Songs for the Struggling Artist


A Great Idea for a Musical! (or What is Art? And who gets to decide?)

A comment on my Art as Service post began this way: “I disagree with your theories about what is art and perhaps even what is service with art. I think the thing about art is that it has different meanings for different people.” And asked “Who gets to determine what is art and what is not? What is service and what is not?” which are good questions – even if it implies that it should definitely not be me who gets to determine such a thing.

The answer to these questions is that no one is determining anything. There is no line around art or service and just because I, a person on the internet said so, does not make it so. Unfortunately, I have not yet developed such an enviable super power.

In the absence of strong boundaries in the world, I attempted to make some distinction between entertainment and art, not because I want to be mean to entertainers but because I’m weary of watching artists suffer over the confusion. Since no one makes distinctions, the market also makes no distinction and capitalism just chews up art and entertainment and service all in one messy mouthful. Of course art means different things to different people but without a common distinction, artists suffer and diminish while corporate execs thrive. Without a line drawn, commercial art thrives while more esoteric art starves. Which is not to say that commercial theatre, for example, sucks. Some of it is very entertaining and artfully done. Just because I don’t think something is art doesn’t mean I think it’s bad or badly done or unprofessional or that I don’t want to see it. I love being entertained as much as anyone.

Art does not mean good. Entertainment does not mean bad. Entertainment can be great. Art can be terrible. Drawing a line between the two does not mean drawing a line between good and bad. It just means, for me, that we use different metrics for success in those two approaches. And listen, debate about this stuff has raged for centuries over wine, beer, cocktails, coffees and college cafeterias so I get that the “What is Art?” question can be controversial.

However, I’m very curious about why everything wants to be art. Why should we need SpongeBob SquarePants to be art? Why are we not satisfied to simply have it be an entertaining piece of theatre? If you’re making tons of money, entertaining people, having a great time, I don’t really understand why being an entertainment isn’t enough.

I have as much admiration for great entertainers as I do for artists. They’re just different flavors. One is strawberry ice cream, the other is coffee gelato. Both delicious. But I wouldn’t want one to be the other.

Part of the problem, I think is the word “art.” There are, problematically, two definitions. Etymologically speaking, art began as a way to say “skill.” The Greek word for art basically means craft, or skill. Commedia dell’ Arte was a popular entertainment of skill. They were skilled comedians. If someone used their art, they used their skills.

Round about the 19th century this other sense of art began to evolve – the sense of an artist as a person creating new and challenging work, as a sort of romantic expression of self and the universe and such. Art became an expression of something – a creation – an invention where once had been a blank page, stage or space. When I talk about art and artists, this is the sort of stuff I mean. I mean people who take what they are given to create something that challenges the status quo, that makes important inquiries into the human condition, that expresses something unique and untold where once there had been nothing.

The other form of art, the one that is skill and practice and rigor and craft and form is, of course, incredibly important – but I think of the person who crafts that as more of an artisan than artist.

Our American culture is profoundly confused by all these words. Take, for example, the way advertising and marketing have co-opted the word artisanal to now be entirely meaningless. What once meant something crafted by hand by a skilled practitioner with care and attention is now readily applied to mass produced food products. You could get an “artisanal” bagel at Duncan Donuts not long ago. I don’t know what that means. So what I’m trying to do in making distinctions is to point to the Dunkin Donutifying of art – that by making EVERYTHING art, then NOTHING is art and words lose meaning and poof, there is no funding for the expressive artist anymore.

It might help to keep these strands of art in mind – the art of skill and the art of expression/creation. Perhaps we need new words entirely – and the art that means skill – as in (Zen and) the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, as in foam art in coffees, as in balloon art and so on could be called one thing and the art that means invention and creation, as in what we hang in art museums and fund for the public good…that could have another name.

Having it all be the same thing is what prevents people with no experience of the arts from understanding why in the world we should support it, donate to it, give it public funding. They think, “I wouldn’t pay my barista extra for putting a swan on top of my coffee – I mean, maybe I’d tip her a dollar or something – but why should my taxes support the arts if anything could be art? After all, I just spent over a thousand dollars to take my family to see that show on Broadway. I did my bit.” (See also my post on We Support the Arts. Buying tickets for Broadway shows is not support.)

