Printer Friendly

Producing with pluck: North Carolina School of the Arts seniors learn what it takes.

The road to any career rarely runs in a straight line. My own path, for example, has lead me from studies in writing and literature, into the dance studio (at age 21!), onto the stage, and back into an office. My current roles of dance producer and critic merge two disciplines that I find equally fulfilling--writing and dance. If you had read my palm at age 20, however, and told me where I would he in 13 years, I'd have asked for my money hack and called you crazy.

In 1999, a group of 12 college seniors at the North Carolina School of the Arts embarked on a project that would ultimately yield similar revelations. Named for the pluck and determination of the students who spearheaded it, the initial Pluck Project consisted of a free performance of solo works by graduating contemporary dance students, produced entirely by the students themselves at the Context Theater, a 75-seat venue in New York City. The goal was to be seen by those who could give them jobs. The surprise was how much they learned about the practical side of production.

"Instead of worrying for an entire year about this huge transition into the professional world, my class decided to take action and bring the world to us," says Emily Tschiffely, a member of the original group.

When that first group of seniors came to Eva James Toia with their idea, they suggested bake sales as a fundraising tool. Toia, director of Alumni and Career Services at NCSA, says she could see they had a lot to learn. She had heard from alumni that though they felt prepared for the artistic side of their careers upon graduating, they felt much less secure about their business skills and training. "They [the 1999 seniors] wanted it badly enough that I knew they would agree to do the training they needed to do the work," she says. "They were absolutely determined."

The project succeeded so well, and taught those students so much about the many facets of their field, that it has since become a crucial part of the college dance curriculum at NCSA.

Over the following seven years, clear guidelines have been developed for the Project by participating students and faculty advisors. Students (between 10-15 each year) divide themselves into committees focusing on aspects of production such as budgets, scheduling, public relations, and tech. The group must raise $15,000 to cover expenses; they receive no financial support from the school. About half of the funding comes from grants for outreach tours to local North Carolina public schools; the rest comes from private donations, raffles and yes, bake sales.

For students who have spent most of their college careers in the dance studios of NCSA, the Pluck Project, "de-mystifies the process of production," says Toia. "They learn that it's just a business plan."

Kathryn Roberts, class of 2002, says the group had to learn to function as a team in a different way than they did in the studio as choreographers, dancers, or partners. "It was the first time any of us ever had to sit in a meeting," she says, and describes how those who had a "business sense" became leaders of the project. Gabriela Camacho, assistant director of NCSA's Office of Alumni and Career Services, says, "The most significant and repetitive challenge each Pluck group faces is learning how to work as a group, everyone sharing the same amount of work and responsibility, learning to work together."

They also learn new skills--"those things you don't get if you're not a business student" says Roberts--such as using spreadsheet software to help manage a budget. She developed communication skills, learning how to call people to ask for help or financial support. She now uses these skills working as a lobby manager for the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Audiences have tripled since the first year when 50 people showed up. Pluck 2006 took place in the 255-seat Alley Citigroup Theater. Plucksters focus their marketing efforts on email announcements, free calendar listings, and a postcard mailing. Postcards are also distributed by New York-based alumni. "One important factor is the increasing number of Pluck alumni that are willing to help with publicity," notes Carracho. "Many of them are out in the professional dance world and are eager to help spread the word."

Whether it leads them down new roads or simply brings clarity to the career choices already before them, Project alumni describe a tremendous surge in confidence upon the successful completion of the Project. "The lasting influence on my career has been the management skills I apply to my teaching career," says Tschiffely, who now teaches dance, fitness, and the creative process to children and adults at New York University and the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Says Aynsley Vandenbroucke, a founding Pluckster who now runs her own company in New York, "It taught me about all aspects of producing a performance and gave me the confidence to continue to do so on my own."

With that and an open mind, few doors can remain closed for long. I remember the day I stood at my mailbox to find a check for the first grant proposal I wrote. I walked through the door I had just opened, and am still marveling at the view from the other side. The Pluck Project students, too, have experienced a similar delight in their own power. Says Vandenbroucke, "The biggest value was realizing that I didn't need or even want to wait around for other people to let me in to the dance world."

Lea Marshall is producer/publicist for VCU Department of Dance, and executive director of Ground Zero Dance Company.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Dance Magazine, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Marshall, Lea
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2006
Previous Article:Damian Woetzel: NYCB principal and Harvard student? Why not?
Next Article:Curtain up.

Related Articles
A school for the fine(est) artists.
Celebrating Color & Light.
Summer Arts 1999.
Cultural connections: celebrating creativity around the world.
Artopia: the arts at your fingertips.
Deep in the Heart of Dixie: New South meets neo-classicism at North Carolina Dance Theatre.
2005-2006 MTNA national student competitions winners.
Past becomes future: a Brooklyn high school lays the foundation for the future of students by teaching them to value the past.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters