Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Can one make money in theater? A call for Hanukkah gelt...

Note: this post has become quite popular, so I wanted to mention that I tackle the questions of making money in theater and the arts much more in depth in my comparison of the salaries of artists vs. non-artists.  Actual statistics from a semi-scientific survey included!  Read it.

I've been so preoccupied with the readings of Rudolf II and Golem Stories (both of which went very well, I think), that there's been no time to blog. I wonder if there will be any time during the International Festival of Jewish Theater and Ideas. We'll see...

But for the moment, back to Playing Dreidel with Judah Maccabee, which is still going on. I have a few new photos: one of a scene from the play, one of Evolve Company's shadow puppets (which occur inside the ark you can see in the first photo). The shadow puppets are a peek inside the ancient temple in Jerusalem. The man on the left is the High Priest, wearing the breastplate described in the Old Testament (a little detail that I doubt anyone at the show quite registers, but makes me happy).

One thing writing and directing the play has made me realize is that the story of Hanukkah is really about perseverance. Which I would think would not be a revelation, after all this time, but somehow is. The fun for me was in the rituals, and there was this little story about light lasting for eight days. As a friend wondered the other day - so what? What's so special about extra light? The legend of the light, actually, existed well before the events with the Maccabees, and only later were the two things put together. Why that connection?

The obvious answer, though I'd never stopped to ponder it before, is perseverance. The Maccabees should never have survived their battles, lasted as long as they did, but nonetheless they did. And of course perseverance is a theme in Judaism in general. To keep surviving, despite impossible odds. "To always be on the edge of defeat, yet never to be defeated," as I have Judah Maccabee say.

Watching the shows, I started wondering how growing up with that philosophy might have influenced my going into theater. Because theater is truly a profession with impossible odds. My friend Henry has posed the question of whether it is actually possible to make a living as a director, in today's theater. Maybe. Maybe not. But it's almost impossible. The point was driven home to me the other day when another friend, an actor, turned to me and said, with surprise, "You never expected to make money doing theater, did you? I mean, it's possible, but the likelihood is so small..."

But I did expect it. I have always expected it. Even though I wonder, still, if it's possible. When in college, when people asked me what I would be, I said "A starving artist." It was a joke that was not quite a joke. Yet underneath there was a certainty that no matter how difficult, it was possible to persevere, and overcome those odds. Was that something that came from Jewish culture, from Hanukkah, or just my own hubris?

I ask this at a point when I have become concerned about my own finances and the affect they will have on my career. I need to make more money than I'm making, and yet the career I have thrown in my lot with doesn't necessarily offer much, especially in these times. But what to do if I don't have the finances to sustain what I'm doing? Sadly, running a theater company, writing, directing, etc, is more than a full time job. I am so busy day to day that I barely have time to do what I need. I make some money at it all, but small sums.

I feel simultaneously very optimistic about my projects and very worried about how much longer I will be able to sustain myself financially. Is perseverance enough? How many days can the light stay lit?

1 comment:

Kasheri (Overly Verbose Today) said...

As soon as you started discussing the theme of perseverance, I immediately thought of your work in theater. I have recently come into contact with many old friends from my high school days. In those days, I was very active in music and drama, and most of these old friends were as well.

I’ve been surprised at how many of them have actually managed to make money in theater. Most of them do it within the little hidden pockets of the stage. One travels the world as a lighting designer. He does the lighting for both live and static productions. Much of the work involves theme parks in one way or another. Another old friend is in the Art Department of a popular soap opera, and has been working sets there for many years. One friend is a Researcher, and works retrospective TV specials. I’m not sure if that’s what he envisioned when he was attending the Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts, but he seems to like it and it keeps him going while he tries to find backers for his screenplays. One has been in the arts within academia. He studies and writes music, sustaining his lifestyle through his graduate student stipend and TA income. He’s a gifted composer, but sees little opportunity to make money doing it outside of higher education.

My first boyfriend is now a professional opera singer and is musical director for a company that offers live music during the holidays. He’s been doing that for 20 years. Today he’s practicing shot-gunning a can of beer, because he has a gig tomorrow on a comedy show, and they want the musicians to all imbibe before they sing. Life as a performer can be very weird.

Then, of course, there’s Joshua Wolf Coleman, who seems to be doing pretty well at keeping his head above water.

One old friend even performed on Broadway, which rather amazes me because he also starred in a truly awful teen sex comedy and I was sure that film would put a nail in the coffin of his career. He is the only one who has had kids. He and his wife make their living as restaurateurs.

It is you, however, of whom I am proudest. You have achieved so much! I hope that you can persevere, and that you can make money doing it. I understand what you’re saying about it being so much more than a full-time job. That said, it seems that what most people have to do is do something else in addition to their work in the arts. It seems like NY in particular is a place where you’re simply expected to do it for the love of it alone, and it is assumed that you’re all going to starve as you do it. It’s more than I ever had the stomach to take on.

You have always seemed to be open to new opportunities, and to molding your career as you go along. I think that will serve you well in the perseverance-department.