Songs for the Struggling Artist


The Ship Is Turning
May 26, 2022, 10:00 pm
Filed under: age, art, Creative Process | Tags: , , , , , , ,

There was a week when a lot of good things happened at once. It felt so strange and I realized that I had grown very used to things going either badly or just sort of going. It felt like I’d been on a giant ship and it had, for years, been headed toward desolation. I’m not sure I was fully aware I was on a ship headed toward desolation. If you’d asked me, “Are you on a big ship?” I’m not sure I’d have said yes. It’s a metaphor I was not conscious of at all until it started to shift.

Now, the ship becomes visible to me as it is starting to turn. It’s a big ship, so it can’t turn quickly. I can still see the shores of desolation off in the distance but the ship is turning. It is turning slowly and (hopefully) surely.

I’m not sure when I got on this big ship. It could have been when I went to grad school, which took an enormous amount of wind out of my sails. It could have been when I realized I’d have to leave London and give up a series of hopes and dreams. Or maybe I just found myself on board one day after one too many rejections and disappointments. All I know is, I am glad this boat is turning around.

I wonder, too, if this ship’s route is related to the U curve. Apparently, most people’s life satisfaction takes a major dip in their mid 40s – but it starts to head back up at a certain point – which is why it’s called a U curve. You hit the cul de sac of the U and then things start to get better.

Maybe the ship’s sailing plan is a U curve. It dips down close to the shores of desolation, makes you think you are definitely ending up there no matter how many dance parties you have on board, and then at the last moment, the ship starts to turn.

The thing about being a struggling artist™ for this long is that it starts to feel like you have a stink on you. It can feel like everyone sees that your ship is headed to the shores of desolation and most people prefer to look away. Everyone loves a winner and everyone wonders what’s wrong with the ones that aren’t actively winning. That is, it’s fine to choose to be an artist, as long as you can show everyone that you are actively winning – stop winning for a bit and folks are going to start asking why you keep doing this. The wins don’t have to be big to keep your sails billowing but they do have to be recognizable to the average person as a win.

That is, I could write a book – but until that book is published and in stores, the accomplishment does not register to most people. It can feel like you’re carrying that book on a big ship headed to the shores of desolation where you might as well throw it into the sea and watch the pages scatter through the waves. Get someone to agree to publish it, though, that ship starts to turn around. (No one’s publishing my books by the way. My ship would probably be turning around a lot faster if that were the case.)

Most people won’t read (or listen to) your book until it’s published and reviewed and vetted by all the major news outlets. They won’t go see your play until it’s on Broadway. They won’t listen to your albums until they’re on the radio. They won’t buy your paintings until they’re on sale at the Biennial. I don’t know why people need their art to be approved of by the mainstream but apparently they do.

I guess what I’m saying is that there’s a U curve for artistic work, too – and it probably magnifies the U curves of age. The relentlessness of indifference, of failing to make an artistic mark in a way regular people recognize, of just pushing forward with so little encouragement can make for a pretty brutal U curve for artists. I know too many who didn’t make it up the other side. They saw where that ship was headed and they couldn’t imagine it would ever turn around.

Frankly, I didn’t have any reason to believe mine would turn around either. I just figured I’d dance on deck until we hit the shore.

But this ship is turning. It’s going slow. It’s creaking. It’ll take some time and effort and it’s probably going to displace a lot of water. But it is turning.

If you have any choice about it, it’s generally a good idea to start turning your ship BEFORE it gets this close to a lighthouse.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

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My Real Job

For years, I was haunted by a man with a briefcase who followed me everywhere I went. He wore a suit and a hat and he was always popping his head around corners, wondering if I was ready to accept My Real Job. He was kind of creepy and very persistent and, of course, a figment of my imagination. Picture Mr. Slugworth in the Willy Wonka movie from 1971, sneaking around alleys.

He hadn’t always been personified. Before I put a face to him, he was just a concept, a fear that hung around, making me feel really bad about myself, making myself feel doomed, somehow. I think it wasn’t long after I identified him that he finally gave up. I might have told him to get lost or maybe he just ceased to have power over me – but he hasn’t troubled me in a good long while now.

I tell you about him now because I’d told a fellow artist about My Real Job at one point and it seemed a useful and resonant concept for them, too. When you know who you’re haunted by, you can deal with it a little more clearly.

In choosing to make a life in the arts, it’s rare that even the most committed artist knows, for sure, that they’re making the right call. No one recommends going into the arts in this country (except Kurt Vonnegut, bless him) and it is not a choice that is likely to yield big rewards. It is nearly impossible to avoid questioning one’s choices over and over again – especially when you’re not receiving a lot of reinforcement from the world around you.

My Real Job was waiting for me to give up. He was patiently following me everywhere I went, hoping I would fail enough to finally surrender and accept him. Before I was conscious of him, I was plagued by him.

What’s funny is that I don’t know WHAT that real job was – and he surely didn’t either. I think it was in an office somewhere? Maybe?

But the day I really looked at him, the day I examined this belief that giving up and surrendering to him was inevitable, I think that’s the day he started to lose his power. I had some support for that process, as I recall. My therapist asked if I was ever going to take that “real job” and I said NO, with a great deal of force. Not a chance. He could follow me around the rest of my life, laugh at my struggles and all my artistic plans that failed to ignite, sniff at my losses, sneer at my finances. He could do his worst and I would never ever take his job. There was nothing he could do that would make me take his job. It was liberating to say so.

I would love to tell you that getting that clear about all this was the magic spell that cleared the way for mountains of success and good fortune. It didn’t. It didn’t change any of the practical details of my life. It wasn’t an enchantment that I broke. The struggle was intense before and it remained intense after. What vanquishing My Real Job did do, though, was give me a kind of peace about my choices. Even when things have gone badly, when there’s been little to hope for, when I’m up against the wall with how my life is going, I never even look over my shoulder anymore. If My Real Job is there, I don’t see him or pay him any mind. I’m never going to take that job. Not ever. I’m guessing he gave up and started following someone else. If it was you, I’m sorry. But take a good look at him and ask yourself if you’re ever going to take his real job. If the answer’s no, he might just leave you alone, too.

Look at all the money Charlie would get at his Real Job. Maybe he should take it.

Photo by Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock (1637635a) Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, Gunter Meisner, Peter Ostrum Film and Television

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

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

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Want to help me keep My Real Job off my back? Like, for real?

Become my patron on Patreon.

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Or buy me a “coffee” (or several!) on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Confusing Art with Money

With a couple of decades in the indie theatre trenches behind me, I have some complicated feelings around money and art. I believe in paying artists. I think it’s important to give value in a monetary form to people who create. I fight hard to make it happen as often as I can. But I would much prefer to work with a group of people who aren’t doing it for the money. As soon as money gets involved, there’s always someone who starts treating me like I’m PepsiCo and makes demands, defines rigid terms and sets intense limitations. It feels lousy every single time. I find I usually have a more satisfying artistic experience with the people who signed up when they thought they were getting nothing and are happily surprised when I present them an actual check. They get paid either way but in one way the context is clear for everyone and the one with money involved makes things muddy. When I offer money from the start, some people are doing it for the money.

But this is so complicated because I really believe that it is okay to do things for money. Teaching, for example, is full of people declaring they love it, that they’d do it for free but they wouldn’t actually and when I do it, I’m not going to lie, I do it for the money. I’m good at it and I’m not doing it for love. I’ve done acting for the money, directing for the money and writing, too. So where do I get off wanting to have my artistic collaborators not do it for the money? You know? They’re allowed to only want to do my show because they want/need the $200 I have to offer them. That’s okay. Except for art is this delicate vulnerable creative sensitive endeavor and when I smell a mercenary, when someone starts to engage with me like I’m a Hollywood agent, I get a wave of anxiety and despair.

If I have $200 to give someone, it’s because I probably cobbled it together in $20 increments from my uncle, my college buddies and fellow artists. I don’t have more. I’m not out here trying to get something for nothing. I literally just want to make art and make sure folks get at least a little gesture of value for their work. That’s all it is. But almost every time there will be one or two people who make it clear that this art I think we’re making is a business transaction for them. It always confuses me and it makes me feel bad. I know it comes from their history of being taken advantage of or having to chase after payments from shady vendors but it feels so lousy to be lumped in with those people in an art context. It always gives me pause and makes me think, “Oh, I’m doing all of this wrong. They’ll know I’m not built for the business.” But it’s also possible to see it as this person doesn’t understand the context. This person doesn’t understand the world I come from. But even then it makes me question my own judgment in bringing them into my quiet little circle. It’s a real tornado of an experience. When it happened recently, I had a little meltdown and my friend talked me down off the “I can’t do this” ledge by pointing out that I really need an Executive Director for a business manager – someone who can talk the business talk with my collaborators and then send them to me for the art part. But when you’re a one person band like I am, there is no offloading these interactions. They are part of it and I am working very hard to not take them personally.

Most people I work with in the arts have mastered the context leap. They work with Network Executives and agents differently than they engage with tiny indie theatre producers. There are ways of engaging that are fundamentally different when you’re working for PepisCo or for a fellow artist. The folks who don’t work that out don’t last too long in the business. Or they don’t last too long in the art. Whichever one they’ve not nailed the special mores of. Or both.

For many artists, more important than actual currency is social currency and you start to damage that when you lean into the business side of things. It’s confusing for me, too – but it’s like, I want to pay artists but I don’t want to talk to artists about money (unless we’re doing a show about it, which I did) and if they’re doing it for the money please don’t let me know that as I need to believe my art is the best and only art and that you’d do it for free even though you wouldn’t, okay? It is a fragile relationship.

If you’re wondering whether the job you’re about to do is business or art, think about how vulnerable to flattery the creator is. Me? Totally vulnerable. Three of the five people I cast recently let me know how much they liked the show and I don’t think I cast them because they liked the show, or even because it was clear they did some research, but it did tell me that they understood what I was trying to do (it was apparent in their work really) and that all makes a difference. Let me just say a person writing ad copy probably isn’t too concerned whether or not you understand his artistic vision. He just wants to know you can read it correctly and on time.

The thing is, I’ve been at this art making business for decades and I still don’t know what to do when someone starts engaging with me in business mode instead of artistic mode. I get absolutely flummoxed. Their business concerns are fair, of course – but it always turns me around. No, you’re right, it isn’t a lot of money. No, my uncle doesn’t have another $20 for you, I’m sorry. If you need my uncle’s $20, this is probably not the gig for you. Please don’t do it for the money. Or if you are doing it for the money, can you just pretend you aren’t? Just for the illusion. This is theatre after all, we traffic in illusions. Please help me maintain mine!

Sometimes the way to do it is to make Art ABOUT Money. I’ve tried this too!

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

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

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Want to help me integrate art and business better?

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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

Or buy me a “coffee” (or several!) on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Do People Really Have an Aversion to Creativity?

The science in it seems sketchy and it’s not clear which people this may be true for – but the New York Times put out this article about how there’s a Creativity Problem and it feels true to me. Obviously, my feelings are not good science but if what this article posits is correct, a lot of people have a subconscious aversion to, or are pretty ambivalent about, creativity. They’ll say they like it, that they want it, that creativity is valuable to them. Then underneath, their subconscious seems to reflect the opposite experience. All the questions about methodology and sample sizes aside, if this is true, it does explain a few things. It explains why people’s stated values are so different than their actual values. It explains why people can say they support the arts while cutting all the arts programs. It explains why here in the States, we have no arts funding to speak of – because even though people say they like creative people and things, they don’t actually.

One of the theories that got floated in the article was that most people really prefer the status quo and art is disruptive. That is, it’s especially disruptive if it is innovative or creative. That is, if it’s more than just decorative, it’s probably shaking things up. Maybe that’s why people associated creativity with a word like vomit. Vomit is also very disruptive. Maybe people’s subconsciouses were going super deep when they went this way. It’s not that they don’t LIKE art, they’re just making word association visceral metaphors. (Says the artist who likes to make metaphors.)

The article suggested that even when companies declared that they valued creativity in their staff, in truth, they tended to revert to the status quo when hiring because middle managers don’t like novelty. This is not a surprise to me. I know ARTS middle managers who don’t like novelty or innovation and they’re theoretically IN creative fields. I guess we live in a world of middle managers, even in the arts.

This difference in people’s stated values feels true to me because while some people are charmed by my creative life choices when they meet me at parties, there is often a kind of underlying hostility about it that I’ve never been able to understand. I thought it was a kind of jealousy, like, everyone really wants to be as creative as they were when they were children and so it gets expressed as resentment to adults – but it may be this disgust, I suppose, this association with vomit or other negative words. It may be a subconscious resistance to status quo disruptors.

I’ve seen people get really mean in on-line discussions of artist housing that I’ve seen. They call us freeloaders who should get no special treatment and tell artists to get “real jobs.” There are some people who’d just rather we didn’t create. I guess there are more of those than I realized. That’s kind of a bummer.

I suppose I understand. Maybe my subconscious hates my creativity, too! (I doubt it. I’m a pretty clear outlier in these things.) Creativity is messy. You can theoretically want your kids to be creative, for example, but then, not let them paint without the smock and the drop-cloth and the mop at hand and really it would be easier to just not get into this painting activity. Let’s just watch a video!

You can think music is pretty cool but oh, those drums are so noisy and please stop playing that harmonica and why are we hearing that same phrase over and over?

Art makes a mess. Sometimes you can dress it up and put it on a stage with an orchestra and invite people in fur coats to come and see – but even the most refined work is messy at some point. It is inconvenient. It can bring something back up that you were hoping to never see again.

But, of course, people expressing a kind of ambivalence about creativity as a concept, as a preference doesn’t mean they don’t actually like art, or don’t engage with disruptive work or don’t respond to creativity in performance. They might love it when they see it. Actually. No ambivalence.

I suspect that folks might like art, actually – but just don’t really trust us artists. That’s okay. I really don’t trust middle managers. The feeling is mutual.

What a mess. Maybe better to just sit quietly in a corner running numbers all day. Don’t paint. You might mix up your colors or something.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

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

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Want to help me fight the aversion folks have for creativity?