Anyway – I tend to think of entertainers as being particularly incredible artisans. The Broadway chorus boy may not be an artist (in my definition) but his skill at doing complex jumps and turns is remarkable. He is an artist in the same sense that the barista who has spent decades perfecting the perfect foam swan is. It’s arte. He’s an entertainer with incredible arte.

And if an artist, say, a choreographer, created a show that required a chorus of such artisans, they would be participating in the manifestation of that artistic experience. Likewise – if the artist, the choreographer, required a chorus of swan-making baristas, they too would be part of the manifestation of that artwork.

And I suppose this is where the service component comes in. So let’s back this up. Let’s say this artist, this choreographer wants to make a dance featuring a chorus of Broadway dancers and a flock of skilled baristas for his piece. He intends to make a piece of art. Why he wants to do it is what I was trying to point to in my art as service blog. He could want to simply get an idea in his head out in the world. He could want to see his thoughts reflected onstage. He could want a good review in the New York Times so his father will finally love him. And/or he could want to be of service to an audience in some way – to change the way they see the world, to shift some dynamic in the world, to simply be a voice for the unheard baristas of the world.

That’s what I mean by service.

What’s tricky, I think, especially for performers, in terms of understanding this, is that performers are often really in service to everything they do. A singer is in service to the song. An actor is in service to the play, a dancer is in service to the dance. They are artisans in service to the art, so of course this notion of there being art without a service component is actually baffling to a performer. They are in constant service.

And I expect it doesn’t help a performer to make distinctions between art and entertainment. In fact, it could be a hindrance. I remember once helping one of my actor friends run her lines for a terrible film. I mean, the dialogue was appalling and absolutely nothing of interest happened in it. I was deeply impressed by how much respect and attention my friend gave this wretched dialogue. It’s part of how I came to realize that I didn’t have it in me to really chase after an acting career. I loved/love to perform but I didn’t have the capacity to ignore terrible content. I could not put myself in service to anything or anyone that I did not believe in 100%. This is kind of a big liability for a performer.

For me, because I am creative in a number of different ways, I will often make distinctions between the part of art I’m practicing. When I’m creating something from scratch, beginning from a blank page, blank canvas, blank stage, I am a generative artist. When I am performing something someone else created, I am an interpretive artisan. The two impulses feel very different for me and there are times when I can only manage one and not the other. After the 2016 elections, for example, I had no capacity for creating anything new and could really only sing other people’s songs. Sometimes there is blurriness, sure. If I invent a whole new way of performing a song, that feels like I’m blurring the lines between generating and interpreting but still, I tend to make a distinction.

Fundamentally, I am talking about that blank page – about how a piece begins. That is where I am hoping to make the distinction between art and entertainment especially clear. That is – if a piece begins in a corporate boardroom, it is very likely not art. If, say, at Microsoft’s headquarters a bunch of execs sit around and say, “Hey, what if we got in on this Broadway market? I’ve been thinking Clippy the Musical would really make us a lot of money and give us some ironic legitimacy.”


The subsequent Clippy the Musical will not be art. Not even if they hire Tony Kushner to write the book, Bjork to write the music and Laurie Anderson to write the lyrics. Not even if they get Taylor Mac to direct it. Not that I’d begrudge any of those artists making a little bit of corporate money – but Clippy the Musical would still be a corporate property cashing in on a possibly lucrative market.

Now Clippy the Musical may sound silly but that is essentially how 9 out of 10 musicals are born. SpongeBob SquarePants is owned by Nickelodeon, which is owned by Viacom. Viacom is the real winner here. Most Broadway musicals don’t come from a writer or composer sitting in a room struck by inspiration. Most musicals begin at the corporate level. Whomever owns the rights to Pretty Woman hired an agent to hire them a team of writers and a director and they all got paid to give us Pretty Woman, the Musical. (Lord help us!)

There are those who will find this corporate exercise entertaining and I do not begrudge any writer, dancer, actor or singer the opportunity to make a bit of money for a change. I’m not saying it shouldn’t exist or that we shouldn’t enjoy it. Clippy the Musical might be delightful with the right people making it.

Let’s just not call it art, okay? That’s all I’m asking. But of course, the choice is up to you. You can call it whatever you want. I don’t “get to” decide anything more than anyone else does – but I’m hoping that being a little more circumspect about what we call art might lead to the culture beginning to value work outside of the corporate purview a little bit more. About the only thing art, as I define it, has going for it, is a kind of romanticism and a hint of respectability. I’d love to see the people who create something from nothing in their rooms (or studios or wherever), those who get inspiration from the world or the gods or whatever and not the corporate paycheck, get just a little something for their trouble.

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.

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

*

You can help me make art

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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

 

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A Big Disappointment (and How to Go On)

When I was in college, I had one goal and one goal only and that was to be part of a particular Shakespeare company I’d been inspired by a few years earlier. While I was still in school, I auditioned for them and secured my very first acting job at what was then my dream company. The fact that I was making $50 a week did not matter to me in the least. I was on track for the life I wanted. I thought I’d just keep working there forever and my artistic destiny was set. But then I had rather a rude awakening when none of us were cast in the next season.

I picked myself up, dusted myself off and worked in Atlanta, Roanoke and Memphis before returning to audition again a year later and got to do another season of Shakespeare with them. It wasn’t long after that that I moved to NYC and away from performing.

But that theatre where I started is firmly imprinted on me. It was formative in my aesthetic, my career path and my sense of self. I’ve done a LOT of other things since then and grown and shifted in lots of directions I’d never have predicted – but there’s something about that company that will always have a quality of home for me.

So when this writing opportunity with them came up, it had a sense of fated poetry to it. Artist returns to artistic home in a new role to a new beginning. It also had a curious quality of uniting what has always felt like two parallel tracks that would never meet – that is, my Shakespeare identity and my feminist playwriting identity. I just generally assumed those two aspects of myself would never have much call to meet (aside, of course from the devised Shakespeare piece I made a few years ago – where I used my dramaturgical skills to “write” with Shakespeare’s words.)

Anyway – something about the call for submissions for this just felt like little blocks of fate, slotting one into another. I wrote a play VERY QUICKLY that grappled with things in Comedy of Errors that I have always struggled with and found I’d woven together two strands of my artistry that I hadn’t known I could. Because I know the company well, I wrote it with them in mind. I saw their space, I saw their actors. It came to me more easily than almost anything else I’ve ever written. Part of me thought, “They’d be crazy not to select this play. It is for them. It is their aesthetic. It will showcase their particular skills. It gives their actors – particularly the women – opportunities that they don’t often get – and because I’m a former actor in their company from twenty years ago, this press release just writes itself.” As a friend of mine said, “That’s a marketing gold mine. They’d have to choose you for that alone.”

But I am pretty used to rejection and pretty used to not being the choice of the status quo so I was actually pretty delightfully surprised to be first a semi-finalist and then a finalist for what would be a life-changing prize and a kick ass opportunity to return to an artistic home.

When I received the email that I was a finalist, I started to fantasize about what would happen were I to get it. I’d return, not just to a theatre that was once a home, but also my home state. I’d finally get some recognition as a playwright in a well-publicized prestigious situation. It would have paid me more money than I have ever made in a year.

I began to acknowledge to myself that it was something I really wanted. (Generally, I try not to do this. I just apply for stuff and move on.) I thought about it a lot. It started to feel a little bit like when I was in college wanting to work for this company. I started to feel like the poetic circularity of the thing meant that I was destined to get it.

When the rejection came this morning, it hit me harder than any rejection has in a long while. The O’Neill was hard but I never really thought I’d get even as far as the semi-finals so I wasn’t surprised not to get an acceptance there. But this one, I knew I had a shot. The poetry of the story was too good.

But real life doesn’t really work like a story. I seem to have to learn this lesson over and over again. I suppose that’s the peril of being a story maker. I am infinitely vulnerable to good stories. (For example: I cannot be 100% positive that I didn’t partly choose to go to the graduate school I went to due to the serendipity of my sharing a name with it. This would not be a good reason to go to a school, btw.)

I have twenty plus years of practice at dealing with rejection. When the American Shakespeare Center (then known as Shenandoah Shakespeare Express) didn’t hire me in 1996 as I expected them to, it was a shocking betrayal that took me a while to recover from. Here in the spring of 2018, I saw that rejection email from them, felt the blow to my solar plexus and then just got on with making things. I finished recording a song for the podcast and practiced the choreography for the Nelken line I’m joining this weekend. I’m grateful for the decades of artistic practice that has helped me put my eggs in multiple baskets so that when, say, the playwriting basket falls to the ground and all my eggs break, I can just reach into the music basket or the blogging basket, as I’m doing now, and I know I’ll have eggs enough for an omelet later.

I can’t say I’m not sad to not get to see my play performed on that damn beautiful stage by those actors I tailor-made that play for. I am fucking sad about it, no doubt. But, I now have a play that is much more easily produced than most of my other work. I have a prequel to Comedy of Errors that maybe one day someone else might want to do.

It’s sad. I’m sad. And the Hope Hangover (a phenomenon and song I wrote about recently) will be brutal, I know. But I have weathered disappointment consistently for the last two decades. I can do it some more. The thing to do when you are disappointed by art is to make more art. It is the only way through.

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.

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

*

You can help me deal with disappointment

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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



What No Money Really Means

A few months ago, I met with some college students who were interested in working in theatre. When I said, “You know there’s no money in it, right?” they nodded vigorously and said they knew and so we proceeded on to other things.

But I kept thinking about those vigorous nods. I know I nodded the same way when people told me the same thing when I was in college. But I know that what I imagined when I heard “no money’ was wildly different than what no money actually looks like. I imagined something romantic, like La Boheme or An American in Paris. If it involved sunny garrets and fingerless gloves, that was my idea of “no money.”
And while I do have a pair of fingerless gloves, a sunny garret would be way too expensive.
I know if anyone had actually been able to tell me what my life in theatre would actually look like, I probably would have chosen it anyway – I was unshakeable.
But for those who may have choices…I feel like it might be important to know a few things.

1) Just because you manage to make some money in theatre once, doesn’t mean you’re going to make some again. One job does not necessarily lead to another. As a young person, I thought my artistic life would be logical, that it would proceed the way student life had, high school leading to college, college leading to work and more work and then better work. But theatre work is like the weather – there are seasons and they are rarely entirely predictable. A career in theatre does not proceed predictably. I thought one job would build on another – for example if you did a show on Broadway, your next gig would be an even better, bigger show on Broadway. In fact, unless you’re Jerry Zachs or Audra McDonald, your next gig after Broadway is probably your catering gig.

2) No money can also often mean no time. It’s not just CEOs who experience time as money. The time will come when you will decide not to do that show you really want to because you cannot afford to take the time off your day job. It will happen. It has happened to almost everyone I know.

3) If you’re as maniacally dedicated to art as I was as a young person, you aren’t so worried about yourself, your rent or your groceries. You’re worried about your art. But your art, too, will suffer for lack of funds. Let’s say you’re a singer. Without resources, you won’t have the money for voice lessons that others may have. You won’t have time to practice due to the day jobs. You can’t afford to hire the best musicians for your recording session. You’ll watch those who have the time and resources to improve their craft do just that, even if you began with more talent or dedication.

And if you’re really worried about money, the worry, the scarcity of the resource will begin to take over your bandwidth. If you’re a generative artist, this can be particularly debilitating as your brain does not have the space or the quiet necessary for creation. (See also my post about why artists seem to be bad with money.)

4) Having no money when you graduate from college is perfectly normal. No one really does and your peer group will essentially have that in common. As your peers get fancy jobs or just, like, jobs, the distance between you will begin to get wider and wider. You might worry about going to their birthday party at the fancy restaurant or be unable to go to their destination wedding. If you are lucky in your friends as I am – they will not be unaware of those things and they will do their best to include you in such moments stress free. But some will not be so understanding and you could end up blowing your rent money at birthday dinners if you’re not careful.

If you remain committed to your theatrical life, your non-theatre friends many begin to wonder what you’re doing wrong. They’ll think you made some error along the way that has led to you continuing to have no money to speak of. They may begin to ask the dreaded, “Why does she keep doing this?”

Being without money for a short period of time is very different than being without it for years, for decades, maybe forever. Most of those nodding vigorously at that college event were probably used to a fair amount of economic privilege. Even if they were there through the benefits of financial aid, as I was, their parents probably have/had regular salaries, as mine did. My sense of “no money” largely came from not having enough babysitting money to go to the movies and I knew I could deal with not going to the movies as often as others. But having no money isn’t just not going to the movies or not having cable or not buying yourself jewelry or clothes or books or going out to brunch, or whatever. Sometimes it’s not having enough to pay rent or bills or buy groceries. It’s how (pre-Obamacare) so many of my fellow artists and I did without health insurance – because – it was either rent or health insurance and we were healthy, so it was actually cheaper to deal with stuff as it came.

And all of that was really fine for the first few years. Certainly when I was working as an actor, touring and performing, I didn’t have time to worry about it. And that first job came with an application for food stamps, so none of us starved. I suppose that’s the ideal – to work for no real money for a little while, see what it’s like and see if you can hack it. It’s not for everyone.

Decades of it is very different than a couple of years. A few weeks ago, I lost the silver hoops I wear in my ears and I realized I had no idea where to get new ones as I had not purchased a piece of jewelry for myself since college. That’s over twenty years, y’all. (I found some on ETSY and feel like a VERY FANCY lady.)

If you have support available to you, use it. It is a sad reality that, for the most part, the theatre world does not offer any real avenues for those without that support. It’s something I’d really love to see change – for the field to open avenues for working class folks to be able to participate more fully in the art – but at the moment – you’re going to need every bit of support you can muster. Maybe for just a little while if you’re VERY VERY lucky or maybe forever.

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.

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

*

You can help me escape the no money trap

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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



Everything Interesting Happens at the Edges

I remember reading about this concept in a book or a magazine or publication of some kind. I wish I could remember what the book or magazine was or who wrote it – but the memory is just at the edge of my consciousness, the way the beach is at the edge of the sea, the way the spaces between us are the places that intrigue, the way disparate parts meet each other somewhere, the way the edge of a bubble is what is vulnerable to popping. The margins, the edges, the fringes are where we are drawn again and again. That is where the action is.

I was thinking about this idea again while watching the first stages of the inspiring, intrepid Monica Byrne calling out large institutions of American Theatre. I could not help but imagine how the insiders of the American Theatre Bubble would react and respond to her criticism. I thought – “They’ll label her an outsider. They’ll question her credentials. They’ll dismiss her as someone outside the bubble, throwing stones. They’ll say she’s only criticizing because the big institutions haven’t produced her work.” I have no idea if anyone actually said that or thought or whispered it in their boardrooms – but I have seen it happen before in theatre and in many other arts and arenas. And it is why and how I am usually dismissed myself – so I’m pretty familiar with the pattern.

Seeing it outside of my own experience, though, I started to understand that criticism usually HAS to come from the edges, from the margins. Those of us at the edges have much less to lose by telling truths. (And to be clear, I think Monica is as much a theatre artist as any of the major theatres that she has tweeted to, if not more so – but there is a very narrow band of insiders that I mean to point to, the ones with deep pockets and endowments.)

Before I quit being a teaching artist, I had a lot to say about the field and what I saw happening in arts organizations but I did not feel free to share any of those things until I was prepared to give them up. My sense of freedom to say what I felt needed to be said was in direct proportion to how much I wanted and/or needed to keep my jobs. That is, while I was an insider, it was not in my interest to directly confront or address any inequities, injustices or problems in the field. Inside, I was relatively powerless to point out things that needed change.

It is not an accident that I started this blog around about the time that I realized I was not going to be enfolded into the arms of my theatre establishment. I am able to say what I say because I am in the margins.

I can almost guarantee that should, by some crazy miracle, one of my shows be suddenly snapped up by a major regional theatre or a Broadway producer and whisked into rehearsal, that you’d be hearing from me on this medium a whole lot less.

This would not be because I’d suddenly lose my brain, or my interest in changing the system. It would be because a) I’d be busy in rehearsal and b) it would not be in my best interest to compromise the one place in theatre it might be possible to make a real living. (Though you might hear a lot from me once it was all over!)

This is why you I’m blogging now. I’m in the theatre bubble enough to be able to see it but not enough to be risking my livelihood or relationships in talking about it. I’m not a complete outsider. I am a part of theatre community but I’m on the periphery and it is almost always the periphery that can point to real change or possibilities.

If you’re an institution, if you’re on the inside, and you don’t know what to do to fix the status quo, look to the fringe. Look for who is missing, bring them in and ask for their perspective. I’ve seen institutions try and make change from the inside. They ask employees to fill out surveys or do exit interviews. But those folks can never be fully honest. This is not because they lack honesty or awareness. This is because even if they’re done working with a theatre this time, they’re thinking about next time, or the way this gig might lead to the next. I have been honest at such things because I was asked to be and realized too late that honesty was not the savvy move.

A while back, I wrote a post called The Woman in the Room and it was about what it takes to stay on the inside, to tenaciously hold on to the little patch of ground one might have gained. It was for all my friends who were berating themselves for their complacency in the face of sexism in American Theatre. I said then and I will say again, that if you are a woman on the inside of the establishment (and/or anyone whose representation is negligible in the theatre,) you have to do what you have to do to stay there. We need an inside (wo)man. We need you in there. Fight when you can while you’re on the inside. Maybe gain some more ground to bring more women (and people of color, disabled people, transgender people and non-binary people) inside the establishment doors. Support those on the outside who are more able to fight for you and bring them inside when you can. And hang out at the edges. They are the most interesting places after all. They are where change is happening. Where change is possible.

 

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.

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

*

You can help me keep challenging the status quo

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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

 



Hope Hangover

I thought I’d sworn off the stuff. I was trying to be level headed about things – you know – not indulge in too much of that magical thinking that my theatrical tribe is wont to rely on.

But when I got that unexpected vote of confidence from an establishment organization, I felt a surge of hope. And my imagination – the one I use to write things and create art with – went a little bit wild. I got drunk on hope. I knew while I was drinking all that hope these last four months that I’d probably pay for it pretty hard later but while I was downing hope, it felt so good.

And when the rejection came, I sobered right up and woke up with a hope hangover.

This is why people will tell you not to get your hopes up. They’re trying to help you avoid a hope hangover – the kind that makes you feel like you were such an idiot to take in all that hope before and swear off hoping in the future.

The hope hangover is no fun. It makes it seem like everything you ever did was a futile waste of time and energy and gives you no fuel for whatever you need to face in the future.

But – just like the hope that came before it – I knew the hope hangover would pass. And this one did. It lasted about 24 hours and then it was over.

I’m not sure, though, that I shouldn’t have let myself get my hopes up at all. The hope hangover is survivable. I think, in a way, we have to allow ourselves a little hope bender sometimes, or else we slide deeper and deeper into a sense of futility. A little dose of hope, followed by a hope hangover is better than no hope at all.

One thing that decades of working in the arts can do is give you a sense of your own artistic patterning, like, what you can expect in situations that were once unfamiliar. For me, I have (more or less) learned to ride the emotional waves of the highs and lows of artistic life.

For example, I remember when I was a kid, doing shows in community theatre. I did a couple of plays and after the third or fourth one, I started to recognize that once the shows were over, I slipped into a bit of a trough emotionally. But I gave it a name – the Post Show Blues – and the next time a show ended, I was prepared for the dip. It wasn’t quite so scary and it didn’t feel permanent the way it had the first few times. It serves me to this day.

This hope hangover thing is a similar useful model for me. It allows me to actually feel my feelings, to enjoy the highs of dreaming, of possibility, to drink the frothy fun of a transformed future. In other words, I can get my hopes up and just know that I’ll wake up from that dream a little hungover.

And luckily, some new good news came in not long after the previous disappointment passed. So I am actually hopeful again at the moment. But fully prepared for the probable hangover.

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.

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

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You can help me keep me hopes up

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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

 



Art as Service

I considered his suggestion to play some open mics. I haven’t done one of those in over a decade and even though I hate them and had sworn off them, I thought, “Well, yes, those are a thing I could do. Maybe I should make myself go again.” But then, I thought, “Why?”

When I played open mics in the past it was to try things out, to practice playing in front of an audience, to perform when I was hungry for applause. But, after decades of performance experience, I am about as comfortable in front of an audience as I can expect to be and I have no real need for applause. In the past, those kinds of performances were an opportunity to learn and a boost for my fledgling ego. Neither of which I am particularly motivated by anymore.

Now – I am motivated principally by service. I look for how and where I can best be of artistic service – what I can create that can make a difference for someone. In other words, I don’t do things so much for myself but for some (usually imagined) audience. I create theatre that I imagine someone like me would want to see. I write books that I would want to read. I sing songs that I hope will be of help to people. I blog for the same reasons. I’m not saying it’s an ego-free situation. My ego is perfectly healthy. But – the decisions I make about what to do are more connected to serving some greater imaginative force than something I’m doing for myself.

When you try to make a career in the arts, over and over, you learn how to “put yourself out there” how to “sell yourself” how to market your best assets. The business of the arts is more like a car sale than a public service. And for some that suits them just fine. They are happy to promote themselves and their work, no matter the cost. For most of the service-oriented artists I know, though, the focus on salesmanship is not only tremendously disappointing, it is also at odds to what brought them to art in the first place.

I have learned all those marketing things. I’ve taken the workshops, read the books and I get it, more or less. I understood how to shift my thinking to make marketing a way to share my work instead of selling a used car. Some days, I can actually take all of that on board and be as creative in marketing as I am in my work. But it never really does the job. Somehow my creative marketing ideas don’t actually sell the thing I was meant to be selling and despite all those workshops from organizations that claim to be serving the arts, nowhere have I learned how to be of service when producing. Every arts service organization teaches you institutional skills and marketing and grantwriting but no one will teach you how to be of artistic service.

When I apply for grants, the applications ask me how many people we will serve – and genuinely, I have no idea. And due to the lack of visibility I have as an artist, the answer is usually not a very large number. And because grants and such have to have measurable outcomes, if you serve more people, you are more likely to get the funding. My not very large number numbers (due to lack of visibility) are a pretty large barrier to actually serving any community, despite my drive to do so.

The thing that’s tricky about being motivated by artistic service is that, for the most part, no one particularly needs what I have to offer – or they don’t know how what I have to offer might be of service.

For example, I’ve been writing plays about women and power for decades. I’ve been putting women at the center of mythological stories for ages. I think this is entirely necessary if we want to change the world. Stories matter and the stories that are the foundations of Western civilization are the foundations of the patriarchy. I’m convinced that shifting those stories is important work – that I’m doing my bit to change the world. But – the world is not asking for such things. At least they haven’t been so far. And now, if they are starting to, they are not asking for them from me. Am I really being of service if so few are seeing my work?

That is the painful conundrum at the heart of almost every service-oriented artist I know.

Very often, the most service-oriented artist suffer more than those who have leaned into the salesmanship of artistic production. Many of my artistic kindred spirits have left the arts to work more directly in service. They became teachers and social workers, physical therapists and aid workers. Which is great for all those professions but not so great for the arts.

Losing our service-motivated artists to actual service is not good for the art itself. When art is full of salesmen, instead of people who want to serve, it becomes emptier, less rich in feeling and depth, more decadent, more shallow. This is related to my recent post about Art vs. Entertainment – the preference of the culture is for louder, brasher, splashier work. That splashier work is easier to sell over the clamor of the car lot, where there are so many flashy things competing for your attention. Art that wants to serve, like almost all service professions in American culture is radically undervalued.

Almost all service-oriented professions are insufficiently valued and compensated. Teachers, nurses, social workers, non-profit workers, careworkers are some of the most underpaid people around. And artists with this bent toward service are similarly undervalued and undercompensated. But, additionally, I think we, the service-oriented artists, are also overshadowed by our showier, flashier comrades. Most of the world sees no difference between me and a Broadway chorus boy. And maybe I’m fooling myself to think there is a difference between my life-long commitment to serving art in the best ways I know how and an attractive young man who’s learned some choreography. Maybe I just need to make myself get back out there and sing at open mics for a smattering of applause. Maybe singing a song or two to some other people waiting for their turn in the spotlight is the way forward. But I hope not. I don’t think me doing something that I don’t enjoy and would have to force myself to do in an environment that tends to be uncomfortable and loud and unpleasant for me serves anyone, really. I don’t think it serves the art. And that is what I’m here to do. Art is service for me and I choose what I do based on what I think serves art the best.

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 Soundcloud, click here.

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

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You can help me be of service

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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



The Imbalance of Talent Crushes

When I was in my twenties and touring the country doing Shakespeare, I was struck by a curious phenomenon. Everywhere we went, women threw themselves at the men in our company. Girls everywhere became besotted with our boys, especially the ones with swords.

But the reverse never happened. Boys in our audiences didn’t chase after the women in our company, we didn’t have groupies. We didn’t have admirers. One of the women got a secret admirer message once but it turned out to have been from one of our fellow actors in the company.

In my years as a performer, I saw this happen over and over. Men onstage inspired desire while women onstage did not.

I started to think about this again recently while I listened to an interview with Rhett Miller and found myself thinking how intelligent, curious and committed he is. We’re about the same age. He even went to the same college as me, briefly, right before I got there. He’s a dynamo onstage and a sensitive thinker. Ever since I saw his band open for Cake in 1999, I’d see him perform and sigh. This time, though, I heard him and thought, “Oh, I’m actually LIKE him in a lot of ways.” I mean, he’s prettier than me but otherwise, we have things in common.

I thought, “Why not only be the change you wish to see in the world? Why don’t you also be the man you once wished to be with in the world?” This is a thought I’ve had before but somehow this was the first time I felt it viscerally.

There are some philosophers and psychologists who frame desire for others as a calling to some part of ourselves. They theorize that we are attracted to things that mirror and amplify our own qualities. Me? I have discovered that I am a sucker for anyone who takes their art incredibly seriously. And I take my own art incredibly seriously. So. Of course. But until I met my current partner, I’d never met a man who was as interested and invested in my artistic journey as I was in his.

Throughout history, women have found men doing things/making things attractive and slipped into the supporting role in partnerships, to play help-meet to the “real” genius in the family. The Thank You for Typing phenomenon is a great example of this (this is where “great” men thank the women in their lives for typing their work and you realize that the women did much more than type. Like, they actually wrote the book, for example.) Or even Albert Einstein’s wife, who was, some theorize, more of a partner in his work, if not a dominant voice, than anyone realized.

I think there is something in the water that encourages women to find achievement attractive and that same thing (very possibly) socializes men to find achievement unattractive in women. I have only very rarely heard of a man developing a crush on a woman because of her book or her play or her leadership or even her acting prowess. The trope is that he will fall for her in spite of those skills. If she’s pretty enough, a man can overlook her accomplishments but because of the accomplishments? Not so much. Is this true of every man? Of course not. But it is the dominant cultural impulse.

And, of course, I am mostly talking about hetero-normative behaviors here. I know it is infinitely more complex than this. But it does seem important to identify this undercurrent that flows through our dominant culture.

Women develop talent crushes. Men (generally) do not. This is a hugely damaging pattern that hinders many women’s achievements. In the interest of attracting a man or even to just seem attractive, women may downplay their intelligence, hold back at their jobs. It happens. I’ve seen it happen so many times. Case in point: Hillary Clinton. She is the epitome of a high achieving woman and the dominant response to her is distaste. Women across the world developed crushes on Obama. And I don’t want to think about it, but there those who find our current men in government attractive.  Is there a man out there with an achievement crush on Hillary Rodham Clinton? I’ve never heard of one. I’m going to guess not. Is there some dude out there who finds Elizabeth Warren impossibly hot due to her political prowess? Is there an Angela Merkel fan club? Or a dude who finds Theresa May’s rise to political power irresistible? I doubt it.

I think real progress in creating spaces for women’s achievement will happen when men start to find women’s achievement as attractive as women find men’s achievements or talents or skills. The moment when women are seen as sexy, just for making something or achieving something, for expressing something or leading something, for being funny, or talented, or smart, or brave, or for their expert sword skills – that is the moment we will have finally turned the corner on equality.

I’ve seen ladies get talent crushes on Falstaff, y’all. Falstaff.

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You can help me take my art even more seriously

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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 Soundcloud, 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 and an album of Love Songs. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist




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