Songs for the Struggling Artist


Art by the Numbers (or Six Ways to Really Support Artists)

When I stepped away from my acting career, the first arts project I got into was my alterna-folk-pop band, Bright Red Boots. It was the first time I’d had to ask for people’s attention, the first time I had to gather an audience. It wasn’t easy, but between the four of us, we managed to pull in enough people to keep getting booked at a handful of venues. Handing out and sending postcards made me uncomfortable but that’s the way we did it, really. There were a lot of venues we couldn’t play because we couldn’t draw a big enough crowd and that has been the story of my life as a generative artist ever since.

When I started a theatre company, the problem of bringing in an audience wasn’t at the forefront of my mind at first and also, at first, it wasn’t that hard. With a fairly large company of actors and creative team, we managed to fill up our first small Brooklyn house most of the time and didn’t do badly at filling up a big theatre in an out of the way venue during the Fringe. But as time has gone by, pulling audiences in to see anything has become more and more challenging.

Around about the time we had to cancel two shows in Edinburgh because no one showed up, I started to dream of not having to worry about bringing in an audience. I wanted to just make things and not worry about who received them. I tried posting things on the internet, thinking this is just how we do things now, thinking that it’s all just clicks and likes and maybe the digital realm will be less concerned with popularity than the time-based live performing arts can be.

And, well…I discovered a kind of indifference I never thought possible. Despite the vastness of my POTENTIAL audience on the internet, I generally draw just about the same numbers that I used to draw in person. Very few people give a damn about what I get up to.

How few? I have two podcasts. One averages 13 listens per episode. The other averages 15. This is almost exactly the number of people I can manage to get into a theatre these days if I put on a show. This blog is definitely the most popular thing that I do because, occasionally, when some post is a hit, the numbers rise into triple digits briefly. (Once, they went up to 4 digits. Once.) But then it goes back down to my usual 6-16 readers. Music? Hmmm. I put out 4 albums this year and sold 5. Not 5 per album. 5 total. I would probably have sold a few more but my main supporters (my 16 Patreon patrons) got them for free as a thank you gift for their support. Songs on Spotify average 15 plays. I’ve written around twenty plays and probably 15 people have seen more than one of them. And I want you to know how much I appreciate those 15 people who have viewed or listened or bought or come to see shows. Those people are my heroes. Those people know how to support the arts. They know how to support me. (If you’re one of the 15, I thank you!) And truthfully, I know it’s more than 15 altogether. It’s more like 15 people at a time. The total is probably more like – I don’t know – 50? 60?

But I’m not going to lie – sometimes I get very discouraged that generally only 15 people at a time care about what I do. This is why I had to write a post for myself called No One’s Asking for Your Art.

So much of the artistic world these days is valued by the numbers. The box office numbers of movies are reported like important news stories. We measure if a movie is good by how many people go to see it on opening weekend. (Which is absurd, by the way. The only thing those numbers are an accurate reflection of is how effective the marketing plan was.) We have a 1% problem in the arts, just as we do in greater economics. There are a small handful of artists at the top, with big numbers (millions of downloads, books sold, tickets sold, etc.) and the rest of us limp by with our 15.

Here in America, we treat popularity as if it’s quality. (And of course this is a factor in our politics as well.) We assume that if lots of people like a thing then it must be good. (All over NYC, taxis advertising the musical Frozen proclaim it “a serious megahit” – which tells us nothing except that a lot of tickets were sold.) And we ALSO assume that if very few people like a thing then it must NOT be good. And if you think we artists don’t internalize that metric and make ourselves miserable, you probably don’t know a lot of us artists.

I have to constantly check myself on this point. When I’m disappointed that only 15 people looked at some thing I made, I remind myself that numbers are not a sign of quality. I remind myself that there are hundreds of thousands of white supremacist assholes. Those guys are very popular. Before his account was suspended, Milo Yannopolis had 300,000 followers on Twitter. Popularity has NOTHING to do with quality. NOTHING. Not one thing.

I always think about this episode of This American Life where they interviewed these conceptual artists who hired a market research firm and then made art by the numbers they received. I’m sure I’ve talked about this before (I am obsessed) but the deal is that they polled people about what they liked most in music and in visual art and then made pieces that were the MOST popular things and the LEAST. And the most popular song is bland and unmemorable. It’s about love and features a saxophone. It sounded like everything else on the radio at the time. The least popular song is a tour de force. I think about it all the time. I get parts of it stuck in my head. The opera singer rapping cowboy lyrics over a tuba is extraordinary. (It’s here if you need to hear it.)

