Katie Faulkner is a renowned Bay Area choreographer and artistic director of Little Seismic Dance Company. This interview was conducted on September 23rd, 2012.
Katie Faulkner studied dance growing up and pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Theater and Playwriting at Hampshire College. There she was able to design her own thesis and major which allowed her to feed her own curiosity. Throughout her education, Katie was encouraged to be a strong learner and find her own voice to negotiate her disparate and artistic interests. She eventually went back to her old dance studio where she grew up and fell in love with dance all over again- she was reminded that dance is the true language I speak. Katie then decided to go to school to study dance and forge a connection to the Bay Area at Mills College’s MFA program. It was an old program at the time; it really glorified the aesthetic and values of early 20th century Western Modern dance. Katie claims that she was naive and didn’t know better about what she was learning- “the program didn’t value experimentation or collaboration so it didn’t prepare me for the real world.”
The benefits of having an MFA allows you to hold a university level teaching position- it is a terminal degree so it gives you access to an assistant professorship. With a Bachelor’s degree you can’t hold a ten-year professorship. Also, an MFA is a terminal degree so it isn’t moving toward a PhD.
While applying to Graduate school, consider three things: first, the focus of the program and finding the right program for you: are you interested in choreographing, pedagogy, performing? Second, the location: you will be building connections in that community so it becomes your professional foundation as well. Third, the financial burden you can take on. Also, going to Graduate school right out of college might not be the best option. Katie suggested finding what is most exciting to you and then decide how to supplement that with a Master’s degree- be realistic about what practical skills they’re going give you for when you leave.
Katie began teaching modern dance at a ballet studio, and got her first job through referrals. She also did some auditioning but was never excited about it- she really loved rehearsing and process more than performing. Katie started doing a lot of teaching and eventually got hired at University of San Francisco. It was then, in 2005, that she decided to start Little Seismic Dance Company.
Katie has been choreographing for over six years and has only had to self produce two shows. She has done a lot of co-productions through her residency at ODC, festival programs, etc. She eventually pursued fiscal sponsorship instead of becoming a non-profit. Katie functions as an independent artist so she is fiscally sponsored- she developed a relationship with a non-profit organization called Dancers’ Group which allows her to use their non-profit number while applying for grants. They take 10% of all profits but in exchange offer a lot of services- they can even function as your bank of sorts. These non-profit organizations have varying degrees of control over your money. Working with a fiscal sponsor gives you tax advantages and tax accountability for when you start paying people. Also, handling new income is often challenging- when your income gets big enough connect yourself with accountants and tax people who specialize in working with artists. The benefit of working with an organization like this is that they take over the responsibility of dealing with money. You can be fiscally sponsored as both an individual or as a company.
If you are not fiscally sponsored, the Theater Bay Area Cash Grant is the only source of money you’d qualify for. The Zellerbach Grant is from a local foundation with a regular granting cycle that occurs two or three times a year. Justifying grant money depends on the grant- usually it includes listing artist fees, making a budget, describing the show, listing personel and production costs, listing other sources of income, etc. You will have to write an application and then a final report once the show is over. A final report includes sending information and a narrative description about how the grant helped make the show possible.
Katie’s advice for emerging artists was this:
“I can’t overstate how important relationships are in the field, as well as being willing to work hard, easy to work with, kind, and respectful. The dance world is a small community on an international scale so work with integrity. If you are entering a creative field you have to make a creative go at it- there is no one road map to follow. Ask questions- don’t feel like you need to know what you don’t know. Lean on people and let them lean on you because we make work for eachother! Be a vital member of a community because people who isolate themselves have the most trouble and set themselves up for the most frustration. Everyone finds their own balance through internal and external necessity.
Try interesting partnerships, like some sort of San Diego/San Francisco dance exchange. Use your presence to give your audiences access to many perspectives- cross pollination is valuable. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel! These days there are more and more people wanting fewer resources so a social networking model is most sustainable. Only move toward projects that you have clarity and focus about, and don’t do anything just because you have to. Follow your own rhythm and curiosity, otherwise you can burn out and get doubly crossed by any obstacle you battle. Also, find a balance between your company and other projects- don’t just take time off but redirect your focus to other ways of being creative and finding engagement. Dance between necessity and will.”