Songs for the Struggling Artist

“You are Such a Free Spirit!”
July 29, 2015, 10:31 pm
Filed under: clown | Tags: , , , ,

As I was leaving a dance class I’d attended, an observer of the class said to me, “You are such a Free Spirit!” This surprised me because I do not think of myself in this way at all. Maybe this is because the phrase “Free Spirit” conjures gypsy skirts and patchouli oil with maybe a crown of flowers over long flowing hair. The idea of a free spirit conjures flightiness, and a general disregard of others. So it’s hard to take being called a free spirit as a compliment.

But – I suppose I do enjoy a certain amount of freedom. I recognize that I am rather freer than your average bear. I think what this observer was seeing was my ability to be uninhibited while dancing, to embrace the unexpected and to generally not be afraid to have a good time. All those thing are hard won, though, and have more to do with how I cultivate those qualities than any particular free spirit within me.

I am not so much a free spirit, as a clown. And there’s a bunch of training behind that. I learned how to enjoy myself wherever I can, how to take risks and generally not be afraid of making on an ass of myself. I really don’t mind being the first out on the dance floor. I will happily look like a fool.

And too, I think, by virtue of just having spent the last 20+ years choosing my own path as an artist, I am, basically not afraid to be unconventional.

I see other dancers afraid to make any sound at all when we do the punching movements in this class (even though making the sound makes the movement and also feels good.) I see others trying so hard to do things right that they miss an opportunity to enjoy the moment.

Maybe being a free spirit is the same as being a clown, I don’t know. But a clown in a gypsy skirt is still a clown – and I guess I ought to take being called a free spirit as a compliment. You won’t catch me wearing any patchouli, though.



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Space Grant Rejection
July 28, 2015, 12:48 am
Filed under: Rejections | Tags: , ,

I don’t do this often, but after I got the Space Grant rejection notice, I got an email from them with a link in it that announced the winners. I looked at who got it instead of me. And, perhaps predictably, it made me mad. I think I hoped to see other companies like mine, to see my peers, knowing what they’re working on and go, “Oh, of course. I’d have given them a space grant, too! They make great work and they’re working on that thing!”

But what, in fact, happened is that the list I saw included mostly well established theatres, many of which have spaces. Some of them have actual theatre spaces, which is hard to do around here. So it seems that theatres with premium spaces apply for more space and now have lots of space. And that’s awesome for them. They have a little less fundraising to do to support their big time operations.

Meanwhile, for me, having a space grant or not having a space grant can mean the difference between making a piece and not making a piece. It means having no resources for starting a project. Can I start one anyway? Of course. But having a space grant is like a little seed in the ground – both for creativity and for fundraising. People like to donate to things that are already supported.

But congrats to all the spaces with space grants. I mean, it’s not easy for ANYONE, even if, probably especially if, you have a space already. I get that as one’s budget grows, the difficulties can also grow and everyone could use the boost of a rehearsal space but I am sad that this is the direction this program is going. And I’m sad for all the other tiny companies like mine who used to be much more likely to receive such grants.


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Rejection for a fiction fellowship
July 22, 2015, 10:52 pm
Filed under: Rejections | Tags: , ,

I applied for a fiction fellowship. I knew I wouldn’t get it. I mean, I’m such a newbie to fiction writing; It would have been a little insulting to all those people who’ve spent decades identifying as fiction writers if suddenly a playwright/blogger threw her hat in the fiction ring – if she went, “How ’bout this?” And won a fellowship. It would definitely have been a surprise upset.

But – even though I don’t really identify as a fiction writer, I have to acknowledge that I’ve been writing fiction almost every day for the past few years. So, by virtue of how I actually spend my time, I’m a writer of fiction. I may feel as though I’m a theatre maker dabbling in fiction but I actually spend more hours writing fiction than I do making theatre. So you never know. So I applied anyway. Because you never know. And now that I’ve been rejected as a fiction writer, I can apply next time as a playwright.




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Tylenol for the Rejected
July 20, 2015, 4:52 pm
Filed under: Rejections | Tags: , ,

As someone who has spent a good amount of time writing and thinking about rejection over the last year, I listened with interest to the rejection episode of You Are Not So Smart. I found it fascinating that we experience rejection as a physical pain – so much so that the pain can be reduced with Tylenol.

The show featured a guest who set out to inure himself to rejection by getting rejected on purpose 100 times. The stories are funny and entertaining and they’ve helped this guy significantly. (For one thing, he got a book deal out of it!) He did things like ask for a ride from a stranger or order donuts in the shape of Olympic Rings. But what struck me most about his rejections were that they didn’t require a great deal of investment beforehand. He just figures out what he’s going to try, goes in, tries it, either gets rejected or he doesn’t.

In other words, his sorts of rejections are much different than mine. Mine are less painful in the moment, I think. (I don’t think Tylenol would help, for example.)  But they are more painful in the upfront costs. I spend a lot more time and effort preparing applications, grants and such. I don’t avoid filling these things out because I am afraid of rejection, I avoid filling them out because they take so much time and effort and the odds are such that this effort is 90% likely to be wasted effort.

If I were mathematically inclined, I’d make some kind of proof demonstrating the difference in STYLES of rejection, where X = time invested in asking and Y = the pain in getting rejected, with the answer being some mystery number representing  the willingness to risk rejection again.

And as ever, in my case, an additional integer in this proof would be the addition of the brilliant support of my Patreon patrons, who boost that willingness to put the effort in, to fail, and then fail again, as is ever the way.


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A Forgotten Rejection of two Varieties
July 7, 2015, 9:54 pm
Filed under: Rejections | Tags: ,

I received a rejection email from a writer’s development program that I’d forgotten I’d applied to. This happens periodically: I apply to something and immediately forget it, only to be reminded of it many many months later by a rejection notice.

I’m of two minds about these. Sometimes I wish they didn’t even inform me at all – like, if I just submitted and forgot it and got rejected, I would never need to feel the rejection. But then – there’s no way for them to know that I’m not sitting by my inbox with bated breath waiting for their judgment. So of course they have to notify everyone.

Then, too, sometimes I don’t get a notification and that sucks, too. I applied for a Workspace grant through LMCC about a year ago and I was actually very keen on the idea of receiving it. I did, periodically, wonder where the notification might be.
Then, the same day that I got the development program rejection, I also received an email from LMCC talking about how awesome the Workspace grant was and it listed all the people who received it this year – and Surprise! I was not on that list. That was my notification, I guess.

So – here are two completely contradictory rejection experiences all rolled up in one. One – a rejection from a group I wouldn’t have minded not hearing from and one – a non-rejection rejection notice from an organization I was disappointed NOT to have heard from.

I guess the short version of this is that it all sucks – not matter how it shows up or doesn’t.


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Learning How to Bend (at any age)
June 30, 2015, 5:22 pm
Filed under: art, Shakespeare, theatre | Tags: , , , , , ,

Through the NYC Department for the Aging and Department of Cultural Affairs’ SPARC program, I had the opportunity to work with the members of a senior center on Romeo and Juliet. As I watched the final rehearsal, I started to think about how I’d seen the participants change over the course of our work together.

Working on the play was challenging for everyone – not so much because of the rigors of the text but because theatre demands things of people, things like flexibility, collaboration and adaptation. There are things a play asks you to do that you have to adapt to and things that other people ask you to do that you have to find a way to reconcile. Working toward any common goal can increase collaboration and communication but theatre, it seems to me, does that on several levels at once.

There’s the basic level of having to work out where to put your body while you perform. There’s the listening level of waiting for your cue to speak or do what you must. There’s the creative level, when ideas come pouring out about how to make the show better. There’s the compromising level, wherein no one ever gets exactly what they want every single time.

I saw people become extraordinarily generous with one another, even in the face of some serious surliness. Many of the members of my cast were fixed in their ways and points of view but every single one of them found ways to bend.

It all made me think that one of the great benefits of the theatre is its mutability. The form requires flexibility and those who take it on must be mutable. It is difficult to remain hard, still and fixed while working on a show. And coincidentally, becoming more soft, mobile and flexible are the very things we need to help keep us healthy as we age.

The same weekend my group was wrapping up their Romeo and Juliet, I got to see Chita Rivera perform in The Visit on Broadway. She’s 82 and a lifetime in the theatre would seem to have served her very well in keeping her powerful and supple. She was more vital than many much younger performers and she is very bendy. I’d like to see all of us with the vitality, flexibility and general bendiness that Ms. Rivera exhibited. My cast found a taste of it in their performance and I hope they find a way to continue to bend in whatever they do.

Photo by Alexandra Foley

Photo by Alexandra Foley

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Brave and Practical
June 29, 2015, 11:12 pm
Filed under: art, business, dreams, TV | Tags: , , , ,

At a friend’s suggestion, I started watching Jane the Virgin. I enjoyed the show a lot (refreshingly frank discussions about things like abortion, bold aesthetics, a complex intergenerational Latina family of women and some stellar performances) but I found myself questioning one of the show’s recurring themes.

One character asks the lead what she wants to do with her life. She reports that she wants to be a teacher if she’s being practical and a writer if she’s being brave. The show returns to this multiple times.

This Practical/Brave thing is set up as a very clear dichotomy and also has a distinct point of view. We all know it’s better to be brave in the cultural mythos. This is a classic American narrative that is sure that it’s better to be brave than practical. It’s always best to follow your dreams in movies and TV.

And I relate to it. Especially as a person who has followed her dreams, consistently, over and over. I think I watched this variety of story and deeply internalized it. I learned very early on that if I want to be the heroine of the story, I would have to follow my dreams.

And it occurs to me now that the people who write these narratives are, for the most part, people who followed their dreams and had great success with them. Their particular bravery paid off and the Be Brave narrative is personal for them. It also led to them being able to send their kids to college.

This is not true for everyone. And the Brave vs. Practical is a false dichotomy. Most of us have to be brave AND practical at some point. Most writers I know are also teachers. Even super successful ones. It’s not that easy, I know, to be practical and brave. Lord knows, I lean on Brave far too much and don’t give the Practical nearly the space that it requires/deserves.

As a struggling artist, I need stories that helps me choose the practical thing sometimes. I know so many stories about following the rainbow and I don’t need any more encouragement to chase it. I can’t STOP doing that. What I need is some powerful recurring stories to say – “Hey kid – you know you can be practical AND brave.”


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