“So what do you do?” When I tell people that I work full time as a performing artist I always put it in air quotes. I spend 90% of my time doing admin work and 10% on the creative aspects. I also work other part time and freelance jobs because my admin time can sometimes add up to about $1 p/hour. I’m not kidding about that.
When people point out that someone like Mike Daisey or Young Jean Lee seem to be creating 100% of the time, I quickly point out that they are either an enigma (which is a combination of luck and timing as well as supreme talent) or I point to reports like The Field’s To Fail and Fail Big which interviews artists like Lee who talk about the difficulties that mid-career artists endure. Those struggles sound awfully familiar to what emerging artists deal with on a daily basis. There’s just a bit more money in the pot to play with, and I do mean just a bit.
If you’re going to do theater “right”, it ain’t cheap. That’s one reason I strip my shows down to basically nothing in terms of sets and props, although I have projects in the pipeline that require funding or they’ll just remain in my head. Although I teach about the building blocks and nuts and bolts of sustaining a career in the performing arts, I still haven’t got any type of master formula down because there isn’t any. It just doesn’t work that way.
By Choice, Man…
One thing for sure is that I consistently choose this lifestyle and continue to choose it. I could get a solid part time job and do my work in a more sparse fashion but touring making that’s difficult. I could do a lot of things differently and that’s something I consider every week, if not every day. I constantly re-evalute how to best get my projects into the world with the network I currently have cultivated, as well as helping others do the same.
I look for alternative models for engaging audiences, I communicate continuously with my peers about what is working and not working. I give feedback to the service organizations who support my work about better strategies and data systems to streamline the overload of admin tasks, I do what is within my power to change and then I have to surrender to what happens next while keeping my wits about me.
When I tell people I’m a full time artist they raise their eyebrows, they question the legitimacy of the statement (even with the air quotes), they might even say “Wow, you’re living the dream, huh?” No, I’m not. I’m doing my work.
Can You Really Afford to Take Risks?
Right now I’m thinking a shitload about success and failure because I’m doing a show about those two concepts. When you have regular employment you can afford to take certain risks because your paycheck will be the same. Your boss might tighten her belt and ask you to be a little more conservative in a new project next time around. You might need to rethink about the approach with your team.
When it’s about your art and your audience base is small, one risk can lead to a shift in the structure of what you’re doing because every decision is based on risk. The chances of you failing are greater and the impact of that failure is palpable.
Rejection is for Breakfast
In the last week alone I’ve gotten rejected multiple times. I didn’t make it into the next round of a grant I need to make a project fly and watched a few other hopefuls fall through the cracks due to time and limited resources. This isn’t new or out of the ordinary. It’s the reality of the situation. It’s the reality of my choice.
As I continue with my work I’m seeing the need to take myself further out of isolation, which can be so easy to fall into. I’m going to start seeking more long term collaborations, more people power through shared systems and open resource channels. I’m going to continually investigate alternative ways to get my art to audiences I haven’t even realized could access my work because I haven’t had the next enlightening conversation with the perfect weirdo. I’m going to keep doing this on my own terms. I’m willing to play the game while remaining true to myself, cheering on my fellow performers through the “Why the fuck am I doing this?” moments and remembering again and again those lyrics that spoke to me with such honest clarity when I first heard them at age sixteen: “All I know is that I don’t know/ All I know is that I don’t know nothin’.”