Songs for the Struggling Artist


One Woman’s Dystopia Is Another Man’s Utopia, I guess.

The day that Frat Boy McRapeFace was confirmed to the Supreme Court, when my dining companion asked me what I wanted to eat, I said Senator Grassley’s heart. Not that I’m 100% sure Grassley has one, but assuming there’s at least a little dried up something there, I would like to take a big bite of it then spit it out on the Senate floor.

I’m a little bit upset, I guess you could say. Earlier in the day, I watched the police mobilize and prepare to arrest the women who were protesting on the steps of the capital on the Women’s March livestream. I watched the police line up. I watched them strategize. The troops were mostly men in uniform with their zip tie cuffs – the protestors were mostly women, fully prepared to put their bodies between a rapist and the supreme court seat.

It was a stark illustration of who has authority and who does not. All day and all evening I tried not to sink into despair about the continuing kleptocracy in our country. It feels better to rage than to despair – but despair is close the surface. Living with corruption in every corner of the federal government is taking a bigger toll than I ever imagined.

Anyway – it was already hard. Then that night, at 1 am, these guys somewhere outside who had been indiscriminately yelling for a while started chanting some racist stuff. They chanted: (“F— you, Obama. F— you, Obama. F— you, n—-s.”) I was shocked. And terrified. I mean – I was safe in my apartment, of course. They were out there and I was inside and they weren’t coming for me. But groups of men engaged in hate like that are terrifying for a lot of us – even from a distance.

I felt like I’d stumbled into some horrific dystopian novel that I absolutely did not choose. I mean, I moved to NYC in 1999 and I have never heard anything like that anywhere before. I have heard people shout all kinds of hateful things at each other but never like that. And it felt like the events of the day had unleashed this horrific behavior that had somehow lain dormant, even these last couple of years. It was the final release valve, I guess. I went from fierce dragon to terrified maiden in a minute – not because I thought this pack of douchebags would come for me – but because so many of them have just been empowered – with no obvious check on their behavior. I later learned that that same weekend, hateful anti-immigrant posters had gone up all over Sunnyside, Queens. Were the perpetrators celebrating their racist postering back in my neighborhood? Was that their victory party? Or was that an entirely different group of racist douchebags? Then, too, similar propaganda popped up at liberal arts colleges, where, like in Queens, they are decidedly unwelcome. It all feels of a piece. The final release valve of douchebaggery has been let go. They can take their misdeeds all the way to the Supreme Court apparently.

Roving packs of douchebags have always run rough shod over America but any sense of consequence on their behavior has just been removed. That is why I cried my face off when I heard them across the courtyard.

But if they have been released, they have also been revealed. We know where those racists live. The GOP can no longer pretend to care about women. They can no longer get away with their Benevolent Sexist Protectionist bullshit. They have revealed their cards and they have hands full of bluffs. It is clear that the America they dream of is one where we let the white men do all the shouting and governing, where they can rape and rob with impunity, where consequences only exist for the rest of us. They remain the kings. The rest of us are only here to serve.

As I watched this vision of the future dystopia emerge, I wondered if this is really what they want. Is this the Republican dream? Maybe it is. Maybe white supremacists shouting in the middle of the night is utopia for them. Maybe a depleted environment full of polluted rivers and flattened mountain tops is their fantasy. Maybe all the dystopian stories we read, they see as utopias. The Hunger Games? A story of a pain-in-the-ass girl who disrupts a perfectly balanced authoritarian state. The Handmaid’s Tale? A manual for how to create and maintain a religious autocracy – disrupted by a woman who just won’t obey.

Their dream of America is my nightmare. In their dream, women lose all bodily autonomy, immigrants lose their children and only old rich white men have power and resources. Prior to the last couple of years, I would have thought that the holocaust was a universally dystopian time. But even that horrific hellscape was and is utopian for some.

And very probably my utopian dream for America would be a nightmare to them. In mine, women finally gain equality and have total ownership of their own bodies. Women are believed and respected. There is wage equality, racial equality, economic justice. In my America, people come together from all over the world and are welcomed. Trans people and people with disabilities are especially honored and cherished. We delight in diversity and put our resources in things like the arts and education. In my utopian America, we care for each other. We look out for the most vulnerable. We prioritize caring for the natural world.I know it won’t be easy to get there – especially now – but it does feel important to hold on to a kinder vision of the world I want to live in.

Kavanagh’s confirmation may have signaled to everyone, white supremacists and douchebags included, that we’re headed to that dystopian future. But maybe just, just maybe we can pull it back – to hold tight to a sense of possibility even as the racists and sexists emerge from under their rocks with celebratory screaming.

The thing of it is, a week later, I have figured out what I ought to have done. Instead of trembling and not sleeping for hours, I could have sung into the night. I had gotten all caught up in trying to come up with a scary sound – a dragon roar, a wolf growl – but my voice can be just as loud as the douchebags – particularly when I am singing. I’m sure my neighbors hear me singing all the time (though I try to pretend they don’t) and I know that in the same way that I know there’s an opera singer in an apartment nearby. I know she can be louder than those racist douchebags. What I’m trying to work out now is what exactly to sing in these dystopian situations. It feels key to sing something, if not for myself, then for all the people in my neighborhood who are more vulnerable to attack.

My first thought was to make up a song – something to call to my fellow women outside, something they could join me in singing. I found myself inventing a little ditty called “Ladies, Don’t Fuck a Racist.” However, I realized as I walked past my neighbor’s door, that there were quite a few young children in the buildings near us and maybe this wouldn’t be the best way to support them, even if it might feel vaguely cathartic.

But what is the answer? How to drown out the voices of racist douchebags with the voices of women and their allies? How can we make the racists know we hear them and do not approve and empower our targeted neighbors? What song invites joining in to defeat the forces of hate? I feel like I want a plan in place, in case we really are in a dystopia and this keeps happening. I want a song ready to go so I can skip the maiden trembling and the visions of dystopia and go straight to raising my voice.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you’d like to listen to me read the previous one 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, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help me raise my voice against the rising dystopia?

Become 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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My Blog-a-versary! A Decade of Blogging.
October 9, 2018, 8:18 pm
Filed under: writing | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Ten years ago, I reluctantly came back to NYC from London and in the first few weeks of that return, I started the blog. I think the seeds of the blog had been planted months before but it took the displacement of the move to really begin growing.

In retrospect – there were two, maybe three, inciting experiences, that led to this blog that I definitely never imagined I’d still be doing ten years later.

One of those was a lunch I had with a friend from high school with whom I’d done some community theatre. She had pursued a high-powered business career but had always wondered about her theatre path not taken. I pursued theatre without question, though with a great deal of angst and hearing about the realities of my life choice seemed to make her feel better about hers. At some point in the conversation, she suggested making a magazine for struggling artists. She seemed really interested in the ins and outs of the lives of those of us who made this other choice. I took her suggestion seriously. I’m not sure I’d be blogging today had I not had that conversation.

Another factor for the blog’s beginnings was my attempt to reconcile my compulsory return to the US. I’d been greatly inspired by theatre in the UK and I was devastated to have to return. I felt I wanted to try and bridge the gap – to try and bring a little of what I learned in London back home. Some of my earliest posts were part of a series called What I Wish American Theatre Would Learn from the Brits. At least one of them actually happened. (Nothing to do with me, I’m sure. And if I could have only chosen one to come pass, it would not have been that one.)

Another factor in the blog’s creation was my interest in returning to music – it’s why the blog was called Songs for the Struggling Artist. I linked the posts to tunes in my Reverb Nation account that no one had ever heard. This was a practice I quickly abandoned. But it is funny that in the podcast version of the blog begun a few years ago, I returned to the songs. Sometimes the future of a thing is buried in its beginnings.

A few things I’ve learned in a decade of blogging. One – the market for work about struggling artists is really small, like so small, you can’t even believe how small. So, ultimately, that magazine my business friend suggested would have been a flop.

If my stats are any indication, people care about sexual harassment and maybe feminism a little bit – but the people who care about issues effecting struggling artists are few. My perspective on this was completely skewed because it felt to me that EVERYONE was a struggling artist but that’s because almost all my friends are struggling artists. To me, the world is full of ‘em. But there aren’t nearly as many of us as I thought. And certainly a magazine for us would never have flown because struggling artists almost certainly couldn’t afford to buy such a thing.

