Take it all off the table?

I had a wonderful experience a few days ago in my business/financial life, and I realized it connected terrifically to the way I try to grow as an artist. As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I own a small business that staffs product demonstrations in addition to creating musical theater. I noticed that, due to a training SNAFU, I had a product line with no trained staffers. In other words, I either needed to go do the demonstrations myself, or wait until the beauty care company’s trainer returned from abroad. The company’s regional manager was fine with waiting- but I realized that, with careful scheduling, I could accommodate this company and simply do the demonstrations.

When I sent the regional manager the planned schedule, he was noticeably appreciative. I just earned major brownie points with the product line, and will also have some extra money coming into my business this month because of it. Which led me to ask the question- when should you ever leave money on the table? I believe, if you are truly overwhelmed with work, projects, commitments, and energy draining relationships, then of course you should streamline. Maybe after an assessment of your life and schedule, you truly realize that making a few extra bucks isn’t the best use of your time. But when life presents you with a short term opportunity to better your financial position (not to mention strengthen your relationship with your colleagues), and you think you MIGHT be able to fit it in, maybe you should consider it. I think this is a slightly different variant of “say yes”. You’re not doing something that’s completely new, but you’re making the most of the opportunities presented to you.

When the world hands me these sorts of financial situations, I often try to directly apply the “found money” to my artistic development. That money wasn’t there before, so why not use it to do something that will move me forward? I know that committing to an extra day a week at a day job might not be satisfactory long term. But picking up one extra shift or short term gig might be beneficial, particularly if it allows you to directly use that money for theater tickets/laducas/whatever you need to make your art even better.

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Scheduling up your Art

As I sit here in a coffee shop, I’m filled with excitement for my upcoming projects- over the next six months I am fortunate to be working as a creator/conceptualizer of new work, a director, a choreographer, a producer, and a performer. I’m reminded of that old adage about parties and vacations- sometimes the anticipation of the thing is just as exciting as the thing itself. However, I have been struck over and over by the same thought in the last few weeks- Jeez, it takes a whole lot of effort to schedule up all of this art!

What’s an over-scheduled multi-hyphenate artist to do? I think it’s important to hold yourself accountable, even if the project was originally a self driven one, in order to make sure that all your projects happen and happen well. Let’s face it- deadlines work. We’re all human- and having a “nebulous dance project that might be produced sometime in 2014” is VERY different than having money on the line for a venue on August 22nd. Suddenly, there are stakes, and it matters if the thing gets done. As a director, I’m always asking actors to “raise their stakes”- and as an artist, if you raise the stakes of your own schedule, and add artistic collaborators into the mix, you’ll find that it just does become more important to complete your artistic projects.

That being said, I don’t think you should impose impossible deadlines on yourself. Build a calendar for each project. Start big, and then break it down to the tasks that have to happen at each stage of the project. At the end of the day, achieving artistic goals is one part artistic creativity, balanced with two parts project management- you’re not free mentally to immerse yourself into a creative, childlike state of wonder if you’re constantly worried that you’re not meeting all your obligations. Make sure your life is taken care of, that you haven’t taken on TOO MANY projects, and that the two hours you’re pencilling in for rehearsal/painting/writing aren’t going to impinge on another aspect of your life.

Once you’ve done that, it’s like you’ve built yourself a park playground. You’ve made a safe, comfortable space with lots of plastic coated creative structures where you’re free to do whatever you wish. And then when it’s time to play, you get to focus on the important stuff- like how to make three dancers turn into a zombie space monkey. Or something else cool like that.

A Shameless Promotional Post!

Hi All!

This is a shameless promotional post for a project I’m currently developing in NYC!

I’ve recently launched an IndieGoGo campaign for a project I’m doing, called “Ephemera”. It’s a piece of dance theater with an original score, and I’m really hoping to do a workshop of it sometime this summer. 
 
I’ve been working on this piece for almost a year now, and getting to present a full NYC workshop would really mean the world to me personally, professionally, and artistically. 
 
I’ve never put together a fundraising campaign before, and I hope that you’ll consider contributing something- even $5 would be terrific! 
 
Even if you’re not in a position to contribute, I hope that you’ll spread the word. The link to our campaign is below: 
 
 
Many Thanks in Advance, 
Avi 

 

Raising Your Standards!

This blog post was originally written for, and published on, The Green Room Blog. Check it out at Greenroomblog.com!

Raising Your Standards: 

A few months ago, I worked on a theater project that involved some very established musical theater folk. This was a wonderful project on many levels, as the material, energy in the room, and overall excitement about the piece was terrifically high. I learned a ton working on this show, but one of the most important takeaways was one about personal standards. In this room, everyone expected, and therefore delivered, work of a very high caliber. Everyone’s standards were set very high, and this forced the entire creative team to strive for the same level of excellence. This started to make me think: doesn’t it make sense, from time to time, to evaluate your own standards?

I think we can think about standards as being both internal and external: internally, there are the standards that you hold yourself to. These might be things like your standards of time management, standards of what constitutes a productive or not productive day, or standards that involve personal finance, eating habits, etc. Then, we’ve also got external standards: the standards others hold you to, and the standards you have set for the work you do in the professional world. I believe that all of these standards, which are fixed at a certain point at any given moment in time, influence a person’s day to day decision making.

 Your internal standards, for instance, might dictate how you choose to spend your time. Your standard for physical fitness might not be that high, so you don’t spend all that much time working out. Your external standards might operate along the same vein. People only expect your creative output to be middling, and so you don’t invest extra time in making your current project “pop”, or “shine.”

But what if the standards were raised? What if you said to yourself, “You know what? I can do just a little bit better.” You automatically make a new social contract with yourself, and all of the sudden, you now have a slightly higher bar to meet. Personally, I think this is one of the secrets to sustained personal development and success. We all reach plateaus in our lives, and can become complacent with the various things we’re doing, whether in the personal, professional, or artistic arena. I invite you all to give yourself a “standards audit” today, and see if there are just one or two things you can do a little bit better. You’ll be happy about it in the long run, I promise.

 

Progress and Multiple Projects!

I tend to try to work on WAY too many projects at once. This is definitely an issue of mine, as I want to say yes to everything, and in retrospect, probably shouldn’t! However, if you are like me, it can be nice to take a moment to acknowledge the little drops of progress being made in all the different things you’re working on. The recognition that progress is being made can be a strong motivator!

Let’s consider this scenario- you’re working towards completing five different projects right now. Habit builders and productivity gurus usually say this is a bad idea. I tend to agree, but am also working on about that many medium to large sized projects at the moment! Sometimes life throws a lot at you, or presents many great opportunities concurrently. If you’re already knee deep in all of these endeavors, it does sometimes make sense to just trudge forward on all fronts. You’re 55% of the way on one project, 80% of the way on another, and 35% or so on three more.

I invite you to just take a moment to mentally look at each project. Don’t try to table one, or prioritize another, just look at them. This is a great subway activity! Think about where each one was a day, a week, or a month ago. Are they done yet? No. Might one of them be done if you attacked them one at a time? Perhaps. But each one is further along than it once was, and in a few weeks or months time, you’re going to have achieved several major accomplishments.  By patting yourself on the back and keeping your head in the game, you can give yourself a little extra boost to move forward on multiple goals and projects. It might take extra amounts of focus, determination, and passion, but I’ll argue that it’s worth it in the end!

Emotions and Productivity

I’m not terribly interested in this blog becoming deeply personal. However, when things happen in my personal life that I believe can be helpful for others, I’m certainly going to share. 

The past week or so has been a challenging one for me. I’ve had some difficult things happen in my personal life, and have also had a challenging week work wise- both in the artistic sphere, and with my business. I think it’s very easy for anyone to let their emotions get the better of them. When we’re sad or overwhelmed we want to curl up in bed, eat ice cream (or chocolate covered pretzels, or something), and not move forward with our goals, our work, our life. We wallow, and we think, “I can take some time to be sad”. 

Okay- I agree- to a point. People should take some time to be sad. When stuff happens that makes a person sad, or confused, or angry, by all means, they should work with it. But, after a little reflection, contemplation, and general slothful behavior, I think we have to slap ourselves around a bit. Wallowing will not get you anywhere, and from somewhere inside of you, I think you have to summon the energy to move forward in the face of sadness, adversity, or general malaise. Because once the feelings of doom and gloom have finally lifted, the last thing you want is to feel behind, stressed out, and set back. 

I think that the time right after feeling upset is the perfect time to take a deep breath, gird your loins, and get back to work in earnest. Work yourself to the bone, really. A week from now, when you’ve made a ton of killer progress on your novel, your business, or the opera you’re composing, you’ll be really happy you lost yourself in that, rather than in pint after pint of Ben and Jerry’s and SVU. 

Treadmill days

For most of us, there is a list of tasks that, when combined, become the bare minimum of what’s required in a week for healthy adult functioning. For instance, in addition to working at the job that takes care of you financially, you probably spend some portion of your week cookinging some food/eating healthfully, take care of your bills, cleaning up after yourself, and getting some sort of exercise, so that you don’t find yourself in a comparatively “worse” place than you were in the week before. 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately- while you can always say things like “gym”, and “preparing a healthy meal to keep in the fridge” are relatively small to medium sized tasks, the fact is, they can take up a huge amount of time when they’re continuously marginalized due to procrastination. And let’s face it- a day that’s productively full of laundry, cooking, cleaning, and bill paying IS productive- but it isn’t really moving you forward on towards your big goals. 

I’m trying a new tactic, where I make a conscious effort to really tack chores and other menial tasks onto the beginning and ends of my days- and that way, hopefully, there’s more time left over to focus on the difficult creative and entrepreneurial stuff.