From the Desk of…Nicole Disson

by Sara Israel

I aspire to be as genuinely cool as Nicole Disson.  When she wears a fedora it looks beautiful and totally legit.   I met Nicole after being thoroughly impressed by her performance in a staged reading of a play about Charles Darwin.  Little did I know then that in addition to being a terrific actress, Nicole is truly an L.A. performing arts trendsetter.

Nicole is the creator and producer of THE SERIES, which pairs talented dancers, performance artists, playwrights, poets, composers—most of whom haven’t worked together previously—to collaborate on original pieces that will be performed only once, site-specifically on the rooftop of The Standard, Downtown L.A. She’s also so cool, she’s figured out a way to make the admission free.

[The next in THE SERIES is Tuesday, March 8th]

For insight on how a producer uses a desk—and how sometimes she just needs to chase someone down the street—read on. . .

Me: How did your idea for THE SERIES come about?

Nicole: I moved to L.A. in 2008 after two years of acting in the Bay Area theater circuit, and wanted to explore other performance opportunities along with the cultural-progressive community of artists that I was hearing about in L.A.  I started up at a brand and entertainment marketing firm in Beverly Hills as my fun and flexible day job, where I worked for a little over two years. Towards the end of 2009, I finally began to apply what I had leaned at the firm to my own creative business endeavors—specifically, theatrical productions.  I brought The Standard, Downtown L.A. on board as the official corporate partner for NEW., an experimental rock opera I headed marketing for and helped to produce with Post Fact Productions at The Million Dollar Theatre in Downtown L.A.  After that, the director of marketing at the hotel approached me about doing something else with The Standard and wanted to hear my ideas.

Me: What were your ideas?

Nicole: To create a new platform for theatre and the arts in Los Angeles—by merging social nightlife destination settings with theater and the performing arts, while partnering artists together from different disciplines to create original work for that evening and space only.  I wanted to see what would happen if I created enough of a buzz to drive an audience to this rooftop downtown for this happening. . . and then almost trick them into taking part in a show.  I also wanted to see how effectively we could use the entire rooftop as our stage in a site-specific theatrical way—something that has always really excited me in the theater.  I was interested to see how we could guide the audience through the pieces and space, without ever having done something like this before. . . while maintaining that sense of “something really special is happening right now.”

Me: It sounds like The Standard was allowing you to find a way to express one of the very reasons you’d moved to L.A.

Nicole: Yes.  At the time, I was really interested in creating something from ground up of my own.  I was completely immersed in all that was happening among the artistic community I now know and love in east L.A.  I was amazed how people were claiming Los Angeles has no culture, when I had seen so much in such a short amount of time.  Meanwhile, I was promoting a weekly night at the Roosevelt Hotel and was starting to get asked to promote events more often, while continuing to perform in various theatrical productions—primarily all 99 seat house shows—and found it frustrating that hundreds of people my age would flock to these party/special events, but couldn’t commit to seeing one show at the theater.  I started thinking, what if I combine everything into one?  Merge my work as a producer, promoter, marketing director, actor. . . and, in doing so, attempt to create a new platform for the Arts in LA.  So, basically, I just brought all my friends and respective worlds together and combined my to-do lists into one gigantic book and THE SERIES was born!

Me: Well, obviously it’s worked!  Creating the buzz to drive the audience there, and creating something special.  Because the upcoming event is your fourth?

Nicole: This Tuesday’s is actually the fifth!

Me: Wow.  How have your visions for it—and your goals—changed over time?

Nicole: The production as a whole has grown so much since the first.  More and more people have become involved, and as a result, one of my goals as producer is how to lead the team of individuals I have assembled to be able to help move the production along without me having to micromanage every detail, so that the concept and production reaches a place where it’s functioning smoothly and with minimal stress.  Still working on minimizing the stress!   Otherwise, to try and maintain some semblance of sanity and balance throughout the process—and honor my personal life without going crazy!

Me: That’s actually an excellent segue, because in the photos you’ve sent me of your desks, one of them is your home’s kitchen table.  Which looks very, very neat.

Nicole: My kitchen desk at home is always that neat.  Without question.

Me: Wow.  Okay, so then for my standard “1 through 10” question, we’re giving you a 1 on that!

Nicole: And I took the picture of my desk at Reform almost immediately after you asked, and I was pretty caught up by that point in my work for the day.  So while I didn’t tidy the desk up for the shoot per se, it already was straightened.  Something I do a number of times throughout the day anyways.  I like to keep my work surfaces pretty neat.  Okay, extremely neat.  I have too much going on at once that I have to have complete order in my surroundings to feel fully capable of getting everything done as effectively as I can, as best as I can.  Although, I wish you had a picture of this desk at the gallery when it’s a hectic non-stop day.  Then there are rows and rows and piles of sticky notes!

Me: Yes!  I see that you’re a sticky notes kind of gal. . .

