INTRODUCTION: IN THE GREEN
Claire: Lynn Neuman has spent her entire adult life in New York City. but it didn't have everything she was looking for.
Lynn: As food prices are rising astronomically. I'm like, I want to grow my own food. I wanted a garden, and I wanted my dog have a little more space.
Claire: So when the pandemic shut down the city, she decided to temporarily relocate to Michigan.
Lynn: I thought I’d try my hand at growing something, so I stuck some tomato seeds and some pepper seeds and some arugula seeds in the ground.
Claire: Lynn is the artistic director of Artichoke Dance Company, which is based in Brooklyn. Even though she left the city behind, she didn't abandon her dancers.
Lynn: And the dancers, all their gigs, other gigs had dried up. They rely on lots of things to make money teaching yoga, personal training, and they were all trying to find a way to pivot that, But knowing that they were struggling, I decided to not take a salary that year.
Claire: By not taking a salary, she was able to double the amount she paid her dancers that year.
Lynn: Luckily, I have put away as much money as I can, even though it's in little itty bitty increments every year. So I had a little bit of cushion. But there was a point where I realized that this can't be forever. Like, this is not a way that I can sustain myself. So that helped me to make my decision to move out of the city because it's just cheaper.
Claire: Partly for financial reasons, and partially because she just really loved living in rural Michigan, Lynn sold her New York apartment.
Lynn: I finally moved out of the city and have a garden and it's actually going quite well. The tomatoes are making it.
Claire: Lynn’s move to Michigan allowed her to stay in the green financially. And cultivate her green thumb.
But she the artistic director of her own company, not everyone has that privilege.
Lynn: It made me think about the pay inequity within the arts field in general and how the performers are often like last on the list. Right? If the performers weren't there, there would be no show nor the agents, nor would the theaters, nor would anybody else have a job. So I think we really need to move forward with addressing this imbalance. We have been, as a field, addressing the imbalances of racial equity and disability, but we rarely talk about the financial inequity that exists in our field.
Claire: You’re listening to ARTS. WORK. LIFE., a podcast from The Association Of Performing Arts Professionals.
I’m Claire Caulfield.
So, there’s a lot of talk in the performing arts industry about passion and how you have to make all these sacrifices for your arts and because you just love art.
But at the end of the day, this is a job. And what you, and everyone else in the industry is getting paid, that’s really important.
So today’s episode: Money, Money, Money. Hustle or Bust?
We’ll follow an arts entrepreneur through a typical day in her life,
Then talk about surviving catastrophe as a freelance artist,
And end with a story about how a life-changing diagnosis actually helped one musician make more money.
ACT ONE: RUNNING THE NUMBERS
Claire: Act One. Running the Numbers.
When Thamara Bejarano moved to Florida she was surprised that there weren’t a lot of opportunities to perform theater in Spanish.
Sure, there was children’s programming and, like, the occasional LatinX night, but she couldn’t find a professional Spanish-language theater in the entire Orlando area.
So she started her own.
In our first story today, Thamara takes us through a typical day in her life – reflecting on why she walked away from a financially-stable career
And on the hustle it takes to make sure your business doesn't go bust
Thamara: Ok, so today is friday I'm leaving Amazon's warehouse. I get 44 packages to be delivered in four hours
These 44 packages, they pay me 80 dollars. Eighty. Eight zero. So do your math.
It's not like my dream life, but it allows me to do what I really love to do.
>> fade down natural sound
I am an Amazon driver for flex driver in the mornings because I can do the block between, I don't know 7am and 11am and then at 11 I can start my my real thing that is directing this, this beautiful organization.
I was living my dream life. At 35 years old. I was a professor in a very well known University in Venezuela in Caracas. But unfortunately, in Venezuela, we are living in a dictatorship. And I was forced to leave the country in like hours. I managed to fit my whole life in a suitcase. Sometimes I don't remember who I was, it’s like having many different lives.
All immigrants have a hole in their hearts. It’s a part of of your life that was taken even when you came to this place because you wanted is it always like something missing that could be transformed into creation into positive action, and I believe that that's very important and empowering.
