it's called 'show-art'


it's called 'show-art'

So you bring your true self to the work, your unadulterated effort, without negative self-talk & the sanding off of the interesting edges. Instead of compromise, you bring us vision.

I lead a group called The Art of the Biz -- which sounds a bit too Hollywood-ish for my taste, but it's all about this: making the business part of what we do as creative / soulful / disciplined / professional / enjoyable / as the art part.

I see many actors not making headway in their careers not because their talent is lacking, but because of the way they -- we! --  look at / deal with business. In taking the proscribed steps to build our careers we exhibit character traits & use methodologies diametrically opposed to what we do in the thick of artistic work. 

We handle relationships differently, commitments -- either to ourselves or others --  differently, we feel differently about ourselves when practicing our craft than we do when trying to get a job. We look at the business part as boring / uncreative / excruciating / tedious  -- even as something we should not have to deal with. We resent it. Sound familiar?

“My problem,” many an actor will say somewhat proudly in our first meeting in my studio, “is that I hate the networking, the selling. I can’t do it. It really disgusts me. And I’m not good at it.” 

The implicit humble-brag = “I’m not a good politician, sycophant, salesman. I wear this as a merit badge, a mark of my integrity.” By disdaining the biz, we feel like we are flying our freak-flag. We’ve bought into the belief that competing in the marketplace means selling out, & fuck it, as artists, we refuse to do that.

By “business” I mean all the things we need to do to keep a career growing: managing & cultivating relationships / keeping pictures & resumes & reels & listings up-to-date / doing homework on upcoming projects / forging a long-term plan / launching a website / engaging effectively with social media / articulating a statement of vision, values & purpose. In other words, the very same things every other kind of business has to do in order to be successful & sustainable.

Here’s the good news: today more than ever there are all kinds of tools to invent & enhance the specific, idiosyncratic, highly unique business of YOU. With new technologies & ever more sophisticated & soulful thinking about best practices & leadership, you can now separate yourself from the pack in all kinds of ways besides the declaration of your talent. Taking care of business these days looks & feels a lot like creative work.

I found this out for myself during the years I ran a (theater) business. Once I stopped disdaining (read being afraid of) the drudge-work of business, I discovered my artist-brain was super-good at tasks such as grant-writing, marketing, budgeting, fundraising, ticketing policies, staff meetings, programming, etc. When I applied my artist sensibility to the nuts-&-bolts stuff, I not only heightened the company’s success but my own fulfillment & sense of empowerment.

More good news: "Marketing" is no longer a dirty word. Ding, dong, that witch is dead. Here’s why: there is no more "selling." & no more expectation of selling. Of any kind. Okay, I grant you, sometimes this manifests more as a mindset than as a tactical shift. You are still going to promote some of the things you do. But the way you think about & invest in showing up in the world will be different. And because of that, your efforts carry a different energy. 

What do I mean by “no more selling?” -- first off, easy, there are no more cold calls, ever. Celebrate, pop the champagne, that's over. In regular old sales it is done & in the acting biz it is done. Just about everyone you want to meet is now hanging out in the same LinkedIn / Pinterest / Twitter / Facebook "room." Cold calls have morphed into the warmth of shared connections: now you can easily find someone you're looking for through mutual friends, or a shared passion for stray dogs, or an obscure indie film, or a sports event or charity. Do a little creative research & you'll find just who you're looking for.  Do a little more & you'll find your way in the door.

When you apply the values of your art to your business, it stops being just about "getting a job." Your professionalism & creative mind-set now extends to every aspect of all you do. You're not ashamed of your desire to find places to do the work you love & build connections with people you want to work with. You're not worried that anyone will think you're “brown-nosing” or manipulative or needy. Because you’re not. Your goal is to connect with the kind of work you want to do. Not selling means knowing that you’re not for sale. 

When taken to the power of ten, this all becomes the scenario of you & your best friend from high school making a film together: you feel utterly comfortable & completely entitled to being a part of the project. High school, of course, was a lucky break; now you are consciously cultivating certain relationships to gain access to a certain kind of work experience. Your goal is to do your best possible work on projects that matter to you, not just to take any work you can get. 

Think of this whole industry as yours.Start by making it real: give the business of YOU a name, a tag line, a logo. Give yourself a title. Go on, get a whole new mind-set: I'm here to say you are already good at this business-thing because you're already good at being an creative artist. Still, doesn't hurt to build confidence by educating yourself. Some crazy-good places to start: Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield / Tribes & Permission Marketing by Seth Godin / Conscious Business by Fred Kofman / Anything by Todd London.

Master social media. There's no way around this. We will not be acting for other people if we never leave the house, virtually or otherwise. Not selling does not mean you don't have to show up. (Twitter is not a technology, its a conversation & it's taking place with or without you.) I've written here before about my conviction that these new social media platforms give creative people a real edge. (See my post: Survival of the Creative-est) But only if you're applying your power to it. 

So what is marketing if not selling? According to marketing guru Seth Godin, it's cultivating "know, like & trust" factors. It's telling a story. It's buiding curiousity. & it speaks to a need someone else has.

For example: Your twitter handle just says “actor?” Really? Are you a cog in the wheel of art? Or: “well-trained actor?” -- doesn’t that make you sound sort of like a show-dog? (& that same old safe, outdated headshot in the blue sweater...again? That pic that only serves to cement your image as a cipher?) Yes, you are an actor, but aren’t you are much, much more? AND you are a specific kind of actor. Through your picture (it should change from time to time, like you do) & this little 140 word blurb you have a chance to reveal your essence, tell a story & build some curiousity.

Meet Virginia Newcomb, the terrific actress playing Iris in On The Spectrum, the play I'm currently doing at the Fountain Theatre. I really like her twitter pic & blurb. Here’s what she says about herself: 

“Lil' slice of southern pie who acts, sings, & spits on sidewalks. Live & love all art, even bad art. It's all out there making someone feel something.”

What do we get from that, if we analyze like a script? Yes, she lets us know she's an actor & a singer. We also get something about where she's from & that she’s kind of delectable -- that "slice of southern pie" bit! We get that she has a sense of humor, that she doesn’t take herself too seriously ("spits on sidewalks.") We also get that she’s irreverent, maybe a rule-breaker, maybe not always so polite. & then we get that she has soulful values. She's an artist but not an elitist. Don’t you want to get to know more about this woman? 

I think successfully marketing yourself is exactly the same as a giving successful performance. It's having the courage to reveal your essential self: in the way you use social media, in the way you design your website, in the way you manage your professional relationships, in what you say yes & no to, in how you handle yourself when the going gets tough, in what you give back to, in how you construct your day.  All this = how you imaginatively grow your career as a function of your talent.

Mirror whatever you're committed to in your craft in the way you run your business. Excellence / Growth / Originality / Innovation / Professionalism / Truth / Greatness / All of the above. Walk these out of the rehearsal room & over to your laptop. Go out there fully & completely yourself, open to exposing your frustrations, your joys, your biting wit, your keen observations, your vulnerabilities, your goofiness, your off-center view of the world.

The "business" is not your adversary. Updating your IMDB page can = a creative exercise rather than a chore. Ditto: communicating with your manager / submitting yourself for an audition / writing a note to a director to say why you're right for a project / making a budget / updating your twitter feed / you name it. Then, you see that running a successful artist-business isn't about being passive or politic. (It may have been once, but its not anymore.) It's about being an innovator & a leader.

At first you might think no one is noticing. But I will tell you from having worked in all aspects of our business: from acting, to casting, to running a theater, to directing, to teaching: everyone is noticing everything all the time. They are noticing the way you listen & the way you breathe. They are noticing how you interact with others & if you are defensive or open when taking a direction. They are noticing how you you organize your script & how you organize your finances. They are noticing how you talk to the lowly P.A. & the VP of Showtime. In everything you do, you are imparting vital information re: what the business of YOU is all about.

When you stand in front of a camera, are you thinking about marketing yourself? (If you are, that's a problem.) Or are you thinking about relating to your character, connecting to the other person in the scene, sharing & giving a voice to something that matters to you? Can you apply these same principals to your business? Can you connect & bridge the value system you aspire to in the work, to the work you must do to advance your career? 

Values / Vision / Passion / Talent. Design a vision board, create an email signature, articulate your personal values, write your mission statement. Make a Pinterest board with pictures of the people you want to work with. Envision your ideal career down to how much money you want to make. Go on, make a strategic plan for the next 2 - 5 years. When you are really steeped in this, you will emanate confidence & strength from your artistic persona AND your business persona. Relinquish forever the disenfranchised, powerless feeling that sometimes seems welded to our identity as an actor. 

This is the first in a series about infusing your show-biz with art-biz. Nurturing it with the same kind of wild, unconventional impulses / joy / enthusiasm you bring to embarking on rehearsals for a Tennessee Williams play. Really enjoying it, eagerly accomplishing its tasks with the same brio you feel when walking on the set.

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"The Art of the Biz" group meets on a weekly basis (sometimes!) to talk about all this stuff & to collectively raise our game. I lead the group & it doesn’t cost anything. (That's right, I’m not selling anything.)  If you’re interested in joining the group, email The Workroom to get on the wait list. & wrap your brain around this stuff -- I'd love to hear what you think.