Songs for the Struggling Artist


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.

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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. 


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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



Ideas and Glitter and Places to Put Them
June 10, 2016, 12:16 am
Filed under: art, Creative Process | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Over the years I’ve been a part of various schemes that are meant to help artists. Most of the schemes in NYC are schemes to improve our business skills, to make us bigger and more solid institutions. These make me nuts for reasons I have discussed many times before but recently, I’ve been involved in schemes that are meant to help give me ideas and inspirations. These make me nuts in a very different way.

I have so many ideas, folks. I have ideas for breakfast, ideas for lunch, ideas for afternoon tea, dinner and midnight snack. I am rolling in ideas. And I am grateful for that abundance of ideas. I feel I can never have to many – so I am always happy to be a part of something meant to increase my inspiration. But ideas are never my problem.

It’s like ideas are glitter. Glitter is wonderful. It makes everything it touches sparkle. Every time someone gives me more glitter, I’m going to be happy to receive it.

The thing I haven’t had is a place to PUT all this glitter. It’s pouring out of drawers, stuffed into socks, pooling in corners. When there’s no space to put my glitter or a container to store it, it can start to feel like a burden to keep receiving it. Someone gives me a handful of glitter and I’m like, “Oooooh! Glitter! Thank you!” And then I look around…Where is this going to go?

I suspect my fellow American Artists are also not short on ideas and inspiration. We’ve all seen shows and been lit up and gone home thinking, “I can’t wait to try something like that,” and then we realize that we have neither the time, the space nor the context to try that idea out. We don’t have R & D grants as some of our European colleagues do – everything we do is meant to be a product with a target audience and numbers to match. There’s not much space for glitter in the models we have. But glitter is often what we love, what we respond to. I will never refuse an idea – would never refuse a handful of glitter – but like glitter, ideas can find their way into inconvenient places and start to clog up the works if you never get an opportunity to use them or express them.

I don’t want to seem ungrateful for any program or scheme designed to give me glitter but these programs should know that giving me more glitter is not the way to increase the quality of American Theatre. I imagine that if you are not an artist, that ideas seem to be the currency for us – that increasing them would be the way to build up the bank of art. But we’ve got this covered. I’ve got so much glitter, so many ideas. I understand the possibilities. I have an aesthetic education gathered from glittery artists from around the world. I don’t need more glitter. I just need a place to play with it.

Luckily, I was recently given a space with no real strings and so I chose to use it to create my own R &D experience and am therefore incredibly grateful to be able to pull out boxes and boxes of glitter I’ve had sitting around for years. And I get more glitter every day, just because I have a place to play.

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This blog is also a Podcast. If you’d like to listen to me read it to you and here additional commentary, click 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



“So Others May Dream”
May 29, 2016, 11:53 pm
Filed under: art, dreams | Tags: , , , ,

My grandfather retired from the Army several years before I was born so I’d never had much of a sense of his military life. There were souvenirs and stories about it but I had very little connection to it, or interest, frankly. I grew up in the Peace Movement – going to demonstrations and hanging out at the Peace Center so the military seemed very far away from my life. Since my grandfather’s death, however, I’ve had more contact with the military than I did in all the years before and it’s given me a new appreciation for what the military does and can do.

My grandfather’s military burial at Arlington National Cemetery, for example, was one of the most compelling pieces of theatre this (lifelong) theatre maker has seen. My theatre brain has been turning over the question of how to make something that powerful and packed with meaning ever since.

My mother donated my grandfather’s ring to West Point so we were invited to the West Point Ring Melt Ceremony. We gathered at a refinery to see the donated West Point class rings melted down to become part of the class rings of the 2017 graduates. The symbolism is incredibly effective. The graduates of West Point are called The Long Gray Line and the continuity between generations was remarkable and moving to see.

At the dinner before the ceremony, I discovered that each class had a motto – a phrase that was particularly meaningful for them. I heard many mottos about honor and duty and service – all of which sounded like what I imagined the military to be. The class of 2017 – the ones who were to receive the donated rings – chose the motto, “So Others May Dream.” I found myself incredibly moved by it. I was moved in a way that took me by surprise. I think it helped me understand what all that talk about “service” in the military is all about. I have understood that I am meant to thank people for their service and that they have fought for my freedoms and so on. But it was all very abstract for me.

“So Others May Dream” touched me because I am a dreamer. My artistic practice demands that I have time and space for dreaming. This idea of serving to make space for others’ dreams made me feel what The Service really wants to be about. Or at least the class of 2017’s idea of The Service. I wondered if it was not a coincidence that the West Point magazine recently had an Arts issue and highlighted that famous Churchill response to the idea of cutting arts and culture. He reportedly said, “Then what are we fighting for?” In a world where arts can be made to feel expendable, it touches me that these cadets will fight for my right to make art and for my right to dream.

I’m not convinced that every inch of the military is this altruistic. None of the complicated messes of the Military Industrial Complex go away with this new perspective I have. But Dreaming goes a step beyond Serving which warms the cockles of this artistic heart. It also somehow gives me hope for a more compassionate military in the future – with these young leaders at the head of it, I have a little glimmer of hope. I have a much keener sense of what it means to serve and to sacrifice, having seen bits of the military in action and I’m proud now to know more about my Grandfather’s lineage in these traditions.

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You can help me dream by becoming my patron on Patreon.
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This blog is also a Podcast. If you’d like to listen to it, click here.

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



Doing ONE thing is a Privilege
May 24, 2016, 12:56 am
Filed under: art, business | Tags: , , , , ,

While listening to the Note to Self podcast the other day, I heard the guest promote an idea that I have heard promoted many times before. The expert on the show suggested that the way to achieve success is to choose one goal and only focus on that. His thesis was that multi-focus was impossible and only one goal would do.

This is a popular theme in business literature or self-help guides – pick one thing and focus on it to the exclusion of all else. And it makes me a little bit crazy. I like to follow good advice. I see the value in having a uni-focus. And yet I have tried it and it is not possible for me. I don’t think it is possible for the vast majority of American artists.

You ask me to pick one thing – I pick Art. Every time. But if I pick art to the detriment of everything else, I end up broke and in debt. Every time. I do not have the privilege of being able to devote everything to my art. I must split my focus. I have to devote PART of my attention to making a living. And I also happen to have to split that day job focus in three because neither of the three ways I make a living pays enough to actually add up to a living.

I am not multi-focused because I’m flighty and scattered. I am multi-focused because I have to be.

Sometimes people assume that because I do so many different things that I must not take them all seriously. That if I have many identities, they must all be at half-mast. (i.e. I’m not a REAL theatre artist, not a REAL Shakespeare consultant, not a REAL Feldenkrais practitioner, not a REAL writer.) And I suppose the preponderance of this belief in the ONE GOAL Philosophy is why I sometimes fear they’re right. But – my recent discovery of the multi—potentialite movement gives me some assurance that it is indeed possible to be good at many things. And that it needn’t be only out of necessity. The man who is a child psychologist and a luthier, for example, is likely not in a position wherein he NEEDS that second specialization. He can be an amazing psychologist AND an amazing luthier. I can see how those two professions might compliment one another, in fact.

Would the ONE GOAL-ers suggest that he quit one to focus on the other? Probably – but I’m not sure that would be the right thing to do.

In my case, I don’t have the privilege of quitting. The one thing it would be possible to quit without major consequence is the one thing I will never quit – never not ever. And I find ways to integrate one thing into another. It all gets into my artistic work, no matter what it is, or how.

Focusing on One Thing is a privilege that I hope that I get to experience one day. I know my work would benefit from being able to give it my full attention, all the time…but in the meantime, I find it more helpful to look to the multi-potentialite community to help me make my crazy multi-focused life work. Their strategies are the ones that will actually apply to my life as it is now rather than the one goal life I can only imagine.

roads-1048863_1280

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This Blog is also a Podcast. If you’d prefer to listen to this post, 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



“Thank you for Your Smile”
May 16, 2016, 12:09 am
Filed under: dreams, education | Tags: , , , , ,

At the bakery, the clerk said, “Thank you for your smile. It’s refreshing.” And I thanked him for his because his was, too.

In my teens and 20s, I was thanked for my smile very often and just as often derided for it. As in, “What do you have to smile about?”

I hadn’t been smiling quite so much in the last ten years. I’m a smiler generally but I think the wattage of those smiles had been quite seriously diminished by the last decade. Having a full on smile exchange at the bakery made me realize how different those smiles had become. I had not been thanked for a smile in some time.

Something shifted back into place recently, something that allowed me to smile the way I used to – with all the shine behind it. I suspect that the catalyst for this was (weirdly) my college reunion.

In college, I was a pretty sunny kid. I strained against my super hip uber cool campus because I wanted to be around other sunny people and have some fun. Fun wasn’t really on the menu much where I went to school but I found ways to make fun and I was pretty confident that I could do anything I put my mind to, especially if I smiled while I did it.

But life can kick a person around. Particularly a person who chooses to go into the arts. Maybe especially if one goes into the arts in NYC. But it wasn’t NYC that kicked the smiling out of me. It was graduate school in Sunny California. Graduate school displaced my worldview, maimed my inner optimist and generally left me sadder and (maybe?) wiser. I was on fire in my undergrad years. Even when I was unhappy and struggling, I burned with optimism and ambition. Graduate school was like a big bucket of cold water.

I suspect that by returning to the place where I once felt unstoppable, I re-ignited my inner fire, which allowed me to smile again, which made everything better. The way that guy’s smile made me feel better, and the way my smile made his day better. It’s like I got some magic back – like I remembered what it felt like to burn bright.

smile

Become my patron on Patreon and, for as little as a dollar a post, you can make a big difference in this artist’s life.

Also – this blog is now a podcast that (at the moment) only my patrons will be able to hear. If you’d like to hear a podcast version, become a patron!

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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



A Tale of Two Coffee Shops

When I go home for holidays, occasionally I get a chance to visit my old hometown’s local coffee shops. There weren’t any, really, when I was growing up – but there are several to choose from now. Usually I end up at the one closest to my mom’s house but sometimes I end up Downtown and I have to find a place to write down there. My first choice is generally a place that’s been around for a long while – all my old friends go there. I’ve had friends work there. It’s the cool coffee shop. I always run into people I know there. And it is always crowded.

This is why I don’t go there when I need a place to write. Crowdedness makes the hip coffee shop impossible for my purposes. Instead, I end up at a coffee shop that is remarkably un-cool. They play “relaxing” New Age music (with bird sounds.) The walls are painted with a color palate that suggests a beach house in North Carolina. There’s a fireplace.  Like the cool coffee shop, it has original artwork for sale. The paintings though, are very conservative. They are barns and cows done in a technique I can only describe as Grandma Style. There’s just something about this place that says who it is for. And most of the customers in the shop seem to know. I heard, while I was there, conversations about the old Christian Bookstore and stories on Fox News. All told, the place feels like it’s the Republican coffee shop in town.

In my home town – I clearly BELONG at the cool coffee shop and clearly do NOT belong at the Republican coffee shop. And yet I choose to write where I do not belong. Mostly because it’s less crowded but also because it’s an interesting anthropological opportunity. It leads me to interesting questions. How did this cafe culture develop? Are they marketing themselves on Republican listservs? And how conscious are the people who create these businesses of the culture they are creating around their business? Is the un-cool coffee shop trying to be cool?

These two coffee shops in the same town draw two very different crowds. And I’m fascinated by it. I now live in New York City and I frequent many different coffee shops. None of them have this sense of a unified personality. The people who go to them vary dramatically. In a world with so much diversity, coffee shops don’t seem to create so much culture around themselves. I don’t belong in any one of them – and I belong in all of them. City living creates a kind of contradiction in belonging/not-belonging. That is, I think, part of the appeal of city life. You never belong and always do. All at once.

coffee-692560_1280

This is stock footage of a coffee shop and represents none of the coffee shops mentioned in this blog post.

Become my patron on Patreon and, for as little as a dollar a post, you can make a big difference in this artist’s life.

Also – this blog is now a podcast that (at the moment) only my patrons will be able to hear. If you’d like to hear a podcast version, become a patron!

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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

 




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