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Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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

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Three Hundred Episodes. Horn Blowin Time!
April 18, 2022, 9:01 pm
Filed under: music, podcasting | Tags: , , ,

As I surely have said before, I am not fond of tooting my own horn but only a handful of others will toot their horns for me so if my horn needs tooting, the task generally falls to me. I have to seek out the milestones, keep the markers in sight and just generally seek out opportunities for self horn tooting. It’s tooting time again. I’m writing this in anticipation of my Three Hundredth Episode of the podcast version of this blog.

The blog is almost 14 years old. The podcast turned six this month.

I don’t have any special episode planned for this nice round number. It’s not an interview podcast so there’s no bringing on very special guests. I could edit together some clips but I feel like listening to me talk about 300 different things really quickly, one right after the other might not be a fun listen and it would be a hell of a lot of work.

This blog, this podcast, is about a lot of things but I always return to the source in the title. It is always grounded in the challenges we artists face in this artist unfriendly world.

In the six years I’ve been doing the podcast, I’ve recorded 226 covers, pulled 35 songs from my archives, recorded 10 old songs I’d never recorded before and 12 new originals. It’s a lot!

There’s been drama. There have been surprises. There was cake for the 100th episode.

The practice I got from all this podcasting led directly to my being able to make the leap into Audio Drama. Having made one season of The Dragoning, I’m now making a second, with actors on three continents.

And the thing is – 300 is actually a lot of episodes. One of the most famous successful (and lucrative) podcasts of all time has only 185 episodes still. I have done significantly more episodes than Reply All. Granted, their shows are a lot more complex than mine. But they also have a staff with salaries and Spotify money to back them up.

I do this for free. Sure, my patrons help support me doing it for free but it is not a money making endeavor. I tried an advertising scheme a few years back and in the two weeks I had it going on, I made $1.38 so…you know. There’s no profit in this work. The company that makes Reply All, however, was sold for $230 million. It also pretty much imploded last year. I mean – I think a lot of people aspired to be Reply All but sometimes just steadily working at something, year after year yields results too. I’ve got 115 more episodes and no major reckonings.

When I started the podcast, it was really an experiment with the form. I know it seems like everyone has a podcast these days but in 2016, it was still a little bit new. I started on Soundcloud. Some episodes are still there. One of them because more popular there than any other episode before or since. That episode (Art, Entertainment and SpongeBob SquarePants) is also the most popular on my current podcast platform, though it is not even in the top 150 of the blog. The second most popular episode is the Harry Potter/Hangover which has even fewer views on the blog than SpongeBob. I guess this says to me that in podcasts, people like popular things that are already popular, especially when they are things Millennials grew up with. (Pssst – Millennials, what else are you into? Maybe I should do more podcasts about stuff you like!)

I’m on all the podcast apps now. I’m available on the podcast apps you’ve heard of and many, around the world, that I’m guessing you have not. I love increasing the possibility that something I say, or sing, might speak to someone thousands of miles away.

When people say “Everyone has a podcast these days,” it can really make me feel like these three hundred episodes are not such a big deal. This isn’t really horn tooting material when any old schmo can record a podcast! But it’s more than Reply All! And recording something once a week like this does add up to something eventually. It adds up to three hundred!

Maybe I should get a uniform like this for my horn tootin.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

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

*

Want to help me make another hundred episodes?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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

Or buy me a “coffee” (or several!) on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Crowdfunding the Arts Doesn’t Work

My theatre company is over twenty years old. We started in 2001 and we’ve seen some things.

For our first show, we raised funds by writing a letter – yes, an actual paper letter – and we mailed it to anyone we thought might write us a check. This worked pretty well. I’d have to double check the numbers but it’s not impossible that it was the most effective fundraising we ever did. There are a couple of reasons for that, I imagine. One is the First Steps Toward a Dream Effect. This is the thing where people love to fund the FIRST something. They enjoy helping people take a first step toward a big dream. (They don’t love so much the slog of keeping something afloat.) But I think the other factor that helped this first show’s fundraising was just the moment we were in and the circles to which we had access.

It seems like it should have been harder in those days. The efforts that people had to make to donate were substantial. First, they had to open and read our letter. (Not a given!) If they wanted to donate, they had to get out their check books, write the check and then put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and put it in a mailbox. There are a lot of moments for this process to get derailed. It’s a lot. It was not like clicking on a link, letting your credit card info autofill some boxes and then hitting submit.

When donating through the internet started to be a thing, we were very excited. It seemed like, by eliminating all those steps for people, we’d get so many more donations. It didn’t really work out that way, though. We saw charity donation websites come and go. (Remember Charity Blossom?) The donations got smaller and smaller and people who’d written us big checks never made it to the digital mailing lists. We didn’t have their emails. I’m not sure a lot of them HAD emails.

Then crowdfunding kicked off and everyone was so excited about its potential. In some circles people talked about it as a democratizing fundraising source. We wouldn’t need to depend on rich people to fund things anymore! If we got enough tiny donations, we could make a big difference! What a win for democracy! Poor people could pay for the arts instead of rich people!

