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Arts. Work. Life. Season 3: Episode 1

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.
ARTS. WORK. LIFE. collage of 20 storytellers appearing in Season 3 of the podcast.


Remix, Rework, Reimagine

The audience was seated, the performers were waiting in the wings, and the musicians were just about to play the opening note when a powerful storm took out the electrical grid for the entire county. With the event suddenly canceled on the last night of their tour, Jono Gasparro’s company found inspiration in desperation. And that’s when the magic happened.

The first episode of the third season of ARTS. WORK. LIFE. explores what results when artists and arts workers must remix, rework, and reimagine their performances, their work life, and their art. Whether by accident, a cruel twist of fate, or through thoughtful consideration, these necessary adaptations reveal what truly guides performing arts professionals.

Act One: “Remix” with Jono Gasparro, the co-founder of Electric Root in Los Angeles, California.

Act Two: “Rework” with Ziiomi Law, an administrative care worker and artist. They are currently based in Atlanta, Georgia.

Act Three: “Reimagine” with Perla Batalla, a singer and recording artist in Los Angeles, California.



>>music: Do-Re-Mi from The Sound of Music

Claire: I’m willing to bet you’ve heard this song before.

But are you ready for the remix?

>>music: Do-Re-Mi from The Sound of Black Music

Claire: You’re listening to The Sound of Black Music, a show that restyles songs from The Sound of Music – that famous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical – into a celebration of Black music.

Jono: Through the funk, through the soul, through the jazz and the afrobeat and the blues. So it's like, Do-Re-Mi if the Jackson 5 might have done it, or The Hills Are Alive with a gospel choir or something. So, it takes you through all the songs but reimagines them.

Claire: Jono Gasparro is the co-founder of Electric Root, the company that took this show on a national tour last year.

Jono: The Sound of Music is beloved in so many communities across the United States and resonated with multi generations that this might be a great way to express Black joy and music.

Claire: When the creative team started putting this show together in 2021, they knew it could be controversial. Audiences are, after all, used to seeing these songs performed by an all-white cast. But Jono said the response was overwhelmingly positive.

Jono: We've had some wonderful experiences on the road where there's some young black girls who are saying, I'm so happy to see you on this stage, you know, and just that feeling of also being seen. It was a magical creation, and it just gave so many people so much joy and happiness.

>> music

Claire: It takes bravery, vision and creativity to reimagine a show as iconic as The Sound of Music. But in the process, Electric Root created something entirely new and incredibly meaningful.

>> music


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

I’m your host Claire Caulfield.

And for the first episode of season three we present ReMix, ReWork, ReImagine. In this episode we’ll hear from artists and arts administrators that are questioning existing practices and trying to re-sculpt them into something new.

Whether it's by accident, a cruel twist of fate, or through considerate, thoughtful effort – today’s stories highlight a shift in perspective that led to innovative solutions to problems, both personal and industry-wide.

>> music


Claire: Act one. Remix.

We return to Jono Gasparro in act one. The Sound of Black Music had an incredible run, but the final show provided a big surprise. And as Jono explains, this unplanned remix to the remix provided a much-needed reminder. Not just for him, but for the entire industry.

Here’s Jono.

Jono: We were about to head out to our final show of an 18 city tour of The Sound of Black Music. My wife was finally coming to see the culmination of all the work I'd been doing.

You know, we have two small children, so every time I'm on the road, it's a sacrifice on the family, so I was really excited my wife could get away and come up for a night and see it.

There was a lot of moving parts that was gonna come together that night, so we were excited, you know, a little nervous, but excited.

The house is open. We're seeing a lot of friendly faces that we've gotten to know over the year from doing work in the community. My wife finally made it. The NAACP chapter came out for the first time to support the show. And I think the president of the university was there. And it was just like this beautiful communal energy out front.

>> sound: Recording from the live show of Jono welcoming everyone and the audience clapping

Jono: And the artists came out, the lights dimmed, everyone got in places. There was this, this energy in the, in the air.

And as it comes down to push that first note, the power goes out, doom.

Backstage, it's completely black. And then, Jacob Yarrow, our Executive Director, said, Hey, the power grid for the whole county is basically, is out. I was like, What? And Jacob said, Hey, we're gonna have to, I think we're going to have to call the show.

