Photo by Debra Lopez
in keeping with last week's theme of "giving up what no longer serves you," i offer this bit of hard-won wisdom. often, standing in what we THINK we WANT (even when the wanting diminishes us) gets in the way of pursuing things that will help us grow and get to places we've never imaginged.
a key example is how the pandemic has forced us to fearlessly reckon with the difference between the dream of what the theatre is with the dream of working for free and fighting for institutions that have never fought for you. where the labor of writing your story, telling your story requires working 3 jobs just to be able to make plays that no one is paying you to write or worse yet, barely producing. you labor to get your own work seen in the hopes that it will go somewhere; and in return, theatres convince you that your sacrifice is not worth paying for and rope you into working on shows for other writers who they actually value. as my father says:
"someone is getting paid and if it's not you, you need to figure out why."
money is not the root of all evil
money is not everything, but in our society that provides us with no visible support in terms of free healthcare, affordable housing and education that prepares us to make a living; money becomes the measuring rod for whether or not your story is valuable and whether your life as an artist is sustainable.
and here's the trick with money: it allows you the freedom to live out your dreams. it allows you to create not just a life of subsistence, but one of quality that captures your own personal legend and a quality of life where living out your dreams actually fulfills your purpose. being paid is a way of honoring you; your story, your existence. it's a thumbs up from the world that says, "what you do is valuable, necessary and i support it."
when we don't expect or demand that acknowledgement, we set up a self-esteem demolishing pattern of getting less than we deserve. as our self-esteem drowns, so does our ability to believe our dreams are worth fighting for, so we prioritize the dreams of an institution. it's not the artists fault entirely. acting schools and theatres profit off of the 'starving is honorable" trope. entire undergraduate programs with negligible training are established to support MFA programs and the 5 or 6 "star" students they enroll to bring money to their program. those stars get supported by the institution and they continually get access to power players in the industry who ensure they keep working while everyone else in the class pays for their training with their tuition. that's the system...most "stars" have been decided long before classes even start. those institutions keep the chose ones working in order to build a reputation for the institution, not you, not their stars, but their reputation.
people who are afraid to be themselves, will work for those who aren't afraid.
- caroline mchugh, the art of being yourself
each and every person and institution is working to promote their dreams except the theatre actors who are paying the bill that keeps the lights on. may we accept the wake up call that COVID has given the world of theatre artists whose illusory values get far more lip service than reality allows; instead of pushing back against these truths, may we use them to create a world where we are solely responsible for shaping the world in which we work instead of assuming someone else will do that for us.
SignUp for the BadAssActor Blog and catch next week's blog about exactly how we reshape the world of theatre for the artist...
April Yvette Thompson