As you may have seen in the past, I’m pretty big on creating more financial transparency in the arts and have posted the various amounts of money I’ve made doing different kinds of work. I do this primarily because I think this kind of transparency is necessary to create a more equitable culture for the arts (it was a trend that originally started in the tech field to address the gender pay gap), but I also see a number of artists, especially in the early part of their careers, trying to get a handle on what it costs (and how to raise money) for their ambitious projects. Such transparency among the people immediately around us can help clarify what’s within our reach and how we might be able to accomplish it.
So, in the same spirit of transparency, I wanted to share with everyone a general breakdown of expenses for the initial production of Conference of the Birds, which was a multi-part development process. The below financial information is focused on the workshop performances and culminating premiere at the Broad Stage, both of which had about a 4 week rehearsal process with about 2 full cast rehearsals and 2 principles-only rehearsals each week. I hope it helps!
It’s worth noting that all of the institutional/foundation/government support came from various artists and community members involved with the show who really believed in the message and story of this piece. I can’t stress enough how important developing a strong community of like-minded folks is to bringing a project to life and there is absolutely no way this could have happened without many people stepping up, offering their resources and the resources of the institutions with which they are associated.
Any questions? Add them to the comments below.
I'd like to share with you the the serendipitous story of how our telling of The Conference of the Birds came to be:
In 2018, when my friend Anne Harley approached me about setting Attar's The Conference of the Birds to music, I had a sense the time had come to finally give it a try. I took a trip to the Last Bookstore in DTLA to see what translations were available.
Browsing along the shelves, reading the various spines, one book caught my eye. Unlike the other books on the shelf, it was turned out so I could see the simple but beautiful cover. I picked it up, seeing that it had been published only a few months earlier and that the writer, Sholeh Wolpé, happened to also live in Los Angeles. It was at this moment that a child, no higher than my hip, ran by, craning his neck upward at all the books and started yelling "It's so big! I'm small! I'm small!".
Dumbfounded by what seemed like a mystical revelation coming from this young person, I turned to a random page in the book. The modern poetry, both elegant and straightforward, engulfed me immediately.
...But if you come to it as a pure drop,
you will lose yourself in the Ocean,
becoming one with its vast water.
The Ocean's currents
will become yours, too –
its shining beauty, yours.
You will be and not be.
How can that be?
It's beyond mind's comprehension.
I knew this was the right translation, so I bought the book and immediately emailed Sholeh telling her I was interested in putting it to music. She responded the same day and invited me for some tea in her neighborhood, walking distance from where I lived at the time. We hit it off, and I told her the story of how I came across her translation and she said:
"I did that. I went to the Last Bookstore to make sure they were carrying the book and I pulled a copy out and turned it so the cover was facing out. I put it there so you could find it."
While I've wanted to create this piece for 10 years, It's only now, with the help of my incredible collaborators, I finally feel ready to bring to life Attar's story of the Conference of the Birds. The entire process of creating this work has challenged and enriched me throughout, but serendipity has also followed the process along way – a series of astonishing coincidences that have amplified the size and impact of the piece until it grew into the fully staged, movement-driven oratorio. If you haven't yet, you can buy your tickets using the link below.
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I write this during Ramadan, the Islamic month of spiritual fasting, a practice I have followed since my early teenage years. For many of my friends, it’s a practice outside of their understanding and a source of confusion for those who know me more casually through my work. “I didn’t know you were religious”, they tell me, often with a tone of skepticism and perhaps caution. I get it, there is a lot of baggage with the idea of religiosity. To be religious is to potentially believe in dozens of totally irrational things; to adhere to beliefs handed down through generations with blind faith, to maybe even trust without questioning the veracity of these beliefs regardless of contemporary knowledge and insight. In the media, we typically see religious individuals are capable of incomprehensible acts of irrationality from bombing abortion clinics, to sacrificing animals, and flying airplanes into buildings — all in the name of their faith.
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’m not a regular concert goer. It’s partly because I’ve come to understand and enjoy the concert experience from the stage rather than the audience, and also that I’ve become so particular about my listening experiences I don’t want to be trapped at a concert that I’m not enjoying. But when I do make it out to a concert, it ofte feels like a religious experience. The concert hall is my sacred space, music is my sacred text, and the audience around me are my fellow congregants. It’s an involved, sometimes exhausting, and deeply meaningful ordeal, and in the last few weeks of being ordered to stay-at-home, I’ve come to miss it a great deal.
There is a man sleeping on an abandoned couch across the street from my house. I walk by him as he sleeps, an older man with grey hair and beard, sleeping in a fetal position, knees drawn to his chest, hands between his knees for comfort or warmth or both. As I walk by I turn to my wife and ask, “Do we have an extra blanket we can give that man?” Perhaps we could give one to him when we finish with our walk. She thinks we did in our blanket closet, filled with an assortment of comforters.