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This day was the final day of NXNEi events, and I have lots of feelings about it, mostly sad feelings, but also super amazing, floating feelings, like I can go off into the world and do good. Maybe I sound off my rocker, but that’s how great it’s been.

1. Project Butterfly: Escaping the Net

And the best event that I went to at NXNEi was the first of this morning, called Project Butterfly, where two representatives from The Palmerston Group talked about how in our increasingly technological world, we are basing a lot of our social interactions online, but what we might think of as a “social person” online, doesn’t translate into reality. For example, a company might have a Twitter account, post lots of tweets, etc. but that doesn’t mean that they’re actually interacting with any of their audience. They are simply are hyper-connector. Or if you look at a friend online who might post a lot of things on Facebook, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are a social person, just that they try very hard to make it seem that way. What the presenters primarily discussed was what a truly social person was like: empathetic, outgoing, emotionally intelligent, confident, self aware, a good listener, compassionate, etc. It’s not about being the center of attention, but about making a real, honest connection with someone. It’s about emotion over promotion. You do that with these factors:

  1. Be interesting and interested
  2. Be accessible
  3. Actively caring
  4. Be a resource
  5. Spark Energy
  6. Understand Your Audience

2. This Dude Abides: A conversation with Rob Heydon on Ecstasy-inducing Independent Films

After the Project Butterfly panel, I grabbed a cupcake from one of the tables outside, and made my way to Rob Heydon’s Q&A about how he directed Ecstasy, and what problems he came across. I actually figured this wasn’t going to be a very useful panel for me, but there weren’t many other panels I wanted to go to at this time, so I figured I’d learn a bit more about the film that I enjoyed yesterday. Turns out I was pleasantly surprised, because Rob Heydon had a lot to say about the nature of art, and being a true artist. Something you might not guess just by watching Ecstasy is that it was made on a very low budget for such a hyped film, and it took 12 years for Rob to actually make it, due to paperwork problems, people changing their minds, illness, etc. In fact, because they ran out of money at the end of the movie, Rob took on a lot of duties himself that he normally would have had someone else do, like post-production of the music. He also had to resort to guerilla camera techniques, and flat-out breaking the rules.

Rob had a lot of advice for filmmakers, that which is easily translatable to any art form. Here are some of the key points:

  • When you’re doing a small/indie production, know your strengths, but especially know your limitations.
  • Find stories that will translate and travel. Do your research, and attach yourself to it. It’s all about the story. We are a storytelling culture, and that will never go away.
  • The medium may change, but the messages you want to broadcast must be equally rich and beautiful.
  • Do what you love. If you want to act, then act. Don’t wait tables and call yourself an actor.
  • Whatever you do, make sure it furthers your creative endeavors. Even if it’s hard, be thankful that you’re doing what you love.
  • You have to balance what you’re willing to sacrifice with what you love.

Among other things, he also talked about how critically important the emotional support from his family has been, and how if you really want to do something, you need to be around people who will support you. If you can’t, of course, that has to come from inside yourself, but there’s no reason you should surround yourself with people who don’t believe in you. There was also a question from an audience member which I think is so important for any artist to ask themselves periodically: If you had all the money you needed, what would your dream project be? Ask yourself that, and then go do it anyway. If I took away anything from Rob’s Q&A, it’s that money is not to key to good art. Creativity is the key, and money can sometimes limit us from being truly creative.

3. Social Media in the Classroom

After my mind was blown by Rob Heydon, I stood in the center of the lobby for the 15 minutes between panels trying to figure out what to go to, since the panel I actually planned on was cancelled. At literally the moments when the doors were closing, I sidled my way into this, without any expectation, and without any real way to apply the subject matter. Despite all of that, I was really blown away by the educators on the panel, and the kind of innovation that they’re applying to their classrooms.

They explained the ways that they are implementing social media within their classrooms, and how they are seeing monumental changes in the growth of their kids. One teacher had all of his students write in a blog that would show up on each others’ RSS feeds. He said that the freedom created by that, and the lack of pressure of the situation, caused the kids to write amazing pieces of work, that inspired other students to write more things, and so on. It helped them inspire each other, which is so much more powerful than a teacher telling you to be inspired.

They all made sure to emphasize that just because you might not understand social media, doesn’t mean that it’s evil, and it doesn’t mean that it won’t help your students. One of the major flaws in the education system, in my opinion, is the massive amounts of limitation that they put on students, which completely limits the creativity that they can obtain. A principal on the board recognized this, and has created a free hour in his school where the kids can experiment in creating whatever they want, however they want. He has photo and video cameras at their disposal. They can play with instruments and create punk bands. Whatever. Regardless of the details of these teaching experiments, I think that all educators, parents, humans can learn from this rational way of thinking about education: let kids play while they learn, and they can do awesome things. Also, if you want to hear more about this, check out this podcast that a couple of the panelists created.