It feels as though so many aspects of our lives have just been reduced to numbers, to how many clicks something gets or units sold or whatever. Even our journalism is caught up in it. Have you wondered why the New York Times has been posting so many kooky opinion pieces the way I have? Well, as Michelle Woolf pointed out – a share is a share is a share. (Seriously watch her video about this – it’s illuminating and funny.)

We make no distinction of quality – is this a good piece of work? A good show? A good movie? A good song?

If lots of people clicked on it – it must be, right? It’s the free market, right? Don’t we live in a meritocracy where the cream rises to the top? We don’t. Sorry. And it’s not even a free market. Let’s take music, for example. Watching this video made it crystal clear to me why songs became popular. (Short version – it’s extreme exposure coupled with audio manipulated for maximum loudness.) They became popular, not because people liked them but because executives decided to make them popular and so they are.

Which, you know, that would all be fine with me if the folks making work at the other end of the spectrum weren’t limping along with only 15 views or whatever. I feel like there should be room for all of us but somehow there isn’t.

I have no idea what’s to be done about it but if you’re wondering how to make the most difference to those who continue to make work in the face of impossible odds, I do have some suggestions.

1) Read, Listen to, Watch, Go to people’s work. Even if you don’t love it. The support you give now to an artist may lead to work you do love in the future. Or it may not. But your view, your click, your ticket sale, your presence will make a huge difference to someone who is used to indifference. Subscribe to their email lists, click on their links, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

2) Respond to what you see with love, kindness and support. Even if you don’t love every aspect of what you see. Just some acknowledgement that the work’s message was received means a lot.

3) Boost these folks as much as you’re able. I know it’s exhausting sharing stuff all the time. But know that your cheerleading for a struggling artist has a much bigger impact than cheerleading for something everyone is already talking about. Example: You loving a Marvel movie is great. But everyone’s already going to superhero movies. They really don’t need the boost. You’re one of millions. You loving your friend’s short film? You’re one of 15. Be that person. That’s impact. I’m not saying you shouldn’t post about how much you loved Wonder Woman but maybe complement it with another post about an actual wonder woman you know.

4) If you hate something, you don’t need to say anything. Obscurity will take care of it, believe me. It’ll take care of the good stuff, too, unfortunately but —a share is a share is a share. You’ll actually boost the thing you hate if you talk about it.

5) If you can afford to: buy their book, buy their album, buy tickets to their show, even if you don’t particularly want to read the book or listen to the album or see the show. As I learned form this article – even super well established published authors have trouble selling their books to their loved ones. If someone you know wrote a book – buy it. And give it to someone if you don’t want it. Impress your friends by giving them a copy of your other friend’s book!

6) If you have some extra cash, you can go to the top level of support with something like Patreon. Helping an artist pay their rent is one of the most supportive acts of kindness. Patronage doesn’t have to be big. Someone giving a dollar a month to an artist gives not only the $12 a year but also a gesture of faith – of belief in the value of whatever that artist does. My Patreon patrons have made the things I’ve made in the last couple of years possible. They are why I can write these words now.

 

If you can only do one thing – start with number one. Just watch, show up, go, listen, view. (I heard about someone who sets their Spotify account on their friends’ albums and sets them to repeat all night while they’re asleep.) It’s exponentially more valuable to an artist like me to see that someone clicked on my work than it is to Taylor Swift. She deals in millions. I deal in multiples of 5. By the numbers, your share is more valuable to me. And a share is a share is a share.

Am I great at this? Nope. I’m not. I’d like to be better though. I actively try. But most artists I know are better at this than others – mostly because we know how it feels. Unfortunately, us liking each other’s work doesn’t always translate to the wider world. We need fans. We need cheerleaders. We need advocates. You don’t have to do it for every artist you know. Maybe pick one and be that one artist’s champion. It will mean more than you can imagine to that person. I have a couple of people like this and I appreciate them more than I can possibly say.