But here’s the thing. You need a LOT of people to give you $20 to make up a 10k budget. You need 500 people, in fact. (Actually, given that all these platforms take a cut, you’ll need MORE than 500 to get there.) And for people without much to spare, even that $20 is a huge deal. It’s a huge deal for me. Most folks, no matter how much they like you or believe in what you’re doing, are not going to bother or they just don’t have it to spare.

If you want to really depress yourself as a theatre fundraiser, take a tour of the theatre fundraisers on a platform like Indiegogo. You’ll see a lot of folks barely making a dent in their humble 3k ask. Theatre isn’t a good candidate for crowdfunding. It doesn’t scale well. We don’t have compelling prizes. But crowdfunding is sort of the only deal anymore. Even wealthy donors expect you to eke out a bunch of $20 donations before they’ll think about sending over a few hundred bucks.

It feels a bit like crowdfunding has killed our ability to actually raise sufficient funds because sometimes a wealthy donor looks at how a crowdfundraiser is doing and thinks it’s not worth the investment. They see that we didn’t get 10 people to give us 20 bucks and they reconsider the 2k check they were thinking of writing us. In having our struggles be so transparent, we lose leverage. We can’t sell someone on a dream because they can see how little others have put in to it.

Crowdfunding, like a lot of things, has turned out to work best for things that are going viral. Remember that potato salad? Or the Josh battle? Crowdfunding also does really well in a well publicized tragedy – but it is terrible for the day to day art making. It is a very blunt instrument. It may be the only instrument at the moment, so we pretty much have to use it but it’s not very effective. Like anything in this capitalist world, your ability to fundraise is dependent on the wealth to which you have access. Your crowdfunding campaign does not depend so much on the content of your work but on the wealth of the people in your circle who will open their wallets for you. We had more access to those people two decades ago than we do today. Today, most of my contacts are fellow artists. We have a joke in the indie theatre community about how we all just pass the same $20 around between us.

To make a 10k budget, you only need 10 people to give you a thousand dollars. Big deal! That’s only ten people! But you have to know ten people who might have a grand to spare first. That’s the real kicker and why crowdfunding the arts doesn’t work. Not unless you only want work by and for the wealthy, which is what you get when you don’t subsidize the arts, no matter which way you slice it.

Crowdfunding demands an extraction of wealth from the artist’s community. Every time I put on a show, I have to go to the crowdfunding mines and extract a little wealth from the people I know. I know some folks have found a way to perceive this as obtaining their community’s investment in their work. I appreciate that perspective but I find it particularly challenging to see it that way in this moment where most of my community is in the performing arts and most of my community lost their jobs or their big plans or their dreams or their support. Now is not the moment to extract wealth from the performing arts community – even if you call it an investment. Same goes for a lot of people right now.

I know someone is thinking, “Hey what about grants?! Grants exist. Can’t you just get a grant?” Oh darlings. Yes. We have gotten some grants. Most of them were about $500. Very nice! It’s helpful! Not as helpful as someone just writing you a check for $1000 that you didn’t have to write several essays for but helpful! $500 is a very nice start and other funders like to see that you got it but there is not a grant in America that will fund your whole project. They want to see that you can extract $10k of wealth before they will give you $10k. The best way to get an arts grant is to show how much you don’t need one.

In my experience, it takes around 10k to do just about any significant art project. That’s with a shoestring budget. Shoestrings cost about 10k. For some people, donating that 10k would make less impact than the $20 coming from a struggling artist – but an arts organization lives or dies based on where that $10k might come from. Crowdfunding seemed like an answer and it’s probably not going anywhere but you can tell that it’s not an effective tool because you’ll never catch one of the big arts institutions using it. No one suggests that The Metropolitan Opera do a Kickstarter. They extract their wealth in a much more efficient way.

And yes, of course, I’m in the middle of trying to crowdfund a project right now which is, of course, why I’m thinking a lot about this. I feel extraordinary gratitude to the people who gave us their $3 or their $1000 and I really wish I didn’t have to ask them for it, just to make a piece of art.  

I made this for the company for World Theatre Day. I figured I could extract a little more value out of my labor by putting it here, too.

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Should I Try to Work with Egotistical Douchebags?
April 8, 2022, 10:50 pm
Filed under: art, feminism, Shakespeare, theatre, writing | Tags: , , , , ,

* Note – I’m going to use the word douchebag a lot in this post. Get ready. But also – for context – I used to be really wary about the word douchebag. I thought the word might be connected to some thinly veiled misogyny that I didn’t want to be leaning into. Then I read this blog post and now I am a convert. If you have any hesitation at all about this word, I highly recommend the journey this guy will take you on. Go. Read it. Then come back here and enjoy me talking about d-bags a lot.

And now – the actual post:

The minute I met the artistic director of that Shakespeare company, I thought “Oh he’s an egotistical douchebag.” Then I saw his show. I did not want to like it but it wasn’t terrible. I mean, the thing with doing Shakespeare is, the text is always interesting so as long as you don’t get in the way too much, it’s possible to put on a decent show, even if you’re an egotistical douchebag.

And the theatre business is oversaturated with egotistical douchebags, especially in positions of power. When I was really trying to make acting work as a career, I discovered that the vast majority of employers in this arena were, in fact, egotistical douchebags. I think it was realizing that kissing up to this type was going to be the bulk of this job that made me start my own company. It seemed the only way to ensure that I wouldn’t have to suck up to an egotistical douchebag on the regular.

Anyway, at first meeting, this Artistic Director struck me as someone I would not even like to talk to at a party but the Shakespeare world is smaller than you’d think so I told myself he was nervous – talking to all those Shakespeare teachers and maybe not the egotistical douchebag he seemed to be. Maybe he’s fine. I didn’t think so but I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. I was still pretty sure, though. I have a highly tuned douche-meter.

When an opportunity to submit plays to his theatre came up, I thought, “Why not? I may not be crazy about that guy but their work isn’t bad and I just can’t produce my own work the way I used to. It’s time to expand my circle. Sometimes it takes an egotistical douchebag to bring plays to the world.” I submitted. The play was rejected. No big deal. And when I mentioned it, a much respected colleague let me know, in passing, that I probably would not have enjoyed my time there had I been accepted. My colleague had some experience with this guy and reported him to be… an egotistical douchebag. They recounted many nail biting stories of douchebaggery in the trenches with this fellow in days of yore.

It’s very nice to have my first impressions confirmed. That’s the good news here. I know an egotistical douchebag when I see one! But it has made me think; Isn’t practically every dude who runs a theatre company an egotistical douchebag? If I want to see my work get made (by someone besides me) do I have to learn how to suck up to egotistical douchebags? I don’t want to work with douchebags, period. But there are so many of them and they work all over the place and there are only the smallest cracks getting made in the walls that keep them there in the seats of power. Twenty plus years ago, I just thought, “No problem, I’ll just do it myself!” But I didn’t factor in all the ways the system is designed to support egotistical douchebags, young and old, and leave the others in the dark. The light shines on the egotistical douchebags and the more light shines on them, the brighter they get and the rest of us can never really make it out of the shadows. Sometimes the only way to catch a little light is to stand next to an egotistical douchebag.

This particular company run by this particular egotistical douchebag was founded ONE year before mine. Technically, this guy is my peer, along with numerous other guys who started their companies at the same time as I did and somehow found the light to thrive. I don’t know another woman who started a company around then that is still going. I guess the egotistical douchebag lane is the only one available? I mean, I hope not.

Running a theatre company is not an easy job. There’s very little money in it. It’s a whole lot of work for very little reward. It’s possible an inflated ego is the only thing that will keep you afloat in this world. Maybe you need to be a little douchey to get things done. I genuinely don’t know. I would very much like to see my work produced by someone that isn’t me. Would I like it to be produced by a douchebag? No. Do I have a choice about that? I’m not sure. That’s what I’m trying to work out.

You know who that light is shining on? You guessed it.

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

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In Praise of the Monologue

Despite having written and created an audio drama podcast made up entirely of monologues, before now, I’d have told you I hated monologues. When casting actors, I would never ask for a monologue for the audition. I felt sure they could tell me nothing about what an actor would do in a show. I know I have delivered a few rants on the subject before. I could not fathom why preparing one classical and one contemporary monologue became a norm. As a director, I found them useless. My feeling was a monologue performance could only tell me whether that actor could do that monologue performance and not much more. It told me nothing about what they were like with other people, what their choices might be like for my show. Why did training programs rely so heavily on them when most directors I know prefer to see sides of the work they’re casting?

Today, I finally get it. I find myself intensely grateful for the way theatre trains actors with monologues. I feel like I finally understand why everyone bothers.

Because I’m in the middle of casting the second season of my audio drama, I have gotten a fresh perspective on what theatre folk do and what it takes for us to do it. This didn’t happen with Season One because every single one of the actors was a theatre person (among other things, of course). But the main thing was, I could give them pages of text and they could read it back into a microphone in such a way as it all made sense, that had a rhythm and a music to it. Every single one of the actors gave their work a shape and an arc and a series of beats. You would not believe how little direction I gave these people. I did not need to. They all just did it naturally. I thought at the time that it was just because they’re all good actors, but I think now it is specifically because they are good theatre actors.

Because Season Two is set in another country, I have to draw from an unknown acting pool and I began to listen to a lot of acting reels from voice over actors. They are incredibly skilled. They can do animated character voices. They can make a bank ad sound like silk. They can stretch sound into moments you would not believe. I have found myself impressed. Believe me, I have tried reading ad copy before – it is a lot harder than I ever imagined. These folks have skills. But do they have the skills I need?

