Reflections on an Interview with Joe Goode, director of the Joe Goode Performance Group

Reflections on an Interview with Joe Goode, director of the Joe Goode Performance Group

Joe Goode is the founder and director of the Joe Goode Performance Group. He also a professor in the Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies Department at the University of California at Berkeley.

Joe Goode says he was inspired to start a dance company because he had already been dancing professionally for ten or twelve years. He was already touring and being invited to festivals as an independent artist. He says he created a company because he was taking people away from their day jobs which felt like an unfair distribution of responsibilities. As a company that needed money he could then start applying for grants because to get a grant you need to have a 501(c)3 status.

Joe Goode danced as a kid with his sisters and got in to all of his classes for free because he was a boy. He says he loved the attention- dance class was a place he was impressive and loved. When he started college, Joe wanted to change the world- he was already in a ballet company but he thought he wasn’t going to change the world as a prince in tights because it wasn’t contemporary enough. Joe eventually moved from dancing to theater and writing but started doing modern dance in college. He cycled through various performance media but none of those forms by themselves felt right. He says he didn’t want to play roles- he didn’t see the relevance to contemporary issues. Joe went to New York City and it was easy for me to get hired, but nothing was very satisfying for him. He desired something personal to reveal his complicated vision of the world as a Southern gay man. He wanted to step forward with that vision, with Formalistic Modern dance as dance with no content or story or spoken words.

Eventually, Joe moved to San Francisco and retired from performing arts because he says he was too much of a lightweight. He began working with Margret Jenkins because we had worked with similar people. Joe crept back into the studio with the knowledge and skills of writing, acting, and dancing. He claims he could have only done this in San Francisco and not in New York- he was free to make the work he was trying to make because he wasn’t trying to have a career at that point. Joe made some solos and finally made something he liked and was interested in, and eventually solos became duets, duets became group works, and group works became a posse of people.

San Francisco is a hotbed for alternative thinking, medicine and spirituality and sexuality and food. People come here because they know they will be allowed to experiment- it attracts people who are rugged and want to live without the shackles of societal forms and structures. There is no mistake that Silicone Valley is where it is, because it too is full of start up companies.

Joe explains that he doesn’t like San Francisco as much as he used to though; the bohemian reputation has diminished because of the cost of living. Despite putting energy toward free-thinking, San Francisco is a provincial town- money is often old money and it goes to conservative arts administrations like the ballet, opera, and symphony. Also, critics often champion works from other places. Media like contact improv, aerial dance, butoh, and contraband all came from here but left because they didn’t get supported.

In spite of the way San Francisco has changed, Joe’s company the Joe Goode Performance Group has had extreme success. Joe first of all has developed relationships with his funders. This is often meticulous but he takes that very seriously. He also only applies for grants that interest him- sometimes doing specific grant work doesn’t match his desires or skills.

Secondly, Joe claims to have just been very lucky and received good advice along the way. When he got an initial grant, he spent that money on getting help to write other grants. Funders are people- smart people. They know when you are bullshitting them so you have to establish your integrity. Accounting for every penny is beyond important.

Third, Joe cares about his audience. He says he is not afraid of entertaining them- his work has humor and tells human stories. He takes into consideration who is out there and if they are having an experience that is teaching them something. He likes to also introduce them to new ideas and entertain them because he doesn’t want to be boring or feel exclusive to audiences. Joe thinks about experiences a lot; this had led him to do instillation type work. He wants to make his work surprising and interesting but still true. Joe tours his work to a lot of different places which means it is accessible to many different audiences- that has been key to having lasted this long.

Joe reflects that he sees a lot of young people start dance companies. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time. Because board members become fiscally responsible for a company by making a minimum donation, dancers must be paid through a bunch of red tape. There are issues of insurance too- running a dance company is very layered so often people don’t spend enough time on their art. They haven’t made any artistic contributions because their research and development becomes about the company instead of about the art.

Having a dance company is not a stable lifestyle- it is probably going to become something else to have to do. To professionalize a dance thing is a mistake because then you have two jobs; it is better to get together out of passion and love without the expectation of making money, becoming famous, or having a large audience. It is best to not put that pressure on yourself.

Joe has extremely insightful advice for emerging artists: you have to work up to the bigger projects. Often people make very naïve work that shoots them in the foot- make a five minute piece you would die to see. It’s not about volume, it’s about passion and originality. Find what is unique about your approach and build a community that way. Make something small with people who get you; the scale and fanciness doesn’t matter but originality matters. You have to be interested in your own work which is something that really comes across. That way, there will be an audience- having a devoted and small audience is a lot to accomplish.