Posts Tagged ‘Art’

When one tries to make a living as an artist, one’s potential for weird-ass jobs skyrockets. You need work that has flexible hours, open minded employers and will pay a good amount for a short, concentrated, burst of work. And, it turns out, they don’t call them odd jobs for nothing. Also, as a writer, I will often take the opportunity to do something strange or stupid or possibly dangerous just for the material. But to be quite honest, I don’t usually search these jobs out. More often than not, they find me. Case in point, my first gig.

I asked my friends on Facebook about their first first jobs and they mostly seemed to be pretty standard: yard work, lemonade stands, food service, babysitting. These jobs were largely unavailable to me. I grew up in a very rich area where they could afford to pay actual money for these things. All yard work was done by Latino immigrants. Most children had full time au pairs. I don’t know how old our paperboy was but I know he made deliveries from a car. (ironically, one of my childhood friends said that his first job was as his mom’s book keeper at age 10. Marin was weird, is what I’m saying.)

Technically my first gigs were ages 10-12 when my dad paid me and my best friend to dress up as elves and advertise his portrait studio’s Photo With Santa day. That was kind of odd, but I don’t really count it as my first gig because I got it from my dad and the salary was downright exploitative. I don’t remember how much they paid me the first time someone I was not related to hired me to do something, but I do remember that the evening was strange enough for it not to matter.

Have you heard of the Antenna theatre company? Probably not, so I’ll explain as best I can. They create installations that the audience wanders through, while listening to the performance (a sort of theatrical sound track/soundscape/voice over) on headphones. Sometimes there are actors and when there are they wear masks like, oh, say, this Amnesia_1

Now, there was an event, I don’t remember exactly what it was but I’m pretty sure it had nothing to do with the antenna theatre company. I remember it being kind of corporate and there being a powerpoint presentation during dinner. Since it was the mid nineties in the bay area, it may have been some kind of internet start up, I don’t know. What I *do* know is that it started with a networking happy hour. And to facilitate this networking they had an ice breaker game where people would have a name tag on their back, with the name of a celebrity, and other people would give them clues about who that celebrity was so they could guess who it was, thus starting up a conversation. It’s not a bad idea but you still have to talk people into playing the game. You have to explain what the game is and get them to consent to having a name tag put on their back. And for this task the event planners wanted teenagers in Antenna theatre masks. Let me repeat, teenagers. In giant weird masks. Talking people in business suits into a game where something is written on their backs. I don’t have photos so please content yourself with this poorly photoshopped artist’s rendering.

I don't think this even really captures just how strange the night was.

I don’t think this even really captures just how strange the night was.

I have no idea why they wanted teenagers. Maybe to cut costs. Maybe to fully set us apart from the crowd, lest people think the mask was some sort of neo-lampshade-on-the-head version of cutting loose. I don’t know. But I do know this: you can’t talk in those masks, you can’t see in those masks, and people don’t want a name tag on the back of their suit jacket. They just don’t.

Also, someone hit on me.

While I was wearing the mask.

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“Would you believe I devise my entire show based upon a single one of these jewels[swarovski crystals]?  It’s true.  I choose a color from my collection (I keep a three-tiered box full of samples at all times), and with it I can imagine a whole world.  It may take hours, days, this thinking process.  Catherine and I will sit, sipping Dom Perignon and dreaming up ridiculous, over-the-top fantasies… and suddenly one of them works!  And then we set to work, creating the dress, the prop, and the corset- the setting, if you will for this crystal.”

Dita Von Teese, Burlesque and the Art of the Teese

This was when I gave up on Dita Von Teese.

I needed a hero, you see.  I wanted to be a full time burlesque performer, and here was someone who had done it.  I wanted to know how such a thing was accomplished and instead I got this; a magical world in which everything was pretty and nothing was hard and an attractive young girl went from working in the mall as a teen to lazily sipping dom perignon and being paid to fantasize about swarovski crystals and corsets all be cause she…wore 40’s lingerie?

I’m sorry, that’s not a reality I’m familiar with.

In the word I know very act of creating art is hard.  And making a living by creating art is at least 10 times harder.  And burlesque is an art form, which automatically means that no one wants to pay for it.

Men who will drop hundreds of dollars at a strip club won’t pay more than ten to see a girl take her clothes off and actually enjoy it.  If I could enjoy being a stripper, I would do it in a heartbeat.  But I’ve been to all levels of strip clubs, I’ve talked to strippers who love it and strippers who hate it.  I know my personal limits and stripping is beyond them.  And I don’t care what Dita says, I just don’t believe that stripping will be any more classy or any less detrimental to my self esteem if I wear a garter belt and seamed stockings while I do it.

Still, one must make a living.  The question is how?

Burlesque itself could easily be a full time job, between making costumes, buying props, choreographing acts and performing till 2 to 5 in the morning.  Performing alone pretty much cancels out a 9 to 5 for me.  There are those who can function on little to no sleep.  I am not one of them.  And on top of that I don’t want burlesque to be the only thing I do.  I also write, paint, act, dance and if I try to give up any one of those things I go a little bit nutty.  Trust me, I checked.

So what’s a girl to do when she’s relentlessly creative but still has to make rent?  When her drive to create far exceeds the spare time a real job would leave her?  Is it possible to make a living while doing things you love?

That’s what this blog is about; making art and making rent.  It’s not about glamor and fantasy.  It’s about passion and reality.  It’s about finding ways to make more more money and ways to spend less.  It’s about finding other people who are doing what you want to be doing and asking how they did it.  It’s about finding crazy, fun and unexpected ways to get by.  And in a way it’s about figuring out how to live in this world and figuring out my place in it.

It’s figuring out who I am.

Because I’m definitely not Dita.