Solo Performer and Comedian Bill Santiago Interview

image from assets.nydailynews.com Alicia Dattner> I remember you'd been performing for a year when I first started and we met… How did you start doing comedy?

Bill Santiago> I had friends that were interested and got me hooked. But it appealed to me right off. Say what ever you want to say. Use your wits. Get people to see things your way. Laughter. Applause. What's not to like?

AD> What was your motivation to write a show about dancing?

BS>Whenever I'm dancing I have this inner monologue going on, about about how well it's going or not, all the characters out there that you see and meet and dance with, whether I just nailed a move, or someone's foot, the constant frustrations and occasional moments of unparalleled joy, and the simple human interaction of being that close to someone you don't know and trying to synchronize. Plus how obsessive people can get about their dancing, and how far it's come, the Latin dancing, from the way that my parents danced, how people are taking it now to a ridiculously Cirque du Soleil level that is frankly laughable. 

And the way the different people dance the different dances, and how each dance has its own tricks and personalities, salsa, versus tango, versus bachata, versus samba, versus flamenco, versus cumbia, versus merengue, and on and on. And the teachers, my God, they're all such crazy gurus! And the whole process of learning, how you have to train yourself to absorb these movements into your own being, and how thrilling it is to be learning. There's a lot there. 

The quest to become the dancer you'll never be and enjoy yourself as much as possible along the way. It's a comedic gold mine, really. And combining standup so closely with dance is new for me, allows me to be physical on stage, and look for the humor in the physicality as much as in the words. And I get to work with super musicians, and invite people from the audience to come up on stage and dance with me. It's very interactive. It's always a different show, you know.

AD> What's your favorite thing about dancing?

BS>My favorite thing about dancing is the connection that you have with where you come from, this music stirs that in you, and the escape that you have from everything else in your day, in the periphery of the present. I love that when you're dancing nothing else matters, and if you're lucky you can let go, and maybe connect with someone else in a very unique and beautiful way. But it's high stakes because there is a lot of pride on the line, that's the stuff of funny. 

image from www.speakoutnow.org  AD> What's your favorite thing about comedy?

BS>My favorite thing about comedy is whatever latest the line I am working on to perfect, or idea that I am trying to get traction on. When it works, when I finally get it to gel and I hear the laughter, it's very satisfying. I like that bulls-eye feeling. It's also nice when people remind you that you are doing good work, that it has affected them, that it matters, that they want to see more and that you are appreciated. 

AD> How would you classify what you do? Is it standup? Is it solo performance? Is it something else?

BS>It depends on the project that I am working on, the particular show. The "Funny of (Latin) Dance" show is way beyond standup, but standup is the basis of my approach, I apply that skill, those chops to this new topic, and hopefully renders an entirely new kind of show. 

AD> Anything else you'd like to share with us?

BS>I'd love to share some of the spontaneous magic that happens on stage when I invite folks from the crowd to come up on stage and dance with me in this show, but you are just going to have to come out and experience it for yourself.

Bill Santiago performs all over the country.  Go see him. 

-Alicia

How to Actually Manifest Your Dream, Part 5 of 7

Hat
In the last post, you were in the "creation" phase.  Creation is always happening, but it can get blocked, so we did a lot of exercises to make a safe container for the creative part of you to unfold.  As you move into the next phase, keep taking time to be intentionally and spontaneously in creation–free of criticism. 

And now, very gently and clearly, we're going to begin the process of editing.  Many people consider editing to be the most important part of art because this is where we begin to turn toward the idea of our work being received.  Many people consider art incomplete until it is in fact received–that seeing, hearing, or experiencing the work is its last phase of creation, "closing the loop."  I agree with this, but I also feel that for some art works, the maker can also be the best audience.  If we don't please ourselves in our art, we're not doing anyone else any favors!

So here's an exercise to transition yourself temporarily from creator to editor, feeler to thinker: 

Get three actual hats.  Really do this…  Maybe your "creator" hat is big and silly, your "appreciator" hat is beautiful and flowery, and your "editor" hat is like a newspaper editor's? 

Have your "creator" hat on while you're brainstorming, writing, drawing, singing…  After your allotted creating time, take off your creator hat, and put on your "appreciator" hat.  As the appreciator, you will talk to the creator for a few minutes and let her (or him) know how thankful you are to her for being so open and uncensored.  Tell her how it felt (fun? silly? exhilarating?) to be with her, and how happy you are that she has come to play with you.  Tell her that the next step you are going to take is to gather, organize, and edit what she has delivered so you can deliver this gift to the world!  Ask her if she has any requests of how you shape the material.  Ask if she will stay as an observer of the process to help keep the integrity of the work.  When you are done, take your appreciator hat off and put on your editor hat. 

