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Arts. Work. Life. Season 1: Episode 6

ARTS. WORK. LIFE. is a podcast from the Association of Performing Arts Professionals about what it's like to work in the performing arts, featuring bold, untold stories from arts workers.
APAP Podcast Arts. Work. Life. Season 1: Episode 6

Synopsis

Bowing Out, Letting Go, and Saying Goodbye

Transcript

CONTENT WARNING:

Claire: Hey, listeners. Claire here. This episode talks in-depth about disordered eating in a really in-depth way. So if that’s a trigger for you, check out the show notes for timecodes to skip. Ok, here’s episode:

INTRO: PUSHING BUTTONS

Roselie: I have always loved Beethoven. Even when I was like six years old, and I want other people to to feel these same feelings about music.

Claire: Roselie Samter is a classically trained violist, with a love for Beethoven.

About 10 years ago she was returning from an international tour with a symphony when a close friend called her up with an interesting proposition:

Roselie: And he wanted a classically trained string Quartet, playing Arrangements Of video game music paired with classical music. So he called me up and he's like, ‘You have a string quartet, right?’ And I was like, ‘no, I don't Have a string quartet. *laugh* But I can get one.’ So in a month I pulled together all my friends that were interested in string quartets and video game music. And a month later, there we were at a club in Boston.

Claire: The initial performance was a hit. And soon after, they accepted a gig at a big video game and fan convention. And they opened the show with a song from the popular video game Halo.

Roselie: I was so afraid to walk out on that stage because I thought people would be. angry at me for playing the Halo Theme in a string quartet. And I was so wrong. *laugh* When we went on stage and played. People were singing along. It was, it was an incredible experience. And that was kind of the moment that really, like cemented to me the importance of what we were doing, and I guess I hadn't found a path in music that I really felt like I connected with my audience and by playing video game music, by playing these themes that people have grown up with and that people recognize. They connect with it, and it's important to them.

Claire: Videri String Quartet was born, and Roselie dedicated everything she had to it.

Roselie: Waking up at 4:00 in the morning to practice so that when I showed up to rehearsal, I wouldn't let my quartet members down because I wanted to be not only prepared, but I wanted to be at the top of my game.

Claire: And the quartet was at the top of their game. They were touring, booking events, and recording albums. They had a dedicated fanbase. And it forced Roselie to take a step back and re-evaluate something in her own life.

Roselie: I have struggled with food issues my entire life and at the time I was in therapy for an eating disorder.

And the eating disorder just kept getting worse and worse.

And it was just, and then Videri started. And suddenly I had to. I had to be able to think. I had to be able to use my brain. And when you're not eating, your brain doesn't work.

During the soundtrack for our first concert, I was just so overwhelmed and exhausted from the lack of nutrition that I couldn't hardly put a sentence together.

So here I am in a soundcheck trying to hold all the instruments together. And I just remember at a certain point I just stopped.

If I stood up too fast, I would get dizzy. If I stood up too long, I would get dizzy. I just remember thinking I have to make a choice. And the obvious choice was Videri. Like, it wasn't it wasn't even a choice. It was just like, oh, I have to eat. And that was a pretty… I don't think I ever realized how important that was, but Videri really gave me a reason.

>> music

SHOW OPENING

Claire: You’re listening to ARTS. WORK. LIFE., a podcast from APAP – The Association of Performing Arts Professionals.

I’m Claire Caulfield.

Nothing lasts forever and finding the right time to step back can be key for your career. But even more important is how you make that change and who’s by your side when you do it.

So for the final episode of season one: Bowing Out, Letting Go, and Saying Goodbye

With stories about artistic identity, and separating what you do from who you are, staying flexible – and why stepping down doesn’t always mean stepping back,

And how a heavy goodbye can light the way forward.

ACT ONE: A COMPROMISE AND A CODA

Claire: Act One, A Compromise and A Coda

We’re returning to Roselie Samter for our first story today,

And she picks up when the Videri String Quartet was growing in popularity.

Roselie’s story is about communication, and finding the right time to transition from a solo act to a true ensemble.

Roselie: The first, I think two years like 2013, 2014, we on average were playing two performances a month and releasing a recording at least every other month, which I mean to me, it was never enough.

