Songs for the Struggling Artist


This Is Not a Good Story

Like most humans, I’m a sucker for a good story. I like them on stage, in books, on screen, in magazines, on the radio, in podcasts, in songs and so on. I also like them over dinner or drinks at the bar. I like to tell them, too. I’m telling one right now about stories.

We are in the golden age of stories. We can get them in so many forms. In addition to the plays, movies, books, radio dramas, news and such, storytelling events and podcasts and shows have exploded onto the scene. Many of these storytelling groups run storytelling workshops where you, too, can learn to frame your experiences in a story form.

“We’ve reached Peak Story!” I shouted as the last storyteller of the evening brought his story back around to his opening teaser.

Let me back up. I did not actually shout this at a storytelling event. I did attend a storytelling event and I did think it but I did not shout it. Because I didn’t want any of those storytellers turning me into a story.

At the same time this popularization of storytelling is happening, stories are also turning up on every product. Check your bag of chips. Does it have a story on it? How about your coffee? Your toothbrush?

Branding and marketing have leapt upon storytelling with great relish. Stories sell now. When you make a product, you don’t just make a product, you also learn how to sell its story. Branding and storytelling start to blend into each other, intertwining until they become indistinguishable.

Because of this overlap with advertising, I have become increasingly suspicious of stories. Every time I hear one I think: What are they selling? And if they’re not explicitly selling something, I wonder about it metaphorically. What version of self is this person selling? What are they trying to accomplish with this story?

At a party, it’s usually pretty clear what the stories are for. It’s all interpersonal. We all have our standards that we play. Whether the story makes us look good or look bad, in a social context, they’re all an attempt to connect, to establish or affirm our place in our relationships to each other.

As soon as there is a stage and or audience involved, a different set of questions emerges for me. Why is this person telling us this? What are they revealing or hiding about themselves and sometimes even, what are they selling?

I started to think about this at that storytelling event I went to last year. I’d listened to dozens of stories over the years on podcasts like The Moth or Risk or Story Collider but watching a storytelling event live – with several professional storytellers in the line up – made me suddenly see things differently. I was struck by the disconnect between the words coming out of the storytellers and what their bodies were doing. While the words came out so self-assured, their bodies twitched and wavered. They adjusted shirts, hats and jeans. Their words were polished, their bodies told the truth.

I found the experience un-nerving. As a theatre maker, I am very concerned with the body and seeing it left out like that made me understand that storytelling, while theatre-ish, was not theatre. It sat in a kind of middle space. And I found I did not like it. I felt bad about not liking it. I felt I SHOULD like it. I felt the noble aspiration of listening to people from all walks of life, regardless of their expertise or training in stories was all good. What kind of jerk didn’t want to listen to “real people tell real stories” as a lot of these things bill themselves?

This made me think about realness. So many of the stories in a storytelling event are polished within an inch of their lives. There’s almost always the teaser, the beginning, the middle, the end, the button. “Real” people don’t often tell stories this way. They ramble. They start somewhere illogical, wind back and forth, go on tangents. They can fail. They can talk for ten minutes and when they stop talking, the story can fall flat. That’s the point at the party that many a “real” person will awkwardly say,”Welp! That’s my story!”

The trend of live storytelling events has led to a formulaic and predictable way of telling stories. Everyone has a story to tell but somehow they all seem to tell it in exactly the same way. I have come to love the awkwardly told story. It is so much realer than “real people” stories on story shows.

I think the “realness” is one of the things that troubles me about this trend. There’s a fetishization of the “real person” – and I think what is often meant by this is someone who is not an actor. The “real person” is not an actor and tells a “true” story. As someone who IS an actor and deals in stories, both true and made up, I find the realness confusing. It’s like Reality TV – which has writers, directors and editors, all of whom create the stories of the “real” people. Reality TV featured a “successful” businessman whose businesses in real life, were failing. The Apprentice Reality show led to some very real consequences out in real life. But Reality TV has very little to do with truth.

I understand the hunger for realness. I watched ALL of the San Francisco season of the Real World when it came out. It felt just like being on tour, but from my living room. At the time, it felt like a window into the lives of some real people. But I now understand that the realness of TV is about as real as many “real” stories people tell. More so now than ever before. A lot of people would rather watch “real” people on YouTube or Instagram than actors in made up stories on TV or in movies and in plays. But while Lil Tay, for example, seemed real to people, she was mostly the brainchild of her older brother. (Lil Tay was a child social media phenom last year.) In other words, Lil Tay is a character. She’s acting. She’s about as real as Luke Skywalker.

