Songs for the Struggling Artist


Announcing My New Podcast (You know – for kids!)

Introducing Reading the Library Book – a podcast in which I read my novel for young people one chapter at a time. Part audio book and part writing workshop, the podcast invites young people to be a part of the writing and editing process of novel writing.

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I wanted to find a way to get feedback from young people about my novel. As a playwright, I am accustomed to being able to watch and sense my audience. This helps me work out what bits are really working and which might be expendable. Due to a novel’s length, it is very tricky to utilize similar barometers for this new project. I can only read so much aloud at a time and to so many people at once. The podcast will allow me to share my work in progress with friends around the world and to (hopefully) receive some thoughts about what young people are responding to when they listen to it.

The podcast will also serve as a commitment device for me. The trickiest part of this novel writing process has been finding the time and the will to do the major editing – if I have a group of young people waiting for me to read them another chapter, I cannot drag my feet.

This process blends a few separate strands of my creative life and practice. While this is my first novel, I’m finding many parts of my identity weaving together in this new venture. Certainly, my experience of podcasting and blogging helped support the speedy launch of this new one and my experience as an arts educator gives me some ways to set up an open, supportive space in a new venue. My theatre practice has given me many ways to listen to feedback and ways to be specific about asking for it. And I even made myself a quick theme song for the whole affair.

If you know a young person who likes books, please share this with them. I’m not entirely sure of the age range yet. (That’s part of the reason I’m doing this podcast. I want to find out!) I imagine it’s somewhere in the 8 – 11 range. But my first listener was six. Basically if you’re reading Harry Potter or The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, you should be fine. It’s not nearly as scary as those books either.
Thank you!

This is the current blurb:

Leandra spends most of her time in her local library. When the library’s books and librarians vanish, Leandra sets off on a quest to find them. Following a mysterious trail of red leaves through a leaf-pile, she discovers Akita, the fantastical Global Library, where libraries come in all shapes and sizes. With her new friend, Ammon, the Wandering Librarian and his library (a camel,) Leandra investigates the disturbing trend of all kinds of books and libraries disappearing. Are those her books paved into the ballroom floor? And what are those strange books wrapped in burlap and twine that seem to send people to inhospitable places as soon as they open them? Who is behind the cryptic messages and illustrations that keep appearing in her library book? Is it The Chair? Or reclusive author, Dorothea Crane? The fate of them all rests in one young girl’s book-loving hands.

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.

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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

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You can help me with all my creative projects of all stripes

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

 

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“He just came with the building”

An artist has died. He got cancer and some other things and he died in the prime of his artistic life. I did not know him well but I knew of some of his struggle and I knew his artistic skill and promise. He was a composer (an art which is incredibly demanding and does not pay well – except for a very privileged few) and worked as a pianist for many years at a well-known arts institution.

After the artist had worked there for some time, that arts institution finally managed to provide some of its long-term artistic staff some health insurance. This was an important gesture and I can attest to the fact that it doesn’t happen everywhere. I think I know around about when this gesture happened. I was still working as a Teaching Artist when arts organizations all over the city suddenly started making its long term artistic staff actual employees. Apparently, they’d come under some scrutiny for getting away with paying all of us as freelancers for so many years. But even in that flush of sudden employment and a sheaf of W-2s where I once had 1099s, no one ever offered me health insurance I could afford. So this arts institution, where the artist worked, did something really good. And for a brief while, the artist experienced some actual security. He had health insurance and a bit of regular work.

Then, after they’d gotten used to it, the arts institution decided to withdraw the health insurance from those they’d previously provided it for. They didn’t fire those folks. They just took away their health insurance in order to save a little money. It was probably just a line item on a budget to them. The arts institution took away the artist’s health insurance and very soon thereafter, the artist got sick. He’d had health insurance and then it was gone and then he got ill. His friends set up a Go Fund Me – but healthcare is expensive and they did not reach the goal.

Maybe even if the artist’s Go Fund Me campaign had been fully funded or he’d still had health insurance, he would have died anyway. But also maybe not. I can’t help feeling like the arts institution has his blood on their hands. I feel like they killed him.

A few months later, the arts institution provided a free space for the artist’s memorial performance. The titular head of the arts institution took to the stage to welcome everyone to his building. He made a speech about the dearly departed artist and said he didn’t know dates or anything but he’d known the artist for ages. He said “He just came with the building. He’d just always been there.”

