Songs for the Struggling Artist


The Podcast Drama that No One Is Talking About

Last year, one of my favorite podcasts stopped updating. I didn’t worry too much about it. Many podcasts are uneven in their production. They stop and start. I’m used to it.

But then, while trying to decide if I should go to Werk It Women’s Podcasting Convention, I looked at the list of speakers and saw the host of that missing podcast (Note to Self) was listed as the host of something else entirely (Zig Zag).

The Case of the Missing Podcast was both solved and begun, both in that moment.

I googled. I searched. I listened to the new podcast and read the few news articles I could find on the mysterious movements of podcaster, Manoush Zomorodi.

It felt like a scandal to me. The host of a popular public radio show abandoned it for the wilds of a startup corporation and/or business podcast! Isn’t this news?

I really thought there would be talk about it somewhere. But no one seemed to care.

Zig Zag was not nearly as good show as the show Zomorodi left. I listened to a few episodes and even though it was made by the same people as Note to Self, it just wasn’t interesting to me at all. The central premise of it seemed to be “Look at us crazy people leaving our secure public radio jobs to go out on our own, experiment with cryptocurrency and make something for money!”

They seemed to suggest that there was some #MeToo action going on over at their former job but they never came out and explained anything about what was actually happening there. It was all super vague for a couple of journalists with mad storytelling skills so it mostly felt like they left because they thought they could cash in elsewhere.

As a person who has never had a secure job, much less a public radio one, I couldn’t help shaking my head at the surprise these women seemed to constantly be experiencing out in the big bad freelance world. While I listened to Zig Zag, my brain just kept responding to it with, “No shit, Sherlock.” Newsflash! Starting a business is hard! Freelancing isn’t easy!

I felt like I should have been their target demographic. I was after all, a loyal listener to their previous podcast, a big supporter of women and advocate for creative life choices – but I found their new podcast ridiculous. And it made me a little mad, too.

Because the promise of public radio is that it is for the public. It is funded by the public. I myself contributed to Manoush Zomorodi’s public radio show. I wasn’t a regular donor. I couldn’t afford to be. But I really believed in what they were doing.

So when Zomorodi and Poyant went off to try the wilds of the crypto currency corporate world, I felt a bit betrayed. I put my trust in public radio and it just up and sold out. And weirdly, despite all of this happening within the news media, there was no news about it. Are podcasts still so niche? I don’t know. I’m not sure the millions and millions of dollars going to podcast companies now suggests a genre no one cares about.

Anyway – the cryptocurrency that Zig Zig focused on went nowhere and I guess the podcast did too. Next thing I knew, Zomorodi was hosting another show (IRL) that was very similar to Note to Self. Previously, I’d started listening to IRL – a show sponsored by Mozilla (a non-profit) and then all of a sudden the old host was gone and Manoush Zomorodi was hosting it. Turns out Mozilla had fired the previous host, (Veronica Belmont) and brought in Zomorodi, who had recently been a guest on the show. IRL basically became Note to Self for that season. So much drama! That no one was acknowledging!

So the body count thus far for this adventure included one public radio podcast and one non-profit podcast host. And maybe even a non-profit podcast? But this saga was not over, friends. No it was not. Because a few weeks ago, an announcement showed up in the Note to Self podcast feed. Note to Self was coming back. It had been bought by the podcast start up, Luminary, and it would be producing the show on its platform in association with WNYC Studios and Stable Genius Productions (That’s Zomorodi and Poyant’s media company created for the Zig Zag podcast.) Manoush is hosting. I don’t know what’s happened to the IRL podcast. Will Veronica Belmont get her job back?

Luminary is a private podcasting company that is putting all of its exclusive content behind a paywall. It’s spending lots of money to produce shows like Note to Self in the hopes that people will pay a subscription fee to listen to them.

So. A show that was developed with public money is now no longer public. It is still co-produced by WNYC Studios, which, if not the actual public radio station, is a part of it.

