Filed under: business, Gender politics | Tags: economic privilege, fear, fear privilege, male privilege, privilege, skydiving, white privilege, writing in cafes
I write in cafes and while I mostly mind my own business, sometimes I can’t help but overhear my fellow coffee drinkers, especially when they’ve got their meetings turned up to CONFIDENT!
This particular meeting involved two men in super fashionable slick outfits. They were talking about buying businesses. I think. I wasn’t paying close attention. But then I heard the tall one in the leather jacket tell the other one a story about being in a shaking airplane and feeling afraid. It gave him an epiphany and he realized that it was the first time he’d experienced fear in years. He took this experience as a mandate to take more risks, to find ways to challenge himself. All very sensible. Of course.
I was struck, however, by the profound sense of privilege that there was in that statement about fear.
First, almost every woman I know experiences fear on a fairly regular basis, just walking home at night or riding the subway or walking down the street. I don’t know many women who could say they hadn’t experienced fear in years.
Second, if you’re a person of color in this country, your likelihood of being confronted by the police is so great, I cannot imagine how you could avoid experiencing fear often. Just walking home from work you could be shot for being black. You could be beat up in Alabama just for being Indian. That’s some fear.
Third, if you don’t have enough money, fear is an almost daily experience as well. “Will I make rent this month?” “What if that one gig falls through?” “What if I get sick? Will my family still be able to eat?”
In other words, the absence of fear is one of the great privileges, perhaps the greatest. And not one I’d considered before.
This tall, wealthy, white man in the café needs to FIND ways to experience fear. His life is so comfortable, he has to seek fear like a thrill. He has to court it because it is not ever-present in his daily life.
It occurs to me that maybe a guy like this is able to accomplish so much, not just due to the privileges afforded to him by wealth, race and gender, but due to the absence of fear. He can do a lot with the security that a life with nothing to fear in it gives him.
I thought, you know, it’s too bad this guy can’t step into the shoes of any of the people who regularly experience fear. It might save him some money in thrill seeking. Why pay for skydiving lessons when you can just walk down the street?
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I can’t stop thinking about this blog post which I only half read the other day. (Sorry, I couldn’t bear to read it all the way through.) In it, the author railed against actors who moan about having to return to teaching after their acting gigs. She recommended stepping away from the kids and leaving the teaching to those who love it.
I hate this. That’s why I can’t stop thinking about it. (Voice in my head, sounding a lot like an angry Foghorn Leghorn: “Of all the. . .”) But I also don’t necessarily disagree. I mean, listen, if you can be dissuaded from teaching by a blog post, it’s probably not for you. But – I take issue with the idea that you have to LOVE teaching and LOVE kids in order to do it. You don’t. And if you’re a theatre-maker or an artist of any kind – of COURSE you’d rather be making your art and OF COURSE teaching, while better than ditch digging for day job work, is a pale comparison to the thrill of making art.
For most of us who are artists, there is literally nothing else we’d rather do than our art. Even if my day job was to read books on the beach (could this PLEASE be my day job?!) I would want to get back to art making eventually. So I take a little umbrage at the idea that we should leave the teaching only to those who love it like we love our art. Even career classroom teachers don’t tend to feel that way. My sense is that we need each and every one of you – those who love it, those who hate it and those who’d rather be art making or some combination of all of it.
When I first started teaching, I loved it almost as much as making art. I can imagine having written a post, like the one I read, 15 years ago. Teaching was exciting and thrilling and I LOVED the students I worked with. I was a Theatre Love Bomb in the classroom. But I’m a much better teacher now than I was then. I think this is, in part, due to not being concerned with love so much anymore.
There is a sense in some teaching circles that kids can sense how you feel about teaching – so that you must be projecting devotion at all times, or they’ll smell it, the way animals smell fear. This is nonsense. Kids don’t need my love. I give them my respect and my skill and I think it really and truly doesn’t matter to them how I feel about it.
