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AOA S4 E1: Reflecting in Retrograde: Season Zero

Updated: Mar 4

Hello and welcome to a podcast about creating experimental art in trauma-informed and sustainable ways that support artists, our communities, and the organization as a whole. You're listening to Any Other Anythings. And in this season, we are focused on the journey of Grey Box Collective, and we will take you through from the very beginning, before Grey Box Collective even existed, and all the way through to present day, and talk about what the future of Grey Box Collective might include as well. Highly recommend listening to this season in chronological order since it is somewhat building upon each part of it, but it's up to you if you want to take a nonlinear approach. Appreciate that. Respect that, and hope you enjoy this journey of Grey Box Collective.

All right. Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of Any Other Anythings. I am your host for this season, Molly. I am the Founder and Creative Producer of Grey Box Collective. I don't know why that took me a moment to come up with my own titles. Okay, so this is now getting into like the journey of Grey Box Collective.

And so I decided to start with Season Zero because I mean, it didn't just like start one day. There was a significant planning period, and there was also like some hints along the way that this was going to be a thing. And I think the first hint was probably back in 2007, 2008, when I first created a performance called, It's Not that Simple. And this was a performance that like, very serendipitously really. I happened to get a work-study position where my responsibility was to merge the mission of the office with my studies. And so merging the mission around everyone deserves a safe campus, which was a sexual assault kind of awareness office. It was within the women's studies office or within the women's.... I have no idea. Women's Health Center or something. And so I had to merge the mission of the office around, you know, understanding sexual assault on college campuses with the mission or with my studies in dance and theater. And so that was really the first clue that I would start to create work, that I'd say now, I would call artistic vehicles of social change.

And yeah, I like went into that really unprepared and just yeah, I guess like thrown into the deep end kind of stuff, right? Just like, yeah, I'm gonna do this, I guess. And I feel like that was really echoed when I started Grey Box Collective in 2015, was the planning. And then like 2016 it became official, but two years prior to that, 2013, there was an ensemble. This was when I was in my master's program and I wanted to like have an evening length work produced. And there is this piece that I wrote in undergrad called Finger Painting {for Grown Ups} and I freaking love this piece. And it's about losing your inner child because life happens, right? And I had really wanted to restage it and so, happened to apply and have an opportunity to present that work, but it was really in that semi-devised dance theater process, meaning I came in with a script, but there was still a significant amount of work to be done around the framework that I came in with.

So that semi-device process, it was in that development process, like it was just the best, y'all. It was such a wonderful experience, in how, everyone in that ensemble worked together as a team feeding forward. I mean, yeah, there were hiccups, but overall like that, just like, it's like, the dream development of this whole process and such a fun show. I really hope to do it again sometime soon, but like, it was that ensemble that I was like, this is what I want. Like this is what I like dream of as like a group of collaborators, in the future. Right? And so then in 2015, when I was in my last year of the MFA program. I was kind of scrounging for funds to produce my, my thesis work, which was an evening length performance, and I had wanted to do a solo show, just be, do the nature of the work. It was again, gonna be, It's not that Simple. Doing a piece about sexual assault on college campuses and wanting to have those conversations and dialogue with audience after the show. It felt important to go solo with it instead of sharing an evening, which is what's kind of typically done in that MFA program. And in the scrounging for funds, that's where I accidentally-ish applied for basically an arts incubator program. And it was really for me more about getting the project funded, but in order to make it work. For the funding. I was like, yeah, I guess I'm building an LLC around this. I guess I'm building a business around this.And that's where it started. And I talked a little bit in that first episode, which if you have not listened to, please go back and listen to the first episode. Highly recommend doing these in chronological order. It was in that class where. Things started to take shape, right? And so that's where Season Zero, I call it, is, is really starting, right?

So I was in my last year of my graduate program. And just for context, I was also a full-time administrator at that time. I was also teaching several classes at that time. So while being a grad student doing my thesis, so it was a lot happening, right? And I think that's important to keep in mind, as I keep talking about just like the chaos and the hustle culture that I think really seeped into the beginning of what Grey Box Collective is and was. And, going into running a business like, I don't know, in many ways it felt full circle of like, oh, I guess I'm gonna start a company. Cool. That's how my entire academic journey started. Was me in high school being like, I don't really care about college, I'm just going to like go start, miss Molly School of Dance. It's gonna be great. I'm gonna love it. I'm gonna like, zero doubts about whether or not it would be successful. Like of course I can make a living, 16, 17-year-old me, it was like, I've got this, it's fine. Not thinking about bills or, you know, operations or really not even knowing anyone who had run their own business per se, on a fundamental kind of level, you know, that's how I kind of went into it.

And I do think there's something about like, this is the work that I want to produce in the world and the work that I want to offer the world. And in order to do that somewhat successfully, it feels best to do so in the form of a company as opposed to, I think, the other inroad to entrepreneurship. Another way in is often like, oh, I'm gonna be a business person. I don't know what business I'm gonna run, but it's gonna be successful. Like, that was not my approach. It was very much, I don't know, organic. It felt very intrinsically motivated of like, this is how I want to exist in the world. This is what I want my professional life to look like. And I think because I went into it that way, I now refer to it as being like a clunky entrepreneur and a friend of mine will say like, that's every entrepreneur, like what you see on Instagram and social media that is lies. And if people are really that organized and so focused on being like the best entrepreneur ever, then they're not actually like living it, right? So, shout out to anyone else who considers themselves a clunky entrepreneur. And part of being a clunky entrepreneur is also like bread crumbing stuff for myself. So I... bread crumbing is something I've heard used as a phrase in like the neurodivergent community, and it's something that I know I do for myself to get through, especially mornings. I've also heard it in regards to dating. I'm not talking about it in that way, although I guess there's like the same sentiment. And so breadcrumb for myself as a business person, and that means that like I don't throw anything out. I have artifacts and I've captured things along the way in a variety of, methods like feedback and surveys and all of that. And I will say the breadcrumbing from the Season Zero is like, not great. Not a whole lot going on there. So because of that, I'm just, I'm kind of piecing together this, this feels like it'll be a very clunky episode. Speaking of being a clunky entrepreneur, as I'm just kind of trying to piece together the fragments of what was going on nearly 10 years ago.

And so I think one theme that you'll hear in seasons like three… well when I'm talking about like season zero through three, or maybe even like 2015 through the start of 2020, we all know. There's no like foreshadowing, like, ooh, what happens in 2020? We know, those first several years, like I was running off of adrenaline and just loving chaos in the hustle, right?

So I was creating this company, forming it when I was in quite a chaotic hustle kind of a state with finishing my MFA being a full-time administrator, plus teaching multiple classes. At the time I was hired at 126% full-time employee status. So there are now laws against that, don't do it. But like that's the level I was working a full job, plus a quarter of another job basically, while also completing this degree and starting a company. So, clearly I was running on adrenaline and I did very well with chaos and hustle during that time. And I think there's something about this idea of like startups being in like this hustle culture mode. And that that's like, the loudest narrative out there around like when you're starting a company, you are just like living, breathing, eating it all the time.

Like it is your life. It is working more hours than you've ever worked for any other job in your life. And so from that hustle culture, you know, I was doing well, cruising on my adrenaline. And you learn to get scrappy with it. Like you learn to be resourceful and you are rewarded for that kind of existing in scarcity mindset, right? This is more of a reflection, I guess, in hindsight, and in the moment. Yeah, in the moment there is like this confident disbelief of running a company or even starting it. I was like, I can't believe I'm doing this. Like that was the narrative while I was doing it, and I was very much in a doing mode. I was not in a human being mode. I was in a human doing mode for the first several years, and it's definitely started in that first season zero.

And I think one of the themes that will come up over the arc of this. Season of this podcast is how to go from that hustle culture to a culture that's actually sustainable, setting goals that are attainable, and running a business in alignment, in an authentic way. And I think because I was coming out of being steeped in academia, steeped in a world where it's about what other people want. It's about what the teachers want you to do, your professors want you to do, stepping into running a business with your focus and the practice being on what others want is a tricky place to come out of. Now, I'll say, I think artistically I was much more…well, no, my artistic side was also kind of in survival mode. Of just like, okay, check it off the box. I needed to produce another piece. I needed to do a work in progress showing I needed to, you know, just like do the thing.