If your creator lives mostly in your second chakra (the pelvis), your appreciator lives mostly in your heart chakra.  Your editor lives in your throat and "third eye" chakras.  Sitting with your back straight so all of your chakras are aligned, begin to look at your work with a warm, clear head.  Look at it as if it's not in fact your work at all, but the work of your best friend.  Begin to sort, clarify, and solidify what's there, seeing the best in it, and looking for places to chip away the extraneous pieces.  Do more cutting than adding.  Finish off your session with a quick flip of the appreciator hat and remind yourself how much great work you've just done and what your purpose in doing this is!

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful
servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has
forgotten the gift."

-Albert Einstein

How to Actually Manifest Your Dream, Part 4 of 7

Blueheron
In the last post, we discussed having a daily action partner and dealing with the inner critic.  At this point, you're ready to let your creativity soar!  If you're still finding it a challenge to let go, try this exercise, and then return to Part 4.

This is it!  Find your magic creative place, plunk yourself there, and get into it!  You might find you work best at night or during the day, standing or sitting, at home alone or surrounded by lots of people.  If you're writing, instrumental music can help put you in the mood.  A study found that people exercise 25% longer when they listen to music.  I would bet the same principle works for creative work. 

This is the time for you to create and create and create.  Your inner critic is not needed here.  Everything you need to create is in you now.  

"Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it/ Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."

-Goethe

How to Actually Manifest Your Dream, Part 3 of 7

Friends
Find a daily action partner.  This will be the person who you check in every day with about the plan you made in Part 2. Call them every morning, state what you will do for the day, what might get in your way, and what you will do about it.  Your action partner should be someone you can discuss your logistical issues with as well as emotional issues that may come up in response to the new level you're working on.  Let your action partner know that what you'd like from them is to listen and be supportive and to call you out when you're off-target.  Know that just taking the action to call another person who really gets what you're working toward will bring you strength. 

Each time we move up to a higher level of productivity, creativity, or integrity, the part of us that has been stuck can get scared.  You can address that part of you by actually talking to it, respecting it's concerns, and giving it a voice.  Once you've done that, "mine" what your inner critic has told you.  (Don't bother arguing with it; it's not reasonable!)  Is there anything your critic said that you can use creatively?  Sometimes our greatest treasure is the same thing that holds us back.  If your critic were giving you a gift, what would it be? 

After you've listened to and mined your critic's message, move on.  You can even set a timer for, say, five minutes, to listen to you critic.  When time's up, set it aside and begin your creative work.

"Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief."

-Marcus Tullius Ceicero

The Possibility Tree

Treeinhand
So, you've got a clear vision and a CPR (a statement of the results you want from your work , what your purpose is, and the context you'd like to pursue your results in.) Now, what, Ms. Creativity Coach? If you're at all like me and like to create big visions for yourself, you can get awfully excited and awfully overwhelmed by it all.  Questions arise, like, "Where do I start?" and "Which is the best, most effective task to perform at this moment?"  The intensity of the wonderful vision you have created for yourself can become another block to having what you want if you let it overwhelm you! (It's easy in moments of overwhelm to lose sight of goals and get lost in distractions like over-checking email…)

So, take some time to brainstorm the steps that will bring you from where you are now to where you want to be breaks everything up into manageable chunks.  And if you are someone with a lot of different goals and a lot of different projects all in play, drawing a tree of possible courses of action can be really helpful in visualizing what steps you need to take to arrive at your aims.  Then, you can choose which "branch" you want to focus some time on, take specific actions, and see measurable results.  And whenever necessary, you can re-assess.  Perhaps you're a violinist, and you know you want to get more work playing the violin.  One possibility branch for getting more work would involve networking with other musicians at parties or at the symphony…  Another possibility branch would involve building a website, posting examples of your work online, and attracting customers through internet searches.  Yet another possibility branch could be learning new pieces of music and auditioning in different cities.  Of course, the knowledge of your tree branches will evolve as you grow, but you will create a great picture of how to achieve your goals.  And then you can build a treehouse.

"Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."  -Les Brown

Dressing the Part

In order to illustrate a few points, I'll tell you a bit about me today…  When I was in high school, I dyed my hair every color of the rainbow.  Green was my favorite.  I pierced my ears, my nose, and eventually I even pierced my lip. As a filmmaker and standup comedian, my image was a powerful statement.  It certainly helped me on stage at a time when I wanted to feel assertive and commanding.  My punk aesthetic was a way to stake my claim for freedom and individuality and playfulness.   