This has happened with multiple public radio shows. Gimlet Media (which Spotify purchased for over $200 million) was created by two former podcasters from WNYC public radio. I don’t feel great about public funds being the on ramp for corporate podcasting. I don’t begrudge radio folk making their money – but I’m starting to feel used and betrayed by this flight from public radio. I’m a lot less inclined to support it if it’s going to just disappear into the corporate stratosphere.

And while the one Note to Self episode that Luminary has released into the old feed is interesting and worth listening to, I’ll be damned if I’m going to pony up cash to a mega million start up company after being jerked around like this by the host over the last year.

As an indie podcaster myself I am concerned about the way the field is evolving. Are corporations gutting public radio?

Are they thinking public radio doesn’t matter anymore? Think again. In a Facebook group I’m in, someone asked for podcast recommendations and nearly every recommendation in the hundreds of comments was actually an NPR show. I hope all these mega mega corporate podcast companies realize and understand the debt that they owe to pubic radio and find ways to funnel a little something back to them. I mean, this indie one woman podcast maker would happily take a deal at Gimlet or Luminary or Wondry or wherever – but even I, who have never been on the radio, recognize that I owe a debt to the public radio that I listened to and from which I learned by example.

 

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Medusa Long Shot Rocket Rejection

I started working on my Medusa play sometime around when I started my theatre company, which was close to 18 years ago. I abandoned the play after doing a reading of it but then picked it back up a few years ago when an actor, who’d read one of the parts that first time, asked after it. I don’t know if it had been a full decade at that point but the fact that it had stuck with him after so long made me feel like it was worth grappling with.

After much wrestling, I got the play into shape and did a reading in Brooklyn and after it, I felt like I still wasn’t sure if it was worth anything. One of my listeners pointed out that I might not really know what was actually there until I had the exact right actors. He suggested I think big.

I knew who I needed. As the person who gave the single best performance I have ever seen, I knew that hearing HER read it would tell me everything needed to know. I also knew that in order to have that happen, I needed to make the play good enough for her. I imagined her reading it as I was writing and the play got better.

I did another reading in Queens with a game group of lovely actors and I got even closer to what I thought the play wanted to be. All along I was thinking of this sort of lodestar of a performer and how to get it to her, how to connect with her, how to strategize for this play’s future.

As time went by, the play was selected as a semi-finalist for the O’Neill National Playwright’s Conference but went no further. All of my attempts to make a connection with my Medusa lodestar failed.

Then I saw that she’d be performing in a public park – so I printed out a copy and brought it with me in case I could be brave enough to give it to her. I was. I was brave enough and it was mortifying. Completely and totally mortifying. I don’t recommend this sort of experience to anyone. But – even though she wouldn’t take the stack of paper in the moment, she told me to send it to her agent. And believe me, it had been suggested to me to send it to her agent before but that information is not particularly easy for an outsider to find so the principal value in standing before the actual person was that I could ask her who her agent was. Then began the tricky task of finding her agent’s information. You realize, when diving in to this sort of world, that so much of it is designed to intimidate and keep you out. The world of agents is built to make it difficult to find them. There are services you can pay to simply get an email.

But with the support of a clever friend, I finally got to the agent. Also, with a lot of coaching from my clever friend, I did some finely crafted emailing to just get this play to the woman who had been its muse. After about a week of back and forth, it was, in fact sent to her.

Just getting that far felt like a great leap. It wasn’t just the labor of the week to get it to her – but the years of putting it on my list to figure out and all the attempts before. I launched the rocket into space.

Within days, the rocket fell to earth as I heard back that the play was not for her.

Strangely, given how intimidating the world around agents is, the rejection was one of the best I’ve received. It was succinct, clear and gentle. I wonder if that agents learn that skill because they never really want to give anyone a hard no. What if Julie Taymor suddenly decided to put my Medusa on at the National Theatre with a million dollar salary? Would my muse be interested then? She might. Or at least there might be another conversation to be had.

