Interview with Performance Artist, Vincent Chandler

Interview with Performance Artist, Vincent Chandler

Vincent Chandler creates performance-based art. Like found art artists, he gathers materials that are already in existence - in his case, true stories from people - and then arranges them artistically into performances that reweave the stories into eye-opening new works. As a performance artist, Chandler has been able to fulfill a life-long dream while gaining success in his field.

Chandler had a passion for art early on, but in order to get through school, he at first took jobs that were only on the periphery of the arts. He attended San Francisco State University and earned a B.A. in speech communication studies with a concentration in performance studies. Since the school's program offered an approach that stressed both theory and practice, he was able to seamlessly combine both parts of his degree. He found his calling by using his communication skills to interview people and using his performance skills to weave together performance art pieces based on his interviews.

Armed with experience, passion, and his education, Chandler has created a one-person art company, Liminal Performance Art. He has also successfully completed a full-length, 90-minute show, Good As His Word. He hopes to build on his current work, creating one full-length, publishable performance work each year. Chandler's work lets him communicate with his audiences in a unique way. "Theatre offers a reflection of society and all of its problems and celebrations," he says, noting that performance art "also allows for a group of people to get together as an audience, people who normally would never be in the same room together, ever. This is powerful. It builds communities and gives them a point for discussion."

Vincent Chandler's Career

Tell us about your performance career.

I am a performance artist. Utilizing first-person narrative, interviews, oral histories, and other primary source materials, I conceive, write, and perform pieces designed to create a dialogue about personal responsibility and public awareness of the problems that individuals and communities face today. These works are performed and, ultimately, the scripts are published. My plays are often based on the real-life accounts of others, so what I do is collect stories and then create art from them.

Where have you worked in the past and how do those environments differ from where you are working now?

My current work is my first foray into performance art as a living. All my other employment has been on the periphery of art, allowing me to take care of myself through earning a living and finishing school. I am very much making it up as I go along, since I am single-artist company, but this enables me to take risks and venture into directions that will allow my art to grow.

What do you enjoy most about your career?

I truly enjoy listening to others and collecting stories for performance. I enjoy the meticulous process of interpreting text for performance, paying special attention to the argument or thesis that I am trying to convey. Building a deeper significance to theatre and performance is what keeps me going.

My favorite projects are usually the ones that I take the longest to complete, within reason. I am able to see the depth and texture that is achieved with countless read-throughs and re-writes. I enjoy creative investigative methods that allow for the unusual and the unexpected in regards to theatre and performance, and for me that takes time and patience.

What do you do dislike about your career?

Although my work relies on being with other people, I spend a lot of time working on my own with a script and this can be isolating. Often, I want to bounce ideas off of someone or sit and brainstorm, but very often this work happens when I'm alone with the text. This is a necessary element to the process, however.

What has been your greatest success?

My greatest success has been my first full-length show, Good As His Word. Based entirely on interviews, it runs just over 90 minutes. To get to a performance level piece takes rigorous practice, and it is a constant challenge, so this is something that I'm very proud of.

What has been your biggest setback?

My greatest setback was being awarded a $5,000 grant and then having it re-called due to budget shortfalls. It was a blessing in disguise though, as I now believe no performance art need sit silent just because you do not have a grant or commission. Think creatively and you can make your work happen. That's what I did.

What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?

My goal is to create bigger and better performance and to never take a step back. I think each performance piece should build upon the last, taking new risks towards creating theatre. Specifically, my goal is to create one full-length project a year, of performance-level and publishable status.

Education Information & Advice

Tell us about your education.

I studied at San Francisco State University, and I earned a bachelors degree in speech communication studies with a concentration in performance studies. Speech communication studies concerns itself with all aspects of communication (interpersonal, organizational, gender communication, etc.). As for me, I gravitated towards an exploration of the way that identity is socially constructed through meaning making; basically, how we affect one another through how we are with one another.

Taking this element and then stepping into ways that performance can be used to investigate identity became my focus, in other words, I focused on performance studies. The performance studies concentration at SFSU provided a well-balanced approach to theory and practice, allowing me to put into performance what I was discovering through lectures and reading. This is one of the few universities on the West Coast that offers this type of degree.

Would you change anything about your education if you could?

I would have taken more time to complete my degree. I would have allowed myself to spend more time in the scholarship program and to take more interdisciplinary courses to deepen my interests and broaden my educational experience.

In retrospect, what do you know now that you wish you knew before you pursued your education?

Professors are not always right; they are human. More often than not they are looking out for your best interests…this is true. However, you have to have a strong sense of self and be your own best advocate when it comes to classes, recommended programs, and degree requirements. For instance, sometimes you can petition your college department if you think a different series of classes would better fit your degree and your art in comparison with the rigid requirements being suggested. Approach of these interactions with an open mind, but always think about how you can better adapt the program to set you up for success. No one knows your needs better than you.

How has your education benefited your career?

Extremely … in so many different ways. It is the smartest investment that I ever made. My education enables me to create and perform at a level I could have never imagined possible.

Based on what you hear in the industry, what do you think are the most respected and prestigious schools, departments or programs for this career?

