You know what I hate?
I really really hate it when I see an email from someone that I haven’t talked to in a while, someone who maybe I might not be super close with, and I start reading an email that feels like a trick.
It always starts super personal – Hey Adrienne – and starts telling me stuff they’ve been up to. At first I think, “Hey, I didn’t realize so-and-so was doing all this stuff. Well done so-and-so!” Around a paragraph in I think, “Gee. It’s interesting that they are going into such detail about the project.” And then about halfway in I say, “Oh, I get it. This is a kickstarter campaign letter.”
All that earnestness, I believe it’s heartfelt, but without a warning it can sometimes feel just a tiny bit like a bait and switch. So, here’s fair warning so that you don’t feel like I do when I read those emails: I think there’s some interesting and heartfelt stuff explored within the following thousand or so words. There’s also a gentle ask at the end of the post as well.
So. That’s out of the way. Now on to talking a little bit about fairness.
Here is a truth of the universe: success in the arts not always fairly won.
Perhaps that seems obvious. I know we all joke often about “those” creators with all the connections or resource coming into the game. We joke and dream about a life without the necessity of a day job. We talk about the work we’d get done if we didn’t have non-artistic work as a requirement to survive.
It seems silly, almost, to say it. A statement so duh-inducing it’s almost banal.
But even if we know, sometimes we forget to really internalize the truth of it. Even if our brains remember, our hearts don’t always realize. When I’m not careful I catch myself feeling “less than” because recognition is slower to come than I’d like. You might be frustrated that the grants are not rolling in. It may feel sometimes like we are stuck in the drudgery as others jet set around the world.
It’s hard not to compare, no?
And this is why it’s worth reminding ourselves the system is truly NOT solely set up to reward those with the greatest artistic prowess. That’s part of it, of course. But it is in NO WAY the entirety, maybe even the majority, of how the artistic field rewards its participants. The truth is that we all make use of whatever advantages we happen to have, some of which are artistic and some of which are not, to try and get a foothold in this insanely difficult career.
When I sit down with newbies to Philly and chat about how they will find their way in the world I often get asked questions like “How do I begin making my own work?”
I’ve taken to saying this: “If you ask me specific questions about how to get cheap risers or what fiscal sponsor I think is best I will be happy to answer those. But the honest answer to the question ‘How do I start making my work?’ is that you have to figure out how you will be able to make and support your work by using whatever is available to you.”
I can see it is a frustrating answer, even if it’s true.
But because our system is so chaotic and uneven in its distribution of resource, because it is so thoroughly unfair at times, especially at the start, I believe it’s a useful answer. To begin as an artist without a high level of resource is to be a person who has to come to terms with that unfairness. Perhaps not to subscribe to all aspects of the system that supports inequity, but to learn to at lest live with it. For in order to stay, we all learn to scrape and deal and do the best with what we do have. And we do our best not get to sour about what we don’t.
I think all the time about a many things for which I am intensely grateful.
I think about the fact that I studied science. That I spent a lot of time with complex math. That when I had to learn accounting and budgeting and report my company’s data, I had a familiarity with something roughly similar. That I never had to worry that what I was trying to do what too hard for me because I figured it couldn’t be more complicated than multi-variable calculus. (Though there are days… There are days…)
I think about the fact that when I made my first play I had a large network of family who even though not rich were stil willing to donate a little – 5, 50, 100 dollars – to help me pursue this thing that I so desperately wanted to make.
I think about the fact that I came to my career with high-level writing skills. That I’d been pushed to articulate difficult concepts and formulate arguments about creative works in the past. That grant writing wasn’t such a bear because again, I’d had experiences to prepare me.
I think about the fact that I did not have a crushing amount of student debt. That I had my share, but never so much that I felt I couldn’t take a risk on a low paying job or use a bit of my savings to buy a prop or a costume I needed.
I think about the fact that I have been surrounded by mentors who made me trust my own self worth, my vision of my creative product, and that this confidence allowed me to walk into a major historic site at the ripe age of 23 and ask to stage a play there with almost no money to offer in exchange.
I make myself think about these things on the days when I get frustrated about not having rich parents. I think about them on days when I think about how much more successful I might be if all my time could be devoted to my career of theater and not jobs that help to keep me fed and housed. And I try and remember that these things were gifts to me that may not be givens for others. That without that access to just a bit family support or set of math skills or a confidence boost I could be in a very different place in my career.
This is not to say that such things cannot be overcome in the long run. This is not to say that those with advantages at the start will always prevail. This is not to say that those who come into the work without trust funds should give up. But it is to say that we should give ourselves a break sometimes in trying to measure up. And it is also to say that when we can do something personally to help level the field and give someone a leg up when they need one, we really really ought to do it.
So here, at long last, is that plea for cash.
It’s a plea for an amazing and talented young person who deserves access to the kind of support one needs when they’re first starting to make their way into their work. Samia, Sam for short, is a phenom. She is a performer, a designer, a soon to be graduated student, and a truly lovely person. This is what she looks like:
Sam is seriously awesome.
When The Berserker Residents and I teched The Giant Squid at Arcadia Sam won our onstage “squid raffle.” As she took the steps up to the stage she literally brimmed with joy and screamed “I won! I won! I won!” I never laughed as hard at any of the subsequent audience participants as I did when I saw her face realizing her squid “prize” has mysteriously turned a tank of water into boiling ink.
When she played Hermia in the Midsummer I directed last fall she worked with a ferocity and grace and humility that I have rarely seen before in a college student. A colleague I invited to the show saw her and said, “She’s amazing. She’s really going to do this thing for real.”
And now, as a surprise to no one, she’s won a national award for puppet design and needs a little boost to get her to Las Vegas to take part in an 8-week technical theater intensive that comes as a prize with the award.
Look again at this amazing human in a cardigan:
Admit it. She’s adorable.
Who would not want to donate to that face? A face that’s also confident. And smart. And hardworking. And kind.
I have every belief that she’s going to be one of the Amazing Ladies of this community’s future.
So click this link Philadelphia creators and give this awesome little lady a couple bucks. In the spirit of helping another amazing new artist. In the spirit of giving her some gifts that she seriously deserves. In the spirit of making the artistic landscape just this tiny bit fairer. Because she deserves to have the chance to take advantage of all the amazing opportunities afforded her.
PS – Thanks to Alisa for setting up this amazing cheerleading squad!