Monday, April 30, 2018

Rejection feels great and so does Sarcasm

Imma tell y’all a story.  This is a little known tale about the time I got contacted by **well known competitive show i’m not at liberty to disclose** to come perform for them in Hollywood as a contestant.  Since I’m not at liberty to disclose their name, I will refer to them as A Serious Stage, or ASS for short.  Here’s what happened.

I had just moved to San Francisco with my partner so that he could take a job he’d been offered, and while I insisted it was the right thing to do, I was very grumpy about the change.  I had an established, supportive artistic community in Seattle and no desire to return to the city-by-the-bay and start the process over.  Again.  I had been trained in San Francisco...the prospect of entering a marketplace dominated by my very first mentors and heroes, masters of their disciplines, was daunting to say the least.

So for the first few months nothing much was going on- I was looking for a house for us and training grumpily in the afternoons.  The rest of the time I was putting irons in the fire, one by one, hoping that one of them would catch.  Then ASS called me, and it wasn’t the first time.  If you’re a performance artist in the USA I think it’s a law that ASS has to call you at least once and offer you a spectacular opportunity to travel to their location and perform the most fabulous hacked up 90 seconds of your carefully curated work you can think of, in return for a travel stipend.  Everyone knows it exploitative.  I don’t think I have to talk about that, so I won’t...it’s the entertainment industry.  It’s not well-known for being deeply fair and for it’s excellent working conditions, now is it?  So this particular opportunity had never been a tempting prospect.  But here I was depressed and bored in San Francisco, with Hollywood a mere 5 hour drive and with my career at a sudden standstill.  It was the only iron in the fire that had caught a spark.  Frankly, it was the only thing I had going on.  So I agreed.

Well I don’t know how familiar you are with ASS but esoteric organic performance art out of left field lands one of two ways...they love it, or they hate it, and they did not love it.  In case you were wondering, it was the piece I created in 2012 called Genesis.  It uses a giant petri dish full of water, out of which I perform an aerial hoop solo.  See below:

photo by Dominic Bonuccelli
http://www.azfoto.com/

Or rather “the most spectacular 90 seconds” of the routine I could muster.

I did enjoy aspects of the opportunity.  I’m a sucker for a huge stage and it was, as I’ve said, A Serious Stage.  The audience was absolutely gorgeous and could not have been more in love with the acts.  I’m not at all accustomed to hearing people chant for me, much less chant after 90 seconds of work.  And while I was not loved by the judges, I did not get heckled.  Most of the hosts were gracious, for which I am grateful.   Even if one of them did say it looked like I had lost the soap in the bathtub.

Yet in the end, I was still sitting in a rental van with my empty petri dish in the back, having been rejected by the only thing I had going on, which I had felt minorly embarrassed about participating in in the first place.  I don’t know how often you’ve been rejected by someone or something that you’re not interested in, but it does not feel amazing.

So there I was, in Hollywood, with a five hour sad drive in front of me and not much else.  I felt like an idiot for coming here, and for chopping up my favorite piece for ASS.  I was very very close to indulging in that most contemptuous of activities...feeling sorry for oneself.  Then my phone rang.  It was an unknown number.

“Hello?”
“Is this Rachel Strickland?”  What fresh hell is this.  
“...yeeees…”
“I’m the creative director at Supperclub SF, you sent me an email a couple of weeks ago with your water act; Genesis I think it is called.”
“...yeeeees…”
“That was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.”
"...huh?"

Turns out, one of the pokers in the fire had caught.  I was in such a negative state of mind that I almost felt like it was a prank call, but he got through to me in the end.  Ultimately, the conversation ended in a performance residency in which I got to perform my favorite brainchild act every weekend for two months in my new city.  And not just “the most spectacular 90 seconds” either.   I also found in the director a beautiful like-minded soul and an incredible artist in his own right.  You can see his work here.

I’m sure you’re expecting a moral of the story and of course I’m going to deliver, but I think I can let my friend, the great Ronan Brady of Ireland say it for me, in this most excellent of captures:


In case you're wondering and I'm sure you are- you can follow Ronan's antics here.  You won't be sorry.

