Songs for the Struggling Artist


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.

 

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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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Open Letter to American Theatre Magazine
August 31, 2010, 12:21 am
Filed under: art, business, dreams, theatre, Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

Dear American Theatre Magazine,

Recently, you asked me to fill out a survey. Your marketing team is clearly trying to figure out why subscribers cease subscribing.
I did it dutifully.
I tried to be helpful.
I answered the “rarely” and the “never” and the “not important to me”s.
I numbered 1 to 7.
I chose my priorities.
But when you gave me the opportunity to comment, I don’t think I really told the truth.
Yes, I quit subscribing to your magazine when I was painfully broke
but I’ve been broke before and kept it going.
This time, though, I thought it through and asked myself why I should.
And I realized that lately,
reading your magazine makes me feel bad about myself. Reliably.
It’s not your fault.
You’re the reflection of what is happening in the business of theatre. And in the past few years, I’ve begun to recognize more and more of the names on your pages. My friends are getting published in your folds; my old nemeses are getting your awards as I watch, laboring still in unpublicized fields. The magazine has moved from a world I was aspiring to, to the world around me, reflected in glossy photos. I’ve given up my ambitions to appear in the magazine myself. I can’t chase after publicity anymore. I can woo no more newspapers. I can come up with no more clever marketing ploys. All I can do is make theatre.
But my ambitious shadow follows me, waiting for the least opportunity to dwarf me and your headlines are its fuel.
I’m sorry American Theatre Magazine. It’s not your fault. There are interesting things to be found in your pages but I can not read them, not until I no longer long to be featured there.
I wish things were different, Magazine. If I could figure out how to change the limping system that you document, I would. I would find a way to help art be at the forefront, for the field to be recognized and valued in the eye of the general public, for every theatre artist to value his or her own worth regardless of fame or recognition.
I’m waiting for that cure. Meanwhile, I’m starving my ambitious shadow who longs for your news.
Til I’m happier and healthier,
An Anonymous Theatre Artist




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