Everyone, I mean everyone, makes protestations that they do this, but 99% of the folks I know never do this. They never prioritize what they want.
For example, in order to make it in the industry, ‘stars” have to have their own star-making machine. That machine includes a team of people they employ year-round to keep them in the star-making machine. At the end of the day, these people get almost half of that star’s salary: There’s the manager, business manager, lawyer on retainer, publicist, personal trainer, nutritionist, stylist, hair and Make-up team all the time….for every event, sometimes for every TV appearance, for the red carpet, for set (otherwise, u might end up looking crae crae and not become a star), for the 6-12 months of promoting a film to travel the world and make appearances for which you are not getting paid.
That’s what’s required if you want to be a star. It’s the secret no one tells you and it’s real. Now, Monique refused that. She was managed by her family, books her tours, sets her rate. And refused to go on tour for a year to promote a film that paid her indie scale and then work for free to promote it. She had a family to feed and bookings to attend.
She knows what she deserves and demands it when she doesn’t get it. She’s one of the few actors I believe actually got an oscar for her talent alone (that’s rare, it’s usually about which film go the most press and biggest box office, it’s rarely about talent). And peep how everyone takes issue with demanding her worth. I know this bullshit well: whenever, I ask for what I’m worth, men and especially women go on and on about how selfish and self centered I am. You see: women aren’t supposed to know their worth, demand it and god forbid, put themselves first. But when you do, you don’t give a fuck what other people think of you, you wait for someone to show up and pay you what you’re worth. Monique put herself and her agent first risking the industry’s wrath and dealt with the consequences. Because in the end, she works for herself, so she sets the terms. I particularly love her HBO solo show Behind Bars and Phat Girls. In both performances, she is central to her story and healing the humanity of women struggling with the same frailties she’s battled are central to her message. Behind Bars broke my heart and put it back together again. The vulnerability in Phat Girls broke me in ways that changed the fabric of my art. That’s a message, Hollywood would never have told. But in working for herself, MAKING HER OWN WORK, she put Monique front and center. She put her message, her work, her lifetime of knowledge first without apology or excuses which is why I deeply identify with her and will all-out kick anyone in the teeth who takes issue with her.
This made me think of what defines the artists I’ve worked with who have finished their plays, started new ones over the last 20 years.
1. Sharon Washington’s gorgeous off broadway, Drama Desk nominated, Feeding the Dragon.
2. Lee Edward Colston II’s heart-wrenching, truth telling epic, The First Deep Breath
3. Michele Felice Hartley’s, United Solo play Life Encounters 2
4. Kareem M. Lucas’, ferocious sermon, Rated Black: An American Requiem
5. David Newer’s poignant, mid-life genius journey, L.A. United
6. Jillian Walker’s life affirming, poetic examination of race, class and love, Sarah’s Salt
7. Juan Francisco Villa’s, fierce, award-winning, Empanada for a Dream where he goes where most writers fear to tread
8. Justine J. Hall, echoing Monique footsteps with her play The Iron Butterfly, a magical journey of discover the transformative power of radical vulnerability
9. Nilsa Reyna’s hilarious, Stroke Vagina chronicling a journey that most would have crumbled under: a first time, 30-something stroke survivor finding healing and power in chronicling how “she got over”
10. Cajardo Lindsey’s brave, take-no-prisoners feature, BlackFace making his debut as a feature film actor, writer, director.
What makes these folks different?
Like Monique, they give zero fucks what people think and they aren’t afraid to take up space. They aren’t afraid to make themselves central to their story and their lives. They aren’t afraid to put “me” first.
They Make No Excuses
They never give me a detailed list of why the work isn’t done. They just do it. I have no idea how they get so much done with families, full time jobs, teching plays, shooting TV shows and movies, but they do. They do the work that terrifies them without question, relentlessly even when they think they can’t, they do it anyway, no questions asked.
Doing the Work is the Way Through
They understand that doing the work they are paying me to guide them through is the way through. The work is the lesson. The work is the goal. The process of doing the work teaches you what you need to know, not just to finish this play, but for a lifetime. Doing the work teaches you what you’re capable of and where you’re resisting. They are not in denial about who they want to be. They are never clueless or in denial about their personal fears and where they’re resisting. They don’t spend time complaining to others, talking, discussing the work they need to do for themselves with others. They take on the challenge of putting themselves first which is what the work I set out for them requires. It requires them prioritizing themselves, trusting that all the answers they need are within if they are brave enough to sort through it. They may not know everything, but they are not afraid of not knowing or doing the work to figure it out.
That’s what separates them. They also weren’t jaded by the writing process when they began working with me. They were all first time writers ready to work.
So, here’s what I’ve learned in 20 years of teaching 1000’s of clients: women really have a hard time putting themselves first. Men are pretty much unapologetic about it. It is only when women get over this that they succeed.
Now, men are direct when I work with them. If they can’t follow through, they try to negotiate an alternative where they still get what they need while doing the work I ask of them. But always, they remain: I am the center of what I want. That’s never compromised.
Women do some other “feminist denial bullshit” I’m going to hire a coach, then not do the work because I’m too busy with (insert itemized list of obligations they’ve taken on that have everything to do with others and very little to do them). Lesson: don't be a feminist, be a writer, be a goddess, put you first...do the work that makes you fierce, chase the dream that keeps you awake at night...talking about it...eh, not so much....
They are often in denial about the scenarios in their lives where they are accepting less. I know them immediately, they call themselves, queens, feminists, radical feminists while quitting on themselves in the same breath. It’s almost like claiming the title gives them permission to fall short of the goal. And the feminist torts they’ve created in response to the critique,
“You’re not doing the work because of your family, your job or being too busy. Ain’t nobody told you to sign on for all those obligations. You did that because you’re afraid of focusing on what you want. You’re not doing the work because the work requires that you put yourself first and that’s something that terrifies you.
Instead, you’re taking a class, going on a yoga retreat, hiring a coach, taking on volunteer project, then not following through with the work so when you fail, you can say, well at least i tried, see I’m not good enough or able.
Women often set themselves up for failure because they are too afraid to go within and focus on themselves.
This discovery is an “aha” moment for me. It’s an important one. A client recently asked me:
What’s the difference between Therapy and Life Coaching?
Therapy is about going through your past to sort through stories that taught you lessons about life that are built on fear and are no longer serving you. Therapy is about finding out the emotional ways and reasons you get in your own way so you can dismantle them. Good therapists are doctors who know how to sort out your physical medical issues from your emotional ones and guide you through the healing. It’s a long term doctor/patient relationship.
Therapy requires a prescription and only a doctor can give you that. A good therapist does blood work to figure out if there are real physical ailments that are causing the emotional distress and there often are. They determine the source of the problem by treating the entire human being and then proscribe a round of treatment (from medicines, to talk therapy, to medical specialists)
Life Coaching is about work and accountability to your growth
Life Coaching is about already being clear about where your problems are and what you need to do to push through. Life coaching gives you a place to practice the lessons you learned in therapy in real time. Because in hiring a life coach, you’re taking on a relationship of accountability. You hired a coach to help you accomplish a goal. A coach lays out timeline of exercises, tasks, goals that you have to work through within the timeline. You are now accountable to that deliver that work to your coach. Life Coaching is where you get to put the lessons of therapy in action.
They are two very distinct jobs…and it’s important to know the difference. I would wager, 99% of my clients have done some thorough investigative, therapeutic work before working with me or certainly during our process.
It’s not possible to create the fabric of a new life, holding onto the wounds of an old one.
The only result will be a destructive resistance.
Monique is my way through.
""""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