I’ve dipped my toes into the film world a little bit more this year and one thing I’ve noticed about the difference between film and theatre is the rhythm of the making. Most everything in film is in small bits. You do one line in a multitude of ways (or the same way over and over) and then you move on to another one. If you had a long passage of text (unlikely in a film, but, just for the sake of argument) you wouldn’t shoot the whole thing all at once, you’d get two lines here, two lines there, another from the other side and so on. The rhythm of the speech would happen in the edit. It only matters what each individual line is like, not the whole. The whole gets created later.

In the theatre, however, you have to say the whole thing, all at once. You need a plan of attack. You become a one person band, orchestrating the speed, the tone, the ups, the downs. When you’re giving a speech in the theatre, it’s all you. You’re it. It is a much more sustained experience.

It turns out that reading a monologue is more than just saying the words in a reasonably correct way. It is taking an audience on a journey and that is what we train actors for. That’s why we teach monologues. I apologize for every bad thing I ever said about monologues. It turns out that training actors to deal with large swaths of text is exactly the training I need as a creator right now. It may be one of the theatre’s defining characteristics actually.

Theatre educators – thank you for continuing to teach actors to do more monologues, even in the face of cranky people like me who didn’t understand the value before. Please keep doing it.

This isn’t actually a monologue. But it LOOKS like a monologue and that’s the important thing. And, like a monologue, if I gave it an actor to read, they could handle all that text without too much trouble.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

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Rejections as a Measure of Hope?
March 18, 2022, 10:28 pm
Filed under: Rejections, theatre, writing | Tags: , , ,

New York Classical Rejection

I didn’t submit to many things in 2021. This was the first theatre I submitted to in over in a year. It seemed such a gimmee – a Shakespeare company doing readings of Shakespeare adjacent work. I have a LOT of this sort of material due to applying over and over to the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries award at the American Shakespeare Center, a company that I used to work as an actor for and therefore know VERY well. I just can’t resist it, every time it comes around. And therefore I have a small glut of plays that are perfect for a Shakespeare company but have never been produced.

I’ve seen New York Classical’s work and met their Artistic Director while doing some Folger education work so it seemed like a natural fit. I thought that they’d look at my finalist play and snap it right up. They did not.

Back in the rejection saddle again!

That was the first in a while and since it was so short, I sat on it for months, waiting to fill this post out with some other rejections.

Now the rejections are flowing again so you know I must be bothering to apply for stuff again finally. The document where I track my applications and rejections is a real study in….I don’t know what to call it – Hope and Despair?

Ashland New Play Festival

In 2019, I applied to 92 things and in 2020 I applied to 18 things. Almost all those applications were in the first three months of the year. (Wonder why!)  I guess I was starting to feel vaguely hopeful there might be theatre again by the fall of 2021 as I did manage to submit to 8 things. The rejection for the Ashland New Play festival which I applied to in October just rolled in and I expect the others will be along shortly.

But I’ve already applied six this year, so I guess I’ve raised my hope level somewhat? It doesn’t FEEL like it but the evidence suggests a shift.

And now they roll in.

The Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference

The very first time I applied to the O’Neill, I got into the semi-finals. It has not happened since. I had never applied before my first submission. I really didn’t think I stood a snowball’s chance in hell and I didn’t want to spend $35 just to melt my snowball, as it were.

In a way, that first shocking win has made all the subsequent submissions more painful to lose than they otherwise would have been. Sometimes it’s easier to apply when you think you have no chance. You just throw your submission money down the hole with a kiss and it’s over. When you’ve had a little glimmer of hope, the rejection somehow feels a little sharper.

Anyway – this year I submitted my mash up of Jane Austen and All’s Well that Ends Well. It did not make the semi-finals.

Orlando Shakes PlayFest

(title of email: PlayFest 2022 Unsolicited Query Update)

I will say this for the Orlando Shakes fest; They are one of the speediest rejections around. I feel like I JUST sent them the same Austen All’s Well that I sent to the O’Neill and they have already rejected it. There are at least eight other rejections I would have expected first but they are very efficient over there. I applaud them for it, truly. It is so much better to get these things done quickly.

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

Hope? Despair? Just a cool work of art somewhere.

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

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The Theatre Theater Problem and the Intermission

If it’s not entirely obvious, I’m a THEATRE person. I am not a THEATER person, not really. This is partly a silly distinction of spelling and partly a really serious long-standing American problem.

And before I go any further with this, let me acknowledge that I now think I’m on the wrong side of this divide. It’s a side I’ve fought for, one that I reinforce every time I spell my company’s name or website or email address, and one I somehow cannot seem to let go, no matter how on the wrong side of it I am.

I started to think about this when a European friend asked what we call the break, or pause, in a performance. I’d been thinking about all the ways that theatres are set up to make people feel like outsiders when they arrive and the simple fact that we call this break an intermission suddenly struck me as yet another way our theatres create this rarified atmosphere. We don’t take a break, no, no. We take – an intermission. So many things about going to the theatre are built to suggest that it is for the elites. We’ll have no groundlings here, please and thank you. This is why we have velvet ropes. And this is not an accident.

