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Let Go

Monday, 19. June 2017 1:41

You may have heard that the Albee estate denied the performance rights to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? because the producing organization, the Complete Works Project, had cast an African-American in the role of Nick. The director, Michael Streeter, spread the word in his Facebook status and the story took off. Responses have appeared on all media and support both positions. Nobody questions the right of the estate to deny rights for whatever reason, but there is great diversity of opinion on whether this is a good or bad choice.

A friend who is a director and actor said that he thought he would have to side with the Albee estate in this particular situation, but that he wished that playwrights would release their death-grip on their plays. And they do have a death-grip, whether the playwright is living or is represented by an estate.

The first such restriction I observed was shortly after the Mickey Mouse Protection Act of 1976 in a contract for a college production of one of Neil Simon’s plays. The contract said that not a single word could be changed. Since that time, such a restriction has become standard, and one of many. The Albee estate-Complete Works rights denial is the first time I have heard of a copyright owner rejecting a specific cast member.

“Artist’s Rights,” can be taken to ludicrous extremes. For example, Arturo Di Modica demanded through his attorney that because he created Wall Street’s Charging Bull, he should have been consulted before Kristen Visbal’s sculpture, Fearless Girl, was installed just feet away. Di Modica said that “the adjacent art has changed the meaning of his work and violated his legal rights” (ironic, given that the bull, like the girl, was installed without permission).

There are two reasons I agree with my friend’s “death grip” comment on playwright’s rights. First, theatre is a collaborative art: there is an originator of the script and then the interpretation of that script by a production company. This is similar to the composer/conductor-orchestra relationship. The fact is that by allowing any group to produce the work, even with restrictions, the licensing agent is allowing interpretation. Set, cast, blocking will be different in each production. Restrictions applied to professional productions are not required of amateur productions. Some restrictions do not take into account the specific audience that will see the work. These taken together produce an inherent inconsistency in licensing with regard to protecting the “artistic integrity” of the work. Indeed, And at least two of the articles I read (here and here)—citing Shakespeare and Chekhov as playwrights whose work is interpreted in a number or ways and whose work lasts—suggest that if the Albee estate continues its current policy, it well essentially condemn Virginia Woolf to obscurity.

Both Tennessee Williams and the Williams estate have taken a position almost opposite the Albee estate’s position. Williams allowed his work to be done by almost any group, and the estate has followed suit. The results have been a broadening of understanding and appreciating Williams. For example, a 2008 production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof featuring an all-black cast demonstrated that the play is powerful regardless of race.

The second reason, in my mind, applies to all artists:  Once the artist declares the piece done, it exists in the universe as an entity unto itself. Regardless of his/her rights, the artist needs to have enough confidence in whatever s/he has created, that s/he can let go of the piece and get on to the real work of the artist—creating. A solid work can stand on its own—if the copyright owner will let it.

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A Question of Relevance

Monday, 17. April 2017 2:10

Pippin, in the musical of the same name by Steven Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson learns that the problem with a creative life is that “you’ve got to be dead to find out if you were any good.” What he should have learned was that, no matter your skill level, in order to be any good, you have to be relevant. And if your art is to last, it has to stay relevant, or at least be relevant to periods other than the one in which you lived.

Relevance does not mean “generalized” so all people in all ages can understand it. Rather, it means that the artifact, while being specific to its own era, can also speak to audiences in other times and places. The words of Confucius, of Jesus, of Gautama Buddha are relevant today, not because they are generalizations, but because they are universal and apply to humans no matter what time or place.

If you look at the sayings of Confucius, Jesus, Buddha, you will find that they are very specific, referring to particular people and situations of their respective times. What they have to say, however, is, with certain small exceptions, applicable to people and situations far removed in time and place.

This is also true of works of art. Certain works speak to people of different places and times and others do not. The works of Eugene Scribe and Victorien Sardou, for example, are not well-remembered. Famous in their own time, their plays are not revived outside of France, and even there they are not well received. You never hear of a play by either man being produced. Why? Because they are no longer relevant. What they wrote was relevant to their times only; reports are that they were very well received at the time, but they were too much tied to the times, too closely linked to the people and the place in which they were written.

Other artists are still relevant, or can be made so. Shakespeare is the first to come to mind. But not all audiences are ready for the language and the milieu of his scripts as written. If the producer and director can get the audience past those barriers, Shakespeare has much to say to the modern audience; his insights into the concerns of many of his characters are concerns of people today.

Relevance is not an all-time thing. Because of the current political situation in the US, work which has seemed irrelevant to many in the past suddenly provides understanding and perception. Take the work of Chekhov. Unlike some, film critic David Edelstein thinks that Chekhov is always relevant. However, he says, “But maybe there is something more relevant now….  Change had to come – but at what cost?

It is difficult to believe that Shakespeare or Chekhov or Picasso or Michelangelo or Rodin sat around and worried about whether his work would speak to generations besides his own; the work is far too specific for that. What mattered to each of these artists is that the work spoke to his own audience.

Unless we can do the same, our work will lack significance. As Pippin so clearly pointed out, only time will tell whether we speak to future generations. In the meantime, we must work to make our own work relevant to our tribe and perhaps a larger audience of our own time. Only then can we consider ourselves serious artists.

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Art Evolves

Monday, 13. March 2017 0:01

Occasionally, someone will ask me if the show is what I wanted it to be. The short answer is “no,” but that always seems a little abrupt and not what those who ask really want to hear. I think I am supposed to say something thoughtful and positive and “artistic” as an answer. The truth for shows is—as it is, I think, for almost all art work—that it never turns out exactly the way you thought it would. There are simply too many variables.

Neil Gaiman in Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions, says much the same thing about writing stories: “once the story was underway, the real ending became inevitable. Most of the stories in this volume have that much in common. The place they arrived at in the end was not the place I was expecting them to go when I set out. Sometimes the only way I would know that a story had finished was when there weren’t any more words to be written down.” Gaiman is not the only author to make such a claim. Many writers talk about how the characters in a book or play or short story take the narrative in an unanticipated direction.

In the case of theatre anything can happen: an actor gives an unexpected line reading. The costume designer comes up with something completely surprising. The lighting designer wants to do something “fresh.” The assistant choreographer makes an off-hand comment. The musical director changes the tempos.  And it happens in other arts as well: the model shows up with a tattoo the photographer didn’t know about. A light burns out in studio and the subject looks different in the new lighting. The film editor got a new idea overnight. The sculpting medium has a mind of its own and doesn’t carve the way the sculptor anticipated.

This idea is not unique to me. An art professor that I know tells students that things arise in the doing that cannot be anticipated.  His opinion is that the act of making art creates a situation in which something “worth doing” might happen, even if that thing is the realization of what the artist really should be doing.

The artist, of course, has the choice of ignoring the unexpected and forging ahead with whatever his/her vision is. Or the artist can respond to the unexpected either by treating it as an interference and working around it or by incorporating it into the work. In either case, the work of art evolves according to the artist’s response—often for the better.

Insight (I hesitate to use the word inspiration, because I’m not exactly sure what that is, except unreliable) can come from anywhere. It can be something overheard, something read, something seen. It can be the result of an interaction with a collaborator or with a friend or with a stranger. It may come from talking to oneself or a dream or a daydream or out of the air.

Art does not spring fully-realized, Athena-like, from the head of the artist. Insights happen. Serendipity happens. The unanticipated happens. Happy accidents happen. It seems to me that part of what makes us artists is sensitivity to all of the things that occur in the process of doing our work and choosing from among them to create art that is far richer and has far more depth than the piece we had in mind at the beginning of the process. We must learn that part of our job is to let our art evolve.

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No, It Doesn’t Always Come Together

Monday, 20. February 2017 0:16

Just over a week ago I was sitting alone after a fairly trying rehearsal, thinking about what we had accomplished and where we ought to go next. Probably I was scowling, which seemed appropriate. It was then I heard someone say, “Don’t worry; it always comes together.” My first impulse was to give a really snarky reply, but I thought the better of it. What would be the point in abusing someone who was not really a theatre person and who was living in the happy delusion that shows always come together?

Then this week after a choreography rehearsal, during which much progress was made (choreography had been a bit behind schedule), the student assistant director made a statement that seemed to indicate that if all the pieces were caught up, the show would somehow mysteriously fall together. This was a little better, but not much.

The fact of the matter is that shows don’t always come together. And those that do, don’t come together by accident or magic.

In most cases there is a certain shared energy in a company that seems to grow as opening approaches, and this helps a production come together. But most directors know that that energy is not enough to build an artistically cohesive production.

Shows come together when someone makes them come together. Ideally it is the director who causes the show to come together, a director who guides/forces/coerces/manipulates the company into coming together, which may be more or less difficult depending on the cast, the designers, the production, and the interpretation.  I have even known directors who purposely initiated director-focused company ire in order to weld the performers into a unit. That works because shows can also come together if a cast, as a whole, is reacting to an incompetent/hateful/unbalanced/weak director. Failing one of these scenarios, the show will not come together, and the results will not be pretty.

A show not coming together can manifest in different ways: often the actors seem to be in different universes or all going in different directions artistically or thematically. The musical numbers may not fit seamlessly into the show. The lights or sound may not coordinate properly with the acting and staging. The costumes may not work with the rest of the show.

But a work of art not coming together is in no way limited to theatre. If the conductor cannot somehow bring together the separate elements of the orchestra, the score, and the interpretation of the score, the concert will fall flat. The same holds true for a choreographer and the dancers.  And a film director is very likely to produce a disjointed movie if he/she cannot bring all the various pieces together.

Nor is the problem limited to the collaborative performing arts. If a photographer and subject don’t somehow come together the result is probably a wasted photo session. The same is true of a painter or sculptor and his/her subject.

In fact, no good art “just comes together.” The disparate elements of any work of art—whether it is performing or visual or plastic or written, whether it is a script or a poem or a novel or a musical composition—must be cajoled, massaged, manipulated, orchestrated—and sometimes forced—to come together. This is the source of a great deal of an artist’s angst—knowing that all the parts must somehow coalesce into a unified whole—and having to work to make that happen. Sometimes, it is not intuitive, or even instinctual; sometimes it is the greatest challenge in making art. And it’s a challenge that we must meet repeatedly—every time we create.

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TIL

Monday, 12. December 2016 0:25

Any day that you learn something is a good day; any day that you learn multiple things is an amazing day. I had one of those recently.  The day was to be the opening of a show I had directed; I was planning a personal project that was giving me problems; and there was heavy rain in Houston area. As the day progressed, I learned not one, but five important things. Maybe learned is the wrong word; some of these things I already knew, at least theoretically, but having them so strongly reinforced was like learning them all over again.

  1. Trust your subconscious. The first lesson of the day had to do with that personal project and occurred while I was in the shower. The solution of one of the problems that I had been beating my head against for a week suddenly appeared—not tentatively, but full-blown and complete. I can only assume that since I had all the associated facts in my head but could not consciously find a solution, my subconscious took over and worked on it while I slept. I don’t know that this is the ideal way to solve all problems, but letting the brain do its thing is highly recommended.
  2. Worry is pointless. About 2:30 pm, one of the lead actors in the show texted to say that he was flooded in and might not be able to get to the theatre that evening; he would try, but his appearance was far from certain. I texted the stage manager and told her to alert the understudy, who, I was sure, was underprepared. That she could not find him was cause for concern. I suggested she try his girlfriend, and there he was. At this point I realized that I had done all I could do. The actor would appear or not, and the understudy would go on or not. There was literally nothing I could do at this point to impact the outcome of the evening. So instead of fretting, which would have been my usual path, I asked everyone to keep me posted via text and took a much-needed nap; it was a far better choice.
  3. Trust your staff. Knowing that the understudy was probably underprepared, the stage manager called him early and had him come in to freshen up blocking and lines and to familiarize himself with the show props he had never touched. Evidently, she did this quite methodically, knowing that it would help not only his preparedness but his state of mind. By the time the actor appeared, the understudy was a prepared as he could be, because the stage manager had indeed managed the situation.
  4. Truth can be found in unexpected places. You may have had the experience of reading or (if, like me you are an audio book fan) listening to a book, and having truth jump out at you. It may have been something you thought and the author put into words for you, or it may have been an observation about people or life that struck you as terribly insightful. (Sometimes, such statements impact me so much they appear in my blog posts.) Those moments are to me like finding jewels in the gravel. This happened on the same day. The book was The City of Mirrors (Book 3 of the Passage Trilogy) by Justin Cronin. Cronin had put some observations about people that struck me as remarkably insightful into the minds and mouths of his characters. It was like getting an unexpected present.
  5. Project completion is a joy in and of itself, and worth celebrating. I went to the theatre for opening night. My part in the production was complete; the show was now in the hands of the stage manager and the actors. That, for me, is always a bitter-sweet experience. The joy comes from having experienced the process and from knowing that completion of one project always opens the way to the next project.

Try as we might, it’s not every day that we get to learn something, and in my experience, any day that brings multiple learnings is worth celebrating, or at least remarking upon. So I did. Hopefully, the things I learned last Saturday will resonate with you as well.

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Politics and Art

Sunday, 27. November 2016 23:49

The Sunday after the US election, I got a text asking whether Unnatural Light would be commenting on the election. I replied, “No, at least not this week.” I had thought to wait until the election was really over (when the Electoral College votes on December 19 or the counting the electoral votes on January 6). But as the days passed and more and more things happened, the more I felt compelled to at least say something about my thoughts and feelings.

The arts community seems to be primarily liberal, or “progressive” if you prefer. I am no different. The election and its immediate aftermath are, in my opinion, horrific. As Austin Kleon put it, “It’s been a rotten week.” This is not because the “other side” won. I have lived through many non-progressive administrations. What has been most disturbing about this election has been the potential regression and repression. There seems to be unceasing talk of racism, xenophobia, and misogyny, as well as suppression of criticism. Equally disturbing are the members of a variety of minorities who have, in the last week, talked to me about acquiring defensive weapons because suddenly they no longer feel safe in the America-we-are-becoming.

That said, there are those in the arts community who are political conservatives. Indeed, there are some who are supporters of the President-elect. I have no real explanation for this other than that art and politics are not necessarily aligned.

Most artists have some opinion of what art is and how it should respond to the politics and culture of the time. The President-elect feels that a plea from the Broadway stage for inclusion is harassment and requires an apology, that the theatre should be “a safe and special place“. Others feel that Edward Albee’s assessment of theatre is the correct one: “Well, I think if you don’t offend some people, you’re probably failing in some way.” “A playwright has a responsibility in his society not to aid it, or comfort it, but to comment and criticize it.” “All plays, if they’re any good, are constructed as correctives. That’s the job of the writer. Holding that mirror up to people. We’re not merely decorative, pleasant and safe.Patsy Rodenburg thinks that the power of theatre in general and actors specifically lies in the ability to tell the truth to people who may not want to hear it. She explains in a must-see TED Talk video.

There have been several posts on the internet purporting to advise artists on the appropriate response to the newly-elected administration. There have been calls to give the incoming administration a chance, to work with the incoming administration, to oppose the incoming administration at all opportunities. And, of course, there have been innumerable articles on how artists are responding (here and here, for example).

Personally, I am not convinced that there is a “correct” response for artists. In a 2011 post, I defended artists who chose not to create political art. This is because, at the bottom of it, I believe that art is individual and that each artist speaks with his/her own voice and concerns him/herself with those subjects that are important to him/her. From time to time, I have made political art, but it does not make up the bulk of my body of work by any means; I only do such work when I feel very strongly about a political topic and when making that art coincides with my current artistic interests and goals.

So, no, I do not think that proper artistic response to the recent election is that artist make anti-administration art. What I do think is that each artist should follow his/her artistic instincts. Each artist should speak to his/her audience in whatever way is appropriate to that particular person. I agree with Rodenburg; art is powerful. So my wish is that each artist use that power and present the truth as he/she sees it. My belief is that that is one of the only requisites in art: whatever our topics, no matter who it offends, we must present truth to our audiences.

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Be Reasonable

Monday, 13. June 2016 1:19

Worst. Advice. Ever. At least for an artist. Synonyms for reasonable are sensible, rational, judicious, practical, realistic, sound, evenhanded, equitable. None of those sound like any artist I ever heard of.

We are talking about artist behavior; people who are reasonable or any of those other words do not produce masterpieces. But reasonable can be applied to the work as well as the artist. Reasonable art is safe art, and safe art is boring, unlikely to engage an audience beyond the superficial.

So the task is to produce art that is unreasonable, either in subject matter, form, or treatment. People who create that sort of art, art that speaks to people, art that grabs the attention of the public and critic alike are cannot be reasonable. To produce that kind of work takes obsession that laughs in the face of evenhandedness or well-roundedness. To produce that kind of work takes a selfishness and dedication that borders on fanatical.

And that selfishness and dedication result in behavior that is the stuff of stories. There are many stories about what actors will do to prepare for roles, and there are stories about acting methodologies that are considered unreasonable by others in the business. Interestingly, these actors produce some of the best work out there.

It’s not just actors. Bob Fosse is notorious for bad behavior toward nearly everyone because of his single-minded approach to directing and choreography. Stories abound about writers who hide themselves away to write without being disturbed. Picasso and Dali certainly behaved in ways that many people would consider unreasonable. If you were to ask them why they behaved the way they did, they would answer simply that they were being themselves—and most of their beings was tied up in creating. The real artist’s life is not about balance; it’s about spending every waking minute on art.

So the question arises, does being creative give a person license to behave any way he/she wants? It’s the other way round: the creativity does not give rise to the lack of reasonable behavior, rather to exercise one’s creativity to the fullest—to write the great novel, or play, or poem, to paint a masterpiece, to produce an amazing film, to create a great photograph, to choreograph like no one ever has before, to compose a symphony, to act beyond human limits, to transcend in performance—requires such will, dedication, and single-mindedness that all the rest falls to the wayside. Normalcy is not an option because in order to be Tennessee Williams or Bob Fosse or Georgia O’Keefe or Weegee or Picasso or Beethoven or Baryshnikov or Olivier or requires every ounce of focus that a human being can muster. This leaves little room for traditional sensibility or rationality.

This is not to say that if your behavior is unreasonable or not very realistic you will be a great artist. There is no license. Rather, if you are a great artist, or even a good artist, your behavior will likely not be reasonable.

It’s because of the attention that the work requires. It’s because the personality that can spend four years painting the Sistine Chapel, paying attention to every tiny detail and every color and even the smallest bit of the composition spends so much time on the work that he has nothing left for a “normal” relationship or family or any of the thousands of other things that “normal” people deal with.

We are not Michelangelo. Most of us are not even close. However, if we are to do good work, if we are to create art that is important and that lasts, we may find that our art as well as our behavior—at least from the viewpoint of others—may have to be completely unreasonable.

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To Hell with a Backup Plan

Monday, 4. April 2016 1:06

The last post discussed finding one’s real passion. It naturally follows that once found, that passion should, and in some cases must, be pursued.  But there is a fear that to do so might lead to a difficult life or even to unemployment. So students beginning their study of theatre, particularly acting (and I assume all arts), often begin looking for a backup plan immediately. Not only are parents concerned for the future security of their children, but the students themselves have come to recognize that to be successful in the arts business is difficult. Sadly, that difficulty seems to be a deterrent.

This leads me to three thoughts. The first is that if a person is seeking employment security in 21st century America, that person is living in a fantasy world. Ask any petroleum engineer in Houston; that was an unbelievably secure occupation until the bottom fell out of petroleum prices and hundreds were laid off. Teaching, particularly K-12, used to be one of the most secure jobs in the country; no longer. No one who gets an MBA has a backup plan, but sometimes he/she doesn’t get employed. The arts are no different.

My second thought is a question: why would a person waste his/her time and money studying a profession if he/she thought leaving that profession for another would be a good choice in the future? It would be far more economical in terms of finances, energy, and time to abandon that path immediately and put one’s energies into a more rewarding endeavor.

My third thought is a piece of advice: forget the arts; go do the backup plan. My rationale is that if a person, at the very beginning of his/her journey into the arts is considering a less-difficult path, then that person probably does not have the requisite determination (passion) to succeed in the arts. There will be far less frustration and heartache following the easier route. If, on the other hand, a person is truly passionate about his/her art, the ultimate frustration will be not following that passion.

Instead of working on a backup plan, a student would better use his/her time doing two things: (1) doubling-down on the time spent working on the chosen art. If a person is of the opinion that his/her chosen art is going to be a difficult one in which to make a living, it only stands to reason that the more knowledgeable and skilled will have a better chance of succeeding.  There are no guarantees of course, but more knowledge and skill always improve the odds.

(2) The time that would have been spent working on the backup plan would be better used figuring out how to manage pursuing one’s passion. And this is really the heart of the matter: what is important to a person about his/her art? Is it the doing of it or the making a living at it? If the former, then the way may be different from those seeking to make a living at art. Courtney Lomelo, a working actor in Houston has said, “I have another career during the day that is far from the Arts. . . my day job IS my side job. I like it and it affords me comfort and not to have to worry or take acting jobs that don’t resonate with me just because I need to eat. I can focus more on my craft than ever. I can do it unabashedly without being torn between survival and craft.” That may not work for everyone, but might for some.

There are all sorts of ways for pursuing one’s passion. Spend a little time figuring out which one works for you and go toward that goal with all you have. Make the plan for your passion your main plan and your only plan. To hell with a backup plan.

[This is my second post on the topic of backup plans. The first is here.]

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The Path to Passion

Monday, 21. March 2016 0:13

“Acting is my passion!!” is a statement those of us who teach theatre have heard more times than we care to think about. And for one in a hundred, it’s true. For most, it’s what one is says when one is studying drama and has not yet discovered his/her true passion, or maybe even his/her real direction.

For most theatre (and other arts) students there are tens if not hundreds of choices. Everything interests them, so with such an overabundance of choice, it becomes easier to settle on one that seems comfortable and desirable and expected than it is to explore all of the possibilities to discover one’s actual passion. So they profess that acting is their passion and their life.

All one has to do is watch, and the actions of these will tell you whether they want to really be actors or not. People who are passionate about acting will behave like they are passionate about acting. They want to learn all they can about the craft. They want to do actual acting. If they’re not doing it, they’re talking about it or reading about it, or watching it or thinking about it, all of which, for an artist, is part of doing.

Just like writers in the anecdotes who would write on any scrap of paper they could find, those who are passionate about acting, who must act, will find a way. They may not become professional actors, but they might. They might find that some other path provides a better opportunity for income, so the passion gets relegated to the status of hobby or side-job; others go the other way: they take side-jobs so they can afford to be a professional at the work that is their passion.

“People are known by their actions, not their words.”   It’s a sentiment that gets attributed to lots of people in lots of time and places. It’s also true. If a student indicates by actions that he/she doesn’t want what he/she says is wanted, then that student is not being truthful or he/she cannot connect want and behavior.

If a student who has declared acting to be his/her life spends more time on computer games, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he/she wants to be a professional computer gamer, but rather that he/she doesn’t want to be an actor. What such a student really wants is impossible to determine; it may be some other area of drama or completely outside the theatrical universe.

The larger problem comes when the artist-to-be doesn’t know where or how to look elsewhere. Some of us, teachers or not, have encountered this same problem before we found the path that led to the passion that has brought us to where we are today. So now we owe it to these young artists (whether they are students or not) to guide them away from that which obviously is not their passion and encourage them to discover what really kindles their imaginations, what, once discovered, they can’t not do.

And we must remind them that there really are no restrictions on which paths to explore. I know a number or people who, had they felt really free to explore without limits when they were young, would have ended up with far different artistic lives.

Almost everyone advises us to follow our passion. Sound advice, I think, but you can’t follow it if you can’t find it.

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We Have to Invest

Monday, 8. February 2016 0:56

Two stories: (1) the drama department in which I work negotiated four inexpensive workshops for acting students which cover areas not covered in depth in any of the courses we offer. The offerings were based on a poll of students. Six weeks after the workshops were posted, only two or three students had signed up for each. In exhorting the students to sign up, I asked why the lack of response when they had said earlier that they were interested. The answers varied from non-answers to “I don’t have time.” One person with a Starbucks cup sitting on her desk told me that she didn’t have the money to spare.

(2) During the same time frame, a lighting designer I know complained to me over drinks about a favor he had tried to do for some friends. The friends, who are arts promoters, had wanted to combine performance art with one of their art shows and asked if he could give them some help with the lighting for the performances. Although he has virtually no respect for performance art, he said yes, and worked up a very inexpensive system, only to find out that what they really wanted was for him to provide the lighting equipment and set-up for no charge, as well as run the controls. Like most lighting designers, he owns no equipment and certainly was not interested in a five-plus-hour gig for no pay. The friends were determined to have something, so after much back and forth, he convinced them that the best they could get for a small amount of money was a DJ package which he thought would suffice for their needs. As he worked with them to set up their newly acquired package, he discovered that what they really wanted for their $500 was a professional-level lighting system designed to provide exactly the effects they had imagined operated by an unpaid technician.

The lighting designer suggested ways to enhance the function of the inexpensive system and suggested that they play with it for a while. My strong suggestion to the students was that they reconsider their priorities since it was their future careers that these workshops were designed to help.

My takeaway from both of these stories is that there are a number of people, both students and non-students working in the arts world who are reluctant or even unwilling to invest in their art. Teachers in the arts see this attitude all the time: talented music students who will not invest time to practice; painting students who will not invest the money required to purchase good brushes; dance students to refuse to invest in proper footwear. It happens outside of school as well: photographers who can’t seem to save the money to pay for good lenses; musicians who go out to perform with junk sound systems; singers who won’t allocate the time and money to continue voice training to maintain and improve their voices. Yet all of these people expect to succeed in their chosen art, perhaps by magic or luck.

Since magic and luck are in short supply, most serious artists attempt to leverage every opportunity that could reasonably contribute to their success or allow them to better their art. They understand that art is not easy, and succeeding in the art world is less easy. And most know that in order to develop their art, in order to succeed, they have to invest, usually both time and money. And that too is not easy because time and money are also in short supply. But if we are serious about our art and sufficiently determined to improve and succeed, we will find the time and the money. We must, because in order to grow as artists we have to invest in ourselves.

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