Job Insecurity and Creativity

Earlier this month, British playwright Simon Stephens, speaking at a conference on new writing, said that because of their job insecurity, actors are being “stifled” by fear of unemployment. Specifically he said, “They would have one eye on the director, to make sure they don’t offend them, one eye on the writer, to make sure they seduce and tantalise them so they maybe might want to write something for them, and one eye on the artistic director to let them know they are not a difficult person to have around the theatre….That can be really stifling and can stifle bravery in acting performance.”

Lyn Gardner, writing in The Guardian, takes issue and suggests that job insecurity is what is driving “brave and creative performances.” Gardner never explains her reasons for this suggestion, but goes on to explain that the condition is not unique to actors and finally state that “while the freelance way of life does not suit anyone, uncertainty can be a genuine spur to creativity, rather than stifling risk.”

While I cannot completely agree that freelancing suits no one or that uncertainty spurs creativity, I must agree with Gardner that job insecurity is a fact of life for the professional performer. She goes on to say job insecurity is a fact not just for actors, but for any freelance professional, including playwrights, directors, journalists and accountants.  I have to agree with that as well, and would note that anyone who goes into any of the arts endures the same employment insecurity, and perhaps worse than some theatre professionals. In theatre, opera, and dance, at least, some professionals are members of repertory companies and ensemble companies, which offer employment security for at least a season. (Although very few of those professionals would presume that it is a certainty that there will be a contract waiting for them next season.)

Other types of artists have no such havens. They produce work, show it, sometimes sell it and then move on to the next project. Some, who have representation, have fewer interruptions, but still work from project to project, knowing that there are no guarantees, there are no assured sales—unless they accept commissions, and even then the commission may evaporate before the piece is finished and the sale finalized.

This is the nature of the arts business. Anyone who has entertained a career in any of the arts, should have, before embarking on such a journey, become aware that employment security was not part of the deal. That insecurity cannot be ruled out as an influencer; there are always those who will take the safe road, who will produce what they think the audience wants in the hopes of achieving some sort of stability much the way that Stephens details.

But then there are the others, the ones who want to make the best art they can and know that in order to do that, risks must be taken—whether it imperils security or not. If you go to art shows or the theatre or the ballet or the opera, you know who those people are; their work shows it. They are the ones in front of whose work you linger, the ones you come back to for a second or third look; they are the ones whose performances you want to sit through again and discuss afterward and think about after you have gone home.

The question is: which kind of artist are you?

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Date: Sunday, 22. September 2013 23:47
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Audience, Creativity, Theatre

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  1. 1

    like your articles

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