Class Assignment: Surprise Breast Cancer Walk-a-Thon

I thought I would give everyone a little insight into some of the interesting assignment I have been assigned to complete at CalArts. Last week that I mentioned that I was not able to present a performance piece I had worked on because of the fires, but I finally did this past Monday. The assignment was for my Performance by Design class. The class is made up of primarily MFA 1 designers, no actors, and is focused on creative performance. The assignment was a solo performance project that could literally be anything! No restrictions, the sky is the limit, as long as you don't light it on fire. I am personally not that comfortable performing, but that does not mean I'm not creative. With no restrictions, and really no examples to work from, it took me a long time to really figure out what I wanted to do.

I usually start out by thinking of the most ridiculous situation and go from there. This time around I recalled a social experiment I tried in college where I placed a yellow nylon cord in the dormitory hallway and had it lead into my room with my door open. It was interesting to see how many people were curious enough to follow it into my room and then meet me. So the base idea for my project was I wanted to incorporate string and see how I could get people to follow it. To get back to my outlandish creative process, I started thinking, where would this string lead, and how far could it reach. Could I get my class to march from school to my apartment a ¼ of a mile away following a string and welcome them into my apartment for refreshment and snacks. I could, but that sounds crazy doesn't it?

I let this idea simmer for a week, and it just so happened I was in the grocery store check out line and saw a bunch of breast cancer donation cards. The light bulb went off in my head. I was going to get a mile of pink string and run it all over the CalArts campus and have everyone walk a mile for breast cancer. I thought about this idea for a while, but reworked it and came at it from a different perspective. What if no one knew why we were walking a mile or following this pink string, just like the people who entered my dorm room had no idea who I was.

My final idea was to give everyone in the class a single dollar bill at the start of the performance to make them question what was going on. Then I would have them follow me as we started to walk along this pink string of an undetermined length. Only after we had completed a mile would I explain to everyone the purpose of the Surprise Breast Cancer Mile-Walk-a-Thon and ask them to donate their dollar back to support Breast Cacner. I also wanted to supply breast cancer awareness facts at the end of the mile.

It was a great idea, but a little hard to pull off. Do you know how much and how long a mile of string is? I eventually found a good solution: 5 bundles of cheap pink yarn. The next step was to tape down a mile worth of string through the numerous corridors and levels of CalArts. It took me nearly 2 hours to set up, and I COVERED, and I mean COVERED the school in pink string. You couldn't turn a corner with out seeing this stuff, it was crazy.

5 Bundles of Yarn

Taping It Down

The performance was a hit I think. I gave everyone a dollar. The primary reason for this was so everyone could feel like they participated and also to show others how easy it is to do a fundraiser for a good cause. So I merely told the class, “Well come on.” And off we went on our hike through the school. My classmates were very cordial at first walking in a single file line in silence. As time progressed though, things started to loosen up. We went upstairs, downstairs, through the theatre, into the sub-level of the building and outside. People starred at us, made inappropriate comments and were annoyed that we blocked up their office entrances for a moment. Even one my classmates later told me he said, “This is like waiting for Godot with pink string.” I think most people probably got a bit annoyed after about 15 minutes of walking through the school and when they started to break a sweat from an unexpected morning workout. It was certainly interesting to see their reaction when we finally hit the mile mark about 25 minutes into the piece.

I was able to get some amazing feed back on my project after it was done. The class was incredibly impressed by the shear length of the string. The classmate that made the Godot comment said that at the end he felt like a Big Jerk because of it. Other people thought they had my piece pegged down from the start and that the string would lead to a vending machine where they could buy a snack after burning off the calories we used to walk there. Others thought I was giving a weird campus tour. No one seemed to have ever given a thought to the pink string and breast cancer, which was the best feeling to know my piece succeeded. The best comment I received was certainly from Chris Barreca who told me that I surprised him, and no one surprises him. So in the end I raised just over $30 for breast cancer research and I hope it's an experience my class will never forget. If you are interest in donating to breast cancer please visit: http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/

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