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.
August 17, 2012 by Dennis Baker
December 26, 2009 by Dennis Baker
Found this on Rebecca Coleman’s blog, The Art of the Business. A comedy PSA protesting the BC Government’s recent drastic cuts to arts funding. Starring Peter New and Kathryn Dobbs, directed by Mike Jackson.
November 15, 2009 by Dennis Baker
There are schools of acting that say when one talks about their character, they need to refer to the character in first person. As in, “I have a drug problem” or “I want her to love me”.
Gabourey Sidibe, in the title role of Precious, smartly disagrees. “It so funny, some people tell me, oh when I did this role, my first role, I got so into it, that the lines blurred between you. And I was, that’s weird can’t you just act, do you really have to live it?”
SIDENOTE: I heard this interview on my local public radio station WNYC while I was in the car. Remembering Gary Vaynerchuck’s video on “old world technology” (see below), I used the voice recorder app on my iPhone and made a note to blog about the above interview.
October 4, 2009 by Dennis Baker
September 6, 2009 by Dennis Baker
There is an article floating around the internet of an interview given by actor Thomas Jane promoting his new HBO show “Hung”. It is about how he “hung” on through the hard times to make it where he is today. In the article, Jane talks about how being a starving artist helped him. He mentions that at moments in his life he was living off of food stamps and sleeping on park benches. “There were a couple times I wanted to quit, but fortunately I didnâ€™t have anything else I could do,â€ he says. â€œSo the thought of quitting would come when I couldnâ€™t find any purchase in the barren soul of the artist, and I carried on. I think I had that advantage over some of my peers, who were very nervous about not having a car and very worried about the social status of being poor, whereas it didnâ€™t bother me at all. I actually thrived and had a good time being poor and made fun of people who looked to social status. I was shown the light in India that that was a bunch of hogwash. It was irreversible and untradeable and an absolute gift. It gave me the strength and wisdom to overcome a lot of rejection.”
While I agree that social status is not something that one should hold in high priority, I disagree with the starving artist myth that is being continually promoted. The acting field is a business, and to come from that perspective, one will see that the mindset of a starving artist could be detrimental to one’s career.
The current economy is causing the work force to realize something that artists already know, one needs to diversify their work skills. The age of the freelancer is here. Many people are having to work many different part time jobs to create a stable finical foundation. This should not be news for an artist. As an artist, you need to have many different skills that you can market to many different fields. Sure you got the acting business down, but that is not going to pay the bills. What other skills do you have? Are they ones where you can freelance and create your own hours. Have you set up a business model to sell your many different skills? There are many freelance options: wedding photography, child care, dog walking, virtual assistant, etc. Do you think you do not have any skills? Well, then teach yourself. There are plenty of cheap (and free) online training programs to help you in learning a variety of skills.
Once you have your multiple set of skills. I emphasize multiple, as things will be slow when you first start out and you will need many different potential ways to generate income. Now it’s time for you to create your personal brand. Here is a hint: the personal brand is you. As an actor, you are the product. Make yourself the product for your other freelance jobs. This is what Marci Alboher calls, in her book in her book One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success, “The Slash Effect”. An evolving workforce in which people are defined through multiple identities rather than just one job title.
Create a brand that ties in all your skills. A great place to do that is a website. As you can see here at DENNIS BAKER LLC, the website highlights my different skills. With Permalinks, it is easy to send a potential customer to the specific page that promotes the skill they need. If I am promoting my web design skills, I give out the web address “www.dennisbaker.net/web-design/”, if I am promoting myself as a teacher than I give out the address, “www.dennisbaker.net/teaching-artist/”. The potential client can read the specific information that pertains to their field, without searching pages that have nothing to do with job they are looking to hire.
Freelance Is About Freedom
Being a freelancer takes a lot of work, but in the end it is about freedom. Freedom to pursue what you want, when and how you want it. It may not feel that way at first as you will probably be working more hours in training yourself in the a variety of skills you need, building your brand, and finding freelance jobs. But for the artist, the positive out ways the negative. With many freelance jobs, you can work from anywhere. Take your laptop (and wireless internet card) on set and while you are waiting hours upon hours to be called to shoot your scene, get a couple of hours of work in for your client. Are you on tour, or away from from home for three months with a theater job, no problem your work can go with you. Your client doesn’t even need to know you are not at your home office. Being a Freelance Rockstar is about maximizing your potential income hours, without having to be tied down to one location.
Share Your Story
I am coming from the perspective of an actor. What artists in other mediums and fields are creating a freelance model that works for them? How have you branded and promoted all your skills. Please leave a comment. Share your story and help your fellow artists. Knowledge is power!
June 29, 2009 by Dennis Baker
It Is Okay for Artists to Make Moneyâ€¦No, Really, It’s Okay
From a Harvard Business School ‘Working Paper’ published June 3, 2009 by Robert D. Austin and Lee Devin:
When art and commerce are mentioned in the same sentence, many people become bad-tempered or think something needs fixing. This paper argues that more artists ought to make more money more often. Harvard Business School professor Robert Austin and theater dramaturg Lee Devin identify and undermine three fallacies about art and commerce, and suggest that it is necessary to carry on a more careful and less emotional conversation about the tensions between art and business and to overcome a general aversion to business common among artists and their patrons. They also stress the need to develop better theories about how art and commerce can achieve integration helpful to both. Key concepts include:
- The interests of art, artists, and business can be best served if more commerce enters into the world of art, not less.
- There are three fallacies, often implicit, about relationships between art and commerce: (1) art is a luxury and an indulgence, (2) art is clearly distinguishable from “non-art,” and (3) commerce dominates and corrupts art, and subverts its purpose.
- Good art should achieve appropriate commercial value consistently, not just occasionally. A conversation takes place when art and commerce are in tension, a conversation in which neither artists nor managers should dominate.
Pay My Rent
Alan M. Berks, writing on the blog Minnesota Playlist, June 28, 2009
Would you feel comfortable with a part-time dentist? Someone who’s got some talent filling cavities and performing root canals but who only squeezes them in at night, after she comes home from the full-time job she does all day, typing at a desk, let’s say, to pay the bills? Or, do you think, the work is going to be a helluva lot better if your dentist could concentrate on the job full-time, all year round? What about your plumber, lawyer, electrician, and accountant? Why then do we accept a system where performing artists have almost no expectation of making a real career in their chosen profession?… I don’t believe that everyone who wants to do theater deserves a living wage. For most people, theater is always going to seem like more fun than dentistry, so more people will want to do it. I think that a market that squeezes young performing artists a little so that they have to choose whether they’re really committed to it is probably appropriate. But anyone who doesn’t think that theater is already a ruthlessly competitive market has no idea what an audition is.
January 14, 2009 by Dennis Baker
DENNIS BAKER LLC has been ranked one of the 100 Best Blogs for Film and Theater Students by BestUniversity.com.
The overall list is divided into sixteen categories, like: Screenwriting/Playwriting. Management, Indie Films, Production/Video, Animation, etc. There are only twelve blogs listed in the “Acting and Auditions” section. This means that we are actually in the Top 12 blogs for acting students!
Congrats to my fellow bloggers, there are some great sites on the list.
December 22, 2008 by Dennis Baker
There has been a couple of things rolling around in my head and I think they are all connected. It started when I was talking with a fellow NYU Educational Theatre student who works in the office a major theater here in New York. He was telling me that three other major theaters let go of all their teaching artists, some that were hired as recently as September. New York City is getting sacked with major layoffs, with the national numbers reaching 533,000. The arts in general are getting hit pretty hard as it seems theater across the nation are closing on a weekly basis as the National Endowment for the Arts found that the audiences for straight plays are in decline. There are a couple of students I know from the program who are graduating with the disheartening feeling of entering into a field that is not hiring anyone. Then again does the arts really ever have enough jobs and funding?
