Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Love in the Time of Tacos & Pomegranate Seeds

In my spiritual path, this is a time of closing the door on the previous year and preparing the way for the new year – a balance of endings and beginnings. I am very excited for the new year, with many new developments and creative opportunities on the horizon to focus my attention on. My artwork is becoming very popular and greatly appreciated. I've written one book for a major publishing company and I just contracted for a second one. My ideas about witchcraft and spirituality have been receiving such fantastic feedback. I have an incredible creative life in music and dance with a real partner whom I love more than anything in the world. We've started new collaborations and ideas with other creative folk. There's big travel/touring plans on the agenda. We've even considered expanding our family beyond cats. I am so blessed beyond words and a bit breathless over it.

In order to have the time and energy to devote to these new projects (while also maintaining sanity), I need to make some changes in my workload and the various hats I wear. The biggest one of those changes concerns Waking Persephone. Producing such a festival is a year-long task that requires an enormous investment of my time and energy, even with the help of a fantastic staff. I know the following news is going to be very difficult news for many of you, but I need to listen to my gut. I am taking a hiatus from producing a major event for at least a year, possibly longer.

I have been creating and producing dance events for nearly as long as I've been a dancer, with my first BD events starting in 2001. (The timeline goes back a bit farther if you start with Art or Pagan events.) Despite being an introvert, I come from a long line of doers, so when I see and feel a need, I manifest the thing.

I have been extremely successful at it, and despite the repeated results (the proof in the pudding), I'm always a bit awed and amazed – yet I always stress about it all coming together, how will people feel/react/what will be their experience. I've also stepped up to help a lot of other folks make their events happen. I've done every aspect of what makes an event happen – from headliner to vendor, student to web designer, and everything in between.

I co-produced Gothla US from 2008-2010, and stepped away from it, handing over the reins, because I didn't feel the amount of work I was investing in it directly benefited my own students, as I was living on the east coast and it happened on the west coast.

After that, I thought that I was done doing big events for a while, but then the universe hit me with the idea for Tapestry Dance Retreat, followed by the idea of Waking Persephone. I'm a weird mix of gut-feeling, instinct, business sense, and organization. If I feel a thing strongly in my gut and heart and I sense a path in my brain, I make it happen.

Different from a festival, Tapestry called to my sacred and folkloric roots, and focused on a much more intimate atmosphere. WP allowed me to take the parts of Gothla I found the most useful, and forge them into a safe and creative space for the dance - in my own backyard, steeped in my own values and visions. I saw it as a way to build fusion dance to be stronger, to expose it to its own roots, craft its artistry, while bringing to light new teachers and performers among the established ones. To step away from cliques, cults of personality, and cloning copycats. The focus would be more on learning and building, rather than performing.

Tapestry took place in September 2011 in Providence, RI, a week after I came to the decision that I wanted a divorce from my marriage of 15 years. It felt like literally walking directly into a hurricane on so many levels, yet I came out of it renewed and reborn on the other side. Waking Persephone took place in April of 2012 (also in Providence) – with divorce proceedings happening the week before the event (and my ex not relocating out of the house until the end of May). Despite the turbulent undercurrents of my life, both events were successful and meaningful for so many people.

I decided Tapestry would return when “the stars aligned again”, and we're still waiting for that to happen. But WP got scheduled to happen again in Providence in 2013, with my local students and other community folks stepping up to help since I had relocated to Seattle. The event grew, but I was reminded how difficult it was producing an event from 3000 miles away, no matter how enthusiastic my PVD students and friends were. As we contemplated the 2014 event, our venue got bought out by developers, and if you don't know, finding the right venue is the biggest factor in producing an event.

I had spent months trying to find the right venue the first time back in PVD, and there was slim chance I'd be able to do it again from across the country. So that meant considering moving it to Seattle – but the West Coast had multiple events happening very close to the same time-frame. Being a conscientious producer, I chose not to dump my event on top of those. I found a venue that would work with our design and budget, and then worked with other local producers to select a weekend that didn't directly compete with existing events, even though our format and scope was completely different than anything else out here.

So if you're keeping track, I not only moved my event across the country, away from the community that helped build it, and changed it to a completely different time of year, but I was also presenting this weird model to a new community that didn't fully understand what I was presenting. Year 3 ended up being like Year 1 in size and reception, which was very hard. But to my surprise, for many of the people who did come, they loved it. Not only that, but they seriously stepped up to help build it when I wondered if I should keep it going or not.

Year 4 was off the hook. We had the venue figured out, we had a team in place, and word about the event was spreading far and wide. The event more than doubled in size in terms of registration from the previous year, putting it back on track despite the year 3 upheaval/setback, Gala shows were back to selling out like in the first years, and the Underworld Ball was huge. For the first time, as we first approached and then wrapped up the event, I wasn't asking myself if we should go another year or not. It had been a running joke since the first year that I would be all “hey guys, I'm not so sure about doing this next year” and by the end of the event, they had me convinced we'd do it again. This time around, I was already booking the venues before we were done.

Coming off of Year 4, word was spreading like wildfire for Year 5. We had over 100 teaching applications, and had to turn down many performers as well for the shows. Registration was steady and consistent all the way throughout the year. Vending was sold out in a hot minute. We could have made it bigger, offered more classes and space, but I decided we still had room to grow in other ways, and it was important to keep everything to scale. I'd rather have an overflowing PB&J sandwich of goodness than too much bread and not enough filling. Year 5 was a huge success. I couldn't have asked for better.

But personally, as I moved from 2015 into 2016, I sensed something different in my gut, and I hunkered down to analyze it.

