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AOA S4 E5: A Pandemic Was Not In The Business Plan: Season Four

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 to another episode of Any Other Anythings. I'm your host, Molly. I am the Founder and Creative Producer of Grey Box Collective, and we are looking at season four in this episode. And so this is fall 2019, the spring 2020. And I mean like there's no spoiler alert needed. You know how the season's gonna end.

 And I'm gonna take some time to talk about fall 2019 because I was actually like really a great start of a season. I felt like the first glimmer of what a “real season” or a “real company” would be like. We had a kickoff where everyone that was involved in the season got together and we got to like make stuff together and just get creative for the sake of getting creative and just like really building a community. And then of course, spring 2020 happened and fucked a lot of shit up. And looking back on it, I'm actually really glad it did. Even though there were a couple things in the works that I was really bummed, kind of went like poof with the pandemic and all. 

Oh, but checking in, sorry. Yeah, I think. I don't know. I'm starting to get like more anxious about sharing these seasons that are a little closer, or talking about how we navigated COVID. I don't know. I, I'm aware that the past few seasons that I've talked about, there's definitely been a struggle to kind of like bring up what those seasons were. And like I even having talked through it and like taken notes and looked back at things and like, wait, that's what happened? Like, it still feels like a little disjointed where like these seasons, like I remember them. I have a like, visceral response to these seasons that I'm gonna start talking about. Which is, you know, that's information. That is information, and yeah. Like I'm aware that for myself personally, this was like entering into quite a period of time that was a survival mode space for me. And I think, we all, were kind of entering into that space, of just, you know, this life of uncertainty and I don't know, a certain level of, like gentle disassociation of like, I can't be living through a pandemic right now, like that this is the prime of my life. Like, this is not what I was supposed to be doing. So yeah, like just being aware that that's kind of what I'm talking about in the next few, few episodes is I'm aware in my body this feels very different. 

So let's talk about, first of all, like I already kind of talked about like fall 2019 where we had like a kickoff and like it was just good. And you know, at this point we had officially co-leased the artist studio space the Artist’s Box studio with, the owners or with the people we had been renting from. And that also, it was just like, it was amazing what a relief that was to be like, okay, cool. Like there are certain, we kinda split the days and had some specific events that we were sharing and all, but it was really easy to schedule rehearsal space and we didn't have to worry about, you know, paying by the hour and how those hours add up. And so there was, you know, a bigger financial commitment that I took on personally as well as from some of the grants, to have that space available pretty much whenever we wanted. And I think you know that unfortunately because that was a bigger financial commitment, like the stipends for artists did not go up that season. And you know, they still were pretty tiny. But I think there is something about, you know, having not unlimited space, but if you wanted to work on something for 20 hours, like you knew what your stipend was regardless of how many hours you put in. That was kind of where things were at. And it's a model that I hope to not go back to. Not hope to, I don't see us returning to that model. I don't really see us consciously returning to that model. And if we did, it would be really a transparent shift, with conversations around limits and yeah, with like really deep conversations.

But that was kind of the structure. And it also gave us the opportunity to have workshops and we also had our educational branch doing some work for high school students and teachers at that time. So we have a Soap Box Series still. We still had a national fiscal sponsor. We were still funded by the Tempe Arts Grant. Once COVID kicked in, we did get some COVID relief money. In hindsight, if I had asked for advice on how to fill that out and all that paperwork we would've been funded much better during COVID. So that's, that is a bummer. That's a bummer knowing that I could have had like way more funding, coming in through COVID than, than what we did. But I was just kind of, I guess, surprised to receive any, and then I'll talk about what we did for our COVID response too. So, we had several things in the works. 

