I don’t know how many parts there will be in this series. Tonight was my first in a 6-week class called “Money and the Performing Artist” at the Actors’ Fund. I’ve decided to take it upon myself to write thorough notes about it here. I will be more honest than I probably should. As I learn and deal with my own struggles with it, I am open to feedback from you. If you don’t want to post it directly on this blog, you can contact me via Facebook. I will not disclose anything you want to keep between you and me.
Money is the great taboo. It’s the engine moving us ahead. It’s a divider and uniter. But, really, honestly, I don’t know if I know what it really is. I think our economy is a mess because we as a country know what it is. There are titans of finance, these demi-gods who expect billions but they don’t know how to make a real economy.
People have defined money for me as a concept, a commodity and as an extension of who we are. The woman leading this workshop, Annette, said, “when we think of money, we think of how we care for ourselves.” If that’s the case then I’ve been an abusive a-hole in a dirty wife-beater to myself since 5th grade.
As shocking as it may seem, I’m relatively poor. Well, I guess it depends on how you look at it. There’s upper, middle and working class. They say money does not make you happier once you are in the middle class. It’s difficult to define middle class. I live in NYC so it’s higher than elsewhere. I’ve heard it’s $40,000 for a single person. If I keep my temp job going and book gigs on top of that, I will make a decent amount above that. So 2009 will be the year I begin to figure out happiness unrelated to money. I’ll let you know what ’08 was like for me after I do my takes on March 19th. (Got my appointment today.)
This means I don’t come from a family of great means. I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck and with a good deal of debt. Ooooh, debt. I guess the perceptions I’m looking at are in terms of value and success as a person and as someone with money. The idea that if you’re smart and work hard, you won’t have to worry about money. And let me say, if you’re someone who doesn’t worry about money, please let me know how you did it. If you’re someone who has a trust fund and can’t seem to spend it all, please consider making a donation my via Fractured Atlas so I can put up my next play. It’s called Rabbit Island and I think it’s funny and full of things that will make you think and feel.
But intelligence and a work ethic don’t always rake in the green. Most of my employment has been spotty. I’ll work and then stop. I’ll catch up to having enough and then struggle. No one has taught me about money. I guess I carry a perception that if you’re worth a damn at all, you’ll have money. Since I haven’t really had money, I’ve walked around with that not so worthwhile feeling.
Acting is an industry in which 90+% of the workforce is unemployed at any given time. I don’t care how freakin’ good you are, this means EVERYONE will be out of work at some point. Some stars are good with money or they have other things to support them. Restaurants, stakes in companies, endorsement deals or a sideline job. What? Yes, famous people sometimes have sideline jobs because they don’t make enough money. The lead singer from Iron Maiden tours with that band, gets books published and had a film made of his screenplay. But he also flies planes for a commercial airline so he can afford to buy his own plane. Now, he’s not starving but he’s working.
We shit on people who are successful because they are successful and we are not. Probably because we think they shit on us because we are not successful. We don’t think of them as human but, like us, they must take care of themselves. Is that so shameful? “Oh, he’s a fame whore.” “Oh, she’s just doing this for the money.” “So-and-sos just doing paycheck acting.” Well, there’s a lot of reality tv out there for the rest of them who aren’t good with money or can’t get those sweet paying roles. I seriously doubt Brett Michaels or Flavor Flav were on tv to find true love. “Wait, you mean you did this for the money and you don’t really love me?” That’s the slogan that should go on the back of every “Welcome to Hollywood” t-shirt.
Right now, entertainers are lining up for the scraps and the detritus tossed out from the Performing Arts Soup Kitchen. Bowl in hand and thankful. But before I go off into the WPA and the depression, etc. I want to make my point clear. I don’t think someone is more talented or less talented because they wound up on tv or in a movie or on Broadway. We could go all day about painters who died in poverty, only to have their work increase astronomically in value after death.
I assume as you read this, you are either agreeing with this or looking down on me. Either is fine. If you are looking down on me, please express it to me so I can understand it. I walk around looking down on myself because of money all the time. This is silly and pointless. Or, this might be bringing up totally unrelated things for you. That’s cool too.
I’m fortunate right now to have a job. I’ve paid off 100% my debt. No more school stuff, solo performance, acting classes, headshots, surgery, dental work, or relationships gone down the tubes. I think at least 3 of my relationships unraveled because of money. It wasn’t the spoken cause but the root under the root. I’m involved in a theater company that focuses on new plays. I know money will make or break us in the next year or 2.
I used to not like money and think that it wasn’t my concern as an artist. That if I became good enough at my craft, the money would follow. That’s nice until you reach a certain point and realize that’s not the case. This is NOT a meritocracy. I’m not angry or bitter, maybe a little embarrassed and ashamed. I feel I need to apologize to people when I fail AND when I succeed. Doing nothing is not an option.
I’m going be writing more about my relationship to money. About my beliefs I’ve held since childhood. I’m going to be upfront about what I spend on what and how I feel about it. I am working on having the kind of wealth that will allow me to work on my art and stay in good health. I will be able to sustain and take care of myself. I’m going to get over not being worthy of it. I’m going to be an adult about it.