I knew the event would be successful, both in concept and financial success. Truth be told, Waking Persephone has been an event that has been designed to and has paid for itself since Year One. I don't create events with the specific goal of making money on them, but I do build them in such a way to pay for themselves. The feedback/response from participants also proved that it was on track and appreciated.

The gut-feeling was from a different source. I had managed to produce events while my life was falling apart and rebuilding itself. But in the past couple of years, my artistic, spiritual, and personal life has been expanding in new and amazing ways. Coming into this year's event, I've spent a lot of time thinking, talking with my partner, my mentors, and the coordinating staff of WP. So yes, I had reached this decision before this year's event came to be. But I refused to change the feel of the event by announcing the hiatus for 2017. I had friends recommend that I announce it to “fill the classes more” because other events that had announced it was the last year saw a boost in attendance. WP doesn't work that way. You come because you feel the need to come regardless. You came because you were called to come, by your own guts and spirits. We also unanimously agreed that it wouldn't be the same for anyone else to take the helm. I've been told again and again that WP is the event it is because of me. I believe it's because of you as well.

A collection of faces who were at both the 1st & 5th WP
I know that some folks thought that surely after I saw how hugely successful this year was, that I would change my mind. That for every person who told me how awesome it was, and what it meant to them, it would change my mind – like the pattern of the earlier years. But no. The resounding answer when I asked myself the same question was a loud “NO” from the root of my being. But that didn't stop the beautiful words from both filling and wrenching my heart, leaving me desperately trying to hold it together with a smile.

The last thing I want to do is let anyone down, but I understand that some will feel that way. I also need you to understand that I want you all to be inspired and happy. I want you all to have a community to call home. I believe in what I have built and I want to see it continue to build. I want to see the beauty that will grow from what's been rooted. But I am being called to rest from producing, at least for this year or so, and I am asking you all to respect that need.

Right now, I can't promise anything except to say that I don't believe I'm killing the event and I won't say that 2016 is the last year. Trust me, when you've been producing events for nearly 20 years, it's a hard habit to kick. But since the beginning I have said that the name “Waking Persephone” holds two meanings – sometimes we are awakening her, and sometimes we celebrate her as we put her down to rest.

A single event cannot be home. Not in this economy, not in the shifting state our dance community is in. We desperately need more people to build little homes everywhere that are inclusive, accepting, open to communication, preserving tradition while innovating and allowing room for creativity and celebration -of both the individual and the community we build. Amongst the staff, we've discussed releasing a vision statement (or manifesto if you will), as well as guidelines to consider in helping to build the community in different ways. As that comes together, we will make it available on the website and facebook groups.

It has not been an easy thing for me to come to this decision. I want you to know how much I appreciate every single person who has put their own energy into WP in their own way. Words cannot fully express the love and gratitude I feel.

I think this is an opportunity for all of you who believe in the vision of Waking Persephone to step forward. I am definitely open to helping and guiding these ideas to continue however I can. We all have eaten from the pomegranate, the seeds are within us.

6 comments:

  1. I think a hiatus is a good idea, especially since you seem to create art pieces and blog posts and dancing while you're trying to concentrate on.. OOOOH! A SQUIRREL! :)

    Going forward... I've heard that some Reclaiming communities have hired producers to organize events, while still keeping things affordable. OK, looking at WP, obviously you're an excellent producer - but you're also an excellent visual artist, an excellent teacher of many sorts of arts, an excellent band dancer....

    There aren't many people that excel in all those arts. Contrariwise, there are people out there who excel in a single art - such as event production. I'd suggest putting in your mind's parking lot for revisiting in a year (do NOT worry and puzzle over it for the next year with the idea of, can I shift it now for 2017, etc., etc.) the notion of finding someone to run the production of WP - and, who knows - possibly other things you'd love to do with more time (or clones.)

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  2. Dear Tempest, of COURSE we respect that you need to rest and, if needed, redirect your talents. An event run by somebody whose calling, at the moment, is to do something else, wouldn't have the same magic. You would end up being burnt out, and those of us who have enjoyed WP in previous years would be wondering why it wasn't the same. It sounds like it's time for change, for you as well as us. That's a little bit sad, but also terribly exciting! Let's join together and see what the future holds. Blessings.

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  3. Tempest, thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings so eloquently. You are right in following your gut feelings as you said, as I believe therein lies the root of what we truly are feeling. It sounds like exciting times for you ahead and the universe seems to be blessing you in many aspects within your life. I treasure the time spent with you and WP festival participants and planners and look forward to what the future will hold. I can’t wait to see what wonderful treasures will burst through from your artistic and spiritual self. Blessings.

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  5. Dearest Laura Tempest Zakroff;
    I totally support you on your journey, whatever turns it will inevitably take. I know this was not an easy decision for you. But I wholeheartedly congratulate you on the good self care and for following your gut as we all must do. It is fortunate that you are really great at so many things. But it is also a burden to have to divide your energies in so many different directions...well, actually it is impossible to feed all the things we love if any one thing looms too large. Nobody can ever fully appreciate just how hard it is to run a big event like this unless they have done so. You have been blessed with an awesome staff (well you drew them to you because YOU are so awesome). But even with the best staff in the world, it is still a HUGE task. I send you blessing in all that you do, touch, draw, dance, play, create and dream.
    with love always:
    Artemis Mourat

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  6. Haha, I'm still beating myself up for missing last year. 2016 sucked donkey dicks at times. Just wanted to say in this nostalgic go-around thinking of you and your exciting path since then and happy for what everyone has done since, even though you know I miss everyone. You are a rockstar at whatever you choose to do.

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