Songs for the Struggling Artist


How to Make Money as an Artist

The answer to how to make money from your art reminds me of a joke Steve Martin used to do. The bit goes, “You can be a millionaire and never pay taxes. You can have one million dollars and never pay taxes. You say, Steve – how can I be a millionaire and never pay taxes? First, get a million dollars. Now….”

Except with art – it’s a long list of things like: First, become really popular or First, make commercially profitable work or First, be incredibly well connected socially. Or really, just the same: First, get a million dollars.

If you’re wondering how to make money from your art, chances are you don’t have any of those things yet because if you did, you would probably already be making money from your art and thus we have the art making paradox.

I have read endless articles and books on this topic and they all offer more or else the same thing in more or less optimistic language, depending on the publication. They all know that this is what everyone wants to know, so this is what they tell you, even though no one has the secret. I’m not going to lie to you – the reason why there are so many articles about how to make money from your art is because everyone wants the answer and no one knows how to do it, aside from the Steve Martin, “First, get a million dollars” way. There are some things to try, for sure. There are possibilities and methods. Maybe one will work for you but there are no guarantees.

However – I don’t want to deny what you came here for – so at the risk of repeating what every other article about this says – I will, in fact, offer you some strategies for making money on your art work. I will be unable to avoid drawing on my experience and of other artists I’ve known, though, so you can expect, perhaps, an uncomfortable amount of realism included.

Okay. First:
Get a million dollars.
Kidding. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

First: Make art. If your art requires an upfront investment and you can make it, do it. If you can’t, find ways to adapt. Like, if you’re a painter and you can’t afford a canvas, sketch and draw for a while until you can get the canvas. Make drawings and sketches and paintings. Write novels and plays and blogs and screenplays, etc, etc. Don’t think about selling any of it at first. You just have to do it enough that it becomes part of your life.

If you’re a performing artist, you’re going to have difficulties of a different sort. You’re going to need space (try a park? A basement? Your living room?) and you’re going to (most likely) need other people. Finding other people who will contribute to your art without compensation is probably harder than actually making your piece. All I can advise here is kindness, transparency and gratitude. That is, if you don’t have any money to pay your artists – say, “I don’t have any money to pay you.”

There are those who will pretend they have money to pay artists and then do not have money to pay artists and so do not pay their artists after telling their artists they would be paid. Those folks will get an unsavory reputation very quickly.

Whatever your initial projects are, do not expect to make money on them. The odds are that you will not.

The odds are probably such that your second and third ventures will also not make you money. But you stand a better chance the more work you make – and if you’re lucky you will cease to care quite as much about that.

So – that’s step one. Make your work. And I just want to pause to acknowledge that this is not easy. Making art without money is very very difficult. I have surely talked about this in many blogs before so I won’t go into the unpredictable ways that money makes a difference but just now I suggest that you acknowledge that you’re up against the wall and give yourself hugs.

Step 2: Let’s say you now have a body of work. Make sure you document it because whatever path you take with it, you’re going to need the receipts on your artwork.

Now you can start to think through whether you want to approach making art as a business or as a service. You can try to do both but you’ll likely end up split in half, as any servant of two masters does.

If you pursue the business track, I’d recommend thinking through your boundaries and about what counts as art for you. If you’re happy to be creative on assignment, you will likely be able to make a living. You can get a job in advertising. You can paint for an interior designer. You can write for soap operas. Being creative for a living is entirely possible but be forewarned that this is being “a creative” not being an artist. It’s being artistic for money. It’s not making art. And for a lot of people, this is enough. For some people, they find the balance is to be artistic for work and an artist at home.

If you’re interested in business, you can try selling your art – though I don’t know many who find a way to make this work. Those that do tend to develop a business – they’ll do design to sell their images on t-shirts for example – but given how unwilling most people are to pay for art these days (and for art also read music, theatre, film, dance, writing, etc.,) I don’t know if you can really bank on selling.

I’m not saying you can’t do it. I’m just saying that it is a rare artist who can. If you’re Damien Hirst you can sell a pile of lint but if you’re not already Damien Hirst, it’s not likely you can become him. I think partly that’s because those heady days of buying and selling art are kind of over and partly because the obstacles in the way of becoming the kind of artist who sells his work are more extreme.