And I suppose that’s why I get so flummoxed by storytelling. Is it acting or is it just talking? Is it a performance or a presentation, like a TED talk? Is it Stand Up? I don’t know how to relate to the “real” story told on stage – which is a place of invention, of performance, of heightened or imagined reality. It is also a place for truth.

Picasso once said, “Art is a lie that tells the truth.” I think sometimes “real people” telling stories are telling truths that are really lies.

I’m not saying there is no truth and there are no facts, as many nihilistic storytellers and politicians would have you believe. There are facts. Some things are true and some things are false, just as some stories are true and some stories are false. But context is everything. I expect a journalist to tell me true things and to acknowledge when they make a mistake in that arena. I expect a fiction writer to tell me things that they made up – but that doesn’t mean there won’t be truths woven throughout. The truth can be emotional, situational, metaphorical. And it can be featured in all the stories in between. The spectrum of truth is wide and mysterious.

There’s a TED talk by Tyler Cowen about stories. I find it refreshing to watch in the midst of this moment of peak story. He is very skeptical of stories and suggests we should all be. He points out that, when asked, over 50% of people described their lives as a journey – that is, as a particular kind of story. He notes that no one declared their life “a mess” – which is probably a much more accurate metaphor for most of us. It’s just that “a mess” doesn’t easily translate into a story the way a journey does. A mess is a mess. It’s like a story “badly” told – like a story with tangents and dead ends, with extraneous facts and unnecessarily details. A real real story is like that. So is a real real life. It just goes for a while and then stops and then maybe you think, “Welp. That’s my story! That’s the end.”

But to get real with you for a second, I’m not entirely sure why I needed to tell you THIS story about stories. I don’t really have beef with the storytellers. I like stories. I like real people. But…I suppose my fear is that a cultural shift toward “realness” and stories that anyone can tell means fewer and fewer resources for the people who make art out of stories. When everyone is a storyteller, sometimes stories become devalued. When the storyteller comes to the village, the villagers won’t pay him because the baker told a good one last week. With stories multiplying in every direction, people become loathe to pay for the deeper stories, the more careful stories, because they can get simpler ones for free. Maybe I’m paranoid and there’s room in the tent for all of us. But…authors are making less money than ever before, actors are making less money than ever before, songwriters, screenwriters, poets, filmmakers, etc, are all struggling. With a handful of exceptions, artists – storytelling artists – are finding it harder and harder to get paid sufficiently for their work.

We have no national arts council. The theatres, dance companies and opera companies are shuttering – but the National Endowment for the Arts funds storytelling organizations like The Moth. It won’t fund individual artists but it will fund real people telling true stories. We have the barest of bare minimum in funding for the arts and a slice of both the state and federal pie is going to storytelling organizations. Is this a problem? I don’t know. Storytelling is cheap, comparatively, and you get a lot of bang for your buck. I understand why it’s easier to fund a storytelling event than it is to fund the ballet. I’m not trying to start a rumble between ballet dancers and storytellers, I’m just worried. I hope I’m wrong and I hope that there’s space for everyone – but I have concerns, which is why, I suppose, I needed to tell you this story.

Welp. That’s it.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

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

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

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

The digital distribution is expiring at the end of the month, so I’m also raising funds to keep them up. If you’d like to contribute, feel free to donate anywhere but I’m tracking them on Kofi – here: ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

*

Want to help me tell my stories both real and made up?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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

Advertisements


Get Out of the Boom Boom Room

I was trying not to listen but you know how it is with actors, you kind of hear them no matter what. These two seemed to be meeting for the first time to work on their assigned scene for their class – a scene from David Rabe’s In the Boom Boom Room.

Do you know this play? If you’re a woman and were in an acting class, you surely encountered it at one point between its premiere in 1973 and… today, apparently. It’s the story of a dancer who finds work in a seedy nightclub. Acting teachers used to assign it a lot. Apparently they still do.

It’s kind of a terrible play. Like, really. The thing of it is, even if it was a great play – this was a terrible scene to assign to these two women across from me at the cafe. Not only would neither of them ever be cast in it or anything like it in their lifetimes, but they are pretty much guaranteed to fail at it. I listened to them struggle with the scene. They thought it was them. But I just wanted to scream –“Nah, girls. Nah. It’s not you – it’s the mantrification! (This is the word I was looking for in my previous post. Newly coined. Very useful.) It’s sexism.”