And struggling artists weren’t the only niche market, I discovered. Because I’m a theatre maker, I wrote about theatre fairly often – but theatre, too, is very niche, I realized. I discovered this when I began to explore the idea of writing a feminist theatre column somewhere. In my years in the theatre, I’d thought feminism was the niche market – because within theatre, it is. (The feminist revolution has been VERY SLOW to ARRIVE in theatre.) But when I began to investigate how to pitch this column to publications, I realized I’d have to reverse my thinking entirely. Whereas I’d initially thought I’d have to make a case for feminism, it was really theatre that I’d have to make a case for. I thought about writing for Bust or Bitch – both of which have feminist culture critique. But theatre is not TV or Film or Music. Theatre was just too niche. I’ve had this sense of this confirmed by a friend who edits a theatre publication. Theatre is niche. Theatre education is even nichier. Struggling Artists are niche.

But to my small community, occasionally, I get the privilege of expressing something unexpressed. I get to illuminate some thing that had once been in niche-y darkness. I may not really speak to the mainstream but really, that’s what a blog is for.
Blogger Paul Jarvis summed this up in his most recent post this way:

Content on the internet currently is designed for scale, for sharing, for the masses. This runs counter to blogging, which is for a specific niche, a specific group, a specific interest a few people might have.

By chasing the current state of content we can lose what made the internet awesome in the first place: unique voices, sharing specific ideas, for a tiny subset of folks interested in them, clicks and viral-ness be damned. Writing for everyone really means writing for no one. It means using shock and outrage, changing every few minutes, to create share-worthy rage but nothing else. It means clicking through 19 slides to realize the information presented was designed more to get you to see an advertisement than to share something useful with you.

And as niche-y as this blog may be, it is the most popular thing that I do. By a long shot. I’m very grateful to it for giving me a space to share my thoughts and to make a difference. It has become a support for me via Patreon. It has become the vehicle for my intro to podcasting and led to the creation of two podcasts – the Songs for the Struggling Artist blogcast and Reading the Library Book. It has led to the creation of five albums worth of music and thereby brought me back to something I loved and abandoned. And I’m especially grateful to the people who have read the blog, heard it, heard me, helped me have confidence in my own words, my anger, my ideas, my voice.

Thank you for the last decade. Let’s see what develops in the next one.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you’d like to listen to me read the previous one 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, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want me to write for another decade?

Become 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

 



Theatre Is Not a Training Ground or a Compost Bin
September 10, 2018, 9:28 pm
Filed under: art, theatre, TV | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A few months ago, this filmmaker told me that someone had told him his screenplay would work better on stage, that he should turn it into a play. I thought that was ridiculous and I told him so, too. Why would you want to produce something designed for the screen on stage? The other way around, I understand. But in probing the question further – it sounded as if his screenplay was very wordy and they were trying to dismiss his work by sending it to the theatre, where they thought dialogue would be more welcome. This made me mad.

Theatre is not here to take your shitty film cast offs. We value words, sure, but if there’s not a reason to put those words on a stage, live, in front of people, in the moment, it doesn’t need to be there. If the piece is just a couple of people talking, make a radio show or something. Podcast that shit. It just felt like some film folks thought of the theatre as their compost bin, where they could throw their scraps and maybe have something to spread on their garden.

And this guy, with his dialogue heavy screenplay, had thought, “Maybe I should turn this into a play.” But he had literally no idea what went into producing a play. He thought it must be easier than producing a film. Don’t worry; I dissuaded him from that idea pretty quickly. His screenplay was a two person kitchen table type scenario. He could easily shoot it with a couple of actors and an iPhone if he wanted to. He could do it for almost nothing. To produce those same two people at a table in a reputable theatre in NYC would cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. AND – there’d be no particular reason to see it onstage. It wasn’t meant for the stage. It would bring nothing to the medium. The medium wouldn’t improve it.

I tend to believe that theatre should have a reason to be live, to be theatrical in some way. If it’s not necessary that an audience be in the room with it, I don’t really care about whatever is onstage. That’s my particular taste, of course. But yeah, film dudes wanting to offload their dialogue on our stages don’t make me happy.

Not long after this conversation, I met a student who wanted to work in animation. She had been advised to take some theatre classes to help her with this goal. She had no interest in theatre. She did not particularly want to do it – but she was open to exploration. And you know, that’s fine. Explore away. But I found myself irritated by the teacher who’d advised her to study theatre. I felt similarly about this as Mr. Screenplay. Like, if you want to do animation, do animation! Draw! Make silly voices! Put voices to your drawings. Put drawings to your voices. And sure, theatre can help all kinds of people with all kinds of stuff but it feels a bit, I don’t know, condescending. No one sends people to film or animation classes to improve their theatrical skills. Like, if the training in your medium is insufficient, work on that! That’s the issue, not some strange sideline investigation into an entirely different art form.

And I don’t mean to sound snobby about this. I am so happy to have people explore whatever kind of art they want. If you’re a banker who wants to study theatre, I welcome you! If you’re a nurse who wants to learn to be a clown, come on over! Join the theatrical party! But I’m not so keen on this using theatre to substitute for training in other art forms.

Theatre is an art all by itself. It is not training wheels for film or TV or animation or video. It’s just not. And it’s not the place to send cast offs from those arts either. There is, of course, great value in experimenting with other forms to improve your work in your own. In college, I studied a little printmaking and drawing and I think it gave me some perspective on my work in theatre. But broadening your horizons in other forms is very different than trying to use a form as a stepping stone either toward or away from your own. Explore, by all means. Experiment! Discover! I just hope that everyone who dips their toes in a new form gives that form the respect it deserves, in and of itself.

Does this sound a little defensive? Maybe it’s a little defensive. As someone with a lifetime commitment to theatre, I have a lifetime of people assuming I’m aspiring to film or TV. I have hundreds of experiences of telling people I work in theatre and instantly being asked, “Have you ever been on TV?” It’s not the same. It is not the same. Some people, yes, go back and forth and more power to them. TV will make you a whole lot more money than theatre ever can. But theatre is theatre. It’s not practice. It’s not training. It’s not a stepping stone. It’s not a compost bin. It’s not here to try and be something else. Theatre is theatre.

 

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

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

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

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

*

Like theatre? Want to support someone who makes it?

Become 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

 



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Want to be a top supporter?

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Sometimes I Need Applause

My life in the arts began with performance. I also wanted to be a writer but it was theatre that tipped the balance. From the first time I stood on a stage, I was besotted. As the tightrope walker in the first grade circus, I pretty much just tiptoed in a line on the stage but pretending to be doing more was a thrill. The applause was intoxicating. I loved performing. Passionately. Talent shows were MY time. I got into plays as soon as I possibly could. The response was immediate and applause felt better than just about anything else ever.

Having a performing career however did not feel as good as I had hoped it would. The moments onstage and in rehearsal were sometimes euphoric, sometimes routine and sometimes devastating – and all of that was the best of it. The rest of it was the worst and it’s why I more or less gave it up.

I started recording songs in my living room when I didn’t know how else to comfort myself in 2016 – but despite the performative craft and context, singing for a microphone is not, in fact, performing. There is no audience in front of me. There is no immediate return on the energy given. There is no applause.

I started to think about this distinction of experience after I released the albums of the songs that came out of my podcast. As I prepared to send the first one into the world, I had a sense of excitement, an anticipation. I wondered what would happen.

And then I released it. And nothing happened. Like, no response. Not for weeks, actually. Dropping an album was less like dropping balloons into a party and more like dropping something off a cliff. For a performer used to working in a live medium, the lag time between sending something out and seeing a return was shocking. I did it 4 times this year, with four albums and each one was a similar non-event. The same is true for podcasts, my fiction and the blog. The response tends to happen on its own time. If people say anything at all (and they probably won’t) it will be weeks or months down the line. This is an aspect of making things that is taking me some getting used to. It is a completely different model of creation.

I’m very happy to not have to depend on an audience’s immediate reaction to something anymore and to not have to first gather a large group of people into a room to do something is great but I do miss applause.

I feel silly about it but I have a performance’s heart. I felt sad a few weeks ago and I was trying to understand it and found myself telling my partner that maybe I just needed some applause and he gave me some and darned if I didn’t feel better.

I mean, maybe sometimes it’s just that simple. Sometimes I just need applause. Not everyone does. My partner, for example, has no interest in applause – but luckily was happy to provide some for me. I’m curious to learn how those of you who work primarily in non-time-based media handle the lag between release and response. Do you have methods for managing the wait as people listen or read, slowly, at their own pace (as they should, of course!) Or do you just find nice people to applaud for you occasionally? Or maybe you don’t need applause at all? I wish I were like that. But I have to acknowledge just how valuable applause is to this former elementary school pretend tightrope walker.

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

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

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

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

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Want to give me some consistent applause?

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Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 

 

 



Mature
July 20, 2018, 9:27 pm
Filed under: age, art, clown, comedy, music, theatre | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I have arrived at the point in my career wherein people are starting to call my work “mature.” It has happened with my playwriting. It has happened with my singing. And I do not like it. In both of these instances, “mature” seemed to be meant as a compliment. “Mature” is not (yet) code for “old” – but meant to suggest a kind of complexity and evolution. I think. So why don’t I like it? Surely I want my work to mature, right? I want my work to age like a good cheese or a fine wine, don’t I?

Don’t I? I don’t know. I’m trying to understand why “maturing” doesn’t please me. At the heart of my discomfort of it is the dismissal of what came before. If this play is mature, it suggests that the plays that came before were immature, just little adolescent saplings running around untethered. It implies a kind of linear artistic development and I just don’t think such a thing exists. An artistic life does not travel in a straight line. It circles. It comes back around to ideas from the past and brings them to the future.

It’s like this conversation my partner and I had about Shakespeare. He noticed that sometimes when scholars don’t have definitive evidence for when a play was written, some of them will group the plays thematically. That is, they think because Shakespeare wrote a play about fathers and with disobedient daughters in one year, that that would suggest the undated father-daughter play would be around the same time. To me, that’s bananas. While certainly we all have our artistic phases where we obsess over one thing for awhile – we also have artistic touchstones, ideas that we return to again and again, ideas that we investigate anew from a new place in the life circle.

And maybe that’s why I find the idea of maturity so uninteresting. I mean, Shakespeare, again, is a good example of this. Some might say Hamlet is his most “mature” play. It sits at the top of achievement in Western literature. And yet it sits right in the middle of his career. Probably written in 1600, Shakespeare had many more plays to write after that one. Some of those plays are very silly and some of them are quite wild (including my favorite, Cymbeline.) Which are the most “mature”?

Maybe it’s my clown training but I am not particularly interested in maturity. Maturity has airs of seriousness, waves of severity that just don’t connect with my sense of play. When someone calls me immature, they are usually pointing out my irreverence, silliness or non-conformity. I value all those things tremendously.

I know maturity doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve lost my irreverence but maturity smells like mothballs to me. What I hope people who tell me my voice has matured (either metaphorically or literally) mean is that my stuff is complex, layered and interesting. I sometimes get called “wise,” too. And I like that just fine. I like it a lot, actually. Because there is always space for a wise fool.

I suppose, too, that I can’t help but keep returning to the idea that labeling my current work as “mature” suggests that my previous work is less than. And I just don’t appreciate any compliments for my newborn that insult my previous creative children.

I don’t mean to make anyone self conscious about giving me compliments. I don’t receive quite enough of them to start getting picky about them. Believe me, I sincerely thanked every person who called my work “mature” because it feels appropriate to accept a compliment in the spirit it was given, even if it has an odor of backhandedness about it.

I will say, though, that no one has seen enough of my body of work to make such a judgment. The only human to have a thorough enough experience of my oeuvre would be my mother. She’s the only one who’s seen enough of it to make that call. And I think the last time she called me “mature” was when I was a teenager. (I was very mature then. I’m not sure I am anymore! )

So, if you are tempted to call someone’s work mature, maybe dig a little deeper. What do you mean?

Is the work complicated? Layered? Deep? Rich?

I mean – let’s look at wine and cheese. We don’t stop at describing a wine or cheese mature. We call it nutty or grassy or robust or smooth.

I would be so delighted to have my work described with the subtlety of wine or cheese descriptions. Some of my work may be mature. It may be immature. Neither of those categories is useful to me. Call it robust or nutty, though? I’m gonna eat that up.

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

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

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

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

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You can help support both my maturity and immaturity

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 

 

 



Tortoising and Hare-ing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

You can help support both my tortoise and my hare projects

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 




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