Let’s look at music, for example, (and just project out for the other arts) in the pre-internet days, we sort of had a pocket of middle class musicians. An indie band could tour and sell their records and maybe they wouldn’t be able to buy a house but they could keep the band alive. Now, the musician middle class has virtually disappeared. There’s a lot of money at the top and nothing the rest of the way down. What I mean is, you’re either getting 14 million plays on Spotify and doing pretty darn well or you’re getting a thousand and making chump change. You’re either Taylor Swift or you’re struggling. Selling records doesn’t do it any more. Selling paintings doesn’t do it. Selling your writing is a similar problem.
You can try it, of course and you very well may be the one in a million who cracks the code. But the odds are worse than they’ve ever been.

Taking the service route may seem like the easier path. You could start a non-profit organization, go sing your tunes for incarcerated grandmothers or paint puppies in peril.
Probably someone has already suggested you “just get a grant” for something you do. If I had a grant for every time someone suggested I get grant, I’d have a fully funded non-profit. Somehow the world thinks it is super easy to just get a grant – I think they think there are pots of free money just sitting around and all an artist needs to do is to go ask for it. If only.

Listen. Grants are great. I started a non-profit theatre company and I am grateful for every grant check I have ever received. But there are hardly pots of money lying around waiting to be distributed. Grantmakers are rare rare birds and finding one that happens to want to fund exactly the sort of thing you want to make is like going searching for a Rose-Throated Becard (that’s a rare bird from Arizona.) And if you do spot one of those Rose-Throated Grants – well, the odds of it providing you more than a tiny token portion of what you need are VERY slim. Can you find a grant? Sure you can. But you might spend 7 times as long searching for and applying for that funding as you do making your art.

I promise you I’m not trying to be discouraging. I just want you to know what you’re up against.

Are there people who make this model work? Absolutely. They are pros at soliciting donations and establishing artistic organizations and the better you get at it, the bigger the grants are that you become eligible for. So if it appeals to you – give it a shot. I just want you to know that it is not as simple as getting a grant. The first grant we ever received as a non-profit theatre company was for $500. We worked on that application for weeks. The labor, if we’d charged for it, would have been three times the amount of the grant. And $500 was only a drop in the bucket of what we needed.

Grants aren’t magic. That’s all I’m saying. Can you probably pick up a grand somewhere? Probably. But I’m going to guess that you’re going to need more than that to do whatever it is that you want to do. And every penny of it will probably have to go back into the project. So – are you making money with your art? Probably not in this context.

Is it hopeless to imagine you could make a living as an artist? No. It is possible. It’s a little bit like – some basketball players get to play in the NBA and most do not. And more and more – it is only the NBA players who are making any money. Metaphorically speaking.
But again – I’m not telling you this to discourage you. Though, I will say, if you’re discouragable by me, just some struggling artist lady with a blog, I think probably a little discouragement is a good idea. The only way you’re going to survive the indignities of making art in America is if you’re undiscourageable.

Like – if I can, with my little truth telling machine, prevent you from going into whatever art you’re considering, it’s actually a service to you. You might just decide to go to law school instead and then, later, once you have a house and car and your kids have gone to college, you might just come on back to your art and I will tell you that you will likely be in a much better position than those of us who have kept at it, without pause, from our youth.

Do I wish I had done it that way? Nope. No one could have convinced me to take a minute away from my art and if you’re like me – I’m sorry. It is easier the other way. I am envious of those who made other choices and have things like…furniture – but I wouldn’t have, couldn’t have, done it their way.

