Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Learning from a Christmas Project

Last November, I got a random Instagram DM from a guy I grew up with. Caleb Chamberlain, who was part of the same local homeschool community as me, is a photographer/filmmaker now, and working on the creative team at a local branch of Next Level Church. We met for coffee, and he explained that he wanted to create a video countdown, centered around a figure skating program, to use during before the worship team came out at NLC's Christmas services. He had reached out to find out if I would be interested in choreographing/performing it.

I was interested right away (because all you have to do to get my attention is say 'skating'), but I also knew that this was a big undertaking for just one person. So, I told Caleb I would, if I could bring one of my friends on board. And with that, I'd roped one of my closest friends and TOI teammates, Katherine Vitaro into it (don't worry, she was elated).

This is what we came up with:


The filming and editing are great, Caleb and his team did a great job and were fun to work with. We filmed it pretty late at night in a local rink, and watching them set up (and fly a drone!) was so much fun, and a great experience.

It's been almost 3 months since this project was completed, but I took my time writing this because I didn't know what I wanted to say. It's taken a long time for me to sort out my feelings on this one. I have moments where I'm really proud of what we did, and then others where I'm disappointed.  Now that I have this footage, I wish I could take some white-out and a sharpie to a couple of places.

I do not consider myself a choreographer. At all. I love artistic skating, and I think I'm good at performing, but I don't think of myself as someone's who's great at choreography. My experience comes from one choreo competition, a handful of Christmas show numbers, and putting together programs for a couple of Learn to Skate students. Part of why I was so interested in this was the fact that it would be challenging: and it was!

This isn't about ripping apart the work that Kat and I did. We completed something! Something we'd never done before! That is an achievement. But, I do have some thoughts on what I'll do differently next time:

01: I will think through logistics much earlier, and much more thoroughly. Kat and I live 2 hours away from each other. We both have two jobs. Giving up ice that I use for my personal practice is hard, and something I don't really like doing. Next time there's a project like this, I'm going to be a lot more realistic with how long it will take, and identify definite times to work on it BEFORE accepting. Of course doing fun projects requires some long days and late nights! But a lot of stress could have been avoided if I'd pre-planned better.

02: I will have better communication with the rest of the team, and a have a process for evaluating first drafts. I think what we choreographed would have looked much better from the stands than it necessarily does in the video. Having never done anything like this, it was really hard to picture exactly how they were going to film it. I wish that I'd been more responsible about asking questions, and had thought to maybe do some pre-shoots or something, so we could both get a feel for how the other was going to handle their end of the project.

03: I would use smaller movements, instead of trying to cover so much ice. Again: our stadium-skater brains took over on this one. I think it would have looked much better on film if we had used more sustained movements that took up less space, than powering around the rink in traditional skater fashion.

04: I would have more movements featuring us together. Watching it now, this is what I want more of.

05: I'd do something about my hands. Sometimes I get these weird scarecrow hands. Personal pet peeve. I need to work on fixing them.

06: I would have asked to be part of the selection of what clips were used. I think it's very hard for a non-skater to pick out the same moments a skater would. There are definitely some mistakes and hesitations that I personally would have replaced with other clips of the same section, but I think it's hard to see all of that when you're a non-skater working without a skating vocabulary. This could be totally out of line, but I think it would have helped.

BUT. There are some things here I'd definitely do again:

01: Try something new. I am happy we tackled this project because I never would have learned the six things above without it. This is the creative life: you're inspired, you try, you don't like it, but next time you try, it will probably go better. Fingers crossed, anyways.

02: Don't give up on it. Kat and I hit many walls with this project. Both of us fell victim to being uninspired, stuck, and having lots of doubts. Luckily, we felt this way at different times, and could help pull each other out of it. I'm happy we stuck it out, even while not always liking what we were coming up with.

03: Try to give an unstructured prompt a very specific story. We were told to skate to Carol of the Bells. That was it. With so much room, the first thing we did was agree on some sort of storyline. While it may not be obvious to a viewer, it anchored what we were trying to do. I think this was really helpful to us both.

I just finished reading Jenna Fischer's new book The Actor's Life. I LOVED it, and think every person wanting to live a creative life should read it. In it, she talked about the importance of showing up and doing the work. Of course we all want to be perfect, or at the very least good. But that isn't realistic every single day. Instead of always aiming for perfection, we need to aim to challenge ourselves, try new things, and approach everything with a growth mindset.

There are many things I would change about this project, but I am looking forward to taking all of that to the next thing, instead of ruminating on this one any longer. There is work to be done.

Be the grittiest! 
xoxo Gillian