Circusoh
Several years ago, I started a circus and took it on tour across the country.  My circus's gypsy aesthetic of the motley tribe of wanderlusts sent me fishing through antique clothing stores to invent my ringmaster costume…  It was another avenue for creative expression that was powerful and unique in a new way. 

Aliciaindia_headshotRecently, I traveled in India for several months.  I spent time at ashrams, learning yoga, meditating, meeting new people.  I packed one pair of jeans and a few t-shirts from home.  It was with a delicious contentment that I gathered beautiful, flowing scarves and punjabi pants at each stop along my dusty journey.  I had removed my lip ring and let my hair grow, and it's now past my shoulders.  For many years, I enjoyed playing with people's perceptions about appearance, knowing all along that the essence which radiates from deep within is more true than what clothes I put on, what shape my body is, where wrinkles have settled in from smiling, or what color my skin is.

Alicia_headshot
And today, I enjoy a sense of confidence, creativity, and freedom that I wear along with my long hair, high heels, and a new brown jacket.  I am having a ball dressing in a commanding way, and fully inhabiting this new space.  My interactions with people feel unfamiliar.  Along with a sense of power, I also feel a sense of responsibility with the power I'm commanding, and a desire to increase my humility, my grounding, and my compassion to root myself. 

How we present ourselves is a manifestation of how we see ourselves, and a wish for how others might see us.  I encourage you to experiment with your appearance.  Step outside of your comfort zone. If you always wear suits or dresses, try putting on a crazy hat and wearing your clothes backwards to the park.  Creativity is about exploring possibility, and it's fueled by your willingness to be in the unknown. Are you ready?

        "When one lives with concepts one never learns.  The concepts become static.  You may change them but the very transformation of one concept to another is still static, is still fixed.  But to have the sensitivity to feel, seeing that life is not a movement of two separate activities, the external and the inward, to see that it is one, to realize that the inter-relationship is this movement, is the ebb and flow of sorrow and pleasure and joy and depression, loneliness and escape, to perceive nonverbally this life as a whole, not fragmented, nor broken up, is to learn.

        -Krishnamurti

Vision and Heart

Collage
In my creativity coaching practice, I work (and play!) with artists who want to elevate their lives to a new level.  I work with people who have never picked up a guitar but really want to play, and I work with people who are long-time artists who want to make a living at their art and finally quit their day job. 

I believe there are a million ways to be creative, and that the most important thing is to give your gift to the world.  It doesn't matter if you make money at it or not.  That's up to you, and if it's your dream to make a living doing your art, I can help you with that.  Hell, if it's your dream to make a living making sculptures from discarded subway signs, I can help you with that. 

I delight in guiding people along the path they set out for themselves.  It's one of the most fun things in the world to watch someone truly, deeply want something, dedicate themselves to it, and achieve it.  And I'm going to tell you a secret:  the final goal is never as satisfying as the process… in fact, some of the biggest pleasures are in really feeling and articulating what you want. 

That's why, the first thing I do with my clients is to get crystal clear on what they want.  We explore what sensations, what colors, what textures, what emotions, what values, and what truths you want to express.  We create a visual representation of that vision that you hold in your heart.  And then we create concrete aims out of that vision.  Your heart and mind are keepers of your vision, and the fire in your belly is the fuel.  When everything you do emanates from your highest vision, and your actions are aligned, you can't help but find fulfillment, spread inspiration, and achieve your aims.

A great way to hold your vision is to make a collage.  Get a bunch of magazines, cut out the images that appeal to your deepest sense of yourself, paste them together, and then post your collage in a prominent place in your home. 

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        "Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so you shall become.  Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil."

        -James Allen, As a Man Thinks

What is success for you?

Business_kid
How many times has your concept, your idea of "success" actually gotten in the way feeling fulfilled?

Often, at a young age, we have a peak experience of freedom, aliveness, love, or fulfillment that occurs during an activity we're doing.  And our young, child mind develops the concept that this feeling, plus this situation, plus the people around me who confirm this story, equal success. 

The truth is that the activity is the portal, the context through which we experience that expansive feeling.  And yet, as humans often do, we associate that feeling with the activity we're doing.  Suddenly and unconsciously, it's not, "I surrendered my body and mind to my activity, and I felt alive!" it's, "I hit the winning home run, the entire crowd cheered, and I felt alive!"  We begin to form a concept about succeeding at baseball as the source of our aliveness.