So weirdly, I find myself wishing other rejectors could be more like an actor’s agent. Reject us like you might have to make a million dollar deal with us next time – because you just never know.

Meanwhile, here I am watching my last real hope for this play float away. I know it makes no sense to set a bubble of hope on an actor’s interest but it was literally the only idea I had for the future of this play. I can’t produce it myself. It’s too big for the resources I can gather. It’s not the kind of show you can do at your local community playhouse.

So…this particular rejection hit me hard – even though I knew it was a long shot. It was the longest shot. And it’s going to take some time to gather the strength to build another rocket – or even just a wagon. It’s going to take some time to reassemble some hope. Maybe it’ll be another ten years. Or maybe never at all.

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

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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A Better Way to Read On the Internet?

I thought this one post I wrote was pretty good. I know they’re not all winners. There are some that I just sort of throw together and some I really work at and this one sat somewhere in the middle, in that it had the flow of something that just emerged but the shaping of something I’d considered for a while. I guess what I am trying to say is that I was proud of it.

But when I put it out – nothing happened. I shared it on all the platforms, all the social medias it goes to. And I could count the views on one hand. I tried to goose the algorithm on Facebook – since that’s the place I usually get my views. I tried to like my own post (looks like Facebook doesn’t allow that anymore though I was able to like it via the Songs for the Struggling Artist Facebook page) and I used the algorithmic golden word “congratulations” in the comments.

Crickets.

I know better than to take Facebook’s algorithmic selections personally but still – having so few views made me question my own perception of quality. Maybe the post was no good after all. (Again – I know better. Some really great posts have only 4 views total. I know, I know the two things are disconnected. And yet.)

Then one of my friends commented, liked and shared it. Suddenly a post that had had only one view thus far that day had 18.

This is, on one hand, indicative of the reach my friend has but also suggests the power of one person sharing in the algorithmic battle for attention many of us seem engaged in. (Don’t underestimate the power of your share, like and comment. I am heartily grateful for every one. Your click will take my views from 4 to 5. Your share will take my views from 4 to 12 or 18 or more if others share it.)

This all makes me think about what a terribly imperfect way of sharing writing the internet is. It’s also a terribly imperfect way of reading. Facebook pitches its stream of posts as a NewsFeed and it does feel like it has become the place I receive a lot of news – and not just the news – but also the essays and articles and blog posts about things I care about.

But because of Facebook’s algorithms, it decides what I see instead of me. I miss so many things while simultaneously having the illusion that I’m current with the writers I like. But I know that I’m not. I follow Rebecca Solnit there so I see a lot of her writing but I know Facebook doesn’t show me everything. KatyKatiKate is a blogger and podcaster like myself and I want to support her work however I can – but I know Facebook is only showing me a third of what she writes. I wonder what genius posts she’s over there crafting and Facebook isn’t showing me or anyone else because of the algorithm’s quirks. I’m gonna guess she has a few of those orphan posts, too.

In the years before social media, I found it hard to follow writers and bloggers. I felt like I had to remember to go to various websites, various blogs. I just couldn’t remember all the places I wanted to go on the internet to read things I cared about. So when Facebook came around, it provided this very useful service of aggregating those articles, blogs and such. It’s just that it does that so BADLY. Like So Badly.

Twitter is even worse. People don’t really click on articles on Twitter. My sense is that it just moves too fast. The views I get on Twitter are negligible. And I don’t even understand how to share writing on Instagram.

So…what I’m waiting for is some kind of feed for writing. Does it already exist and I just don’t know about it? I want to be on it with my friends. I want to see what they recommended and be able to share pertinent news, as well as indie writing, like KatyKatiKate. The algorithmic bias of Facebook means it will really only promote what is shared – but as much as I love KatyKatiKate’s work, I’m not going to share every single piece. I don’t expect that of my readers either. But I want to be able to at least know about every piece that KatyKatiKate puts out. I want to click like, or love or star or heart or whatever, on all of them and I want to have a list of writers that I love listed on said site or some kind of extra boost for them. How our writings are shared matters and the way they are read and shared at the moment is really not working well.