So being here, in Orlando and in central Florida in general, starting from scratch and thinking, Oh my god, what I'm going to do with my life now, I say, Well, why not? To do what you always wanted to do. Let's dedicate to change the world through art.
So I decided to open a space to do more for the Latino community and that's what I did in 2019.
Sometimes when I look to what we have done so far I cannot believe it. Like two weeks ago we were in the middle of the fringe fringe is a huge Festival Theatre Festival, but it's 99.9% in English. So after 20 years, we were the first group fully performing in Spanish.
And you start listening to that and you think, oh my god, I was doing this, I can do this.
>> music end
>> fade up natural sound
Thamara: Hi, I’m picking up for GrubHub!
I started my GrubHub block in the afternoons from five to nine.
Restaurant worker: Pull around.
Thamara: Thank you!
Alright, here we are after 15 minutes driving we arrived to the customer's door.
Then after these have to run to the next order *knock on door* *laugh* So five more dollars woo hoo!
>> fade down natural sound
One of the biggest struggles that we have. I believe this is something even the English groups suffer. Is like you must finance art.
Right now, it's like that. Being the head of a big project, but with no money.
So what options you have. The first one is through grants. When you are a nonprofit like us and fill in a grant.
Let me tell you, I have two Master's degree and fill in a grant is like is horrible. It's horrible. I cannot express it enough. It’s like basically melting your brain to get $2,000. Is this for real? $2,000 Are you kidding me? I don't want to know how he's going to be when we were asking for $1 million. They will need my my kidneys. I don't know.
And the other way is through sponsorships, and the thing is with the Latino community, that's not a very frequent thing. It's a struggle, there's no other word. It’s not the most beautiful side of this.
Thank God the company is now where we can ask for operating grants. And those grants can be invested in, in me, during these three years I have been working 10 hours daily, without earning a salary, a wage or nothing.
I don't think I can do it for much longer.
>> fade up natural sound
Alright so, went out from my block, my Amazon block. And then paid the cast and the crew of the last production. Um, what else what else what else? I updated the website, and here I am driving towards my first order $6, 15 minutes driving, 97 degrees *laugh* Well, so, what I'm having fun, it's a beautiful day. The sky is blue. Who knows? Who knows, who knows? Maybe we can conquer the world today.
>> fade down natural sound
Every time I'm ready to quit. I'm ready to say that's enough. I cannot, I cannot, I’m dying, I'm super tired. I cannot keep this this this life. Someone called me to say, Hey, I went to, I don’t know, whatever show. Oh my god, thank you very much for what you're doing. It was amazing.
The feeling, the pride you feel it is, how you say, palpable. I don't know. *laugh* You can touch it.
Claire: Thamara Bejarano is the executive director of Open Scene, a Spanish-language theater company outside Orlando, Florida.
ACT TWO: OUT OF POCKET, OUT OF LUCK
Claire: Act Two. Out of pocket, out of luck.
Taylor Gordon has been a professional dancer in New York City for over a decade, and she’s taken thousands and thousands of ballet classes in her lifetime.
When the pandemic started, she was taking classes virtually– and her small, studio apartment was no match for the large, airy actual studios she was used to dancing in.
But she couldn’t complain. She found good work early on in the pandemic and was even able to set some money aside.
So she was in pretty good spirits when in-person classes reopened.
Taylor picks her story up in May of 2020 – when she was on her way to the first in-person ballet class since the start of the pandemic.
Taylor: So I get to class that day and I see some friends that I haven't seen in a long time and you know you do all the usual pre-class chit chat stretching at the bar and “Oh, how was your quarantine?” *laugh* all that good stuff
Class starts and we go through center, we get through adagio, we get through pirouettes, all good and fine.
And then get to petite Allegro, which normally is my favorite part of all of ballet. *laugh* I've built as a kind of short, jumpy person, so it's usually something I do decently well. And we got to do the combination the first time through. No problem. I'm feeling good. I finally have space to actually travel and jump and fly. And then we go through the combination the second time, and I do glissade, jette to the right and then glissade and snap!
And I'm down on the floor.
So I ended up seeing the doctor the day after the injury happened. I had fully ruptured the Achilles tendon. Basically, the only option was to have surgery to fully repair the tendon. And it was pretty important to get it done quickly because I just couldn't walk. *laugh*
I decided to go ahead with this doctor who's fantastic, a dance specialist, but I had to pay for the surgery right up front. I had about six days between when the injury happened and when the surgery happened.
I do have health insurance. It's just the city freelance insurance, but it doesn't cover anything and it certainly doesn't cover any dance specialists, which I really wanted to see the right people given the situation.
So I had to pay completely out of pocket via check. I don't have checks because it's 2022. *laughs*
So I was on crutches, and I had to crutch my way to the bank to get a certified check and then crutch my way to the doctor to hand off the check. I'm crouching around Columbus Circle like a madman so grumpy because I don't want to be injured. I don't want to have surgery. I don't want to pay all this money for surgery. Yeah, it was really not a great time
I've been a freelance dancer in New York City for 15 years now. So obviously that has had lots of ups and downs, but somehow I've managed to kind of build a bit of savings. It's not gigantic by any means, but I had had some savings. And that all went to the surgery. Not all, but a lot of it went to the surgery
I feel like I'm very lucky, and I was fortunate during the pandemic, early pandemic especially to sort of have a side backup job. So I teach Pilates. Pilates turned to virtual world very easily and seamlessly. Um And so I had been teaching a lot virtually already through all that time. I had to take a little bit of time off because it was very painful. And still to this day over a year later. It is painful.
But because I wasn't actually on a show or anything at that day. There was no workers comp. No nothing. It's just just me.
15 years as a freelancer shows you a lot and the lack of resources for freelancers, but I think any kind of support for freelance artists, anything would be great. Things have changed a lot in the 15 years that I've been doing this, so it has things have gotten better, but to be able to afford the right healthcare without having to like give everything to it would be wonderful.
And the same thing is sort of happening still happening with physical therapy.
So again, I have to pay for that out of pocket. The dancer rate, the dancer discount is $180 an hour. So, that's a lot of money *laughs*
I am fully committed to getting back 100% to performing. I will probably never make as much money as I spent on this again in my career maybe. Even though it's so much money, it’s there's nothing else for me that, I mean of course I had other intentions for my savings like I want to buy an apartment and I want to travel and this and that, but the biggest thing in my life, my whole life has been performing and dancing. It's not an option to not dance.
Even I mean knock on wood, but, even if I could never walk again, I would still find a way to dance, like literally I have a video somewhere but like five days after surgery, I choreographed a dance on my chair here in my bedroom because I couldn't sit still in a cast. I certainly was not supposed to do that and be moving around that much. But I'm like, it's just I can't not do it, *laugh* so, in some way in some form. I will always dance.
Claire: Taylor Gordon is a professional dancer and freelance artist based in New York City.
ACT THREE: MAKING MONEY BY MAKING CHANGE
Claire: Act Three. Making money by making change
Our final story today is from Craig Knudsen.
Craig’s story is about his decision to step away from performing full-time, so his family would have more financial freedom.
But it’s also about how a surprising diagnosis later in life, actually helps him run his business.
Craig: I had about five different resumes. When I was a performer. I had my opera resume. I had my voiceover resume. I had more of a theater-oriented resume. So I went to this one audition and decided you know, I’m going to put everything on one one resume.
And I was about to do my audition piece and the director. He goes, This is the most bizarre yet interesting. Yeah, he goes, I just have never seen a resume like this. I mean, that sort of sums up my musical journey, and my focuses were plural. They went in many directions.
I was diagnosed with with ADD later in life when my daughter was diagnosed. I really didn't know that much about it at that point. And then that was a big aha moment for me because, honestly, I started crying because it made sense out of a lot of things in my life.
I think it's very important for any musician or somebody working in the arts to to be married to someone who has a regular job. I say that it in jest a certain amount, but, ah.
You have all of these music conservatories, you know, and they're cranking out incredible musicians. I mean, way more than there are jobs available for. I had a voice teacher at one point who said, Okay, you're, you're very, very accomplished, but go into an audition and there's going to be 15 people in that audition, who are as accomplished, they're only going to take, you know, one of those people. So, it's important to learn other aspects of the business besides just performance. I mean, you might be lucky enough to have, you know, the steady job as a performer but it's it they're, they're hard to come by, you know in a lot of ways.
But uh yes my wife worked the the nine-to-five job and so that allowed me to perform, and I'm forever thankful to her.
Yeah, you know, I went along as a performer and I think when I was, if I do the math correctly, I was about 45 years old. That’s about the age when you really start thinking about retirement And the long term, and what are we going to do. So my wife was, she was, we were at home one day in the kitchen, and she said, so. Um i think I need you to make more money.
When somebody says something like I need you to make more money, it can be taken the wrong way. But I didn't take it that way at all. And, this will be one of the good aspects of ADD, which is that you can really kind of change direction very quickly. And so um instead of, you know, feeling hurt or accused of not making enough money. I took it as something new can be exciting,
That kind of spurred me into thinking what skills have I developed and one of the skills was, I had been doing the bookings for the a capella group that I was performing with and I realized that I could do that for for other people as well.
So, I decided, Okay, I'm going to be a talent agent.
Oh, yeah, I remember when I first started doing this and didn't know all the ins and outs of it and
And my thing was, when somebody called me and they said, Well, do you have, you know, and then they would list something, you know, do you have a performing cat show? My answer was always, Yes! And then I would hang up the phone and then I would frantically start calling to find the performing cat show for for somebody.
And it built from there I started learning it and doing conferences and having some success with booking people. I started at first just going to one conference. And in my in my head, I just sort of had this picture of that, that whole world to being very competitive and that everybody was sort of like, you know, trying to get something, and it turned out to be very different. I asked people about things and people were very, very helpful and very understanding.
So I've been doing this now for 22, almost 23 years
I think I got there by opening myself up and admitting that there were a lot of things I still needed to learn instead of trying to pretend that I knew everything. I feel like people should be open about a lot of things, and I have ADD and and I just felt like it was something that I could talk about as a natural thing. Like tell people Yeah, I have ADD this is why blah, blah, blah. Rather than then, you know, masking it.
And there's a real benefit to that.
Yeah, people do ask, do you miss performing? And I have never stopped performing. It's just I'm not doing it full-time. I’m not touring with a group.
And also one of the wonderful things that I found out when I started representing artists was that in some ways when you book a tour, and it's a successful tour or bringing a group from obscurity into prominence, I found to be the same satisfaction as I was getting from doing a good performance and getting a standing ovation.
You know, I wouldn't encourage someone to take the career path *laugh* that I took. But I also I wouldn't dissuade someone from, y’know, if that’s happen to be the path that they were taking.
It’s not bad to change direction, and you're not a failure if you do that.
Claire: Craig Knudsen is a talent representative and musician, living in Berkeley, California.
OUTRO & CREDITS
Claire: Thank you so much for listening.
ARTS. WORK. LIFE. is a production from APAP – the Association of Performing Arts Professionals.
APAP is the national service organization for the performing arts presenting, booking and touring industry. You can join APAP at APAP365.org.
I’m Claire Caulfield, your host and producer.
Jenny Thomas is our Executive Producer.
And music today from Blue Dot Sessions.
This podcast would not be possible without the generous support of The Wallace Foundation. So thank you.
Other thank yous to Sherri Larsen,
The APAP staff and board of directors
Our storytellers today, and the hundreds of thousands of arts workers across the world.
Your stories matter, and arts workers ARE essential.
Speaking of stories, if you work in the performing arts and want to submit your own story to this podcast visit APAP365.org/podcast.
And if you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review. It helps others find the show.
Carolyn: Arts, Work, Life. that’s real *laugh*
Claire: And next time on ARTS. WORK. LIFE….
Paige: Never had a point in my life where I could just stop and then it just took me it took me a minute to get the confidence back to do anything original again.
Tony: What do I have to do to keep going. How can I remain an artist in the face of all of this.
Rachel: I will never forget is my immediate boss saying very directly, I thought we were a team. And that still resonates to this day.