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An Alternative to Valentine’s Day

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How can live performance heal our sense of isolation?

In my new show, “Alone With All of You: A Valentine’s Alternative,” audience members will begin by entering a labyrinth, an exhibition that isolates them as they travel through. The labyrinth will then transform until we are together, experiencing a concert of original improv music and acting. This show is a collaboration with Benjamin Lloyd at the White Pines Place, featuring musicians Wes Morton and Sam Nobles and actors from Bright Invention: Johnny Smith, Michelle Pauls, Leah Holleran, and Gavin Whitt.

“The Seven Invitations” – an anonymous survey

I started by writing “The Seven Invitations,” which invite people to share their experiences of loneliness and connection. I decided that, instead of questions, which seem more like an interrogation, that I would write unfinished sentences. A question can be a spotlight when you’re naked on a stage, a silent staring audience demanding an answer. Instead, I’m just inviting people to finish the sentences, like, “hey, I ate half of this cookie, do you want the other half?”

Alone with all of you

What’s amazing to me is how similar everyone’s responses were to this survey. In the exhibition, we will display the anonymous responses as a collection. One of my favorite things to do with my performances is to bring the parts of ourselves that we hide in dark shadowy places out into the light, so they can breathe. The purpose of displaying the responses is to share how our experiences of being alone, and the things we wish to hide, are things that we all share. Maybe we don’t have to hide after all!

The Exhibition – entering the labyrinth

Set designer Rick Neidig helped us to actualize the idea of the labyrinth in the White Pines Place. In the exhibition, I wanted to let audience members contribute, in the same way that they’ve contributed to the seven invitations. In this way, every show will be different, and built on the audience’s anonymous contributions. In addition, people attending this concert can make masks to wear, make valentines, and choose to carry out fun “quests” in the labyrinth. Eventually, the labyrinth will shift and change, and our walls disappear.

The Performance – isolation was just a mirage

Our goal in this show is to let the performance develop moment by moment, being truly present with ourselves and the audience. Therefore, much of the music and acting is structured loosely with the idea that we can react spontaneously to each other and to the audience. This is a stretch for me, because I’m much more comfortable with having every detail of a performance rehearsed. I’m challenging myself to allow the music (and lyrics!) to develop as we go. The show features a few new pieces of music, as well as songs from my album “My Own Frankenstein,” songs from 2015, and even a song from the 50-song summer that I’ve never performed live. In addition, I’m playing some new instruments. Sometimes with music, and sometimes in silence, the Bright Invention actors will do improv around the 7 invitations and suggestions from the audience.

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But what will Noelle stick in her eyes?  What will she put on her head?

We all know I love to see how much junk I can stick in my eyes.  How difficult can I make it to actually see and play my instrument while balancing things on my head?  It’s a fun game I like to play.  Anyway, this show revolves around masks, and the idea that we wear different faces to meet different people and different situations. That’s all I’m telling you. You’ll have to come and see!

Take the survey and experience the show

Join us for two shows on Saturday, February 6th at from 8-10 p.m. and on Sunday, February 14th from 2-4 p.m. at the White Pines Place in Elkins Park, PA (just outside of center city Philadelphia). You can buy tickets and find details by clicking here.  We can only seat 45 people, so buy your tickets in advance!

If you can’t come, you can still contribute by clicking here to anonymously answer the 7 invitations.

Photo credits: Top photo by Patty Maher (that’s not me in the photo). Bottom photo by Joe del Tufo (that one is me).

In Defense of Art in the Cyber World: a Spontaneous Manifesto

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“The imagination today is under siege. We are saturated with information; with concepts and opinions that stream ready formed, ready learned from our mouths and are fed to us by the chatter of media networks.” – From Roger Housden’s Why Poetry Is Necessary

In a modern materialist world, we have so much control over our temperatures, births and deaths, appearances, food, and nature in our human terrariums.  We pump money into technology so we can have anything we want whenever we want it, and won’t that satisfy all of our desires?  What place does the artist have in modern society?  Who needs art when all of our needs can already be met by money and science?

1. In our technological convenience, we are disconnected from the earth and our bodies.  Art connects us with our true selves, with what it means to be human.

