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Written on March 14th, 2012 , Performing, Teaching Artistry, The Business of Art Tags: , , ,


Your mom has asked me and some others, as I’m sure you know, to offer some helpful words; I think I will share some Practical Advice and Things I Love About Being an Artist—feel free to heed or disregard any and all of it at your pleasure!  

Artists get to do really cool things......

Practical Advice:

Being an Artist is in many many ways like every other business: if you only sell one product, your business will fail. If you are a shoe saleswoman and all you sell is pink slippers, your business will fail. If you are an artist and all you sell is performing other people’s work, you will not be financially viable, just like any other business. EMBRACE THAT.

Most performers I know also hone their craft and earn an artist’s living by giving lessons. Many others also dabble in creating original material as well. Thinking of ways to continue being an artist in addition to singing or acting or dancing will make your business successful AND will prevent you from having to do something that is not connected at all to your art, like being a waitress or receptionist. I personally LOVE teaching and find it improves my work as a performer and playwright!

I do a combination of teaching master classes in certain aspects of theatre performance and creating arts-based academic curriculum for alternative learning strategies in k-12. It’s wonderful and so inspiring! At some points in my career, my teaching has been as much as 70% of my income (even if it was only 50% of my time). I worked hard to become an excellent teaching artist, including taking teaching courses and being an apprentice to a master teaching artist; every year I make sure to take at least one class to grow my artistry and one to grow my teaching skills. Another way to think of it is comparing yourself to an Olympian. Gold-medal speed skaters can’t just skate races for a living. So which is better—teaching or coaching skating, or working behind a desk? No brainer, right? So embrace it, love it, become excellent at it, whatever “it” means to you. Strive for excellence in everything you do—any less of a goal is a waste of time.

Couple other things that are practical. Start trying to put money into a retirement plan in college, because after that, things will be too tight. I personally have never had health care benefits, paid vacation (What? People get paid to NOT work? What the hell?), or a company retirement plan. Would I trade what I do have for those things? NO FREAKIN’ WAY. Do I work harder than most people I know? Yup. More hours? Yup. Still wouldn’t trade. Because even when it’s rough, there isn’t any other way I could spend my life. And don’t worry—you CAN do all that and be a mom (my kids are awesome and in their 20s)—even if your husband is an artist (like mine). Of course, you could also marry someone with a six-figure income!!!

The Amazing Stuff:

I love being an artist. I believe, truly and deeply, that art is how human beings process life. Art is how we understand each other, learn best, create healing, invoke change (of self, of community, of world). Art is our Rosetta Stone for the human experience, and is maybe the most powerful agent for change in the world. There is lots of neuroscience supporting these beliefs—I won’t bore you with it now, but let me know if you’re interested! I also personally cannot bear the same four walls day after day; I love that I am in essence a traveling player (the ACTUAL oldest profession!), and when I want to visit some amazing place, I find or create a project to take me there. I love that my projects are short and intense, I love that I have at least a dozen things happening all the time, just in different stages of development. I love my crazy ever-changing schedule. I love that I choose the projects that I believe in. Which reminds me—art is like any other act of intimacy: do it for love or money, but never neither. Some things (many things) are just not worth doing.

What that means is, discover for yourself why you make art. Is it for beauty? Human understanding? Entertainment doesn’t count as an answer, by the way. It’s not a strong enough nor deep enough response to sustain you, motivate you, and most importantly, guide you. Because your ideals must guide you. They will help you seek out those jobs you will value and accidentally discover the people who will delight you and feed your soul. These ideals will also shape your art, your work, your projects….and in those dark dark hours of despair and “I suck”nitude, they will keep you going.

Know that as a performer, you must be more courageous, more vulnerable, more raw and truthful than “civilians”—that’s why they are in the audience and you are onstage. They NEED you. They need you to take them by the hand, and walk them down that road, fill them with love and hope to bursting, and break their hearts slowly, sweetly, so that their throats clench and their eyes fill up in the darkened theatre, and they feel more fully truly alive than at any other time…and they thank you for that gift. As a performer, you make the journey for them. You allow yourself to become so open, so vulnerable, and allow your heart to be torn to pieces (especially in opera!), and the audience feels it through you, clinging to you for safety. To be such a performer is a sacred honor, and one feels sometimes as though one is just a portal……

Can’t wait to hear you/see you perform.

Leap! Joy! GO FOR IT.

Best always,


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