But let’s say you are like me and no one could convince you to abandon your craft.
Here are some ways you can make it work.
1) Get a full time job. Do your art at night. (Or whatever arrangement of the day you find.) Some of the happiest artists I know have full time office jobs. Others have full time teaching positions.
2) It’s the Gig Economy! Gig it up! Have 6 jobs! I’ve done it. It’s crazy but if you’re trying to prioritize your art, sometimes it’s good to more or less make your own schedule so you can build in a rehearsal day or whatever. I know a Broadway actor who became a handy-man so he could grab a gig when he had the time. When thinking about Day Jobs, I recommend Carol Lloyd’s book, Creating a Life Worth Living – and consider whether or not it will be beneficial for you to do your day job in the big tent of your art or to do something entirely separate. Like, if you want to be a circus performer, would you be happy with a gig as a ticket seller at the circus or will it hurt your heart to be around the thing you love and not IN it? Anyway – jobs, gigs, support careers – they’re a reality for most of us.
3) Other avenues to consider are things like crowdfunding. Crowdfunding, when it first came up in its digital form, was thought to be the future of the arts. It has not turned out to be the panacea it was hoped it would be. But there are ways to crowdfund your work. See also Amanda Palmer’s astonishing Kickstarter album – followed by her great success on Patreon. But – in order for Crowdfunding to work in those magical ways – you have to have a crowd that is already in your corner. If you’re not already popular, crowdfunding is a lot trickier. Amanda Palmer killed it on those platforms because she already had a giant committed fan base when she joined. Personally, I get the bulk of any support on Patreon. I don’t have a CROWD, per se. But I do have some really dedicated supporters – and if you can find even just a few of those, they can make a tremendous amount of difference. If you have people in your life who are willing to help you out, I highly recommend letting them. I’ve known a lot of artists who felt like they couldn’t accept offers of support or patronage and without that avenue, your options for funding your work are really few. I wish it were not so but it is. Art is important. If you have to make it, you will find a way. If you let people help you make it, it will be a lot easier.

Now – a lot of arts support organizations will likely not enjoy this post. They will strenuously argue for their efficacy at giving artists the skills they need to make money. These organizations are some of the top creators of the How to Make Money posts and books and podcasts, etc. It’s how they justify paying all that rent or those salaries for those organizations. Many of these art-support places are very invested in the possibility of magical money that will come to the artists that work hard at the skills they have to offer. I would love it if this were so. I have taken nearly every workshop these sorts of organizations have to offer. Marketing for artists! Grantwriting for artists! Touring! Social Media for artists! Budgeting for artists! PR for artists! Databases for artists!

You can know how to do all those things and still never see a sustainable dime. You can make good work, do bang up support for it and still never find sustainability or even a break. It doesn’t reflect on your quality. It is really and truly the luck of the draw. Not all art is marketable. Not all art makes money.

You should play the game if you want and have to but if it doesn’t fly – it’s probably not you. It’s just that very few things fly.

Even a million dollars isn’t a guarantee. However – it does up your odds significantly. So – to really improve your chances of making money from your arts:

First – get a million dollars.

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

*

Want to help this artist beat the odds?

Become my patron on Patreon.

*

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

 

Advertisements


A Rejection in a Decadent World

The theatre company that rejected me most recently is one that was founded a year or two after mine. I know this because they interviewed my puppet designer for one of their first productions. They didn’t hire her (their loss) but due to their timing and their mission, I have followed their journey pretty closely.

They do good work. Let me say that, first. But I have always felt like they had some leg up when they began that I could not quite identify at the time. (I can guess now that it’s probably mostly being male. The leg up was maleness. Man-osity. Boy-i-tude.) I resented them for a long while – because I felt like they came up behind me driving a hot rod trike while I was running a three-legged race and they surged ahead before I even knew what the game was. But they won that race so long ago now, I’m finally over myself and I swallowed my resentment and pride to write them a ten minute play on spec for their short New Play Festival. I don’t do this usually – but – like I said before – they do good work and fundamentally that is the most important thing to me. More and more, I feel I don’t have the will to produce my own work the way I used to, so I have my eye on people who do good work. Anyway, despite my little play’s “high merits from our readers” it did not make the final round.

This letter concluded with my old (least) favorite: Keep Writing!

The problem with the specificity of the requirements of this short play festival is that it means the play I wrote for them is really not likely to be to the taste of anyone else. I mean – maybe I’m wrong and someone out there is dying for a ten minute companion piece to The Changeling by Thomas Middleton. (Don’t all come clamoring at once!)

Asking for these kinds of things feels like the height of decadence – the ultimate artistic rent seeking (this is an economic concept I’ve talked about before) and in this case it is for such a small reward. Because here’s the thing – I’m almost certain my little play (“The Apothecary’s Daughter”) will never see the light of day anywhere else – which is fine, I have a lot of plays like that. But I can’t help thinking of the other ten minute companion pieces that other writers wrote for ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore and Women Beware Women and The Spanish Tragedy and such and how every year “record numbers” of playwrights churn out a record number of plays in this vein and how there’s just a storehouse of Jacobean themed ten minute plays sitting in the files of playwrights around the country and more are added to that rather useless collection EVERY YEAR.