I’m not trying to say that only 15 people are ever interested in what I do. Sometimes I get a hit. But most of the time – 15 is the average. And I feel like I’m telling you this now because I know I am not the only one. Many of the artists I know are in a similar position but most of us work very hard to create an illusion that our numbers are much higher than they are. We’re not doing this to con anyone. We just know that human beings tend to gravitate toward popular things. To sell tickets to a show, tell people it’s selling out fast. Every theatre producer knows this.

Here are some reasons that people have given me for reading, watching, listening to my work: “Because you’ll be famous one day,” “because I want you to thank me in your Oscar speech,” “because I want to say I knew you when.” These are all investments in a future where my numbers are so big that the person is glad they got in at the ground floor. I used to try and capitalize on this instinct – to try and project an image of “I’m going places!” But I find I can’t get on board with this idea anymore. Not because I don’t have faith in my work but because I think possible fame in the future is a lousy reason to support artists.

It is unlikely I will be famous one day. But something I do might influence someone who will be famous one day or who is already famous. Or, more important to me: something I do might contribute to the culture, might influence another artist to make something great, might inspire someone to create extraordinary things.

In order to get just 15 views, sometimes we will create an aura of success. I have been known to say things like “bloggers over on WordPress love this!” when three bloggers have clicked the like button. I’m not lying. Three bloggers is more than usual for me. But I also understand that I’m putting a little bit of a shine on a situation while trying to boost my views.

When I began in theatre, I didn’t know almost everyone was bluffing. I thought everyone’s career was really going great! I didn’t know that theatre people are always having a great year no matter what is actually happening. I also didn’t know art wasn’t meritocratic yet. I didn’t know how much more important process and artistic integrity would be to me than “success.”

But I digress. I’m telling you about this because I want you to understand that even the artist who is projecting an air of cool, could probably still use your support. Unless your artist friend is Beyonce, they’re probably struggling to get more than 15 people’s eyes or ears on each of their things. Click, show up, be a patron. It’s good for artists. And good for art.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Anchor, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to be a top supporter?

Become my patron on Patreon.

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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) 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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Tortoising and Hare-ing

The afternoon that the lullaby came to me, I was in the middle of working on a big long term project. Or rather, I was preparing to continue the work on a big long term project. But the lullaby called itself into existence and before the day was over. I had not only written a song but recorded it, too.

Most things I do are not like this. Most things are bigger, more unwieldy, the sorts of projects that can take years. But occasionally a shorter lightening rod piece will flash through.

When I got the burst of lullaby inspiration, I thought, “Oh, I’m a hare! And my artist friend laboring over an epic work is a tortoise! Artists come in different speeds!” But I very quickly realized that this was wrong. I have at least one project that I’ve been working on for a decade and a half. So, I’m definitely not typically super fast. What I realized, though, is that an artist isn’t either a tortoise or a hare. They’re both. Sometimes we’re the tortoise, inching along, headlights only illuminating a few feet ahead and sometimes we’re the hare, dashing ahead to a finish line in an instant. Sometimes we’re both – we send one slow project along the track and then send another to quickly dash ahead. (I also recognize that, in the fable, the hare loses but I’m sure there are races that hare could win.)

I suspect a rich artistic life has a bit of both styles in it. In the midst of working through a novel, for example, it is a gift to see an entire creative process come together in an afternoon. Most artists I know have those big pieces that they chip away at slowly, like marble carved into shape one knock of the chisel at a time, so to take a break and to do a quick sketch can be very refreshing. Simultaneously, if you’re in a space of making a series of short term projects that you can finish in a day, maybe adding a more ambitious project with multiple steps and even an invisible deadline will give you a good shift in perspective.

It’s not that some artists are tortoises and some are hares. It’s that some projects are short races and some are long. Some ideas are hares on a quick track and others are tortoises on a marathon, slowly plodding forward to an epic finish. We are not tortoises or hares, we are either tortoising or hare-ing. The trick is knowing which is which.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Anchor, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

You can help support both my tortoise and my hare projects

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



What No Money Really Means

A few months ago, I met with some college students who were interested in working in theatre. When I said, “You know there’s no money in it, right?” they nodded vigorously and said they knew and so we proceeded on to other things.

But I kept thinking about those vigorous nods. I know I nodded the same way when people told me the same thing when I was in college. But I know that what I imagined when I heard “no money’ was wildly different than what no money actually looks like. I imagined something romantic, like La Boheme or An American in Paris. If it involved sunny garrets and fingerless gloves, that was my idea of “no money.”
And while I do have a pair of fingerless gloves, a sunny garret would be way too expensive.
I know if anyone had actually been able to tell me what my life in theatre would actually look like, I probably would have chosen it anyway – I was unshakeable.
But for those who may have choices…I feel like it might be important to know a few things.