2. We are constantly connected to each other, yet we have that nagging feeling that we lack community.  Art connects us to each other on a deeper level.

3. Through social media we can all pretend to be experts, but underneath we know how ignorant we are.  Art deals with the unknown and the unknowable.

4. Despite our veil of complete safety, our lives are extremely fragile.  Any natural disaster, sudden illness, or accident can completely uproot us.  In a dangerous and unpredictable world, in which we are completely vulnerable, art gives us comfort.

5. Psychology has demystified our own minds, and medicine has given us anti-everything drugs.  Even though we understand, we are still slaves to our desires.  In a completely logical world, we still go all inexplicably crazy in love and hate and anger and despair.  Art helps us anchor ourselves in a whirlpool of emotions.

6. Atrocities happen.  We think we can never get through this or make sense of any of it.  Art offers no answers, but helps us sit with the question.

7. We all die.  Art deals with mystery and possibility in a life we don’t understand.

Kurt Vonnegut likened artists to the “canary in the coal mine;” artists are “the raw nerve endings of society” who can see in the dark and give early warning signs.  By clicking below you can listen to my song “Canaries,” which is based on this idea.

Meet me at my website to connect amidst what Kerouac called that “Bleak inhuman Loneliness.”

Sing Truth to Power,

Noelle Picara

I’m a Misogynist

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Recently I went to the eye doctor, and after the nurse did my initial eye check she said, “the doctor will be in to see you in a few minutes.”  Soon the door opened, and a beautiful young woman walked in.  I noticed my first reaction was, “this can’t be the doctor.”

Horrified, I started challenging my original thought.  Of course women are doctors.  Of course this woman can be in her late twenties or early thirties and be a doctor.  Of course women who are smart and educated can also be gorgeous and sexy.  All of these things I know are true, but yet my initial gut reaction was one of surprise when this woman walked in the door, when I was expecting the doctor.  Then it hit me what the problem was.

I realized that I’m a misogynist.

Even though I’ve studied internalized oppression, internalized sexism, and I’ve taught my students about it, I’m not immune.  If I had such limiting beliefs about doctors and the woman in front of me, is it possible I have these beliefs about myself as well?

It takes a hard look at yourself.  In meditation we see things we don’t really want to see about ourselves.  And then we can’t un-see them.  Personally, I think I’ve been operating my whole life with the fundamental belief that men are the ones in power in the world, and in order to achieve my goals or to be successful, at some point I’ll need to convince male gatekeepers of that power to support me, and to give me what I want, or to give me permission.

In my mind, deep below all of my feminist ideals and intellectual background, that means sex appeal.  This is the way to power in the world.

Where did I get that message?  Being raised in an environment of sexual abuse probably didn’t help.  But in the film America the Beautiful 3, director Darryl Roberts looks at how images in the media are sending girls the message that, “if you’re not fuck-able, you’re invisible.”

I see a lot of teenage girls going through that dance – realizing that they have this sexuality, that it is a kind of power, and then seeing how they can use it to get attention and the things that they want.  In his TED Talk, Why I Stopped Watching Porn, Ran Gavrieli talks about how most 12-year-olds now have access to porn.  Girls grow up with the idea not only that their power is only in their attractiveness to men, but that using their sexuality (reduced by porn to simply mean penetration) is also the only way to get love.

We think that using sex appeal gives us power, but really we are not empowered at all.  We are only borrowing power, like a loan from a bank, who has the ability to foreclose on us at any time when they decide we’re no longer “fuck-able.”

A lot of female musicians seem to walk the line, too, between owning female sexual power and giving it away.  In Lady Gaga’s live performance of Poker Face, she seems strong and empowered, even when saying, “get your dicks out,” and miming giving hand jobs while singing.  I’m not so sure here.  I’m not convinced.  It seems like the message here is that the only way to hold onto your own sexuality as a woman is to be the pimp as well as the whore.  You’re willingly giving it away, and you don’t give a shit.

This is the story of the old madam in the brothel, and the way women have navigated patriarchy for thousands of years.  This is a lot of what my song Chameleon is about.

Is that the only way, even now?

I don’t know the answer yet.  I’m just sitting with the question.

I’m just starting with this – I’m a misogynist.  Now what to do about it?

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