Monday, April 3, 2017

What If Success Was Easier?


1. obsolete : outcome, result

2a : degree or measure of succeeding
b : favorable or desired outcome; also : the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence

3: one that succeeds


2a : to turn out well
b : to attain a desired object or end

From the latin succedere: to come after, or up from below

Why do we not do a better job--or any job at all--defining success for ourselves? 

Why is the first definition of success one that Webster's qualifies as obsolete? An outcome or result. The first definition of succeed is literally "to come after another in rank or position, to follow after another in order". The second definition is to attain a desired end. Why don't we do more to delineate in any kind of terms what our desired end is? Why do we always default to "money" or "fame" or "status of some kind"? 

I admit that I am a perfectionist with [insanely] high goals for every artistic event I'm involved with. My props had to be indistinguishable from the real thing, if I couldn't get the real thing. My shows had to be sell-outs, or as close as physically possible without literally picking people up and bringing them to the theater. Classes and workshops needed to have the max number of students or I felt unsatisfied as either a teacher or a venue provider. More, always more. 

What if we defined success differently, though? I've written about failure before, how I don't truly believe in failure as long as you're trying and learning. But why can't the same be true of success? Why isn't there a spectrum rather than two distinct points? You did or you didn't. You succeeded or you failed. You made a gazillion dollars or you're a poor hack who just needs to quit trying. You're an investment banker/hotshot lawyer/neurosurgeon or you might as well be laying on your couch without a job. Dr. Strange thought his life was over because he couldn't use his hands any more after the car accident. 

The success story in the performing arts is school--move to one of three acceptable cities--get discovered--get signed to a project/show/team with an amazing amount of salary--pictures on magazines/appear on television/people want your autograph. 


Why do we set ourselves up for the massive amount of disappointment that this definition of success inherently creates? 

Yes, money and fame are nice (I'm guessing.) But we can redefine the outcome we want and have success on our terms. 

I want a family and a house and live in a community I can afford without feeling like all work and no play. 

I want to produce theater that makes me--and hopefully an audience--laugh and cry and try to be a better person. 

I want to help other performing artists produce work that moves them and their communities, regardless of what size that community is or what that community looks like. It could be a town of 8,000 people, largely agricultural based, with a strong Irish background and cultural history of story-telling. It could be a neighborhood of 400 with young families of all nationalities trying to find some commonality between them and make their neighborhood a better, safer place to live. It could be a dancer who has moved six hours away from the only home she's ever known and just wants to move her body and find like-minded individuals. 

Connection is succeeding. That may be one person. Or 1000. 

More is better, sure. But it's not necessary. Define your success and then achieve it. 

Or not. And redefine and try again. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

9 Seminars I'd Love to Teach

  • Arts Hospice: Palliative Care for End-of-Life for Arts Organizations
  • Healthy Ecosystems in Small Cities: Why Diversity of Size and Content Matters
  • Try Today, Buy Tomorrow: How Performing Arts Can Use Samples to Build Audience
  • Fear-Setting in the Arts: Mitigating Risk by Developing Comfort with Fear
  • Stone Soup: Using Collaboration to Create New Performing Arts Opportunities
  • Pivots and Sprints: Using Corporate Process Development to Grow a Sustainable Arts Org
  • Clothing Costumes: How What you Wear Changes Your Own Perceptions
  • Grow Your Own: What Food Chains and Arts Ecosystems Have in Common
  • I Can't, I Have a Kid: How to be a Present Parent and a Performer Without Losing Your Mind
I'm available. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Permanent Theater Venues, While Useful, Are Not A Panacea

Much has been discussed about how the Triangle needs more black box theaters, more fertile ground to grow the native, nascent nonprofit theater groups and companies. With Common Ground Theater closing up after ten years and Sonorous Road Theater’s future in question, it does seem like there is less room for itinerant groups to ply their trade.

Examining the twenty-five year history of the Triangle theater scene, the same venues tend to be used over and over again. Most of productions happen in the same handful of spaces, even if made by different groups of people. For the time period in question (1990-2015), the vast majority--90% of companies who produce at least one full weekend show--do not continue to make work over a decade.

Out of 24 (give or take a few) companies that have succeeded in sticking around the Triangle for a dozen years or more, only six have successfully operated their own venue. Again, the majority of ongoing theater organizations are either affiliated with a college or with a municipally-owned venue. Raleigh Little Theater, Theater in the Park, Durham Savoyards, North Carolina Theatre: as long-standing and as important to the ecosystem as they are, they are all beholden to a municipal venue for their performance space. Our single “professional” theater, PlayMakers Repertory Company, is fully-owned by UNC-CH. Yes, it has a nonprofit arm for raising funds, but without the people, work, and space provided by UNC, PlayMakers would not be PlayMakers.

The six that have lasted over twelve years and had an established space are The ArtsCenter with its various in-house theater programs, Burning Coal Theater, Deep Dish Theater Company, Manbites Dog Theater Company, North Raleigh Arts & Creative Theater, and Raleigh Ensemble Players. It is important to note that two of these organizations (Deep Dish and REP) are no longer in business and a third (ArtsCenter) has guttered its in-house theater productions as of this writing.

Burning Coal Theater and Manbites Dog both spent many of their formative years producing shows in various spaces around Raleigh and Durham, respectively, before they were able to locate and afford their own building. Deep Dish Theater was located in a mall retail space and made do with low ceilings and nonpermanent set restrictions because of mall protocols. Raleigh Ensemble Players started as a summer company for two years, using Theater in the Park’s space during their down time. After several itinerant years, REP partnered with the new Artspace, a visual art studio and gallery. After many years in Artspace, the attempt to secure their own permanent full-time stage space proved unviable and forced them to close. The ArtsCenter’s in-house theater programs grew out of acting classes in the 1980’s at its original space in Carr Mill Mall, before morphing into the ArtsCenter Community Theatre, which quietly died in 2001. Shortly thereafter, Lynden Harris came on board as staff at the ArtsCenter and revived programming under the “ArtsCenter Stage” brand. NRACT found and held a venue through sheer power of numbers. Enough committed volunteers to establish a true working board plus enough interested actors and technicians--including a deep relationship with the local high school--provided enough revenue from six large cast shows in the early years.
The axiom is true for any business: success is in large part due to location. ArtsCenter was the only non-school performing arts venue in Carrboro. Deep Dish and NRACT both were surrounded within retail establishments in highly suburban neighborhoods. Burning Coal and Manbites spent years growing their audiences before settling into venues that would themselves become catalysts for their neighborhood’s growth. REP benefitted from the constant flow of artists and visitors in Artspace, conveniently located in the middle of downtown Raleigh.

Many of these companies have themselves also played host to itinerant groups, and because none of them are professional or a closed group of participants, the constant flow of talent both on and back stage has helped grow the opportunities available for creative work.

These companies successfully found and maintained venues because they had enough people willing to put in sweat-equity to make the space viable and because there was enough differentiation in their locations and products to find a profitable audience. Types of revenues varied from business to business, but all found many ways to make expenses every month.

Dedicated venues bring their own downsides. Rent or mortgage payments, insurance premiums, cleaning and maintenance expenses add up every month, and that’s after an initial push to upfit a space with a stage, seating, and appropriate lighting and sound systems. And then you need someone to manage the space! If you look at the budget of any business, the largest line-item is employees.

Can many of these downsides be mitigated? Yes, certainly: a government-owned facility with provided infrastructure or a co-op space with volunteer management. A wealthy theater-loving real estate developer who wants to be a singular patron to a small company. Insert many other options here.

Finding a permanent venue is possible; these six companies clearly demonstrate that. However, they also demonstrate the hard work involved in doing so: both before in establishing a feasible product and growing audience, and after, in earning enough income to meet ongoing expenses. Desiring a permanent home is admirable, but actually finding one comes after the need justifies it.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Green is March's Favorite Color: Use It To Take Care of Yourself

I'm not certain if it was something I ate or didn't eat or Divine Spirit or earth energy or what, but I sat bolt upright last night in bed with the phrase "Go Green for March" on my tongue. 2 more thoughts immediate popped into my head, plus a visual: "go", "money", and a green string tied around my wrist.

Not wanting to get out of bed, I laid there, staring at the covers, thinking "I need to write this down because obviously it's important and the Universe is trying to tell me something." As I could feel this idea was all about making progress and changing mindsets, I begrudgingly exited the warm bed, plodded downstairs to find pencil and paper, wrote the ideas down, and then went back to sleep.

This morning, I pulled out my cross stitch supplies, found the exact shade of green in my delirium-induced vision, and tied a bit around my wrist.

Maybe you, too, have been struggling lately with these things? Perhaps you, too, could use a visual reminder? 

1. Green for GO
I am prone to analysis paralysis. The thing where "if I just learn more then I'll start" or "I don't have quite all the information I need" or "I need to check over here too before I get going."

HOGWASH. It's perfectionism, it's mainly useless, and it's holding me back.

So this green is for GO, a la a traffic signal. It's not about speed, it's about taking my foot off the brake and applying light pressure to the gas pedal to get my car going forward. One of my favorite Universe metaphors is it's like a GPS system: The Universe will tell you which way to turn but you have to put the car in drive and GO!

My green thread reminds me that when I start questioning my actions "I'm not ready" or "I don't know enough" to gently change my thought to "yes, I do, I know what I need to know to take an action--any action--right now."

2. Green for MONEY
Money is an energy, and as an energy, it needs to flow.

This may sound like crazy-talk to some of you. Money flows into your life at a rate equal to the rate it flows out of your life. Want more to flow into your life? You need to increase how much your money-energy flows out.

For me, that means two things:
-first, I need to not begrudge spending the physical cash I do have. That is lack thinking ("if I spend this, I won't have any more") and simply shuts off the flow.
-second, I need to spend more of my cash-energy, meaning, I need to be spending my energy in ways that give it away to others. I have to trust that increasing my energy flow out will increase my energy flow in.

My green thread reminds me to breathe out the "lack" and breathe in "share" and "give" and "trust" and "abundance." I truly lack for nothing and to dwell in feeling pity does nothing but continue my self-hurt.

Which brings us to 3, which came to me as I was writing the first two, because there's always a 3, because 3 is a magic number:

3. Green for SUPERGREEN
One of my favorite movies is The Fifth Element. Chris Tucker is hilarious as an over-the-top, self-indulgent, cosmic radio-show host. His preferred way of categorizing his joys are levels of "green." Something he particularly likes is "Supergreen!"

Are you struggling with taking care of yourself? I am. I don't mean in a bubble-bath, wine-glass, bon-bon kind of way (fine for her, not for me). I mean in a "I've lost myself and haven't a clue what I actually enjoy doing because I've been taking care of everyone else's needs for so long" kind of way.

Supergreen is about radical self-care. It is about becoming a succulent wild woman. It is about figuring out how to speak (or write or draw or sing or whatever) your truth. It is about making a small space in your brain where you can say yes to yourself and no to someone else, feel the guilt or pain or disappointment briefly, then move into the thing that brings you joy.

I've been doing a lot of sitting with this one and the signal I keep getting is "writing." For as far back as I can remember (and I've been doing a lot of that digging, too), I've done two things: read a lot and write a lot.

I loved researching and writing my thesis. I loved writing college papers. I love writing articles for Marbury. I love writing on my blog. Daily diary entries, my new therapy journal, writing notes to my daughter and husband, writing emails to friends. Words on paper bring me joy.

I'm an extrovert, too, though, so I need to balance all that solo writing with being out in public, getting to know people, helping artists with their projects. It's why journalism, marketing, and fundraising are all truly of a piece for me.

My green thread reminds me to take care of myself daily. I have to go for a walk in the outdoors daily. I have to eat nourishing food daily. I have to take my meds daily. I have to write daily. I have to be present with my daughter and husband daily. I have to practice loving myself daily.

So I'm wearing my thread this month. Like Buddhist Prayer Flags or Kabbalah strings, I figure I'll be mindful of these tenants, work on integrating them into myself and life, and when the time is right, the thread will naturally free itself and go away.

Maybe you're struggling, too, with one of these? Maybe wearing a visual reminder will help bring you focus and mindfulness, too. I'd love to hear about it!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Doing Your Best Work With Others When You Feel Alone

I love any piece of writing that covers "creatives" and "artists." Even more, I love it when business magazines like Fast Company, Inc, and Harvard Business Review write articles about us arts folks.

In one of the latest at Fast Co, author Jeff Goins tackles the idea of why you'll never do your best work alone. I want to riff on his three takeaways for the small theater and performing arts communities.

Find a "Master"
Goins uses the idea of Renaissance artists but this idea is also one used by Austin Kleon in his book Steal Like An Artist. However, this task may feel impossible for those of us living in smaller communities that may not have an established performing arts scene. Where are we to locate these masters? This may mean turning to online communities, diving into Youtube, or doing a lot of interlibrary loan exchanges to read what's been written by or about your chosen artists.

Emulate your mentor's work.
As most of my readers know, I very much adore both Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Pink as writers. When I was working on my Master's Thesis book, I kept asking myself "how would Malcolm or Daniel set up this story?" I didn't want my thesis to sound like, well, an academic treatise on arts ecosystems. I wanted it to read like a compelling creative nonfiction story.

When it comes to theater, how can you copy a particular director's style or a designer's aesthetic? When I took directing class in undergrad, we watched classic films to try to understand good directing choices, design decisions, and then used those when we crafted scenes with our fellow students. Rehearsal space is perfect for trying out new-to-you techniques.

Find community.
In a small town or a new city, this is going to mean a lot of searching, a lot of coffee, and a lot of cold calls. But finding a small group of like-minded people is crucial to both keeping your work going and making it better. It may mean starting with your local community college, to see if they offer any theater classes, or talking to the local kids' dance studio to meet the instructors. It may mean stepping outside your art form and talking to writers, painters, or even *gasp* entrepreneurs. Your local Chamber of Commerce may prove helpful in this search.

And last, but certainly not least, start producing a show! If you've just moved to a community, it may mean doing a solo work at the local open-mic night (or creating an open mic night!). It may mean some site-specific work in the local parks. Plaster the town with flyers. Find the locally-owned coffeeshop: these places tend to be hubs of information.

Don't overlook social media communities but don't rely on them, either. Expand your horizons with new people, new books, new videos, and new places. Your artistic work will be better for it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"Everybody does it this way"

Once in a while, start with zero, not with what might be the standard right now. -- Seth Godin [original post here]

We have a lot of calcification in the performing arts. Instead of doing what everyone else does, what if you did the exact opposite?

1. Selling tickets individually rather than in bulk form. 2 tickets, 4 tickets. Packs of 8 for half price. Actually selling one group an entire performance.

2. Size scale of performances. What would an individual/site specific performance look like for you? What about the opposite: how could you achieve a massive scale of people or space?

3. Stages. Platforms. Removing the set. Sometimes this is done because of economic reasons. What if you perform in the audience seating area and put the audience on the stage instead?

4. Engaging the audience during the performance. Not as stopping the action for an aside, or fake engagement, but as part of the action. There's a great early episode of the Dick Van Dyke show where he forgets to get tickets for the PTA, but is saved when Mel needs extras for the large picnic scene at the end of the Alan Brady show, so the PTA actually gets to be in the show.

5. One person deciding a season in advance. What happens if you truly crowdsource a season?

6. Selling tickets in advance. Pop-up performances.

7. Selling tickets at all: rather, asking for people to donate after the show what monetary value they'd place on the experience. Pro tip: actually pass a hat so people feel compelled to put in something and not just leave.

8. Closed rehearsals. What if all the aspects of creation were open to whoever wanted to watch? What if you used Facebook Live to stream rehearsals and then charged for being in the room/the final product?

9. Season=1 year. What happens if you plan AND ANNOUNCE 2-3-4 years in advance.

10. Success=sold out shows, a building, staff, all the money from various sources you could desire. Rewriting your mission statement to say what you're going to DO.

11. And what you're NOT going to do. OR when it's time to stop. Closing an underwhelming show. Closing an underwhelming company.

What are anchors for your art? Let us know in the comments. Maybe it's the thing that's been bugging you but "everybody does it."

Friday, January 6, 2017

Reminiscences of Books Past: My 2016 Reading Log

Yall know I like to read every now and again.* I thought I'd go over my 2016 book highlights.

So, I started the year with the intention of reading my entire backlog, which was probably 8-9 years old (the astute reader will remember my daughter turned nine in August). I achieved half of that goal, that is, I read about half my back log pile. Even if that had been all I'd read, that still would've been 18 books, so respectable for the year in this day and age of "nobody reads past college".

Actually, not including books I read for classes, I recorded a total of 45 books read!! And two audio books (I discovered Tim Ferriss's podcast in mid-summer so started listening to that in the car instead). A lot of those are library books, although I think I did buy enough to replenish my TBR pile for 2017.

Outstanding titles:

The Society of the Spectacle, by Guy Debord. Classic French not quite existentialism but amazing views on what our society truly has become: oblivious.

The War of Art & Do The Work, by Steven Pressfield. As recommended by Seth Godin. Basically, anything Seth recommends, I read. And Steven's work is worth every penny.

The full list. I promise, he read more than that.
So Good They Can't Ignore You & Deep Work, by Cal Newport. These both changed my mind about both what I am doing with my career and how I need to be doing it. Still processing both of these and trying to work with the precepts while being a lead parent. (NB: Cal is not a lead parent. I can't help but believe this makes a difference.)

How the Mighty Fall & Built to Last, by Jim Collins. Yes, I finally read the seminal Built to Last, and it was every bit as good as you'd expect. How the Mighty Fall, though, will be more relevant to my book writing.

A few modern classics that are, duh, classics: The Long Tail, The Checklist Manifesto, The Black Swan, Switch.

I don't read a ton of fiction, but for some reason, almost all of it I did read this year wound up of the "magic" "victorian" style. Particular fun was Charlie Holmberg's The Paper Magician series and VE Schwab's Shades of Magic series.

Finally, I finished the year with Kevin Kelly's The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. If you wonder or care or just want to have some cocktail banter about what the next 25 years may be like, read this book. Every day I see an article or someone's post and go, "just like KK said."

My reading goal for 2017 is to, once again, clean out the backlog pile AND to read 52 books this year.

What are your reading goals?

*That is sarcastic. I know you just snorted when you read it.