1) Just because you manage to make some money in theatre once, doesn’t mean you’re going to make some again. One job does not necessarily lead to another. As a young person, I thought my artistic life would be logical, that it would proceed the way student life had, high school leading to college, college leading to work and more work and then better work. But theatre work is like the weather – there are seasons and they are rarely entirely predictable. A career in theatre does not proceed predictably. I thought one job would build on another – for example if you did a show on Broadway, your next gig would be an even better, bigger show on Broadway. In fact, unless you’re Jerry Zachs or Audra McDonald, your next gig after Broadway is probably your catering gig.

2) No money can also often mean no time. It’s not just CEOs who experience time as money. The time will come when you will decide not to do that show you really want to because you cannot afford to take the time off your day job. It will happen. It has happened to almost everyone I know.

3) If you’re as maniacally dedicated to art as I was as a young person, you aren’t so worried about yourself, your rent or your groceries. You’re worried about your art. But your art, too, will suffer for lack of funds. Let’s say you’re a singer. Without resources, you won’t have the money for voice lessons that others may have. You won’t have time to practice due to the day jobs. You can’t afford to hire the best musicians for your recording session. You’ll watch those who have the time and resources to improve their craft do just that, even if you began with more talent or dedication.

And if you’re really worried about money, the worry, the scarcity of the resource will begin to take over your bandwidth. If you’re a generative artist, this can be particularly debilitating as your brain does not have the space or the quiet necessary for creation. (See also my post about why artists seem to be bad with money.)

4) Having no money when you graduate from college is perfectly normal. No one really does and your peer group will essentially have that in common. As your peers get fancy jobs or just, like, jobs, the distance between you will begin to get wider and wider. You might worry about going to their birthday party at the fancy restaurant or be unable to go to their destination wedding. If you are lucky in your friends as I am – they will not be unaware of those things and they will do their best to include you in such moments stress free. But some will not be so understanding and you could end up blowing your rent money at birthday dinners if you’re not careful.

If you remain committed to your theatrical life, your non-theatre friends many begin to wonder what you’re doing wrong. They’ll think you made some error along the way that has led to you continuing to have no money to speak of. They may begin to ask the dreaded, “Why does she keep doing this?”

Being without money for a short period of time is very different than being without it for years, for decades, maybe forever. Most of those nodding vigorously at that college event were probably used to a fair amount of economic privilege. Even if they were there through the benefits of financial aid, as I was, their parents probably have/had regular salaries, as mine did. My sense of “no money” largely came from not having enough babysitting money to go to the movies and I knew I could deal with not going to the movies as often as others. But having no money isn’t just not going to the movies or not having cable or not buying yourself jewelry or clothes or books or going out to brunch, or whatever. Sometimes it’s not having enough to pay rent or bills or buy groceries. It’s how (pre-Obamacare) so many of my fellow artists and I did without health insurance – because – it was either rent or health insurance and we were healthy, so it was actually cheaper to deal with stuff as it came.

And all of that was really fine for the first few years. Certainly when I was working as an actor, touring and performing, I didn’t have time to worry about it. And that first job came with an application for food stamps, so none of us starved. I suppose that’s the ideal – to work for no real money for a little while, see what it’s like and see if you can hack it. It’s not for everyone.

Decades of it is very different than a couple of years. A few weeks ago, I lost the silver hoops I wear in my ears and I realized I had no idea where to get new ones as I had not purchased a piece of jewelry for myself since college. That’s over twenty years, y’all. (I found some on ETSY and feel like a VERY FANCY lady.)

If you have support available to you, use it. It is a sad reality that, for the most part, the theatre world does not offer any real avenues for those without that support. It’s something I’d really love to see change – for the field to open avenues for working class folks to be able to participate more fully in the art – but at the moment – you’re going to need every bit of support you can muster. Maybe for just a little while if you’re VERY VERY lucky or maybe forever.

