So, you want to be an artist? Great! You’ve gone bout the appropriate steps: applied to theatre school, put some time (and money) in an institution learning the basics of acting, voice work, reading the classics (and hopefully the contemporary too), cultivating your general awareness of the world, have worked on some plays, and hey. Now you’re finally, officially an artist. Congrats. The degree in your hand proves it, right?
Oh right. The world. You’ve left the shelter (and/or cage) of the institution and are now responsible for carving your own path. Maybe you pursue the “traditional” path: moving to a big city and auditioning for roles in plays that will hopefully pay you monies so you can continue to live in an expensive apartment and go to auditions. Maybe this works for you. Congratulations on being the minority.
Maybe your path is different: you try the audition thing and YES… you land a role in a play…that doesn’t pay you for your work. So you spend more time than you want at your mindless barista job with your other young, struggling artist, musician, and generally vagabond friends. But now you’ve been out of the institution for a year, maybe two, and you’re more than ready for a change. You want to work and make work, and you want to get paid for your work. It’s time to take things into your own hands, young artist. How will you do this? What will set you apart? Here’s the thing… you gotta know the business. You have to be an entrepreneur. This, at least is the biggest piece of advice I’ve been hearing in the past few months of my final year of undergrad.
This week I had the pleasure of listening to the wise words of Antonia Lassar, a theatre artist and recent graduate of the Boston University School of Theatre. Antonia more or less went through a version of my second hypothetical post-grad situation before taking things into her own hands, and drastically changing her situation. Luckily for her, she was already accustomed to making her own opportunities, and had a solo performance piece in her back pocket she’d been working on for a number of years. This piece is God Box, a one woman show that had its beginnings in living rooms, and just recently closed it’s first professional production at the New Repertory Theatre. Along this journey, Antonia learned several important lessons: you have to know how to market yourself. What is the product you are hoping to present? How will your audience receive what you give them? How can you make your potential audience think they need your product? When Antonia began reaching out to colleges to pitch her performance, she tacked on an academic element to her play, making the whole package more appealing. Sacrifice is necessary. Persistence is necessary. Business smarts are necessary. A well formatted email with interesting graphic design is more likely to grab and hold attention than one that lacks these things.
This is all emphasized in an article on HowlRound by Seth Lepore, an artist Antonia discussed learning a lot from. Seth’s article, Facing Facts: artists have to be Entrepreneurs, details his own experience as a theatre artist and the pivotal moment he realized the importance of a skill set still not taught in most theatre programs nationally. After years of inadvertently building up a skill set, Seth realized, “My interest in so many subjects, my ability to juggle various administrative duties, to change focus quickly and see how things overlapped, to realize when to drop an idea that wasn’t panning out… this way of being in the world wasn’t scattered, it was actually entrepreneurial.” After encountering a student in the MFA Contemporary Performance program at Naropa University who didn’t understand the different fundraising, marketing, and other business related things he was talking about, he created a syllabus of information to disseminate among young artists, to whom this information is vital.
With less than a month before my undergrad days are officially behind me, I feel lucky enough to at least know that I need to further develop these skills. I’m about to enter the “real world” and I feel… more prepared than some people. I vaguely know the direction I’m heading, and am confident that I’ll learn the necessary lessons along the way.
On to the next thing!