There is a trend in the entertainment industry right now that could be doing more harm than good for a lot of performers out there. Artists are jumping on board this trendy train with the best of intentions; but lack of preparation, research, and commitment often leave them worse off than when they began.
What is this trend? Producing + Creating your own work
This is such an exciting time in the industry for creative artists of all kinds, because it has never been so “easy” to create + produce your own work. With platforms like IndieGoGo, Kickstarter, FundAnything, CrowdRise, etc, more projects have a chance of getting the funding they need to finally get off the ground.
More actors are getting the chance to put themselves in the kind of projects they WANT to do + really showcase their talent(s)..but at what price?
If you’re thinking of Producing some of your own projects, congrats! Just make sure you’ve got your sh*t together first…
DISCLAIMER: I am a HUGE FAN of actors taking control of their career by creating their own projects…but I’m NOT a fan of watching people spread themselves so thin that they can barely remember why they started the project in the first place.
When you start a project that requires you to take on any (or sometimes all) of these roles: producer, line-producer, writer, co-writer, director, actor, accountant, etc…basically, if YOU are running the show…you better have an incredibly clear idea of exactly how you plan to COMPLETE the project successfully.
I see a lot of great projects START off wonderfully…but often times it seems like no one has taken the time or energy to really think about + plan what it’s going to require to see this project all the way through to the end. Not to mention what is going to have to go by the way-side while you give this project your all.
(I’m sure you’ve been involved with your share of projects that never see the light of day because it falls apart in post…the last thing you want is for YOUR passion project to become one of these horror stories.)
The point I’m getting at here is: Something’s gotta give.
You have to be honest with yourself going in as to what you will need to give up in order to make this project happen, successfully.
Want to know if you are ready to take on your passion project?
Here are my 3 Business Tips for Actors Who are Ready to Create Their Own Work: Step 1: RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH
Step 2: BE HONEST + prepared
I’ve seen projects implode from the inside, and it ain’t pretty.
Whether you are teaming up with friends or simply getting together with other creative minds that you know & respect, it’s important that everyone is crystal clear on their roles & responsibilities. You’ve gotta get it in writing, because when the going gets tough…it’s amazing how fast no one can “remember” what they agreed to get done.
Protect yourself, protect your project, protect your vision, and create the project that you always knew it could be.
""""One of the most mortifying moments I experienced in my theatrical career was when I was asked to bring the entirely African-American cast of a new musical we were workshopping, a new piece by an African-American librettist and composer, across the street to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and up into the plush boardroom so they could perform a song or two for the board of directors. I wanted to say something, but I didn't. For one thing, it would take an invaluable 45 minutes to an hour out of the creative team's limited time together. But... every year we had to do the same old song and dance for the board to remind them that yes, we did do new plays and musicals, so yes, it was sometimes a good idea to expose the board to new voices, to the vibrancy of an exciting work in progress.
You all know where this is going, don't you? I led the team in. The talent in that team! The writer/composer himself and the cast, lauded veterans of the stage and the most promising members of the next generation of acting giants. And there was our board. White, as white as can be, white white white white. And very comfortable. They'd just been served lunch, I believe. My theater spared no expense in pleasing our board and catering to their demands (oh my god, I'm feeling such rage right now! I'm pretty sure we had a staff member who was mostly dedicated to help our richest board members get house seats to shows on Broadway and the West End. But I digress...)
The only black face in the audience seated at the conference table? The only person of color? The head of our education department, of course. My heart went out to her.
The cast sang a song from the show. They did it. And they brought it. Because they were and are professionals. And the very pillars of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion reverberated down to the parking lot. It was breathtaking.
And I had just been complicit in the remaking of a scene for the millionth time: black bodies and voices entertaining white audiences, an institution raising money on the backs and voices of black bodies.
I was too mortified to apologize to our writer and to our cast, none of whom, I should add, expressed even an iota of discomfort. They were professionals, and they shone. And come to think of it, they'd probably all become accustomed to this scene. "It's just how theater works," they might have thought with a shrug of their shoulders. Or maybe they seethed inside, for the millionth time, when all they were trying to do is workshop a new musical.
Well, I apologize sincerely now to our writer and those actors. I wish I had had the courage to put my foot down. It is not how theater should work.
I quit the American theater on Valentine's Day 2016, so I've been out more than four years now. And honestly I don't plan to return, which is why I can write with such candor.
The heart of the problem, my friends, is with the non-profit structure, which is capitalism on steroids. Who are the bosses ultimately in an American institutional theater? The board of directors. Who are the board of directors? For the most part, those members of the community not with the strongest attachment to the art form but those with the deepest pockets. Often they're really not members of the community. They often just drop in. They are sometimes mere tourists.
It's no wonder that that board meeting was held in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The theater, like most American theaters, had built its board of directors on the old opera model: You get the richest folks together, offer them galas and house seats and receptions and private recitals and showings (for which artists often don't get paid extra, mind you), you pamper them and make them feel more special and entitled than they already do, and then they'll write you big checks to support the kind of art they like, the kind of art they can bring their kids and grandkids to. AND they--not the artists, not the community--get to hire the institution's leadership.
It is a rotten model. Rotten to the core. How can any artistic institution claim to be working for and in the community with that model?
It's got to be torn down. It's got to be reinvented. And I have no idea what the next model will be. I really don't. And no, honestly I don't think government is the solution frankly. Some of the most bloated, self-satisfied, decadent theater I've ever seen was in Germany, where it was almost fully government-funded. Lots of bells and whistles and provocations and completely soul-dead.
I see amazing and galvanizing lists of demands recently being made and posted by theater artists of color. These are vital demands. But they don't address the central issue. As long as the ultimate bosses of an artistic institution remain the community's deepest pockets, nothing will change. Nothing. You'll be putting band-aids on a gaping wound. Sorry, but it's true.
So please figure something else out. Maybe for a few years you just avoid the institutions. You've already started. In the pandemic, so many of you are making amazing art without an institution. Find those who truly adore your work and ask them to fund it. Screw non-profit. Form a corporation and value your art art-making as a resource that profits you, your viewers/audience and your community. I have no idea.
But please don't return to a new version of the old. After the virus, after he's out of office, after police reform and nationwide conversations about race, after, after, after, begin something new. I can't wait to see what it is!”
Words: Pier Carlo Talenti
Video: Griffin Matthews
April Yvette Thompson