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Anchor, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and more. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

You can help me escape the no money trap

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



How to Not Be a Creep
March 9, 2018, 11:58 pm
Filed under: advice, feminism | Tags: , , , ,

While grabbing a quick lunch, I sat at a counter by the window. I was in the middle of having a lovely peaceful eating experience when a man sat two stools down the counter from me. This was not a problem. Here in NYC, I have zero difficulty ignoring strangers nearby. However, this guy made my creep detector go berserk. My nervous system started sounding the alarm, “Creep alert! Creep alert! Danger! Danger!” And probably this guy was not a serial killer or rapist. Probably he was just some guy eating his lunch before going back to work but his creepiness rating was through the roof and therefore made my formerly pleasant lunch an exercise in survival. I really didn’t need that shot of adrenaline with my meal.

And assuming this guy wasn’t actually a rapist, it occurred to me that maybe he’d like to know how not to trigger creep alerts in every woman he encounters.

In this guy’s case, it was about how he was sitting. Instead of facing the counter and the wall, his entire body was turned out toward me. It was, in effect, a full body stare. And maybe he wasn’t actually creepily staring at me for ten minutes straight. Maybe he was staring out the window behind me. But generally only a creep has no sense of the lack of propriety about staring at fellow human beings.

A creep stands too close to you. A creep keeps talking to you after you’ve sent an “I don’t want to talk” signal. A creep will miss pretty much every single “I don’t want to talk” signal. He’ll talk to you even while you’re wearing headphones. And those are just the obvious creep behaviors. The ones that set off alarms are often the sort that I experienced at the lunch counter – a placement of the body that suggests a lack of respect for others’ personal space.

If you’re worried you might be a creep – you’re probably not one, as creeps don’t have that much self-awareness generally – but it is possible that some non-creeps might be exhibiting some unconscious creep body language.

So – to prevent creep-i-tude, I’d recommend learning some body awareness and spatial awareness. I don’t know where you get this outside of theatre training. In many of the physical theatre forms that make up my practice, we work on this sort of thing. But surely there are other ways to start to become aware of other bodies, other people in space. Dance classes might be good. Certainly getting a sense of one’s own body would be helpful through something like the Feldenkrais Method or the Alexander Technique. I think this would be the first step to learning how to not be a creep. Just learning how to negotiate your own body in space.

Once you know how to not radiate creepiness with your body, you will likely get better at adjusting creepy language. I’d suggest following KatyKatiKate or Caitlin Moran or Lindy West or Roxanne Gay or any other feminist writers. Paying attention to words they use can help you through tricky language waters. Or you can ask your non-creepy friends! Try the ones with lots of female friends – they’ve probably got a good handle on how to respectfully talk with women. Or listen to this India Arie song from 2002.

If you are actually a creep, well, please don’t pay attention to any of this stuff. It is actually pretty helpful to have signals flying off you that help us know to avoid you. But for anyone who’s just not sure, help is out there. You don’t have to seem like a creep if you’re not one.

Like the blog?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs and an album of Love Songs. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

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



How to Congratulate an Artist
January 9, 2018, 10:45 pm
Filed under: advice, art, dreams | Tags: , , , , ,

When the New Yorker published my friend’s poem, I wasn’t surprised. I was thrilled and excited and proud but, as I’d fully expected such a thing since I first encountered my friend’s work, I was not surprised in the least. Frankly, I was surprised it took the New Yorker as long as it did. I congratulated the New Yorker on making a good choice rather than my friend for being chosen. This is because, in addition to being a fierce admirer of my friend, I am a fierce admirer of her work and always have been.

I have people who do the same for me – people who love me, yes, and want the best for me but also love my work, believe in it. They are the ones who are just waiting for others to come around to their opinions. I started to think about this recently after receiving some surprising good news regarding my work. I told one friend and she was excited and thrilled and also (and this is the important bit) wholly unsurprised. “It’s about time,” she said. “Oh yeah. Of course. I knew it.”

And there is something so powerfully affirming about this response. The belief is firm and unwavering – even when no one else seems to hold her opinion. And I feel precisely the same about her work and cannot believe the world at large has not beaten down her door for it.

Others I shared my good news with were actually stunned. In a way, I suspect, they’d slipped into questioning my art’s worth right along with me. It’s not that they don’t love me. They do – and that love is fierce and unwavering but it does not necessarily extend to my work. So when the world suddenly gives me approval, they have a readjustment period of looking at my work through the lens of the world’s approval. And you know – if you love me, you’re not actually required to love my work. It is not a pre-requisite . But those that hold space for both me AND my work are the ones I turn to in the darkest moments. And I rely on them in ways that I am still coming to appreciate.

