"So...what do I do now? Empowering artists to focus on making their own art and to challenge their definition of a successful career."
I am a successful artist.
I helped start a not for profit theater company in Chicago that does 4 shows a season and is just about to start its 16th season. Our mission to unite Chicago through amazing feats of storytelling is ambitious and we take it very seriously. All of our shows are original work conceived, written, designed and directed by our company members. Our shows are very well reviewed and sell out on a regular basis. Some of our best received shows have been our adaptions of classic literature like J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan or L.Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz adapted and reimagined by our company. It's some of the most fulfilling work I've ever done and will probably ever do in my life.
I am also an Operations Manager at a restaurant in downtown Chicago now after having been a server in restaurants for the better part of those 16 years that we've been working on our theater company. I have always had another job while working on our company and so have all of the members of our company.
I am a successful artist.
The idea behind my talk is to redefine what artists graduating college should do to create a career for themselves beyond school and how it should not fit into the parameters of what has traditionally been viewed as a successful career for an artist: Get an agent, get a headshot and wait for them to send you on auditions. Wash, rinse and repeat. That way can lead to overwhelming feelings of rejection, boredom and creative bankruptcy. I believe there is a better way to thrive as an artist after graduating from school that doesn't fit into the norms of that cycle and my company and the other working and thriving artists I know are what forms that belief for me.
The first part of the talk is about creating an artistic home. The rooms that you learn to be an artist in are full of your contemporaries. These are the artists who will be creating and working and evolving the same as you are. Work with this room. Create with this room. Make art that is your own and risky and the kind of art that you want to make. You will spend a lot of your creative life making art for others. There are times when that will be a joyous creation and there are times where it will feel devoid of any art for you. That comes with the territory. Where you will always feel fulfilled is in the artistic home that you create. The place where you'll take risks and have arguments and continue to develop a working and ever changing vocabulary. Even if you don't create work together (which you should) having a room to discuss and form and question your art is a powerful thing.
The second part of the talk is working on ideas of shame when it comes to this profession. I struggled and sometimes still do with the idea that I am not successful because I have had to work another job. And that is and will be the reality of what we do for the rest of our lives. Splitting time between a work day and a life of auditions and theatre at night. A commercial booking or TV gig is not a prescription for success. What is, is your own fulfillment with your craft and your satisfaction with your quality of life and the art that you create. My goal is to, through the example of myself and the many artists I work with in Chicago, describe what the life of an actual working actor is and how that life is a success. That we have had the privilege of creating lasting impressions on audiences through wonderful shows that have won awards and critical praise and have been satisfying to our artistic needs and that we still have to work as teachers, servers or customer support. That we are being taught that this is failure is a flaw in the system. This is the life of an artist and it is that life that gives a thumping pulse to the Chicago theater scene in a way that feels visceral and alive and creates work unique to that city for those reasons.