So, as it turns out, starting an acting studio in the middle of November does not lead to instant fame and untold fortune. Thankfully, I anticipated this going in. I knew the first few months would be a struggle financially so my focus for November and December was to set my sights on enrollment for January and February classes. People asked questions about our production plans but, though I had some plans brewing, I didn’t feel that I could commit to them until I had seen how enrollment for spring shaped up.
In the meantime, I had a casual conversation with a friend about an idea for a podcast. The conversation turned into plans and plans turned into auditions and the next thing I knew I was in the middle of looking over drafts for the first season of BNTC’s Austin-based comical radio-soap-opera-style podcast which is almost completely written now but still doesn’t have a title.
Here are a few things that the first few months of owning an acting studio have taught me:
- If you put the word “theatre” in your title, it doesn’t matter how many times you tell people it’s just a studio. They will think it’s a theatre until they show up and see it for themselves.
- You can tell yourself ahead of time not to stress out and just to enjoy the adventure but…let’s be real…if an adventure isn’t stressful it’s not actually an adventure. It’s just a thing that you are doing that doesn’t really matter much.
- Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. The truth is, I want to be creating something brand new. That’s why it’s called the Brand New Theatre Co. So feeling that I had to put all of my focus on filling classes was really starting to get me down. Let me be clear, I love teaching and I think I have a lot to offer as an acting coach but if teaching was the only thing I wanted to do, I could teach at someone else’s studio, school or university and not have to promote my own classes. I started my studio to create brand new work in collaboration with writers, actors and other theatre professionals and the longer I put off fulfilling that goal, the more the energy began to drain out of the entire enterprise. I fell into the podcast idea by accident but, as soon as the idea came up, I found the energy I had been lacking. It wasn’t just my own energy that improved either, I was suddenly having the experience again that had first attracted me to Austin. Everyone I mentioned my ideas to said, “That sounds exciting! I want to get involved!” Suddenly the level of enthusiasm surrounding BNTC seemed to lift up the entire studio and start moving it forward.
I am reassured every day that the third lesson is the most important one I have learned so far but that lesson doesn’t solve the problem of chairs. You see, it made the most sense to record the podcast in the studio. I’m already paying for the studio so why would I rent another location? But the studio is only big enough for an audience of about 30 and, if we wanted to sell tickets to a live studio audience in order to fund the project, we needed to have chairs to seat them in. So…here’s the dilemma: One chair costs $30 to buy but the tickets are only $10. That means that we have to seat three people in each chair in order to pay for the chair. And that wasn’t the only issue. It turns out, it’s not just chairs that cost money. It’s everything! This, of course, was why I was so intent on making sure that my classes were making a profit before starting a production. That’s just the way I think, I have this wacky idea that I should make money before I spend it. That little hang up is the thing I struggle the most with when it comes to creating theater: the terrifying idea that you have to start producing shows before people will pay you for the tickets.
So, of course, I began to work on all of the things that scare me the most about being a theatre director: budgeting, fundraising and marketing. It’s not that I don’t like doing these things. It’s just that I don’t want to fail at them and, as an acting coach, I find that when you get too committed to “not failing” you stop doing anything worth doing. As an artist I am absolutely committed to the belief that failing is part of the process. I accept it and I don’t let fear of failure keep me from trying to create something new. I’m finding that learning curve to be a bit more difficult from the business management perspective. Of course, failing doesn’t have to mean that you loose a lot of money. It could just mean that you didn’t get it the way that you thought you would and now you have to try something new. Then, just like it does in art, an answer that you never would have expected sometimes reveals itself at just the right moment.
For me, that answer came in the form of chairs. It turns out that I work with someone who is connected to an organization called the Austin Scenic Coop. They have just gotten started so I could have researched online all day and I wouldn’t have come across them. Nevertheless, I got connected with them and they rented me 30 of the ugliest chairs I could possibly have wished for at only a fraction of the price I would have paid to purchase them!
To someone who has not been stressing about chair prices for the last month this may not seem like a big event. “Yup,” you might say, “people do that. They rent out chairs.” Yes, yes they do…and I found some I could afford and I rented them…and that might not seem to you like it’s worth writing a blog post about but to me it’s a major victory. Isn’t that funny? I auditioned actors, hired writers, cast a show, created an incredibly complex rehearsal schedule in order to ensure that I got the best talent available and oversaw an absurdly complex writing process that resulted in eight scripts in a matter of just a few weeks…but the aspect of the process that I choose to write a blog about is the chair rental.
Why? Because of lesson number four:
4. Fear of failure stops progress but minor successes in your areas of highest anxiety will spur on even more success.