Those of us who dedicate ourselves to the Arts and/or Entertainment are often asked questions like, “Why don’t you write for the movies? Why don’t you get on Saturday Night Live? Why don’t you publish a best seller? Why don’t you get on TV? Why don’t you get Oprah to produce your show? Why aren’t you on Broadway yet?”

These questions can all be reframed to be more helpful and supportive to the people who make things. Try: “Why haven’t the movies snapped you up to write for them yet? Why hasn’t Saturday Night Live recognized your comic genius? Why haven’t the publishing houses beat down your door? Haven’t they realized your work will make them pots of money? Why is TV blind to your radiance? How is it possible that Oprah hasn’t been informed of your work? Who is holding those Broadway producers hostage that they haven’t come calling?”

Sometimes it’s very weird to be congratulated for someone else’s decision about one’s work. The congratulations usually come in response to something that the artist had nothing to do with, that is, someone else’s approval. The fiercest supporters are the ones who congratulate an artist on the actual work before anyone else ever cares about it. I am exceptionally grateful to have such people in my corner.

My wish for my fellow artists this year is to have supporters as fierce and dedicated as mine are. I want everyone who makes things to hear congratulations on their actual work and “Oh yeah, of course” to any success it finds. If you love a struggling artist, don’t wait to give them your admiration or support. Give support to the work itself and not just the trophies. Anyone can be proud of an artist for winning awards but a top tier supporter is proud long before the awards ever appear.

You can help support me

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

kaGh5_patreon_name_and_message*

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

*

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

 



Will You Wish You’d Been There?
August 31, 2017, 12:19 am
Filed under: advice, resistance | Tags: , , , , ,

Listen you guys. I hate going to protests. They’re loud and shouty and there are crowds there – usually big ones – and that’s sort of the point.

But sometimes I make myself go despite my natural inertia – you know, that thing that makes it easier not to go than go. And given that there are protests nearly every day now, it can be hard to figure out whether it’s a time to hit the streets or a time take care of myself. My barometer has become: Will I Wish I’d Been There?

Here’s the thing. When it became clear what was going to happen in Charlottesville on August 12th, people were advised to stay away. From what I understand, the recommendation was that only those with appropriate training and a whole lot of willingness should show up. In general, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s advice is to steer clear of assembling hate groups. The SPLC is a bad-ass organization and has been tracking hate groups for a mighty long time. They’ve been in the trenches of this a whole lot longer than most of us, so people are usually inclined to heed their advice. And that advice rather conveniently lines up with most people’s natural inertia. It is much easier to sheetcake than to risk your life by going where the trouble is.

But. But. Many who heeded that advice in Charlottesville now regret that decision. Despite all the horrible things that happened, I know a lot of people who wish they’d been there. Not to kick-ass or knock-heads but to support, to help, to be physically present for vulnerable people.

I thought I’d be glad I was 500 miles away when this was set to go down but now having endured it at a distance, part of me wishes I’d been there, if for no other reason than to hand medics water and hug people who needed hugs. Simultaneously, I’m glad as hell that no one in my family was too close to the fray.

It is an incredibly odd sensation – to wish vehemently for everyone you know to stay as far away from harm as possible and to somehow wish yourself there.

And no one is more surprised about this response than me. I am not a rush into a fire sort of person. I hate conflict so much, y’all. I can’t even watch a heated debate without my heart-rate escalating and getting super anxious. I am an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) with a precarious health situation. I do not really belong at a protest that has the potential to become violent. Given all of that, I thought I would have wanted to be as far away from such things as possible. But – I find I wish I’d been with my friends in the middle of the most dangerous moment in my hometown that I’ve ever known about.

I’ve heard from a lot of people that feel the same way. There was that article in the New York Times from the parent who made the decision to steer clear because of their child but now regrets that choice.

“I now believe we made the wrong choice. Does my status as a parent make me special? It shouldn’t. A young man named Dre Harris was ambushed in a parking lot and took dozens of blows by club-wielding thugs. He took them so I wouldn’t have to. Next time I will stand on the street with my neighbors, even at the risk of injury or death. It’s the least I can do to repay those who stood bravely this time.”

