Songs for the Struggling Artist


A Performance Once a Week

It started when A texted me to tell me about the National Theatre’s production of Jane Eyre that was available on the internet for the week. “LOL,” I said, “I’m in the middle of watching it RIGHT NOW.” And we had a fun little text exchange about our favorite moments in the show. We decided to watch the next one “together” via text and before we knew it, we had a tradition of watching some kind of performance once a week. It has been one of the few things I’ve found genuinely sustaining in these Covid times.

We’ve been pretty omnivorous in our viewing and I feel as though I’ve actually had a bit of a survey course in the Performing Arts of the current moment. Or, really, it’s a course in the moment from the moment before this moment because most of these works were recorded in the before times. Sometimes I weep just seeing an audience.  

The survey is, of course, limited by the kind of companies that can afford to have their work well presented on video and then can afford the bandwidth to share them. The survey leans heavily on European dance and theatre partly because of that. And of course on our taste.

A small sampling of our list:

Works by Crystal Pite, Christian Spuck, Akram Kahn, StopGap Dance, Spymonkey, Wooster Group, National Theatre, Told by an Idiot, Nederlands Dans Theater, Le Patin Libre, Monica Bill Barnes, Graeae Theatre

Shows like: Emilia, Akhnaten, Titon et L’aurore, The Plastic Bag Store, Richard II (twice! two different productions), What the Constitution Means to Me, Latin History for Morons, Theatre of Blood, Revisor, Death of a Salesman, Oedipussy, Birth-Day, Giselle, Coriolanus at the Stratford Festival and Reasons to be Cheerful.  

I wanted to write about this because I’m really hoping I can continue this kind of omnivorous performing arts watching once the pandemic is over.

I mean, part of the reason I have not seen these works before is that they are so expensive. I know they’re worth the money when you’re dying to see them. Like, you know you love their work and you’ll spend $100 a ticket to go see them. But you have to usually, if money isn’t abundant, be judicious about what you see and you won’t take risks when tickets are a hundred dollars. In this digital world, with the barrier so low to entry – that is, mostly free with the very occasional ticket price under $15 – I’ll see anything. And at home, I’m not even stuck wasting the evening if something sucks. One night, A and I watched about ten minutes each of a random assortment of dances, puppet shows and plays because none of them were great. You can’t just watch 10 minutes of something in a theatre. Sometimes it’s not just the ticket price you’re out, it’s the whole night. But digital performance allows for big risk taking and big risks sometimes mean big rewards. It’s actually quite remarkable that I have become a fan of so many performers, choreographers and theatre makers this past year that I never even heard of before, in a moment where there are few performances happening.

None of us know what’s going to happen for the performing arts when this is all over but I hope for two things in particular. One – that digital performance will continue to be available. It may seem counter productive; Why would people pay to come to a show when they can watch it at home for free? But, I think there has been quite a bit of evidence that digital performances actually encourage ticket sales for live shows. My own experience is that I would, for sure, pay money to see QUITE a FEW shows I watched on-line, in person. Those are tickets I probably wouldn’t have thought would be worth it before. Now I’d be begging for them to take my money so I could sit in the actual room with those shows. When it’s safe, of course. (And when it is, I’m going to need an NYC presenter to pick up the slack and book Crystal Pite and Kidd Pivot as soon as possible. Please and Thank You.)

The second thing I hope for is that we can somehow lower the ticket prices for EVERYTHING. I would like to continue to see a show a week when this is over but I would like to see these shows in person, and I would like to be as omnivorous as we’ve been able to be on-line. That’s something I want for everyone. An omnivorous audience is an interesting audience. It’s an audience that cross pollinates and makes an exciting impact on artists.

Affordable arts make for accessible arts and this horrible pandemic time has opened my artistic mind to all sorts of work I never had access to before. It is a real gift to be able to go around the world through performance. I am lucky enough to live in a city where much of that sort of work comes to tour but I rarely have gotten to see the kinds of variety that I have seen over the last year. I would like to see these things in person, once a week, for an actually affordable price, please. I know that no venue, presenter or producing organization can afford to cut ticket prices at the moment but I am dreaming of a reshuffling of everything, where theatre, dance, puppetry, opera and beyond are as affordable as the digital world. Or maybe a Netflix for performance, where I pay a monthly fee and get to see whatever I want? Some new way of doing things would be glorious because I have seen extraordinary new works this year and I want to keep doing it. Hopefully performances will come back and A and I can see a show once a week in real life, no text messages required.

This performance was not on-line but if it were I would watch it.

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 iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

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An Idea Is a Little Monster
April 19, 2021, 11:56 pm
Filed under: art, Creative Process, Imagination, puppets | Tags: , , , ,

Famous writers and artists get asked about their ideas a lot. I feel sure I’ve read a few essays about having to respond to the “Where do you get your ideas?” question, which is, apparently a ubiquitous question for a successful writer.

For the record, I have never been asked this question. Though I have been asked the question that comes up at nearly every Q&A for actors in history which is, “How do you learn all those lines?”

I think I will know I have achieved a measure of success as a maker when someone finally asks me where my ideas come from. Obviously, they come from the idea store, where you can get a six pack of ideas for really cheap if you time it right. Ha! You know this isn’t true. I could never afford to buy my ideas!

For me, I’ve previously thought of ideas like glitter – and I stand by that concept but recently, I began to think of an idea I had as a little monster, demanding that I complete it.

It feels to me that some ideas, once they take hold, become tyrannical little demons. They’re not malevolent – just really persistent. They will not let me rest. Not all ideas are like that. Some are like butterflies that just sort of float around hoping someone will offer it a flower to land on. You can follow it if you like or let it fly on. But some ideas hook their claws into you and demand you complete them. They’re not full size monsters. They’re sort of cat sized and as unwilling to let you complete your regular work as a cat is. Wait, is the idea monster a cat? It’s close. But not quite. A cat will leave you when it gets bored. The idea monster will not get bored. It insists on itself vociferously. It WILL be completed. It will not be dissuaded by logic. You can tell it that no one cares about this idea, that it’s a waste of time, that it’s silly, that there’s no reason to do it – but it does not care. It wants to be realized. It will be realized. You might as well just go ahead and finish it if you want to get some sleep.

This makes it sound like the Idea Monster is a pest but the fact is, I’m never happier than when I’m in the hold of an idea monster. It is a persistent little bugger who captures my attention – but I love having it around. It’s an incredibly clarifying little creature. When we’re working together on something, there is nothing better, nothing more important. It is a little like a love affair.

When the idea is complete, the monster will vanish and I will miss it tremendously even if I do get a lot more sleep.

Anyway – I don’t know where the idea monsters come from but if anyone has a direct line to their place of residence, please tell them they are always welcome here.

I think the monster might look a little like this one (created by Marte Ekhougen).
This monster was the star of a video born from an idea monster. Monster circles!

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 iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

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Want to help me make a home for more idea monsters?

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 on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



The Resistance Will Be Handcrafted
March 22, 2017, 10:41 pm
Filed under: art, music, puppets, resistance, theatre, Visual Art | Tags: , , , , ,

Since the digital age really kicked in, I have watched a lot of things that were important to me fade away. In a world that values social media currency and digital art and so many things on screen, my analog skills of theatre-making, performance and presence have felt less and less valued in the world. While I have adapted as well as I can, I have at times felt like an analog girl in a digital world – a handwoven basket in a factory town.

But since the world turned upside down on Jan 20th, I have found that my old-school art skills are suddenly relevant again. At a recent rally and march, I suddenly realized how many skills I was pulling out of storage to be there. Some examples were: creating an impromptu puppet, gathering protest props that not only can pop at a protest but be light-weight and fit in a bag so I can carry them on the subway, putting a costume together, singing loudly, helping ladies find a pitch when a man is leading the singing and puppeteering.

And it’s not just me – there’s a call for all kinds of analog skills that might have felt lost to the digital age. Examples: Painting signs, playing drums, marching bands, one man (woman) bands, creating spectacle, knitting. Art supply sales are booming. There is something poignant about our old-school skills suddenly being useful again. We can’t rely on video to save us. We need things in real life. Now more than ever.

In a way, it’s a shift of our public spaces out of the internet and into actual spaces. We are all out in public more. And I find I want to bring out even more things into that space. I want to cry in public space. (I was a little disappointed there was no keening at the mock funeral. I could have used a good cleansing cry.) I want to read in public space. (What if we had a Read In?) I want to just sit quietly with a bunch of my fellow introverts and shush anyone who gets too loud.

There is something about this moment that is calling us to really stand behind what we value and those values may not always be obvious. It reveals all the things we’ve let dwindle – things we actually once loved or felt were necessary. Journalism. Theatre. Music. All things we stopped paying for because we could get them for free. If there’s anything to hope for in this depressing mess of a year, it’s that adjustment of value. It’s that subscriptions of newspapers and magazines are back up, people need music like never before and theatre might just make a difference again.

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Henson Rejection and also a Residency
September 27, 2016, 11:43 pm
Filed under: puppets, Rejections | Tags: , , , ,

For the I-don’t-know-th time, I got a rejection from the Henson Foundation. The first applications we ever filled out as a company – almost 15 years ago – were for the Henson foundation. We were so sure we were going to get those. (We did not.) I have a bit of nostalgia for those applications – the ones we poured our hearts and souls (and drawings and writings and so on) into because we were 100% sure we were going to get them.

I can never apply for something with that sense of surety again. Even when the acceptance is a given, I am still not 100% sure I will get it. Even if it’s already been offered to me. This is not because I am inherently cynical. I’m not. I’ve just been offered things that were then rescinded…so until the acceptance letter is in my hand, or the check, or I’m standing in the space, I don’t fully believe any artistic offer.

But I did once have so much belief in my own ideas that I was 100% sure every one would be accepted. That first one was for the Henson Foundation. And it was also the first rejection. And the most recent!

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And a French Residency…

Residencies used to not really appeal to me. The thought of extracting myself from my community, taking myself out of a work loop, with no way to make money in the interim…it all just sounded like more trouble than it was going to be worth. I don’t have too much trouble making time for writing in my daily life – so I didn’t think I needed a retreat to do it.

That was before I wrote a novel and then tried to edit it. Turns out I can write in my daily life but I cannot edit. I can make myself edit a play when I have a process or production on the horizon but my fiction…well…I need to go AWAY to deal with that. The novels are just too easy to ignore, to let languish. So the LNAF residency in France seemed like a great solution. Beautiful. Focused. International.

Got their biggest pool of applicants ever this very year. Of which I am, shockingly, not among the accepted.

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

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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 and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist




Going into the Arts is like Playing the Lottery
April 21, 2015, 10:19 pm
Filed under: advice, art, comedy, Creative Process, music, puppets, theatre, writing | Tags: , ,

The odds are maybe not quite as bad. Maybe. But the chances for an actual sustainable life in the Arts in this country are very slim. When we begin, we’re all convinced we will be the one to beat the odds but only a lucky few will actually manage it. When you play the lottery, you can incrementally improve the odds of winning by buying more tickets. It stands to reason that the more tickets you’re able to afford, the more opportunity you have to win.

This is how privilege works in the arts, in a sense. Being white, for example, gives you some extra metaphorical lottery tickets. Being male will do the same. If you’re both those things, you’ll get an additional handful of tickets. And if you have some economic privilege – i.e. you can afford to do internships or not pay rent while you do a residency or whatever – that’s an even bigger handful of tickets.

But it’s still not guarantee of winning. This is why it’s hard to see one’s own privilege. It’s hard to feel like you’re winning when you’re losing most of the time. Winners of the Arts Career Lottery will tell you that all it takes to win is to work really hard at your craft and be the best you can be at what you do. The winners are experiencing something known as survivorship bias (to read more about this see: You Are Not So Smart.) Someone with Survivorship Bias attributes anything that they experienced as the reason for their success, that is, they worked hard, so it must be hard work that makes success!

But for every person who won the sustainable career Arts Career Lottery by working hard, there are probably hundreds upon hundreds who worked just as hard, are just as good and yet didn’t win. And there are also the ones who didn’t work very hard and just got lucky. You can do everything right and fail. You can have a fistful of tickets and still not win the lottery. You can have a fistful of privilege and still not win the arts lottery.

And like the actual lottery, sometimes a little win in the Arts will keep you playing. In the lottery, you play enough, you will win $25 or $50 and those small gains can encourage you to stay in the game, giving you hope that you could win. This happens in the arts, where a small bit of progress feels like a signal that you could win. You got that audition. You got that grant. You won that jury prize. So you keep playing. For better or for worse.

Should you play the Arts Lottery? Entirely up to you. The odds are terrible and you can lose a lot of money as well as piece of mind. I can really only recommend it for those who feel that they have no choice – that a life in the arts is the only available path. If that’s you: Welcome to the Lottery. Your odds are pretty slim but if you’re like me, you keep playing, simply because you cannot help it. Just be prepared for the moment when some asshole who’s never bought a ticket before, who’s barely trained and has not paid any dues suddenly hits the jackpot. I’ve seen it happen many times and it does not stop sucking.

But if you can let go of the idea that there might be order or justice or merit in the way the arts magic gets distributed, you might be able to enjoy the game.

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The Gender of Puppets
November 11, 2014, 11:08 pm
Filed under: art, puppets | Tags: , ,

During a talk back after a puppet performance, one of the audience members referred to the puppet in it as “he.” As in, “when he spreads his wings.” I was intrigued by this because the puppet, in addition to spreading its wings, had also laid an egg and sat upon it. It would seem to me that if this puppet had a gender, it must, by virtue of the way childbirth works, be female.

But I understood the audience member’s interpretation of this puppet’s gender. It did seem male. Even, and perhaps especially, when it found a pair of breasts, put them on and did a sexy dance. But I think, more than anything, given the way our culture runs, when we don’t’ know for sure, we tend to assume maleness. That is, male is the default gender. Female is the deviation.

I’ve seen this in puppetry a lot. A gender neutral puppet is usually perceived as male until someone puts a bow on it or a little dress. Male puppets can just be a body. Female ones need accessories.

And as ever, puppets do tend to reveal a bit about being human beings. Our perceptions of objects can tell us a lot about our perceptions of people. The fact that a puppet could give BIRTH and still be thought of as male points to a tenaciousness of a perception that lives in so many of us. It reveals a strong default switch that may take some time to dismantle.

Is this body male or female?

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