Nicole: Yes, I suppose I now am.  Although I wasn’t always.  But I am 100% a list writer.   Helps me keep track of my thoughts.  I can’t always get to everything at once—be it for the production while I am focusing on the gallery, or personal to- do’s.  So I usually just jot something down the moment it runs through my head to not lose it.  Then, at the end of each day, I go through and re-organize my million notes into sections—SERIES, El Cid, Reform, Personal, Acting. . . So it all is very clear and tangible for me to attack the next day.  Sometimes having a bright yellow sticky note in my face now helps me not to forget something for later on or even what I was doing two minutes before!

Me: Oh, I know that feeling.  You’ve also mentioned that there’s a café you’re particularly fond of working at.

Nicole: Yes, at Mornings Nights.  Up until two weeks ago, I refused to get wireless Internet at my home in Silverlake, so I didn’t have much of an option in terms of an email work space outside the gallery or café.

Me: Why no Internet at home until two weeks ago?

Nicole: Because I am always so connected otherwise.  When I come home it’s a place of rest.  I take this really seriously.  I don’t have a TV or home phone or many electronics in my house for that matter.  I like to cook, write letters, relax with friends and spend time. . . disconnected.   I still do, I just got sick of hunting down late night cafés and started feeling a bit unsafe actually with my crazy work hours, so I thought it worthy investment.  So I finally gave in, and so far so good.  Okay, I am loving it!  Although I wonder what people think when they get emails or invitations from me sent past 1AM.  I still really enjoy going down to the café and setting up shop at the window counter, overlooking Sunset Boulevard.  It feels nice to be practically working outside, in a public area that’s very warm and non-invasive.   Makes the computer part of my job a little more interactive and fun.

Me: I think now’s a good time to note that while a lot of your work is done at a computer, at a “desk set up”— a lot of it isn’t!  A week ago, you emailed me your “Daily Log” for the day.  I think it’s amazing, because we often wonder what it is producers “do.”  What does producing mean?  It’s sometimes really hard to distill.  And I think your “work journal” from last Monday really shows the answer by example, at least how it applies for and for THE SERIES.  Can I include it here?

Nicole: Sure!

Monday, February 28th, 2011

10AM-12:30PM:  Reform Gallery—open up shop.  Gallery work to follow up on rush order for flyers, emails re. THE SERIES, and a couple quick calls.

1PM:  In person meeting at The Standard, Downtown L.A. with the guest director for this SERIES, D’Arcy French-Myerson, and featured artist Julia Hotler.  (No desk—empty cocktail table and weird lounge chairs instead.)

3PM: Lunch meeting with D’Arcy in Koreatown at $10 all you can eat bbq (which was amazing!) to run through entire show and where we are at this point in pre-production.

5:30PM:  In person meeting at REDCAT with D’Arcy and Aaron Drake (another featured artist) to discuss sound installations, where we were later joined by Alex Lilly (OBI Best, The Living Sisters), who I am collaborating on a piece with this go around!  And then Majken Christensen, who is choreographing a piece for the evening in collaboration with video projections by Ariana Natalia.

7:30PM:  Follow up call.

7:45PM:  Run into Drew Denny on the street driving home through Echo Park!  Jump out of my car to hunt her down—follow up on the piece she is installing in the elevator (she created an amazing soundscape).  Discuss potential DJs for the night, oddly enough in the aisles of American Apparel (she had a return she was making) and then follow up re: the feature she is writing on me for the March issue of LA RECORD.

8:00PM:  Phone call with Jason Grier about his participation in THE SERIES this go around.

8:30PM-9:30PM:  Resume with emails for the day—continue promotion.  Contemplate going to the Bootleg to see Jenny O’s final night of her residence (although by this point I am exhausted).

Tomorrow:  A whole new day, and entirely different.

Me: I just re-read that day’s events, and I’m exhausted even reading it.  I see coffee in all of your photos, wherever you’re working.  And that makes a lot of sense to me!

Nicole: Actually, no, none of that’s coffee.  I don’t drink coffee at all!  Water by the gallons, fruit shakes in the mornings now and lots of tea!

Me: Well is it caffeinated tea?

Nicole: Yes, Twinings’ Earl Grey, or lately an iced yerba matte with maple syrup and fresh almond milk from Naturewell.  Yerba, as I understand it, is actually a different kind of stimulant, not the same as caffeine, yes?

Me:  Yeah, that’s my understanding too.

Nicole:  Lately I’ve been refilling that plastic glass with water after I finish my tea. Sometimes at night I’ll have a little caffeine-free tea but usually not.  Just more water.  I drink a lot of water.  Or a little wine perhaps!

Me: After Tuesday night’s SERIES, let’s toast with some wine together!

Nicole: Sounds good to me!

Sara Israel is a writer and director living in Los Angeles.
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