Wait, hold up. Let me start this. I'm going so out of order on my list. Prior to spring 2020, so fall 2019, we had the Crumble Collection. So that was kind of the next iteration of the Wild Card Series. And we talk about, in our creative process, we talk about like their crumbs and nuggets and muffins. Meaning crumbs are like these tiny, tiny little creative acts. And then you start to piece the tiny creative things together and eventually those crumbs become like nuggets. And then you like put the nuggets together and you get muffins. And then if you build your way towards baker's dozen, you have a full evening length work is some of our internal language around our devising process. And so the idea of calling it a Crumble Collection, because most of these works were in their first or second phase of development. And so we had Friend Me, Follow Me, Say Hello, which was again the one with youth, that Sarah did. We had Hyphenated States, which was led by Lizbett and talked about system-involved youth, although there weren't youth in the show. But also just like that arc of having started the show, these five pieces with youth, and then at the end talking about system involved youth was I think a journey that I wish I had realized existed as an audience prior to I think the show happening. Dienae continued with Thanks for Tuning in and Please Stop Staring, that evolved. And then Thomas was working on a piece called Structural War Zone, in relation to, like busy culture or in relation to like, oh, capitalism basically. I'll just say it that way. And then I had a piece called, Emp_t_y, but it's actually the word ‘empathy’ with the ‘A’ and the ‘H’ removed, so it was titled Emp_t_y with some underscores in there to signify the missing letters. And so we had those five pieces for the Crumble Collection. We had a Soap Box Series. There was the workshops happening. And there were things in the works that. I was really excited about and then COVID happened, right? So in response to COVID, we moved everything online. We went virtual completely.

There were two performances that we did over Zoom. One was called On Repeat, which was looking at, kind of the repetitive nature of, of life during COVID. And then there was another one called Asses in Seats, which was Dienae, kind of taking the, Thanks for Tuning in and Please Stop Staring into like, what is it to, you know, bring our work life basically into our bedrooms over Zoom. So yeah. Like it was very much in response to the times. We had some online workshops on trauma and creativity. That's when I started doing more online workshops around Trauma-Informed Creative Practices and how that can be applied to other spaces. We developed an online store and there were all sorts of resources in there. We had these devising cards where you basically have like different prompts for creativity in them. There's a resourcing deck, so different prompts for like, helping you feel centered, grounded, and in the present moment. We had a coloring book, which that was probably my favorite thing to come out of COVID, was that we, yeah, we, we put together a coloring book. Like, I don't know, it just, of course we did. Like, I'm so glad that we did. There are also digital downloads of workshops and such, and so that online store was a big energy push.


During season four, during COVID and in response to COVID, we did cancel all shows and performances that were in the works, which breaks my heart. Even that, like, I don't, I don't even, I can't even tell you like what specifically was being worked on, unfortunately. Yeah. And this podcast came out of it, by the way. We would not have this podcast if it wasn't for COVID because that was a way to stay connected, in a way to keep conversations going. And also I felt that the podcast would be an interesting way to kind of capture where artists were at. 