You know, which was, and I know not a decision that he wanted to make. He was, he had to make that decision. Just purely on, like, the power grid's out, you can't get a hold of PG&E, and the generator's going to go out and we need to get people safely out.

So, sadly made the call. And we all had like this, this feeling, this, uh, what do you call it, uh, punch in the gut. Kind of feeling like, oh no, all these people wanted to see this. We wanted to close the tour on the high note.

And you know me, I was like, Can we go somewhere else? Can we bring it to the lobby?

Now most of the people had left, but there was a congregate, like they were hanging around with broken hearts, and the artists started singing acapella in this dark lobby the choral arrangement of The Sound of Music, you know, The Hills Are Alive.

>> sound: The Hills Are Alive audio from that evening

Jono: And then we hear, uh, an acoustic bass and Nolan went and got his bass from the back and he's walking it into the lobby and he starts playing with them and then all of a sudden the horn players, the saxophone, and the trombones come from the back and they're playing the lines.

>> music ends

Jono: They're singing acapella in the lobby with a couple of up lights, so it's pretty dark. There were some tears, I think I had a few tears. They put on a little, like, 20, 25 minute show for everyone. The artists made sure that everyone left with love and joy in their hearts, despite what had happened.

>> music

Jono: If we look back at the contract, there could probably be a clause that Sonoma State could have pulled to not pay the artists. I know that Green Music Center sent an email offering to refund tickets. And they figured out how to still pay the full fee to the artist, but also they asked the audience, I think later that week, if they'd be willing to donate their tickets. And I heard that there was, there was a lot of them that did do that.

This has been a few months now, since this happened, and going back to it and thinking about what did this all mean? And what is, what is the lesson here?

I think that underneath all of our bells and whistles of marketing tactics and stage lighting and special backline requests, at the bottom line, all it is that we're doing is we're bringing people together in the same space so that they can experience something that is, you know, uniting in a way that we can barely even explain how it connects human beings.

As arts administrators and producers and agents, it's like, all we're really doing is trying to create a safe or brave space for communities to gather and experience art from the artists.

I know that's hard to see that on spreadsheets, and it's hard to report that to a Board or, you know, but if we always put that at the forefront, I believe everything else will follow.

That's what I saw, once everything was stripped down that night.

>> music

Claire: Jono Gasparro is the co-founder of Electric Root in Los Angeles, California.


Claire: Act two. Rework.

As a digital nomad, Ziiomi Law has been able to live and work as an arts administrator and artist in a lot of different cities around the world. But their story is about more than Zoom calls and time-zone flexibility.

In this act, Ziiomi shares two incidents that showed them it’s possible for arts workers to change industry-wide practices.

Ziiomi: I was living in New York at the time. Working remotely with a small team of like maybe four or five of us as a freelance arts administrator. And I remember sending an email to my colleagues with the subject of, Taking what I need today, in all caps.

And the email itself was like, Hello, thank you for your message. I'm taking care of myself today and I won't be logging on. I'll respond to your message later this week when I'm back online, take care. And all my work and projects had been completed. I felt like I left things in a great place, but then when I got back online the next day, I saw that there was a fire in my inbox, and my colleagues just didn't respond well to that.

You know when you get an email from someone and it's like a lot of question marks and exclamation points, just a lot of questions and you can kind of sense in the response that there's a lot of emotion behind this there's some like panicky, wooo we're freaking out on the other end of this message. And I kind of caught a lot of pushback from that.

Fast forward several months later, my colleague who had stepped in on my behalf, just to like kind of have my back, they were having drinks at a happy hour with one of the staff members that I was working with, and the staff member was like, You know, when Ziiomi did that initially, like we were all really, you know, we had our panties in a wad. You know, like we were really not a fan of it. But, in hindsight, after really receiving the intention behind why they took that mental health day, I now take my own mental health days. And they were just like, that was an invitation for me to actually assess myself and be like, Why am I not doing that? I need one of those as well.

And I was just like, sometimes you need to see the thing happen to give yourself permission to do it, you know? That was a moment, like a turning point moment for me where I realize now as someone who has lived abroad and has moved my work, that a seed was planted in that moment inside of me around like, you are someone who values, like who needs to be working in spaces and in places with people who share the same value of like self care and rest. But I think if culturally you're working in spaces where rest and self care and like taking care of yourself is not prioritized, then that can be very like, Ugh!