And this is just one tiny short play festival. All around the country there are multitudes of other plays written for other people’s highly specific specifications that then go on to accumulate dusty storage deaths and I don’t know – this is one hell of a decadent world to ask so much of a bunch of theatre people without a lot of open doors available to them.

Anyway – I guess I’ll keep writing anyway since the producer of this short festival told me to but I’m feeling a little sad for all those lost short plays out there. Not sad enough to produce them myself, mind you. But sad.

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

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

*

Want to help me keep building metaphorical rockets?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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



Medusa Long Shot Rocket Rejection

I started working on my Medusa play sometime around when I started my theatre company, which was close to 18 years ago. I abandoned the play after doing a reading of it but then picked it back up a few years ago when an actor, who’d read one of the parts that first time, asked after it. I don’t know if it had been a full decade at that point but the fact that it had stuck with him after so long made me feel like it was worth grappling with.

After much wrestling, I got the play into shape and did a reading in Brooklyn and after it, I felt like I still wasn’t sure if it was worth anything. One of my listeners pointed out that I might not really know what was actually there until I had the exact right actors. He suggested I think big.

I knew who I needed. As the person who gave the single best performance I have ever seen, I knew that hearing HER read it would tell me everything needed to know. I also knew that in order to have that happen, I needed to make the play good enough for her. I imagined her reading it as I was writing and the play got better.

I did another reading in Queens with a game group of lovely actors and I got even closer to what I thought the play wanted to be. All along I was thinking of this sort of lodestar of a performer and how to get it to her, how to connect with her, how to strategize for this play’s future.

As time went by, the play was selected as a semi-finalist for the O’Neill National Playwright’s Conference but went no further. All of my attempts to make a connection with my Medusa lodestar failed.

Then I saw that she’d be performing in a public park – so I printed out a copy and brought it with me in case I could be brave enough to give it to her. I was. I was brave enough and it was mortifying. Completely and totally mortifying. I don’t recommend this sort of experience to anyone. But – even though she wouldn’t take the stack of paper in the moment, she told me to send it to her agent. And believe me, it had been suggested to me to send it to her agent before but that information is not particularly easy for an outsider to find so the principal value in standing before the actual person was that I could ask her who her agent was. Then began the tricky task of finding her agent’s information. You realize, when diving in to this sort of world, that so much of it is designed to intimidate and keep you out. The world of agents is built to make it difficult to find them. There are services you can pay to simply get an email.

But with the support of a clever friend, I finally got to the agent. Also, with a lot of coaching from my clever friend, I did some finely crafted emailing to just get this play to the woman who had been its muse. After about a week of back and forth, it was, in fact sent to her.

Just getting that far felt like a great leap. It wasn’t just the labor of the week to get it to her – but the years of putting it on my list to figure out and all the attempts before. I launched the rocket into space.

Within days, the rocket fell to earth as I heard back that the play was not for her.

Strangely, given how intimidating the world around agents is, the rejection was one of the best I’ve received. It was succinct, clear and gentle. I wonder if that agents learn that skill because they never really want to give anyone a hard no. What if Julie Taymor suddenly decided to put my Medusa on at the National Theatre with a million dollar salary? Would my muse be interested then? She might. Or at least there might be another conversation to be had.

So weirdly, I find myself wishing other rejectors could be more like an actor’s agent. Reject us like you might have to make a million dollar deal with us next time – because you just never know.

Meanwhile, here I am watching my last real hope for this play float away. I know it makes no sense to set a bubble of hope on an actor’s interest but it was literally the only idea I had for the future of this play. I can’t produce it myself. It’s too big for the resources I can gather. It’s not the kind of show you can do at your local community playhouse.

So…this particular rejection hit me hard – even though I knew it was a long shot. It was the longest shot. And it’s going to take some time to gather the strength to build another rocket – or even just a wagon. It’s going to take some time to reassemble some hope. Maybe it’ll be another ten years. Or maybe never at all.

