Unlocking LiFT 9: Decision Making

By Matt Powers

LiFT began with Strike Story by Angela Harris, which is about the 1912 textile strikes in Little Falls, NY. We didn’t know it then, but this production, and how its been produced, has set the tone for how LiFT creates shows and makes decisions.

In the initial read-thrus of the play, the whole cast sat in Angela’s living room, read the play aloud, and then had many discussions about characters, conflicts, language, and a host of other things, while having snacks and wine. The closest thing I can compare the openness of conversation and diverse perspectives is democracy. Everyone had a voice, and we didn’t all get along, but we somehow came together to create this show. From the start, our decisions were not made in a vacuum.

As LiFT continued in other projects, I kept this open forum central to the group. As was often the case, I would choose a show, get a cast, and schedule rehearsals, but decisions about costumes, makeup, sets, even blocking were all open for discussion. If someone had an idea, we tried it. If it worked, we kept it. If it didn’t, we tried something else. It was fun, liberating, and invested the actors in the show. This worked for a few shows, but it wasn’t entirely satisfying to me.

That’s when I brought the cast in on the pre-production. After selecting a script and casting the show, I’d have a read-thru at my home, feed everyone, and discuss the play. We’d then have at least two follow up meetings to lay the ground work for all sorts of matters. The result? An ensemble driven show, that everyone had investment in.

Playwrights, actors, and theater makers in the age of Elizabeth did a similar thing (which I took as a model). The concept of a “director” didn’t exist. So everyone made decisions on acting, blocking, and other things collectively. Sure there would be a “point person” to establish responsibility for certain matters, but overall the ensemble, social, even democratic feel of the production is unmistakable.

And has become the backbone of LiFT.

Till soon,


Unlocking LiFT 8: Structured Creativity

By Matt Powers

I play Dungeons and Dragons. There I said it. I have played it for twenty years, and now have a biweekly game. I am the Dungeon Master. I craft adventures, campaigns, and stories. I build fantastic worlds, delightful characters, and vile enemies. I play all the characters my players interact with. Together we adopt roles, converse, act, react, and resolve conflicts. It is a unique share creative experience, but, essentially, we create theater akin to creating episodes in a series.

While the connections between role playing games and drama are there, I’d like to take a moment to discuss a related theme. Depending on my audience, when I tell people I play Dungeons and Dragons and they look at me like I am some hydra, I sometimes quickly follow up with labeling it as time for “structured creativity.” This is purely to re-frame the conversation to help them understand what it is we engage in, because, more often than not, they have no clue about the game beyond the stereotypes they have encountered.

The benefits of this time for structured creativity have been enormous. It has rekindled my imagination in childlike ways and put my back in touch with the exhilaration of imagining. When I sit down to work on the game, I ravenously search for something new. Something the players have never encountered. I paw through books, websites, and magazines for inspiration. Pay attention the world around me a bit more closely in hopes transforming my experiences.

There are also other skills I get to exercise here: problem solving, crafting an adventure where everyone can shine, providing challenge and danger, improvisation, managing personalities, adjudication, and many others. From creating an adventure to playing it out, I get to utilize all manner of “critical thinking” skills, and, upon reflection, this has sharpened my other creative endeavors. I have a clearer sense of what makes an entertaining and satisfying piece of theater or fiction. I pay more attention to the rhythm of the piece, its moods, and how to modulate them for effect.

But, most importantly, I get to have fun. There are eight in the group, so twice a month we sit around the table, play a game, role play, create story, and laugh. The ingenuity that arises is spectacular, dynamic, infectious. Once one of us does something the rest finds wonderful or hilarious, that moment inspires a chain reaction of other creative ideas. There is a palpable energy in the air when we play, and three or four hours seem to disappear.

I guess the best part of this time, for me, is other people, and seeing (again) that storytelling isn’t always a solo work of genius, but a group having fun.

Till soon,


Unlocking LiFT 7: The Necessity of Respite

By Matt Powers

I have chosen not to direct one of Shakespeare’s play this summer, choosing to direct smaller projects and to free up some time to be with my family. This was not an easy decision, as my love for his work is profound, but I have rediscovered that creative work is, well, exhausting, and I also needed time to recharge my creativity, drive, and discipline.

While there are twinges of disappointment, after five years of summer Shakespeare there is an expectation of entertainment, people have been kind, and understanding, and even congratulatory. “Good for you!” they say, or “Glad you can take of yourself first!” This has all been very good for my ego, and my decision, but I cannot help but find it a bit peculiar.

After some reflection, taking time off is incredibly valuable. Whether “time off” means gardening, reading, painting, building a deck, cooking more, or simply laying in a hammock, taking time away from your main creative endeavor is necessary. “Time off” isn’t quitting, or not being productive. It is a shift in mindset that allows for diversion, boredom, and exploration. During this time (which in the academic realm is called a sabbatical), we encounter new ideas, things, perspectives, and are free to process them at an easier pace, so when we do return to our work, we can return with new eyes, more objectivity, more ideas, and more energy.

Time off is also a clever trick to make us forget the exhaustion and burnout of creative activities, and let us remember the joy of making.

Till soon,



Exciting News!

We have been awarded two grants by CNY Arts to fund our original podcast The Brass Lantern! This money is seed money that will help us establish, create, and promote our podcast to the Mohawk Valley and the world. Or in their words: This project is made possible with funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and administered by CNY Arts.

We would like to thank the CNY Arts grants coordinator Liz Lane, the CNY Arts grants panelists, and the CNY Arts board of trustees for all they hCNYArtslogoave done and for approving our project. We’d also like to thank Jane Malin and the Mohawk Valley Center for the Arts for being an awesome “umbrella.” Without their help this would not have been possible.

You can find our podcast on iTunes and on our host, Spreaker. Please like, review, and share! Thanks for all the support!

Our future is so bright, it’s blinding!