So back to my moral...you can try to cater to a specific company, adjusting your work to suit their aesthetic, needs, and even altering your body to fit into their requirements.  It might even work.  But I would humbly suggest there is an alternative course...which Ronan has illustrated for us so well.

Because what if it did work?  What if you got into the company of your dreams and worked for them for the next 20 years?  What if you were so unbelievably blessed you got everything you tried out for?  In the end, would you be left wondering what was left unexpressed that was YOURS, and not dictated by someone else?

So what if you gave credence to your stupid weird self?  What might that look like?  What if it worked?  

And if you're interested in finding out what that might look like...

Cycle 6 of my flagship creative mentorship course is buzzing away, and we've still got a few spots left for the next cycle of The Audacity Project.  Cycle 7 goes from May 23-July 19th.

This eight week course runs you through a gauntlet of creative excavation and actionable, step by step assignments to get your priorities straight, get your promotional materials in order, and feel your feet underneath you as a working artist.

It's not for the faint of heart, the helplessly lazy, or for people who are perfectly happy and satisfied where they are.  But if you're finding yourself at a crossroads, I made this to help you find your way.  You can learn more here:


ps. my mailing list ALWAYS gets first dibs...as well as templates, card readings, and other free goodies.  You can sign up for that here:  http://tinyletter.com/rachelstrickland

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Following is Admittedly a PSA/Rant:

Attention aerialists and circus performers:

Stop charging by the hour!!!



It's one thing to get this request from a client...clients don't know circus.  They know that the rest of the civilized world tends to sell itself in hours, so they frequently ask how much performance costs by the hour.  This my friends is where we have the opportunity to educate them with kindness and understanding.  This is not the time to become indignant and defensive.  The client isn't necessarily trying to trivialize your mortally dangerous lifelong work, they really just do not know any better.  Keep your emotions in check and instead, use facts to explain the situation.

The best possible response of a client to watching a performance is for their face to melt off in amazement.  It was amazing, it was moving, spectacular, they want more, they want to see it again.  This does not mean you should do it again...you WANT that aching pulsing love in the heart of your audience.  That is part of the magic of witnessing live performance.  Which option do you think leads to this response:  a dynamic, tightly choreographed 4-5 minute act, or watching someone do a variety of slowly moving splits for 20 minutes to house techno?  Right.

Understanding this, you are presented with a difficult task.  A client always thinks they want more.  More sets, longer sets.  You are in the position of facilitating the understanding that LESS is actually MORE.  Unless you have absolute confidence in the value of what you are selling, you are not going to succeed.  This is why we're presented with the current landscape of 95% ambient gigs, with ridiculously long sets.  Artists and agents let the client bully them into giving them more, when they are actually getting an inferior product.  Put an outstanding performer on for two 20 minute sets and you're going to be yawning by the eighth minute.  What's worse, now 4 sets are en vogue.  Ugh...you guys.  This is not why we got into this.
"Those who lack confidence in their ability to deliver quality will offer quantity instead.  Those who need to pay rent will sabotage their own future earnings to do so."  
Said the great Scott Cameron of Trapeze World, San Francisco.  Thanks for holding the line, sir.

And yeah, I get it.  I pay rent, too.  Here's the thing, I don't expect anything to change because I stood on a soapbox for a few paragraphs.  The market world-wide has already changed to an ambient marketplace.  It's nothing to be upset about, because why waste the energy?  But if you're going to walk into the fire, walk with your eyes open.  Either way, selling live performance by the hour is like selling a painting by square inch...short-sighted at best.

It may seem rare, but you can still have the experience of selling the act you worked for years to make for $1000 or more...if you know to try.  If you don't ask for it, you won't get it.  It's worth learning how to ask.  It's worth the time it takes to build a package BEFORE the phone even rings, so you don't have to sweat and stammer and try to invent something to sell...you already will have something to sell.  Your life's work has value.

Want to learn how to ask?  Talk to your mentors, talk to your friends.  Practice on your dog.  Apply for my mentorship course, The Audacity Project- I've opened the application for the next TWO cycles.  Whatever you do, try.  If you're spending your life becoming great at something, at least make a concerted effort to sell it for what it's worth.  We are all in this together.


photo by Brian Alvarez

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Gremlins.


