Sunday, September 13, 2009

A-Conferencing I Will Go

St. Paul is a tough place to find ibuprofen at 4am.

I spent most of last week at the Midwest Arts Conference, which is held every year for the express purpose of weighing people down with swag. Hundreds of performing artists of more varieties than you ever thought possible gather in one place and try to persuade even more hundreds of people representing venues that they should hire them. It's fun, if overwhelming.

I drove up on Wednesday after class, found my hotel, and spent the evening plotting out my course of events for the upcoming conference. Because I am an expert plotter. Ask anyone. I can plot with the best of them. Sometimes, just to show off, I do it one-handed.

Actually, I spent most of the next two days on the floor of the convention, methodically working my way through nearly three hundred booths full of fliers, CDs, DVDs, and occasionally even live performers. I spoke with quite a number of people, most of whom I would very much like to hire except for the fact that we have a fairly small budget for this sort of thing at Home Campus, an even smaller (though nice) venue for such performers, and, unfortunately, often even smaller crowds who show up.

But I can dream.

And when I'm not dreaming, at least I can talk to them and find out what they do. There were a couple of performers who spent a lot of time with me knowing full well they were too expensive for me to hire but who wanted to tell me about their acts anyway just because they wanted me to know. It's always refreshing to meet people who really love what they do, mostly because it is so uncommon.

All of the booths are willing, even eager, to pile things into your hands. Every evening I would stagger back to my hotel room, unload my bag and spend the better part of several hours trying to organize it all into binders - otherwise it all gets completely windblown and I end up staring at the forms trying to remember what went with what. I now have two 3" binders completely overstuffed with information and electronic media, and at least that much material still to collate. I don't know if anyone other than me will ever look at it - the committee I report to has yet to form, let alone meet, this semester - but I now know more about the performing arts scene in the upper midwest than I ever thought I would.

And let me tell you, there are a lot of people on this planet with just mind-boggling levels of talent.

The really fun part of this convention are the showcases, where individual acts put on 12-minute selections from their shows so you can be wowed and want to hire them. I was wowed.

Friday night's early showcases were at the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown St. Paul, and it took all my mental strength not to translate everything into Garrison Keillor's voice. I can see why he likes that place. I went to see the first act (at 3:50) and the last one (scheduled for 6:45), but I ended up staying through it all anyway. Both of my acts were great - the science/comedy guy was especially good, and I will exert all my influence over my committee to get them to agree to him - and the ones in the middle? Made of pure awesome, some of them.

I was especially wowed by a pianist who did George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." That is something that should be on everyone's Life List - to hear that song done live by someone who really knows what they're doing. Check that one off, I guess.

The jazz of the 1920s and 1930s seems to be especially popular these days, actually. There were quite a number of performers pushing that kind of music, which was just fine by me. It was good music then, and it has held up remarkably well.

I went to any number of other showcases all over downtown St. Paul that night - a couple of music groups represented by someone I ended up sitting next to at lunch that day and striking up a pleasant conversation with, an acapella group that was clearly out of my price range but came so highly recommended I had to see them (yes, they lived up to billing), a one-man show about Einstein that was played to a one-man audience of me, a duo of folk musicians who had to fight to be heard above the high-powered gypsy band just across the thin room divider on the other side of the hotel conference room - it was quite a night.

Which may be why I woke up at 3am to discover that garden gnomes were pounding railroad spikes into my temples and all my drugs were back home. The hotel clerk sadly informed me that there were no anti-gnome pills to be had at the hotel, and pointed me toward the all-night supermarket a highway away. Eventually I dragged my carcass over there and bought enough drugs to wipe out the entire gnome species and all of their closest relatives. There is no point being subtle with spike-wielding gnomes.

I came home on Saturday, and spent most of this weekend in a catatonic haze. The girls had two different sleep-overs (three if you count the one Tabitha had to beg out of) and were gone most of the weekend as well. The cats looked at me with blank incomprehension, which was comfortingly familiar. I understand that the football season has begun, which cannot be right as they are still playing baseball and there is as yet no hockey and somebody must look into this. And tomorrow life starts up all over again, bright and early.

Show time.

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