I spend a lot of time thinking about how to innovate the experience of live performance.
I also spend a lot of time creating administrative structures that try and match that innovative practice.
Let me say first off, I know I am a smart person. I work really hard. I like numbers and took a lot of math in college. I enjoy complex thinking. So when I don’t understand the rules for 1099s and budgeting a small theater company I trust that I’m not confused because I’m stupid. Even if it feels like it. If I was able to master basic quantum mechanics, I have to believe that I can deal with my season’s financial balance sheet. I trust that my brain is capable of learning these things.
I don’t say this lightly. Knowing that you can do something is half of the battle. Not everyone has that luxury. I don’t mean having the intelligence to complete a task. I mean trusting that one is capable. Having the confidence to know that the task before them is doable. This is a funny position that artists find themselves in often.
When was the last time an accountant’s boss walked up to them and said they needed to learn a new set of choreography? How about the secretary who has to sit down and write a novel? Even a Nobel Prize winning chemist might get flummoxed if someone told them one day they’d need to repair cars for the next few weeks. Smart is beside the point. Most workers would revolt if their job duties suddenly shifted to an area that they have never encountered. If you are self employed, which almost all creators, especially generative artists, are then you have the unenviable task of having to learn not only the work that you want to do, but all of the other corollary jobs that go along with making that work happen.
I’ve talked before about the many things I do in a day that aren’t directly related to making creative work. I think it’s dangerous to spend more time producing the work than creating it. We are creatures of habit that adapt to our environment and circumstance. If you create you become a creator. If you produce you become a producer. Your brain can’t help but put its energies towards the activities you select to engage in.
There are lots of advocacy programs in the arts that cheerlead artists into learning how to do this related admin stuff. And I think that at a small level these resources are fantastic. When we first start out we must be able to control the business end of our practice. And I would posit that there are tangible benefits to understanding how your production runs from the ground up. And yet…
Once in a rehearsal process Mikaal Sulaiman, an amazing sound design collaborator, and I were playing around with ideas for a scene. We were in the space listening to potential piece of music and I offered what I thought was a small change to the cue. He nodded and agreed that the suggestion would be a really good one. Then he sighed heavily.
“What’s up?” I asked
His reply: “Sometimes I think it’s great that you have no idea how hard the things you ask for are.”
I think about this exchange a lot. I think it’s an incredibly wise statement.
Just like that Nobel winning chemist, I chose to focus my efforts on a particular subject, regardless of my capability of mastering others. And some times honing in on your tiny specific area allows you to see things that too wide a view might not. If I know the hours that it would take to achieve that perfect sound cue, I might hesitate ask for it. If I know how much it costs to implement a set design addition, I might stop myself from mentioning it. If all I’m thinking about when I dream a cast size is dollar signs, I might pare down on instinct. I should be thinking about what the best directing choice is. There is a time and place to alter that choice to reality, but you need to allow yourself the chance to imagine an idea’s fullest possibility before you start to hacking away at it.
I’m not saying art should have no limits. But perhaps the artist shouldn’t be the one constantly limiting themselves. Because if I can know the core impulse behind why I need that sound cue, or set design, or giant cast, then I might find a different inventive way to solve it. But if my work is mostly driven by non-artistic considerations, you will get mostly non-artistically considered art.
We have a finite amount of time and mental space. Everyone has to decide where he or she wants to allocate those resources. I didn’t study to become an accountant. I know I could do that job given the time and proper training. But I don’t want to. That’s not lack of intelligence. So I’ve stopped beating myself up for not knowing how to do something there’s no reason to assume that I should.
What I want, what I think would be revolutionary, is to find someone who does. A person who is as excited, as innovative, as amazingly brilliant about the running of a company as I am in making the art. I want someone way smarter than me. I want a person to help implement this kind of work in a way that isn’t status quo. I want an avant-garde co-producer who is going to be as imaginative in their solutions as I will be. Someone who I can ask for things with a hardness I have no idea about. Someone who may offer suggestions that might be as hard in return, but who I trust is offering them because it’s the best thing to do, even if I don’t see it right away.
Are you out there?
Come find me.