In the last newsletter I sent out, I asked what gremlins were holding back the progress of my super rad readers.  I received so many thoughtful responses- I was blown away by their candor.  Raw, open honesty, like a fish hook in the eye.  Only in a good way. 

I want to report that every single response I got had something in common- the fear of not being Good Enough.  I read dozens of different ways of saying “I don’t feel that I’m good enough for ________.”  So Imma address that right now using the best method I have at my disposal...

Preachy overly self-assured soapbox prose.  Here it is.

When trying to battle the Good Enough problem, a first response is frequently an attempt to affirm to ourselves we are awesome, and to focus on things we feel awesome about.  This is healthy, but it clearly doesn’t get the job done.  Countering a fear of not being good enough with fake-it-til-you-make-it proclamations of our awesomeness is a good start, but it doesn't close the gap between wanting to believe it and actually believing it. 



So let us begin with stone cold facts to combat “I’m not good enough for ________”, whether _________ is a company, show, workshop, the world at large, or any other presentation.


Stone cold fact #1: 

You cannot possibly know if your skill level is a match for the ________ you’d like to do or not, unless you are speaking to the decision maker RIGHT NOW.  At best, you're guessing; and your guesses can't be trusted empirically because they are heavily colored with your own bias.  You feel me?  So know that every time you say "I'm not good enough" you aren't stating a fact.  You're feeding a gremlin.  And you know what happens when we feed gremlins…



Stone cold fact #2: 

Being good doesn't get you jobs.  Relationships and pursuing strategic action gets you jobs. 

So imagine you are “good enough”.  Does your phone start ringing with offers of tours and contracts?  NO.  You still have to go to auditions, apply for considerations, contact the Gatekeeper.  You still have to do the work, regardless of your own ill-conceived concepts of whether or not you measure up on this invisible scale of nothingness.  Don’t let the hamster running its wheel in your brain make decisions about your life- just do the work. 

Stone cold fact #3: 

Good Enough doesn’t exist.  “But Rachel,” you might say, “I have clear delineations on what will be Good Enough for my purposes.”  Ok cool, think about that place.  Point to it.  Describe the Good Enough exactly.  Now imagine you are there.  Spoiler alert!  There’s another Good Enough just out of reach. 

It’s not worth your life to chase a shadow. 

You may notice that Stone Cold Facts numbers 1-3 don’t include a meathook transfer to back flag.  The obsession with higher and higher skills might be born out of a quest for excellence, but the result can be an emotionally stunted product that hits all the “correct” benchmarks while somehow still failing to succeed at either impacting an audience or satisfying the artist.  High skills are desirable, but if that’s all that’s present in an act, personally I don’t care to watch that act.  I’m not interested in being impressed.  I’m interested in being moved...which will require your entire being, not just your skills; your vulnerability, your fortitude, your courage. 


Cool.  Whatever, I proved a point...now what?


If you genuinely feel your skill level needs to be raised, you know what to do.  It’s not a mystery.  Go put in the time needed to support that outcome.  Go to class, get a private lesson from a scary coach.  Change your training regimen.  Eat better food, get actual sleep.  Write down the minimum effective dose to support your desired outcome.  Feel like hell today?  Hate yourself and everything you touch?  Crippled by negative self talk?  Yeah that happens sometimes.  Go in to the studio and only do the minimum effective dose you wrote out for yourself, then get on with your life. 

Squashing a gremlin requires more than positive thinking.  It requires action based on what you value, instead of what you fear.

Don’t blink. 

For even MOAR THINGS from me sign up for my newsletter here:  tinyletter.com/rachelstrickland

Friday, August 18, 2017

Money...it's a Ga$$

You have no idea how much I do not want to write this article.  But, the time has come.  Like, five years ago.  It’s actually too late.  It was too late the moment the circus left the family business and became touchable to the few, the brave, the crazy.

Now it is touchable to everyone- and man, are they touching.  This is natural, normal, unstoppable.  So here’s what happens next.  Everybody and their cousin enters the market.  Nobody tells them what their work is worth, and they usually don’t ask.  They think $300 for five minutes of performance is amazing (it’s not).

So here we are.  This is an article about money.

I’m expensive.  Does this mean I’m the best?  Not really.  Does it mean I’m better than most?  Again, not necessarily.  My price is only marginally reflective of the quality of my work, which is always held to the highest standards of excellence by...myself.  Most clients don’t care how about the artistic excellence of my work.  They care if I show up on time, have clean lines, a big smile, am not drunk OR HIGH (looking at you Californians), own my own equipment, have insurance.  In short, what an agent generally wants from me is a level above proven competence and to not be a pain in the ass to work with.  If I can be actually fun, that’s a bonus.  And you know what?  The feeling is mutual.  At this point in my career, I work pretty much exclusively with those I am friendly and real with.  I know them, and they know me.  There aren’t really any surprises there, and after a lifetime of suddenly frozen dressing rooms, mysteriously disappearing costumes, and a suspicious scent of bourbon, we are pretty darn happy with each other.

Sell Competence...Deliver Excellence


So how can I be “expensive” and tell you frankly that it has little to do with the excellence of my work?  For one, my work is solid.  I know it is solid, I can stand by it, it can stand on its own.  That counts for something.  But the buck stops there.

So what does it mean that I can be “expensive”?  It means I know to expect a fair wage for my work, and most people don’t, and therefore they don’t get it.  As a result, a “fair wage” begins to look a lot like a “high-cost commodity” for good work.

This is how what “should” be a given- that good, competent work for a fair wage becomes a luxury; an albino deer in the forest.  You’ve never actually seen one yourself but you’ve heard of them.

Much of this could be avoided if we communicated better with each other; students, teachers, mentors, community leaders.  I’ve seen dozens of Facebook arguments bitching about being undercut, and the back and forth is truly popcorn worthy, but NO ONE LISTS NUMBERS.

What the hell are competing artists, emerging artists, and barely-hanging-on artists supposed to think coming away from pointless conversations like that?  The only message it manages to convey is whatever you do, do it quietly so the hordes don’t tear you into pieces...it underscores our unwillingness to share our own prices for the totally understandable fear of being judged/shunned/scorned/voted off the island.

In some of my most prolific years, I could have easily doubled, and often tripled my income, if anyone had been willing to discuss pricing with an obviously ambitious new aerialist, and if I had asked more (and better) questions of my teachers.

Well guess what.

How to price your work- my method.

This is the method I use, and I invite you to use it as a means for comparison if nothing else.  It is not the only way and I feel you can probably improve on it, so for the love of the future of our industry, please do.  And then tell everyone that will listen.  You won’t regret it in the long run.

First we have to differentiate between the types of gigs commonly come across in local freelancing work:

Community Gigs:


Put on by your friend’s friend, or a local celebrity.  Low paying, regular, total love fest, do whatever you want on stage and enjoy your world.
Generally anywhere from $50-125 a show.  No one makes money off these shows, they exist for the sake of art and for the community.  They should be approached with respect to this end.

Club Gigs:  


Ambient affairs in nightclubs/restaurants- dependably regular, often questionable work conditions, all regular work pays less than a one-off and $150-250 is a pretty standard range for these gigs.  A nice way to bulk out a weekly income and try out new material/costuming.

Private Events:  


For the sake of discourse, this is what we will focus on here.  One-offs, including weddings and corporate events.  These are either self produced or you are the hired muscle.

Hired Muscle:  
Curated by an agent.  You show up, get into costume (possibly provided) makeup (also possibly provided) warm up and do your thang.  Get a check.  Go home and watch Frasier reruns.

Self Produced:
You do the bidding, contracting, invoicing, casting, costuming, organizing, event coordination and on-site manager, and also perform as the muscle in many cases.  You will also be responsible for ensuring safe rigging and possibly hiring the rigger yourself.  
Would you charge the same amount for both of these scenarios?  I wouldn’t.

The Method

Built around an artist’s fee, for a day’s rate.  A day in muggle land is 8 hours.  In physical performance, it is approximately 4 hours onsite, as we cannot and should not be expected to perform for 8 hours at a private event.