4. Bringing Digital Stories to Life: Transmedia Meets Theatre in ZED.TO

This last presentation was something I’ve been wanting to go to for awhile since I checked out the website a few months ago. The idea of ZED.TO is that there is a fake company called Byo Logyc that is developing this whole new line of not just pharmaceuticals, but also dating practices and health management. They market themselves as apocalypse prevention, but the whole idea of the project is that it will lead to an apocalypse. This might all sound like a strange zombie movie, but the most amazing thing is that this story brings together not only the creators, but the audience as well. The company has a Twitter account that the audience can interact with personally, and there are live events that anyone can go to and become part of the role-play as well. In fact, the entire presentation was a role-play, which sent my inner/outer geek sailing through the roof. It’s the ultimate transmedia experiment, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

After NXNEi ended, I went back to the hotel for a bit, ate some dinner, and then headed out to El Mocambo to see These Electric Lives, but accidentally went to the main floor instead of the upstairs, so it turns out I saw Christien Summers instead, but they were on my tentative list for Saturday so I guess that’s cool too. Christien Summers looked like they were having a great time, had a fun aural and visual aesthetic, but the crowd was just a little too sober, and a little too small at the time. After I realized my mistake about which floor I was on, I headed upstairs to see Secret Broadcast, who also had a bit too sober of a crowd. I think my favorite part about them was the interesting chord progressions they took, but that’s a music dork for you. KOVAK was after them, who was one of the only UK bands I think. The lead singer sounded great, and had a great hold on the audience, and she and the guitarist especially were the highlights of the band, not to say that the drummer who broke his bass pedal wasn’t pretty baller as well. Unfortunately, still too sober of a crowd. It felt almost no emotion from the crowd, and there was pretty much no one dancing. The singer even asked everyone to come up and dance, but they just created a big U around the stage.

That was the moment when I got fed up with the apathy, and headed over to the Free Times Cafe to rest my ears and feet. Before the festival began, I would have told you that I probably wasn’t going to stop at the Free Times Cafe at all, since I normally don’t listen to singer-songwriter types, but throughout the festival, this is probably the venue I’ve been to the most. The people are nice, the waitstaff are great, and all of the artists have been really stellar in one way or another. That said, the first artist I saw was Sigrun Stella, who lives in Toronto, but is originally from Iceland, where apparently she gets radio play. There were a few mishaps with the performance–forgetting her capo, forgetting the words, etc.–but nothing dire, and nothing that Sigrun didn’t simply laugh off and make a joke of, which was really refreshing. The crowd was huge, and everyone seemed to be having a really great time. Before Sigrun performed, I got to talk to Mo Kenney, the next performer, who happened to sit across from me. She hails from Halifax, and had flown in that day to perform, and also bring some records to Sonic Boom from her record label. Mo was super down to earth, and really chill, which I think is also the reason that her performance really blew me away. Like I said, I don’t usually listen to folk or singer-songwriter stuff, but she really had something special and intimate about her songs and her performance that brought me back to something in my childhood, although I don’t know what yet. Afterward she had some stickers to give out, and also some 45″s, which I bought one of, so you’ll be hearing that soon.

After Mo Kenney’s set, I walked over to The Hideout to hear Bella Clava again, and this one has a bit of a story. So after I posted on the blog about the first Bella Clava performance that I saw, I received an e-mail the next day from the female singer/keyboardist, Caitlin. She saw the post, and was interested in getting a bit more feedback about the performance, and how it could have been better performance wise, since I had mentioned that the music was really stellar already. Via e-mail we had a great conversation about some performance practices and about the psychology of performing, which was really refreshing to be able to talk about. I also think it’s interesting how well it applied outside of a classical context, which is where my bread and butter is. After e-mailing a bit, we agreed to meet for a drink after her performance at The Hideout, and we got to talk more about their band, how they were formed, how they all think about being performers and that kind of stuff. And also, if I may say so, this performance was even better than the first, and the crowd was totally into it as well.

After such an intellectually and musically stimulating day, I’m growing more and more fond of NXNE, which says a lot because I was already pretty enthralled with the festival at this point. The opportunity to talk with artists and innovators in so many different fields, and across all different kinds of experiences and backgrounds is astounding, and something I hope will continue for a long time in Toronto, and will spark more festivals like this in the states even.

Stay tuned for my account of the last day of NXNE!

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