Thursday, August 10, 2006

What Have We Gotten Ourselves Into?

posted by Damaso Rodriguez at 11:33 AM
Steppenwolf artistic director Martha Lavey wrote a great entry today titled "An Actor's Life" on their blog. She's an actor as well, often appearing in productions at Steppenwolf and elsewhere. Thanks to her artistic director position she describes herself as being somewhat exempt from most of the rigors of the working actor's life.

"First of all, my being on stage is a kind of luxury – the thing I get to do in addition to my on-going job as artistic director. Therefore, the career anxieties that are part and parcel of the working actor’s life are not mine. (When the show closes, I go right back to work – thus: to a reliable income; to a place, surrounded by like-minded colleagues; and to a purpose. These are luxuries not assured to the free-lance actor)."

It's a phenomenon (the actor-arts organization leader) that is common in Chicago at all levels.

Here in L.A. it seems to occur only in the small to mid-size theatres. At Furious, many of our ensemble members have artistic and organizational leadership responsibilities. It's something we're struggling to balance effectively. How do you ensure success in one realm without negatively impacting the other? At this point while Furious still struggles to grow its budget and its audience, when neither role (artist or leader/administrator) is able to offer a living wage, everything is a little bit compromised. We're developing ways to pick up the slack for each other when we step in to work 'as an artist' and we're trying to get better at task-managing and compartmentalizing our time and efforts.

This isn't really her point, but I'll attempt to make it part of mine later. So, she goes on to write with much respect about "the rather crazy facts of an actor's life." She says:

"Choosing to be an actor makes no sense – the career is unreliable, even if you’re good you can sometimes be bad in a particular production, or you can be good but be in a bad production, or you can be good and find yourself in a bad career (not enough work, not enough money in the work you get). It’s crazy."

"And I wondered: is this the price we demand of our artists? Is this the toll we extract of those people living out their dreams? If, as a society, we grant expressiveness, eccentricity, emotional freedom to a group of people, do we insist that they trade the joy and exuberance and release for economic security and social agency? Is the deal that: you can be an actor but only at the peril of your economic well-being and social standing?"

Unfortunately, it would seem that the answer is 'yes' to these questions ... except at the highest levels of success within the theatre (and film/tv) world. In many ways we started Furious Theatre as a way to control our own destinies, as a way to live out our dreams outside the established system. The goal was to somehow afford by our own initiative the luxuries that Lavey describes herself returning to after the show closes: "a reliable income; to a place, surrounded by like-minded colleagues; and to a purpose."

However, as our fledgling company starts to evolve into a maturing organization we can start to see a line being drawn in the sand accompanied by the question, "Which do you want to be: the actor or the "Director of Development", "Marketing Director", "Managing Director", and so on? One comes with a salary and benefits in a few years from now ... the other is your dream fulfilled, accompanied by the perils Lavey describes above. We're starting to get the feeling we can't have both. Tricky stuff, but it'll be fun to come up with a way of beating this system. Optimism still reigns.

Read all of what Martha Lavey has to say here.


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