You’ll never make a living as an artist

My parents would tell me, as a child, that I could be anything I wanted to be.  While encouraging, that’s not entirely realistic as demonstrated by my first selection for future career.  When my mother one day asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I said I wanted to be a midget.  I think that started my life long pattern of tending to choose a more unusual option at every opportunity.  But then when I discovered theatre in high school, it became my new greatest interest and future passion.  As high school was coming to an end, my father told me that I could never make a living doing theatre and that I should study computers instead.  So much for “be anything.”

When I went to college I started out planning to major in theatre and minor in psychology (along with one computer class).  Psychology was the only other area of study I could think of that interested me at all.  Surely that might be a more lucrative career option of theatre didn’t work out.  But I still struggled.  I was doing well in school… a very expensive private school mind you, but I still had the feeling all the time that I was taking classes and my parents were paying all this money and yet I still wasn’t sure.  I wasn’t sure that I was making the right decision, and at the time that decision seemed like it was so important and so final in a way.  So I ended up deciding to take a break from college and work for a while with a plan to return to college later when I’d figured it out.

I expected my parents to be really upset at this decision.  With the divorce court having decided what percentage of my school costs each parent would have to pay, my father actually seemed rather happy.  He pointed out quickly that if I took this break that he was no longer obligated to pay for my college.  My mother was worried what it meant for my future, but supported me in the decision.

This is my personal example of the struggle I think many artists go through trying to figure out if they can pursue their interest and talent.  Am I talented enough?  Can I make a living at this, or is it just a silly unrealistic dream?  What is the path I should be taking if I do really want to try to do this?  On and on.

For me, my father’s words were always in my head… that I’d never make a living doing theatre.  He’s fairly correct in that regard.  The number of theatre artists actually making a reasonable living doing what they love is extremely slim.  So I never gave it my full effort and energy. I never ran off to NYC or LA to try to make a go of it as a starving artist.  Instead I satisfied my passion doing it on the side with a regular day job at the same time.  Also, I have been lucky enough to work around and with theatre organizations through most of my career, having jobs that support the arts in various ways.  But there likely will always be part of me that wonders if I could have made it my life’s work if I’d really taken the leap; taken the chance to try it and potentially fail.

It’s a sad thing that our culture doesn’t value and support the artists the way it does a doctor, a lawyer, an executive.  Every one of us enjoys the work of artists in nearly every moment of our lives.  Graphic designs in magazines, on book covers, on billboards.  The actors we see in movies and on tv, and the thousands of people behind the scenes making those programs happen.  The music we hear on the radio, or as a jingle in a commercial.  The design of buildings and cars.  These are all just examples of art surrounding our lives. Yet we make it incredibly difficult for young people with a creative spark and talent to pursue an artistic career, and offer little hope of that career being financially rewarding.  Why is this the case?  Why don’t we as a society realize that art and artists are integral to our economy, to our enjoyment of life, to shaping our daily experience?  We continue to beat it down as a frivolous pursuit in school, while sports are not?  We discourage our kids to follow their passion and potentially shine, and instead funnel them into the mainstream with all the others to be one of the many.   Why?

Perhaps it’s fear; fear that our kids will fail and we don’t want them to suffer the heartbreak and embarrassment.  Maybe it’s what we’ve been taught; that success is defined by money and a job title and position that impresses others.  Whatever the reason, those that actually break through and become the artist they want to be have to do it despite the stigma and lack of understanding and support.  This is something we should work to change.  We need to recognize the work of artists as highly valuable.  We need to encourage kids who develop artistic passion and talent to pursue it completely.  We need to support the potential artists just as we do potential accountants, potential business managers, potential engineers.  Without the artists, what would our world look like?  Our clothing, the decor in our homes that enrich our daily lives, everything.  What a bland and boring world that would be.

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Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People

 

Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration. www.patrickspike.com

 

 

Neil Simon’s lasting influence

I remember working on my first Neil Simon scene in drama class in high school.

I found the script and showed it to my scene partner and we were both excited to do it.  I believe the scene was from Plaza Suite, with the mother and father of the bride trying desperately to get their daughter to unlock the door, come out of the bathroom, go downstairs and get married.

As with most Simon plays, the dialogue is rhythmic and fast with jokes landing and then returning later in the scene in Simon’s skillful way.  I read an interview with Simon once in which he discussed his writing always using a yellow legal pad and pen.  He said that the longer paper allowed him to scan over it to see the beats, the rhythm, in an almost musical way.  This rhythm and patter to his dialogue was a signature.  He was a master of dialogue.

I would assume that so many of us who came into the theatre as an actor or director were strongly influenced by Simon.  I’ve worked on other scenes of his from high school to graduate school.  I’ve delighted in productions of his work from boisterous comedies to his semi auto-biographical dramas, the Eugene Trilogy.

There’s a term that some writers use when referring to writing that is so good actors can’t really screw it up… “actor proof.”  I’d say that his work may have helped to define that term.  While nothing is ever completely actor proof, his writing was so solid, so pulsing with humor and humanity, that just reading it on the page can be affecting to those listening.  So when performed by truly talented actors, his dialogue and stories can soar off the stage.  They are buoyant, musical, with strong threads of truth running through the hysterical scenes.  The characters are unique, individual, and so so fun to perform.

Some theatre people now are tempted to brush aside Neil Simon’s work as cliche, or outdated, or too familiar, similar to plays by Agatha Christie and others.  Because many of his works are older and have been performed so many times they consider them less worthy of consideration and think they’ll be less challenging to work on and therefore less enjoyable.  I would say that the works of Neil Simon hold a key to a certain style of comedy that can be very valuable for actors and directors to work on and develop the certain skills they require.  The experiences I’ve had discovering his wonderful characters and working on the style and speed of delivery of his dialogue was remarkably valuable.  I still use those skills regularly when working on comedies today.

Thank you Mr. Simon for your immense contribution to the cannon of contemporary American theatre, and to the skills of the actor and director.  Your work, and its influence, will continue for generations to come.

Neil Simon – July 4, 1927 – Aug 26, 2018
Pulitzer Prize for drama 1991


Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People

 

Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration. www.patrickspike.com

 

 

Losing customers

Beware software systems claiming they are FREE

There are many ticketing and related software systems out there marketing themselves as FREE.  The truth is they are not, and the reality is that their pricing model may drive your customers away.It's NOT free, onthestage.com, On The Stage, tickettailor.com, Ticket Tailor

We all know that nothing is free.  We are also smart enough to know that a claim of being free is merely a tactic to try to entice you in.  This is a hook that unfortunately too often successfully manages to ensnare some people who don’t consider the ramifications of a pricing model where the service is free… to THEMSELVES only.

When a ticketing system claims to be free, it simply means that their fees are not charged to you, as the client organization.  Instead, fees are added on top of the ticket costs to your patrons during their purchase, and all too often these fees are exorbitantly high, provide no options to you for amount charged to the patron, or are some sliding amount that makes it impossible to publish a fixed price.  Try explaining why a $20 published ticket price is actually $21.47 to a patron.  In these cases you typically are without options, and these  fees jeopardize the relationships and loyalty of your patrons that you work so hard to build, all before they ever set foot in your door.

Another ramification of this model is that a) patron disapproval of the added fee costs may drive them and you to try to sell more tickets via your box office where you may not charge fees. This leads to b) having data in multiple places that complicates your marketing communications, patron analysis and more, and c) means you lose the powerful benefit of having more patrons buy online, self serve, taking a load off your staff and providing better customer service. Also, what kind of support is offered by company that is claiming to be free to use?  When you need assistance quickly, help or advice from experts, where will you turn?  Over time, these issues become more and more detrimental and unsustainable.

We love our customersArts People instead not only offers you a variety of fee options to best suit your business model, but also gives you  complete control over how much of the fees you might want to pass to your patrons, how much you pay yourself as a planned business expense, or how much you embed into your ticket prices.  For example, if the fee is $.95, you could simply increase your ticket price by $1 and not show any added fees on your patron’s purchase. Or perhaps you add $.50 per ticket, and the rest you simply absorb.  You can even put a cap on fees to the patron, such as $.50 for the first 4 tickets, after that no additional fees to them.  With our unique pricing controls there are infinite options for you to tailor the pricing application to ensure that your patrons take top priority.  Unhappy patrons, before they ever attend your performance, is NOT a good business model… and we know how patrons really don’t like added fees.

It is important to note that many of our clients report increased ticket sales and donations after they come on board with Arts People. The added revenue may completely cover your costs of using the system. This, along with some simple additional offerings such as selling ad space on your print at home tickets, or sponsorship of your online shopping cart, etc.. and you can more than pay for the system that actually helps you to build your audience and develop lasting relationships with your patrons and donors.

More and more we see clients electing to not charge fees to their patrons at all. Anything that jeopardizes those relationships is not a good idea.  Try looking at other performing arts groups in your area.  Are they adding fees on top?  If so, do you want to do the same? Charge less in fees?  Or would you rather be able to communicate proudly to your patrons that you don’t add any fees?  With Arts People, you get to make all those decisions, and we’re here ready to assist you at any time.