I rely on Facebook to promote my blog and podcast and we all know how problematic it is. But if it went away tomorrow – or if everyone just deleted their accounts en masse, I’d have no readership whatsoever. I’m dependent on it, at the moment, and I do not appreciate how much control the Facebook algorithm has over who gets to see my work. And, due to the foibles of a writers’ brain, sometimes the control the algorithm has has a great deal of impact on the way I feel and my assessment of the quality of my work. It happens that way sometimes and I do not like it. I’m looking for another way.

 

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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A Taste of Being a Patriarch in the Patriarchy

For most of the last decade, every day, I’ve been using a line of Hamlet as my prompt for daily writing. The Hamlet Project has nearly 100,000 views and most of them are not people I know. I don’t get a lot of comments on it but when I do, they tend to assume I, the author, am a man. I have been called “sir,” for example, and also “bro.” I think, even when I am not explicitly gendered in a comment, I am assumed to be a man. I don’t know this for sure, of course – but there’s something about the tenor of the comments that makes me feel like I’m being mis-gendered.

What is that tenor? Well. The comments tend to be respectful. They tend to endow me with a level of authority I am not used to receiving in situations wherein my gender is more obvious. It’s just kind of a vibe. And it is very nice, actually.

I’m not trying to obscure my gender identity in this venue but in not making it obvious, it leaves a lot of people room to assume that I am the default gender. I’m also talking about one of the most famous male characters in history – featuring one of the most famous patriarchal struggles – AND – I say on my ABOUT page that the project began from an interest in playing Hamlet. Hamlet is a male character. It thus follows, as the night the day, ipso facto, I must also be male.

Except of course I am not. And depending on the piece that someone might read, it might or might not become obvious. I mean, sure, there’s a lot of feminist content that shows up but maybe I’m just a super woke feminist dude. There’s a way that once the assumption has been made, it will be hard to see the “narrator” differently.

That is, until it becomes obvious. Recently, I started getting lots of views and comments from a man whose website describes him as his country’s “most versatile living writer.” For a few days, I knew he was reading because my statistics reflected a lot of views from his country. He commented several times. I clicked “like” on his comments but didn’t respond to them. Then, he asked me a question, so I answered. The act of commenting revealed my picture and my name and thereby also my gender identity. And wouldn’t you know – I haven’t had a comment or a view from his country since.

I don’t think this is a situation of a person realizing I’m a woman and stalking off in fury saying, “By god, I don’t wish to know what a WOMAN has to say!” I suspect I just suddenly become a lot less interesting. A dedicated reader might just wander off for no particular reason, you know. It’s not sexism, no. It’s just – what’s that over there?

This is the thing a lot of people don’t understand about things like sexism (and racism and ableism and so on) – that it isn’t the overt stuff that gets to us. It’s really the indifference that’s adds up over time and wears us down.

It is actually super nice to be seen as the default. The misgendering is so pleasant because it comes with an assumption of capability, authority and collegiality. I know what those things feel like now and recognize that I don’t usually feel them in any of the other venues (like this one) wherein my gender is a lot more obvious.

Before I tuned into this experience of reading as male, I couldn’t have really articulated what experience I wasn’t having. I didn’t have any sense of what it felt like to have male privilege. I’m thinking of that email experience/experiment those two co-workers had when they switched email signatures for a week. We focused a lot on the male co-worker’s eye-opening interactions when he was perceived as female, how formerly easy interactions became confrontational when he was perceived as his female colleague. The story for me felt like, “See! It’s not all in our heads!”

But now I’m thinking more about what the female co-worker’s experience was when suddenly the way was cleared. I think I imagined it a little bit like that Eddie Murphy SNL sketch where he disguises himself as a white guy and people just give him stuff and throw white people parties on the bus. But of course it’s not that dramatic. No one gave that switched email co-worker an award or a pile of money when she was perceived as male, her job just got a lot faster and easier. Similarly, I’m not getting any special kudos or winning awards or praise or pats on the back in being perceived as male with my Hamlet Project, it’s just a more pleasant atmosphere and I get twice as many views.

I’m not saying it’s a paradise over there. An occasional dickhead makes his way there just like anywhere. But the dickheadery is somehow less dickheaded. The vibe over there is nice.

So I’m in no hurry to disabuse anyone of their perception and I might really enjoy using a pseudonym for some stuff in the future, just because it’s nice to roll around in male privilege for a bit.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast episode of this post. (It’s like an audio version of the blog.)

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Americans Need Dario Fo

Thanks to my dad and the Friends of the Library, a parcel full of books by and about Dario Fo arrived at my door recently. It’s been years since I last looked at his work and suddenly I was up to my ankles in Fo plays and biographies.

If you’re American, you probably haven’t seen many, or any of his plays. I’ve never even seen a notice of a production here, not to mention an actual production. This work just isn’t done in the United States. The first time I read some of his plays, I could not understand why but now that I’m reading his work anew, I actually understand completely why there’s been no American embracement of his work.

First, he and Franca Rame, his wife and artistic partner, were not allowed to enter the US until the 80s. Our government would not let him in. Second, his work is funny and while the American Theatre lets an occasional comedy through the system, it is a rare occurrence. If an American Theatre institution is going to produce foreign work, it wants it to be arty and arty usually means moody. But also the odds of doing foreign work at all are very slim. Also…particularly in the 80s – artists who had some dealings with the communist party were not likely to be heartily embraced.

Third, and this is the bit I realized while reading, the American Theatre has been much too class unconscious to welcome particularly politically progressive work. For example, in Il Ratto di Diana (the Kidnapping of Diane) – there is a recurring joke about the ruling class. And the problem is, the only theatres that could have afforded to put this show on are all funded by the ruling classes, the kind of folks who really don’t find that sort of thing amusing. The way theatre gets made in this country is antithetical to the presentation of actual working class work that might be critical of the ruling class.

American Theatre is only possible because the ruling class has, historically, donated the funds or the buildings or the grants to keep the doors open. The reason there are parties for donors and velvet ropes is that the American Theatre depends on the ruling class continuing to write them big checks.

American Theatre thinks of itself as liberal but it is rarely actually progressive. Our radical progressive theatres like Bread and Puppet and San Francisco Mime Troupe have only managed to survive by the skin of their hippie teeth – instead of embraced as the brave American changemakers they are.

American Theatre puts on a lot of plays about upper middle class families. Like, a lot. This is because those are the people who write the majority of the checks and they like to see themselves on stage. Those audiences are not so interested in being implicated among the ruling classes and so, of course, no big budget theatre has interest in translating and producing Dario Fo’s work. Of course. Of course.

Translation is part of the issue, too. The English translations we have are English, as in from England, and they read very British. In order to do these plays in America, we need to commission American writers to translate in an American style. I suspect that the way American writers are seen and supported also plays a role in keeping Fo from our stages.

But I think we need Fo’s work. We need to talk about the ruling classes. We need to develop an awareness of class. We need to put on plays that challenge our system –not just sit comfortably within it. And not for nothing, anyone deciding to produce this giant of world theatre will pick up a whole lot of hungry theatre goers who have been waiting for it. That is, if I see someone – anyone producing a Fo play any time soon, I will be purchasing tickets. I will even pay full price to actually hear and see a play that challenges the ruling class.

Also – sidebar – my Italian is passable and I’ve already done a translation of one of Rame’s plays, so I’d be happy to give Fo’s a go if you need an American translation.

Photo by D Frohman

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Fortune Favors the Bold and It ALSO likes to Watch the Bold Fall on Its Face
April 26, 2019, 10:29 pm
Filed under: art, clown | Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve been brave this week. I stepped WAAAAAAY out of my comfort zone and took a series of risks. This is not unprecedented. I have, over the course of my artist life, taken quite a few giant leaps.

Wherever I do it, I try to psyche myself up with such platitudes as “Fortune favors the bold.” I tell myself, “Good things come to those who risk.” But even though these ideas help me to take the risk, they have rarely been true.

I have been brave more times than I can count and the results have been mixed at best. In fact, if I’m truthful, 9 out of every 10 brave attempts have resulted in failure. If these were parachute jumps, I would certainly be dead. Luckily, the ways I choose to be brave are more like – moving to a city with no job, no prospects or guarantees, talking to a famous person, applying for things I am unlikely to get or going to expensive conferences where I don’t know anyone. My risks are mostly risks of my dignity or security.

And when I fall on my face it does not feel good, I will admit. I fall down a lot and it hurts every time. But. I do have quite a bit of clown training and I know how to fail. I know that failure feels bad but can sometimes generate the most authentic interesting moments.

I would LIKE for Fortune to favor me at some point but meanwhile, I am fully prepared for a complete and total face plant every time I attempt to be bold.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

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You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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The Velvet Rope

After the show, we went to the lobby to wait for the actor to emerge after her performance. The lobby was pretty busy. There seemed to be a little reception in progress, featuring sparkling wine and chocolate.

The party was cordoned off with a velvet rope.

We were on the other side of the velvet rope.

The party, we guessed and later had confirmed, was for donors to the theatre. We had been given to understand that the actor would be appearing here eventually. We had been told to look for her here. On our side of the rope.

As the theatre emptied out, only a handful of us stood on the peasant side of the velvet rope. Among us were the actor’s family and her friends.

You might wonder why we didn’t simply unhook the rope from the stanchion and go in. Well – this theatre had thought of this, too. It was so important to them to maintain this separation between the donor class and us plebeians that they had an intern on duty to police it. He dutifully unhooked the rope to allow donors out and did his best to look forbidding to those of us on the outside. He made it clear that this party wasn’t for us and we were not to be included.

For a good long while, this theatre’s lobby featured a small party of about 24 people drinking prosecco inside a velvet rope and seven people standing around outside it, policed by an intern and his boss.

The “party” proceeded like this for some time – that is, until I spotted and made complicitous eye contact with the actor – who, after all was the woman of the hour and finally I just unhooked the velvet rope and ran in, to give her a hug.

Seeing the actor showing me such warmth, the woman in charge of this party, who had clearly found our presence distasteful before, now invited us to eat and drink. We had all been brought inside the rope. There was no one left outside it.

I don’t know what happened to the actual velvet rope after that. It had been designed to keep the riff raff out and once the riff raff was inside, there was no purpose for it anymore. As someone now on the inside, the rope was no longer of any concern to me. I expect that to those who had been inside all along, the velvet rope barely registered their attention. Did they know it was there? Once I was inside it, it ceased to be important to me – but before I got inside, that velvet rope and the people policing it were my primary focus.

This exercise in absurdity seems to me to be the perfect allegory for the American Theatre and maybe for American Art in general.

The theatre where this happened states, in their mission statement, that they “seek to create broad public access and to bond the diverse New York community” and yet, with a simple velvet rope and a zealous gatekeeper, they created division and diminished access – right there in their very own lobby.

It’s not just them. This absurdity plays itself out through almost every arts organization in America. A few years before, just down the street from this theatre, at another arts organization I used to work for, a crowd of artists sat in the lobby while the party for us went on upstairs because the gatekeeper would not let us up. And that’s just a literal example.

The whole field seems to be arbitrarily divided up by absurd velvet ropes. Once you have been invited inside, you can enjoy the prosecco and chocolate and opportunities but when you’re outside, you just sort of stand there awkwardly trying to make eye contact with any friends you have inside. And woe to the person trying to get in to the party without any friends inside.

Trying to make art in this country is like trying to get inside the velvet ropes without any friends inside. There are multiple forces at work that are actively trying to keep you out. There are things like submission fees, onerous grant application processes and requirements for references from well-known persons (this is a way to prove you have a contact inside the party.)

There are ways to increase your chances of getting past the ropes – depending on your field. Getting an MFA might introduce you to an insider (that’s indirectly how I met my insider at this donor theatre party) or interning at the right spot might help you rise up the ranks but your best shot is being born into a social circle or with access to someone who knows someone.

And of course, just making it inside the ropes for one day, for one party won’t really help you in the long run. You need to be a regular insider, to become so used to the prosecco and the chocolate that you don’t even notice them at the party. In order to stand a chance of having your art produced, you need to be so far behind the barriers that you forget the velvet ropes entirely.

The difference between a struggling artist and one who has made it lives in those velvet ropes. The struggling artist is acutely aware of where the ropes are and who is guarding them. They are, after all, designed to keep us out. In a country that prides itself on its egalitarian values, this exclusion is particularly galling. That is made worse by how easily and quickly the barrier is lifted and also how entirely unnecessary the barrier is to begin with.

There was so much prosecco and so much food at this donor party that the staff had to take boxes of it home to prevent it being thrown away. That velvet rope made me feel that that this theatre would rather throw their chocolate away than let me have it. Then I got a nod of approval from an insider and suddenly I could have all the chocolate I could have wanted.

There was no difference in my quality on one side or the other of that rope. I was the same person on both sides of the barrier. Inside, I had approval. Outside, I was a nuisance. It is not nice to feel like a nuisance and yet, because I am outside the rope most of the time, I do feel it a LOT. I made myself go talk to a famous actor recently. While I was telling her how much I admired her work in the show she’d just done, I felt fine – like the metaphorical velvet rope between us didn’t matter at all. But as soon as I tried to hand her the play she’d inspired me to improve and keep going on, I felt the velvet rope pop up – whether on my side or on hers, it doesn’t really matter – the point is, it showed up. I felt like a nuisance and an idiot. The sense of humiliation was profound – even though there was no actual rope.

Part of what is so difficult about being a perpetual struggling artist is constantly bumping up against that rope. If you have a well-connected friend or two, you may on occasion find yourself on the other side for a moment but a well-connected friend will not protect you from all the other velvet ropes that arts organizations put up to keep out the riff raff.

At the heart of the velvet rope distinction it feels like those who are on the inside are just better people. If you’re a writer with an agent, then you must be a better writer than one without. If you know a famous person, you must be cooler than your average person. It is not so far from the American sense that money makes you better – that the rich are rich because they worked hard and deserve it. They’re just naturally inside.

What’s ironic is, I would wager you a bottle of prosecco that the donors inside the rope don’t care a bit about keeping out the riff raff. It is the gatekeepers that are concerned about it. And very concerned they are indeed. Also, ironically, riff raff-wise, everyone in that lobby with me had a degree of privilege already. The tickets at that theatre are quite expensive – so the separation is not between top-hatted monocled millionaires and fingerless gloved ragamuffins – it’s the difference between someone who can afford to donate a building and someone who can afford to enter it. The riff raff are people who can pay to see esoteric theatre for an average price of $75 a ticket.

In the case of this theatre, with its mission to bring people together, it was a literal velvet rope – but arts organizations put up metaphorical velvet ropes every day. If you run one, look at how and where you put up barriers to access. Anything you put in place to reduce your submissions, for example: that’s a velvet rope. Obviously, you can keep it there if you want to – but if you’re only including the agented, the recommended, the degreed or the submission fee’d, you’re sending a message that you are only interested in privileged artists, that you prefer your donors to your audience, that you only want insiders. Your velvet ropes say that you only want to give that prosecco to the people who have a case of prosecco at home. If, like this theatre, you aspire to create broad public access and to bond your community, you have to let your velvet ropes go.

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