>> music

Ziiomi: I feel like that really informed who I am now as an arts administrative care worker, and even shifting my language from like, I'm a Project Manager or I'm a Program Director, care really does need to be at the center of how I do my work. And, so I think the communication is very different.

My check ins, my greetings via email are different. The meetings we're having like we're checking in at the top of the meeting and it's a true check. It's not just "Oh, how are you doing? Okay, great." Talking about the weather. It's like getting into the, like how are you actually doing today in this moment? What do you need? What are your access needs? Can we meet them? What support might you need? And I think also the way that I, I don't really subscribe to urgency, which is different.

I think in a lot of workspaces, there's this like culture of you need to respond immediately. You need to have deliverables ready immediately. And it's like, well we're living in a world where a lot of things come up. So like making space for the spaciousness. Yes, there are still hard like due dates for things, of course.

And also I think just centering the fact that like shit happens. And shit happens and that means shifts have to happen.

>> music

Ziiomi: Forward a year later to 2021 in November when I finally moved abroad to Costa Rica, and I was living in a very small remote beach town at the time and I was doing some strategic visioning partnerships, and there were like several grantees who'd been awarded some money. And one of my sojourners, which is the term we use for clients, basically had recently come into being a parent of multiple kids because of like family. It was like a traumatic kind of inheritance.

Obviously that impacted a lot because now she has less time to do things. She's parenting more children, and so at one point we just really had to check in and be like, do you actually have capacity to be doing this work in this moment, given the shifts in your personal life. And I think if we had not cultivated like a safe and brave enough space for her to be able to say, Hey y'all, This is what's going on in my world, like she really let us in on what she was experiencing because that had been the culture that we'd created.

So she felt safe enough to share that. And yeah, in her sharing that, like we had to reassess and ultimately like the next step was to pause. And that's okay. Like we can pause until you do have more capacity.

So yeah, that was a big pivot and I think if the administrative care work wasn't integrated into our collaboration, we would have just kept going, because she wouldn't have felt safe to say that and we wouldn't have even cared to ask, right?


Ziiomi: I love the work, and I like support these organizations and these artists. It's also helped me get really honest, like when I'm invited to do some work and I'm like, actually, this is not a full body yes. Be well and be blessed, but like I'm not the person for the job. So yeah, and I count that as a win because I think having that discernment and not just being like someone who says yes to every opportunity, especially in a gig economy, especially as a freelancer, like there is a lot of temptation to be like, What's my next project gonna be?

So I'm able to bring the energy of it's not just me, like it's us. It's us and I actually really do believe in that not from a micromanaging place but from a like we're eye to eye and yeah, we're equals, you're my peer, I'm your peer and like we're supporting each other together.

Claire: Ziiomi Law is an administrative care worker and artist. They are currently based in Atlanta, Georgia.


Claire: Act three. Reimagine

For many years, Perla Batalla was Leonard Cohen’s backup singer, collaborator and close friend. Since his death in 2016, Perla and her band have been performing Leonard’s songs all over the world.

The band was preparing for a monumental recording session, but what happened next forced her to completely re-imagine this album that she had been perfecting and performing for years.

Perla: Just after having completed a tour in Europe with my band of Spanish musicians, I started working on this album of Leonard Cohen songs, and I was very excited about it.

COVID hits and then I lost my mother to COVID, lost my dear friend to COVID, one right after the other. And so, I went into a further state of absolute despair and grief and didn't think much about my recording until finally I thought, I have to do something. I can't just sit here and grieve.

So I went back to my guys, and I said send me the files. Well, I got the most upsetting message from my producer who said, I lost all of the files.

>> music

Perla: I was in a state of shock. It was a numb kind of feeling where you just say that you can't say anything.

I lost all of my work. I had very little money. And I just thought, there's no way I can start over. I'll just have to try getting back on the road, touring, maybe save up a little money. But anyone that really knows about touring, you don't make much money on the road. You spend as much as you make. It's a very difficult way to make a living.

