January 5, 2013 by Dennis Baker
Some of my Civic Theater students and Fringe producers.
I am employed full time as the LifeRaft program director for the SAG Foundation. I have been at the job part time since October, as I did not want to bail on my teaching commitments half way through the semester. First you might be asking, what is LifeRaft? The LifeRaft program is a series of professional development workshops and seminars to help educate actors about the business side of the entertainment industry. The transition is I will no longer be teaching at the university.
On so many levels taking this job was an obvious decision for me. A 401(k), health benefits, and pension would be something I never would receive as an adjunct professor. The school that I was teaching theater courses at was not ready to offer me a full time position. Also the Foundation job lies within my field and allows me the opportunity to meet so many industry professionals as well as the freedom to continue to audition.
With all that being true, I will also miss the APU Theater students and the work I was doing with them. I felt I was just starting to find my niche as a faculty member. Through teaching courses like Theater Education and Civic Theater, I was beginning to facilitate discussions around applied and community-based theater. Showing the students that they had more options than New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. Through starting the APU Fringe and 24 Hour festival the ideas of arts entrepreneurship were entering into the students minds as they had to learn how to produce their own work. It inspired me to have one student take her one-woman show to the Hollywood Fringe Festival, and I have two student producers wanting to go to the PAVE Symposium in Phoenix. These two students are from Mesa (just outside of Phoenix), started their own theater company that Linda Essig, head of the PAVE program, wrote about, but not until I talked to them about it, and made this connection, that I encouraged, more like demanded, that they go to the symposium. It also looks like there will be a handful of my civic theater students and Fringe producers that will be going to the ensemble creation techniques workshop led by the Ghost Road Company.
All this to say, as much as I am transitioning further into the film and television industry, so will this blog. While I deeply care about civic, community-based theater and arts entrepreneurship it is becoming clear that is not where my time is meant to be spent. At least not as this time in my life. That being said, I will not be completely off the map from those conversations. Anything I read from that field I will probably post on Facebook and Twitter (@dennisbaker), but not write much about it here. Though, Scott Walters has decided to go positive and start a whole new blog, that alone will need to be shared and tweeted about.
October 12, 2012 by Dennis Baker
Hey guys, my name’s Clara. I’m a long time reader, first time guest blogger (well, here, anyway). I’m friends with a bunch of amateur, semi-professional and professional actors and recently a debate was started over brunch. I think, and maintain, that an actor with a four-year degree (or better) should get a little extra consideration by those behind the table at auditions.
For argument’s sake, let’s say after callbacks two actors are in contention for a lead role. All other things being equal (implausible, I know), who should get the role: the actor with a degree or the yeoman?
Almost every actor (I use this world for both genders) has taken acting classes at some level, though not all will have earned any sort of degree. Actors with a degree on their resumes should get extra consideration throughout the acting process and here’s why:
A large part of a degree program is learning how to do research. An actor who has graduated with a bachelor’s degree or better has had to develop and implement research on text, character, historic eras and much more. They will also have a larger knowledge base to start with, making it easier to communicate via historical and industry references.
Take, for example, the upcoming “Anna Karenina” set in the high society of Russia in the late 19th century. Actors must embody appropriate posture and mannerisms and have an understanding of a now defunct social hierarchy or they will be unable to best serve their character and thus the story as a whole.
Anyone who has been in the academic side of the arts has had to analyze a script (probably many) and justify their findings. Imagine a screenplay based on a book: the book may be 600 pages of dialog and description where the screenplay will be 120 pages, mostly white space. An original screenplay, however, will not have source information for the actor to consult; they’ll have to glean valuable information about their character primarily from dialog. While this skill isn’t exclusive to trained actors, it has already been taught and honed to degreed actors.
A thorough actor will make use of the tiniest details in a script and recognize that punctuation, for one, is a tool and therefore a choice of the writer. The meaning of three simple words can change entirely based on punctuation. This is perfectly illustrated by author Lynne Truss in her book “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” – which punctuated one way could indicate the diet of a panda bear and another way a well-fed gun enthusiast.
Every actor is different but you’re more likely to get quality, timely memorization from an actor with a degree than one without. Theatre actors are even more likely to memorize. Well taught actors realize how difficult it is to discover moments in a character or between characters with a script in hand. While film is certainly more forgiving than theatre in this regard, since an actor only needs to get through a scene at a time as opposed to 120 minutes in front of an audience, memorization is still invaluable.
Actor Steven Epp told Minnesota Public Radio, “You’re only really able to enter that level of the character or the journey of the play or the emotional moments when you’re beyond, so beyond thinking about the lines.” Knowing the dialog frees up your mind to do the creative work of creating and portraying a character.
In most degree programs students have to learn at least a little about all of the disciplines in their field. Actors will have to take courses on production, scenic design, lighting, directing and so on. Participating in all of the different elements of the creative process and developing an understanding of the importance of each role should (and generally does) create a sense of respect for collaborators. Degreed actors who understand the needs of the project are likely to be less “all about me” and understand they’re only one cog in a bigger machine.
Obviously, these are generalizations. People are people and as such aren’t always going to fall neatly into one category over another. While you are unlikely to have two actors up for the same role with only a degree as a tie-breaker, I think I’ve illustrated that you should give an extra look to actors who have completed at least a four year degree.
Clara Richman is from Minneapolis, MN, raised by parents at the opposite end of the education spectrum: her father, an elementary school principal; and her mother, a middle school substitute teacher. Now living in San Diego, Clara draws on that dichotomy when writing about education.
August 17, 2012 by Dennis Baker
August 8, 2012 by Dennis Baker
Although art startups may seem inherently different from other industry startups, with regards to the creation of company culture, they are very much the same. In today’s post by Julianna Davies, the writer for the MBA Online, discusses how arts startups can take the lessons proffered by MBA programs to help create happy and productive company cultures. Expounding upon Dennis Baker’s post about company culture within the art world, Julianna emphasizes that employees passionate about their craft will lend themselves to the creation of good company culture.
Bringing MBA Know-How Into Arts Startups In Order to Create Good Culture
Designing a corporate culture is just as important in an arts startup as it is in an international corporation. With as many responsibilities as creative professionals have to balance, however, establishing morale often comes as an afterthought. This is usually a mistake. Though the work environments of theater companies, museums, and dance academies are quite different from businesses in any other sector, all have one thing in common: all are dependent upon the successes and contributions of their employees. A culture that embraces teamwork and rewards individualism creates harmony amongst staff, which leads to better productions, exhibitions, and end products.
The Upsides of Starting from Scratch
Startups are often at an advantage when it comes to making culture decisions. Instead of having to reform a negative ambiance or fix a toxic work environment, entrepreneurs largely start from scratch—the possibilities are all but endless.
This sort of possibility requires clear parameters, however. “Do you want to run it as a benevolent dictatorship? A cooperative? Or something in-between?” the American Association of Community Theater asks on its website for theater enthusiasts. Hierarchy and creative structure may also become points of contention. Choosing projects and divvying up administrative work are things that can cause resentment and frustration if not clearly addressed upfront. “Be very clear about the decision-making structure and lines of responsibility,” the AACT recommends.
Checking Off the Basics
Making decisions about the ideal sort of corporate culture to foster is an important first step. Actually implementing that culture is often a bit harder. Getting started usually requires the following, at minimum:
- A mission statement that clearly defines founders’ ideas and aspirations;
- A communication plan for conveying the mission to staff and new hires, often through bylaws;
- A plan for funding decisions, including who specifically is responsible for what sort of fundraising or solicitation work;
- A conceptualization of the target audience, which should shape a great deal of internal decisions and team aspirations; and
- A decision about union-related issues, if applicable: whether staff can or should be part of a union is an issue best cleared up at the front end.
Joining trade-specific organizations—national theater groups, local ballet instructors’ associations, or museum guilds—can also be a good way to network with other professionals, particularly those who have already gone through the startup process. Memberships can be pricey, but are usually worth it to executives who know what they are after.
Most of what determines whether an arts startup will succeed is far more than funding, clientele, or the right “vibe.” These things are important, certainly, but without a coherent staff, even the best ideas are likely to flop.
“With the current climate and so few jobs available, entrepreneurship has really become a hot topic,” Medeia Cohan-Petrolino, founder of arts support group School for Creative Startups, told Britain’s The Guardian in 2012. When it comes to which startups will succeed, Cohan-Petrilino honed in on substance. “Some of them are brilliant but others just use all the right buzz words and lack any meaningful content,” she said.
The risk of “lacking content,” as Cohan-Petrolino put it, is that staff will be some of the first to feel the effects. An organization that looks fine on the outside but fails to keep its employees motivated and content risks dissolution from within. The Getty Museum, a Los Angeles landmark, was almost a prime example when it lost its director to “morale issues.”
“In the museum world as elsewhere, deep pockets do not always bring happiness,” the New York Times reported shortly after the Getty’s director, Deborah Gribbon, abruptly resigned in late 2004. “Morale at the Getty Museum has been low in the past several years, with staff turmoil and resignations.” According to the Times, Gribbon’s resignation “came as no surprise to the museum world.” The museum was able to recalibrate, but not without individual meetings between the board and curators and a complete overhaul of the corporate culture at play.
Differences Between Art Industry and Other Business Models
The idea of “corporate culture” is very much dependent on subjective facts: the industry type, market expectations, and staff backgrounds, to name a few. While some of the basic tenets of how to create a culture apply to businesses across the board, startups in the arts sector usually require a more nuanced approach.
Many arts groups are charities or not-for-profit corporations. Most are also driven by fundraising or ticket sales to things like gallery openings or theatrical productions—productions where the staff themselves either are or have produced the main attractions. How employees will interact in these situations, and how they see themselves as personally contributing to the success or failure of the organization, are very important cultural considerations.
Creating a culture of collaboration, respect, and creativity is essential in the arts world. It often takes time, but need not be challenging. In most cases, open communication, a shared vision, and a commitment to the underlying art are all that are required to get a positive corporate culture off the ground and running.
