Doing the Impossible
Let’s talk about Doing The Impossible in your art, folks.
What do I mean when I say Doing The Impossible? There are so many answers!
For the purpose of this blog, Doing The Impossible means making art that you love and is authentic to your vision in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
Which is, I think, why Miriam and Stephanie founded Et Alia in the first place.
As artists, we all encounter difficulties and struggles, including (but definitely not limited to!) the favorite Toxic Threesome of many an arts community:
- structural bigotry
- devaluing the efforts and humanity of their workers (often for the sake of “the art” in the abstract)
- stubborn, head-in-the-sand, willful ignorance and unwillingness to change
In addition to navigating these waters:
Sometimes catastrophe strikes (say, a global pandemic!)
Or self-imposed limitations hold you back (say, entering a new market as an absolute outsider with a huge disadvantage because at 24 you set yourself up to succeed in AEA-centric NYC and suddenly find yourself breaking up with your boyfriend and moving home with your parents in Chicago where the unspoken rule is “don't join Equity until you’re 30+”!).......
How can you deal with all….THIS….and, somehow, still, make art? And maybe, even, make a living at it? And maybe JUST maybe...have it be the kind of art you want to make?
Well, I'm here to tell you that it’s possible. I promise! It is possible. It is VERY hard. But it can be done.
A quick rundown of some of my experiences Doing the Impossible:
*****TW: physical and emotional trauma! Feel free to skip to “END TW” down the page.*********
- writing, co-producing, and starring in a festival-qualifying short film two weeks after getting mugged and sustaining a concussion so bad it made my left temple temporarily squishy.
(for the record: it took me three weeks to be well enough to get back to my day jobs.)
- my co-producer and I losing our workshop venue for MARYSHELLEYSHOW with one week before rehearsals begin in Maine; finding another venue (IN MAINE, thanks to our intrepid directrix), and performing the show as scheduled. The show tours nationally, wins an audience award at Chicago Fringe, and is remounted in NYC the following year.
- .....that earlier thing about “self-imposed limitations” and “entering a new market as an absolute outsider”? IT (obviously is) ME. Five years later, I’m lucky enough to be a consistently working actor in Chicago with a terrific resume, health insurance, and a robust artistic practice that has continued through COVID (heck, I even became SAG-eligible in August, AND I shot a short film on Zoom less than a week ago).
- getting hit by a car at the start of a long week of shows and auditions....and then booking my next show from one of those auditions....but that is another story for another blog!
To be clear, I’m not offering any of these examples as a way to force you to stay in a business you hate, or to tell you to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” “if I can do it anyone can,”
blah blah blah.
That’s all bullshit.
I offer these to let you know that you’re not alone, you’re doing your best, and things do inevitably work out, even if it’s not how you expected.
Additionally, I offer a few hard-won nuggets of wisdom from my five years jumping headfirst into the deep end and floundering around with no life jacket until a career happens:
1) Please don’t jump headfirst into the deep end of the pool and flounder around with no life jacket until a career happens.
Don’t do that! Do NOT do that. I could have saved myself so much struggle and angst if I’d done my homework properly when I arrived in Chicago.
I heard recently that “people can’t play when they don't feel safe,” which basically sums up much of my life as a struggling artist who sacrificed fiscal stability for auditions without a plan
other than “maybe I’ll book THIS one.” Maslow’s hierarchy of needs puts “self-actualization” at the top of the pyramid for a reason.
Set yourself up for success. Make sure you can feed and shelter yourself in a way that makes you feel safe and secure (those are different things!).
And for goodness’ sake, find out if you'll
be able to actually work as an artist BEFORE you sign the lease.
2) You cannot do this alone.
Everything in that list of Impossibles? I did not, could not, and WOULD not have done ANY of it on my own. And when I tried, it went terribly.
Every day I am grateful for the incredible agents, casting directors, directors, producers, writers, stage managers, dressers, designers, cinematographers, technicians, run crew, box office staff, house managers, production assistants, fellow day job workers, parents, partners, pals, et alia (eyyyy) who have seen me, known me, and loved me enough to lend a hand when I needed it most.
In this moment, I’m especially grateful for the folks who let me read plays and shoot films on Zoom with them, and the folks who are creating dynamic, accessible virtual theatre that gives me hope for the future of live performance.
You need friends. You need coworkers. You need people who share your vision and who are excited to share their skills with you to make art happen. And by heavens, that means....
To yourself and others. Pay it forward. Boost your buds on social media. Recommend them for jobs because you've worked with them and you know just how damn good they are. Put your stubborn, spiteful, pouting ego to the side. Say thank you, please, pardon me, and I’m sorry.
AND STOP BEING UNKIND TO YOURSELF. Please, I beg you, stop being unkind to yourself, however you do it, we all do in a million different ways. I promise you that both your art and your life will improve exponentially once you stop fueling them with shame and anguish. Be honest about your feelings and your boundaries, within yourself and with others, because they are worth it, because YOU are worth it, because you’re a human being.
I love every single one of you reading this, and if you want to talk more about this stuff, or just vent, or get some recs for Excellent Colleagues Who Would Be True Assets To Your Organization, or even have me connect you with some therapeutic resources….
Email me. GraceSmithActor@gmail.com.
Love, love, love. You’re not alone. I promise I’m here.
Grace Smith is an actor, union member, and eclectic multi-hyphenate who splits her time between NYC and Chicago. You can see some of the things she’s done lately at GraceSmithActor.com.