I actually ended up having to quit my job because Videri Was touring so much.

I would start dating someone and they would just get sick of it. And I get it. I understand that.

But there was not anything more important than the Quartet.

>> music

In early 2019, I went into anaphylactic shock.

And they gave me two EpiPens and they sent me to the hospital and I was fine. But I couldn't get in to see an allergist for. It was a month. And so for a month I was afraid to eat anything. And that is exactly what the eating disorder wanted.

>> music

We were rehearsing so much and for the first time ever, I was not able to eat. Because up until then, like even as it started to claw its way back would be like, Oh, it's a Videri week. Oh, I need to eat.

Or I'm not going to make it through rehearsal. It's like I suddenly couldn't eat things. Like I needed to count calories, I needed to write down everything I ate. I needed to write down every step of exercise. Just have some Sense of control.

>> music

And this is also the time where we started, we created this album that was all video game music and classical string quartets, kind of paired with each other and we were just all so excited about it.

We had the recording studio booked first week of July. And in the middle of June is when my therapist was like, “You have to go be evaluated at an eating disorder center”. So I finally, like, I scheduled an intake, and they wanted to admit me that day.

They, they were afraid that I would not make it another two weeks without being admitted to a hospital.

And I told them I couldn't. I was like, I can't. We're recording. I was like my quartet's recording an album in two weeks.

>> music

This whole time recording the CD, I didn't tell anybody. And so here I was like in this beautiful recording studio. Recording this music that I've spent my entire like my entire life was built up to that moment, but being so isolated and alone.

>> music

I pretty much walked from the recording studio into the Eating Disorder Center. Which was amazing. I mean, it saved my life. But, man, is it intense?

I mean I just cried all day that first day of being admitted. I mean it's so overwhelming, you know, it's just like realizing that you have this problem that is big enough that you need to be in the hospital. Like, just like and then, you know, like also having them force you to eat more than you've eaten in like three days. And it's painful.

And and, I hate this part of it too. But it's like people with eating disorders, one in ten will die. And so you're sitting in this room and you're like, the statistics aren't great.

>> “Alone We Have No Future” song

It's made me a lot more vocal about it because hearing people say that they got better. I never thought that I could get better. and it wasn't until this year, so three years later, that I can say. I'm better.

And I was in the hospital for three months, and after that I was discharged. But I was still going to like support groups twice a week. And it's like recovery. It's a full-time job and. and and like the quartet was so amazing because after the recording and after I told them I was going into treatment, they were just. Like they were phenomenal.

>> music

2020 was just a crazy year because it started off with us releasing our big album, To me, that was everything. I just felt like 2020 is going to be a great year. *laugh*

And then gigs started getting canceled.

And then to lose that all in a second. It was so hard. And it wasn't just losing your career,but but for me, it was losing my identity.

My identity was so so interwoven with Videri at this point that I couldn't separate them. And so we immediately, you know, like started to talk and we decided to do an arrangement competition

So they had to pick a song from a video game and turn it into a performance piece.

>> “Alone We Have No Future” song

We did all the judging on Zoom And there's this piece that's unbelievable, like extended technique, super gritty, super, like, not what you would expect

After it played. We just kind of sat there. We're like, “Oh, this has to be the winner.”

It was just like it captured. Everything about the pandemic so well. Down to the name. And the name of the track is “Alone We Have No Future.”

>> “Alone We Have No Future” song

And so I had to learn how to record myself. I was in my room. And I started recording this track, and it was like in that moment, I was back in the quartet, and it's like I was so happy. I started crying. I had to do the whole take again.

It was it was one of those moments where it's like suddenly you feel complete. And you didn't even realize that you were broken.

>> “Alone We Have No Future” song

After all, the recording was done, that was probably September, October of 2020. So we still have a Lot of pandemic left after that.

I just. I just closed down. It was just like really blinders coming in and it was teally that was kind of when I was realizing what does a future without Videri look like?

So probably about a year two into the pandemic, practice is falling away. Like, I'm not doing anything with Videri.

And so I really started to think about it and I was like, there's a chance that that we’ll all just decide not to not to stay as a quartet. How do I feel about that? And I was so surprised that I was like, you know what?

The whole reason I love playing video game music is the connection with other people.

>> music

Somewhere along the way with Videri, I got lost. And I got stuck in. Everything has to be perfect. I have to look perfect. It has to sound perfect. And I forgot that music is about communication and connection.

>> music

You know, I don't feel this pressure for Videri to be, like, releasing content all the time.

Like I needed to let Videri completely go before I could figure out. Videri can't be healthy and complete unless I am healthy and complete. Videri is part of me. It's not all of me.

>> music

Claire: Roselie Samter is the founder and violist in the Videri String Quartet. She’s based in Boston, Massachusetts.

ACT TWO: ENCORE

Claire: Act two, encore

Randall Presswood’s first job was at a local theater when he was 18 years old.

And almost 40 years later, every dollar he’s earned has been from the theater industry.

In his story, Randall looks back at his career thus far, and shares how bowing out at the right time can lead to unexpected joys.

Randall: Theater is deadlines. The more shows you have, the more deadlines you have, the more hours you put in. It's hard work, but. You always have a project that's being completed.

>> music

I worked for a state system school in central Pennsylvania. I joined the university as the facility manager and worked my way up to the executive director of performing and media arts and arts programing.

we worked regular day shifts, evenings and weekends and nearly every week, not just occasionally those hours, but for about the first 15 years or so of my career in P.A. that was the work schedule.

But I enjoyed the times when the audience was happy, when there was applause, but of course, I wasn't home during those hours either. I wasn't home as much as I should have been or as much as I wanted to be, especially for a small, growing family.

I met my wife in the theater, so she understood. My kids are both creative and smart, so they understood. But you have to know as you as you go into this, that understanding something is not always the same as accepting it.

>> music

The more years I spent at the university, the more technology I was able to put into the venues, the easier my job became.

So that suddenly made my time a lot more available to me. So now I could take my wife with me to conferences. We would go into larger cities and enjoy the arts.

We were having a good time and suddenly I wasn't always at the office.

>> music

So I had planned to retire from that venue after nearly 30 years. In about 2020 or 2021, the year didn't make any difference. It wasn't a magic number. It's just that that's when I felt like everything would be ready to move forward. People could take over, I would have a trained staff,...

But of course, you know, the best laid plans always tend to change. And during that time period of planning, the university decided to hire a new president and new upper administration.

This new administration had already had a track record of being unsupportive in the arts.

We talked a few times and I remember the quote very well. “In economically hard times discretionary programs should be exactly that discretionary.”

So the writing was on the wall. It was clear that my program was going change, to become much less important.

My wife and I went out that evening to have an adult beverage or several and decided, “You know what? retirement might be the best thing moving forward.” There was no sense in fighting the direction that they were going to go.

And so I finished up my evening with my wife, I went home, I emailed my supervisor and I said, “Hey, can I meet with you before the official day begins tomorrow.”

So I met with him in his office, 7:30 in the morning, and I handed him my official paper. He said, “I understand where you’re coming from, I know what you wanna do, so, y’know good luck. Let’s move forward.”

And so there it I was now a member of the great resignation or the great retirement.

>> music

I had been spending some time the previous years working with other community groups and high schools and community theaters and universities and helping them reach their goals and their visions.

Well, now that I was retiring, I was going to have as much opportunity as I wanted to devote to that side gig.

So my wife and I sold our home and moved into a temporary apartment. We had vision boards all over the walls of where we're going to go, what's going to happen.

You know, we bought computers and tablets that we knew would be capable of handling the business work that we were going to do. We refurbished and built up the website

We registered the business with the city, and we began to make plans for getting the word out there that, “Hey, we're here, we're ready to help you with your venue and solve your theater problems.”

And then all of a sudden, bam, the pandemic comes in and everything kind of grinds to a halt for us.

>> music

And you could almost hear all the doors of all the theaters slamming shut all at the same time.

So here we are sitting in this apartment, we're looking at the website. We're thinking, gosh, that was a lot of hours we put in there. You know, what's it going to be worth?

But if doors were closed, you know, you couldn't even walk down the street and knock on them. There was just no no way to do anything as a consultant. And you can't blame them. Who wants to hire a consultant to help a facility that's wondering if they're even going to open their doors again?

A lot of soul searching went on. You know, we sat at the counter, we thought, Gosh. Where we go now? What was it all about?

You can start getting pretty dark with your thoughts. So you have to purposefully say, “Hey, come on, you know, where's the light at the end of the tunnel?” We all know it was a long way down the road, but it did start to come back.

And, you know, as it so happens, that's the way things have turned out. We have three projects right now that we're working on, a couple of others that we've talked to people about. And and we'll see how things continue down the road and if, you know, if consulting keeps us going.

>> music

The one thing that I realized that I regret about it all is that I didn't celebrate more.

I think about all the joys. And I realize that you don't always know how successful you might have been, the impact that you really had, you may never know. And in the arts, that's okay. It's the impact thats important, not the pat on the back.

An arts professional changes people's lives. That's our job. And, you know, it's a pretty good job to have. And so to be able to continue that in these early years of my retirement, you know, really what could be more fulfilling than that?

Claire: Randall Presswood is a consultant with 1 Acropolis in Charlotte, North Carolina.

ACT THREE: THE AHA MOMENT

Claire: Act three, the aha moment

In 2015, Madia Cooper-Ashirifi accepted a position at her alma mater, Brenau University.

And that's where she reconnected with a longtime mentor and friend named Jolie.

Madia’’s story is about how she learned to navigate difficult decisions and a hard goodbye with confidence and grace

Here’s Madia.

Madia: When I begin my first year at Brenau, I had just given birth. It was highly stressful because let me tell you, during the interview process, I was about eight months pregnant, so therefore, I had to sacrifice maternity leave in order to start my job because I was a visiting assistant professor initially.

>> music

I realized that all eyes were on me because I was the first black dance professor at Brenau, being a new mother on top of that. I felt pressure from many sides.

That first semester when I say tired was not the word. I was a zombie.

Really thinking to myself, my body is not healing the way that I would like to heal. I'm not producing milk. because I was just having so much stress.

And so I remember just keeping a facade up, smiling and saying, “Yes, I could do this. Yes, I could do that.” And I remember just pushing myself a lot.

There were some great moments that year. And I wish I could remember some. I wish I could remember all, but I could only remember some. And which is sad for me because seeing my once professor and now my mentor and coworker Jolie, I was really elated to now be working with her in this capacity.

Jolie had been battling cancer

And I told her, I said, “I'm here to help you. And we're here to help each other”. And I just remember her saying, “Yes, you and I have this. And I believe so much and I believe so much in you, Madia”.

Those words from Jolie really meant a lot for me.

>> music

And I remember the day that she got engaged, it was all a surprise, and she showed me her ring, and we were all screaming and giggling. And I burst out singing the Beyoncé song, “He put a ring on it”, and we just started laughing and oh, just the joy.

I knew at that point that our relationship was more than a coworker. Or, you know, I felt that she was family and she reminded me so much of my mom.

>> music

Because they were both educators. My mother was a math and reading educator. Jolie taught all levels and styles of dance.

And both women gave, and they shared so much of themselves.

>> music

Throughout this year, Jolie was in and out of chemotherapy.

And I would have to cover her class. And, you know, most professors would have a teaching load of two or three classes a semester. I had about six.

I appreciated her trusting me with leading the department, which I think made a difference because after a year, I was offered a position on a full contract. So I was no longer as a visitor. Honestly, I think she had a lot to do with that.

>> music

But one of the hardest things, though, was when Jolie had to go into hospice, and it just brought back memories when my mom had to go into hospice. And I just remember dropping down to my knees and crying.

And it’s so funny because my mom and Jolie were so similar, they received the news as if they knew their time was coming. But I could not grapple with the fact that they were going. They may have been at peace, but I was not.

>> music

Not soon after that, she passed away.

Jolie's husband reached out to me and asked if I would speak at the memorial, and I just said yes. And then I thought about it even more. I said, “Oh, my gosh, I am. I get so nervous when I have to speak in front of people.” But I remember I didn't say a lot at my mother's funeral because I was so heartbroken. So I knew that I wanted to say as much as I could in this eulogy. And it was it was extremely cathartic for me to do so. And once I found my footing in exactly what I wanted to say and also some of the things that I wanted to say in my mom's funeral, the words just came out.

>> music

And that was a aha moment, because both women were influential in my education. They were influential in the way that I overcome or overcame adversities because both women overcame adversity.

So I remember talking about that in her eulogy and also knowing that she never gave up even all the way to the end. And right now she's still not giving up because I do believe that she is guiding this department as well.

>> music

I did not know one of her wishes was to have me be chair of the department, which was something she articulated to my supervisors. When I found that out afterwards, that was another moment to know that she trusted me.

And she was very much aware of the people who did not want me to be chair.

I don't have a ballet background. I have a modern and jazz and West African background. So being that we're in the South, in a conservative town, there are people still thinking, so how would a black professor who doesn't have a ballet background lead this program?

And so when I think about some of the negativity that I received, either on social media or, comments given to my dean, I realized I was doing something right. The same people who made those comments are now opening their eyes and realizing, “Oh, I see your vision now.”

>> music

And as of the past three years, as a mother now of two children, I realize that it is so important to understand how to deal with conflict, also how to deal with saying no.

Because Jolie did that very well. She created boundaries like no other. I'm still working on that, but I have improved tremendously

And as a leader with my own coworkers to keep in mind their work life balance, which is why I say patience is so key and being gracious is so key, and which is what I appreciated that of Jolene. She was patient and she was gracious in giving her time and also knowing that her time too was sacred.

>> music

So that was my, my aha moment.

This eulogy, I was able to say thank you to my mentor and also thank you by way of thanking my mom.

Now with both women, as I call, being my guardian angels, I can firmly say that I am soaring.

>> music

Claire: Madia Cooper-Ashirifi is the chair and associate professor of dance at Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia.

OUTRO & CREDITS

>> music

Claire: And now it is time to say goodbye to Season one of ARTS. WORK. LIFE.

I cannot thank you enough for listening. This podcast has been such an incredible gift and experience. I hope you’ve enjoyed listening as much as I loved meeting these storytellers and working on these episodes.

And this isn’t goodbye forever, it’s just goodbye for now because the podcast will be back for Season two.

ARTS. WORK. LIFE. is a production from APAP – the Association of Performing Arts Professionals.

APAP is the national service organization for the performing arts presenting, booking and touring industry. You can join APAP at APAP365.org.

I’m Claire Caulfield, your host and producer.

Jenny Thomas is our Executive Producer.

And our music today is from Videri String Quartet, courtesy of Roselie Samter and Blue Dot Sessions.

This podcast wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of The Wallace Foundation. So thank you.

Other thank yous to Sherri Larsen,

The APAP staff and board of directors,

And all of our amazing storytellers this season: Claudia Norman, Lynne Jordan, Michael Sakamoto, Anthony Torres, Lynn Neuman, Thamara Bejarano, Taylor Gordon, Craig Knudsen, Tony Lopresti, Rachel Fine, Paige Alyssa, Rick Whitaker, Taylor Abrahamse, Ariel Davis, Andee Joyce, Yukio Kuniyuki, Emily Marks, Monique Martin, Carolyn Van Brunt, Roselie Samter, Randall Presswood and Madia Cooper-Ashirifi.

And finally: thank you to the hundreds of thousands of arts workers across the world.

Your stories matter. and arts workers ARE essential.

Please submit your own story to Season two of this podcast! And tell your friends, coworkers and fellow arts workers to do the same! APAP365.org/podcast.

And, if you love the show, tell your friends and as always please leave us a review because it helps other people find the show.

Carolyn: Arts, Work, Life. that’s real *laugh*

>> music

END

Resources

The following resources may be helpful to our listeners.

INTRO/ACT ONE: Pushing Buttons/A Compromise and A Coda

ACT TWO: Encore

ACT THREE: An Aha Moment

Support

This podcast made possible with the generous support of The Wallace Foundation and listeners like you. Donate here.
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Photos: Lynn Neuman at a recycling facility; Thamara Bejarano courtesy of storyteller; Taylor Gordon photo by Jon Tayler; Craig Knudsen returns to the opera stage in 2018.
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