It is always easier to choose not to show up. And those who have been going to these sorts of demonstrations know better than anyone what sorts of risks are involved. That’s why they have to advise you not to go.

And everyone has their own acceptable level of risk and their own metric for participation in fighting for good.

My metric is clear now. It is “Will I wish I’d been there?” And most times the answer is no. But when it’s yes, it’s time to go. On one side, is my personal safety – but on the other side is a fight for the greater good. Sometimes it’s better to be there.

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Side note: The news cycle has moved on (as it does) from Charlottesville to Texas. I’ve seen a lot of folks wondering how to best support the folks in Houston. I recommend this list: http://noredcross.org/

And while the national news has moved on, Charlottesville is still reeling and regrouping. This is the most comprehensive summary of ways to support folks there:  this list on Google Docs.

Will you wish you’d supported me later?

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The Beginning of Authority in Theatre (and Beyond)
July 31, 2017, 12:48 am
Filed under: advice, Leadership, theatre | Tags: , , , ,

At the end of the evening, the young actors were hanging on his arms, pleading for an audition for whatever he did next. He had just joined a company four months before and directed his first show in the months previous. The last time I’d seen him, a year before, he’d asked me for advice about beginning. Now he was asking if I wanted to be his assistant. I have had a company for 16 years and a Master’s Degree in Directing. But no young actors hang on my arms or tell me they will stalk me until I let them audition.

My friend is a white man with an authoritative air. As an actor, he is at his best when playing ridiculously rigid authority figures. If you’re casting a buffoonish General, he’s the best man for the job. He exudes authority. I do not. When I’m returning to acting, I like to perform with this authoritative friend because I enjoy playing characters who subvert authority – the more restrictive the authority figure, the more fun it is to subvert them. My friend is a genius at playing this charismatic authoritative type and it is tremendous fun to be his subversive second in performance.

I understand that I am not an obvious leader. I don’t think anyone would pick me out of a crowd to lead them. But while I don’t project power or authority, I do lead. I can lead. I make space for people and make things happen. I am not a novice at this – and I am happily finding that there are more and more new models for my style of leadership. Jill Soloway is probably not an obvious leader either but I’d follow her anywhere.

I’m thinking about this because I’m thinking about how these kinds of patterns replicate themselves over and over. How men who project a certain kind of authoritarianism are not just taking power but are also given it. This creates and recreates the same authoritative structures in theatre that we’ve always had and all it takes to replicate itself is one charismatic authority announcing himself and a few people to agree to that proposition and enlarge it with adulation and obsequiousness.

The young actors hanging on the arms of my friend wanted to make theatre like the show they’d just seen and they asked my friend if he made work like that. He said “not really no.” But they didn’t care. They just wanted to work with him, whatever he was doing. They could see he exuded authority and they wanted in, no matter what he was doing, their own interests aside. What is ironic is that I DO make work like the show they’d seen and I am always looking for actors are hungry for it. But they weren’t looking at me. And I didn’t need them to. I have zero interest in the fawning.

I suppose I’m writing this now to help those young actors think more broadly than the obvious. Who knows what other connections they failed to make because they were busy responding to the most authoritative voice in the room?

Extrapolate this out a bit and you can see how we ended up in the political situation we’re in – many Americans saw an authoritative charismatic white guy declaring himself to be the greatest, despite the fact that he had zero experience – and they hung on his words and his arms and swore a sort of blind fidelity to wherever he would lead them.

An authoritative person is not always the best authority. It is a kind of gut response to authoritative behavior, I think, to give over to someone who declares himself a leader. It is probably a primal response that is worth investigating with a more reasoned part of the brain. I mean, evolutionarily speaking, there was probably once a good reason to follow the person who stood up, shouted loudly and said, “Follow me!” I’m not an evolutionary psychologist, so I’m not sure what that reason was. But now, given all I’ve learned, I’m less inclined to follow anyone who claims to have the answers. From the Dunning-Kruger effect, to the No True Scotsman fallacy to Confirmation Bias and the Optimism Bias, social science shows us that our instincts, our gut responses are often way off base. Authoritarianism works, not because someone is a good authority, but because people are so willing to follow someone who declares their authority. It’s time to open up what it means to have authority. This passage from Douglas Adams says it best:

“The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.
To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.
To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”

― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Help an unlikely leader take on the mantle of authority

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