Yikes its been four weeks - sorry about that... I have a bunch of posts I have been meaning to do, but the to do list became a little overwhelmed.
Anyway - in the meantime I will post this.
Its notes for a presentation I just did for The Field's Field Network Artists - a great group of folks and a good discussion.
Advice to contemporary performing artists about how to get your work presented.
In preparation for this I did a little research and polled a few artists and presenters. I asked them - if they were in my shoes, what nugget would they share with you about how to get your work presented, produced or commissioned? What follows is a combination of advice they gave me, advice I have learned through practice or observation over the last 10 years and some just plain common sense things that I think it helps to repeat over and over again, just to make sure we don't forget the obvious.
- There is no secret formula. Every group is going to have their own path.
- A basic Golden Rule I desperately try to stick to that was passed on to me by a dear friend successful in business is "NO SURPRISES", in other words, nothing should ever blind-side you, or catch you off guard, or be unforeseen. Cultivate the opportunities that serve your goals. Plan all aspects of your projects ahead of time thinking backwards from final production and trying to imagine all the resources and activities that feed into the final production as well as any possible bumps or hurdles you may have to address. The more organized and forward thinking you are, the better prepared you will be to deal with surprises good and bad which will inevitably come your way.
- Get your poop organized into a nice little pile - invest as much time in your materials as you do in a production. The better your materials are the first time around, the less revising and updating you'll have to do going forward. Website, 1-page Mission & Company Bio, 1-page project description that gives readers a visceral image of the final production you are pitching, pictures, pictures, pictures, embed as many GOOD pictures of your work into these documents as you can - if they are good, they will give people a very clear image of what your work looks like and feels like. Make them modular so they are easy to update, without having to overhaul them entirely each time you make an update which should be at a minimum once-per year if not once-per quarter depending on how frequently you doing things.
- Put together a 3 month plan, a 1 year plan, and a 5 year plan, follow those plans rigorously, patiently and with the myopic focus of a predator stalking its prey, but also out of the corner of your eye always know what else is happening in the landscape so that you can adapt to constantly changing conditions. Don't be afraid to commit to yourself, to your art. Don't let lack of recognition slow you down. Don't let your peers or collaborators hold you back. Update your plans each quarter based on a realistic assessment of your progress and changes in the field. But know that it may take 5 years before a presenter even looks at your work and ten before someone gives you money.
- Take an inventory of your practical strengths, organize your art/production/ business model around those strengths. Also take an inventory of resources you already have easy access to, those resources could be human, financial or material (not everything has to be purchased - barter, recycle, share) and organize yourself to take advantage of those resources in order to build your ability to access resources you don't already have easy access to. Recognize your strengths, limitations and take well-calculated risks.
- Make work that is true to your unique vision. Don’t make work you think people want to see. Make work that thrills you, that helps you breath, that ONLY YOU CAN MAKE.
- GO SEE WORK. Get involved. Work for a more established artist. Work for a more established organization. Introduce yourself to other artists and resource folks. Attend as many talk-backs and panel discussions or post-performance dialogues -- of the people that you really like -- or are close to the work that you think you yourself want to make and talk to other people there. Get a feel for what is happening, what presenters are curating, and think about how your own work might fit (or not fit, which can actually be a good thing). Go see work. Not just the kind that you think you want to make yourself, go see all kinds of art and cultural activities, all over the place, and not at just the "usual suspects". Seeing work, working for someone “bigger”, and talking about aesthetics can is a better investment of your time than making half-baked projects.
- Seriously research venues and their respective gatekeepers and figure out where your work might fit best and why? Then invest the time and energy to build a relationship with them. By participating sincerely in the activities and communities operating through these venues, you build your own reputation and credibility. And if the venue managers and curators respect and appreciate you, your work will eventually get considered, and they will be willing to recommend you to their peers when you ask them to.
You might be wondering how you are supposed to make your own work and do all of these things - my answer - all these things are part and parcel of making art. They are not extra-curricular activities. If investing time in planning, in your business materials, in seeing work, and attending talk-backs means you make less product, I am willing to wager, it will also mean you make better quality product, more rigorous product, and that your product gets more opportunities.
Carefully made, rigorous, and well-planned art is what you should be trying to get presenters to see. This doesn't mean you can't have fun and do fun little projects with friends for friends if you need to get your creative energies released. In fact do lots of that, among other things it will thicken your ties with those friends and they will become more committed investors in your professional art as well. However, those fun projects are NOT for presenters. Showing presenters the carefully made, rigorous and well-planned work, tells them that you take your professional career seriously. Furthermore, that career is more than just making your art, it is exposing yourself to art, to other artists, and to all kinds of other experiences beyond the art world – it is participating intimately in a particular community.
- When you do pitch a presenter or other resource manager - pitch them with solid, specific proposals. Use clear language to illustrate your aesthetic goals – what will the piece look and feel like? Be honest, be yourself, and be professional. Don't tell them what you think they want to hear. But also don't waste their time with something they clearly are not going to pick up, which is something you will know if you see other work at their venue, or just read through their programming materials on their websites.
DO’s & DON’Ts in the lead up….
DON'T COLD CALL - i.e. don't send, project pitches, scripts, headshot/resumes or even grants unless you have been solicited. It wastes money, time and trees.
DO invite everyone you have met and everyone you want to meet to the shows you make. Send personalized messages to those people who's attention you are really trying to attract, which is not just the presenters, but people you know who are close to or already working with those presenters, because they can recommend you. Don't forget the assistants. If you can, snail mail 4 weeks in advance and then follow up with email 2 weeks out, and ask a friend who knows you and them to recommend your show to them or better yet get that friend to bring them. (This doesn't mean you need to comp them all, just reach out and touch them personally.)
DON'T WAIT for someone to discover you or present you.
DO figure out a way to self-produce, get your work out there, then work really hard on getting presenters to see it. The more you get your work out there and build your own buzz, the less you have to chase venues. Do what you can to get the venues to come to you; i.e make it clear that THEY NEED YOU.
DON'T SLAP TOGETHER THE WORK or invite presenters to half-baked work you don't even think is finished.
DO figure out a way to take the time to make the work you wanted to make, and only show finished, polished, rigorous work to presenters and public audience members. A finished 10 minutes, will be a better representation of your work and make a better impression than a sketched out 45 minutes.
- When you are given an opportunity, don't screw it up. Put everything you can into it, no matter how "small" it is, demonstrate to the presenter/funder that you are professional, responsible, creative, engaged, committed, and serious about your work, about them, about this new relationship, but also that you can have fun. Don't rely on the presenter or the venue staff to make or promote your work for you, even if they have a technical director or a marketing department - you are still the best person to build and to promote your work.
DO’s & DON’Ts in execution (and in the entire process honestly)
DON'T BE A SNOB or a jerk to ANYONE, you never know who you are talking to, who they know or are connected to, or how they might be able to help you in the future, be sincere, professional and courteous to everyone you meet, especially any technical crew at any venues you go to, they are a secret wealth of resources that will save your ass some day and could even open some doors.
DO say yes to every opportunity or invitation, no matter how large or small, you never know who you will meet there.
Corollary: DO only say yes to opportunities you know you can commit yourself to completely without over extending yourself, saying yes to something and then having too many conflicts or flaking or just not doing what you promised you'd do will just get you a bad reputation. Its okay to negotiate your acceptance and say a conditional or limited yes. Be upfront and honest about what you will be able to do.
DON'T spin fantastic tales you can't follow through on, and don't, don't, don't follow that golden rule of cowardice - its easier to apologize after (especially with a venue’s equipment, brand, or money.) The presenters are PARTNERS in this with you, don’t screw them over.
DO ask for help, advice, knowledge, contacts and any other non-monetary gifts you can from everyone you know, the more you owe them, the more they will care about seeing you succeed, and it makes people feel good to be thought of as someone who can help. Just make sure you also give back sometimes in equal measure.
Win the Lottery.
Rob a bank.
Or go to LA, get famous in movies, then be cast in a Broadway show as celebrity content.
Some of these thoughts have been plagiarized directly and indirectly from various brilliant people and the ether.