Had a wonderful, albeit short, visit with friends Lianne and Ronnie this morning. They’re in town from NYC and we brainstormed about what the Flying Anvil will look/feel/act like. I came away from our breakfast totally invigorated and passionate – and not about the cinnamon rolls, either.
Staci and I have been slogging our way through the 501c3 application for our non-profit status. Like all IRS forms, it’s long and inscrutable. We puzzle and research our way through each question, and are left exhausted and cranky at the end of our Skype session. Staci is doing the lion’s share- keeping us on task and on schedule.
It’s not fun work, though I’m glad we are doing it. I want to understand each piece of this puzzle. So we’re drafting by-laws and conflict-of-interest policies and three year P&L statements and when we’re done in a week or two, we’ll send the unwieldy thing off with a pound of flesh and a hefty check. So there’s progress -just not the fun kind.
Which made this morning so important. We can get so focused on the tiny, painful details that we lose the big sloppy picture we started out with. The one with all our dreams and crazy-ass fantasies in it. Where heavy, hard, powerful, immoveable anvils go lofting into the stratosphere.
Ronnie asked what kind of theatre we wanted to do. And I keep coming back to this one word: visceral. Theatre that hits you in the gut, that makes you FEEL something powerful. I’m not a snob about how we accomplish that – hey, I’m a dinner theatre veteran and have great respect for a properly executed spit take!
But I want you to laugh so hard that you hurt the next day. Or sob out loud. Or get a little angry. Or want to hug the stranger next to you. If that’s not your goal, why bother? I’m tired of theatre where no one risks anything. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to witness some life-changing evenings of theatre. That’s what we’ll aim for. And we won’t hit the mark every time. But we won’t give up.
Which brings me to something else I discovered in talking to Ronnie and Lianne. I said something new – I want a “cynicism-free” space. What do I mean by that? I guess that we all put our whole hearts into this. That we aren’t afraid to let our honest passion and hopes and fears show. That we honor and respect every step of the process- from selling tickets, to vaccuuming the lobby to the show performed on stage.
And the key to doing that is, weirdly enough, money. Having been an artist (sometimes one who was afraid to claim the label) all my life, I know how being a freelancer of any kind means everything you do has a price tag attached. It can be soul-killing. Makes you a cynic. But knowing your work is valued and you will be paid, if not a living wage, then at least a meaningful amount of money, validates you in all sorts of ways. You can relax and give back a little. So the business end of this venture is as important to me as the art. We want to give back to the community – but we need a core of artists who are treated and paid as professionals in order to find that open-hearted generosity within ourselves.
I often tell my acting students that it’s okay to walk away sometimes. To take a break in order to avoid the bitterness this business can brew in you. Then come back with a renewed spirit when they’re ready. I feel like I have held theatre at arms length for a long time – and now I understand why. I didn’t want to become cynical – lose the love I have for this work. I want to feel every step of this. Every agonizing IRS form and every thrilling breakfast conversation. Every astonishing opening night and horrifyingly small audience. If I want our theatre to make the audience feel – I have to be open to that as well.
One minute it’s exciting, the next, I want to throw my computer against the wall. It’s messy, but so worth it. Kind of like a good spit take….