Songs for the Struggling Artist

“With an attitude like that. . .”
January 22, 2015, 1:00 am
Filed under: art, business, theatre | Tags: , ,

A performer told me a story about a status update he posted on his Facebook page. He said something like: “I love performing but the instability of the life is hard.” This is pretty much like saying the sun is hot and water is wet. It’s true and not terribly controversial.

Except, apparently, for a casting director who commented on his post, saying something like: “With an attitude like that, you might as well get out of the business.”
I was floored by this response. It is a) fucking insane and b) probably why the “business” is so screwed up.

Maybe this casting director is one lone wacko – but I rather think that the theatre culture here is full of people promoting blind optimism and a constant cheery outlook. There is no place for truth in that environment. The man who told me this story noted that he was always getting in trouble for telling the truth. He said his friends are always throwing up their hands saying, “There’s your problem. You can’t tell the TRUTH in this business!”

This is hugely problematic. First, art without truth tends to be pretty shitty. Second, any business in which you’re not allowed to acknowledge what the actual conditions are can become a hotbed for exploitation. Third, if everyone is walking around lying to themselves and each other about how things are, there’s very little hope for actual social change.

On my own Facebook page, one of my friends (and fellow theatre maker extraordinaire,) Amy Clare Tasker, commented on one of my blog posts about social injustice and optimism, saying:

I think many artists don’t want to admit that we are not making any money – and I know I want to keep thinking I’m about to make some money from my work (instead of office jobs). But I’ve been “about to” for years now. At what point do we start to engage with the reality in front of us, instead of our optimism?

This holds very true for me, too. And while I was holding out that hope for one day “making it big,” I was afraid to make any waves. I wouldn’t call out sexism or racism when I saw it (and boy did I ever see it!) Many actors, when they’re in some racist and sexist piece of work are the first to defend it. After all, their livelihood depends on saying only positive things so it helps to not think too deeply about what the work is really saying. But it’s an endless circle of yuck because when someone does get called on the racism or sexism of a piece, the producers will point to the actors involved and say, “Well, they don’t have a problem with it.“ Of course they don’t. Not when their jobs depend on being positive, no matter what.

Being positive no matter what is how we’re told we’re going to get to the top. But even when I was in my “I’m gonna MAKE IT “ phase, I was never really able to project the RADIOACTIVE positivity that seemed required to work where the money was. At the time, I didn’t understand why I felt so alienated from that kind of environment. Now I understand how much my interest in truth was a liability and how not being terribly fond of relentlessly positive veneer made things difficult for me.

Hearing this performer’s story made me see just how skewed the perspectives of the gatekeepers in the Business can be. I don’t run in those circles, so I don’t always know what really goes on. But it does explain for me why so much of the theatre I see that is made through those money-greased channels is as empty and wooden as it is. All of the truth has been smiled right out of most parties involved.


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