A real estate firm's company bocce ball tournament. Right?
Jonathon Rios, this dude I met at First Fridays on Abbot Kinney was drunk and friendly and gave me his number, saying I should come write for his company and that people there would dig it. He was a writer himself, he said. When I called, he invited me to the bocce ball tournament. It's a big annual HR exercise for new hires, mostly, and everyone has teams with ridiculous names and costumes. So silliness. But also the winning team gets $1,000 a person. Free food and liquor abound, an effort at mandated fun. All on a Tuesday afternoon, instead of work.
I arrived at the stadium in Carson a little before the games started at 2pm to set up. I'd been asked to costume up, so I had on my best Dead Poet's Society loose skinny tie and paperboy hat.
Jonathon ushered people over - "Look! He's writing custom poems! Isn't that cool?"
It wasn't an art event, and that meant people were primed for drinks, sports, and socializing rather than poetry. But having an advocate there made all the difference. I quickly realized: my friend obviously had some clout at the company, and I was really there as HIS offering, his gift, a little piece of something weird and special that he had brought to share with people. In that way, I represented him. And so people patronizing my store was a way of them showing respect to him.
The poems were a whole range, on the whole more banal than most people on the street. Again, because people weren't primed for poetry, the standard response was setting a challenging or strange topic to enjoy the 'improv poetry' aspect of this project. This aspect is enjoyable just because it's impressive to take anything and write about it on the spot. It's like doing a trick. In more artsy places, people are often more introspective and ask for a poem they 'need' - something that performs the same function as a fortune or a spell, something that speaks to where they are in life and can be an artifact of personal importance to them. These are the most fun to write.
But I had some good reactions. My favorite was one of the HR ladies, who asked for a poem about 'family'. I wrote about talking on the phone, fighting on the phone, being taken back to childhood fights, still united as a family, and omnipresent because of the omnipresence of phones. She regarded me suspiciously after I read to her and asked, "who told you about me?" I had to re-assure her that no one had told me details of her life and that I was writing about personal experiences and universal themes. That I was glad that they spoke to her and that wasn't it accidental - part of my role is to read people and give them what I think they need to hear - but that it wasn't based on any other prior knowledge.
In the end, I wrote about 25 poems and made around $80 in tips. As I was leaving I gave another PR lady her poem as she was packing stuff up, and she handed me another $50. As a thank you for coming, she said, and for the people who didn't tip. Good haul. I also got free food and drink - it was nice working for an event that was about the company taking care of its people, and so they took care of me by extension.
Jonathon knows the founder of a clothing/lifestyle brand company out in Venice that he wants to introduce me to next week, and I'm looking forward to that. I like the idea of having a synergistic relationship with a company. I'm still a little iffy on what this writing means ("ahhh corporate=selling out!"), but I have to say, it seems to fit in with my focus on specific theatre that goes TO communities rather than expecting them to come to me. This idea that everyone can appreciate art, that everyone needs a poem and so 'selling' art is just an issue of putting it in front of people. More than putting it in front of people, making it FOR and WITH them. Giving them ownership. Everyone wants ownership. And I don't think suddenly all corporate bocce ball games will have poetry, that would actually spoil it. The point was something different, something surprising, a little poke to wake people from from their everyday routine, and a gift from my friend to his colleagues.