So anyway, my husband came up with the idea that maybe we should try a GoFundMe, raise some money that way. And I was horrified, asking for money, it just is such a very difficult thing for me to do. There's a lot of shame involved with losing a project. I don't know how many people can say that and admit it and not feel like it's my fault. Because as a producer, everything is my fault.

So, after getting, you know, over that, I just told the truth. I told my story, and I did a GoFundMe, which is so difficult to do, but turns out it was the easiest part of this whole process. [laugh] It literally took me five days to raise that money. And it was a fraction of what it takes to make a record. But still, I got what I asked for and more than that. I was stunned. And I came back to Spain to record with my Barcelona musicians.

And, after COVID, nothing was the same. And how naive of me to think that anything would be the same. People had so profoundly changed and been through so much. And that hadn't occurred to me, honestly, until we were in the sessions and rehearsing and, my wonderful musical director, who was a recovering alcoholic, had returned to drinking and that became a very difficult thing to face. I, I found myself triggered by his behavior and traumatized actually by it.

>> music

Perla: Well, I was raised by an alcoholic. My father was just a horrible, horrible alcoholic, and we dealt with issues with his alcoholism from the time I was a little girl, it was always something. He was violent. He died because he got in a car accident absolutely drunk and crashed head on into someone else. Luckily they survived, but he didn't make it. So, he made life very horrible for us. It was a nightmare.

It was heartbreaking to, to realize that my dear friend, and he is a dear, dear friend and musical director, had gone back to drinking, out of control kind of drinking. He is preventing us from, from moving on with the project. And one day, he just walked into the studio, and I knew he was in really bad shape. Lost a lot of weight and smelled of alcohol. He would sneak off and drink during breaks and, but anyone that reeks that much is pretty much drinking night and day.

What's amazing about this particular human being is that even trashed, he plays better than most people. So, I had to put my feelings on hold about it. But, I can't put emotion in my voice on hold. That just comes out. Whatever it is comes out. And I also had this thought that what I do as an artist is capture the moment. And this is the moment. Whether he's sober and sharp as a tack, whether he's falling apart like everybody else in the world.

Sorry, I'm getting emotional. It's honest. It's honest, and it's true. And that's what we're here to do as artists. The only reason I'm here is to tell the truth as an artist, as a person. I want to record that way, too. So maybe this could be the most honest recording that I've ever done in my life.

>> music: A Singer Must Die

Perla: That song, for me, is called A Singer Must Die. And it's about a singer must die for the lie in his voice, which is absolutely the truth. I feel like, I really can tell when a singer is so-called just phoning it in, you know, where there might be a beautiful song, it might be an incredible voice, but if there's nothing making me feel something, it doesn't do a thing for me.

Now it's actually one of my favorite tracks on the record.

>> music

Perla: So, my musical director, who has been struggling so much with his alcoholism, is now in a program. And he is staying sober. And we, you know, constantly tell each other that we love each other. I tell him my fears, can we work together? Is this going to be okay? And, and if it's not okay, I'm going to have to find somebody else and that won't be easy. It'll be very painful for all of us. But, right now, we're just going to take it one day at a time.

We're about to release this album that we've just finished. It's called A Letter to Leo. We're getting ready to set up a tour starting in Europe, and then we're going to continue it in the U.S.

Today, I have this amazing project, which I'm so proud of, and grateful for, because I let it happen. I opened the doors to my heart and my soul. And I said, come at me, let's do this. Let's do this. And it's not easy. It's never easy, but we do it.

>> music

Claire: Perla Batalla is a singer in Los Angeles, California.

>> music


Claire: Thank you so much for listening.

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

I’m Claire Caulfield, your host and producer.

Jenny Thomas is our Executive Producer.

Music today is from Blue Dot Sessions, The Sound of Music, Electric Root, and Perla Batalla.

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

Other thank you's to Grace Asuncion, the APAP staff and board of directors, our storytellers today, and the hundreds of thousands of arts workers across the world.

Your stories matter and arts workers ARE essential.

Speaking of stories, if you work in the performing arts and want to submit your own story to this podcast, visit

And if you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review, follow the show on your podcast app and tell a friend. Your support helps us get more listeners, and we would really appreciate that.

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

>> music

Resources and Links

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


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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