I think there is often some confusion between resenting the work and resenting the people in the work and it is an important distinction. Yes, I would rather make art than teach – but there’s no money in art so I do the next most meaningful thing (for me,) I teach. And yes, sometimes I resent that. But even while I might resent that I have to return from the honeymoon of making a show to my day jobs – I don’t bring that resentment into the classroom. While I am teaching, I am entirely present to teaching. I like my students. I do my absolute best to give them all I can. I don’t blame them or resent them – even when I run into a classroom of total jerks (and I do.) But I’m allowed to wish I were doing a show instead. And classroom teachers are allowed to wish they were on a beach reading books.
Teaching is hard work. It only gets harder when there are also rules about how we’re supposed to feel about it. (see also my previous post on this subject.) And I get it, if you’re doing the thing you love passionately and someone turns up and treats that thing like it’s less than, then, of course that sucks.
But if you love teaching the way I love making art, I envy you. You have a good deal. The thing you love to do the most is the thing you get to do for a living. That is precious and fabulous and not entirely possible for most of us.
Most of the artists I know have a luminous quality – something in them is very alive – however they feel about day jobbing. I think that luminosity is a good thing to bring into a classroom. We need artists’ vibrance and drive. I think discouraging people from doing it just because it isn’t their first choice kind of sucks – but again, if a blog post (including and especially this one) is going to persuade or dissuade you one way or the other. . .ditch digging might, in fact, be a better choice. Now, ditch digging, there’s a job you better love.
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Filed under: Gender politics, theatre | Tags: attractive, Cast and Loose, casting notices, girlfriends, sexism, TFANA, woman
Not so long ago, I wrote a piece about a trip down the rabbit hole of casting. I was disturbed by how the vast majority of the women’s resumes I saw included pole-dancing and emphasized the various ways they might be objectified. Their reels were just as bad. The sense was that each woman was destined to play either the sexy girlfriend, the cute girlfriend or the pretty girlfriend and that’s pretty much all anyone was aiming for. I called it the Land of Girlfriends.
This landscape was awful when I was an actor looking for work and it is awful when I’m directing and looking for an actor. It does not cease to be awful.
It is not the fault of the women – the breakdowns for some of these things are horrifying but even the most benign jobs encourage this sort of thing. Casting notices value appearance over skill almost every time. I loved Kathryn Blume’s rant about a casting notice in her area. An excerpt is posted, below:
There are lots of juicy words used to describe Beatrice, including “frowzy, acid-tongued, alcoholic, intelligent.” Those are all incredibly useful to both actors and directors when thinking about characterization and/or whether or not a particular actor is right for the role.
But then for some reason, they also used the word “attractive.” Why is this necessary? It’s also vague. What kind of attractive and to whom? How is she both frowzy AND attractive? Attractive is subjective to the observer, and has absolutely no bearing on how an actor might play this role.
Then there are the descriptions of Beatrice’s daughters Ruth and Tillie. Ruth is described as “pretty, disturbed, high strung.” Tillie is described as “extremely shy and fascinated by science.”
Ok, for one, pretty according to whom? Also actors can’t play pretty. It’s not useful in the breakdown.
And why don’t we get a description, then of Tillie’s looks? Because shy girls interested in science can’t also be pretty? Again, who’s to say?
Mark posted about this on MAW’s page, and as he said,
“Listing “attractive” or “pretty” as a required attribute is, at best, unnecessary and almost meaningless, and at worst, cliche and sexist. Of course we want performers to be attractive in the sense of compelling. But if you’re talking about physical attractiveness, what does that mean, and what does it have to do with the role?
By regularly describing female characters this way, we are perpetuating the idea that they are there, at least on one level, as eye candy, and I think that does a disservice to both the playwright’s vision and women actors to put this arbitrary, generalized idea of attractiveness out there as a requirement. Actors *are* attractive in the sense of being compelling (at least the good ones) – it’s an inherent part of the craft. Why keep putting this additional requirement of physical attractiveness on female actors? What message does that send to women?”
This is all a heartfelt plea to be conscious of the messages we’re putting out there about the value of women, and the value of certain kinds of women, and the painful overemphasis on a very narrow cultural definition of women’s attractiveness – a definition which leads to mental and physical illness and a devaluation of a broad range of compelling and gifted artists who deserve to have their work seen.
That’s some heroic Facebook posting, there, from Kathryn and this Mark fellow. AND I discovered, while searching for the original casting notice, that the company responded immediately and edited it right away.
This was the character description:
THAISA: 20s She has to be dazzlingly beautiful (of course) but she ends the play as a woman of forty, after the ‘gap in time’ in the middle of the play.
“Of course” this character must be dazzling and OF COURSE the real tricky part will be that the character, GASP! – also has to “end up a woman of 40” – in other words – OLD. So you can’t just be a model, you also have to be able to play a crone. As a woman in my 40s, I should know. Why, none of my female peers are dazzling, no sir, just pack us all up and put us in intensive care, we’re old. We apparently can’t play Girlfriends anymore, so what good are we?
I am already so weary of so much sexist racist boring ass theatre. . things like this just make it harder to imagine seeing anything at all.
But this new trend of calling out those senselessly objectifying casting notices is heartening to me. It gives me the smallest sense of hope that we might one day get to see performers with SKILL and not just conventionally beautiful, attractive, dazzling people.
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Filed under: education, Gender politics | Tags: High School Drama, Legally Blonde, objectification, Playboy Bunny
On a trip to the suburbs, I met a woman whose daughter had been a star of her high school drama department. She told me stories of her daughter’s triumphs and among them was a minor character in Legally Blonde, the Musical. She told me that her daughter’s teacher wanted her to play the lead but she and her husband had nixed it because of “modesty.” “Because of the bunny outfit,” she said. Apparently, the show requires that the lead dress as a Playboy bunny.
And here’s where a radical liberal feminist like me starts to agree with the feelings of a conservative, religious set of parents. I mean, why in the world is a young teenage girl required to dress up like a Playboy bunny in order to be in her high school play? Is sexual objectification educationally necessary? I was horrified. And horrified that this dilemma is likely being played out in high schools all over the country.
I was ready to storm that drama department. Which is where this family and I diverge. The daughter and parents were all fine with the decision they made. It’s just how it is for them. Me, I think this kid should have been able to wear whatever the hell she wanted. Why not a full body pajama bunny suit if a bunny suit was required?
Playboy bunny? Fine – as long as it’s her choice and not some icky drama department compulsion. I say this as someone who put up with the nickname of “cleavage ” in high school, starting at age 14, due to a costume I wore in a musical. I didn’t object to the dress at the time and might not object to it now. But I wonder about further extremes on the scale, like the one in this play. Every day girls are put in inappropriate costumes due to zealous drama teachers or the demands of a play that wasn’t written for their age group.
I know that once girls make their way into the professional world, there will be no stopping the extreme objectification but until then – can we please just let these girls be the kids they are? A kid shouldn’t have to wear a Playboy bunny outfit in school. Not if she doesn’t want to. And deciding she doesn’t want to shouldn’t prevent her from participating in the educational experience of playing a part in a play.
I don’t mind the rejections so much when the application is simple, free and doesn’t ask a lot of me. If I can apply in half an hour, it’s a relatively painless attempt and so when I don’t get it, as just happened with the application to a writing residency, it barely bothers me. I applied to this same residency last year and it was just no skin off my nose to reapply and the sting of rejection is next to nothing. There are many other residencies I’d rather go to but I’ll keep applying to this one, too – because it’s so easy.
Basically there’s a direct connection between how much effort it takes to apply for a thing and how disappointed I am not to get it. Grants are killers that way because they are EPIC amounts of work and rarely come through.
If there were an application where I just clicked a box saying I was applying – that rejection letter would be the least painful imaginable, even if it were something I desperately wanted.
I think. I can’t know, though – because I have NEVER seen an application like that.
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I have a Feldenkrais client who is about to graduate from an arts program and he was struggling with the anxiety of what will happen next. Talking with him about it reminded me of my own college graduation anxiety and even though it’s really not my job as a Feldenkrais Practitioner to give Arts advice, I found myself assuring him that it would be all right.
And it will be all right – though probably not in the way that anyone expects. Graduating into a world in which you’re choosing to be an artist is different than graduating into a job, or moving to a city, or just getting to know yourself for a while. The thing I didn’t understand at that age was how fluid my life was about to become. Because I had gone from school to school to school, each choice made a monumental impact on my life’s trajectory. And each choice neatly led to the next.
I had no sense of the randomness of the artists’ life before me. I thought I’d get that acting job and it would lead to the next acting job and it would lead to the next acting job and so on until I was on Broadway or on TV or in The Movies! And while I got that acting job, I did not get the NEXT acting job right away and it was a little bit of a shock that one thing did not lead to another as it had in education.
This is terrifying on one hand but also tremendously freeing. Each choice becomes slightly less heavy this way. You make one choice, it may or not work out. . .6 weeks later, you’ll be making another choice. There is no RIGHT choice. There’s always just a series of choices. And, sure, these choices add up to a life – but probably not in a predictable way.
In a way, you’ll always be graduating – which I can understand doesn’t sound appealing given the drama that comes with that event. And I suppose it shouldn’t. This life ain’t easy. An artists’ life is really like one graduation after another. One new beginning, another ending. Learning how to deal with that constant change is the most useful skill an artist can have.
Maybe it’s not comforting to think of the next phase of your life this way – but for me, it might have helped. It might have given some lightness to something that seemed very heavy. You don’t have to know what you’re going to do for the rest of your life or even what you’re going to do right after you graduate. You could not know and then know and not know again and all of that is perfectly normal. You can also choose an artist’s life and then leave it. Most of the people I started out with have done that. You just don’t know from where you’re standing.
All you can do is do the next thing in front of you with all that you have and be ready to leap when the next opportunity comes around.
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Filed under: art, comedy, music, puppets, theatre, writing | Tags: arts careers, lottery, survivorship bias
The odds are maybe not quite as bad. Maybe. But the chances for an actual sustainable life in the Arts in this country are very slim. When we begin, we’re all convinced we will be the one to beat the odds but only a lucky few will actually manage it. When you play the lottery, you can incrementally improve the odds of winning by buying more tickets. It stands to reason that the more tickets you’re able to afford, the more opportunity you have to win.
This is how privilege works in the arts, in a sense. Being white, for example, gives you some extra metaphorical lottery tickets. Being male will do the same. If you’re both those things, you’ll get an additional handful of tickets. And if you have some economic privilege – i.e. you can afford to do internships or not pay rent while you do a residency or whatever – that’s an even bigger handful of tickets.
But it’s still not guarantee of winning. This is why it’s hard to see one’s own privilege. It’s hard to feel like you’re winning when you’re losing most of the time. Winners of the Arts Career Lottery will tell you that all it takes to win is to work really hard at your craft and be the best you can be at what you do. The winners are experiencing something known as survivorship bias (to read more about this see: You Are Not So Smart.) Someone with Survivorship Bias attributes anything that they experienced as the reason for their success, that is, they worked hard, so it must be hard work that makes success!
But for every person who won the sustainable career Arts Career Lottery by working hard, there are probably hundreds upon hundreds who worked just as hard, are just as good and yet didn’t win. And there are also the ones who didn’t work very hard and just got lucky. You can do everything right and fail. You can have a fistful of tickets and still not win the lottery. You can have a fistful of privilege and still not win the arts lottery.
And like the actual lottery, sometimes a little win in the Arts will keep you playing. In the lottery, you play enough, you will win $25 or $50 and those small gains can encourage you to stay in the game, giving you hope that you could win. This happens in the arts, where a small bit of progress feels like a signal that you could win. You got that audition. You got that grant. You won that jury prize. So you keep playing. For better or for worse.
Should you play the Arts Lottery? Entirely up to you. The odds are terrible and you can lose a lot of money as well as piece of mind. I can really only recommend it for those who feel that they have no choice – that a life in the arts is the only available path. If that’s you: Welcome to the Lottery. Your odds are pretty slim but if you’re like me, you keep playing, simply because you cannot help it. Just be prepared for the moment when some asshole who’s never bought a ticket before, who’s barely trained and has not paid any dues suddenly hits the jackpot. I’ve seen it happen many times and it does not stop sucking.
But if you can let go of the idea that there might be order or justice or merit in the way the arts magic gets distributed, you might be able to enjoy the game.
Want to buy me an extra ticket in the Arts Career lottery?