Tomorrow night, Live Wire's Courtenay Hameister introduces a new show that pairs local musicians with local writers, asking writers to create work based on a song, and musicians to write a song based on a piece of writing. The pairing of Laura Gibson and Cheryl Strayed alone would be enough to get me in the door, but it doesn't stop there: The night also features music and readings from Matt Sheehy, Arthur Bradford, Hameister herself, and former Dirty Martini-ers Swan Sovereign. The ambitious show is partially funded by a grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Commission; Hameister was kind enough to answer some questions about it via email.
Mercury: Why did you apply for a RAAC grant for the show? What does that funding go toward?
COURTENAY HAMEISTER: Ideally this would be a running series, and the grant money is paying for startup costs like a logo and website and then running costs like paying all the performers (which a lot of local series don't do), posters, and then recording and editing the show for podcast and possibly broadcast. I'm hoping to have some money left over after it's all over to be able to pay those recurring costs the next round.
How did writers and musicians react to your initial pitch?
The first person I approached over a year ago was John Roderick, who loved the idea and immediately agreed. Then, in a hilarious turn of events, he had to cancel right before Thanksgiving. And by "hilarious," I mean, "Holy freaking crap what do we do now?" Matt had already started working on his song, but he's a trooper and agreed to start all over. Pretty much everyone I approached, even the ones who had to decline, were excited by the idea of working from someone else's pre-existing work.
How did you decide which writers to pair with which musicians?
Laura and Cheryl were easy because they're already fans of each other's work and I wanted at least one pair that loved each other's work, and one that didn't know each other's work (Matt and John—now Matt and Arthur Bradford), just to see if there was a difference in the resulting work. It's obviously easy to be inspired by someone's work that you admire, but what can you find in work you're unfamiliar with? What do you do if you don't connect to it at all? We haven't had that happen, but I think in general there will be cases where artists really have to mine the work to find something that inspires them. I also wanted different voices—Matt's work is generally pretty heartfelt and John's funny, which is why I wanted Arthur [to replace John] since his stories for the Moth and Backfence have been quite funny, too.
Will you be compiling and releasing this material in any way after the show?
Yes—I'm recording the show and will release it as a podcast, and I'm talking to some folks at OPB in the hopes that they might use the content in some way, but that's still up in the air.
What, if any, are your plans for future events in the series?
In this show, artists traded inspiration—stories for songs. Next time around, I'd like to do a game of creative telephone—begin with a pre-existing piece from a writer, give it to a musician who writes a song, then give THAT song to another writer and so on. Four artists, and you end with the writer whose piece started the whole thing writing a new piece based on the last song. The idea of seeing where we traveled between the first and last piece and how we'd end up is very exciting to me. Obviously, this series would take longer to create because you're dealing with deadlines and artists and that's always interesting. I'd also love to integrate visual art—I got the idea for a show like this where artists trade inspiration years ago when Molly Cliff Hilts gave a painting to Kristen Hersh that she'd made while listening to her music. Kristen loved the painting so much, she used the whole series in a slide show that played behind her on tour. That connection and interaction between new work and the work that inspired it was fascinating to me.
Are there any other events or series that you looked toward for inspiration when putting on your own show?
I thought the "Inspired By" show that Action Adventure did was a blast. I loved that they had all these different disciplines interacting with each other. It reminded me that this whole idea came about because of a connection between visual art and music, so integrating that in some way would be great down the line. There are some great photographers in Portland and I'd love to have a photographer/musician pairing.
How did you, personally, find the experience of writing an essay based on someone else's work? Did anything about it surprise you?
Well, I'm not finished with my essay yet, but the rules of this series are very loose—you can choose anything to inspire you: a phrase, a word, the theme of the piece, a feeling—anything. And that's freeing, which is great, but sometimes as a writer I want MORE rules. More limitations mean I don't have the whole world of ideas to choose from, which can sometimes feel paralyzing for me. It was a song that I've loved for a long time that I ended up using, but what I tried to do was find something in it that I hadn't before. I was surprised at how much I struggled with my piece and how much more stressed I felt about the final outcome—this sense that the stakes were higher because there are these other artists that I owe something to. I respect their work so much that I feel like this can't suck. But I suppose "Please don't let this suck" is a standard feeling when creating work. Right?
SEED is at the Alberta Rose Theatre, tomorrow, Dec 11, 7:30 pm, $20-22, tickets at albertarosetheatre.com