July 21, 2011 by Dennis Baker
In an easy and relaxed manner,
in a healthy and positive way,
In its own perfect time,
For the highest good of all.
- Catherine Ponder, The Dynamic Laws of Prosperity
April 26, 2011 by Dennis Baker
This post is part of the From Passion to Profit blog series that also features Rebecca Leigh, Thom Chambers, Laura Simms, Michelle Ward, Tara Gentile, Alexandra Franzen, and Lisa Sonora Beam.
SKILLS & TIME MANAGEMENT
To continue the freelance myth busting, started by Laura, the saying “jack of all trades, master of none” does not mean one can not have multiple passions in which profit can be made. The odds are you are reading this blog series because your passions are not paying 100% of your bills. That means you are left balancing multiple income streams from multiple projects as you start the journey of a freelance entrepreneur. If you could not tell from the website, I am actor, teacher, web designer/developer and social media/SEO specialist. These multiple income streams all contribute to my overall freelance income. All of these require me to have various different skill sets. What are your different skills sets (or passions, per the series topic) that you can create into income streams? What online classes, books, workshops can you access to build your skill set to the level that you can create income?
Once your skills are built to the level of being able to create income, time management becomes key. This can be as simple as how you keep a calendar to what are your sacrificing to get all the work done. And as soon as you have it figured out something will change. More work will come in, for me recently it has been working with a two-year old in the house. If it is your passion, you make it work. Living in Los Angeles, there are times I can commute up to an hour and half. I try to schedule phone meetings, in which I don’t need to be in from of my computer, for when I am driving. How can you structure your time to be the most productive? Once you get far enough along the journey, you will be able to set up a team, as Tara so wisely suggests. Before you have that team, you will be doing it all your self. Take that time to really assess want you enjoy doing, and what you would be willing to pass off to your future team.
NETWORKING: Sometimes You Have to Go to Wyoming
I recently presented at the annual Shepard Symposium on Social Justice in Laramie, Wyoming. It was the last day of the conference, and I was not planning on attending, as I had to drive down to Denver to catch my flight. There was a morning session on the topic of using theater as a tool for social justice to empower at-risk youth and communities, presented by Los Angeles theater company. Moving back to Los Angeles in the last year, I was struggling in finding theater companies that needed teaching artists to work within communities. I was hesitant to attend the session as I was afraid of being late to my flight. I decided to risk it, and I was I was glad I did. I met the program director and quickly realized that we had worked in similar circles in the arts education community in New York and knew many of the same people. We immediately hit it off, and a connection was made. A connection that I was trying to make for eight months…I just had to go to Wyoming to do it.
Networking is a must, but how one networks is the key. There are many reasons why we might not network, fear of being needy to too busy working to get out of the office. Whatever the reason is, time needs to be scheduled to get out and meet other people in your field. Number one rule of networking: get out and meet people. This ties into the second rule: find commonalities away from the field. I consider twitter a networking tool. I follow people who are highly involved in the entertainment industry, theater, arts education, web design and social media fields. And while I tweet with them about their respective fields, and I also look to connect on other topics. There is a casting director I follow on twitter whom I have never met. She tweeted once that she just found out about the social media speaker Gary Vaynerchuck, some one that I have followed for years and have blogged and tweeted about. I knew he was coming to speak in the area the following week, so I tweeted her back letting her know and giving her the link to his speaking schedule. Did this have anything to do with acting, or me asking her to cast me in her next project? No. This was me reaching out and helping a colleague. Does she know I am an actor? Sure, my twitter profile says so, and it is clear on my website. Life is bigger than the next job you are trying to get, or about the field you work in. So look to connect, and be of genuine service, in life…just not the field you work in.
These resources have helped me in finding my own journey as a freelancer. If you have more, add them in the comments.
February 15, 2011 by Dennis Baker
With a new year and a new decade I announced in my February e-newsletter this is the Year of Thanks. There is great things going on in my life, no matter the circumstances, and I want to be thankful for everything.
Being thankful is something I am hearing a lot recently. I have started listening to the Inside Acting Podcast, and their first discussion point with a listener was around the issue of sending a thank you card do a casting director, when it is their job to call you in for an audition.
The second place I am hearing about being thankful is Gary Vaynerchuck, as he is writing a new book Thank You Economy. He has made available a part of chapter one and chapter ten. The basic idea is one have to care enough about every relationship one has connected to their business. Word of mouth has a new outlet, social media.
“Social media has transformed our world into one great big small town, dominated, as all vibrant towns used to be, by the strength of relationships, the currency of caring, and the power of word of mouth.”
But social media is just a tool to foster relationships, and all relationships need care that only real life interactions can provide. So while my year is about being thankful, my life/work is about relationships.
February 14, 2011 by Dennis Baker
Recently interviewed by Michael Wiggins (@teachingartist) for the Association of Teaching Artists blog. Here is a quote to get your curious, “Teaching artists are the migrant workers of the arts education field.”