Songs for the Struggling Artist


Ecosystem of a Theatre Scene

I saw a big fancy Broadway show that lots of my friends and colleagues had been raving about. It’s a show that utilizes the skills, ideas, movement vocabularies and motifs of devised and physical theatre. I saw elements of Viewpoints, of Chorus Work, of Dance Theatre. For many Broadway audiences, this piece felt extremely innovative and experimental. I’d wager that 97% of the audience had never seen anything like it before.

I, on the other hand, have seen a LOT of things like it before, though not with that kind of budget and all those bells and whistles. For me, it felt like old news dressed up in fancy trimmings. I could draw a direct line from the motifs I saw in this show to the innovative independent theatres I’ve seen in the UK. This show was a UK production and, in it, I could see echoes of Kneehigh, Improbable, Complicite, Frantic Assembly, Shared Experience – to name a few.

This has made me think about how complex the ecosystem of theatre is. I think of it as a Rainforest. A Rainforest’s ecosystem features the Emergent Layer at the top, the Canopy is below it. The Understory (or Shrub Layer) is next and the Forest Floor is at the bottom.

There are similar layers in the Ecosystem of Theatre Making. Here in the States, Broadway is the Emergent Layer – the trees that grow high above everything else. They are the ones that get the most light. They are the most visible. But the Emergent Layer can’t grow without the support of the layers below. The life cycle of plants on the forest floor directly feed those emergent trees. The ideas, skills and innovations at the bottom, feed the trees at the top.

Unfortunately American funding structures don’t support the layers of the forest below the Canopy. Money flows primarily to the Emergent Layer (Broadway) with some diversion to the Canopy (Regional, Off-Broadway theatres.) But the Understory and the Forest Floor are starved of funds. This is not good for the ecosystem as a whole.

In a way, the American Emergent Layer has been feeding on the Forest Floor of the British ecosystem for the last decade or so. This may change once the Arts Cuts in England start to starve the Understory and Forest Floor there, as well.

The Broadway audience owes its new encounter with “experimental” work to the investment the English Arts Council made in non-establishment research and development in the previous 25 to 30 years.

Now that the Arts Council England has had its funding drastically diminished, Broadway may not be able to depend on getting its innovations from the ecosystem across the pond. Perhaps, I might suggest, it would be worth investing locally – in providing support for the Shrub Layer and the Forest Floor in the very soil that Broadway Emergent Layer is planted. That’s the way to a healthy ecosystem. Save our Theatrical Rainforests!

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You can support part of the Forest Floor by becoming my patron on Patreon.

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This blog is also a Podcast. If you’d like to listen to a previous episode, click here. And before too long you’ll be able to listen to this one too.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



My Feminist Blindspot
August 14, 2016, 11:20 pm
Filed under: Gender politics | Tags: , , , ,

You guys. You know I cannot even look at a single-panel cartoon without seeing it through a feminist lens. It’s built into my eyes. I cannot not see it. But I realized recently that I’d been staring at a sexist situation for months, maybe even years, without really seeing it. It was in my blind spot. And that blind spot was the thing right in front of me. For me, it was my workplace.

The situation is that there are two “senior” employees who make a good deal more money than the rest of us and the two senior employees are the two men and the rest of us are all women. The owners of the business are all men and also make more money, of course. It’s a pretty clear cut case of gender imbalance but I totally missed it. Why? Because it is close to me. And I know all the “legitimate” reasons that it is so. I understand the personalities at play. I understand the seniority as well as the layers of dysfunction that factor in. It all just seemed like “the way it is” And “the way it is” is usually the blind spot. We cannot see how structures fall into the usual sexist models because they each have their own logic, their own, “Of course it happens that way,” their own legitimacy.

I was absolutely floored to realize how long this structure had been in place without my noticing. It took other women in the organization to point it out to me. And I may not be a professional feminist but I am pretty close…and I missed it.

What else is in my blind spot?
What else is hiding in plain sight?
We all have our blind spots and usually they are the things we see the “perfectly reasonable” explanation of – but then you pull back to look at it in wider context – poof! not so reasonable anymore.

This is why it’s important to talk about Institutional Sexism (and Racism and ableism and so on) rather than just focusing on the individual situations. One can explain away individual stories almost every time, especially when they’re sitting in our blind spots, which is almost always what’s right in front of us.

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Like the blog?

You can support it by becoming my patron on Patreon.

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Click HERE  to Check out my Patreon Page

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This blog is also a Podcast. If you’d like to listen to a previous episode, click here. And before too long you’ll be able to listen to this one too.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Cool Rejection and a Job
July 31, 2016, 6:11 pm
Filed under: Rejections | Tags: , , ,

Cool Rejection First:

There’s a “cool” theatre space that does “cool” shows in the city. We rehearsed in the theatre for our first show back in 2001 – before it became the “cool” space. And that’s the last time we were there, except as audience.

Over the years, I’ve applied there for many things – performance slots, festivals, development processes and have never once been accepted. I’m not surprised. I recognize that “cool’ people aren’t necessarily my audience, being not particularly “cool” myself. I mean, I’m cool. No doubt. But I care about stuff a little bit too much to be “cool.”

This year, though, they were doing a festival that a show I’ve been trying to promote would have fit quite easily into – so I went ahead and gave it another shot. Cool or not.

We didn’t get it.
I’m not shocked.

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And, now –  two, two rejection posts for the prices of one!

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University of Cincinnati Rejection

You guys. I do not remember applying for this job. It must have had some really exciting aspects – like maybe it was a Devising position or a Shakespeare one – or I don’t remember. But I do know it must have had some good qualities because I don’t PARTICULARLY want to move to Cincinnati.

Though now that I think of it, I do remember thinking that Cincinnati might not be so bad. A whole bunch of folks I knew moved there right after college – started a theatre company there and were generally cool. I think some of them are still there. I think I may have even done a little search-a-roo to see if there were enough arts in town to make it live-able. It must have been that there were. And if I’d gotten an interview for this gig, I’d have gone – because it can’t hurt to explore these kinds of possibilities.

But – luckily, I don’t have to worry about it. For the forseeable future, I will be here in unaffordable sweetly exhausting NYC, which, of course, I love – even when I hate it.

raspberries-1494081_1280*Wondering why I’m telling you about all these rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

You can help me weather the storms of rejection by becoming my patron on Patreon.

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Click HERE  to Check out my Patreon Page

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Can We Find Another Word for Emerging?
July 29, 2016, 9:51 pm
Filed under: art | Tags: , , ,

Listen. If you want to help me and give me opportunities, you can call me whatever you want. I’m happy to receive your beneficence as a “young” artist (I’m 42) or as a unicorn (a magical, majestic creature, certainly) or as an “emerging artist.” It’s really, like, all semantics at a certain point – if also inaccurate. Since I can no longer technically be called a “young artist,” I am, most often, called this “emerging artist” thing when I apply or receive artistic opportunities. But what does emerging really mean?

To me “emerging” calls to mind a little green sprout in the springtime, maybe the hint of a flower bud. It makes me think of an artist who is on the cusp of becoming themselves – someone about to discover their craft – a world of potential. The idea of supporting emerging artists, I think, is to help someone at the beginning of their career to bloom, to discover their artistic practice, to unleash their aesthetic. My sense is that funders like to fund this sort of thing. I think they like to feel like they had a hand in the magic fertilizer that feeds a growing artist. It’s a little bit sexy, perhaps, to be a part of a new artist’s journey of self/artistic discovery.

Now, in my case, I am a grown up woman. I have a clear aesthetic. I know what I am and how I work. I have bloomed, y’all. Many times. And I do not feel like I’m emerging. If I’m a plant, I have popped my head above the soil, seen the whole landscape, grown tall and bloomed. It’s just that you probably missed it.

The reason I’m considered an emerging artist is because most people have missed it. I’ve been doing all the blooming in gardens no one visits. So very few people have experienced my particular brand of emergence. This does not mean I am not an awesome plant. I am. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but since you probably haven’t seen it, I sort of have to. I am a rare interesting kick ass flower, y’all. I don’t need help blooming. So I don’t dig being seen as “emerging” because I ain’t. I am emerged.

What I AM is under-resourced. Underexposed. Underfunded. Under-acknowledged. Under-recognized. The problem isn’t with me (which is what emerging implies, as emerging is something I’m doing) the problem is with the establishment that is not giving me its resources. I’m looking for a word that puts the focus where it belongs, which is on the culture and the field. Because I do need the support of all the structures that want to help artists in need but I always feel slightly uncomfortable when the grant or residency or award or whatever is geared toward emergence. I feel like they meant to fund someone else – someone younger, someone they could mold and guide a little bit, not this big old sunflower just searching for some sun, soil and rain.

Do any of you emerging administrators have a better word for emerging artist? How do you think “emerging” looks next to “administrator”? Funny, right? If you’re an administrator, you administrate – whether you’re starting or finishing. That’s how I feel about the “emerging:” before “artist.” I’m an artist. In need of opportunities, without a doubt. But the “emerging” always feels a little bit condescending.

That said, I will reiterate that I will accept any label that comes attached to resources I need. I will be your Magical Unicorn Artist in exchange for rehearsal space. I’d just like to challenge all of us to find a better word than “emerging.:” We can do it. We’re creative people, right? We work with words. We can shift how we talk about the arts. And I think, for the benefit of everyone (the emerged, the emerging, the unicorns, the young, the old,) we should.

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You can give me sun, rain and soil by becoming my patron on Patreon.

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Click HERE  to Check out my Patreon Page

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This blog is also a Podcast. If you’d like to listen to a previous episode, click here. And before too long you’ll be able to listen to this one too.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Rejection Update: Awards Named After People
July 24, 2016, 9:58 pm
Filed under: Rejections | Tags: , ,

I don’t think I’d want a scholarship or award named after me. At least not one that people have to apply for.

I just got rejected from one of these – and have been rejected from it many times before – and when I got my rejection letter, I confess to swearing a bit at the letter. Like, if, theoretically the award was called the Frankenfurter Award (it’s not), I’d be like, (And please cover your ears for the next few lines if you’re sensitive to swearing) “Goddamn it, Frankenfurter! Screw you!” or “Oh, the fucking Frankenfurter Award didn’t fucking go to me again. The Fucking Frankfurter can go fuck itself.”

So – I’m not sure it’s such a great honor to have a scholarship or award named after someone. One person a year benefits from Frankenfurter and loves Frankenfurter and thinks Frankenfurter is the best thing ever but at least a THOUSAND people a year REALLY resent Frankenfurter and feel like they wasted their goddamn time again.

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*Wondering why I’m telling you about all these rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

You can help me weather the storms of rejection by becoming my patron on Patreon.

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Click HERE  to Check out my Patreon Page

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



What I Wish American Theatre Would Learn from the Brits #12 – R and D

My English theatre making friends apply for (and receive) funding for R & D. R & D is short for Research and Development and is commonly thought of in this country as a scientific or corporate exploration of ideas. We innovate in business in this country but not in the arts. You can not get a grant for R & D in theatre here. If you have an idea, you have to be sure it is a good one. You do not get funding to TRY something out. Everything you do should be a winner. This is madness, of course, especially in a creative field. Every idea is not a winner. And without opportunities to try things out, we can not innovate artistically.

You know that super successful, multimillion dollar show touring all over the world, War Horse? It began its life as a small R & D exploration in the National Theatre Studios. Granted it was R & D within the National Theatre and in collaboration with one of the most well respected puppet companies in the world. The odds were good that it was going to work out. But even so – when they began, they didn’t set out to make what we know now as War Horse – they set out to EXPLORE the possibilities of a show that might become War Horse and they took almost a year of solid work to do it. I think that’s why it was so successful. But that sort of thing doesn’t just happen at the National Theatre level. On the Fringe, small theatre companies explore ideas with their own R & D funding. I think this is why British Theatre is dominating the American landscape.

The culture of R & D encourages innovation. It allows for the possibility of failure but also of new ideas. Big businesses know this. Google knows it. 3M knows it. There is all kinds of evidence that innovation comes from having the time and the space to play. We need funding models that allow us to do R & D – to play, to discover, to try things out, to allow us to discover what the show really IS before we have to do the marketing.

You can be a part of my R & D by becoming my patron on Patreon.

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Click HERE  to Check out my Patreon Page

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This blog is also a Podcast. If you’d like to hear me read this, go here.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



What I Wish the American Theatre Would Learn from the Brits # 11: Groom, Support and Recruit Producers

# 11- Groom, Support and Recruit Producers
My experience, a few years ago, of working at the Battersea Arts Centre impressed me in many ways – from its egalitarian employment models, to its wide-ranging programming, to its community focus and café, to its support of artists, but I was particularly impressed and surprised by its emphasis on developing Arts Producers. They had a whole team of In-House Producers. These producers took on projects within the season or brought in work for the Scratch nights or for other stages of development. These were (mostly) young people who were paid to help make shows happen. They were people who wanted to be producers. I met people who wanted to be producers all over London – not just at the BAC.

When I met with the folks at the Arcola Theatre about how I might put up a show there, they let me know that they didn’t bring anything in that didn’t have an independent producer attached. That is, I couldn’t be my own producer. And this was not an unreasonable request. One could find a producer because there are many people around interested in the work.

Here in New York City, where I’ve lived much longer than I lived in London and where I know tons of theatre folk, I have never met someone who wanted to be a theatre producer. I’ve met some theatre producers, sure. But I’ve never met an aspiring theatre producer. (Believe me, if I had, I’d have snapped them right up.) I think this is because the only place to make even a marginal living in producing is on Broadway. And you don’t need any other producing experience to produce a show on Broadway. You just need a lot of money.

If we want to improve the quality of American Art, we don’t need to improve our ideas, we have an abundance of those. We need to improve the job prospects of independent producers. We need to make the idea of producing a tiny indie show in a basement theatre on the Lower East Side actually sexy to someone – instead of a whole lot of work with no reward.

I self produce. Not because I want to – but because I cannot find anyone else interested in the job. And when I’m self producing, I’m necessarily less IN the experience of making whatever show I’m making. The art suffers – not as much as it would if it weren’t happening at all – but still, it suffers. I’d like to see fewer meaningless artist residencies (i.e. “Here’s a modicum of space or $500 or just a cute title) and more producing schemes. I’d like to see Arts Institutions churning out Indie Theatre Producers and Dance Producers and Performance Art Producers – not an endless stream of lip service and a tiny bit of support to one lucky company a year. (I swear, I was just told about a “residency” where the artists had to pay 4k-6k a week to be in residence.) Invest in Producers and producers would invest in us.


You can invest in me by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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This blog is also a Podcast. If you’d like to listen to me read this blog, go here.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist




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