That symbol means "does not equal" fyi

Whatever occurs in this four hours, generally either an act or 2-3 ambient aerial sets, is what I sell for an artist's fee.

How much is an Artist's Fee?

This is not an arbitrary number, it’s based on the perceived value of the goods in the local market at that time.  I prefer to charge on the higher end of what the market can allow.  At this time in my local market that number ranges from $450-750 with dependable regularity.  This is JUST TO SHOW UP and perform, and leave.  It includes nothing else, someone else (an agent) is doing all that stuff, and collecting their own fee for it you betcha.

Yes, that means if you are charging in this range to show up, rig the event, perform, manage the event, and contract the performers, you are not charging enough to uphold market value.  Stahp.

If you are curating (self-producing the entertainment) at an event you will need to allow for that extra work, or you’ll find yourself working 40+ hours for a 4 hour day rate.

Fuck.  That.

So wait, how much is it?

The numbers I just gave you are based in my market.  The market changes with locality, and also time, and you need to know what your market is like, at this time. Guess how you find that out?  You will have to locate human beings who have that information and ask them questions.  

Don't ask me how much to charge, go find out.  

When you've collected this information you can use that range to decide what within that range is appropriate for you to charge for your work.  Know your day rate, and have a range.  You'll come across non-profits and other low-budget affairs that will ask you for a discount.  If you already know the lowest appropriate number, you don't have to take a hit just because someone else asks you to.  You can discount to your appropriate bottom line.  That's as far as it goes.  

This should go without saying, but when negotiating a gig...it is poor salesmanship to start with your bottom line.

Don't want to be a salesman?  Then you're not a professional.  Profession=money for work.  Don't want to sell?  Then live happily as an amateur artist.  Nothing wrong with that.
Absolutely nothing wrong with that.  As long as you're not taking a paid opportunity and doing it for free, which in case no one mentioned it, is a completely shit thing to do to the rest of us.  Why?  Because once someone gets something for free, it loses it's value.

I don’t have to think about my prices when negotiating a gig...I’ve already thought about it.  There’s no “ummmmm, let me see” because I already see.  If you wait until you are being offered a gig to price your work, you run the risk of pricing based on your emotions...not the market.  Don't let this happen to you!  You end up getting panicked at the thought of losing the gig, and it's easy to practically give your work away.

copyright South Park

So knowing this, I can take a gig someone else is doing allllll the other work for, show up and perform, and leave for a $600 check and sleep well that night.  In some localities, this number is a paltry sum.  In others, it's a dream.

If I were in charge of the event, you bet your ass I’m going to need extra compensation for the hours upon hours of administrative tasks that it takes to pull off an event.

If I’m performing, I start with my artist's’ fee-  $600 approximately, and double it AT LEAST.  This is for someone with very little overhead; as in, you don’t have an office or employees, you’re just organizing an event.  An agent probably has to charge more than this to get you a fair wage and also cover their cost of doing business, so consider how much damage can be done to a local market if suddenly no one is considering these extra costs?



The Moral of the Story...


Do your homework ahead of time.  Have a pricing structure that is based on numbers, and that you can defend without the need to be defensive.

Pricing is not about your feelings.  It's about value, and should be based in mathematics...not emotions.  Have it in place before you get your first inquiry, ask for help from your teachers and mentors.

Your actions do affect everyone else.  Don't go it alone...we really are all in this together.  And you know, it's YOUR LIFE.  It has value.


PS.  

I've gotten many questions about The Audacity Project, my 8-week mentorship program designed to get you off your ass and into the working world armed with the tools for the trade.  In case you're curious, I made an FAQ for ya.  Next round begins next week, August 22nd.  There are 2 spots left.  

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Dun-dun-dun...Tape Review!!

From me to you- my new favorite bar tape.

I was contacted by Cheetah of Aerial Essentials about a bar tape they’ve developed, asking if I was up for reviewing it as I’m such a vocal, picky bastard about how my lyras are taped.

To which I of course heartily agreed.  I promptly received a couple of rolls- black just like I’d asked for.

My own Aurora had been given a lively retaping in Newbaum's a few months back, and at the high price tag and the lengthy life expected of that tape, I didn’t want to get her all nekkid unceremoniously early.  So I called my good friend and local badass Maia Adams who owns the Aerial Artique in downtown San Francisco, and with her go-ahead, decided to give this tape the harshest possible gauntlet to run through:  seeing how it performed on a classroom hoop.

I never do hoop with rings, zippers, anything that can damage the tape.  I treat my equipment as a partner- so not a very harsh mistress to the tape.  But students on the other hand...students come up in here wearing freakin zippered jumpsuits, wedding bands that don’t come off, razor blades on their palms (ok not really, but you get the idea).  I knew that if a tape was going to stand up to abuse, we would know after a few months of giving class on it.

Also, the Aerial Artique is deliciously warm- it traps heat like a greenhouse; great for the body, hell on tape.  I was sending this tape on a quest to rival Indiana Jones.

So lemme tell you about this tape- the reason it’s special is several-fold:

It is purported to be:

  • Affordable at $6.50 a roll
  • Available in 9 different colors (so far)
  • cover an entire hoop with one roll
  • Able to be performed on IMMEDIATELY


If you’re an aerialist, you know that last claim is BFD; I put off retaping my hoops as long as possible because I hate, loathe, and otherwise despise the sticky awfulness that is a newly taped hoop, even with loads of chalk rubbed into it.  It takes weeks to achieve the perfect combination of usable tackiness and natural slide necessary to comfortably perform on without ripping out chunks of skin.

Exhibit A:  Lizard Back
See exhibit A- a common side effect of my choreography.

So with Maia’s blessing I took down the hoop with the most badly damaged tape (tape that melts into loose, open pockets is even worse than ripped sections).  Just FYI, at the bottom of this post is a series of pictures to illustrate my best method for taping the top of the hoop with athletic style bar tape.  You know, for you nerds.

I put it back up.  I DIDN’T chalk it.  I fought the compulsion to chalk it and won.

Then I warmed up and ran my whole act on it

And it performed like a freakin dream.  Hallelujiah I say, and can I get an amen, it actually did what it said it would do.  I lost no skin, I did not get stuck.
I see no reason to buy any other type of athletic style bar tape ever again.

So that was April 4th 2017, and here we are heading into the studio June 29th- by now the tape should have been thoroughly put through the ringer so in addition to it’s dreamy qualities right off the bat, let’s see how it holds up to the test of longevity......

...

..PAUSE FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT...

...

BOOM.  With the exception of one small repair the tape has held up excellently even after months of abuse- I’m sold.  It’s not trailing threads, back-curling, melting or pocketing.  If you want to see a dumb video of me checking the tape out it’s here:



For super long life, your best best is still Newbaum’s or Velox, which frequently last into the years-long time frames.   It’s expensive and you do have to get used to the grip if you’re using it for the first time, but it lasts.  However if you prefer the feel of athletic style bar tape in my opinion this is as good as it gets.  Thank you Aerial Essentials for being rad and for solving this problem in 9 different colors.  

Now for you nerds.  Taping around the Tab.


Step 1:  get hoop nekkid

Step 2:  tape a strip under the tab

Step 3:  tape both back and forward faces just under the tab

It should look like this from the top

Step 4:  finish taping as usual

MUAH.

As promised, less than one roll for my 38" hoop.  

Alright go forth and use the good stuff.

ps.  if you were on my email list, you would have gotten all this plus news on happenings, templates for resumes, contracts, and deadlines that I don't announce here.  Just saying.  



Friday, June 9, 2017

Imposter Syndrome: How to Deal with Insecurity

This is going to be short and to the point.  If you haven’t heard of Imposter Syndrome it’s pretty damn apt at explaining itself.  At the Irish Aerial Creation Centre’s Creative Intensive last year, this came up on day one.  Every single participant and mentor reported a close experiential relationship with this condition, from emerging aerialists to veteran career artists who had pioneered their fields.

The great Bob Fosse is reported to have suffered crippling insecurity about his work.  Even if you don’t know Bob Fosse, you have seen his mark on the world if you are taking part in Western Culture.  Meryl Streep, Jodie Foster, I could go on and on but I think three icons are enough to prove the point that if you experience feelings of being a fraud, you are in lauded company.