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

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

*

Want to help me keep building metaphorical rockets?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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



Americans Need Dario Fo

Thanks to my dad and the Friends of the Library, a parcel full of books by and about Dario Fo arrived at my door recently. It’s been years since I last looked at his work and suddenly I was up to my ankles in Fo plays and biographies.

If you’re American, you probably haven’t seen many, or any of his plays. I’ve never even seen a notice of a production here, not to mention an actual production. This work just isn’t done in the United States. The first time I read some of his plays, I could not understand why but now that I’m reading his work anew, I actually understand completely why there’s been no American embracement of his work.

First, he and Franca Rame, his wife and artistic partner, were not allowed to enter the US until the 80s. Our government would not let him in. Second, his work is funny and while the American Theatre lets an occasional comedy through the system, it is a rare occurrence. If an American Theatre institution is going to produce foreign work, it wants it to be arty and arty usually means moody. But also the odds of doing foreign work at all are very slim. Also…particularly in the 80s – artists who had some dealings with the communist party were not likely to be heartily embraced.

Third, and this is the bit I realized while reading, the American Theatre has been much too class unconscious to welcome particularly politically progressive work. For example, in Il Ratto di Diana (the Kidnapping of Diane) – there is a recurring joke about the ruling class. And the problem is, the only theatres that could have afforded to put this show on are all funded by the ruling classes, the kind of folks who really don’t find that sort of thing amusing. The way theatre gets made in this country is antithetical to the presentation of actual working class work that might be critical of the ruling class.

American Theatre is only possible because the ruling class has, historically, donated the funds or the buildings or the grants to keep the doors open. The reason there are parties for donors and velvet ropes is that the American Theatre depends on the ruling class continuing to write them big checks.

American Theatre thinks of itself as liberal but it is rarely actually progressive. Our radical progressive theatres like Bread and Puppet and San Francisco Mime Troupe have only managed to survive by the skin of their hippie teeth – instead of embraced as the brave American changemakers they are.

American Theatre puts on a lot of plays about upper middle class families. Like, a lot. This is because those are the people who write the majority of the checks and they like to see themselves on stage. Those audiences are not so interested in being implicated among the ruling classes and so, of course, no big budget theatre has interest in translating and producing Dario Fo’s work. Of course. Of course.

Translation is part of the issue, too. The English translations we have are English, as in from England, and they read very British. In order to do these plays in America, we need to commission American writers to translate in an American style. I suspect that the way American writers are seen and supported also plays a role in keeping Fo from our stages.

But I think we need Fo’s work. We need to talk about the ruling classes. We need to develop an awareness of class. We need to put on plays that challenge our system –not just sit comfortably within it. And not for nothing, anyone deciding to produce this giant of world theatre will pick up a whole lot of hungry theatre goers who have been waiting for it. That is, if I see someone – anyone producing a Fo play any time soon, I will be purchasing tickets. I will even pay full price to actually hear and see a play that challenges the ruling class.

Also – sidebar – my Italian is passable and I’ve already done a translation of one of Rame’s plays, so I’d be happy to give Fo’s a go if you need an American translation.

Photo by D Frohman

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

*

Want to help me shift the landscape of American Theatre?

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

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



The Velvet Rope

After the show, we went to the lobby to wait for the actor to emerge after her performance. The lobby was pretty busy. There seemed to be a little reception in progress, featuring sparkling wine and chocolate.

The party was cordoned off with a velvet rope.

We were on the other side of the velvet rope.

The party, we guessed and later had confirmed, was for donors to the theatre. We had been given to understand that the actor would be appearing here eventually. We had been told to look for her here. On our side of the rope.

As the theatre emptied out, only a handful of us stood on the peasant side of the velvet rope. Among us were the actor’s family and her friends.

You might wonder why we didn’t simply unhook the rope from the stanchion and go in. Well – this theatre had thought of this, too. It was so important to them to maintain this separation between the donor class and us plebeians that they had an intern on duty to police it. He dutifully unhooked the rope to allow donors out and did his best to look forbidding to those of us on the outside. He made it clear that this party wasn’t for us and we were not to be included.

For a good long while, this theatre’s lobby featured a small party of about 24 people drinking prosecco inside a velvet rope and seven people standing around outside it, policed by an intern and his boss.

