Songs for the Struggling Artist

The Danger of Relying on Opinions

My theatre company’s crowdfunding campaign for Research and Development of our show got me thinking about arts funding and the way art gets supported. Generally, arts crowdfunding campaigns live or die based on the response to an idea, that is, the opinions of the people funding it. If a project’s friends and family LIKE the idea of the project, they fund it. If they’re not keen on it, like they think, “I wouldn’t want to go see that,” – they won’t. This is actually, at the gut level, often how grants get passed out as well. “Is this show, art-work, dance – something I’d want to see?” If yes – Stamp of Approval. If no – Rejection.

This basically means that whether or not something gets made is connected to the opinions of the consumer. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I decide whether to support something or not based on whether or not I think it’s a good idea. But I think this is problematic and symptomatic of an overly commercial sensibility when funding the arts. If you’d pitched me some of my favorite shows just as ideas, I’d definitely not have funded or chosen them. A stage version of the film, Brief Encounter? A one man show about tribes in the rainforest performed by a white dude? If you’d asked me to fund a show about a horse who goes to war, I’d have said that was an idea that was doomed to fail. And I would have been very wrong about that.

The fact is, whether or not I LIKE an artist shouldn’t preclude that artist’s ability to make the art. I don’t like all kinds of things every day. But I shouldn’t get to be the arbiter of what gets made.

We live in a world where Spiderman The Musical got made because Marvel had money to burn on it. We had Legally Blonde, The Musical because it was paid for. And I have to bet that not many people were truly passionate about making Legally Blonde the Musical. It was not born from a group of artists getting together to create something where there was nothing. A group of producers hired a group of writers to do a job and make some money using an existing property. It has all the hallmarks of a show put together by agents to showcase people at their agency.

Do we truly want a world where agents and movies studios decide what theatre gets made and artists like us – and like so many of our peers – have to send our ideas to the Idea Cemetery simply because our friends and/or granting organization didn’t like the idea? From Broadway all the way down to the smallest company, we’re letting the market determine who gets to make art.

This is why government funding for the arts makes sense. While no Arts Council is perfect, they at least aspire to a more equitable distribution of resources. They can keep their eye on inclusion and diversity. They can fund things that people won’t necessarily LIKE but really should get made and seen anyway. I’d rather have all kinds of work I don’t like funded, knowing that there are other metrics under consideration than whether the panel or audience thinks it’s a good idea.  I mean no disrespect to grant panels or audiences – but they don’t always recognize the good ideas from the outset. They tend to respond to things that are like something they’ve seen before. And this is not a great way to innovate in the Arts.

For the arts to thrive, we need to be able to explore a wide variety of ideas. We need to chase down the “bad” ones as well as the “good” ones. Good ideas sometimes make bad art. And vice versa. We need an arts funding culture that isn’t predicated on whether or not someone likes the idea. If we could, instead, fund the artists, fund the companies and fund the places that say to artists, “Whatever you want to explore, here are some resources.” That’s the way toward a vibrant, thriving arts landscape.

And, I think, that is why my company’s current campaign is going better than any crowdfunding we’ve done before. We’re not trying to sell the idea this time. We’re sharing a process. We’re looking to fund an exploration instead of a product. No one has to have an opinion about where we’re headed or what we create. And it is liberating for both artists and funders. We’ll save the opinions for the critics.


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

What I Wish American Theatre Would Learn from the Brits #12 – R and D

My English theatre making friends apply for (and receive) funding for R & D. R & D is short for Research and Development and is commonly thought of in this country as a scientific or corporate exploration of ideas. We innovate in business in this country but not in the arts. You can not get a grant for R & D in theatre here. If you have an idea, you have to be sure it is a good one. You do not get funding to TRY something out. Everything you do should be a winner. This is madness, of course, especially in a creative field. Every idea is not a winner. And without opportunities to try things out, we can not innovate artistically.

You know that super successful, multimillion dollar show touring all over the world, War Horse? It began its life as a small R & D exploration in the National Theatre Studios. Granted it was R & D within the National Theatre and in collaboration with one of the most well respected puppet companies in the world. The odds were good that it was going to work out. But even so – when they began, they didn’t set out to make what we know now as War Horse – they set out to EXPLORE the possibilities of a show that might become War Horse and they took almost a year of solid work to do it. I think that’s why it was so successful. But that sort of thing doesn’t just happen at the National Theatre level. On the Fringe, small theatre companies explore ideas with their own R & D funding. I think this is why British Theatre is dominating the American landscape.