These two young women in the cafe were clearly beginning actors but eventually these ladies could be great in any number of parts. I’d like to see them play scientists, astronauts, horse trainers, accountants, courtiers, foot soldiers, etc, etc. But could they play a go go dancer and her go go boss? Nope. Never gonna happen. Not even with the best teacher in the world.

I think I know what this teacher was thinking. He was thinking, “I need to get these girls in touch with their bodies. I need to get them to open up and be able to play sexy.”

And, indeed, for the entirety of my lifetime so far, being able to play a sexy dancer who’s also an ingénue (or a seductive dominatrix or dominatrix who is also an ingénue with a heart of gold) really is going to get you the most jobs as an actress. If you can play a scientist, but sexy, or a girl next door who takes her glasses off and is suddenly hot, you’ll be much more marketable. I was given scenes like this back in my acting class days and I was also no good in them. Only a handful of people can be good in this sort of thing. We do the others no favors in repeating these same old tired tropes.

Many acting teachers think all women have a secret Christie Brinkley within – they just have to teach us how to unlock it. They feel this is their duty – to help every woman perform a certain kind of sexuality. But becoming Christie Brinkley is more than just shaking out your hair and taking your glasses off.

I’m not saying these ladies in the cafe weren’t sexy. Put them in the right context, I’m sure they could be sexy af. But that’s where the typical acting teachers’ logic is so twisted. One of the sexiest performances in 2018 by a woman was Rachel Weisz shooting pigeons in The Favorite. I can’t tell you the numbers of tweets I saw that declaimed this moment as “my sexuality.” Sexiness is not hair flipping and playing seductresses and go go dancers no matter how much the old creepy dudes who teach acting think it is.

Why on earth are people still assigning scenes from this play to young actors? Maybe in the early 70s there was something exciting and interesting about treating a go go dancer as a human being with problems and relationships but in 2019, we need more. I won’t dwell on the awfulness of this play (except to say that compelling a bunch of young actors to casually say the N-word for no good reason in the middle of it is just insult to injury) because this play is not the only guilty party in the constant objectification of actresses in training. I never had to work on this particular play myself but I certainly encountered dozens of others like it. It’s no wonder that the casting sites are full of women who list pole dancing as their special skill. If almost every woman in acting training encounters her own Boom Boom Room, it is no wonder our strength and power are much diminished by the time we reach an age wherein we could seize it.

And I know, I know, #NotAllActingClasses or at least I hope it’s not all acting classes these days but it’s clearly still #ManyActingClasses. Do a video search of In the Boom Boom Room and you will see acting showcase after acting showcase of young women in short skirts talking to each other about the hardships of the go go dancing life.

So, the vast majority of female identifying actors in this country are dealing with trying to play this sort of scene, if not this scene itself. I think that’s a problem and has an effect that reaches far beyond each individual class.

“Why?” you may ask. “Why is it a problem?”
Well – run this thought experiment. Gender switch this scene. Instead of two young women, it’s two fresh faced young men. Let’s say it’s Timothee Chalamet and Lucas Hedges before they got famous. Is this a good use of their time? Is teaching Chalamet how to flip his hair and pop his ass, to perform an exaggerated sexuality an effective way to teach acting? It is not. It’s a colossal waste of his time. And if he takes it to heart and continues to only perform in this way, it will ruin his talent entirely.

Once upon a time, there weren’t that many parts for women. We had to take what we could get. What were acting teachers to do if they had classes full of women, as they tended to have? You’ve got In the Boom Boom Room, Crimes of the Heart and The Children’s Hour, in case you felt like going classic.

But it is 2019. If In the Boom Boom Room is still in your repertoire, it’s time to let it and all the other scenes like it go. I know it’s easier to just work with the scenes you worked on when you were a student – but when you are training young actors, you aren’t just teaching them acting, you’re introducing them to the possibilities, to plays they might want to see or be a part of in the future.

I also understand that some scenes really allow you to teach certain things in a clearer fashion – there are scenes that allow you to teach objectives and obstacles and business and all sorts of stuff. So…tell me, what do you need, acting teachers? I know a lot of playwrights. I’m a playwright myself. What can we write for you to help you break out of the boom boom rut? We could start a whole thread of non boom boom two women scenes over on New Play Exchange.

Yes, too, as I’m sure many non boom boom teachers will point out, there are MANY MANY plays that have been written in the last 45 years that do a better job than In the Boom Boom Room. List them here, if you want. I don’t want to see another new actor trying to reconcile how to play these parts. It is time for them to disappear out of the repertoire and out of our lives.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

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

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

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

The digital distribution is expiring at the end of the month, so I’m also raising funds to keep them up. If you’d like to contribute, feel free to donate anywhere but I’m tracking them on Kofi – here: ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

*

Want to help me make a non boom boom world?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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



The Tribal Boost

As a theatre maker, I think about group dynamics a lot. When making a show, I think about how to create a cohesive ensemble of actors and an inspiring team of designers who can all bring out the best in each other. When performing a piece, I think about how an audience behaves – what makes them decide to laugh together, to clap together or to stand together.

Humans are tribal people. We look to one another for cues about how to behave – sometimes to our detriment. I’m thinking of that experiment where the participant sees smoke but does nothing about it because the others in the room fail to acknowledge it. Tribes can be centuries old or as temporary as a room full of people and if the tribe decides there is no fire, everyone might just burn up.

Tribes of people – temporary or longstanding – have preferences, aspirations and group behaviors. They have personalities. Audiences are as individual as individuals – as any performer can tell you – and they have ways of welcoming or excluding others.

At a comedy club, for example, when a man like Louis CK turns up, the audience is usually eager to hear what he might have to say. Even now. Even after his fall. He got a standing ovation when he came out at some comedy club he turned up at recently. When a woman turns up to do some comedy, the tribe is a bit skeptical. They aren’t primed to hear her. They might even be actively hostile.

I started to think about this while reading Deborah Francis White’s book, The Guilty Feminist. She talked about how Louis CK thrives in an environment that was built for him and others like him. And she’s noticed that the tribal energy at tapings of her podcast is sometimes the opposite. Her audience is mostly female and feminist so when a man turns up onstage – the audience gets a little wary. The room gets an atmosphere of “All right…we’ll hear you out, white man.” And what is interesting is that some men respond to that skepticism – perhaps the first they have ever really encountered – by getting smaller, maybe even with some nervous sputtering. (Very like a woman on an all male panel, she says.)

There’s an exercise we theatre educators often use to illustrate status that involves the players holding a playing card to their forehead that they can’t see and then trying to work out where in the hierarchy they stand by how they are treated. Kings work out that they are Kings rather quickly.

In addition to teaching differences in behavior of a King and a Two, this exercise shows how the status of a person really comes from the behavior of the world looking at them. Treat a King like a King and he becomes a King. But a Two who tries to become like a King will always be put in their place by the tribe, no matter how hard they try.

The thing is, when it comes to leadership, the world has been saying to women, “It’s up to you! Lean in! Be more confident!” The world looks at women as Twos but yells at us to be like Kings. The change is in us, the world says. But really – the change needs to happen in the tribe. The group needs to treat women like Kings instead of Twos.

For so long, tribes have cleared the way for men, have treated so many as though they were potential kings. It feels as though when a man turns up to lead, the climate of a room tends to say, “Yes! He’s here! Let’s make sure he has a place to sit and a nice megaphone and good lighting. I can’t WAIT to hear what he has to say!”

When a woman turns up to lead, arms cross, eyes narrow and the climate of the room says, “Well, we’ll give her a chance, I suppose. We’ll see what she has to say. Maybe she’ll be able to find a place to sit. Maybe she’ll be able to be heard over this din.” And some women stride right in, make space for themselves and get themselves heard and seen without too much fuss.

As someone with an interest in leading, I have always had trouble with this. If I come into a room and feel that no one wants me there or wants to hear what I have to say, I’m much more inclined to turn around and find another room than to stay in that one to fight it out. I’m really only interested in leading when I have a room full of yes. I’ve never been too keen to try and convince a room that thinks I’m a Two that I am really a King, or even just, like, a Nine.

I’m seeing now what a fight it has always been to lead. To have to convince everyone of my right to be there before I even begin is more work than I am willing to do anymore. And what is making me furious now is to see how, for so many men, the mantle of authority is just given to them even if they don’t want it or deserve it.

It starts so young, too. In schools, I’ve seen groups of riled up children get instantly calm when a man walks into their classroom. Triple that effect if he’s wearing a tie. And that effect magnifies over time. And I think it is how we’ve ended up with this horrible political situation – and the slowly awakening realization of this bias is what’s slowly shifting it. As a tribe, we have to examine who we clear space for and who we challenge, who we defer to and who we are skeptical of. Sure – internalized misogyny has been a factor but it is also a lifetime of patterns that our tribes repeat and repeat.

In her book, Deborah Frances White shares an anecdote about driving. She’d heard that London drivers were aggressive but when she drove her employer’s SUV for the first time, she experienced everyone getting out of her way. She thought, from this experience, that London drivers were extremely polite.

Then she drove a small VW Golf. She discovered that, previously, her way had been cleared because of the large vehicle she’d been driving. People had been getting out of her way due to her barreling through the roads in a big car not because they wanted to. As she puts it: “I thought everyone else was polite. Turns out, I’m an arsehole.” She makes the analogy that this is how privilege works – the “arseholes” don’t know they’re being “arseholes” – they think that others are just polite and they think they’re being polite too.

This is the thing – the SUV’s way is always clear and the little VW is always trying to squeeze in where it can. To create a sense of balance, we probably need to treat VWs like SUVs an occasion. We need to treat Twos like Kings. We need to shift the group dynamics to open up and welcome the people who have had to fight for their place.

The group endows the leader with their power or their lack of power. The group sets the tone of welcome someone with an enthusiastic yes or a skeptical no – or even just a qualified skeptical yes. Western ideology always credits the leader with changing the group but I think it’s rather the reverse. The group changes the leader. The leader becomes who they are and leads how they lead because of the group. There are a lot of interesting examples of this in the American political landscape at the moment. Donny Twimp just repeats the lines his audience likes. He explained that’s how “drain the swamp” became a thing. The people in front of him liked it so it caught on.

No way was cleared for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez before she started but she famously wore out her shoes clearing a way for herself. And now, she is challenged at every turn. But simultaneously, those who elected her and admire and support her, buoy her up with our enthusiastic yes. That helps her negotiate all the SUVS that Republicans keep trying to park in front of her.

But American politics aside, this is all happening on micro levels as well. There are rooms women are welcome in and those we are not and no one needs to say anything for us to feel the difference. In theatres, for example, women are welcome as ingénues and chorus girls but not as leaders. (Actual thing said by an Artistic Director to some writers I know: “Oh, we don’t hire women directors. They can’t hold the room.”)

If we want to make changes, we’re going to have to bring our enthusiastic welcomes to women, especially in rooms where they have previously been met with hostility. If you’re an airline – maybe roll out the red carpet for your lady pilots. Throw them parties. I don’t know. And actually more than special treatment, women (and other people who find themselves less welcome) just need the group to have faith and confidence in them, to uncross their arms and smile and expect to be dazzled.

Having my leadership questioned and challenged at every turn in my graduate program for directing made me question my skill and has made all subsequent leading fraught with self doubt. Having been, frankly, a little bit traumatized by the tribe, I have found it harder to feel any subsequent group’s welcome, harder to distinguish what is actually a challenge to my leadership and what is just the usual workings of a tribe trying to figure something out. This is still a factor in everything I do now and led to my, more or less, giving up directing. I’m guessing that we lose a lot of women (and trans and non-binary) leaders this way.

But the group could turn it around I think. The group is powerful. The group can say “yes” enthusiastically if it wants and carry its leaders ahead. The group can welcome new leaders together, new voices, new ideas. The group can lift up all the previously under supported, under appreciated, under heard people and make a more equitable world. And it can get everyone out of a burning building when someone smells smoke, too. If the people around you don’t believe you when you smell smoke, or they aren’t lifting each other up, maybe start looking for a new tribe or even just a new audience with which to watch a show. And help that tribe give a boost to someone who needs it. It could change everything.

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 a previous one 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

The digital distribution is expiring at the end of February for the second album, so I’m also raising funds to keep them up. If you’d like to contribute, feel free to donate anywhere but I’m tracking them on Kofi – here: ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

If you have a particular album you’d like to keep there, let me know!

*

Want to be a part of the tribe that boosts me?

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



In Which I Try to Defend My (Seemingly Terrible) Choice to Dedicate My Life to Theatre
January 28, 2019, 11:43 pm
Filed under: art, musicals, Quitting, theatre | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Theatre is part of me. It has been since I first learned about it in pre-school. My pre-school teachers were actors and there has never been anyone cooler – before or since. Even if I quit theatre making tomorrow, I’d still be a theatre person. It’s almost a physical characteristic at this point – Oh, she has blue eyes, curly hair and theatre.

Other people who have theatre in their bones know what I mean. They know how inevitable it feels, how compulsive, how deep.

The people without this quality cannot fathom why theatre has so much power over us. Why do we continue to do it, despite the heartbreaks, the inconsistency and the hopelessness of the whole enterprise?

Oh, how I wish I knew the answer. Theatre is not logical.

It may have been once – back in the old days when it was the only place a community could really gather, when it provided the only drama or comedy around. But now, when we can get our stories on screens of all sizes, it no longer has the urgency it once did. Why gather in person to watch something if we can gather virtually?

If you have theatre in your blood, as either a theatre-goer or maker or both, you know why. If you don’t, I’m not sure how to capture the magic spell the rest of us are under. Why do we go to it? Why do we sacrifice for it? Why do we dedicate years of our lives to its charms?

A few years ago, after a friend’s benefit for her theatre company, a few of us were out for dinner afterwards and a friend said to his wife, “Why does she still do this? Every year. She keeps going and going and it never gets anywhere.” Even though he was talking about our friend, not me, I still experienced the words with the heat of a white hot poker.

“Why does she still do this?” Fact is, this is a question I used to fear that people were asking about me all the time. Every time I sent out a fundraising letter I’d hear that voice saying, “Why does she still do this?” Every time I promoted another show “Why does she still do this?” Every time I’d have to ask a new round of people for assistance, “Why does she still do this?”

When we first started our theatre company, people responded with great enthusiasm. They were sure we’d be the next big thing. As were we. As a culture, we respond to the new. I’ve seen this happen to other fresh faced theatre companies when they first get started. Folks on Kickstarter love to fund that brand new project for someone to follow their dreams. But just the first dream. Maybe the 2nd. After that, everyone expects you to have MADE it by now and begins to resent your asking. But the truth is, in contemporary American Theatre, almost no one “makes it.” And even if you do “make it” (i.e. you’re produced on a nationally recognized stage and get publicity and stuff,) because we have no national arts funding to speak of, you will still be asking everyone for money. In fact, you’ll be asking for more and more money as your budgets will get bigger and bigger the more “making it” you are. Why do we still do this?

My worries about hearing “Why does she still do this?” have faded and the question has now become “Why do I still do this?” The longer I keep at it, the less I worry about what other people might be thinking. Now I ask myself – whenever I return to the theatre, to the work, to the heartbreak. Why do I still do this?

I know why I WANT to. I know how it starts. It starts with inspiration, with an idea I want to see realized. It’s this ridiculous thing called Art that calls to me, where I cannot help but do it, no matter how little encouragement I receive. Many of us cannot be talked out of our art by the forces pressing on it. The sheer numbers of painters, sculptures, writers and composers who died unrecognized, with no assurance from the outside world are staggering. We count among them many of our greatest. . . but no one wonders why Van Gogh still painted. Why Kafka still wrote. They made things because they had to make things. Not to make it but to make. I’m the same. So is my friend who “never gets anywhere.”

I started this essay a decade ago and I am still making theatre – no matter how much it breaks my heart and seems to not be worth it sometimes. As time goes by, the putting on of shows becomes harder and harder to do, more and more draining. It feels less and less sensible to keep at it. Is the satisfaction of seeing my inspiration realized enough? Is it worth the agony to get my ideas to the stage?

I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it is not worth it. So I got my idea up on stage. So? So? A handful of people saw it, a small percentage of them were moved. So?

Grantmakers measure a company’s worth in how many people were present, that saw a piece of work. My company does not get those grants because we do not reach a lot of people. Maybe that means I should just quit. Sometimes I really think I’m going to. I can do so many other things, after all. Perhaps I could be satisfied with fiction, with music, with writing about art. But…

We could just go on, dreaming of our future audiences who will, one day, understand what we were trying to do, while they miss it today. The major difficulty is that because our medium is live and ethereal, as theatre makers, we don’t really stand much of a chance to be recognized when we’re gone. But it doesn’t matter. We still do it because it is what we do. Van Gogh painted because he painted. Kafka wrote because he wrote. We put on shows because we put on shows. And that is why she still does this.

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 a previous one on Anchor, click here.

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 the blog? Why not help support 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

Or buy me a “coffee” at Ko-fi. https://ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



In Praise of Violence (On Stage)

While writing my last fundraising email for my company’s feminist Measure for Measure, I found myself going on a bit of a rant about the response to the violence in our show. I realized advocating for violence was probably not a particularly wise way to ask for money, so I stopped myself before I went too far. And going too far is what I was talking about.

Many don’t experience Measure for Measure the way I do – they don’t feel the multitude of injustices stacking up against the women in this play as anything to get too upset about. It’s a comedy, after all! I mean, sure Angelo’s a hypocrite, but he just wants to sleep with an aspiring nun, is that so wrong? Sure, the Duke sits by and watches people’s lives torn apart, actively participating and lying to make their experience more dramatic and painful and setting up sadistic scenario after sadistic scenario – but it all works out in the end, right? And he marries Isabella! (Apologies if you don’t know what I’m talking about and you’re not familiar with Measure for Measure, stick around, there’s more non-Shakespeare violence to come.)

I understand the prevailing feeling that these men are not so bad and therefore don’t deserve to be murdered in a blood bath at the end of the play, for example. (Yes, that was our ending. Spoiler alert!) Certainly, yes, there are worse men. Lavinia’s rapists, Imogen’s almost rapists, Kate’s rapist husband…oh wait, you probably mean murderers.

Violence is used against women over and over throughout Shakespeare’s plays and also the entirety of Western literature and entertainment. And over and over again, in text after text, image after image, women just have to sit there and take it. Men avenge women’s deaths and rapes but the women themselves are just dead or damaged. Or made dead due to their “damage.” (I’m looking at you, sweet Lavinia.) Never never do the women get to avenge themselves. Never do they get to grab a sword and make everyone pay for their agony. And you know what? That’s what I need.

Catharsis has been for men for as long as there has been drama and it’s about goddamn time women got some of that sweet sweet catharsis ourselves. When I started this Measure for Measure experiment, I was clear that catharsis is what I was seeking and clear that only violence could do the job.

Not everyone agreed with me. Despite being a cast of women, there were many among them who did not feel that blood needed be drawn. Many felt that the sins committed by the men in power in the play were not so bad. The blood bath I had in mind did not seem commensurate with the crime. That’s probably true. Probably there are many men in Shakespeare who deserve to get murdered by angry women more than Angelo and the Duke do. I’ll leave those deaths for someone else to stage – but for me, to experience a genuine catharsis at the end of a show was worth every possible injustice in it.

I have seen so many women assaulted, raped and murdered on stage and on screen. I could not begin to count the victims I’ve seen in my theatre going, TV watching, film viewing lifetime. For ages, a woman’s presence in a work of drama was for the sole purpose of getting the hero justifiably angry so he could have his catharsis at the end. Women have mostly been cast to be the victims. That’s what an ingénue is for.

I have a theatre friend who moved to LA to work in film and TV and has had a fair amount of success. She has played almost exclusively victims. Her reel is just, like, a parade of violence and abuse against her. Did she deserve any of that? Did all the women who have been abused, assaulted, raped and murdered onstage and onscreen deserve all those things?

But it was all for men’s catharsis.

I need some damn catharsis now.

You think Shakespeare wasn’t interested in violence? I mean, crack open a copy of Titus Andronicus! It wasn’t enough for Lavinia to be raped by her stepbrothers – no, they had to cut out her tongue and cut off her hands as well. Then her father kills her out of “mercy.” Did Lavinia deserve that?

I killed Angelo and the Duke (and Lucio, just for fun) onstage not just for the women in the play, for Isabella and Mariana and Mistress Overdone, but also for Lavinia. And you know what? It’s also for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford – because we can’t drag her assailant out of the Supreme Court without causing a whole heap of trouble. So we kick The Duke in the balls. If we kick The Duke in the balls, maybe just maybe no actual balls will need to get kicked.

If we don’t find outlets for our fury in the safety of our stages, if we don’t get catharsis in some way or another, I can’t promise the rage that has been building, lo, these five thousand years won’t burst forth into a real live bloody revolution. If the woman on man violence makes you uncomfortable to watch, that’s appropriate. That’s what it’s been like for women watching women be victimized all these years.

I’m kind of imagining some restorative dramatic justice. For every rape or sexual assault or domestic violence plot, I’m going to need two kicks in the balls and at least two violent murders. And we’ve got a lot of catching up to do, theatre and cinema-wise, so we might have to kick and kill in some grey areas for a while. Maybe what Louis CK did wasn’t so bad on the shitty scale, not as bad as rape, certainly, but in anything he’s in next, he’s going to need to be brutally attacked or he’s never going to work again. So sayeth the scales of theatrical justice.

Photo from our workshop performance of Measure for Measure, featuring Connie Rotunda, Katherine Lee, Brooke Turner and Sonia Villani, with fight direction by Dan Renkin

*

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 a previous one on Anchor, click here.

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 keep making cathartic work?

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



Books About Anger and The Safety Tax
November 29, 2018, 9:44 pm
Filed under: art, feminism, theatre | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I can’t tell if reading all these books about women’s anger is helping or making things worse. On one hand, it is tremendously affirming to read about my current experience and all the reasons I have to feel the way I feel. On the other hand, I’m newly angry about things I thought I’d already worked through my fury about. Despite my lifetime awareness of the ways sexism has tied my hands, at the moment, each reminder of an old fact or a fresh perspective makes me newly furious.

For example, Soraya Chemaly’s framing of the safety tax on women is at the forefront of my new awareness. She points out that the threat of rape and sexual assault is so ever present that women have to take extra security measures, pay extra money to be safe. (i.e = take taxis, live in safer (in other words, more expensive) neighborhoods, park closer to their destinations.) Now, personally, I’ve always been a little reckless in this fashion. I have been known to take a subway by myself at 2 am. I have generally just refused to pay the usual tax I guess. And I’ve been relatively lucky.

But the other night, after a show, when no subways came for over an hour, I started to get angry about this aspect of things all over again. I got home around 1 am – over two hours after leaving the show. And because the trains were a disaster – I ended up having to take the subway that drops me off ten blocks from my apartment rather than the one that drops me two blocks away. I realized that the MTA basically just made my journey, not just delayed, but exponentially more dangerous. Arriving home at 11pm is a very different situation than arriving home at 1 am. Arriving ten blocks away instead of two means my trip home is many times more dangerous.

Now – the MTA is a disaster for everyone right now. Our governor has tanked the whole system and everyone is having a miserable time. However – a series of decisions around it have also made things incredibly more risky for women. For example – trains used to shift to their late night schedules around 12. If you made it on a train before 12, you should be okay. Then the late night schedule shifted to eleven. Not great but still do-able – still time enough to see a show and grab a quick drink after. But now the “late night schedule” begins at 9:45 pm. For women who are better at safeguarding themselves than me, this means that seeing a show means taking a taxi home. Every show women see just became much much more expensive.

While still at the beginning of my two hour journey home, I saw a woman hit the door of a trash train that was slowly passing. She was so furious. All she could say was, “I’m so angry.” I thought maybe the driver had said something to her but when I asked, she explained that due to the lateness of the trains and the misinformation on the train countdown clocks, she was going to miss the last train back to her neighborhood in Brooklyn. It was not yet 11. And I understood completely why she was at her rope’s end.

When I started this blog, it all ended there. But then I went to rehearsal in a space that I have rehearsed in dozens of times before. I arrived in the neighborhood not long after six in the evening but it was already dark. The neighborhood is not well lit and there was no one around. It’s not as if I didn’t know the place was the way it was. I have been there before. But this time, I realized that I was asking almost a dozen women to come there. This time, I realized that the building is dark. This time, I realized that it was a little foreboding. This time, I realized that the handy magnetic door entrance that only the renter has the keycard for is not safe for anyone who might be stuck outside with no way to buzz in. On the way out, several of our actors waited in the lobby for car services. It was 10pm. It was dark. The walk to the subway may have been short but it was deserted. A car service was a good idea. And car services aren’t cheap. And you know what? That’s a freakin’ safety tax that women are paying all the time. Already under paid or unpaid, women in the arts are either taking giant risks to tough it out in out-of-the-way arts venues or are spending money on cars. I never noticed it before, I think, because I was in a headspace of “being a cool art chick who’s super down to be anywhere, even dark deserted urban areas, man.” Anyway, this is one cool art chick who is now trying to raise some extra cash to compensate those ladies for their safety tax. (Fundraiser still open, contribute if you like!)

So, after all that, I have to say that reading these books about anger and rage is, in fact, helping. I may be angrier in the short term but in the long term, it’s helping me make space to talk about something we never talk about in the arts. I have been working in theatre for over twenty years, I have literally never heard anyone discuss women’s safety in this way.  It’s about time. Now I can do something about it in my own little pocket of this universe. I recommend reading and I recommend doing.

I got to see both these badass ladies speak in the same week.

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 a previous one 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

*

Want to help me pay my safety tax?

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

 




%d bloggers like this: