Songs for the Struggling Artist


My Real Job

For years, I was haunted by a man with a briefcase who followed me everywhere I went. He wore a suit and a hat and he was always popping his head around corners, wondering if I was ready to accept My Real Job. He was kind of creepy and very persistent and, of course, a figment of my imagination. Picture Mr. Slugworth in the Willy Wonka movie from 1971, sneaking around alleys.

He hadn’t always been personified. Before I put a face to him, he was just a concept, a fear that hung around, making me feel really bad about myself, making myself feel doomed, somehow. I think it wasn’t long after I identified him that he finally gave up. I might have told him to get lost or maybe he just ceased to have power over me – but he hasn’t troubled me in a good long while now.

I tell you about him now because I’d told a fellow artist about My Real Job at one point and it seemed a useful and resonant concept for them, too. When you know who you’re haunted by, you can deal with it a little more clearly.

In choosing to make a life in the arts, it’s rare that even the most committed artist knows, for sure, that they’re making the right call. No one recommends going into the arts in this country (except Kurt Vonnegut, bless him) and it is not a choice that is likely to yield big rewards. It is nearly impossible to avoid questioning one’s choices over and over again – especially when you’re not receiving a lot of reinforcement from the world around you.

My Real Job was waiting for me to give up. He was patiently following me everywhere I went, hoping I would fail enough to finally surrender and accept him. Before I was conscious of him, I was plagued by him.

What’s funny is that I don’t know WHAT that real job was – and he surely didn’t either. I think it was in an office somewhere? Maybe?

But the day I really looked at him, the day I examined this belief that giving up and surrendering to him was inevitable, I think that’s the day he started to lose his power. I had some support for that process, as I recall. My therapist asked if I was ever going to take that “real job” and I said NO, with a great deal of force. Not a chance. He could follow me around the rest of my life, laugh at my struggles and all my artistic plans that failed to ignite, sniff at my losses, sneer at my finances. He could do his worst and I would never ever take his job. There was nothing he could do that would make me take his job. It was liberating to say so.

I would love to tell you that getting that clear about all this was the magic spell that cleared the way for mountains of success and good fortune. It didn’t. It didn’t change any of the practical details of my life. It wasn’t an enchantment that I broke. The struggle was intense before and it remained intense after. What vanquishing My Real Job did do, though, was give me a kind of peace about my choices. Even when things have gone badly, when there’s been little to hope for, when I’m up against the wall with how my life is going, I never even look over my shoulder anymore. If My Real Job is there, I don’t see him or pay him any mind. I’m never going to take that job. Not ever. I’m guessing he gave up and started following someone else. If it was you, I’m sorry. But take a good look at him and ask yourself if you’re ever going to take his real job. If the answer’s no, he might just leave you alone, too.

Look at all the money Charlie would get at his Real Job. Maybe he should take it.

Photo by Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock (1637635a) Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, Gunter Meisner, Peter Ostrum Film and Television

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

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Maybe Stick Around Twitter a Little While Longer?

Twitter has never been my drug. I wasn’t into it when it started and I only begrudgingly wade in there now. I used to set a timer for ten minutes so I could get in and get out. I’m not a fan of it but it’s where a lot of people are, so I feel obligated to check in with it and participate. I feel the same way about Instagram and TikTok. I have about five minutes of tolerance on those platforms before I am done. Facebook is stickier for me. Most of my friends and family are there. I love them. I like to be where I can see them. But regardless of my personal taste, these are the places people gather in these times. When I want to know what’s happening right this second, I check what people are talking about on Twitter. When I need to share personal news, Facebook is the answer. And every single one of those platforms is owned by a creepy billionaire. The fact that ownership of Twitter is switching from one creepy billionaire to another one is disturbing, sure, but I’m not sure that deleting our profiles is the answer. (Especially since, as I learned on Twitter, if you delete your profile, you lose access to your stuff but the platform retains it.)

We’ve got battles to fight against these billionaire types and we need ways to gather and organize and unfortunately, right now, the way to do that is ON these platforms owned by billionaires. Until we have other gathering spaces, I think we shoot ourselves in the foot by cutting off our access to other people. Is Elon Musk going to ruin Twitter? All signs point to yes – but given his tendency to not follow through on anything, it might not get that far. And before he ruins Twitter, assuming he does, I think we need to gather ourselves there, subscribe to people’s newsletters, blogs, podcasts or whatever. I don’t want folks to leave Twitter, not because I think it’s so great. I don’t. I have never liked it. But I do recognize its power and the fewer people who might have my back there there are, the more dangerous it becomes for me in that space.

Fact is, I am largely invisible on Twitter. Most of my tweets there have just one like – and that like is probably my mom. (Thank you, Mom!) I continue to cast my net there because you just have to cast your net everywhere when you make “content” on the web. When the people I know leave a platform, my chances of getting more than one like on a post diminish significantly. I know a lot of people deleted their Twitter accounts so as not to add value to Elon Musk’s portfolio, which I understand completely. I don’t want to see that guy get richer either. But the value of one person’s twitter account is NOTHING to Elon Musk, particularly if you’re not doing big numbers there. If you have a thousand followers, I’m sorry but you make not a speck of difference to his bottom line. I am absolutely insignificant in his portfolio with my 927 followers (990 before Musk took over). I don’t matter to Musk. If I had a couple million followers, though, maybe I could make a tiny drop of difference. (Also significantly, these millions of followers would also give me power to do things like get a publishing deal.) But if most of my million followers split, I would lose all of my power to make a difference and Musk doesn’t feel it at all.

I think sometimes people get a false sense of their own importance on a social media platform. They think saying something on Twitter is like saying something to some friends in a room. They think their account is more powerful than it is. This happens whether someone has three followers or a million, though, I’m sure, the larger the numbers, the larger the effect. Getting likes and followers CAN equate to real world power. People have gotten book deals or TV shows from single tweets or just having a certain number of followers. But that doesn’t happen for most of us. Most of us are shouting into a void, heard by a handful of people, if we’re lucky. I’m putting out stuff all the time so I’m used to it. But I watch others share my stuff sometimes with all their hope and enthusiasm and then watch as my stuff meets the same indifference that I experience most of the time. They get one like (from me!) and then maybe their mom (or mine! Thank you, Mom!) and then the thing is over.

But even though they don’t get thousands of likes from sharing my stuff, it is very meaningful to me that they took the time to post it. If the people who do that sort of thing for me from time to time were to leave, there would be no one to share my stuff at all.

It’d be just me, a bunch of famous people and Elon Musk left on Twitter and probably at that point, I’d have to leave, too. Which would be fine if people were engaging with my stuff elsewhere but they’re not. The current public commons are these weird billionaire-owned platforms. You leave the public commons and you leave the rest of us, those of us who feel we HAVE to be there for the sharing of our work, on our own, without any support at all. Don’t stay for Mr. Musk. He’s ridiculous. Stay for those of us with a few hundred followers and tiny social circles. You may not have power to dent Musk’s portfolio but you are significantly powerful for people like me.

Oh look. There’s your absence that Musk definitely doesn’t notice but I feel keenly.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

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Want to help me on another platform besides Twitter?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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

Or buy me a “coffee” (or several!) on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Should I Quit Acting Because of X?
May 23, 2021, 11:53 pm
Filed under: Acting, advice, art, business, movies, musicals, Quitting, theatre | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Since joining the acting subreddit, I’ve been seeing a lot of posts with a similar theme. They boil down to, “Will X prevent me from having an acting career?” or maybe more accurately, “I’m X or have X or did X. Should I quit acting?” In this equation, let X be a quality or physical attribute or life history.

I have such complicated feelings about these posts, mostly from young actors looking ahead at a possible professional life in acting. Because on one hand, yes. You should absolutely quit acting and do something else if that’s an option for you. Absolutely you should, if you’re looking for conventional success, run in the opposite direction of an actor’s life. No question.

But on the other hand, the reason to quit is not whatever you’re imagining. You shouldn’t quit because of your science degree or your scars or your background. It won’t be THOSE things that are obstacles to having an acting career. The obstacles to an acting career are everything. Everything is the problem. The problem is not whatever flaw you perceive yourself as having (or whatever some asshole teacher might have said to you). The problem is that it is a very hard business that almost everyone struggles in, in one way or another. The obstacles to an acting career are being born to non-celebrities or not having access to a generous trust fund. The obstacles are a lopsided system that values money and connections more than talent. The obstacles are a commercially driven capitalistic theatre scene that is not accountable to the public in any way but the question of whether or not they will buy tickets.

One thing I did not understand as a young actor is what an ongoing hustle working in the theatre would be. I imagined that I would get one acting gig and it would lead to another and that would lead to the next and so on until I ended up on Broadway. And once I was on Broadway, that would be it! I would have made it and I would be on Broadway until I died.

I think the moment I fully understood this wasn’t so was when my friend (and acting colleague) closed her show on Broadway, the one featuring several movie stars, and the next day went back to her catering gig. It’s possible there were a few actors in that show who went straight to another acting gig. There may have even been one or two that were slated for another show on Broadway. But for most of them, they closed the show and then went home to hustle up the next job. Possibly even the movie stars had to do this. (Though they surely had a lot more help from their agents and their next job wasn’t food service.)

Any acting career is a cycle of working and not working and an acting career is full of dumb reasons for not getting a gig. Mostly, you will never know. Sure – you could lose a gig because of your hair. But you could also GET a gig because of your hair. You cannot know. And while casting directors or agents may tell you some opinion about your appearance or your background, it’s not actually the casting director or agent who gives you the job. They are gatekeepers. And they are not always right about what the people inside the gates actually want. They might tell you a person with glasses like yours will never be cast but then you meet the director and the glasses spark their imagination and you get a call back because you were that interesting one with the glasses. So much of casting talk is about making people more average, more like the conventional but in my experience of running auditions, I have much more often cast people because they were fully themselves or quirky in a way that captivated my attention. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Sure, there are those who have no imagination and just cast the person like the last person who played Juliet so they’ll fit in the costume from ten years ago. That’s a thing, sure. But the artists out there, the visionary directors and writers, are looking for something more. After a full day of looking at people who all look the same, you, with your X walk in and maybe you change the view.


On the subreddit, it feels important to be optimistic and supportive of these young people’s dreams and just answer the question they asked. Should they quit because of their appearance? No. Absolutely not. They should quit because it’s a heartbreaking business but not because of whatever their imagined obstacle is. Is it possible that their obstacle, their X, will make it even harder? Very possible. But, I know some people with all the advantages. They are Adonis-looking white dudes who have talent to burn and no obvious obstacle, who gave the business their all for decades and are hustling now just like they were at the start. There is no guarantee. Not even for the children of movie stars, who generally have the most legs up of anyone.

Should you quit if you’re not the child of a movie star? If you’re looking for security, then, yes, you should quit.

But will you? That’s the question. If you’re tenacious and determined, no cold water of reality will stop you – and that is what you really need in this business. Not the “right” hairstyle or the “right” body or the “right” background but just some talent and ability to keep showing up and giving it a go. But still – I will only say these things here. In conversation with these young aspirants, I will only give them all the examples of people who had “X” and did it anyway. This is partly because I feel that whatever X represents, it is always something we need more of in theatre. We need more people with X, whatever it is, because they don’t see that represented onstage or onscreen and think they would not be chosen because of that. That’s a sign that we’re failing in representing the diversity of humanity well. So, if that person – with X – can ride the roller coaster of life in the arts, then they should not quit. They should get in here and make things better. Are there possibly fewer opportunities for them? Yeah. Possibly. But there are few opportunities period. Get on in and ride the roller coaster and don’t let X stop you.

Each generation re-makes the business. Your colleagues now can, and will probably, be your colleagues later. If you all have X and you want to get together and make an X movie or an X play, that’s good work! No one with X will worry about X in the future because you kicked open the X door for yourself and made room for those with X behind you. That’s what I want you to do, instead of quitting.

Someone told these actors they should quit because of those Xs. That someone is very silly.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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

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

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Want to help me keep making stuff so I can hire people with X?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Don’t Step On My Exit

This guy I’d never met before was being kind of a pretentious dick about the theatre we were standing in. He clearly felt he gained some status and authority from working as an usher at the place. What he didn’t know (because this is a big old organization) was that my friend and I had also worked there for over a decade in the education department so I told him. And it gave him pause, which was the desired effect. I’m not a big fan of the status game shit (Unless it’s an actual status game in an improv context – those status games I love!) but I’ll play if I have to.

As the evening went on, more talk of the theatre we were in emerged and when I was asked how I happened to no longer work at this fancy theatre, I joked that I stormed out in a huff. To be clear, this is not the case. It was a playful re-framing at my own expense, not the expense of the institution. It was my hope to make it clear that I left with a sense of righteousness and my dignity and that it was not some other kind of parting of the ways. But this little joke came back to haunt me over the course of the rest of the evening.

The first time was when he told someone my parting of the ways was acrimonious. I corrected him immediately. I said explicitly that it was not acrimonious. All parties were respectful and measured and no one bore anyone any ill will at my parting. I told more of the story. I emphasized that my “huff” was my own sense of self-righteousness and nothing anyone did to me. Not to say that the things I was mad about weren’t justifiable – but I recognize that I was the active agent in a moment. I saw my leaving as heroic and to hear it re-framed like a messy divorce made me mad. But I corrected the mistake and then moved on to enjoy the drinks at the bar.

An hour or so later, I heard him report, once again, to a new arrival to the party, that I’d had an acrimonious parting at this theatre. I corrected the implication again for the new arrival but I recognized that this guy was going to talk about my “acrimonious” parting forever – no matter what I said.

And here’s why I hate that and why I wanted to tell you about it. It felt like such a clear example of someone changing my story – something that happens all the time, especially to women and people of color and changing it in such a way where I was no longer the hero with a powerful exit. I thought I had a story like that air steward who pulled the escape hatch and slid down the inflatable slide to quit, but now I was in a story where I was just a pain-in-the-ass ex-wife.

And the fact that this guy still works at that theatre and seemed to enjoy the telling of the story he made up made me worry about all the people I still know there with whom I have good respectful relationships. I know how these stories get around.

I’ll explain my concern with a story of another job I quit. When I was in my early twenties, I was working at a theatre that suckered me in by telling me I’d be playing a leading role in a big play and then, when I arrived, stuck me into the box office 6 days a week, with a small chorus part on the occasional evening. It was one of those theatres staffed almost entirely by similarly suckered young people and in the house we all lived in, the others told the story of the one who came home for lunch one day, packed up their stuff and never went back. This person was a legend. Everyone seemed to admire their heroic departure. Everyone told the story again and again.

I left that theatre myself after two weeks, though not in a cloud of mystery. I spoke to the Artistic Director. (Yes, the one with the veil of rumors about his behavior with young women.) I talked with him once after the first week (when he told me I should meditate) and then again when I’d definitively decided I was leaving. Even though the Artistic Director tried to get me to stay, he finally conceded that if I was going to go, he couldn’t stop me and to get on my horse and ride. I packed up my car and drove out of there. It was a sexist and racist place to work and I was glad as hell to escape into the sunset.

Fast forward to my next acting job in a different state. In the new company of actors, there was an actor from the city where I’d left that shitty job. I told him I’d worked briefly in his city at that shitty theatre and he said, “That was YOU?! You’re a legend.” This was a year after the fact. And this guy didn’t even work at THAT theatre. Stories stick around. They can spread and grow until they cease to have anything to do with the source. And you know – I liked how that exit story came back to me from the other state. This actor’s story about me supported the vision I had of it. His story was like mine in which I was the hero who rode off into the sunset inspiring others to follow.

But back in the present day – this new story of my acrimonious split at the usher’s theatre makes me angry because it takes away my agency in it and it does not reflect my experience of leaving a place to make a stand. It frames me as a woman in Fatal Attraction instead of Karen Silkwood or Erin Brockavich. I left that theatre on principle and I’m hearing it reflected back to me as a spat. Repeatedly. No matter what I say to correct it. And he will tell his version of his story at work and he might tell it often and I don’t know what it will be by the time it comes back to me.

And this happens to women’s stories all the time. All the time. Wondering how it is that no one believed women when they came forward with their harassment and assault stories? This is how. This is how.

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