NYU's Tisch School and Southern Illinois University - Carbondale are extremely respected schools for this type of program; however, their focus is geared more towards performance as an academic approach to scholarship and research. These are amazing programs and many of my mentors have come from these programs. The program at SFSU is an excellent one for the particularly degree that I got in performance studies for the purpose of performing.

Does graduating from a prestigious school make a difference in landing a good job in this field?

Ah, the million dollar question. In regards to independent performance art, and not performance art/teaching in the academic setting, I'm sure that attending a prestigious school allows you superior connections to those in the art world. However, I would argue that creating your own voice and your own performance aesthetic comes from engaging in a rigorous program of which you participate fully, and this can come from any number of institutions, not necessarily just the most prestigious ones. So, in short, it helps with networking but not with the education itself.

What factors should prospective students consider when choosing a school of this nature?

Most importantly, decide whether you want to perform/teach in an academic setting, or perform/coach independently and away from scholarship. This is the most important decision to make before applying to a program of this nature.

What can students applying to schools of this kind do to increase their chances of being accepted?

Visit the school. Call them, make appointments with admission counselors, available faculty, etc. Make sure, with all due respect and gratitude, that they know your name even before your application is received in the potential admit box. Read all of the online information that is available, ask all of the questions that you have, and be smart about how you approach their time and resources. This is so very important.

What other advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in this field?

Above all else, make sure you want it bad enough. There will be many people who will want to discourage you from art-making. Fine. Let them be pessimistic, because you cannot. All you have to do is study and dream and create a voice that will soon blossom into your own specific performance aesthetic.

The Actual Work

What exactly do you do on a daily basis?

Write, write, write and write. I am always working on a performance piece. My success depends on the quality of my work and I spend all of the time that I have on writing and re-writing. I am communicating with editors and dramaturges about re-writes and read-throughs, finding new ways to incorporate their comments and suggestions.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

Staying focused. It is easy to become distracted when working on your own work at your own pace. The important thing is to set aside time every day to work on your art. Another challenge is in working with other artists. It is important when relying on other artists for collaboration and performance that all parties involved understand what is expected of them. No one wants to begin a project only to find that someone does not have the time that's needed to complete the performance piece.

What are the greatest stresses in the job? What causes you the most anxiety?

Honestly, anxiety that what I have created will not interest anyone. This is a dangerous thought, and if allowed to linger can do damage to the creative process. I cannot worry about if the audience will show up or not, but what I do think about is making good art through rigorous methods because this will create great work.

What contributions do you feel your job offers to society as a whole?

Performance art and theatre offer a reflection of society and all of its problems and celebrations. It enables the art maker to create something that encourages dialogue around what we think is worthy of discourse. It also allows for a group of people to get together as an audience, people who normally would never be in the same room together, ever. This is powerful. It builds communities and gives them a point for discussion.

Performing Arts Career Information, Trends & Advice

What is a common myth about your profession, and how does it differ from the actual work?

The most common myth is that no one can make a career out of performance art. This is false. It will be tough, and you will definitely have to get creative about income, but it is possible. You can supplement your performance work with teaching or publishing your work. You can also teach courses about what you have experienced in regards to performance.

Best tip for a novice?

Don't give up. If performance art is your passion, and if you have given time to find your voice and performance aesthetic, keep with it. A true art will find its audience.

What kinds of jobs are available for graduating students in this field?

Working with existing performance groups, theatres or art-making programs is a great first step. Administrative positions with these companies or organizations are another option. Other entry-level positions with art organizations allow you to be around professional artists while learning the business side of operating a successful performance entity.

How is the job market now in the industry? How do you think it will be in five years?

There is always funding for artists, but you need to be established. You need to get your name out there with performance pieces. The best first step is getting started and building your repertoire. As your history grows, you become more attractive to donors and funders, and the easier it becomes to link with other artists and funding organizations. Believe it or not, the hardest part is just getting started. Once you do that, your work will speak for itself. The more work you have, and the better it is, the more likely you are to receive support and a paying audience.

What are the best ways to get a foot in the door?

Talk to anyone who is doing what you want to do. Ask for tips, recommendations on how they started. Email any and every artist, no matter where they are located, and ask any question you can think of. I started by going to every performance that attracted me and I would hang around to speak with the artists after the performance. Every once in a while a meeting like this would set me on a great path towards making my own art.

Do you feel that is important for someone to be passionate about this field in order to be successful on both a personal and professional level?

Without passion, you will fail. You will fail because you will become bored and grow restless with what is needed to succeed. Life is too short to work at something that does not hold your passion and interest. Within performance art, you will see that the personal and the professional tend to blend together. It is not hyperbole to say that artists truly live within their art. This is true. In order to make this a successful, rewarding, challenging and worthwhile career you must be passionate about it.

What other career advice can you offer graduates of this field?

Never underestimate the power of a great business plan and smart financial planning. Save money, don't over spend, and keep track as to where you are wasting money. Your business may be small, but you still need to have money to keep it going.

In Closing

Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the profession that would be interesting or helpful to others aspiring to enter and succeed in the field?

The longer that I work with performance art and other artists, the more I am able to see the power of relevant and significant art. Life is too short to not do what you really want to do in life. So get started.

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