And I’d already been wishing I had a pile of rotten tomatoes to throw at this guy who was getting all kinds of praise for “generously donating the space” when his organization so egregiously contributed to his healthcare situation. But when he said this thing about the artist just coming with the building, I wanted a whole truck of rotten fruits and vegetable to throw at him. An arts institution decides to take away an artist’s health insurance, as a result he dies and then the arts institution gets to look like a hero for giving up their space for a day? And THEN “he just came with the building”?!?!?!? I mean. You couldn’t ask one of your assistants to tell you how long he’d worked there?

And of course you took his health insurance away. He’s just part of the building. Building fixtures don’t need health insurance.

Of course he’s just part of the building. That explains why, despite many years of knowing him, you never once listened to one of his compositions. Parts of buildings don’t have their own artistic work, they are just part of the landscape. And this is how artists are often regarded – not as human beings making art that have needs just like any other human being – but as part of the atmosphere. We’re like the furniture. You use it for a while and then when you get a new interior designer, you throw it out for the next set.

This Arts Institution Head managed to express, in one dumb joke that was clearly meant to be charming, the way so many artists are viewed in institutions. Not as the very reason for the institution. Not as vibrant participants in the artistic life of the place. Not as contributors. Not even as artists. Just – part of the building.

The building just comes with artists – whose lives are as inconsequential as the dust that gets swept up on Sunday nights.

And so the artist’s work will likely be lost to the ages. And the building will stand. And another artist will come to be seen as part of the building eventually.

 

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 be more than part of a building

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

 



100th Episode
June 12, 2018, 10:20 pm
Filed under: podcasting | Tags: , , , ,

This blog will mark a milestone in my podcasting experience. When I record this blogcast, it will be my 100th episode. One of my favorite podcasts just celebrated their 100th episode and while I definitely won’t be renting the Palladium in London for the show the way they did and I can tell you right up front that Emma Thompson won’t be making a surprise appearances as she did there at the Palladium, it does feel important to acknowledge that a milestone has been reached.

It seems that a little podcasting reflection is in order (and maybe some cake. This might call for cake.) A number of factors contributed to the beginning of this particular arm of my artistic life. The first was that it occurred to me that the blog I was writing might be inaccessible to some who would want to read it. That is, I initially thought of the podcast as a way to bring the blog to those who might not be able to access it. (This is a little example of how making things more accessible can be creatively stimulating.)

The other factor was hearing Manoush Zomorodi’s story about her journey into podcasting. Hearing how she felt that podcasting allowed her to more authentically use her voice and become part of feminist podcasting revolution was the push I needed to get my podcasting idea off the ground. When I started, it was a total experiment and I wasn’t convinced it was a great idea. It’s not as if tons of people turned up to listen to it. Sometimes it seemed like only my boyfriend was listening. But his enthusiasm for the project was sufficient to keep me going. (Also the fancy podcasting mic he got me.)

And even 100 episodes in, I still don’t have a lot of listeners. Anchor tells me I average five listens per episode. That’s not a lot of people, really.

So I can’t really measure the success of this enterprise in numbers. (I mean I could but it would be depressing.) What I can track are the little impacts the podcast has had on me.

1) It generated four albums worth of songs last year. Every single song I recorded, I recorded for the podcast. And those songs were also what got me through the year of shock following the election of 2016.
2) I’ve developed a lot more facility with sound and editing and recording and such over the last 100 episodes. That facility made it so much easier, smoother and quieter to create a voice-over reel recently. Without all those episodes behind me, a project that might have taken weeks or months, took me a few days.
3) 100 episodes of the Songs for the Struggling Artist Podcast has given me the confidence to start an entirely different podcast – one that may have an even broader appeal. Weirdly, Struggling Artists are not a great target market! So stay tuned for my podcast for children. (Okay, technically, I’ve already launched it. I’ll tell you more about it later – but meanwhile, you can check it out on my website.)

But I’m not stopping at 100 episodes. I’m not sure why I’m not stopping. I guess I like it. And I like being able to make the blog accessible to those who can’t (or don’t) read it.

So I will continue for as long as it continues to please me. And I’m going to have some cake in my podcast’s honor.

You can find the blogcast on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Anchor, click here.

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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 the podcast and the blog

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

 



A Great Idea for a Musical! (or What is Art? And who gets to decide?)

A comment on my Art as Service post began this way: “I disagree with your theories about what is art and perhaps even what is service with art. I think the thing about art is that it has different meanings for different people.” And asked “Who gets to determine what is art and what is not? What is service and what is not?” which are good questions – even if it implies that it should definitely not be me who gets to determine such a thing.

The answer to these questions is that no one is determining anything. There is no line around art or service and just because I, a person on the internet said so, does not make it so. Unfortunately, I have not yet developed such an enviable super power.

In the absence of strong boundaries in the world, I attempted to make some distinction between entertainment and art, not because I want to be mean to entertainers but because I’m weary of watching artists suffer over the confusion. Since no one makes distinctions, the market also makes no distinction and capitalism just chews up art and entertainment and service all in one messy mouthful. Of course art means different things to different people but without a common distinction, artists suffer and diminish while corporate execs thrive. Without a line drawn, commercial art thrives while more esoteric art starves. Which is not to say that commercial theatre, for example, sucks. Some of it is very entertaining and artfully done. Just because I don’t think something is art doesn’t mean I think it’s bad or badly done or unprofessional or that I don’t want to see it. I love being entertained as much as anyone.

Art does not mean good. Entertainment does not mean bad. Entertainment can be great. Art can be terrible. Drawing a line between the two does not mean drawing a line between good and bad. It just means, for me, that we use different metrics for success in those two approaches. And listen, debate about this stuff has raged for centuries over wine, beer, cocktails, coffees and college cafeterias so I get that the “What is Art?” question can be controversial.

However, I’m very curious about why everything wants to be art. Why should we need SpongeBob SquarePants to be art? Why are we not satisfied to simply have it be an entertaining piece of theatre? If you’re making tons of money, entertaining people, having a great time, I don’t really understand why being an entertainment isn’t enough.

I have as much admiration for great entertainers as I do for artists. They’re just different flavors. One is strawberry ice cream, the other is coffee gelato. Both delicious. But I wouldn’t want one to be the other.

Part of the problem, I think is the word “art.” There are, problematically, two definitions. Etymologically speaking, art began as a way to say “skill.” The Greek word for art basically means craft, or skill. Commedia dell’ Arte was a popular entertainment of skill. They were skilled comedians. If someone used their art, they used their skills.

Round about the 19th century this other sense of art began to evolve – the sense of an artist as a person creating new and challenging work, as a sort of romantic expression of self and the universe and such. Art became an expression of something – a creation – an invention where once had been a blank page, stage or space. When I talk about art and artists, this is the sort of stuff I mean. I mean people who take what they are given to create something that challenges the status quo, that makes important inquiries into the human condition, that expresses something unique and untold where once there had been nothing.

The other form of art, the one that is skill and practice and rigor and craft and form is, of course, incredibly important – but I think of the person who crafts that as more of an artisan than artist.

Our American culture is profoundly confused by all these words. Take, for example, the way advertising and marketing have co-opted the word artisanal to now be entirely meaningless. What once meant something crafted by hand by a skilled practitioner with care and attention is now readily applied to mass produced food products. You could get an “artisanal” bagel at Duncan Donuts not long ago. I don’t know what that means. So what I’m trying to do in making distinctions is to point to the Dunkin Donutifying of art – that by making EVERYTHING art, then NOTHING is art and words lose meaning and poof, there is no funding for the expressive artist anymore.

It might help to keep these strands of art in mind – the art of skill and the art of expression/creation. Perhaps we need new words entirely – and the art that means skill – as in (Zen and) the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, as in foam art in coffees, as in balloon art and so on could be called one thing and the art that means invention and creation, as in what we hang in art museums and fund for the public good…that could have another name.

Having it all be the same thing is what prevents people with no experience of the arts from understanding why in the world we should support it, donate to it, give it public funding. They think, “I wouldn’t pay my barista extra for putting a swan on top of my coffee – I mean, maybe I’d tip her a dollar or something – but why should my taxes support the arts if anything could be art? After all, I just spent over a thousand dollars to take my family to see that show on Broadway. I did my bit.” (See also my post on We Support the Arts. Buying tickets for Broadway shows is not support.)

Anyway – I tend to think of entertainers as being particularly incredible artisans. The Broadway chorus boy may not be an artist (in my definition) but his skill at doing complex jumps and turns is remarkable. He is an artist in the same sense that the barista who has spent decades perfecting the perfect foam swan is. It’s arte. He’s an entertainer with incredible arte.

And if an artist, say, a choreographer, created a show that required a chorus of such artisans, they would be participating in the manifestation of that artistic experience. Likewise – if the artist, the choreographer, required a chorus of swan-making baristas, they too would be part of the manifestation of that artwork.

And I suppose this is where the service component comes in. So let’s back this up. Let’s say this artist, this choreographer wants to make a dance featuring a chorus of Broadway dancers and a flock of skilled baristas for his piece. He intends to make a piece of art. Why he wants to do it is what I was trying to point to in my art as service blog. He could want to simply get an idea in his head out in the world. He could want to see his thoughts reflected onstage. He could want a good review in the New York Times so his father will finally love him. And/or he could want to be of service to an audience in some way – to change the way they see the world, to shift some dynamic in the world, to simply be a voice for the unheard baristas of the world.

That’s what I mean by service.

What’s tricky, I think, especially for performers, in terms of understanding this, is that performers are often really in service to everything they do. A singer is in service to the song. An actor is in service to the play, a dancer is in service to the dance. They are artisans in service to the art, so of course this notion of there being art without a service component is actually baffling to a performer. They are in constant service.

And I expect it doesn’t help a performer to make distinctions between art and entertainment. In fact, it could be a hindrance. I remember once helping one of my actor friends run her lines for a terrible film. I mean, the dialogue was appalling and absolutely nothing of interest happened in it. I was deeply impressed by how much respect and attention my friend gave this wretched dialogue. It’s part of how I came to realize that I didn’t have it in me to really chase after an acting career. I loved/love to perform but I didn’t have the capacity to ignore terrible content. I could not put myself in service to anything or anyone that I did not believe in 100%. This is kind of a big liability for a performer.

For me, because I am creative in a number of different ways, I will often make distinctions between the part of art I’m practicing. When I’m creating something from scratch, beginning from a blank page, blank canvas, blank stage, I am a generative artist. When I am performing something someone else created, I am an interpretive artisan. The two impulses feel very different for me and there are times when I can only manage one and not the other. After the 2016 elections, for example, I had no capacity for creating anything new and could really only sing other people’s songs. Sometimes there is blurriness, sure. If I invent a whole new way of performing a song, that feels like I’m blurring the lines between generating and interpreting but still, I tend to make a distinction.

Fundamentally, I am talking about that blank page – about how a piece begins. That is where I am hoping to make the distinction between art and entertainment especially clear. That is – if a piece begins in a corporate boardroom, it is very likely not art. If, say, at Microsoft’s headquarters a bunch of execs sit around and say, “Hey, what if we got in on this Broadway market? I’ve been thinking Clippy the Musical would really make us a lot of money and give us some ironic legitimacy.”


The subsequent Clippy the Musical will not be art. Not even if they hire Tony Kushner to write the book, Bjork to write the music and Laurie Anderson to write the lyrics. Not even if they get Taylor Mac to direct it. Not that I’d begrudge any of those artists making a little bit of corporate money – but Clippy the Musical would still be a corporate property cashing in on a possibly lucrative market.

Now Clippy the Musical may sound silly but that is essentially how 9 out of 10 musicals are born. SpongeBob SquarePants is owned by Nickelodeon, which is owned by Viacom. Viacom is the real winner here. Most Broadway musicals don’t come from a writer or composer sitting in a room struck by inspiration. Most musicals begin at the corporate level. Whomever owns the rights to Pretty Woman hired an agent to hire them a team of writers and a director and they all got paid to give us Pretty Woman, the Musical. (Lord help us!)

There are those who will find this corporate exercise entertaining and I do not begrudge any writer, dancer, actor or singer the opportunity to make a bit of money for a change. I’m not saying it shouldn’t exist or that we shouldn’t enjoy it. Clippy the Musical might be delightful with the right people making it.

Let’s just not call it art, okay? That’s all I’m asking. But of course, the choice is up to you. You can call it whatever you want. I don’t “get to” decide anything more than anyone else does – but I’m hoping that being a little more circumspect about what we call art might lead to the culture beginning to value work outside of the corporate purview a little bit more. About the only thing art, as I define it, has going for it, is a kind of romanticism and a hint of respectability. I’d love to see the people who create something from nothing in their rooms (or studios or wherever), those who get inspiration from the world or the gods or whatever and not the corporate paycheck, get just a little something for their trouble.

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 make art

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

 



Just One Song
May 31, 2018, 11:23 pm
Filed under: age, dance, Feldenkrais | Tags: , , , ,

One of my Feldenkrais clients was pretty much house-bound when I met her. She could get around her apartment with a walker but going out was really challenging for her. She used to go out dancing once a week but now she barely moved at all. Mostly she sat in her chair or propped up in her bed.

In addition to our Feldenkrais Functional Integration work together, I saw that I needed to find a way to keep her moving when I wasn’t there. I tried to give her some audio Awareness Through Movement exercises but she couldn’t really hear them so that possibility was out. I needed to help her find pleasurable movement, movement she could do. Since I knew she liked to dance, I recommended she dance in her chair once a day. We found a Beatles song on her phone and did some sit down dancing for a couple of minutes before she got tired. When I left, I gave her a prescription of dancing to one song every day. (We don’t do prescriptions in the Feldenkrais Method so I found it hilarious to use this language for dance.) I was pretty confident that this was going to help her. I know just a little bit of twisting and weight shifting would do her tremendous amount of good. And it did.

Then I realized I should prescribe myself the same thing. I love dancing and it always makes me feel better but I don’t do it as often as I might – usually because I don’t feel like I have the time to commit to a class or an extended dance session. It is very easy for a day to go by without any non-utilitarian movement – despite my firm belief in pleasurable movement as a beneficial practice. Additionally, I have been reeling from movement triggered migraines – so movement has been a bit of a landmine for me in the last couple of years. At their worst, the migraines just want me to lie very still in the dark.

But. One song, I can do. Not in the MIDDLE of a bad migraine obviously. But I can find a way to dance to at least one song once a day. Working with a client with such a limited range of motion has shown me how easy it is to lose flexibility, to lose the ability to experience movement as a pleasurable sensation. But it also shows me how much benefit there is in just moving what you can move. If you can’t move your arms, move your legs. If you can’t stand up, dance sitting down. If you can’t dance sitting up, dance lying down. Even if the only thing you can move is your eyelids, it is worth dancing those around or dancing in your imagination.

When we experience injury or pain or any movement limitations, we often shut down more than we need to. We think if we can’t dance the way we used to we can’t dance at all. But we can always dance something in some way. A finger dance? A nostril dance? I don’t know. But I do know that a little bit of dance goes a long way for the whole body.

In helping my client experience pleasurable movement again, I saw that I also helped her re-establish pathways in the brain that remember how to walk with more ease, to be able to get up off a bench unassisted, to regain balance and so on. When I saw her last week, she joyfully told me how she went out into the world four times that week. Once even, she went out unassisted. I attribute that regaining of independence to the dancing (and to the Feldenkrais, of course.)

I know the aids in the next room think crazy things are going on when they hear me singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” but I’m working on getting her to dance with her arms while lying down, which will eventually allow her to roll herself over. Extra-daily movement like dance helps the brain understand that you want to be able to move in many directions. We have a use it or lose it brain and if we only move in our habitual paths, we lose our capacity to move in other ways. For myself, I wanted to be able to keep moving in many directions, which I do with Feldenkrais but I also knew it was possible that I would enjoy my life more if I followed my own advice and danced to one song a day.

And, of course, once I’ve started dancing, I tend to go on. One song becomes two, two become three for as long as is pleasurable or as long as I have time for. It’s an incredible mood adjuster. There have been many times that I did not want to dance because I was feeling hopeless or angry or sad. I danced anyway because it was only one song, after all – and most of the time I felt better. At least a little bit. I have a little note stuck to my computer that says “One Song” so I don’t forget to do it. Sometimes it’s late at night and I see my little note and realize I still haven’t done it. So I put my headphones in and do a late night boogie before bed.

In our time strapped world it is so hard to find time to enjoy to move our bodies, to listen to music with attention, to “indulge” in non-utilitarian tasks. We can find time for one song, though. And one song can help.

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Need some help choosing a song? This is my dance playlist. Just hit shuffle and go!

This was at a college reunion. There was a DJ and a dance floor. That stuff is super awesome and fun. But I don’t wait for that stuff to find a way to dance.

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 keep dancing

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



A Big Disappointment (and How to Go On)

When I was in college, I had one goal and one goal only and that was to be part of a particular Shakespeare company I’d been inspired by a few years earlier. While I was still in school, I auditioned for them and secured my very first acting job at what was then my dream company. The fact that I was making $50 a week did not matter to me in the least. I was on track for the life I wanted. I thought I’d just keep working there forever and my artistic destiny was set. But then I had rather a rude awakening when none of us were cast in the next season.

I picked myself up, dusted myself off and worked in Atlanta, Roanoke and Memphis before returning to audition again a year later and got to do another season of Shakespeare with them. It wasn’t long after that that I moved to NYC and away from performing.

But that theatre where I started is firmly imprinted on me. It was formative in my aesthetic, my career path and my sense of self. I’ve done a LOT of other things since then and grown and shifted in lots of directions I’d never have predicted – but there’s something about that company that will always have a quality of home for me.

So when this writing opportunity with them came up, it had a sense of fated poetry to it. Artist returns to artistic home in a new role to a new beginning. It also had a curious quality of uniting what has always felt like two parallel tracks that would never meet – that is, my Shakespeare identity and my feminist playwriting identity. I just generally assumed those two aspects of myself would never have much call to meet (aside, of course from the devised Shakespeare piece I made a few years ago – where I used my dramaturgical skills to “write” with Shakespeare’s words.)

Anyway – something about the call for submissions for this just felt like little blocks of fate, slotting one into another. I wrote a play VERY QUICKLY that grappled with things in Comedy of Errors that I have always struggled with and found I’d woven together two strands of my artistry that I hadn’t known I could. Because I know the company well, I wrote it with them in mind. I saw their space, I saw their actors. It came to me more easily than almost anything else I’ve ever written. Part of me thought, “They’d be crazy not to select this play. It is for them. It is their aesthetic. It will showcase their particular skills. It gives their actors – particularly the women – opportunities that they don’t often get – and because I’m a former actor in their company from twenty years ago, this press release just writes itself.” As a friend of mine said, “That’s a marketing gold mine. They’d have to choose you for that alone.”

But I am pretty used to rejection and pretty used to not being the choice of the status quo so I was actually pretty delightfully surprised to be first a semi-finalist and then a finalist for what would be a life-changing prize and a kick ass opportunity to return to an artistic home.

When I received the email that I was a finalist, I started to fantasize about what would happen were I to get it. I’d return, not just to a theatre that was once a home, but also my home state. I’d finally get some recognition as a playwright in a well-publicized prestigious situation. It would have paid me more money than I have ever made in a year.

I began to acknowledge to myself that it was something I really wanted. (Generally, I try not to do this. I just apply for stuff and move on.) I thought about it a lot. It started to feel a little bit like when I was in college wanting to work for this company. I started to feel like the poetic circularity of the thing meant that I was destined to get it.

When the rejection came this morning, it hit me harder than any rejection has in a long while. The O’Neill was hard but I never really thought I’d get even as far as the semi-finals so I wasn’t surprised not to get an acceptance there. But this one, I knew I had a shot. The poetry of the story was too good.

But real life doesn’t really work like a story. I seem to have to learn this lesson over and over again. I suppose that’s the peril of being a story maker. I am infinitely vulnerable to good stories. (For example: I cannot be 100% positive that I didn’t partly choose to go to the graduate school I went to due to the serendipity of my sharing a name with it. This would not be a good reason to go to a school, btw.)

I have twenty plus years of practice at dealing with rejection. When the American Shakespeare Center (then known as Shenandoah Shakespeare Express) didn’t hire me in 1996 as I expected them to, it was a shocking betrayal that took me a while to recover from. Here in the spring of 2018, I saw that rejection email from them, felt the blow to my solar plexus and then just got on with making things. I finished recording a song for the podcast and practiced the choreography for the Nelken line I’m joining this weekend. I’m grateful for the decades of artistic practice that has helped me put my eggs in multiple baskets so that when, say, the playwriting basket falls to the ground and all my eggs break, I can just reach into the music basket or the blogging basket, as I’m doing now, and I know I’ll have eggs enough for an omelet later.

I can’t say I’m not sad to not get to see my play performed on that damn beautiful stage by those actors I tailor-made that play for. I am fucking sad about it, no doubt. But, I now have a play that is much more easily produced than most of my other work. I have a prequel to Comedy of Errors that maybe one day someone else might want to do.

It’s sad. I’m sad. And the Hope Hangover (a phenomenon and song I wrote about recently) will be brutal, I know. But I have weathered disappointment consistently for the last two decades. I can do it some more. The thing to do when you are disappointed by art is to make more art. It is the only way through.

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 deal with disappointment

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




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