Songs for the Struggling Artist


Circles of Gen X Friends

Someone in the Gen X subreddit proposed a “dating” app for making Gen X friends. I expressed my enthusiasm for it, saying it appealed to me because most of my Gen X friends have moved out of NYC. Someone replied that they still had a lot of Gen X friends in NYC and I did not respond to that person with a hearty sarcastic, “Well good for you! Aren’t you a lucky one?” Though I wanted to.

I did not say, “I guess most of your friends didn’t move to NYC to chase their theatre dreams or their art dreams or their music dreams or their poetry dreams or their film dreams or their dance dreams and I guess everything worked out for your people, huh?”

Now I don’t mean to imply that stuff didn’t work out for my friends. They moved here to follow their dreams and then they followed them to other places. They run theatres in their hometowns or their adopted cities. They have poetry programs and dance companies around the world. They make movies in their native mountains. They make paintings and sculptures of their new neighborhoods. They bring their big city dream-following perspective to young people in far flung spots. It’s working out for them.

But the fact of those folks leaving does mean that any community that formed when we all moved here has been scattered and lost. I imagine that this happens to every generation at some point. Everyone moves to NYC like they’re going to be here forever and then they leave after a handful of years. I guess that’s the norm. Contrarian that I am, I moved here like I was only going to stay a year and here I still am, over two decades later. I miss the leavers and need to find (or reconnect to) more stayers.

That’s why a Gen X “dating” app for friends sounded really good to me. That’s why (prior to the pandemic) I wanted to be invited to your party. That’s why I joined multiple book clubs. That’s why I joined a knitting/crochet group, even though I am VERY BAD at crochet. I will tell you – in every single instance of attempting to make friends in this city – I was always the lone Gen X-er. Every single time. So, sure, this random person on Reddit may still know a lot of Gen X-ers who live here but they probably travel in much different circles than I do. Maybe they’re high-powered lawyers or over-committed doctors. Maybe they belong to the Yale Club or Soho House and hang out drinking martinis with fancy people. That’s nice. Sounds like fun. I used to hang out at Dojo where you could get a whole carrot-ginger dressing-covered dinner for less than $5.  It’s harder to find Gen X-ers here, in general, and even more challenging to find some who would have felt at home on the St. Mark’s Place of yore.

It’s not like I don’t have any Gen X friends here. I still have quite a few. It’s just that I used to have a community of Gen X friends, or rather, communities. Two decades ago, I had circles of friends. I had theatre friends, music friends, circus friends, education friends, college friends, Shakespeare friends, random friends, friends from my home state. There were circles that intersected and some that never would. I have lone friends now. The communities have gone off to more hospitable climates but one lone friend usually remains. Often, I am that lone friend.

Also, the friends I still have here are New Yorkers and therefore usually impossibly busy. Most of them are also parents so they don’t have acres of time for galavanting around NYC with the childfree likes of me. It’s not that no Gen X-ers are here. It’s just that they are busy and the social nets of our communities have vanished and so we stand a vanishing chance of just happening to be in the same places together at the same time.

So maybe I don’t need a Gen X friend app. I need a Gen X circle creating app. It’s not that all the dream followers have followed their dreams elsewhere – some of us are still here – it’s that the communities that formed around those dreams have dissipated and there’s no good way for those of us whose circles have vanished to build new circles.

Frankly, I think it’s a problem that this city spits out as many artists and dream chasers as it does. It may be good for the places it spits people back into, but it is terrible for the artistic life of this city.

We lost artists from multiple generations this last year and a half. The city failed to support most of them in their darkest hours and now we’ve lost them, probably forever.

Most Gen X artists already left when they were in their 30s and now most Millennials are in their 30s (the eldest ones are turning 40 this year) and what with the abysmal way this city supported its artists recently and the inevitable waves of NYC spitting out its dream followers, I think there’s bound to be an exodus in the next decade. Maybe I’ll be in it, who knows? (Unlikely, where would I go?)

Will Gen Z artists and dream-followers even bother coming here? If they do, I hope this circle dispersal doesn’t happen to them, too. I read recently that we know a city is dying when young people stop moving there to chase their dreams. I’m not loving the prognosis for NYC that way right now. Maybe let’s get that circle app going, pronto.

****

In case you’re new here, I wrote a whole series about Gen X a few years ago. It starts here and expands in many thematic directions. Or you could search the whole range of Gen X writing here.

Just a circle of Gen X childfree friends galavanting around the city like we used to. We’re going to go get a soy burger at Dojo after.

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.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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

*

Want to help me make some Gen X circles?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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

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



The Internet Is Not a Friend
October 10, 2021, 9:47 pm
Filed under: community, Social Media, technology | Tags: , , , , ,

In the throes of my grief, I thought I’d just go along as normal, just get on the internet, see what’s what. You will be stunned to learn that the internet did not make me feel any better!

Over and over, I turned to the internet and over and over, it did not help. Not Facebook, not Twitter, not Reddit, not Instagram. Shocking, I know.

None of those things could do the heavy lifting of distracting me or providing comfort. Of any kind. I do not know why I turned to them, except that it has become habitual. Also, I guess I don’t have websites I just visit for fun or whatever anymore so the internet is no longer a series of places to check out, but weird social media plazas that I visit regularly.

I don’t really use any of these places in a personal way anymore. Most of them are where I put arts or career news, or occasionally promote the blog or podcasts. When big things happen, am I meant to put out a personal press release on my social media? Should I say something about what had happened? I do nothing personal on Twitter, Reddit or Instagram. But a lot of my personal friends are also my Facebook friends and it’s where they share their news – so it is confusing.  Also, I have over a thousand Facebook friends. I did not really want or need a thousand condolences. I thought it might make sense just to skip it. After all, in the first few days after the news of my brother’s death, all I wanted was to just pretend it hadn’t happened so I hung around Facebook, watching all the people go on about their lives as if there hadn’t just been an enormous earthquake in my world.

But then I started to make my way out of the denial stage and into something just as sad but realer. There is something so terribly clarifying about this sort of grief. It was just so clear what did me good and what did not. Hugs, good. Social media, no good. Not bad, necessarily – just not good.

I have thought this before. I’ve known this. And yet these weird tools have somehow become so ubiquitous in my life, I find it hard not to engage with them. Now I have to relearn how to be, not only without my brother – but also, without my old crutches because they are useless in this scenario.

I’ve found it challenging to write anything of substance while riding the roller coaster of grief but managed a little fantastical interlude about saving my brother with a time machine. I was wary about sharing the news of his death on Facebook but I figured that since Facebook typically shows my blogs to only a handful of people, I could probably covertly share the news to a handful or people without too much fanfare. It didn’t really pan out that way, though.

In the past year, when I posted a blog on my personal Facebook page, I got a handful of views, around 2 or 3 on average. When I posted this one, Facebook boosted it up to 331. This led to 50+ comments on the post and almost a hundred likes. I suppose I had a sense that Facebook might be programmed to promote a death post. For a while there, in the past few months, it felt like my feed was exclusively death announcements and ads. I chalked it up to my age and a time in our lives when we tend to lose people. But now I realize that death drives engagement so the algorithm is trained to seek it out even when it’s not obvious. I said nothing about the content of the blog post in my description in the feed but now I realize that the algorithm is likely trained to respond to words in the comments like “loss” and “condolences.”

Is it good to hear from friends in a time like this? Absolutely. But like the stream of Happy Birthdays on one’s special day, the comments do tend to blend together after a while. I found I had to be very deliberate about how I took them in so I didn’t lose the individuality of each person who kindly took the time to comment. Meanwhile, direct messages regardless of the medium did not require such diligence. Texts, emails, even cards in the mail. These things opened up conversation or gave me something to touch and look at instead of feeling like I was fording a river of condolence.

Then Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp all disappeared for a day and the crash and the whistle blowing that proceeded it seems to have prompted many of my Facebook friends to leave the platform. Some are migrating to Instagram (not sure I get that one, it’s the same company) and some are migrating to Twitter and encouraging their friends to join them there. Over on Reddit, everyone gleefully watched this crash and then Reddit went down for a day or two. Despite all the ways none of these platforms make me feel good, this migration does make me think about why Facebook, in particular, has a hold on me. First and foremost, most of my friends are there. I go where my friends are. I moved to NYC because my friends were here and I got on Facebook because my friends were joining. I want to be where my friends are – full stop.

The problem with Twitter is that while some of my friends are there, Twitter never shows them to me. I see endless posts for political analysts and public figures but only once in a blue moon do I see a friend and they rarely see me. And while it was weird as hell to be discussing my brother’s death on Facebook – there was not even a like on my blog post about it on Twitter, where it gets auto-shared, and there’s not even a way to share a blog post on Instagram. It’s all very weird and confusing. Because while the Facebook river of condolence was overwhelming, it was an outpouring of kindness and support in a time when it is needed. It is nothing to sneeze at, even if it’s challenging to take in.

Facebook has squandered so much of its potential by turning a place that used to be cool, full of our friends, into a political cesspool whirling around relentless advertising peppered with people’s saddest moments. Is it any wonder folks are leaving? It’s just not fun to be there anymore. And it used to be. Really! Is it awful? Of course. Are we prepared to do without it? I’m not sure. We need an alternative and I don’t think Twitter is it.

Also – we’ve tanked all the other ways we used to let people know about things. We don’t have everyone’s phone numbers. We don’t have their mailing addresses for our show postcards or life announcements. Facebook has become the town square where we tack up our announcements for passersby and somehow there’s no better way to get out the news. And that doesn’t make me feel good either.

I see, though, in the saddest moments, that there’s really nothing the internet can do. It is clear, again, that it is not the place to go for comfort. That place is actual people, with actual bodies who can actually hug you.

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.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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

*

Want to help outside of the internet?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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

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



Would I Go Back to the 20th Century?

There’s a Reddit question I can’t stop thinking about in which someone wanted to know what life was like in the 20th Century because they were born at the top of the 21st and couldn’t imagine it. They particularly couldn’t imagine life without the internet. They asked those of us who’d been around for the previous century if we would go back to the way things were before.

Would I? Would I give up the internet and my mobile phone? Would I surrender my laptop? Sometimes I think I would. I started writing this outdoors at my local coffee shop. Just as I was finding my groove, the woman nearby got on her phone and started talking about her family life very loudly. I would give that up. I really would. People have always talked to one another in coffee shops – but there’s something about the private phone calls in public spaces that I still find jarring, even though they’ve been around for a couple of decades. Would I give up my phone? My text messages? My personal voice mail? To just have a clearer distinction between public and private space? I might. I really might.

I don’t want to get all Grumpy Old Man here and start droning on about back in my day. But back in my day we didn’t have cell phones and we didn’t have the internet. We had to go to the library to look stuff up and we liked it! We loved it! Nah. I mean. We did go to the library – and we did love the library but being able to just look stuff up with a thing we keep in our pockets is amazing. I remember when I first got a computer that would allow me to dial up and use the internet. My grandmother asked me why I was so thrilled, why I found it so amazing. I remember explaining that it was like having the biggest library in the world in my apartment. I was a little overwhelmed by it, truth be told. What should I look up when I could look up anything?

I think this must have been RIGHT at the turn of the century. I’d just moved to NYC. It was an exciting moment. The future was in the air. But it also wasn’t really the future yet. I was still sending my friends and family letters then. In the mail. Receiving letters was unremarkable but it was also, in retrospect, special.

Sitting down to read a letter was a quiet moment, separate from the hum of life. It was an occasion. There are still letters I remember reading because I remember the rock I was sitting on, the chill in the air or the feel of the paper. No email has ever been as special as even the most banal letter.

When we first got email, it was a thrill. We got email my senior year of college, something I’d been wishing for since First Year. I had a hot email romance with a friend of a friend at another college that eventually taught me a swift and important lesson about chemistry and the massive power of projection over internet communication.

But even so, I was so so excited about email. I didn’t have it after graduation but two years later, I got a Hotmail account. I was on tour at the time and every so often we’d find ourselves in a place that had internet access and the only person I remember emailing was a Canadian improv guy I’d had a little romance with in Edinburgh during the festival. We were very excited to expand our communication beyond postcards and I remember finding a library with computers in some college town that could help me do that. The first few years of digital communication for me were very romantic. Mostly literally.

I find this hilarious now because email has become such an onerous burden. No one finds email romantic. I bought a book called The Tyranny of Email because it so aptly described how I felt about it by then. A few years ago, I turned off all visual and sound notifications for email because I noticed I was having a stress response every time I heard/saw it. (Actually, I turned off the sound when someone ELSE’S email dinged a notification like mine and I had a stress response.) There was a period in which I had to imagine putting on armor before opening my email, so stressed out it made me.

The same sort of journey happened with the phone, actually, now that I think about it. Back when there was nothing but a land line, I’d get excited when the phone rang. We’d race to answer it, sure it was some good news. At the sound of it, I’d think, “Finally! My big break!” Now, when my cell phone rings, I think, “Oh no. Who is that?” And yet there is rarely a mystery; their name is on my screen when I look at it. If it’s a friend or family, I feel relief – but generally, it’s just trepidation I get from my phone. Is this due to the technology? I have no idea. Maybe it’s just me becoming more anxious and cynical in my 40s. But I wonder. And yes, I would give up my smart little phone to be excited to answer a phone again.

That feels like the crux of the changes for me, the journey from cool fun romantic new technology to tool of anxiety and/or oppression. I signed up for Friendster and MySpace because they seemed fun. They were cool new ways to interact with people. I posted my music on MySpace which was a convenient way to share it without having to pay for the cost of CD duplication. Facebook was exciting and fun at first! Look at all these people I lost touch with, now back in my life! It’s like a high school reunion I didn’t have to pay for! It was all so much fun until it really wasn’t anymore. It all goes from fun to compulsion so fast. I remember a fellow theatre maker telling me she couldn’t sign up for Facebook because she didn’t have time for it. Then came a point where she had to join because everyone else was there, if only to promote her work. That’s why I’m still there – even though the days of sending each other digital flowers is long gone.

The thing I miss most about the previous century is just a fuller sense of being present with people. When we were together, we were just together. We were with the people we were with. If we wanted to be in touch with someone who wasn’t there, we had to find a telephone, or send them a letter, or just stop by their house. These days, whenever I sit with someone, I’m sitting with them and the thousand people they’re connected to by the device in their pocket.

I remember sitting on a rock on top of a hill that my friend and I had climbed and she was thinking about getting a cell phone (because it was starting to become necessary for the theatre biz) but she was worried about it. She was concerned about being on call everywhere, about being always available, that her life would be constantly interrupted. I said that was silly – she could always just turn it off if she didn’t want to hear from anyone. But she was right. She got a phone anyway at some point and at some point so did I – but she was right to have been worried about that. Just turning it off is not a solution for most people. Not in this ever connected world.

But we can’t, individually, just not have a phone or not be connected. This is how we live now. If you want to be a part of the community of humanity, this is how we’re doing it. I’m grateful for a lot of the benefits of this new world. I’m able to maintain relationships with people around the globe. I can share my work widely and without gatekeepers. I have developed all sorts of technical skills I never imagined possible. And all this has probably made important progressive social change possible. I wouldn’t want to give that up.

But – if someone came to me with a Time Machine and said I can take you back to the previous century and you can just live there if you want, I might do it. (I mean, I would like to see a lot of other times, too. Can we go traveling first? Also, I’d probably really miss my loved ones, so can I bring them? And…this fictional time machine fantasy may be getting out of hand at this point.) It would take me a long time to readjust to going to the library and writing letters and meeting people in person, but I think I was happier then. It might be worth the loss.

Our internet was out for about a week last year and it was a nightmare, of course. So much of our lives depend on it. When you’re not on it, you feel like you disappear. But that’s because everyone else is on it, and you’re left out. Back when there was no internet (or really, when the internet was only for the privileged few) it was just quieter. Everything was just quieter. You weren’t missing anything. You just did what was in front of you. The world was more local.

So, yes, I do miss it. But I know we can’t go back. We can only go forward. So I suppose I’m looking forward to the next development in technology – the one that will feel romantic and exciting before it becomes compulsive and oppressive. And then maybe, maybe, we’ll get past this sort of adolescent stage with our devices and find a way to really be present with each other again. I hope we can figure out how to be quieter, even with the whole world in our pockets.

This pocket watch is apparently from an Arctic expedition at the beginning of the 20th century.

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.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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

*

Want to help me keep making stuff in this century?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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

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



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.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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

*

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

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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

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



Theatre, Celebrities, Hope and What We’re Doing Now

Part of the reason I just went ahead and went full steam ahead with this podcast idea of mine a few months ago is that I thought, well, with all the theatres shut down, theatre journalists will have absolutely nothing to talk about – so maybe a little indie theatre company making work in the middle of this storm will suddenly be of interest. Maybe, I thought, this is our opening. We are, after all, still making theatre of a kind – even if it’s in solely audio form. Theatre lovers will want to hear it, I naively thought.

Turns out what theatre lovers want is celebrities. Turns out theatre lovers would rather watch cast reunion zoom meetings. They would rather gaze at Kristin Chenowith’s bookshelves than engage with some off-off Broadway something or other. Big companies would rather air the stuff in their vaults than point the way to smaller companies who may have already been working in the digital space. Theatre lovers would rather listen to a podcast of people talking about famous theatre than actually listen to theatre via podcast.

With all of theatre sitting on the sidelines, it has become incredibly clear who has been driving this bus the whole time and it isn’t the non-profit world or the fringe.

A collection of interviews about the future of theatre made the social media rounds among my theatre friends recently. And a lot of them found a great deal of hope and comfort in it. I can see why – there are a lot of people reading idealistic, formative texts like The Empty Space and thinking about how to boil theatre down to its essence. They are dreaming of a new and better theatre and I really hope that can be true – but I am incredibly skeptical. It’s not because I don’t believe it’s possible to do things differently; I 100% believe it is possible. The reason I’m skeptical is because it’s already not what’s happening. The funds and resources and attention are, for the most part, going to Broadway and celebrities and theatre celebrities. The National Theatre in England is asking for donations in sharing its work and getting them. Meanwhile, that is a publicly funded organization. So, we have a major, tax payer funded organization sharing its work internationally and raising money. Not to say that I’m not enjoying getting to see shows I couldn’t get across the ocean to see but an organization like that has a built-in audience, thousands ready to click on it and has already invested buckets of money in high quality filming of their work.

The digital space is being dominated by the winners in just the same way that our live space was. The winner take all philosophy has been ruling our theatre world for ages and given the way things are going digitally, it does not look likely to change. I’m glad people can be hopeful about it and that they’re re-reading Towards a Poor Theatre – but I can tell you, as someone who has been making theatre without many resources for the last two decades, resources are what make the difference.

It feels to me like folks are interested in a Poor Theatre Empty Space sort of world as long as they can have Patti LuPone in it. They want to make “poor theatre” but with all the usual rich ones. (Not that I wouldn’t get a kick out of seeing LuPone in some freaking experimental basement empty space production. I would.)

And, of course, I started writing this piece before American theatre really started reckoning (or, in many cases, pretending to reckon) with its racism and watching that continue to unfold might give me a kind of hope, except I have yet to see any particularly profound shifts. Everyone is saying, “We’ll do better when we get back.” But I don’t see a lot of people doing better now.

Look, I know there is no theatre right now. But a lot of places still have budgets and are still paying their (mostly white male) artistic directors while their artists are unemployed. There are things to be done. Instead of writing up toothless diversity statements, maybe they could commission some BIPOC writers to create some new work or hire some BIPOC directors and designers to begin pre-production work on a socially distanced show of some kind. I know there’s no theatre. But I’m a tiny theatre company with a four figure budget; If I can figure out how to make something, I know that the million dollar organizations can, too.

I have yet to see a leader in American theatre do anything even remotely close to what the guy from Reddit did and actually give up some of their own power. It’s all well and good to write a diversity statement but it’s meaningless without action – and action is actually still possible even though theatre as we’ve known it is still on lockdown. What we do now is a clear reflection of our values and interests. If all we’re promoting are celebrities on Zoom, then that is what will we have upon our return to the stage. What we nurture will grow and it’s become clear to me that celebrity, even just theatre celebrity, is what drives the clicks so it is what is driving our theatre. I get it. I like clicks, too.

So – I have a solution. We just gotta lean in to it. If celebrities want to help and “take responsibility” like they said in that video, then let’s do that. Let’s give every major theatre a celebrity sponsor. And that celebrity sponsor lends their name and their platform to the show and pays for it. They pay for the BIPOC writer and director and cast and they get to say, “Julia Roberts presents” over the title but that’s it. The theatre gets the celebrity boost, the clicks and the cash to make sure they actually keep their freaking promise to produce more work by BIPOC artists.

Or – and this will be a lot easier to get going – we go ahead and start promoting the BIPOC artists and work that’s already being done right now.

Or – and this is the one that I know that nobody’s going to do – all the white folks who’ve been leading our major institutions all these years and drawing six figure salaries and above, can quit those jobs and name BIPOC successors, preferably artists, who can run those institutions in their place. And it’d be okay with me if we just broke those big institutions up and just funded a bunch of artists instead. The buildings aren’t doing anyone any good at the moment.

But that’s me dreaming. I know how unlikely it is that change that dramatic could shift what’s happening. It’s never been more clear how the theatre business has actually worked thus far and it is rather dramatically a winner take all world.

The way things are now, theatres that survive this will be the ones who can suck up the most resources. The ones who can survive long enough to grab all the funding that might be left in a year will be the winners. And maybe those of us who are used to making things with a cardboard box and a piece of string will survive, too.

Cardboard and string have gotten us this far without resources – maybe there’s hope for us, too. I don’t know, though. I would love a more meaningful theatre climate but based on what’s happening right now, I think we’re looking at a future of Google, The Musical and Amazon! The Story of Jeff Bezos! And it is unlikely to move a single one of us.

The Theatre Development Fund is raising money, not to develop theatre, but to keep itself afloat. There are currently no grants for making things, just grants to cover rents and administrators for our big buildings. Those who are innovating in new venues are unfunded. What we do now is what we will do in the future. If we want a more accessible, open theatre when we return, we can’t just hope for it. We have to be working toward it now. We’re in the middle of a good conversation, where artists and freelancers are finally feeling free to tell some of the truths about working at these big institutions but until there is actual action, with actual resources, until someone with power hands some of it over to someone without it, we’re just doing things the same old way. We can’t just hope that when we come back things will be different. We have to make it different. It’s already started. It’s already happening. We have to make it different now.

I keep thinking about this passage from Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark:

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”

Now is the moment to give ourselves to the future.

One of the most inspiring theatre things I’ve seen during this time is the Virtual Toy Theatre Festival by Great Small Works. Someone give those folks a pot of money please! (This is a toy theatre from the olden days.)

 

This post was brought to you by my generous 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.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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

*

Want to help support this theatre artist?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat.

https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

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

 




%d bloggers like this: