Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year!



Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Trav S. D.


This is the time for resolutions, and I thought I’d begin by discussing one I make and break every year:  “honor the sacrifice.”

I’m not talking about our soldiers (all honor to them at another time, in another forum). But the dramatic language is just as valid in this more quotidian case.  Artists may not risk their own necks (with the possible exception of the cast of Spiderman), but they do voluntarily relinquish the comfortable, normal lives they might otherwise have led had they not gone down the Primrose Path. Of all the hundreds of Indie Theatre artists I’ve met, I can’t think of ONE who couldn’t be making a good living doing something else.  We chose to make theatre though, and furthermore most of have chosen to make it, for whatever insane reason, in a highly individualistic manner almost guaranteed to be unremunerative.  As a consequence, most of us live in ways that can and do appall our friends and relatives, even those with rather modest jobs, who’ve chosen normal lives.

I realized not too long ago (and I know I am an extreme case) that I have never owned anything worth more than $700. (The one possible exception: I was once half-owner of a second-hand car that was gifted to me to and my ex-wife, but I never drove it so I don’t think it counts).  Would I like stuff? Sure! But I’m not about to be a slave to it. I invest my time and my resources in doing what I do, with regrets that are only occasional. If some day by a miracle my artistic exertions permit me a more comfortable lifestyle, that will indeed be a reward, but I am not about to sacrifice my dreams so that my ass can sit on a nicer sofa. Some people’s dreams stop at the sofa. I’d be just as happy to break the sofa up into kindling and paint the pile purple if that is what the script called for.

And yet…why?

One gambles on oneself because one believes in oneself. I tell myself I have something in me, something valuable that enriches the lives of others when it is shared. And I am occasionally told that by others, otherwise I would have turned my back on this painful delusion a long time ago. In a nutshell, that’s it.

And therefore, I honor my sacrifice by….

Dividing my time amongst a dozen roles in a dozen projects, devoting too little time to any one of them, and doing none of them as well as I otherwise might? Well, yeah, that. 

My New Year’s Resolution is “Don’t do that”.

To honor the sacrifice we made requires focus and commitment, not just to our careers overall but to the task at hand. No doubt about it, we are working hard all the time. Most of us have day jobs that already divide us, steal our energy and attention, even if they do sustain us and help underwrite our projects. But then many of us divide ourselves further, wearing many hats, taking many roles. We impress our colleagues, we tell each other, “You must be the hardest working person in Indie Theatre!”, “No, YOU must be the hardest working person in Indie Theatre!” and that’s all well and good. But how often does the AUDIENCE take away anything truly extraordinary? I can tell you with some authority, because one of my too-many-hats is that of a critic, and I have been covering this beat since the late 90s.  I have seen hundreds of Indie Theatre productions. How often have I seen something EXTRAORDINARY? I’m tempted to say “never”, but I’m sure it’s just because I can’t think of anything at the moment. I know I am often enthusiastic in the immediate wake of something I have just seen, and I do think and speak in hyperbole, so I do know I have loved a few things. So, rather than “never”, let us just say “rarely”. And I would hardly put myself above my hard-working colleagues. I happen to know I have never produced the extraordinary experiences I set out to make.

So to clarify: we have sacrificed everything, staked it all on…producing a great volume of work that falls far short of being extraordinary.

And yet, we are all capable of extraordinary  work. Yes – I will be Whitmanesque and say we are ALL capable of extraordinary work.  We are at the very least capable of doing our best, and that is precisely what we don’t do, when our time and attention is so divided. FOCUS and COMMITMENT to the task at hand. I want to do less and I want to do it better. This is my own resolution, directed at my own foibles and imperfections. If you are already satisfied with the way you operate, by all means, keep it up!  For my part, I will attempt to keep my resolution. I can’t promise to make extraordinary work, but I can promise to treat the work itself, my colleagues and the audience with the respect – the focus and commitment -- they deserve.

2 comments:

  1. This is a great post Trav! No, i don't think we can always make extraordinary work, but part of being an artist is chasing the dragon of standards and goals we set for ourselves. Without those aspirations, why would we be doing what we do? Thanks for the honesty and the offering here. May we all make work we are satisfied with in 2012--extraordinary or not!

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  2. Oh, I do feel this. I think the biggest challenge we face is that we're not free to be simply artists - we have to be producers as well. While an artist's task is constrained - if only by the medium he or she chooses - the producer's brief is infinite: anything that can raise awareness or otherwise cast a wider net is part of the job. Relationship-building, party-going, critical interaction, participation in other people's projects - anything that can push forward our agendas as artists. It's exhausting and frequently demoralizing, and, speaking for myself, every time I don't go see a show or accept an opportunity is a chance to beat myself up and feel like I'm not trying hard enough. Which is a pretty crummy situation for something that A) I ostensibly love, and B) I'm not getting paid for. So here's a clink of the glass to letting our artistic priorities trump our so-called "professional" priorities - let's hope that focusing on the former helps us find a better balance with the latter.

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