The Myth of the Emerging Artist or Why I Love this Collaborative Experiment
While some artistic directors seem unable to find artists who happen to be women to include in their season, Women’s Project Producing Artistic Director Julie Crosby, and Associate Artistic Director Megan Carter have found fourteen. For one show. Not including designers and actors. That’s seven playwrights, four directors and three producers to be exact. For one show.
With continued downsizing, greater financial constraints, lack of funding, and the feeling that we as artists are spread thin—that we are fighting for the same limited pool of resources and have to continually try to explain and defend the “necessity of theatre”—the decision to give the members of the Women’s Project 2010-2012 lab, a group of emerging artists, the third slot of a season complete with contracts and a main stage production budget does not make sense. Or does it?
Emerging artists are like the moles of the theatre community, dwelling and creating in underground, off-the-grid spaces for who knows how long until some day, who knows when we will emerge into the light and into more legitimate theatre. There is no timeline for this emergence. I could be an emerging artist for the rest of my life.
I’ll be honest, this whole idea of being an emerging artist drives me crazy.
- It assumes that I am working in some liminal space—some pre-professional netherworld, between intern and real live theater maker.
- It allows my work to be undervalued—literally. In the time-money continuum, emerging artists tend to donate their time and spend their own money on their project.
- It implies that there is someplace—some magical, legitimate theatre place I need to emerge to in order to matter. At the end of the day this idea of being an emerging artist puts the emphasis of my work onto a place that I have to get to to be considered accomplished, rather than looks that the work I am currently doing as accomplishments in and of themselves.
Don’t get me wrong—there are institutions that I would love to work at. I imagine making new artistic homes and families. But I am a working artist right now and my collaborators and I are making art right now. And I reject the notion that I’ll be a theatre artist when someone else tells me I am. I have already emerged.
I am a working artist right now and my collaborators and I are making art right now. And I reject the notion that I’ll be a theatre artist when someone else tells me I am. I have already emerged.
I left teaching history to pursue theatre and directing and early on I kept waiting for that staged reading or short play that would lead to the phone call or email that would lead to the thing that would open the door! The proverbial door that leads to all the good things! But what if the good things are already here? What if I really like the work that is happening around me? What if I see possibility, potential, imaginative thinking, and grand ideas in the room that I am already in and rather than seek a way out, I prefer to continue to invite people to support the work that is happening right now.
Right now—I am a director. I spend most of my time in rehearsal, and in conversation with actors, designers and producers. Sometimes I have a budget. Sometimes I am thankful for garageband. All of the time I am amazed and humbled with how much talented, creative, committed people do with so little. “Make it work” is more than Tim Gunn’s a catch phrase from Project Runway. It’s a way of life. It’s a habit. It’s how we make magic.
Right now, I am collaborating with Charity Ballard, Alexandra Collier, Elizabeth R. English, Jessi D. Hill, Andrea Kuchlewska, Manda Martin, Dominique Morisseau, Kristen Palmer, Sarah Rasmussen, Mia Rovegno, Melisa Tien, Stephanie Ybarra, and Stefanie Zadravec. These women are some of the most talented, generous, and ferocious theatre artists that I have ever met.
We Play for the Gods is a theatrical experiment that has institutional support. It is the culmination of ongoing dialogues, most of which took place during our Women’s Project Lab meetings about our concerns and aspirations. On June 1, We Play for the Gods, the brand new, full length, play created by fourteen women began performances at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City. This is happening because a thirty-four year-old theater company gave us the opportunity for a production and supported our creative process with institutional resources. This is a decision by an institution to view the women in the lab as artists rather than apprentices, or artists-in-training. Rather than using our membership in the lab as some sort of calling card to get work in the future, we have been invited and encouraged to collaborate right now. The idea that we have an artistic home has been affirmed and that home has become a place where we are invited to take risks.
It is astounding that this invitation was given along with the belief that fourteen people could find a way to collaborate together. Even though the ultimate product would follow a more traditional rehearsal, tech preview, opening calendar, we did have the liberty to experiment with our process. We have had the liberty and support to engage in a really difficult work in progress. We have learned to be flexible, to make adjustments, to listen, to let go of ideas when necessary, to articulate why some ideas are worth our fight. In other words, we are making it work. Because that’s what emerging artists do.