Stay tuned for Sunday's video about how to finance your acting career and your next star-making project!
A Love Letter To My Fellow Artists - Part II
So I started these newsletters to begin a conversation with my fellow actors, writers, producers about how to survive this business. Roz Coleman was and is my coach (AKA Yoda) for many years and her question to me was,
"Right, I know so and so booked this and you weren't called in for that, but what are you doing?"
She told me I wasn't using what I knew, but pretending I didn't know how to figure it out. So I followed her advice and just started with what I knew and trusted that I'd learn the rest along the way.
I produced my own solo show, Liberty City, but boy was it hard and I screwed up big time and often. I also raised $100K to produce, write and act in my new play Good Bread Alley. But when I looked for other artist/producers, I was left with 2 people who really knew how to self-produce. That's crazy. Especially, when you think of all the countless articles online, on talk shows, on social media about there are no images of women or Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Gay folks...etc...
I'll tell you why, because we're all so busy complaining that we never see our stories, yet very few of us are learning the business of show business. If we were, we wouldn't have time to complain, we'd be living in Shondaland....LOL.. . We're still waiting to be discovered or yelling at someone else because they're not telling the story of us the way we thing it should be told. We're waiting to be hired. Waiting for someone to care enough about the kinds of stories we want to tell, to hire us to be in the story that they are producing. We're waiting to be needed and affirmed. What we're missing is all that juicy fear, ambition, desire, sensitivity and scattered genius that lives inside of you. Those are your gifts that must be shared with the world by any means necessary.
No revolutionary or groundbreaking work ever came out of someone giving an artist exactly what they want. It came out of a need, an absolute need to create an artist's life and be fulfilled by what one has made. Brangelina did it. George Clooney did it. They were told they were just pretty faces. They were told, here get on this crappy sitcom for 15 years. (George Clooney actually did at least 30 failed sitcoms) before he started producing stories that moved him. Brad Pitt was destined to be a not-so-good actor who was very pretty for the rest of his life. No one knew he could act until he started playing characters and then things really got interesting. No one handed Angelina a meaty role until she played a complicated character completely against her glamourous type and won an Oscar. Success was in the scruffy girl with tats. Her soul understood that when the business didn't. And even though these people are successful now, they didn't get successful until they pursued work that was beyond what their agents/managers thought was their "type." Their careers took off when they formed production companies and started directing, acting and producing their own stories.
So I blog and answer questions because I want you to learn what Brangalina knows. I want you to not have to stumble around in the dark for 10 years auditioning for minor roles and feeling unsatisfied even if you book them. I want to make you aware of how much power you have. You have a great deal. Artists are returning to the model of the 19th Century actor. Sarah Bernhardt was actor, director, road manager and producer. With the internet at our fingertips for free, you can become your own TV show, indie film, web series franchise. Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Showtime, exists to give self-producing artists a break because those networks exist to program what primetime isn't: YOU. Seven Faces of Tara created by a blogger, Girls creator Lena Dunham wrote, directed and starred in her own low budget film at Sundance, next she had her own TV show. Issa Rae wrote/produced/starred in at least 20 webseries and the network came to her. Brit Marling was playing the girl next door sidekick until she wrote/starred/produced Another Earth and The East, a political thriller where she plays a serious bad ass. If you haven't seen this work, go online and see it now. These artists are kicking ass and taking names. You can, too and I want to show you what I've learned by following in their very big footsteps.
Click Here to learn the 90 min Secret to Booking More Auditions
""""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