So what the hell to do about it.  I have two points.


One:  how do you get rid of it?  


You don’t.

Unless you can take a pill to subjugate your humanity, you’re stuck with this in my opinion.  It is a challenge that persists.


Two:  how do you keep it from sabotaging your life?  


Don’t make decisions based on those feelings.

It irritates me that a sentence which took me so much constant, brutal research to arrive at is so short.  But it really is that simple- know yourself.  Know what your feelings are.  Call them by name.  Feeling insecure?  Fine. Call it by name and move on.  Feeling f*#%ing terrified?  Fine.  Call it by name and move on.  Feeling shaken to the core and like the ground is flying out from under you?  Congratulations, you’re experiencing a moment of true focus.  Call it out, pay attention, and do the thing you want to do based on your value system, not your fears.

You don’t need to get on the panic train, just acknowledge it is there and watch it carry on.  I tell my students it is like being at a grotesque parade.  You can just stand there and watch it go by, flaunting its macabre features, you don’t have to jump on the float.

Then make a different choice.

On my way to my first aerial gig, I distinctly remember hoping I’d be hit by a car so I wouldn’t have to do it.  I won’t give my fear the reins to my life- and I came to tell the truth.

If you make decisions based on your fears, a life of cowardice will be your only reward, and the internal self-sucking pleasure that comes from hiding, crouched like some sordid, whimpering Gollum inside of your own skin.

Y’all.  That’s nasty.

God hates a coward.  Go do something else.  That is all.

Ps.  I don't know if you heard but my email list is a good way to get this kind of abuse from me on the regular, with helpful things like links and resources and applications and stuff.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Big Lie.


​Sit down, y'all.  Imma tell you a story.  Like all stories I will tell you, it is true, in spite of the title of this article.


I have a very close friend, a performance artist and visionary whom I have had the pleasure of sharing both stage and world with for many years.  Let’s call her Bast.  

My friend Bast and I were talking one day as we often did, about the trials of a life built out of art and cardboard and fishnet stockings. We talked for a while trading stories, both of us enjoying a bit of a rant on shady producers, freezing dressing rooms, and the weird shit people say to us at gigs. Ultimately, I sighed and said something trite like, well I wouldn't want to trade lives with anyone else, even for all the struggles. At least this life is mine.

And Bast was quiet a second and said, “Actually, there is one person I would trade lives with. Sabra.”  I wanted to object, but I couldn’t, and here’s why.

Sabra is a fellow performer who had achieved a dazzling success. She had been in a prestigious dance company in Chicago from a young age, leaving to move to LA at the behest of her main employer.  This employer was a very, VERY well known mega-star for whom she choreographed all of their dance numbers for major events. Bast and Sabra would be having lunch and she'd be all, “oh shit I'm late for rehearsal with HUGELY POPULAR POP ARTIST” and a black car would be waiting for her on the curb. She'd run off for months on tour, staying in fabulous hotels and barely working at all except on rehearsal days, but living that glamorous superstar by proxy lifestyle. She told hilarious stories in a rich, buoyant voice about working with over-the-top tour managers and how everyone acted like crazy people in the presence of fame.  

On anyone's terms, her success was brilliant. By a dancer/choreographer's terms? Practically a unicorn.
A few years passed. I was having lunch with Bast again, on a quiet garden patio in San Francisco. I asked about Sabra, as she hadn't mentioned her in a while and they had seemed to be close friends. Plus, I was curious as to what other cave of wonders the woman had managed to unlock on her yellow brick road.

Bast went silent.  She fixed me with her indomitable stare that meant shit was about to get real. And over the next hour and a half quietly explained how she had come to discover that Sabra's life was...

wait for it...

...a complete and utter fabrication. She had made the whole thing up.


I'll give you a second to read that again. A person in my friend's life, who for years had shared friendship, meals, travels, and shows with her, had been systematically nurturing a complicated illusory life for herself over the past five years. The sheer complexity of the untruth was mind-boggling.  The attention to detail was punishing in its ruthlessness.

It took Bast another hour to answer all my questions about how one step at a time, because of one tiny little loose thread that begged to be pulled, my friend slowly and rather chillingly uncovered the vast extent of a glittering career that never happened.

Need to make a call from a fancy hotel?  Ask to use the courtesy phone.

Need to be carried off in a big black car?  Call an uber and instruct them to wait.

Need to be out of town to validate a world wide tour you have nothing to do with?  Go see your mom back home in...wherever.

I was stunned, and deeply disturbed as one tends to be when confronted with an elaborate falsehood.  The most malicious part of it was, Sabra’s lie was so convincing that my friend got to the point of fantasizing about trading lives with her. The continued glowing successes of Sabra's apparent career had eaten away at my friend's pride in her own accomplishments, each one won with so much effort and labor only to be overshadowed again and again by Sabra’s stunning reach.  

And it was all one big, stinking, putrid, absurd lie.  Bast was the real unicorn.  But since we accept the world that’s presented to us as reality, this was usurped.

The above example is a caricature of a usually much more subversive, pervasive, and poisonous reality.  The Big Lie of Social Media Life.  I’ve written about this before in an Ode to Failure.  The reach of The Big Lie is so convincing that it can permeate even an old, comfortable relationship.  I have a friend who is a successful visual artist who I have been close with for 15 years.  I stopped contacting him because he was always traveling, going from gallery opening to gallery opening, and I didn’t want to bother him.  A year later we discussed it and he said, “It’s my job to make my life online look as exciting and elusive as possible.  It’s branding.  The truth is I go to these gallery openings and then eat noodles alone in a hotel.  I wish you had called!”  

If you think that made me feel like a dumbass, you’d be right.  I don’t know anyone who is impervious to The Big Lie...most friends of mine who it truly bothers, who don’t need social media for advertising, simply go off the grid and live perfectly splendid lives that no one knows a damn thing about.  

What I am NOT trying to tell you is that your friends and colleagues are inventing lives for themselves on social media, and that you should become a deeply suspicious person who responds to every FB post like:


What I am trying to do is advise you to do is become adept at identifying the feeling of FOMO.  You know the feeling, like being surrounded all of a sudden by a poisoned fog of emptiness, even when you were in a great mood two seconds earlier.  Get really good at knowing the signs, so it can’t sneak up on you and ruin a perfectly good moment with the certainty that EVERYONE IS DOING COOL SHIT BUT YOU!!!

I mean, they might be.  But, probably not.  If you recognize the gremlin of FOMO and see it coming, it makes it harder for it to sink its rancid claws into your psyche. 


Behold, the embodiment of FOMO.
Why this oddly psychoanalytical post?  I’ve seen enough artists both new and seasoned, sunk in a mire of despair because they were comparing themselves to the online presences of their peers.

And you guys...that shit ain’t real.  The Big Lie is not an accurate representation of reality...it's very nature is contradictory to accuracy.  As performance artists, part of the beauty of what we do is its absolute transience.  The moment it lives it dies, and is gone forever, and no amount of video or photography can capture what the true experience was; those mediums have their own beauty, but it is another beast.  

Photo by Daniel Yoo
Above:  A rad live shot of my act from Natural Wings award winning show, Elements, with my two stunning sisters-in-air, Dawn Pascoe and Ruth Battle-Wayre of Perth, Western Australia.  Truly one of the highlights of life as I know it.

NOT PICTURED:  I caught a terrible cold and had to keep tissues just off stage so I wouldn't spray snot on the audience and/or my beloved co-artsts.  Wouldn't have changed a thing.  Just saying, it's never the whole story.

Don’t get me wrong, an online presence is a useful, even imperative tool.  It's part of playing the game of self-marketing.  But believe me, it is a game.  The smoke and mirrors and fairy glamour we love about the stage can become a staged life- and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you don’t mistake one for the other; for in that way, madness lies.  

This has been a PSA from Madame Rex Studios- coming to you live from the Glass Castle, San Francisco, JUST KIDDING I’m just a woman sitting at my kitchen table typing!   I'm not even wearing pants!  See how easy it is?!

In other news:

If you were on my mailing list, you'd get all kinds of other info all in one tidy place, like an application for mentorships and heads up on other cool haps.  Not saying it could save your life but, you know.  It could save your life.