Which leads me to the idea of diversification. If any one has been listening to the news recently many people, corporations and foundations have lost millions of money from investing with Madoff’s alleged Ponzi Scheme. Some loosing everything as they invested 100% of their savings. This reminded me of the discussion that is taking places over at the post Abolish Undergraduate Art Majors. I think artists have been sold a bill of goods that tells them they must pursue their art at all cost and be one with the starving artist persona. They must have those low paying jobs (waiter, bartender, etc.) so they are flexible for auditions and workshops. Though with those jobs its hard to pay for the actor’s life of headshots, classes, workshops and have any real sort of savings for emergencies and retirement. That’s not to even mention health benefits. So what happened if the students I mentioned above, and all the other BFA and MFA theater students who will be graduating this spring, thought to diversify themselves. What if they also took classes or got a second degree in business, computer graphics, or web design? They could take jobs in another field to build up a savings and afford to pay for all the actor necessities. If you think you can afford to be an actor because you don’t need to take classes as you just graduated with a theater/acting degree, than pause here and go read a great article over at Art of Function about university ego.
Masi Oka, who currently plays Hiro on Heroes, did something similar. Oka decided to take a risk putting his digital effects career on hold as he pursued acting in Los Angeles. “While I was working at ILM [in San Francisco], I also studied acting and I got my SAG card.” Taking a leave of absence from ILM, Oka moved to Los Angeles to immerse himself in auditions. “Six months passed and I ran out of money very quickly,” Oka says. “So when I was looking for a job, ILM told me that they had a LA commercial division, which unfortunately now is defunct, so at the time I worked from there. My intention was never to leave ILM, I just wanted to try acting while I still could. However, I had it in my contract that if I didn’t get a supporting role or recurring role in a pilot in six months I would have to go back to ILM in San Francisco. At that time I was very naive, thinking getting one pilot should be enough to know if I was going to make it as an actor or not. Anyone pursuing a creative career knows that it’s about persevering. It’s a marathon, not just a sprint. So it was a gamble in many ways.” After landing many guest spots, and bit parts in movies, he landed his current role in Heroes.
The key was Oka had diversity and was able to work on digital effects (which I am sure paid better than a waiter) to help sustain his acting career. In computer related jobs many people are capable of working from home. So once you put in the hours of working at the office, and show that you are an asset, some companies will want to keep you and will let you work from home (or give you a more flexible schedule) so that you can still pursue other careers.
So you graduate and are ready to hit the pavement, get those auditions and nail that job you have been training the last four years for at your undergraduate theater program. Instead, maybe you take the next year or two and land a job that pays pretty well and has the potential of being flexible in the future. You might say I could never take a year off to work in a cubicle. Really? The entertainment/theater industry is not going anywhere. And who knows, after that year you might have a good paying job that you can work from home and can afford to go to auditions, classes, workshops and also save money for health benefits and retirement. Believe me in that year most (if not all) your theater classmates will not have gotten so far in their careers that with a little hard work, you would be able to catch up. Remember its a marathon, so set your self up with a firm finical foundation to be able to run that marathon and enjoy the scenery along the way.
October 17, 2008 by Dennis Baker
We know you just love the chance to win something, so here at DENNIS BAKER LLC we want to start rewarding our loyal readers.
The first giveaway is of Milton Katselas new book Acting Class: Take a Seat. I try to only giveaway books that Iâ€™ve read and would actually recommend. I have began to read it and do enjoy it, a full review will be coming soon.
â€œPreviously only available to Katselas’ students at the prestigious Beverly Hills Playhouse, Acting Class presents the concepts and methods that have helped lead a generation of actors to success on stage, in cinema, and on television. Now for the first time, this all-encompassing book is available to the general public, taking readers and sitting them in the legendary acting class of Milton Katselas, where he not only covers techniques and methods, but also includes valuable discussions on the attitude any artist needs to fulfill his or her dream.â€
Now you know you want to win it, right? Good, because we have 2 copies to give away!
How to enter this contest? Simply leave a comment below and weâ€™ll randomly pick 2 winners (deadline for entry is 6pm ET Friday, Oct. 24th).
Thatâ€™s all you need to do! And, if youâ€™re not a lucky winner, you can be a winner anyway by picking up a copy of Acting Class: Take a Seat for yourself.