Posts tagged: Tiffany Antone

Playing Local!

By Tiffany Antone

I’m just going to go ahead and make a grumpy sounding statement here that might make some of you shake your head, but then I’m going to explain why I feel this way, and maybe some of you will agree with me on this:

I think the Film, Television, and music industries have neutered community talent.

How?  Well, by placing a few really-well-paid stars in the sky (stars whose light shine all over the world at all hours of the day/night), it’s altered our ability to perceive, appreciate, and develop local talent.

Let me back up.

Before entertainment was mass-marketed to every corner of the globe, local artists were oftentimes average and hard-working people who made theatre or wrote poems or played the piano on the side.  I’m sure a lot of those people dreamed about what it would be like to be able to quit their full time jobs and take their talents on the road – and many an early artist did just that.  But their measure for talent was a local one.  They were the “Best in town” or the “Best on their block” and they weren’t comparing themselves to a few celebrities living glamorous lifestyles far, far away…

Nowadays, however, pre-packaged entertainment is piped in and available everywhere.  Talent shows are held in which the judges mimic Simon Cowell and compare competitors to people like Adelle, even though the competitors are 35 year-old SAHMs who’ve never had a singing lesson in their life.

And theatre audiences are shrinking because why go see your Aunt Sally in a community theatre production of Streetcar when you can see Interstellar on the IMAX in 3-D?

Do you see where I’m going with this?  Our local enthusiasm and gusto for local artists is in direct competition with the incredibly alluring and pre-approved “Celebrity”, and that puts us in a super awkward position as artists.

And none of this is new ground – the Arts are very much aware of the fight for audiences in today’s mass-market, but I’m not talking about audiences here… I’m talking about us.  And I can’t help but wonder what more we can do on an individual level as artists to strengthen and celebrate the arts on smaller, more local scales.

What can we do to help nurture local talent, just as your local chamber of commerce supports local businesses?

So I’ll just ask:  When is the last time you went to a show at your local community theatre and didn’t spend the drive home comparing it to professional shows you’ve seen?  When’s the last time you sat in a room full of part-time writers who write with unbridled (and probably untrained) passions and celebrated them without comparing their work or their intentions to that of the “professionals”?

For some of you, the answer will be “Last week, cranky-pants!” but for some of you, I bet the answer is “Ummmmmm…. let me think….” because as artists and writers who are pursuing our dream, I think it’s only natural that some of us get so caught up in the path we are pursuing that we: A – forget that “passion” and “profession” shouldn’t necessarily be judged side-by-side, and B – that in remembering to celebrate the small, joyful, local moments of artistry, we are doubling down on the meaning of art as a form of self-expression, rather than as an act of commerce.

So what does this have to do with being a female playwright?

Well, I think it comes down to staying connected with your community, even as you write in pursuit of NY, Chicago, or LA.   We can’t expect audiences to demand theaters perform our work if we’re not out there supporting them right back!  Also, I don’t live in NY, Chicago, or LA, so if I make those target cities my sole focus and don’t engage with the community in which I actually live, aren’t I being grossly self-obsessed and foolhardy?

So I attend community theatre, I go to college shows, I attend youth scholarship events when I can, and I work at staying connected to the arts scene back home that has supported me so very, very much – because I believe in them too!

And perhaps this is a long, twisting post about tired topics, but I do hope that it creates within you a reflective “How can I get more involved with local artists?” because as artists ourselves, we need to continue to challenge ourselves to learn and grow, while also giving back and engaging with the very communities we hope to someday entertain and challenge with our written work.

Because art is not only art when called so by a critic, right?  Art can be found anywhere and comes in all shapes and sizes and forms.  And the accessibility of it is every bit as important as those de rigour moments of small audience “brilliance” some artists achieve.   Just look at this video of a musician who has figured out how to turn a carrot into a clarinet.  Watch it all the way through – that’s art, people!  It’s amazing – and it’s not a super expensive, hard to come by instrument he’s playing, it’s a mother f***ing carrot!  Talk about local… he doesn’t have to go farther than his local grocery store to create music.  He’s engaged in creating unique and accessible opportunities, and in so doing he’s created some genuine theatre magic!

And that’s something to celebrate.

~Tiffany

Compartmentalizing and the Female Brain

by Tiffany Antone

Have you read this post about women and submissions on Donna Hoke’s blog yet?  It’s super interesting.  In it, she talks about how women statistically submit fewer plays than men do, and so how in the world can we hope to achieve gender parity when we’re not even kicking out as many plays as they are?  She posits a few ideas as to why we’re not submitting as much work as men, one of which might be that we’re simply not writing as many plays as they are (while admitting she’s not quoting scientific data on the subject) and I think that she’s probably on point with some of it.

Because her thoughts echo thoughts that I’ve been personally mulling over (and freaking out about) the past few months – and it all comes down to a very self-judgmental “Why haven’t I been writing as much as I know I should be/want to/need to if I’m going to reach my goal of becoming a real-live playwriting SUPERSTAR (hahahaha) sometime soon?!”

Tina knows what I’m talking about… I think

I mean, I’ve got time.  I’ve got actual time in my schedule to write right now, and instead of being a hyper-productive story machine, I’ve been dragging my feet, occasionally circling the creative drain, and beating myself up about it every step of the way.

And I know that part of my problem is that I’m never JUST thinking about playwriting… When I’m dragging my feet on my written work, I’m dragging my feet on ALL of my work.  When I feel creatively stumped, I feel stumped about life.  I’ve been down and out and confused about just what the hell was wrong with me for months – which was of course not helping me write anything – and then it hit me:

I don’t know how to turn off the very loud, very panic-stricken part of my brain that is constantly worried about finances and health insurance and the unreliability of my fragile adjunct positions and whether or not I’m making something of myself fast enough to save myself from a life of obscure forgotten penury…

Ever find yourself pulling one of these as you just walk into the bank?

And this monumental (and very loud) worry about my own survival has been clouding the creative waters from which I work. This worry about unmet goals and far-off dreams has been pressurizing every unrealized sentence, turning them into huge ugly stones of depressing non-accomplishments that I don’t know how to move.

And once I realized this, the solution seemed clear:  I needed to chill the f*** out!  But how?

Maybe I need to look to some of my male contemporaries who have a (seemingly) easier time compartmentalizing tasks and worries.

I imagine inside every guy there is a Peter Griffin telling him when he’s approaching critical mass.

Because I really think that the gents are better at turning off parts of their brains in order to focus on each thing in turn, one at a time.

What a concept.

I mean, I have always considered my ability to juggle multiple ideas/projects/and thoughts at once as one of my biggest assets, but when the juggling gets out of control, it’s no longer a strength but a very paralyzing weakness.

And I don’t think I’m the only woman out here trying to do too many things at once while mentally beating myself up at each step for not being able to give any one of those tasks my full, undivided attention.  I feel guilty writing because I’m not out earning money by picking up extra paid freelancing gigs, and I feel guilty working on those paid gigs because they are doing absolutely nothing to move me further up the theatrical or academic pipeline.  I worry that the things I want to do aren’t yet earning me a living, and yet I know that they’ll never ever earn a living if I don’t continue to labour away at them in the un-paid now.

But what if I put some of this obsessively negative energy to work through focus.  What if I could shut up the Chicken Little part of my brain and double down on patience and faith in myself and learn to work on one thing at a time?  What if I can learn how to tell my constantly-thinking-worrying-about-3-different-things-at-once mind to let go of some of those worries for a little while, and to believe that putting down a few of my “balls” for a little while won’t bring down the entire circus.

This cat knows what I’m talking about

What if I can cultivate a practice of healthy compartmentalization?

What do you think?

~Tiffany

Insurance for an Artist

by Tiffany Antone

A slightly medicated post from post-surgery land…

A little over a year ago I was diagnosed with Grave’s disease, which involves an unfortunately over-active thyroid messing up all kinds of metabolic function.  I didn’t have insurance at the time I was diagnosed, having let it lapse due to my near-impoverished status at the time.  Once diagnosed, I was able to reinstate my insurance, but with the policy’s insanely high deductible, it did little to curb the cost of necessary tests and specialists visits.

At the time, doctors recommended I get the thyroid removed, but I couldn’t even imagine doing so because I’d have to cover the first $8,000 of any operation out of my own (empty) pocket due to my $5,000 deductible/$3,000 co-insurance policy.

So I went on anti-thyroid meds and set my sites on the ACA rollout date as a bastion of insured hope.

Last week I finally got my thyroid removed.  I received excellent medical care.  My deductible was only $500.

(cue choir)

I’m an artist, and an adjunct faculty member at a community college.  I am also a substitute teacher who writes for an online magazine.  I produce a female playwright festival and I teach youth workshops. None of these pays very well, and not a one offers me insurance like I’m able to get through the ACA website.  I work hard at all these under-paying gigs because I enjoy the work and because I believe I will one day find a full-time teaching position at a university (the power of positive thought!).  In the meantime, the Affordable Care Act really changed my life in a huge way.

I’m still a little groggy as I recover from the operation, but I’m also really grateful for all the fight that went into making it possible for artists like myself to get the medical help they need.

I just wanted to share some of that gratitude here.  I know I’m not the only one.

~Tiffany Antone

 

The Great Great Plains

Wow

I can’t believe I’ve been in Omaha for the Great Plains Theatre Conference for 8 WHOLE days.
I can’t believe I’ve ONLY been in Omaha for the Great Plains Theatre Conference for 8 whole days.

I can’t believe how much awesome new work I got to witness and how many amazing playwrights I had the good fortune to meet.

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From left to right are playwrights: Nancy Cooper Frank, Tiffany Antone, Jennifer Faletto, and Anne Bertram

I can’t believe how delicious the food was.

Every.
Single.
Meal.

I can’t believe how much socializing my introverted little playwright self managed while I was here, and how thoroughly I enjoyed all of the discussions, laughs, and thoughtfulness.

I can’t believe how comfy the hotel where my introverted self got to reteat to, was.

I can’t believe it’s over.

I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the conference’s FANTASTIC donors this week, and they looked surprised when I told them how wonderful it was to be treated so well.  That the hotel and food and attention to every little detail made me feel so honored, because playwrights aren’t usually treated to this kind of focus and care.

She looked surprised and so I thanked her again.

I am overflowing with gratitude.

Tonight, after jam-packed days of play readings and workshops and performances, we ended things with a superbly delicious dinner, live music, and artisan s’mores.  I mean, YUMM.

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A very fuzzy cell-phone pic of playwright Kia Corthron during a GPTC panel.

We also experienced the magic of Kia Corthron’s monumentally beautiful acceptance speech as she was honored this evening.  It was so poignant and honest that the whole room sat enraptured.

I’m so thankful I was there to hear her words, and I’m so grateful that those were the words she elected to share with us tonight.

So tomorrow I will fly back to my everyday life and I will revel in reuniting with my fella and my furballs, and things will go back to…

Bills will go back to…

Life will go back to…

Normal.

But I will also bring this week back with me.

This week of inspiration and of creativity.
Of beautiful new connections and of palate-cleansing laughter.

I will return home with the wild little play that got invited here and get to re-tinkering with it.
I will sit down at my desk and re-engage the new play I’ve been growling at.

I will think of Kia’s words on poverty of pocket and I will compare them to her words on the richness of heart, and then I will reflect on the richness of my heart, and I will write, and write, and write.

Because writing is kind of, always, sexily, the thing I need to do.  And after spending a week with others who feel the same way, I can’t wait to get to get back to it.

I also can’t wait to work on my “Something for next year.”

~Tiffany

 

Great Plains Shout-Out Time

By Tiffany Antone

So many plays!

Arriving at the Great Plains Theatre Conference on Saturday, I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.  The itinerary was so intense and so interesting and my head was absolutely spinning at the week I had ahead of me – 29 playwrights, a bevy of workshops and readings, plus evening play festival shows – Oh My!

But here it is Thursday already, and I’m so bummed that this orgy of new work is coming to a close.

There are a lot of talented people here, a lot of passionate writers, and a lot of really cool, innovative, and engaging work being shared.

And while there aren’t any female playwrights in the conference’s mainstage line-up (tsk, tsk), there were certainly a host of super talented female writers showcased in the event’s Playlabs.

So, how about I give a little LAFPI shout-out to some of the fabulous female playwrights whose work I’ve had the privilege to enjoy this week? (FYI, there is no way to see every play at this conference.  There are multiple readings going on at once – so what I was able to see is but a sampling of what was available.)

First up, let’s talk about Minneapolis playwright Anne Bertram.  What a cool writer!  Anne’s play, The Good Fight, takes place in London, 1913, and is about the women’s suffrage movement.  Drawing from history, Anne colors in this frustratingly fem-closed world with panache.  I was so into this play!  It’s smart, funny, and poignant – Brava, Anne!

Another historically inspired piece is Nancy Cooper Frank’s absurdist play, Daniil Kharms: A Life in One-Act and Several Dozen Eggs.  I so enjoyed this weird and wonderful play!  I *believe* Nancy is still developing the piece, but it’s really super interesting and introduced me to the Russian absurdist writer in highly theatrical fashion.

I also got to see We Only Go Home in Retrograde, by Eva Suter, a UT Austin MFA candidate with a serious lyrical streak.  She’s written a poetic and super visually engaging piece.  I was particularly interested in meeting Eva and seeing her play now that I too live in Texas (I just keep moving further and further away from LA, don’t I…) – So how cool to meet a Texas artist at this conference in Nebraska!

And speaking of Texas, another cool writer I’ve had the pleasure to meet is Murphi Cook – creative mind behind the horror play, Birds of America.  With Hitchcockian flare, Murphi has created a seriously creepy (in a good way) play about grief and relationships… and birds.  I was super intrigued by this piece, and – now that I know she’s also a puppeteer – I’m really hoping I can see one of her shows in San Antonio!

I also had the pleasure of seeing Tira Palmquist’s play, Two Degrees – a fascinating look into one woman’s grief as she battles for the climate at a senate hearing.  I was so into the metaphorical landscape accompanying this woman’s real-world battles!  And it was great to meet a fellow LAFPI’er – one whose name I had seen and heard mentioned more than a time or two before.  What a cool person and writer!

And last but not least, I had the pleasure of sitting in our very own Jennie Webb’s Crazy Bitch.  It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Jennie’s, so I won’t spend too much time gushing, but what a cool piece!  I loved her characters – one of which is an immortal jellyfish!  What?  Awesome!   In typical Jennie Webb style, she’s given us a world in which our imaginations get to settle into something genuinely unique.  Kudos, Jennie!

I’ve still got four more readings, a workshop, and one more production ahead of me – this truly is an extraordinary opportunity.  Huzzah to GPTC for creating such an awesome event for playwrights, and for facilitating so many cool new creative connections!

Blogging on the Plains

by Tiffany Antone

I’m caressing a wall – feeling its temperature and taking notes on “all kinds of walls”.  I’m listening to a stranger’s stomach gurgling (even though I’m supposed to be pressing my hesitant ear down heavily enough to hear his heart beat) – now this stranger has his head to my belly… listening.  I can feel his breath on my hand which is resting just below my stomach. The sudden and unexpected closeness of this listening exchange is alarming and calming all at once.

Now  I’m watching a man press a lit cigarette into a child’s painting, burning away the colors.

Now I’m shaking hands with a cardboard-obscured (and thus body-less) hand… someone else kisses the hand.  I laugh, I think about germs, I think about intimacy amongst strangers, I think about chapstick and lotion and Purell and calluses.

I think about my laptop, sitting a few feet away and I feel the familiar feeling of yearning to just… write.

I’m at the Great Plains Theatre Conference (#GPTC) and this is Lisa D’Amour‘s Yoko Ono workshop.  I’m learning about the occasions on which D’Amour has performed Ono’s “Cut” piece and how her work as a performance artist has influenced her as a playwright.  Her experience is transformative.

There are playwrights everywhere.

It’s hard to believe that only 8 days ago I was in LA, putting up my Little Black Dress INK Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Project at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.  We live-streamed last Sunday’s play readings, and I will go on to produced each of the plays in Prescott, AZ this Fall.  It’s been a FANTASTIC experience, a wild ride…

But I’m exhausted.

Which is why I’m so ecstatic to be at the GPTC this week.

This week, I get to sit back and just be a playwright.

I’ve taken two workshops and seen five new play readings already, and it’s only Monday!

So while I’ve got to get to bed early tonight in order to try to sleep off the rest of last week’s Producer fatigue (in order to enjoy the accumulation of new Playwright fatigue), I can promise I’ll be blogging again soon about my time spent here on the Plains, enjoying my role in the writer’s tribe.

 

The LA FPI Blog Celebrates 4-Year Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary to the LA FPI Person of Interest Blog!  Today we celebrate four years of blogging.

by Robin Byrd

I have enjoyed our diverse group of voices.  I have enjoyed the moments when after reading these ladies or watching a video or film, I break out into laughter or tears – those moments when I am found….  There is nothing like being in a funk and have someone write “Oink! Oink!” or having to leave my desk to shake myself after reading “When Playwrights Get Old” which came about after “Too old?” left me numb and very contemplative.  When I look in the mirror, I see me and have to remind myself that the first set of students at the university where I work my day job have graduated and are in their thirties now.  The few that have stayed on in employment shock me when I run into them yet when I look in the mirror I don’t see age — I see me.  One wonders if after all the “Taking Stock” we do if a change is gonna come – ever – but we keep hoping and pushing and fighting for that “Stillness” that drives us.

Drive, She Said“.

How much more drive does it take for a woman to succeed than a man?  Can it even be measured?   Who cares?  Trying to keep myself moving.  No time to research how a man does it unless it helps me.

Writers are always “On a new path…” to stay motivated and to be able to encourage oneself to do one’s art which is supposed to lead to “When you hear your words in someone else’s mouth…”  You hope.  One hopes.

The goal is to be a working artist.  By that I mean, you don’t have to have a day job to pay the rent, pay for submission fees, or afford you food while you write.  Living in near poverty to be an artist should be against the law especially because that same art could end up being a national treasure; the following terms are not interchangeable:  “Working Artist – Donating Artist – Surviving Artist“.

 

Zora Neale Hurston author of  Their Eyes Were Watching God died in poverty; her work was rescued from a fire after her death (Florida had a habit of burning the belongings of the dead).  Zora Neale Hurston’s life work is a national treasure…

 

There should be no limitations or rules on where or in what form a writer creates story as there are no rules to who can be “The Happiest Person in America” or one of the happiest people – let us do our art and we are there…   Gender does not dictate what shared work will change the world in some way — “And The Female Play at the Tonys was…” and it should not dictate who has access to the stage, the screen or the bookshelf.  Great stories all start the say way — with words and the “Voice…” of the writer.  All are needed, each soprano, alto, tenor and bass…   There should not have to be “The Bechdel Test for the Stage“; there should not have to be a Bechdel test at all – why can’t all stories worth telling be treated equal?  Why can’t the journey be easier?  Why can’t handling “Our Expectations, Our Fears”  as artists be easier?  Perhaps even this tug-of-war on gender parity fits into the “Everything Is A Creative Act” category; it is, after all, fodder.

I especially like what Pulitzer Prize Finalist playwright Lisa Kron said at the last Dramatists Guild Conference “Having Our Say: Our History, Our Future” about what she does when something rubs her the wrong way “I’m going to write a play about this” — The Veri**on Play is what resulted.

 

Just wondering, do you have any favorite LA FPI blog articles?

 

Bloggers Past and Present:

Jessica Abrams, Tiffany Antone, Erica Bennett, Nancy Beverly, Andie Bottrell, Robin Byrd, Kitty Felde, Diane Grant, Jen Huszcza, Sara Israel, Cindy Marie Jenkins, Sue May, Analyn Revilla, Cynthia Wands and special input by Laura Shamas and Jennie Webb.

 

Panem et Circenses

By Tiffany Antone

I’ve let all of my professional memberships lapse this year.  It’s not because the value I place on them has lessened, it’s because I’m absolutely living-off-my-credit-cards broke.

Every time I get a Dramatists Guild newsletter, or an LMDA listserve digest, I feel guilty.  And sad.  I consider tacking their membership dues onto my “I’ll never pay it off anyway” Mastercard, and then get even more depressed because the last thing I need to do is collect interest on membership dues in addition to all the interest I’m already collecting on gas, food, and toilet paper.

I’ve been thinking a lot about money lately.  I’ve been thinking a lot about whether the Universe is testing me or if I’m only perpetuating my personal crisis by trying to find meaning here in the “What am I doing wrong?” zone of under/un-employment.

And maybe this week’s Black Friday Bludgeon-a-thon tipped me over into even drabber waters, because I really can’t help but be so focused on the deepening divide in this country between the “Haves” and “Have-Nots”.

We are not so far from a Hunger Games world as we think.

Which has me thinking: While there are certainly movies and plays being made that address today’s big issues, why aren’t there more  being produced that tap into today’s economic and social crises?  I admit, living in AZ – and now TX (yeehaw!) – has me at a disadvantage; I do not have my finger on the pulse of American theater.  (I’ve had to let my TCG membership go as well – I miss you American Theater Magazine!)   But I continue to read books and plays like a fiend and I consider my $5 movie matinees a forgivable splurge.  I also spend (too much) time online, trying to stay abreast of theatrical conversations and to feed my artistic self with updates about what is happening.

I try to stay up to date on what people are writing about and what audiences are gobbling up.

And I’d like to see more stories about the struggles going on in the trenches.

I read The Hunger Games series shortly after it came out.  No, I take that back… I devoured that series shortly after it came out.  I listened to friends talk about how the author didn’t “demonstrate the best craft,” and rolled my eyes, because they were eating the books up almost as fast as I was.

You see, the story is gripping.  The characters are compelling.  And the issues at play in the series are indeed very relevant, because – thematically speaking – we already live in a panem et circenses era.

Therefore, Hunger Games Fever is stoked not only by the story’s entertainment factors, but by our own class issues, hang-ups, and battles as well.  And it’s a HUGE box office success which means the story is reaching people.  There are many films, plays, and books that never enjoy the kind of commercial success the Hunger Games has achieved – so I’m not arguing that we need to make commercialism our goal!  But what I am suggesting is that audiences, while still wanting to be “entertained”, are also starved for relevance… and that IS a worthwhile goal.

We playwrights need to ask ourselves, thematically, what’s going to move today‘s audience?  To make people laugh harder, gasp louder, and think more fully?  To create the kinds of worlds and characters that compel an audience to act?

I don’t want to pacify an audience.

I don’t want to be part of the circus.

I want to break the circus down and get people up on their feet!

But that’s a big wish.  Even the project I’m referencing – The Hunger Games – which had a profound effect on my busy little mind, is still “just” a book.  “Just” a movie… I don’t see people refusing to buy up bits of tabloid what-not written about Jennifer Lawrence because – as is dramatized in the story – they now see that PR is all just illusion aimed to distract us from the pain behind the “circus” of life.

Still… I’m also probably not the only person making such a connection either.

We writers are all throwing stories into the ring, hoping one will catch the eye of the Ring Leader so that he/she will present it to the audience in grand fashion.  (Unless we become Ring Leaders ourselves…)  Isn’t every story just a part of the circus until someone receives it as more than?

I might be stretching the analogy a little thin…

All I know is, I’m out here on the perimeter looking in – as many writers and artists are – observing this spinning world from my own little nook, trying to say something worthwhile.  It’s a tough place to be sometimes, what with also living on planet Earth and locked in near constant financial aerobics in order to stay afloat.  I don’t always have the perfect words.  Sometimes it takes me months to get a scene “Just right”.  But people ask me what kind of plays I write, and I realize that the one thing my works all have in common is that they always tackle something bigger than myself.

Whether my intent is to make my audience laugh or cry, I always want them to leave the theater thinking.  I don’t want to distract them from the ugliness that is around them – I want to point at it, analyze it, laugh and scream at it…

There are a lot artists out there trying to achieve the same thing: to awaken the audience.

I just didn’t realize how important that “awakening” was until my life became less about “Which new boots am I going to buy with this week’s wages?” and more about “How am I going to eat this week?”

And, unfortunately, until I can stop answering that grocery question with my Mastercard, it looks like I’ll have to continue putting off paying all those membership dues.

But I’ll still be here – applying for jobs like motherf***er, trying to write stories that really move people, and hoping that enough someone-elses want to hear what I have to say that those stories I’m throwing into the ring start sticking.

 

Working Artist – Donating Artist – Surviving Artist

By Tiffany Antone

It seems I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about whether or not artists should be paid/expect to be paid/pay their own way for the art they make/etc., and it’s making me grumpy.

It’s making me grumpy because in every case the author presupposes so much on behalf of the artists they purport to speak for/hypothesize on behalf of.  In every case, the author claims that (paraphrasing here to be sure – every article has had it’s own particular focus) “Artists shouldn’t expect to make money with their art – they should do it because a fiery passion to make art burns within” and “So, get a second or third job, surrender any hopes that you will ever own anything nice, and do what you love because you love it – not because you ever hope to make a living with it.”

Gag.

And B*llsh*t.

Let me be clear: I tell every student who wants to work professionally in the theater that it’s NOT an easy road.  That many of them will find that their paths take them in different directions than they intend.  That it’s okay if one day they decide they don’t want to be an actor/playwright/director after all.  I tell them that being an artist may not meet their economic standards, and that – yes – you need to really love this crazy profession in order to pursue it, because sometimes that’s all you’ll have separating you from a complete artistic meltdown.

Because it’s not a field where you can walk into ridiculously high-paying gigs fresh out of college or simply by making the right connections.  It’s not a field that pays highly, or “fairly”, or even sometimes at all.

In fact, much of the time, it pays nothing at all.

(sigh)

But I don’t tell them that they should suffer for their art, even though they might.  I don’t tell them that an artist should not ever expect, nor anticipate, nor (even) hope for, a paycheck someday.

Because if I do, then what does that say about how I value their art?

Art takes time.  It takes materials.  It takes energy.  If I write a play, I have to put in incredible time: the time to hone my craft, to write the script, to edit it, not to mention the time it takes to shop it around… That time isn’t “free” if I have to balance it against other jobs that pay and hopes for a personal life.  I’m carving that time out of the hours I’m supposed to be living/nurturing relationships with friends and family/making love/experiencing the world around me/etc.

Time is not free.

And then there are the materials an artist uses to make their art.  As a playwright, I have to own a laptop or a desktop or at least a notebook and lots of pens in order to get my words down on paper/or/screen.  I have to have a place to make my art – whether it’s my apartment or Starbucks or the park.  I have to feed myself, clothe myself, pay my electric bills… all of these “material goods” go into my ability to write.

And in order to hone my craft, find the time, and to supply the materials, I need money.

So, if I am working a job that is not in the arts to earn this money I need to make my art (as many of us do), then I am essentially working (at least) two jobs at all times: the one that pays and the one that doesn’t… yet.

Why is it so wrong then to hope that one day the play I write might pay me back with a bit of extrinsic gain in order to help my body and soul enjoy the intrinsic?  That “gain” may take the form of royalties, speaking fees, or a faculty position – and it may not be a lot, but receiving something other than a pat on back goes a long way in validating years of hard work put into evolving one’s artistic self.

I don’t think it’s asking a lot for artists to seek compensation.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing for artists to value their art more than just “art for art’s sake”

I do think that those who pass on the “You’ll never make money with your art and you shouldn’t want to” lie to other artists are merely perpetuating a malfunctioning system’s philosophy of self-preservation.

It’s not evil to hope that your art will one day help pay the bills instead of merely adding to them.

It’s not delusional to think that our current “Eat or be eaten” system can be improved.

There’s nothing wrong with theater companies seeking out new business models in the hopes of creating a life for their artists that includes less suffering and more art-making through financial support, be they commissions, salaries, or even just good-old-fashioned stipends.

Stop telling people what they should intend with their art.  Stop telling artists that giving it away for free/or/next to nothing is just the name of the game.

Because that kind of condescension does nothing to change the game.

~Tiffany

In Which I Ask A Lot Of Questions

By Tiffany Antone

Something about my previous post stuck with me this week… I couldn’t quite put a pin in it until today.  At the end of the piece, I mentioned “I can’t presume to tell a woman of color about her own life anymore than a WoC should be telling a transgender white woman about hers.”

It stirred the question, “Where do transgender playwrights fall in this fight for gender parity?”

Does our drive for equal representation on stage scuttle transgender authors into Male/Female categories, or do we recognize them with a third gender category, thus indicating that an ideal season would include plays by men, women, and transgender playwrights?  And, if so, how would those genders break down from there?  Does a truly balanced season include an exact number male/female/transgender playwrights of color/queer/disabled/et al distinctions?

I guess what I’m getting at here is that in our bid to be better represented on stage, we become but one segment of an assembly of segmented voices demanding to be heard.

So…

What does this mean for theatres on the grand scale?   Should they try to appease each and every piece of these divided masses?  Could they?  What would a season look like if they did?

And what does this mean for playwrights on an individual level?  Is it possible to fully engage theatres en masse, or do we ultimately split time between our soap boxes and our desks, desperately self-promoting our own brand of whatever it is we’re selling whenever we’re not talking about everyone else in our “group”?

Is this just the way of things?  Are we all really just choosing the battles that lie closest to us, and to hell with the rest?

And if so, how can theatres – besieged with criticisms from so many groups – be expected to satisfy everyone?

Unfortunately, the answer for theatres is they cannot.

In order to “revolutionize” their production schedule in a manner that would satisfy our collectively diverse demands, theatres would need to be indifferent (at best) about alienating their patron base.  (The bigger the theatre, the more true this statement.)  A regional theatre that has primarily produced classic works by white men, for instance, would face a marketing and attendance nightmare were it to do a complete 180 – because it takes time (not decades, granted, but time) to grow new audiences*.

Smart purposefully-diverse substitutions in a theatre’s season, on the other hand, can serve to satisfy a theatre’s established audience as well as bring in new audiences previously deterred by what may have been perceived as static programming.   And when I say “smart” I mean searching for work that will challenge your theatre’s audience without alienating it.  If your theatre is in a city with a strong Latino community, and that community isn’t frequenting your theatre,  finding/producing work by Latino artists could be the first step your company takes towards diversifying your season.  If your company exists in a community with a large gay/lesbian population, but that population doesn’t visit your theatre, you should be seeking out playrights who can speak to that audience over and beyond playwrights that wouldn’t.  And if you’re one of those theatres producing Neil Simon after Mamet after Donald Margulies, you might be able to spice things up without mystifying your (probably) primarily white audiences just by bringing in some Sarah Ruhl or Theresa Rebeck.

Yes, adding one new voice to your season – new to your theatre and to your audience – could quite the change make.

In each instance, you are working towards a more balanced and robust season one new play at a time without moving too far beyond the circles of what you know your community will support.  You are contributing to a shifting theatrical landscape that continues to diversify and grow at a pace that allows audiences and hesitant administrators to keep pace.

Yet, would such incremental season changes be enough to make us happy?  If a regional theatre includes two plays by white women in their season where before they had no women at all, do we credit them as moving closer to gender parity, but berate them for ignoring playwrights of color?  Or do we decide on an individual level whether or not the fact that they are producing two works by women is satisfying and encouraging “enough” to us as women playwrights that we sort of “settle” down for a bit and direct our energies elsewhere?  Do we then look at other artists demanding the theatre give voice to their cause and say “Good luck!” or do we allow their fight to color our “victory” less victorious?

Which brings me back to my initial query – when we say we are asking for “gender parity”, what does that really mean?  And does it supercede or walk in step with the fight for diversity on stage in total?

Do we, in aligning ourselves with the fight closest to us, become a hindrance to those walking beside us?  Or can we all fight for our chosen “team” and still fight for all of us together?

It seems to me that the answers to these questions help us decide how we talk about gender parity/racial diversity/etc. with theatres and with one another, and it decides what we want to happen as a result of those discussions.  If we can agree that diversity at large is the goal, then we can work to encourage theatres to adopt changes in programming that best reflect the communities surrounding them by giving voice to the artists who serve those communities.  This might be a more realistic and attainable goal than asking theatres to give stage time to all of our voices at once.

So, the question becomes, is it a goal we can all work towards together?

 

* The topic of growing new audiences is worthy of a deeper discussion in and of itself  – of which there have been many.  For a fresh take and very insightful article on the topic, check out David Schultz’s Soil, Sunshine, Fresh Air, and Water on HowlRound

 

 

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