And this was summer 2020, so I'm kind of going into summer 2020 as well with this episode. And, we had to move out of the Artist’s Box. They also no longer stayed there and so it was like, there was so much that was like coming together and like having a space was such a relief. And then it became such a burden just a few months later because of COVID and everything changing. Also in the summer of 2020, we started to explore this idea of what is it to create a like - like what everyone was doing - what is it to create across time and space, with people in an ensemble type setting and create these little films. And we experimented with that, that was what some of the COVID relief money went towards. I, actually that's what most of it went towards was experimenting with that idea. And we ended up putting it on a postcard with a QR code. Like how 'cause everyone was online like, so how could we bring novelty to something that was like, very much the norm at that time? And we didn't wanna just have another YouTube link or just another like Zoom performance. Like we did those too. And I think it was good timing, we actually had a box office success. That was the same level as the box office successes that we had in person, which is wild to me. Like that those performances actually paid for themselves. So ticket sales were huge. So shout out to everyone who was like, yeah, I'll go. There was also, I think because of the times, like people who could afford, we always have done a sliding scale, not always. We do a sliding scale or like pay what you can. And, I found people were actually paying higher prices for these tickets, which I've also just like loosely tracked over the years. And I find it interesting that at this time when there was such uncertainty, people were also paying higher ticket prices. For, I don't know, like a really, who knows what kind of experience. So fascinating. Oh yeah. And we put it on postcards. So we created a film just like you would then and like upload it to YouTube or wherever you choose to share out your digital content. And we, instead of doing that, put a QR code on a postcard so you would get something in the mail right? So something to kind of look forward to that's a little more exciting. I think there is also a lot of realizing, again, kind of  echoing some of the earlier things of like, you need resources to be inclusive. You know, we had to figure out with artists like, okay, what, what resources do you need? And we don't really have that many resources. And so having to figure out how to support like, really strong internet connections and how to support, I mean, at the time I didn't even have a laptop that had a camera on it. You know, like I, these kinds of things like you don't think about, but now it's very much a part of the conversation, right? In order to be accessible, in order to be inclusive, it does take funding and I think that's actually a conversation that people are not always ready to have. But it is something that I'm seeing more and more as the seasons progress from here. Like in order to be fully inclusive, you really have to be well funded. And I, I hate it, and it's reality. That's really like a hard thing to come up against, but that's the nature of it. I'll echo more of this later on. So, yeah. It was a lot, season four was, I mean, obviously it was COVID, it was a pandemic. Like it was a lot for, I'm assuming most people. And I think the beginning, so spring 2020 into summer 2020, I feel like we were navigating quite well. I feel like I personally was navigating quite well. But also kind of picking up from what I was saying in the previous episode of like, there were some cracks in the foundation and I think very, like I said, I do well in chaos, right? Like, give me a crisis and I can handle that shit. I can hold that multifocus necessary to get through it and I think that's what was getting me through at least like spring and summer 2020. That I was like, hmm, if we are like that phoenix rising from the ashes, like the ashes were starting to show up. And I think it's really in the next season. In season five that I was like, oh, there are ashes and we're just gonna exist in this, or at least personally, I was gonna just exist in it.

I think the other thing that feels important to say about this season is as I was going into it, so fall 2019 to spring 2020. That was the season that for me felt like a crossfade year. And so a crossfade year is something that, like when, you know you're no longer going to be in the professional life that you have been living, but you're not really ready to like flip that page over and, right? So it's like a slow crossfade from one kind of existence into another. And I had gone into fall 2019 with, still doing my professional life outside of Grey Box Collective as an adjunct professor and fitness instructor. And I, I had kinda resolved for myself like, this is gonna be my last year that I do this. I'm ready to leave higher education. At one point I wanted the whole like tenure track job and all that kind of stuff, but no, fuck it, out. I am over it. I was ready to leave higher ed and do Grey Box Collective, full-time, “full-time”, whatever that meant. Like that would be my primary source of income and livelihood. And so I was also going into season four with this particular energy of like, this is going to be the season that like makes us. And then it was kind of the season that broke us, and yet that feels important to say that this was supposed to be the crossfade year. It wasn't because I, I was at, for a lot of reasons. I was at a point where I, you know, living with such uncertainty, I was like, I'd rather dance with the devil I know. I don't also want to be navigating myself professionally as a freelancer, entrepreneur full time in a period of uncertainty. I'd much rather dance with the devil I knew of adjunct professor, fitness instructor, sort of. That's a different story, but, yeah. I was, I was done with, with that life. But then made a choice to stay with it because I felt like at least, at least I knew what the stressful times were going to be. At least I knew what I was getting myself into. 

So yeah, that was season four. It was, it was a thing. I also think there's something about, you know, we were gaining traction at a rate where I felt really confident that I'd be able to step away from that other professional life, and step into Grey Box Collective full time. And so, you know, to start, it must have been like September-ish that we had our kickoff and, you know, to start that season with like so much confidence and optimism then to end it with a global pandemic, I mean, obviously none of us would've seen this coming, right? Like yeah. It was just what a, what a switch.


In my notes, I've titled this season, ‘a pandemic was not in the business plan’, not that it was in anyone's business plan. So, yeah. Season four. I'm sure if you are an artist, hell, if you're a human listening to this, I'm sure you remember something very specific about spring 2020, summer 2020, the start of COVID and what that was like. So maybe taking some time to reflect on what that experience was for you - creatively, professionally, personally, any other way that makes sense for you. 

All right, so dear listener, thank you so much for listening. I appreciate it. Thank you for your time and energy. Checking out with how you doing and what are you thinking about? Until next time, y'all take care of yourselves and each other.

​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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