The culture of R & D encourages innovation. It allows for the possibility of failure but also of new ideas. Big businesses know this. Google knows it. 3M knows it. There is all kinds of evidence that innovation comes from having the time and the space to play. We need funding models that allow us to do R & D – to play, to discover, to try things out, to allow us to discover what the show really IS before we have to do the marketing.

You can be a part of my R & D by becoming my patron on Patreon.


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This blog is also a Podcast. If you’d like to hear me read this, go here.


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.

What I Wish the American Theatre Would Learn from the Brits # 11: Groom, Support and Recruit Producers

# 11- Groom, Support and Recruit Producers
My experience, a few years ago, of working at the Battersea Arts Centre impressed me in many ways – from its egalitarian employment models, to its wide-ranging programming, to its community focus and café, to its support of artists, but I was particularly impressed and surprised by its emphasis on developing Arts Producers. They had a whole team of In-House Producers. These producers took on projects within the season or brought in work for the Scratch nights or for other stages of development. These were (mostly) young people who were paid to help make shows happen. They were people who wanted to be producers. I met people who wanted to be producers all over London – not just at the BAC.

When I met with the folks at the Arcola Theatre about how I might put up a show there, they let me know that they didn’t bring anything in that didn’t have an independent producer attached. That is, I couldn’t be my own producer. And this was not an unreasonable request. One could find a producer because there are many people around interested in the work.

Here in New York City, where I’ve lived much longer than I lived in London and where I know tons of theatre folk, I have never met someone who wanted to be a theatre producer. I’ve met some theatre producers, sure. But I’ve never met an aspiring theatre producer. (Believe me, if I had, I’d have snapped them right up.) I think this is because the only place to make even a marginal living in producing is on Broadway. And you don’t need any other producing experience to produce a show on Broadway. You just need a lot of money.

If we want to improve the quality of American Art, we don’t need to improve our ideas, we have an abundance of those. We need to improve the job prospects of independent producers. We need to make the idea of producing a tiny indie show in a basement theatre on the Lower East Side actually sexy to someone – instead of a whole lot of work with no reward.

I self produce. Not because I want to – but because I cannot find anyone else interested in the job. And when I’m self producing, I’m necessarily less IN the experience of making whatever show I’m making. The art suffers – not as much as it would if it weren’t happening at all – but still, it suffers. I’d like to see fewer meaningless artist residencies (i.e. “Here’s a modicum of space or $500 or just a cute title) and more producing schemes. I’d like to see Arts Institutions churning out Indie Theatre Producers and Dance Producers and Performance Art Producers – not an endless stream of lip service and a tiny bit of support to one lucky company a year. (I swear, I was just told about a “residency” where the artists had to pay 4k-6k a week to be in residence.) Invest in Producers and producers would invest in us.

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

Doing ONE thing is a Privilege
May 24, 2016, 12:56 am
Filed under: art, business | Tags: , , , , ,

While listening to the Note to Self podcast the other day, I heard the guest promote an idea that I have heard promoted many times before. The expert on the show suggested that the way to achieve success is to choose one goal and only focus on that. His thesis was that multi-focus was impossible and only one goal would do.

This is a popular theme in business literature or self-help guides – pick one thing and focus on it to the exclusion of all else. And it makes me a little bit crazy. I like to follow good advice. I see the value in having a uni-focus. And yet I have tried it and it is not possible for me. I don’t think it is possible for the vast majority of American artists.

You ask me to pick one thing – I pick Art. Every time. But if I pick art to the detriment of everything else, I end up broke and in debt. Every time. I do not have the privilege of being able to devote everything to my art. I must split my focus. I have to devote PART of my attention to making a living. And I also happen to have to split that day job focus in three because neither of the three ways I make a living pays enough to actually add up to a living.

I am not multi-focused because I’m flighty and scattered. I am multi-focused because I have to be.

Sometimes people assume that because I do so many different things that I must not take them all seriously. That if I have many identities, they must all be at half-mast. (i.e. I’m not a REAL theatre artist, not a REAL Shakespeare consultant, not a REAL Feldenkrais practitioner, not a REAL writer.) And I suppose the preponderance of this belief in the ONE GOAL Philosophy is why I sometimes fear they’re right. But – my recent discovery of the multi—potentialite movement gives me some assurance that it is indeed possible to be good at many things. And that it needn’t be only out of necessity. The man who is a child psychologist and a luthier, for example, is likely not in a position wherein he NEEDS that second specialization. He can be an amazing psychologist AND an amazing luthier. I can see how those two professions might compliment one another, in fact.

Would the ONE GOAL-ers suggest that he quit one to focus on the other? Probably – but I’m not sure that would be the right thing to do.

In my case, I don’t have the privilege of quitting. The one thing it would be possible to quit without major consequence is the one thing I will never quit – never not ever. And I find ways to integrate one thing into another. It all gets into my artistic work, no matter what it is, or how.

Focusing on One Thing is a privilege that I hope that I get to experience one day. I know my work would benefit from being able to give it my full attention, all the time…but in the meantime, I find it more helpful to look to the multi-potentialite community to help me make my crazy multi-focused life work. Their strategies are the ones that will actually apply to my life as it is now rather than the one goal life I can only imagine.


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

What to wear to a meeting

Before I even sat down, I could feel a peculiar sense of being dismissed. For the people there, I did not register as someone of any interest, and certainly not as the expert I happen to be in this field. I walked away from the meeting wondering if it was time to get a style makeover. And then I got mad. Because while a style make-over would be fun (and expensive,) the need or thought of a need for one is a particularly female problem.

In Caitlin Moran’s book, How to Be a Woman, she talks about how what women wear signals so much to the people around us. When women get dressed, with each outfit we try on, we are essentially asking, “Is this the identity I want to be projecting today?”

If I want to look “professional,” Ann Pierce points out what an impossible challenge is before me as a woman. Her article on the pitfalls of dressing professionally shows how the vast majority of women’s photos are seen as unprofessional . That is, it’s POSSIBLE to hit upon some outfit that looks appropriately professional, but the odds are very small that it will look professional to everyone. (This is especially true for the busty among us, as she points out in the article.) See also, Grayson Perry’s discussion of the suit in his Default Man article.

And, working in the arts, there’s a kind of non-professional professionalism required. You can’t turn up at a theatre education event in a lady suit without looking a little bit like a tool.

Meanwhile, back at my meeting, one of the highest status dudes at this majority dude meeting was in shorts and a t-shirt. You can bet he wasn’t worried about what to wear to a meeting to be sure he’d be seen as a valuable contributor to it.

This all reminds me of the metric that Caitlin Moran uses for determining if something is sexist or not. It is: Are the boys worrying about this? Do the boys have to do this, too? And I think the answer is no. No, no, they are not. I can almost guarantee you that not one of the men at that meeting walked away from it wondering if maybe a new hairstyle would get him some more respect.

I’d forgotten what this sort of meeting could be like. Most of the education meetings I attend are gender imbalanced the other way, that is, mostly women with an occasional man. I don’t worry about whether my sweater was the wrong choice after those meetings because I am (usually) heard and recognized and given equal weight and status as the other educators. So it occurred to me, after my thought experiment in which I showed up with a different hairstyle and different clothes, the right sweater probably wouldn’t have made a stitch of difference. Probably, simply by showing up female, I would have had the same experience, no matter what I was wearing.

PS – If you haven’t seen this yet. . it definitely feels like a meeting. Famous Quotes, the Way a Woman Would Have to Say Them During a Meeting


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Take Your Daughter to Your Last Day of Work Day

My mother retired from a company where she’d worked for over 30 years. For many of those years, she was the Executive Director. She was the leader. At her retirement party, I learned a lot – both about my mother and leadership.

As a child, I spent some time with my mom at work – not in any official “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” way – but in a “School’s Out and Childcare Is Hard to Come By” way. I thought I had a sense of what she got up to – both from what I saw while playing with the office supplies and from what she’d talk about when she came home. But as I discovered at her retirement, I had no idea.

The facts of her long and illustrious career are well documented (in proclamations and resolutions by the state, the city and various public boards) but what blew the doors off my perception was my mother’s style in the face of it all.

Here are some things I realized:
1) My mother doesn’t really have a work persona. She is herself whether she’s working with a board of directors or a birding group. She doesn’t turn off her humanity to be professional.
2) One of the things that was often mentioned by those inspired and trained by her was her compassion and kindness. I heard many iterations of the words, “compassionate leadership” spoken about my mom.
3) My mother laid all of her success at her career at the feet of her colleagues and employees. She seemed to have no ego about all that she’s done.

None of these aspects of my mother’s personality are a surprise to me. But now that I have spent some time out in the world, I can recognize how unusual these things can be in a leadership role. What I understand now is how rare a bird my mother is and how her style of leadership has inspired others. (Especially women who came up behind her in a field that was entirely dominated by men. When my mom began, she was often the only woman in the board rooms and conferences.)

I can count myself among those inspired now, but I have benefitted from growing up assuming that my mother’s way was how things were. Of course kind, compassionate women can become powerful leaders in their communities while retaining their humanity and verve. Of course, they can and should do, because that is what my mother has always done. It’s taken years out in the wilds of the working world for me to see how unique my mom’s career was, how much of a trailblazer she has been and what a difference she’s made to the people around her. There’s something remarkable about how unapologetically she’s a woman and a leader.

The conversations about women’s leadership in the press tend to fall in the “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” category. The descriptions of my mother’s leadership that I heard at her retirement party strike me as revolutionary now. I hesitate to label my mother’s style as feminine because femininity is so loaded an idea. But feminine or not, it is well outside of the model of the Big Man in Charge. In theatre (which is my field,) this ideal still holds tight. People LIKE tyrannical directors, particularly male ones.  They hire them, they promote them, they pay them to run their theatres. Some theatres will come right out and say that they won’t hire women to direct. Although no one said it out loud, most of my experience in directing school was being pushed to be more like a Big Man in Charge.  It’s why I quit directing for a while.

There’s now a leader closer to my own field that makes me think of this “feminine” leadership style. Film and TV director, Jill Soloway, is on a roll, shaking things up all over Hollywood and being unapologetically all the things we’ve been told we can’t be. For example:

You CAN cry at work—in fact, you must cry at work. In fact, if you’re going to make a movie, do me a favor and think of it as “bring your tears to work day.”

Every time Soloway gives a speech, I feel a surge of hope.

People like my mother and Jill Soloway have changed the landscape for the rest of us and I’m tremendously grateful. It is rare and wonderful.

My mother is living proof that you can achieve great things and still be the person you are, and the kind of human you want to be. So I’m proud of my mom as she leaves her career woman identity behind. And I hope to be able to honor the qualities that we share by using my own leadership to a good effect as time rattles on.


The writing started early, folks.

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An Artist Might Be Good for Your Business
November 6, 2015, 12:47 am
Filed under: art, business | Tags: , , ,

Through my Hamlet blog, an international organization found me and, after a few email exchanges, they hired me to help them “conquer America” with their Shakespeare project.

While technically I was hired to help them with some Shakespeare, I found myself coaching them on their business strategy, on their email writing, on website launching, on social media and several other things that are not on my resume. They hired me for my education/arts specialization and got a business coach.

Because the communication was nebulous and the job murky, I nearly quit a few weeks in. But I set boundaries and negotiated for clearer terms. I made a lot of suggestions which they were excited by but somehow couldn’t implement. Then it took them almost 2 months to pay me-with lots of back and forth with international banking difficulties and miscommunications. In the end, they fired me as easily as they hired me (and not insignificantly, they did the same for several other extremely accomplished people in the field.) The project, due to launch last April, is nowhere to be seen. I can’t help thinking that if they’d taken the advice of all the artists they’d brought in, they might have actually succeeded.

A few years ago, in the midst of trying to shift my day job life, I went to the Actors Work Program and was intrigued by the speeches they gave us about all the skills we have as artists that could give us an edge, outside of the arts. I felt that was probably very true, given what a wide variety of things we do to make an artist’s life work. But then we took a skills assessment test that just slotted us into the “Can you use Photoshop?” “Can you work in Excel?” world. It felt like the end result was that everyone was just well suited to become administrative assistants.

This international organization experience showed me how much deeper my skill set was than my ability to maintain a database. The fact is, I run several businesses. And they just happen to be in fields that don’t make a lot of money so I don’t see the returns that someone in another field would see. That’s art-making, I guess. And Education. And people like me have the ability to coach outside our field but other businesses don’t always recognize the ways we could help. And neither do we.

I’m not saying all us artists should go get business jobs (Good Lord, no!) but it’s often the case that artists are secretly embedded in businesses. They’re your temps. Your administrative assistants. (Thanks Actors Work Program!) They’re catering your company event. If you have an artist in your midst, it might be worth investigating how they can help you grow. They may have secret marketing skills. They may be great leaders. They may be untapped communication coaches. To say nothing of all the artistic skills they might be able to contribute.

Writer and Marketing Guru, Seth Godin, says we are all artists now. (Download a short e-book on the subject via this link.) He writes:

A revolution is here, our revolution, and it is shining a light on what we’ve known deep down for a long time—you are capable of making a difference, of being bold, and of changing more than you are willing to admit. You are capable of making art. Why Make Art? Because you must. The new connected economy demands it and will reward you for nothing else. Because you can. Art is what it is to be human.

Artists are all around you and if you need help adapting to this new way of doing things, reach out. We can help. I know it from experience now.

You can help this artist grow by becoming my patron on Patreon.


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


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