Fiction, Monologues, Plays & More
I recently had the acute and highly uncomfortable realization that I’ve made a very poor financial decision: I chose writing as a career.
It was okay right out of college. Everyone I knew was just as poor as I was. “Poor” meaning, of course, Top Ramen for dinner at least three times a week and paying your electric bill a week late with some cash you managed to scrape together from writing fake horoscopes for a mysterious online magazine (I’m still available for all your fake horoscope-writing needs, by the way.)
For a couple years there, everyone had milk crates holding up their televisions, everyone slept on mattresses from their childhood bedrooms or found on the sidewalk, everyone drank Nati Light and ate their last saline cracker before their paycheck arrived. It is the way of the young-twenty-something.
Several years have gone by, however, and even though I’ve graduated into a realm where I can splurge on $8 wine and fancy brie from Trader Joe’s to share with other writer-types while we talk writer-type things, I’ve noticed that this particular graduation is perhaps a bit stunted in comparison to my peers. Somewhere along the line, everyone decided to become “young professionals” and make “money” and “buy cars” and have “down payments.” Except for me.
The arts in general are hard careers to pin down in terms of what the world at large considers successful. Certainly if you’re winning lots of awards and getting lots of great reviews and publicity, that’s one thing. Getting published in a few little journals is something else. Getting a few more auditions this month than last month is another. Very seldom can success in the arts be measured in terms of money – even if you made millions on that screenplay you sold, that doesn’t mean you’ll ever do that again. Instead, you’re stuck in a hellish time-loop where you’re forced to try to recreate that one success over an over, proving again and again that you can, in fact, do the job. In many careers there is a determined path to walk, a salary ladder to climb, a title change to receive. As a writer, my title is always “writer.” As a writer, my salary is always “whatever I can get.”
This gets me to the subject at hand. Are the arts just a money pit we’ve chosen to fall into?
If you’re a real writer (or painter or actor or whatever), you’ll of course find time to do your craft no matter what your “day job” happens to be, no matter how many kids you have, no matter the shrinking hours of the day. You fund your art with a different career.
But how else can we get out of this money pit we’ve chosen deliberately to jump into? How do we get support to finish a dream project?
…I don’t know.
But one thing is clear: we can’t rely on some big-wig at a publishing house or a theater company or a movie studio to “discover” us and whisk us away to fame and fortune. We’ve got to do this ourselves. And we’ve got to stop apologizing for needing money in the first place.
Crowdsourcing seems to be the big kid on the playground right now. Even celebrities are getting into the action, from the Zach Braff Kickstarter kerfluffle to the funding of the Veronica Mars movie, a project that never would have happened if it weren’t for the voice of the fans.
The Internet and social media make it incredibly easy to communicate on a personal and direct level with a ridiculous amount of people, which makes it easier to put your project in front of their faces and say “help me fund this!” It also means it is increasingly difficult to break through the noise and actually be successful at it.
As far as LA theatre goes, Rogue Artists Ensemble has a very successful Kickstarter for their in-progress play Pinocchio, a new kid in town theater company Theatre Factor Studio successfully funded their Kickstarter last year, and The Vagrancy has been doing pretty well with their yearly social media-based fundraising campaign.
And even though they were seemingly less successful as far as money goes, Little Opera in San Francisco and up-and-coming singer/song writer Kris Angelis put together great campaigns that were personal and thoughtful to their fans and supporters.
(By the way, you need to check out all the groups I’ve linked to above. None of these campaigns are active right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t check out the artists.)
The real trick to successful crowdsourcing seems to be passion, authenticity, an exciting idea and a kick-ass video. And it does help to have a loyal fan-base already, a group who is eager to consume your creations.
And it all starts with the work. It all starts with the personal relationships you create with an audience that grows with each click of a mouse.
So do the work. Cultivate your passion. Share your passion with other people. Help others when you can. Be real. Be original. Be so damn good you can’t be ignored.
And if you have to work at Long John Silvers for twelve years to do it, then so be it.
And don’t be afraid to ask for the help when you need it.
I have not let go of the nagging unworthiness that creates a cloud of pity around me when in the presence of my more professional friends. But I do feel, and I hope this is true for you, that I’m in the right place, doing what I should be doing, at exactly the right time.
I just don’t have a BMW to prove it.
Chelsea Sutton holds a BA in Literature from The College of Creative Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Her plays have had readings and productions in Santa Barbara, New York and Los Angeles and she is currently participating in workshops with the Skylight Theatre Playlab and The Vagrancy Writers Group, as well as spearheading ECT’s writers group, Eclectic Voices. Her play The Dead Woman, was recently named a Semifinalist in the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference 2013 and a finalist for the Stanley Drama Award. Her fiction has appeared in The Best of Farmhouse Magazine, The Catalyst, Spectrum, NYC Midnight, Fictionade, Bourbon Penn and a forthcoming issue of The Cactus Heart. She was the 2011 Winner of NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Contest. Her story The Tick and the Tocking received Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers. She is a member of the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative. WithCoffeeSpoons.com