That’s the thing that hit me full force when thinking about our intermissions – just what a purposeful positioning all this is. American theatre was designed this way and we’ve been fighting about it for some time. The distinction between theatre and theater is not, as I’ve heard some people posit, that one is the art and the other the building. The distinction is mostly just a matter of preference. Technically, THEATER is the American spelling and THEATRE is the European spelling. Every spell check agrees.

But a lot of us in the THEATRE/THEATER – just prefer this RE version. We couldn’t tell you why necessarily. I’ve heard folks say they feel THEATER must be pronounced thee-ATE-r and so THEATRE wins the day. In my case, I guess it just looks better to me. I like it. It connects me to Europe. Given how embarrassing we Americans can be, that’s a nice benefit. And in my personal case, my aesthetic alignment tends to side with Europe so it just sort of stacked up in those early days when I was picking a side. THEATRE just sounded artier, somehow. THEATER is where they do that trashy stuff. Or something. And I know now that this is some elitist mularkey. This stacks up with the velvet ropes and the intermissions and the donors’ circles and the patron’s boxes and all the things that suggest this art is not for poor people.

Now, we imagine this was an accident but history suggests it was very much on purpose. If someone had taught me this history in my youth, I’d probably be a THEATER person instead of the THEATRE person I am.

I learned from James Shapiro’s book, Shakespeare in a Divided America, that in the first bit of the 19th century, there had been multiple riots at theatres. Theatres were one of the few places that the rich and poor encountered each other and as income inequality was getting worse and worse, they clashed about it often. The poor had power in numbers and they used those numbers in theatre audiences. Theatres were one of our most truly democratic spaces in those days. Imagine.

Then in 1849, the aristocrats of NYC got tired of being shouted at and so bought themselves an opera house and designed it in such a way so as to welcome the elites and keep the poor away. They invented a dress code that featured things like dress coats, white cravats and kid gloves. They transformed “the pit” (which once held the cheaper seats/standing area for the poor right up front) into the orchestra. They numbered the seats so they could assign them how they liked. They covered the seats in red damask and put the cheap seats upstairs, through their own separate entrance. They raised the prices. In 1849, this was all new. And the people did not like it.

It came to a head in 1849, when a feud between a British and an American Shakespearean culminated with the British actor performing Macbeth at this contentious elitist opera house and the American actor performing the same role across the street. Neither side came off well in this conflict. The Brit aligned with the elite, even though his own politics were more progressive and the American’s supporters aligned with anti-immigrant racist ideology – and both actors were part of a working creative class so the spark of this thing was not as simple as a class riot. BUT – there was an infiltration of the opera house and it got shouty in there. The next night, law enforcement was standing by for violence and violence arrived. At first it was just the building that suffered with broken windows and such. Then the militia started shooting protestors and bystanders and killed twenty of them before the night was through.

What strikes me about this now is how this battle is still simmering in the soul of American Theatre. So many of the adaptations that were designed to keep out the riff raff have remained. The elites may have ultimately lost that opera house but their innovations to shift the audience away from democracy stayed. There aren’t riots in theatre any more, not because we’ve worked out our class issues, but because the elites adjusted the theatres so that they were only talking to themselves.

What blows my mind about it all is how intentional it was at the time. And how something that was an intentional tool to keep the poor out of theatres just happens unconsciously. Or at least I HOPE it’s unconscious. I have to hope that all the education programs and diversity initiatives are an attempt to remedy the bias and are not just a cynical grab for grant money and foundation funds. I suppose it could be both – a desire to “give” to poor children while simultaneously creating conditions to keep their parents from ever coming in to see a show.

Those riots from 1849 are deep in our theatre history’s bones and so are the conditions that helped create them. We are still in this clash.

And by aligning myself with the European spelling for theatre, I am, unintentionally of course, aligning myself with the elite. In much the same way that William Macready didn’t necessarily mean to align himself with the elite when he chose to perform at the new opera house, I have connected myself to the privileged. The theatre is for red velvet ropes and lush curtains. It is for orderly seat assignments and respectful silence. I’m not gonna lie. I do like some of those things. But I respect and admire the theater which we lost – the one where an American Shakespearean like Edwin Forrest would hiss a performance he did not care for. He was an actor who hoped to “bring the American stage within the influence of a progressive movement.” I wish he’d managed it.

Anyway – according to Etymology on-line, “intermission” began to be used for the pause at performances around 1854. Notice anything about that timing? The rich set about trying to push the poor out of theatres in 1849. Their innovations in that arena began taking hold elsewhere and just five years later, this long French word is what we call a break and I insist on calling it all theatre.

If those chairs could talk, they might say “Rich people only, please!”

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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