Perhaps, years later, you "awaken" feeling unfulfilled (hopefully not, but if so, keep reading!)  Perhaps you have had a successful baseball career and yet never touched the heart of your original peak experience.  Or, you may have struggled for both success and fulfillment.  I often speak with comedians who are talented, funny, and accomplished (who also make lots of money at comedy and perform frequently), yet there is a lingering emptiness.  Often in America, we shy away from looking at this emptiness and want to leave it as soon as possible.  And yet, if we are willing to dive into the center of the "hole" in a safe context, we can come out the other side with our heart's treasure.*

One way you can begin to release of your concept of success is to invite yourself to play again.  Set aside an hour with no interruptions and set out an open-ended activity that brings you joy.  You could play guitar, paint, make a collage, sing, roll down a grassy hill, skip rocks…  Find a way to re-create the joy, even for a few minutes, of a time when the activity was more important than the outcome.  And before you go back to your day, write about what happened during your experience and what thoughts or voices arose for you.   

        "Success is getting what you want.  Happiness is wanting what you get."

        –Dale Carnegie

*For further reading: A. H. Almaas, The Diamond Approach

It’s never too late!

Butterfly
"This isn't what I meant to do!"  "This isn't where I meant to be!"  "What the heck happened to all those years?"

Often in our lives, through a series of conscious and unconscious choices, we find ourselves in a different place in our lives than we had once imagined we would be.  We reach a milestone age, or we see friends or even public figures accomplishing something, and as we compare ourselves, we feel a poignant mixture of jealousy, desire, regret, and hope about where we are.  Many of us will take the exit ramp right there, and drown in these thoughts and emotions.  Some of us divert ourselves from even feeling the emotions by watching television, drinking, eating, falling in love, etc…

Yet no matter how we try to avoid that call, that little phone will keep ringing.  Picking it up, even when it's yapping about what's wrong, is in fact a great step to take!  This is a really powerful moment of choice, and it's important to listen to the deeper message beneath the surface.  By identifying and dealing compassionately with the "chatter", we can get to what's really important.  Notice the voices that say, "If I really was meant to be successful, I wouldn't have wasted all this time." "I shouldn't have taken time off from my career while everyone else was getting ahead."  "There are so many people who want to succeed in my field more than me, how can I possibly make it?" 

Make a list of what all those voices say, and then put it aside for now.  Next, take a few deep breaths and quiet your mind.  What is the deep desire beneath your fears?  What is your spirit longing for?  What does your heart whisper to your ears?  This wish will never be extinguished. And even if you discover it in your last breath, it won't have been too late.  Each twist and turn along your journey has brought you to this perfect moment, and your soul has its own perfect way of fulfilling its purpose right where you are, right now.  Everything you need is available to you now. 

Could you summon the courage to surrender to your own spirit, just for this moment?

        -"The greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing."

        -Many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged people who kept on working."

Free Your Creativity with Free-Writing

Inspiration
Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones and many other books on writing has dedicated her life's work to teaching people how to increase their flow of creativity.  A big component of her workshops is free-writing.  Free-writing is the practice of picking a topic, setting a timer, putting your pen to the page, and writing until the timer dings.  When you do it in a group, you can set the timer for five, ten, or twenty minutes at a time, and then take turns reading what you've just written. 

I have found this group practice to be really liberating; I find support to sit with whatever I am feeling, I find camaraderie and connection with whom I'm sharing my writing, freedom in not having any aim for my writing to reach.  The real aim is to quiet the inner censor and critic that stops me from creating.  Later, I can always edit and evaluate.  Often, after I've done a couple of hours of free-writing with people, I notice that I'm less judgmental about whatever art that comes out, I'm a lot more productive and I'm happier with the work after all the gunk has been "blown out the tubes." 

Try this:  Sit down with a pad and paper (best to avoid typing for this exercise, as it's easier to connect emotionally to the physical sensation of writing) and set a timer for five minutes on each of the following topics.  Try to use as much detail as possible.

  • right now…
  • flowers
  • third grade
  • I hate…
  • baseball
  • magic

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  "You must not for one instant give up the effort to build new lives for yourselves.  Creativity means to push open the heavy, groaning doorway to life.  This is not an easy struggle.  Indeed, it may be the most difficult task in the world, for opening."

        -Daisaku Ikeda, Japanese peace activist and Buddhist Leader