them and scraping themselves, so, we had to set up a temporary first aid station.  The first show in the new space was Pinnochio, I was in it as a townsperson.  We had all sorts of live animals onstage and on opening night someone forgot to catch one of the chickens and during Gepetto’s workshop scene it began walking around the outside of the orchestra pit toward the audience, clucking all the while.  All of a sudden there was a loud squawk as the assistant stage manager had grabbed it and dragged it into the pit.

I was legally blind at the time and had a hard time working with the various costumes we were put in as well as the very precise choreography  there and I began thinking about what I could do to contribute more effectively.  There was no one at CTC that taught voice and I wanted to try that because I loved working there.  The only person in the Twin Cities that taught voice in the 70s was Fran Bennett at the Guthrie so I asked her where she had learned.  Her teacher had been Christa Linklater who had come to Minneapolis with Tyrone Guthrie in 1963 and had left to start a new group in New York called the Working Theater which was set up to give vocal training to actors who could then teach it to others in repertory companies  around the country.  I was given a scholarship by the State Services for the Blind to study vocal coaching with her in New York, but, before I left I made CTC sign a contract saying that they would hire me when I came back.  I needed a job!   When I came back, I taught voice at CTC for the next 10 years.

One of the things I liked about CTC in those days was that, in addition to the classes and shows, you could stay in the building whenever you wanted to work on your own projects and I became fascinated with doing my own work.  I began working with Carroll Hauptle, a stage manager there, who had met Samuel Beckett in New York and we began working on a Beckett piece called Not I which we performed at the Olympia Arts Ensemble around 1980, where I met you.  It’s a piece where the only character is a mouth sticking through a black curtain.  The set was designed by Cork Marcheschi, an instructor at MCAD, who was an accomplished neon artist.  He designed a circle of neon which framed my mouth and just popped on in the darkness.  It was beautiful.  Beckett once said that what inspired him to create that piece was listening to a homeless woman talking to herself on a park bench.  Beckett’s use of language was very precise.  It’s “whatever you mean is whatever you say when you’re saying it.”  People are always interpreting things like Shakespeare monologues without thinking that the playwright wrote those words in that order for a specific reason.

What was very special to me about the 70s and early 80s was that it was a time full of energy, creativity, and beginnings; Penumbra, Mixed Blood, Actor’s Theatre, Brass Tacks, At the Foot or the Mountain, Jeune Lune, Illusion, and others.  We all felt that we could do anything we wanted.  There was no clause saying that anything was owed to a board of directors.

When my husband, Zaraawar and I started Dreamland Arts  in St. Paul, one of our motivations was to be able to perform our own work as we liked without having to be accountable to an outside board of directors, something which is very difficult to do in some of the larger arts organizations here.

Things have changed a great deal today.  I recently took my son to see The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins at CTC and everything was amplified.  When we did it the first time in the seventies the only person in the show with a mic was Barthlomew because he was a small child.  I had to really work at vocally training everyone else, especially because Dr. Seuss himself was coming to see the show.  Some of this change has to do with the technology that was available then versus today, but,  I feel that we have really lost something today with everything constantly amplified.  What is with the whole cast wearing mics nowadays? Can't people listen to natural stage voices as well as they did before stage mics took over?  

Getting back to when I was working at CTC, I was cast as Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker and I kept thinking that her story was more interesting than Helen Keller’s.  I know audiences wonder what it would be like to be inside Helen Keller’s head and that gave me an idea for developing a piece of my own where the audience sat in a semicircle of chairs with their eyes closed and I would pass out props and then act out the story of Helen and Annie.  This show became one of the first tours that CTC created and I feel that I was at the forefront of creating an awareness of people with disabilities in the general public.  It’s a trend that has developed very nicely today.

When I was at Children’s Theater Bain Boehlke was there and he was a major influence on my work.  He would tell me to go off and develop three pieces and then come back and he would direct me, and he did.  He would help everyone.  He loved theater and was fascinated by it.  I know some people are put off by him, they feel he wants to control everything, but, he’s just this guy and he has an orchestra going on in his head and that’s the way he hears it.  I asked Bain recently why he was moving to Seattle and he said “well, I’d like to go to film school” which is great.  It made me so happy,” you’re 78 and you want to go to film school!”

I love the way that we are passing our love of the arts on to our children.  [Lighting Designer] Michael Murnane’s daughter is friends with my son and she is in school studying fashion design and comes home and assists her dad.  Steve Yoakam’s daughter is studying dance, ballet and neuroscience.  I love talking with teenagers today.  They are so articulate and aware of the world around them.  It’s beginning to energize them much like the 60s and I’m very positive and excited about the future of art here.

Original Post Jan 6 2016
Edited Jan 8 2016