Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


It is so important for artists to be supported in their quest to find themselves, their artistic voice and have the time to learn and perfect their craft.

The US is unique in that it generally does not support its artists financially nearly as much as other nations do. I think it's probably because the attitude toward the arts formed in American schools is that they are "extra curricular" activities rather than substantial subjects to be pursued.

At least until they hit the University level.

The arts are reflections of culture, and they are considered a serious, respected professions in most nations.

Those supporting the competitive US practice of seeking what money is available to support artists and the arts say that the financial and other support made to artists in other countries doesn't necessarily equate to exquisite work, believing that the US still produces great work despite the disparity.

And the fact is, every nation - even those who revere artists - is tightening its arts support budgets because of the crucial demands made by a world economy.

But that's not what this blog is about.

This blog is about the personal support we all need for any art we undertake - especially if we want to establish a career in that art or craft.

Families should be our first line of support, but frequently families are our first detractors. I've found that few families understand or support the relative who decides to become a professional writer, actor, musician, painter, dancer, singer - let alone want to contribute their money or good will.

Mind you, they say they are only thinking of what's best for the deluded brother, sister, mother, father, son, daughter, yanga yanga yanga when they do their damndest to discourage them from making a decision that comes with no guarantees, no certain future, that requires so much passion, dedication, persistence, training, practice and money for materials, training, as well as the time it takes to pull it all together in your own inimitable way.

The arts are not for the faint of heart to be sure - and our support teams can't be either.

Many a yearning artist is dissuaded from following his or her dream because they believe they can't afford to. They believe they "should" follow a more practical route - and lots of those who make that decision live lives of quiet desperation, always wishing they had instead followed their hearts; pursued their passion and lived their dream.

Not of being rich and famous, but simply of doing what they genuinely love; what makes them feel more alive and on fire than anything else they've ever done.

I've coached hundreds of people who realize that what they *really* wanted to do was become an artist and regret the years that have passed since they listened to those - including their own inner demon - who said that they shouldn't.

Some who try to re-discover their art get caught up in the carousel of classes. They become seminar junkies, not artists because few of the classes actually help them do the real work of the art.

This is perfect and plenty for the individual who is happy being the amateur and wants to hang out in classes and that is his or her goal.

But many kid themselves into believing they are creating a future in the arts without actually seeking ways to make a living working in their art.

On the other hand, people who work with me have decided they want to make this work a career, or already have a career and want to enhance it.

And therein lies the rub.

In my experience, partners and spouses support taking those classes as long as he or she remains an amateur, but *fuh-reak out* when their partners and spouses start pursuing their artistic passion as a career. In-laws and relatives also try to dissuade the budding successful artist from becoming professional, even on a part-time basis.

I don't recommend people become stars (though it's fine with me if they want to become a beam of light), but making a living as a working artist can be a very rewarding and great life. And my goodness, after seeing how many really bad camera actors are working now in cable television, there's got to be plenty of room for people who are talented, skilled and properly trained!

I'll never forget one young fantastically talented actress I coached. As I was helping her create a modified career, she told me her in-laws, who were fundamentalist Christian, told her not to continue her work with me because she was "too serious" about it. They told her she should be at home being a wife and mother.

Meanwhile, she was the co-lead in a classic play - her first venture onstage - and stole the show. She was like a little Tinker Bell light we couldn't take our eyes off as she moved onstage.

Her first audition, she was cast in a commercial. A paid job. If memory serves me correctly, she got a few more in a short time as well.

But her husband and in-laws insisted she cut out acting and get pregnant.

I met them all and I was, for some reason I didn't understand, frightened for my fledgling and felt a little protective (I tend to be a little protective of folks I coach anyway, but I *try* to mind my own beeswax). I felt they were trying to control her. She was so happy, free and having so much fun pursuing her passion for acting. Her attitude changed drastically when she was around her husband and his parents.

Sure enough, a couple months later, she was pregnant. With twins. And had to spend several weeks in the hospital to protect her pregnancy. I visited her a couple times in the hospital, where she made clear that any plans she may have had for herself as an actor were now permanently derailed, and was nearly in tears.

She said she was looking forward to having her children. I told her lots of actors have kids.

I never heard from - or about - her again.

Husbands, wives and boyfriends tend to support those amateur classes - just not the careers. The only people who work with me want - or already have - careers they want to enhance.

The most interesting cases unfold when boyfriends and husbands who say they support their wives/girlfriends' careers - but in reality (and secretly) do not. Wives are very outspoken about not wanting their husbands to pursue a career in the arts, especially if the couple has children.

The relationship issue is among the first questions I ask new coachees: how does your husband/wife/boyfriend/partner feel about you doing this work and making it a career.

My coachees guarantee me their husbands/boyfriends/wives/partners are totally behind their decision, that everything is terrific on the relationship front. One person told me she and her husband had actually been in counseling about it to make sure they were on the same page, enthusiastic about her work. She worked hard and was making her way up the career food chain when ....

I have no idea what she's doing today.

Heterosexual men I've coached haven't had to deal with those pressures with girlfriends, but I've coached some gay men who had similar problems with their partners.

If you're married or are in a relationship, the only thing you can do is try to work it out with your partner. Hopefully they'll be truthful and you'll be realistic about the time and commitment involved; communicate as much as possible about what you're doing and the artistic, creative process.

I think the real problem is that pursuing one's art makes us happy; because it's an intense relationship between us and what we create (I also consider it a spiritual experience) - by definition they can feel excluded from the process.

Perhaps they resent the fact that their partner has found his or her passion and they haven't; or that the happiness of their spouse or partner regarding their art feels greater than the happiness expressed in the relationship.

Whatever it is, I wish these partners could just be happy and proud of their partners pursuing their passion, as we should be when they pursue their own passion and do something of which they're proud.

I coach a couple who are both artists - and they are near fans for one another, as artists and individuals. Lots of growth - personal and professional - is experienced by both and they're fantastic folks with whom to work. Because they are dedicated to a passion, they seem to bring another layer of passion to their relationship.

And I've found that couples who communicate and have a healthy relationship tend to continue that healthy relationship as the artist becomes a professional.

Personal support and nurturing is so important to the blossoming artist - and some classes do provide that nurturing. It's always good to investigate how the teacher works and stimulates his or her students.

You can start your own support group for artists seeking support and nurturing when your families and/or friends won't. Speak with others in your craft or art (or who wish to be) and find out how they find personal support for their work.

Books you find personally fulfilling and supportive can also help; activities that have nothing to do with your art also help a lot; perhaps seeing a counselor or coach might be a good move; learning to love and support yourself is most important, for sure.

An outstanding design artist I know says that what it really takes to be an artist is confidence. Confidence to do what it takes, as long as it takes, and deal with everyone along the way in a manner that allows you to do what you must.

For in the end, the artist doesn't do his or her art because they simply "want" to, or for a lark. They do it because they know they must or feel as if they will die. I know for myself, I simply can't *not* write and direct. I have to do it, no matter the risks or costs. I can't help it.

I know other artists - whether professional or not - who feel the same way. It's something they believe in their heart they must do. So in the end it's up to us to decide whether we are, indeed, artists, and if we are, figure out what sort of support we need and then how to find it. And not let anything stop us from doing what we know we must.

Not to the exclusion of anything else in life, but in addition. For isn't it all about making the most of our lives and who we are as we live it?

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  • At 9:25 AM, Blogger Cooper said…

    Great post. Very good advice. 'Best way to learn to act is to act'.


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