Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Business of Solo Performance (sorry, it actually involves business)

Let me be clear from the start of this post.

I grew up with all the illusions/delusions of most artistic souls. And had a family that reinforced these illusions/delusions from fear.

What am I speaking of? The beliefs that stop us from making a living as solo performers, writers, actors, coaches, directors and producers.

By the way, the above list is how I have made my living in entirety for the past thirteen years. I have been doing the work longer, but it is since then that I have kept the food on the table and the roof over the proverbial head by means of who I am in authenticity.

What were my personal belief's before this set that limited my thinking? Do you share any of these thoughts?

1) I will never become a professional theater person outside of NYC (false belief)
(TRUTH) I have made more money in New Mexico than I ever did in NYC. I now am hired to work in NYC at least once a year and others fly into work with me internationally.

2) I need to get a big break or be discovered by someone else to make a living (false belief)
(TRUTH) I have all the power I need to create my own opportunities.

3) I do not have a brain for business.
(TRUTH) I had not been trained in business in acting school, but I was perfectly capable of learning the skills to run a successful creative business. And yes, it took a long time.

I was well into my thirties before I began to make a living for basically being myself. At 31, I did my first solo show and actually made a few thousand dollars (no small feat in this small town)

But hardly enough to support myself or a daughter.

There were many skills I had to learn. But as they say, necessity is the mother of invention and I was under the gun when I got serious. I had no real marketable skills for a job. And even if I had, I didn't want one. I had a 2 year old at home with me in my small town in the Southwest. And I wanted to be with her. And in retrospect, I see how much my love for her motivated and inspired me to figure it out.

First I began to learn about publicity and marketing. I began to teach classes in solo performance (long before it was trendy or popular)

I continued to write and perform my shows using them as leverage to get people to take my classes. I began to get asked to direct.

From this I began to offer a more therapeutic monologue process and really put the work in to develop it and get the word out about this. From that I had a book published.

And it has gone on like this for the last many years. There have been ups and downs.

I have made many business mistakes, trusted some of the wrong people and sometimes lost money on shows or events.

But much, much more often than this, I have had great success's with shows, making friends and yes, making money.

One has to work hard, follow what one does well and build on that for success.

Let go of the illusions that you cannot make money on your true work exactly where you are with what you have.

I had no savings or investment's to put into my work in the beginning. But I kept going, through everything and it has worked out and continues to work out in a beautiful way that is in service to others and true to my own soul.

No regular "job" will give you that. Go do what you do, be who you are and be willing to learn step by step about the business of art and I promise you, you will be more than ok.

You will live your true life. And nothing beats that.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Professional Solo Performance/ Therapeutic Monologue Shows.How They Compliment Each Other~

Since I first encountered my mentor when I was nine-teen, the late great Spalding Gray and saw one of his early his autobiographical monologue's thirty years ago, I have been on a quest to explore story. Particularly story in a theatrical setting.

Before that experience, I was on the path of a professional actor in training and indeed, that was my first love. But when I encountered the personal narrative monologue in Spalding's work, my deepest love shifted. The shift wasn't so much from "acting" to "storytelling" but from "artifice" to "intimacy"

The words "intimacy", "authenticity", "transparency" drove me as my life's mission. I think they were so important to me because I experienced so little of them, both in my family or origin and the suburban landscape outside DC while growing up. The desire to experience them led me to my discovery of theater in the first place and then, later to the art of monologues.

By committing to exploring this particular newly emerging art-form as my life's work, I have thought deeply about what makes this form work, what makes it fail and the differences in intentions and out-comes between a professional "show" for general public consumption and a monologue as a once in a lifetime type experience to convey a particularly painful/challenging or archetypal life-story to a supportive audience with the intention of transforming it.

While there are many differing thoughts on these experiences and differing opinions on the legitimacy of one type of show or another, I consider them both, not only valid, but essential to the evolution of theater and the healing of humanity.

Character Driven Full Length Solo Shows:

Many folks with a professional theatrical back ground only seem to embrace what they see as the highest elevation of the form with character driven shows that showcase the actors talent. Their are many great performers in this genre including Sarah Jones, Danny Hoch and most famously Anna Deveare Smith. This theater, in the hands of a masterful and accomplished artist makes a strong commentary on contemporary culture and social issues. This work is utilized best exploring social issues. I have directed a few shows in this arena, most notably Michelle Vest's show Solo Survivor's in which she showcased and embodied four un-documented Mexican and El Salvadoran's workers.

This show will is an opportunity for intimacy with the stories of the characters, not the performer who is a channel and in service to the characters she/he has created.

Solo Performance Memoir/Confessional Shows

The most essential thing to success in this form is a strong, specific and unique point of view and voice. This is what makes Spalding Gray, Spalding Gray. This is what makes Mike Daisey, Mike Daisey. Now both of these men had/have very different focus's in their work and Daisey's is much more of an activist's voice, but both were/are very developed and comfortable in their own point's of view.

I have directed many, many excellent solo shows in this form including Gray's "BURST", a very humble, funny and earnest look at bi-polar depression.

The range of topics of shows that have been written and performed in this form are numerous. If one desires to offer these shows at a festival, theater or conference it is essential to work with a sharp and critically minded director.

For, this form's greatest possibility is also it's greatest potential pit-fall. It can either be manifested as powerful vulnerability or deep and painful self-indulgence. And if one is presenting for a public audience, charging admission and offering oneself as an artist, one must really rise to the occasion and show up with a monologue that in some way becomes Universal and transcends the limitations of the ego. One must do this show with the audience in mind, not simply as a tool for self expression. Though the joy of course is in the self expression.

The issues presented in terms of content explored need to be in some way satisfactorily resolved for the performer in this context. It is a direct affront to a theater audience looking at a professional show to be asked to do this awareness work for the performer. Issues that are still processing for the performer need to be resolved before it is offered as art. End of story.

It takes skill, honing and technique to offer a show of value. It also takes consciousness and clarity of mind and heart. Not to be undertaken lightly.

Now these are basically the two types of artistic/professionally intended solo shows I have immersed myself in over the years. As a writer, performer, coach, director and producer by the way so I have really seen this from all angles.

Therapeutic Monologues:

For the past fifteen years I have been working with "regular people" who have experienced trauma, loss of illness to offer personal monologue shows focused on various topics. Cancer, HIV/AIDS, veterans etc. (You can watch numerous monologues from these shows on my youtube channel, Tanya Rubinstein)

Now the way these shows are structured are for six to eight people dealing with the same topic each share a ten minute monologue they have written in one of my StoryHealers workshops.

The intention is different here. For me, in the StoryHealers process, the audience is NOT the main concern and this is what turns the process on it'd head from an artistically or professionally based solo show. The most important thing is the participant's opportunity for empowerment, healing and transformation.

The key to success in this process: Be clear with the audience's expectations. And let them in on their role in the process.

If they think they are coming to see a professional show, they must experience creativity, originality, talent, expertise of some kind. But if you let them in that these are non-professionals sharing a once in a lifetime experience and that their witnessing is part of the healing, they will totally go with you.

Solo performance as an art-form and solo performance as a healing process are both 100% valid and important in my experience.

Just do not confuse which process you are doing and be clear with your audience to manage their expectations. This way, everyone wins.

Oh...and if you're doing a full solo show, do not forget to get an intelligent and experienced  director or these waters will surely muddy~

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Empathy and Betrayal as a Creative Business Person~

I turned 49 years old last week. For someone who has this many years on the planet, you'd think I'd be used to the idea of betrayal by now. It happens. We all know it happens. We see it happen on a huge level all the time. In family systems and governments. Our politicians say one thing then turn around and do the opposite. We see the patterns throughout our own society and others.

And yet, when it happens on a personal or business level, it is shocking and unexpected to me every time.

Don't call me naive. Don't call me an idiot.

Instead, perhaps, call me an empath.

We empaths are a strange bunch. Sometimes prickly on the outside, because underneath, we cannot help BUT feel all of life's feelings, including other people's, on the inside. We care deeply about every person we encounter whether we show it or not. We tune into people's deepest wounds and because we actually feel them in a visceral way, it makes business like detachment next to impossible.

We are good at what we do as artists, therapists, actors, writers, teachers, coaches. We practice having boundaries though it is never really comfortable. We experience others in unity/oneness as our own selves. Developing compassion is much more challenging for ourselves than others who we easily and often uncontrollable access it for.

We are the people who fall in love with people's potential. And while the co-dependencey experts might say this is a dumb thing to do, it does not come from a dumb place. Rather, it comes from a place of genuinely feeling the very best in everybody. Seeing their potential means believing that they will develop strongly and beautifully and make choices to embody their best selves.

Um...not so much. Or at least, not so much every time. When it happens, celebrate it. But do not expect it. This has been my learning, but being wired in a certain way, I have had to learn it  over and over again.

When I was in first grade, I came home crying. When my grandmother asked me about it, through sobs I said "The teacher yelled". Surprised, she questioned "The teacher yelled at you?" "No" I replied. "She yelled at my friend"

So that's my starting place.

And in my internal life, the life that allows me to hold deep and sacred space for my clients, the space that "leans in" to every connection, that truly loves listening to stories and is able to offer safe and supportive suggestions and feedback. That inner reality believes and knows the good in everyone. It totally affirms their wholeness which is much, much bigger and deeper than any of experience of trauma. Deeper than any wound.

My inner empath is not only connected to my spiritual attunement of Oneness consciousness, she is one and the same.

But what I have had to learn is that it is not enough for me to know their wholeness. Even if they are leaning into an aspect of their wholeness as they are exploring this work, it is not always enough. If deep down, they are still most attached to their "wound story" they will act out on others in a way that can be experienced as betrayal.

Case in point. I worked with a man from Boulder, Colorado for over three years. First, he wanted to write the story of his father's suicide and his reaction to this event in a one man show. We did this work together and I produced his show at the first Santa Fe Solo Performance festival. As I am with all my solo show clients, I was a little bit therapist, coach and dramaturge all rolled into one. I also was the director.

The lens through which I saw him was as my star student in many ways and I viewed ours as not only a friendship, but a mutually beneficial long term relationship that was based on the desire for healing and stories.

 He came back to Santa Fe to begin working with me to do the StoryHealing work in his community. I was completely supportive and agreed to be on his Board of Directors and even allowed him to use my company name StoryHealers in Boulder despite the fact that he had not completed the work that would allow him to offer these workshops withe expertise and integrity.

After all, I knew him. Knew his pain. Knew his goodness of heart. How could anything go awry?

I had helped him write this show about his Dad's suicide and his daughter's birth. As a line in his show went "My people" as he thumped on his chest. We were bound by an openly acknowledged soul connection.

Through a series of events, he connected with a well known singer/songwriter who was open to working with us him to incorporate these songs into the show. I was open and invited them all down to my studio in Santa Fe to work. Then, I went up to Denver on my own dime and directed the show. We went on to take the show to Stage Left in NYC where I went and spent ten days, taking a great deal of time away from my own family and business with the understanding that we were going to take this show as far as we could go.

The fact that at this point, he continued to avoid a sit down in conversation with me as well as signing an official contract for what was now emerging as a substantial project between us worried me, but I continued to trust our deeper connection.

Through a series of events that included his wife getting involved in his new "business" and the promotion of the show, after an investment on my side that included a great deal of time, money and emotional connection, he cut me out of the project completely. And he did it without even a conversation. No sit down talk going over what had already gone well and what could go better, despite my attempts for this to happen. He took my name off his posters as the director, re-writing history. The manager of the singer became his "director" in the new press. And in press and stories, my name is never mentioned.

I fall in love a little bit with every client I have. I want them to succeed with all my heart. I offer everything I have to offer be it advice on what theaters to perform their show in to ways to look for funding, to giving everything I can to their script. This is the second time in my career something like this has happened. And the first time, it took me years to get over as it was with an actual business partner.

In both cases, people who I considered near and dear to me cut me out coldly before my heart even had the chance to miss a beat.

In some ways, I understand this as an occupational hazard when it comes to dealing with stories and people's wounds. It's a case of getting so close to the fire, you end up being the one who gets burned. And, I want to add that many times, many more times it does not happen like this. I've had many, many more positive experiences where the shows really do transform people and their hearts.

In this case,I got to be the negative projection even though at the end of the day, in my own Soul, I know I was his greatest ally. I also know the project will always be tainted behind the scenes because of the ugly energy. People can cut you out on the surface, but the Universe always holds us all accountable and unkind intentions always seep through the cracks.

For me, my lessons continue to be to get more support around the left brain issues that challenge me. Currently, I have begun to work with my own Board of Directors to help me get all my ducks in a row. Contracts are always signed at the beginning, not middle or end of a project or it does not happen.

I still may experience the world as an empath with compassion, but I strive to also hold the reality that not everyone cares so much. And it is not because they personally do not care about me. It is simply where their own would is holding them hostage.

Lastly, this is not a victim story. I am sad about this incident, but I am resilient. Moving forward with numerous projects, trainings and clients. And the possibility coming together for a show I will produce in NYC in 2014. Loving connections and more to come.

I have heard the expression that we can only truly betray ourselves. I pondered this for a while, but I do not always agree. Though, elements of denial or minimizing our red flags feelings can be an issue.

At the same time, an open heart is not a pathology. I can experience betrayal from the outside as many times as I need to, to learn about my human boundaries as the Universe sees fit.

But I refuse to close down my love and compassion, my curiosity and care for people. And I am grateful for so many blessings in my life~

I'd love to hear your thoughts on empathy and betrayal in your creative world.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Looking for Purpose and Meaning in Your Professional Life? Become a StoryHealers Facilitator~

Twice per year, six folks came to Santa Fe from various parts of the country and world to participate in a StoryHealers Facilitator Training.

The purpose of these trainings is to learn to facilitate others who have experienced trauma, loss, grief, transition (in short...being human) in a mini-solo performance. In a 4 day workshop, people write a ten minute monologue based on what they most essentially want to express for the purpose of healing and transformation. This story is then performed onstage to a live audience of friends, community, family members and the public.

Here is a video showcasing bits of the monologue work over the years:

And here are clips from some of the shows:

Mary in "The Cancer Monologues 3"

Linda in "Core Witness" about her visit to Iraq as a witness for woman and children

John in "Core Witness' about his experiences as a Veteran

Abby in Mothering: The Monologues about her experiences as a lesbian mom

If you are interested in offering this theatrical/healing process in your community, please get in touch with me about the next training. My e-mail is I have offered this work publicly and successfully to the GLBT community, to people who have experienced cancer and HIV, Veterans, new mothers, fathers, hospice caregivers, people who have experienced homelessness and many more.

Here is a short introduction written in the StoryHealers International Facilitators Training Guide:
From me, the  founder of the Therapeutic Monologue Process:

This process is not mine. It was given to me, through me, by something greater than me. Alongside the birth of my child, it has been the greatest miracle in my life. To know ones purpose is a great gift and I do not take it lightly.

 I have been working at catching up to it for the last thirteen years. It came to me in a dream, after praying that my life’s purpose be revealed. It arrived complete with a vision and steps to take and I knew what do and how to implement it right from the start.

Oh, if only the journey had stayed so simple!  Over time, the process  has demanded that I look at every wound I had been carrying, every false belief, every trauma, every character flaw in myself and open to it’s healing.

The process has demanded that I become a person worthy of this process. That I learn how to walk in balance and integrity. I’ve had to learn to have clear boundaries and keep an open heart when my tendency would be to judge, take shortcuts or blame others.

Does this mean I am a perfect person now? Does this mean you will have to become one to facilitate the work effectively? Do we have to become  saints or bodhisattvas? Guru’s?

No, no and no some more! We can be human and imperfect while always striving to be a bit more compassionate, a bit of a better listener, a bit more creatively plugged into all of the Universe.

But this process, followed in earnest will teach you quite a bit about yourself. And the people who you work with will give you more in return than you can ever thank them for.

If I can ask one thing of you right from the start, above all remember this:

Stay in service to the people you are facilitating. Breathe often. Keep an open heart. Keep checking inside yourself to make sure you are present.

Because your presence is not only enough, it is actually everything. Be who you already are. Full presence, here to serve others in their authentic expression. If you can do this, everything else will fall into place.

I wish you all the very best that this creative and serving path can offer.

Tanya Taylor Rubinstein