The “party” proceeded like this for some time – that is, until I spotted and made complicitous eye contact with the actor – who, after all was the woman of the hour and finally I just unhooked the velvet rope and ran in, to give her a hug.

Seeing the actor showing me such warmth, the woman in charge of this party, who had clearly found our presence distasteful before, now invited us to eat and drink. We had all been brought inside the rope. There was no one left outside it.

I don’t know what happened to the actual velvet rope after that. It had been designed to keep the riff raff out and once the riff raff was inside, there was no purpose for it anymore. As someone now on the inside, the rope was no longer of any concern to me. I expect that to those who had been inside all along, the velvet rope barely registered their attention. Did they know it was there? Once I was inside it, it ceased to be important to me – but before I got inside, that velvet rope and the people policing it were my primary focus.

This exercise in absurdity seems to me to be the perfect allegory for the American Theatre and maybe for American Art in general.

The theatre where this happened states, in their mission statement, that they “seek to create broad public access and to bond the diverse New York community” and yet, with a simple velvet rope and a zealous gatekeeper, they created division and diminished access – right there in their very own lobby.

It’s not just them. This absurdity plays itself out through almost every arts organization in America. A few years before, just down the street from this theatre, at another arts organization I used to work for, a crowd of artists sat in the lobby while the party for us went on upstairs because the gatekeeper would not let us up. And that’s just a literal example.

The whole field seems to be arbitrarily divided up by absurd velvet ropes. Once you have been invited inside, you can enjoy the prosecco and chocolate and opportunities but when you’re outside, you just sort of stand there awkwardly trying to make eye contact with any friends you have inside. And woe to the person trying to get in to the party without any friends inside.

Trying to make art in this country is like trying to get inside the velvet ropes without any friends inside. There are multiple forces at work that are actively trying to keep you out. There are things like submission fees, onerous grant application processes and requirements for references from well-known persons (this is a way to prove you have a contact inside the party.)

There are ways to increase your chances of getting past the ropes – depending on your field. Getting an MFA might introduce you to an insider (that’s indirectly how I met my insider at this donor theatre party) or interning at the right spot might help you rise up the ranks but your best shot is being born into a social circle or with access to someone who knows someone.

And of course, just making it inside the ropes for one day, for one party won’t really help you in the long run. You need to be a regular insider, to become so used to the prosecco and the chocolate that you don’t even notice them at the party. In order to stand a chance of having your art produced, you need to be so far behind the barriers that you forget the velvet ropes entirely.

The difference between a struggling artist and one who has made it lives in those velvet ropes. The struggling artist is acutely aware of where the ropes are and who is guarding them. They are, after all, designed to keep us out. In a country that prides itself on its egalitarian values, this exclusion is particularly galling. That is made worse by how easily and quickly the barrier is lifted and also how entirely unnecessary the barrier is to begin with.

There was so much prosecco and so much food at this donor party that the staff had to take boxes of it home to prevent it being thrown away. That velvet rope made me feel that that this theatre would rather throw their chocolate away than let me have it. Then I got a nod of approval from an insider and suddenly I could have all the chocolate I could have wanted.

There was no difference in my quality on one side or the other of that rope. I was the same person on both sides of the barrier. Inside, I had approval. Outside, I was a nuisance. It is not nice to feel like a nuisance and yet, because I am outside the rope most of the time, I do feel it a LOT. I made myself go talk to a famous actor recently. While I was telling her how much I admired her work in the show she’d just done, I felt fine – like the metaphorical velvet rope between us didn’t matter at all. But as soon as I tried to hand her the play she’d inspired me to improve and keep going on, I felt the velvet rope pop up – whether on my side or on hers, it doesn’t really matter – the point is, it showed up. I felt like a nuisance and an idiot. The sense of humiliation was profound – even though there was no actual rope.

Part of what is so difficult about being a perpetual struggling artist is constantly bumping up against that rope. If you have a well-connected friend or two, you may on occasion find yourself on the other side for a moment but a well-connected friend will not protect you from all the other velvet ropes that arts organizations put up to keep out the riff raff.

At the heart of the velvet rope distinction it feels like those who are on the inside are just better people. If you’re a writer with an agent, then you must be a better writer than one without. If you know a famous person, you must be cooler than your average person. It is not so far from the American sense that money makes you better – that the rich are rich because they worked hard and deserve it. They’re just naturally inside.

What’s ironic is, I would wager you a bottle of prosecco that the donors inside the rope don’t care a bit about keeping out the riff raff. It is the gatekeepers that are concerned about it. And very concerned they are indeed. Also, ironically, riff raff-wise, everyone in that lobby with me had a degree of privilege already. The tickets at that theatre are quite expensive – so the separation is not between top-hatted monocled millionaires and fingerless gloved ragamuffins – it’s the difference between someone who can afford to donate a building and someone who can afford to enter it. The riff raff are people who can pay to see esoteric theatre for an average price of $75 a ticket.

In the case of this theatre, with its mission to bring people together, it was a literal velvet rope – but arts organizations put up metaphorical velvet ropes every day. If you run one, look at how and where you put up barriers to access. Anything you put in place to reduce your submissions, for example: that’s a velvet rope. Obviously, you can keep it there if you want to – but if you’re only including the agented, the recommended, the degreed or the submission fee’d, you’re sending a message that you are only interested in privileged artists, that you prefer your donors to your audience, that you only want insiders. Your velvet ropes say that you only want to give that prosecco to the people who have a case of prosecco at home. If, like this theatre, you aspire to create broad public access and to bond your community, you have to let your velvet ropes go.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can listen to this episode 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

*

Want to help me get past some velvet ropes?

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

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Here Is My Blush

In high school, at forensics meets and auditions, people often would look at my chest and get a concerned look on their faces. “Are you okay?” they’d ask. “You’re bright red.”

I had a rather unfortunate tendency for a performer; When I’d get nervous or excited or just pumped up, my chest would turn red or blotchy. I understand now that it’s probably a factor of being an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) but at the time it was just embarrassing.

It mostly doesn’t happen anymore. I don’t know whether I’ve evened out or have fewer opportunities to perform or when I do, I don’t get nearly as nervous or if it’s the quieting down of an aging nervous system or maybe I just don’t look in the mirror that much but I haven’t seen that bright red chest blush in ages.

Last night though, I went in to brush my teeth, looked in the bathroom mirror, took one glance at my chest, got a concerned look on my own face and asked myself, “Are you okay? You’re bright red.”

And then I realized that in the process of re-engaging with a play I’d previously abandoned, I’d gotten myself as worked up as I used to get when I was performing in high school. I know writing is as physical an act as anything but it’s not usually as physical as that.

But here’s what happened.

Quite a few years ago, I started work on a play about Victoria Woodhull. I worked on it at a residency in Maine and did a preliminary reading there and then back in NYC six months later.

I submitted that play and proposals to work on that play to all the developmental programs and all the residencies and no one gave a damn about it but me and the tiny handful of people who read it or heard it in 2017. Other projects stepped forward and pushed this one aside. I worked on my book for young people during my residency in Vancouver. I wrote a whole new play for the Shakespeare contest at the American Shakespeare Center. The Woodhull play just sort of fell by the wayside. I didn’t actively abandon it – I just never picked it back up to fix those problems in Act Two that revealed themselves after the last reading at Flushing Town Hall. But. I love these characters. I love the play, actually and the pleasure of re-engaging with its difficulties is actually very sweet. And according to my body’s blushing system, it’s a lot more exciting than I realized as well.

Not very many people would seem to be as interested in my play’s questions as I am but after seeing that old high school chest flush return, I know that the re-engagement is as potent as any performance. I also recognize that this is the good part, actually.

Whenever, if ever, this play sees production, it will be as agonizing as sweet to see it realized. While I would surely rejoice loudly and wildly to see it onstage, it will always be compromised, there will inevitably be those moments of agony at misspoken text or misplaced emphasis or whatever details might arise. This writing flush is the play’s purest joy for me, I suspect, and I’m writing this now so that I remember 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

*

Like the blog? Want to help keep me writing?

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

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Who Is This Arts Education Experience For?

Having spent a couple of decades in arts education, in a multitude of schools through a dozen or so arts organizations, I’ve had occasion to wonder who it’s all for. Maybe it seems obvious. It’s for the kids, of course! It’s for the students! Except when it’s really not.

I’ll give you some examples. This first one happened recently to a musician I know. A group of kids came in for a musical theatre workshop and their chaperones pulled out some high-end cameras and microphones and began weaving in and out of the students who were trying to learn a song. The musician suggested to the grown-ups that having a safe, camera-free space to make mistakes would be beneficial to the learning process. The chaperone said, “No, but I’m trying to get some footage of their growth so this is great for me” and kept filming. Who was this workshop really for?

Or this one: Let’s say you’re putting on a play. And you cast little Jimmy to play the lead. But Jimmy is very quiet. You can’t hear Jimmy when he says his lines. When you tell Jimmy to speak up, the “problem” does not improve. And Jimmy’s not the only one you can’t hear. So you get a sound system and a bunch of mics. Jimmy has his very own lavalier. And Jimmy, because he has a mic now, gets quieter – so the sound guy has to pump the system up all the way just so people can hear Jimmy. But then the kids can’t hear the band so they miss most of their cues. Who is this for? What has Jimmy learned? He certainly hasn’t learned to project his voice. Or even how to use a microphone.

The audience, sure, has a better chance of hearing Jimmy now, however out of sync with the band he is. And the administration can rest easier knowing they’ve invested some money in making the students heard. But none of that was for Jimmy’s education.

Over and over, I’ve watched adults twist themselves into knots trying to put on a good show. They invest their own artistic aspirations into the students’ work and do whatever it takes to get something polished onstage. This is never going to happen. Your students aren’t that good. They’re not going to put on a Broadway quality show no matter how much you yell at them. I’m sorry to break it to you but your students are probably not good. Yet.

And once you realize that student work is not there to be good, you can start to tune in to what it IS there to do. It’s there to give the students an opportunity to learn. They will learn something in the process of putting on a show – no matter how it happens. But if what they’re primarily learning is how to please their director, they are not having the richest possible learning experience.

Putting on a school play is valuable for so many reasons. The opportunities for learning and discovery are endless, really. But for me, to me, privileging the production over the students’ learning is getting in the way of the best opportunities. One of those opportunities is failing at it. If you, for example, don’t learn your lines as well you’re supposed to and then you go out onstage and forget them, that is an excellent lesson you just learned. For me, the most potent part of every theatrical experience in education is when the students unpack all the things they wish they’d done better. That’s learning in action.

But…in my experience, most people who put on plays in schools are much more concerned with how the play looks than how the students are learning in it. They are worried about how it will look or sound to administrators, to parents or to funders. School plays (and concerts and presentations and so on) are 9 times out of 10 – not really for the people putting them on but some authority that their teacher/director wants to impress.

And the reality is, you’re probably not going to be able to change that. But it can be helpful to name it as it’s happening – to be clear that you’re getting a sound system for the principal because she gets so cranky when she can’t hear students or to be clear with your students that you’re spending time on light cues that you could have spent rehearsing because the school board decides the funding based on these shows and they need all the bells and whistles. That’s who the show is for, then. It’s an audition for the school board budgetary committee, not a learning experience. And knowing that can sometimes make engaging in those parts a little easier. You can yell at the students to be louder for the principal and do some character exercises for their growth. Personally, I’d prefer a theatre program that allows for discovery and failure and learning but most programs aren’t built that way. Which is, frankly, one of the reasons why I moved away from arts education.

But before I go completely, I want to share a chapter of a book on Teaching Shakespeare that I’ve been working on. It speaks to this question of who it’s for and what exactly you’re doing when you work on Shakespeare through performance. It’s something I clarified while teaching graduate students in education and as far as I know it’s a distinction that no one’s making and a distinction I think is crucial at this point in the field’s development Shakespeare education.

The text is here on my Shakespeare website and there is a direct line between this post and that chapter. If this topic speaks to you, particularly if you are an arts educator, click on over. But meanwhile even if you are not an educator, this perspective on learning might be useful when you go and see student work. Parents, for example, can be important advocates for more student-centered work. Or, at the very least, you can avoid complaining about not being able to hear little Jimmy. Remember, the show is for Jimmy’s learning, not for you.

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

*

Like the blog? Want to help keep me writing?

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

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis




%d bloggers like this: