Means to the end

First off.

I’m pleased to see that my post from yesterday has generated a little bit of heat. I’d love to hear folks’ thoughts about this and would love to keep the conversation going in the comments section.  I’m definitely looking forward to see if there’s a way to capitalize on some of that momentum. I’ve got a few ideas in mind and have been trying to expand some of my thoughts into some more concreteness. It’s gonna take me a few days to get there, but stay tuned because I think I will have some exciting stuff to share.

Anyway, on to today.

Things have been in an “evaluate and change” theme for me the past few days. I started writing here every day in part because I’ve had a general sense of dissatisfaction with my work both on the personal and larger context level. After getting more than three quarters of the way through my self challenge, it seems like what it really boils down to for is this:

–          It’s fine if my work is an irrelevant niche art form that I do because I love doing it so much that I don’t care because I can’t imagine doing anything else.

–          It’s also fine if my mission is to change what theater can mean and be for the world – reaching out to audiences I don’t yet know, tackling content that isn’t represented, and doing it in ways that change what theater means so that I can help-redefine the art form for the future.

One of those things is really personal (artist’s relation to self) and one of those things is about responsibility to a larger whole (artist’s relation to the world). Both of them can be at play in the same person. For me they often are. At their core, neither of these impulses is really about many of the trappings of traditional success: money, acclaim, awards, notoriety. They are goals about either pleasing my own artistic impulses or seeking out and affecting people with the work I make.

What I’m finding problematic is that the people with whom I’m most often negotiating with about how my work gets made are not either of these two categories. They are intermediaries: funders, presenters, artistic directors, renters of space and equipment, critics. These people help work get made, that continue to move the cycle along.  They are usually the people that mete out the things that usually define success. But their job is not to negotiate the relationship of this artist to themselves. Or to negotiate my relationship with my potential audiences of the future.

Their jobs are to give money and present work and program seasons and rent space and critique shows. Their job is to do their jobs. And it’s nice if their jobs align with my goals, but there’s not really any reason for me to believe that working with them will do so unless I am making sure of that.

It occurred to me today there is a world in which I completely drop out of the usual theater success track and do everything I want to. A world in which I never seek out another commission or presentation in a festival. A world in which I don’t write grants or put pieces up for review. There is a world in which all of that could go away and I could still make my work.

I don’t actually need them. It feels like I do. It feels A LOT like I do. It feels like I spend almost all of my energy trying to make sure that they are feeling fulfilled and getting what they need and want from me. And I am not spending nearly the same kind of time making sure I am fulfilling the things I need. I am not spending the time to ensure these partnership are useful to the actual thing I’m trying to achieve.

Which is not a blockbuster sized audience.

Which is not an amazing review.

Which is not an expensive set.

Which is not an award.

Which is not free stuff to use for my productions.

Which is not a giant grant.

Which is not a catered opening night party.

Which is not a huge fellowship.

Which is not an invitation to an international festival.

These things are not ends. They are not the measuring stick. They are only possible means to do something I consider meaningful. They also might not be. I have to know the difference. It is not their job to do it for me.

And it’s my job to make sure I’m gauging by my own actual intentions and not the means by which I am trying to get to them.



  1. So, it strikes me, after reading the post where “losing weight” is an impossible goal to set for oneself, because there are no metrics, that defining goals in the negative (“Which is not a blockbuster sized audience”) has the same problem: what is going to be accomplished? Can you define your goal as something to move towards, instead of running away from?

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