Are you the Boss/Employee You Would Want to Have? Good question, and good advice here…
So far I’ve got two W-2’s, awaiting (by last count) 3 more of those and 4 1099’s. How about you?
Sometimes I minimize what I do too much with the “starving artist” phrase, but I do think that it’s a label that rings true for too many of us in this field. Arts programs in schools are at the mercy of budget cuts even in a good economy, so the problem is worse in these times. Adjunct faculty jobs are are limited in terms of compensation and benefits. Many residency programs are temporary and grant funding may not be secured until the very last minute, leaving many a teaching artist caught between accepting or turning down work for which the job security is next to none.
Those are some realities that those of us who have been working awhile face, but it may be even more daunting for the entry-level artist or arts professional. Newcomers to the field are encouraged to apply for internships with theatres where they will often receive a “stipend” far below a living wage (if anything) and no benefits for sometimes dubious “work experience.” That could work if you are independently wealthy or the chance to live at home (in a city with a significant theatre and strong internship program) but how is a 22 year old with new student loan bills supposed to eat and pay rent on $100 or less a week? Many of us who survived such experiences can be patronizing the entry-level arts professional, pointing out how we “paid our dues” and they ought to suck it up. But these practices promote an insustainable lifestyle that can only serve to drive the most responsible and qualified from the field.
As this blog has demonstrated, I wear a number of hats professionally and in my work in the community. Directing is a vocation close to my heart and one which I identify strongly with. I have long been conflicted over whether to pursue further graduate study and, if so, in what specifically. But if money were no object whatsoever, I would likely get an MFA in Directing– just. because. Directing is among my favorites though, and above all else it is a creative outlet with a mixture of challenge and satisfaction that few other things match for me. I’m in tech this week for a show I’m directing and I’m in that place where things finally seem to have hit a stride, feeling a familiar relief and enjoying increasing excitement over little moments in the show that are just right and other moments that are happening spontaneously as actors have become comfortable enough to rediscover and breathe new life into the scenes.
Recently I got a funny little compliment from one of my performers. She said that I direct like I’m looking at a CAT Scan. I wasn’t sure what she meant by that at first, but as she explained further she did a rather impressive impression of the way I look at scenes spatially when we’re polishing something in rehearsal. Sort of moving around, looking at the total image onstage and then honing in on a bit of space, noticing something out of alignment and pushing an actor a few inches to the right to get the right balance. It was a very sweet thing to say, and I think it alludes to something that really speaks to me as a director– Space.
I remember in college my Directing professor introduced the term “picturization” to me and I found it intensely satisfying– an aha! moment, definitely. Picturization refers to the notion of the Director as Sculptor-for-the-Stage, manipulating the people and objects in the space towards an image that reflects the total concept for the scene. It’s a fairly simple notion– stage the actors (or perhaps better yet, INSPIRE the actors TOWARDS staging themselves) into shapes that reflect the story you wish to tell. I think this is a lot of what I do as a director, finding and refining the pictures onstage– exploring the space and people/objects in it choreographically.
Another metaphor I connect with is Director as Conductor, drawing out the music and rhythms of the play, listening for false notes and tuning the various instruments as necessary towards an ultimately harmonious “sound.” I definitely zero in on transitions with this role in mind– feeling antsy when a blackout is too long and holding my breath through sequences that at their best really take the audience on a journey to the next page of the story seamlessly.A lot of directing is about managing and promoting the rhythms the audience takes in. I think that this is part of what first drew me to lighting as design as well, as I started to explore how the timing of lighting changes played into the timing of the movements and moments onstage.
I’m absolutely the worst critic of my own work, but I find moments of stage that “work” to be an enormous thrill. Most of all I think my directing style is Director as Audience Member. My interest in theatre begins and ends with my love of being an Audience Member, witnessing that which is uniquely theatrical. I direct because I want to see those images and connections that happen on stage in a way that they can’t in any other form.
Like several of my readers, my professional life is in some ways more complicated than that of someone who works a single full-time position in an office or classroom. Never am I reminded of this more than at this time of year, when each day my little pile of W2’s and 1099’s grows. This past year I was a resident teaching artist for an inner city preschool, taught my first semester of college theatre, directed a middle school play, acted as a direct support provider and educational consultant for a child with special needs, substitute taught a lot, stage managed two touring productions, designed lights for five dance concerts, and provided an array of technical support for productions at two private schools. I had my good gigs and my less-good gigs, my lean times and times where I could give my landlord rent two or three months in advance. I navigated a health care maze, first paying a great deal of money for coverage through COBRA, and then going through a needlessly difficult application process trying to secure health insurance that was less expensive than my rent.
There’s a lot of balancing to freelancing. In this economy I find it even harder to say no to work, as I wonder if at any minute any one of the gigs I have could fall through. I started 2009 with a strong sense of I-Need-Work/Life-Balance, and I do think some progress was made. I like to think I work a little smarter than I did in my early twenties– I have a better sense now of what my work is worth and (a little) less inhibition about letting clients know what that is. And I can say with certainty that I was happier professionally in 2009 than I had been in 2008– the year I made a difficult decision to leave a full time position I had held for sometime. I had wondered if I would be okay jumping back into the world of the self-employed and I definitely am glad I did. But evaluating which jobs to take on and which gigs would be best walked away from is a challenge that really never goes away. Sometimes i’m just grateful for the work but too busy to have a satisfying personal life. Sometimes the work pays the bills but gets in the way of more fulfilling professional development. Sometimes it’s all going so well I can hardly believe it– but I feel anxious that something will slip and the juggling will catch up with me. Sometimes I’m just trying to make ends meet and I wonder if I’d be better off in a full time position with a group health insurance plan and a predictable day or two off each week.