With 2017 looming ominously near, I thought it fitting to deliver a year-end blog in conclusion of our first season. As Janelle said, "We don't have 'It's our first year' as an excuse anymore!" So cheers to that, and also... *gulp*.
All in all, despite the crap cards that humanity was dealt this year, we feel that 2016 gave us a rewarding and eye-opening first season--one that I can say we are genuinely proud of. A few of our freshman year accomplishments include awards, great reviews, kind interviews, and sold-out performances... some (all?) of which I don't think Janelle & I were exactly anticipating... we just found something we believed in, trusted each other, and dove in head first.
It takes guts to start an artistic endeavor in a challenging environment like NYC. Now, we aren't exactly seasoned veterans at running an organization--but, we need to start somewhere, right? Hopefully this little pinch of newly-gained insight can be of some service to you. Here's what we learned in 2016...
1. Go with your gut
Seems obvious, right? (Sometimes, though, we need to get taken back to basics.) Quite simply--if you've got a good feeling about something, someone, or an idea, invest in it. So far in our five minutes of being a functioning organization, we have seen nothing but payoff for investing in what we felt good about. Equally (if not more so) important is to honor your instincts when they are telling you, "this probably isn't a good idea." Know where to invest your precious energy.
2. A little help from your friends
Janelle & I started out our year as Directors of Everything! Because, well... it was just us. However, we have recently discovered that tackling too many things is an excellent way to spread yourself thin. If you find yourself in the not-very-unique position like ours (in that you've got a vision and very few resources/funds), try out this simple thing that I like to do: ASK. Ask for help, resources, donations, and don't feel crummy about it--worst case scenario, you get a "no" and nothing changes. Because we have simply asked, we managed to swing a free venue for a fundraiser, free printing services, received generous donations, free performance space, countless valuable volunteers, props, set pieces, and more. Don't stop there--show appreciation when you get what you asked for, and lend a helping hand to others where you can.
3. Trust your team
IMPORTANT. One of the many beautiful aspects of theatre is its collaborative nature. The audience only gets to see the actors onstage, but as we all know, there are a slew of other experienced and dedicated team members lending themselves to the finished product. There have been many instances this year where beautiful discoveries were made simply because we chose to trust the people we picked to be on our team, even (and most especially!) when things felt risky or unsure.
Low budget (i.e. broke)? Us, too. How-ev-er! There are certain areas that we discovered are best not to cut corners on. For example, we may not have lots of funds to invest on a fancy set because we are using those same funds for PR. Our budget may be tight, but word of mouth is, in my opinion, worth investing in if it's putting butts in seats. Whatever your production variables may be, decide which areas deserve a few extra bucks and which things can be cut. Investment also applies to your energy--be wary of exhaustion and seek support as often as possible, but with hard work comes big payoff.
5. Stay Inspired
Perhaps one of the most important points is to stay inspired. If you aren't inspired by your work, good luck convincing others to be motivated to help you build your project, and even more luck to you if you plan on getting an audience. Nothing is a morale-killer like feeling like you are working out of obligation and/or feeling like you just want to "get it over with." This is not why we do what we do. True inspiration is contagious and fosters an artists best work. If you're not feeling inspired, perhaps it's time to stop and reevaluate.
Fascinating how some of these points can seem so simple, yet we still find ourselves needing to go back to basics! Everyone knows communication is key, but sometimes we find there is a lack of understanding of how to go about it. There is a way to be honest without being condescending, and there is a way to communicate your doubts/concerns that is not at the expense of others. What I love about my team this year is that we have been very open and honest with our communication without ever feeling like it was personal. In the end, we are all on the same team. Foster your valuable relationships with your teammates using the fundamental tool of communication.
7. Know when to wait
This was a big one for me to learn. When Janelle & I first hit the drawing board, she needed to pull the reigns on me more than a couple of times. If you've got a vision, let's say it's absolutely beautiful and resonates with you and inspires you and just feels right, sometimes it's best to know when to wait before you decide it's time to manifest this vision. The reason is simply because if it means that much to you, you want to be sure you can do it justice. I'm not saying to abandon it--I'm saying, if you're gonna do it, get your ducks in a row and do it right. Some projects are worth the wait. We may be dreamers and risk takers, but there's always room for pragmatism!
This is especially important for small teams and start ups. At your first meeting, you may have a plethora of awesome and quirky ideas, but leave room to accept that not every single one of those ideas may get the chance to come to fruition. When in a pinch, focus on the most important tasks at hand first and take things off the check list one bite-size piece at a time. My mantra is, "It'll get done." (Oh, and I mentioned to ask for help when you need it, right?)
9. Say it with me: GIVE. YOURSELF. A. BREAK.
Here's a lesson we NYC theatre-makers have a hard time grasping! (Looking at you, Janelle!) While we may be bad-ass hard working theatre artists who often perform beyond the duties asked of us, we are not doing anyone service (least especially ourselves) by working to the point of exhaustion. This is an inspiration killer and, at the end of the day, we are only human. Constant exhaustion also opens the door to other inspiration killers like anxiety and depression. Even if you're swamped, save yourself a smidgen of time for hard-earned and well-deserved rest & relaxation. Yet another reminder: Communicate your feelings and ask for support when you need it.
10. Keep brainstorming!
Reflect on the progress you've made and continue to brainstorm. If we don't feel we are being challenged, we are not growing and we're certainly not doing our jobs as artists justice. Revisit the moves that worked and rework the things that didn't. Throw as many wildly different ideas as you can out there and keep the things that stick. One thing we want to avoid as artists is complacency. If we are continuously self-examining and brainstorming, we are perpetuating a feeling of inspiration that brings forth our best work. Even if you're part of a long-standing successful organization, sometimes it doesn't hurt to go back to the drawing board.
So, 2016... Full of crap-tastic and heartbreaking events? You bet! But there were also many amazing things born in 2016 and valuable lessons learned that are paving the path into next year. This post was the abridged version of a year's worth of experience, and I hope it was of some service to you. Here's to 2017--may we continue to grow and offer the best of ourselves to the world.