And so I kept doing the thing, but I don't think I really, was at an artistic space where I felt like I was producing high-quality work. And I don't, I don't totally love saying high-quality, but like I was not really producing work that I felt super proud of. Is maybe a another way to say it. I was checking the boxes and going through things in a way producing for survival, producing to like make people happy enough so that they give me a piece of paper with a degree. You know, like that was the mentality. So I think it's important to, if you are someone starting off and like, as I am... I have other companies happening now for myself, like I am very intentional about, you know, how I'm starting the company is also going to be how I plan to sustain the company. I think if we start in a hustle culture, we start to accept certain things as norms within that company, and if we accept them as norms, if they become embedded into the structure of that organization, into the culture of that organization, then it suddenly becomes really difficult to change later on, right? Being able to adapt is very challenging because the foundation was laid in a really wonky way to begin with.

So yeah, I guess that that was, maybe that's the way to sum up Season Zero. Like I just laid a really wonky foundation 'cause I was like, I guess I'm gonna run a company. Okay, cool. And then I think at some point I was probably, in that disbelief, I was also like, well, maybe I'll just do it through the end of grad school. I don't know. And yeah, I mean, here I am eight years later. Clearly it lasted beyond grad school, right? And there were some significant things that happened, during this time, like in terms of programming and such. Like they happened the summer after grad school. 

So in terms of Season Zero, as I mentioned, there were some, there was some funding that came along, from the startup side of things to initiate that this was, that Grey Box Collective was gonna be a thing. I also had my thesis performance and just due to the nature of how I went about it and like the operational side of things, I had some, I like really good. I think it's probably the best ticket sales we've ever had. Was technically before Grey Box Collective was Grey Box Collective. Or it was like kind of a soft launch of like, hey, this is my thesis, but it's also kind of like the start of a company. I think, I don't know, that was a rough stretch. My brain was pretty fried at that time, pretty burnt out. But, in starting the company, presenting my thesis, receiving two different grants for startup funding, ticket sales, like that was kind of the way that that pre-season or pre-start of the company was funded. And then I'll get into in the next episode how that funding was able to really go into the next season, that summer or actually I should say at the end of that academic year. So, this is like April, 2016, that is when we were commissioned, Grey Box Collective was commissioned by ASU. By the school that I was attending to present the performance on sexual assault during, sexual assault awareness month or during like a particular week, I guess.

So it was like, barely getting all of the structures in place. So yeah, kind of rushing some things. Like I had to get that bank account set up because I had someone writing a check for us, which is wild. Like, it was like, oh, this is gonna be a thing. And then we also, that summer, summer 2016, held a residency through one of the local organizations at the Phoenix Center for the Arts. And presented an iteration, of work that I'll talk about later called I Am Enough. And yeah, so it was like a lot of success before technically forming, which is also wild. And I think added to that hustle culture that like rush, that urgency of like, oh shit, like I've gotta, like they're ready to pay me and I don't have a way to accept it. So, got my ducks in a row very quickly. Yeah, and I think reflecting on it now and that hustle culture, like I was saying, it is something where I'm very intentional and if you are someone looking to start a company, I understand where that hustle comes from and like there are plenty of reasons that you have to lean into it, right? Like I can also look compassionately. At my past self and being like, this was me trying to figure out how to leave that job at that time while also graduating. So it was a lot happening for me, and starting the company, right? Like, so there's just a lot swirling and so kind of rushing through that transition, was a way to survive. I think that's one reason we tend to move quickly then we don't have to like feel it, right? Like you rip the band-aid off, then you don't have to feel every single, I dunno, hair or whatever is being like pulled with that band-Aid. And so yeah, reflecting now in hindsight, I wish that I had been able to take things a little slower, a little more thoughtful, a little more strategic along the way. But there was also, you know, this sudden success with somewhat, it felt like there was a lot of ease in the success, so it, it felt like, you know, the path was open. So might as well run down it, and I'll leave it here for this episode and we will start running down that path in the next one.

Oh, I didn't do a check-in or check out. Oh, well, I'll check out, or here I'll leave you with a checkout. So during check-ins, they've taken a variety of forms over the years, but I'll add that into future episodes. For a checkout, we always ask, how are you doing? And what are you thinking about? So as you are reflecting on what I have shared in this season, zero, how are you doing and what are you thinking about? All right, I'll leave you with that. Thank you for listening, and I'll see you in the next episode.

Hey listener, thanks so much for listening to another episode of Any Other Anythings. Be sure to check out the show notes for links mentioned in the show as well as how to stay connected and learn more about Grey Box Collective. Thanks so much for your time and energy. Please take care of yourselves and each other.

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