Some advice, to you and me, six months into New York (again)
It occurred to me the other day that Sean and I have been back in New York for 6 months (after living and going to school in Iowa for 3 years). When we arrived back, New York could care less - no one would rent us an apartment, parking was terrible, and it was 1000 degrees that first week. However, I knew that with my MFA out of the way, it was time to embrace the city that didn't (always) want to embrace me, and get serious about my pursuits as a director and actor.
Since then, I've accumulated more knowledge about building a career in theater and film, and am doing my best to put into action! For any of you about to graduate and wondering with the hell to do next, I hope this helps :)
1. It's a cliche for a reason - MAKE YOUR OWN WORK!
If you look at the hawt directors today, like Rachel Chavkin and Alex Timbers, and rising playwrights like Qui Nguyen, they all started out with their own theater companies. From there, the companies gained a following, they got reviews, more people saw the shows, and these artists got asked to work at other theaters, for cash money! It's unlikely they would have been as successful if they tried JUST the assisting route, or submitting for 1000 fellowships. This applies to actors too - if agents and casting directors need to see your work, don't wait for someone to cast you. Just look at the new group Artists Entrained, who chose a show to highlight their large group of actor/collaborators, and are fundraising together to pay for it!
I have been investing much of my energy into my company The Navigators, and so far it has given me two additional New York directing credits, hard-won producing credits, and extra skills such as website design, marketing strategy, personnel management, and financial management - all of which will aide me not only in the present, but in future (actual paying) jobs.
Therefore, making your own work not only gives you work, it also widens your skills so more jobs open to you in the future.
2. Work HARD little babies.
If you're trying to start your career in New York, you gotta werk, werk. You gotta werk for your money to pay your stupid rent, and you gotta werk to lay the foundation for your future so you don't have to keep doing that first kind of werk. Many artists like us fall off the path because it's very hard to do both these things, and an easier life has denser gravity. However, you can get all (most of) these things done while still finding free time. Here are the trix I'm learning (and it is progress, not perfection):
- When you're at your day job, focus completely on that job. It can be tempting to open up your email and work on your side projects, or scroll through facebook seeing how many people 'liked' your new headshots, but this splits your focus, making you less efficient at both tasks. If you focus on your job when you're there, and your life's vocation when you're not there, I guarantee you will be more successful at both. Plus it's important to be also successful at your day job, since you never know where those connections will lead you.
And don't forget, humans can't truly multi-task:
-Stop watching Netflix (so much). Let's say you watch on average 3 shows a night, a total of 2.5 hours. What if you only watched 1 hour of Netflix, or any videos/tv, a day? That would save you 1.5 hours a day, 10.5 hours a week, 42 hours a month!! THAT'S A WHOLE WORK WEEK! Instead, dedicate that 1.5 hour a day to your vocation. You can prepare an email newsletter, read a play, memorize a monologue, work on your website...all from your bed even! We all need a little relaxation, which Netflix can provide, but I'm worried Netflix is cultivating a mass addiction, a mass escape. A little balance in this area can go a long way to getting you IN those Netflix shows, and not just watching them.
-Get off that book-of-the-face, the twitter, the instagram, and whatever else you got goin' on. Take a look at this article to start feeling really bad about yourself:
In addition to that Netflix time, you're probably spending at least an hour a day on social media. For our professions, it's actually necessary to promote and network via social media, so we can't escape it entirely. We're not pediatricians! However, try giving yourself set times, maybe once in the afternoon, and once in the evening, perhaps before your allocated one hour of Netflix. Although we tell ourselves this often mindless scrolling is how we decompress, it actually leads to more stress when we realize we didn't do something else which could have really helped us. BTW, I am super guilty of this one.
- Utilize your commute and your lunch breaks. I have a 50 minute commute to work and a 50 minute commute home, 100 minutes a day, 5 days a week = 500 minutes, 8.3 hours per week, 33 hours a month. I try to fill this time with the werk of my vocation: reading 10-minute plays submitted to my theater company for our various events, reading plays for fun (cause we should read as many plays as possible), organizing my email inbox, writing in a journal, creating lists, writing blog posts (there's an app for that), and meditating. I have an hour lunch break 5 days a week. If I dedicate even half that to my vocation, that's 2.5 hours per week, and there I can even more things (like online submissions, and using the printer, shhhh....)
3. See theater and film.
Since I work 40 hours a week, I give myself the goal of going to 1 live performance event per week (theater, music, podcast tapings, etc) and 1 film. Not only is it fun (and can be counted as downtime), you'll learn more about your own werk when experiencing another's, and you'll be able to hold conversations with fellow artists about what is most current. You can also go see shows at companies you admire, and get face-time with their leadership, an important step in building a meaningful connection.
Extra points for using your hard earned money to support independent projects, and stories that give voice to those who have been marginalized, and those who have different experiences than yourself.
4. If you fear it, do it.
I'm definitely guilty of gravitating toward the werk that is the easier, softer way. Of course I'd much rather tweak my oh-so-flattering pictures on my website than work on my CV, or make a lovely five-year plan org chart than figure out how to ask people for money for my theater company. Who wouldn't?
However, I challenge you, and me, to use our fear as the ultimate to-do list. I believe that when we fear something greatly, that is a clue from our higher selves, or whatever you want to call it, that this is the thing we need to do. The more we fear it, the greater the urgency to do it. An audition posting recently crossed my path, and my first reaction was a delightful cocktail of excitement and nausea. I decided to submit, and this weekend I'll be auditioning, rather than thinking "maybe I'll audition in a couple months when I'm less busy." Grab hold of your fear and see where it takes you, instead of retreating from it into a career-of-the-mind only.
5. Last but not least, make your relationships a priority.
Relationships with other human beings (and cats) are in the end, the joy of our lives. Spend time with your friends, cultivate new friendships with a potential buddy. Call your parents (soooo bad at this). Carve time for the signify other. Pet your cat for a solid 5 minutes. The most sparkling career never beats a life full of love.
This is also applicable to your career however. Instead of calling the thing we all hate as 'networking', think of that process as relationship building. It's not just about what a director can do for you, what a playwright can do for you - but how can you also support them? And if you're wooing someone you don't actually like in real life, why bother? Go ahead and network with people you'd actually want for-real relationships with, people you respect for who they are outside of their career. Then when these relationships bloom into tangible opportunities, you'll be happy in the opportunities.
We got this!