At first, this post was going to be called Homecoming and it was going to be all about going back to LA after four years of being away. But, to be honest, there’s not much to say. I grew up in the type of home where you always needed your metaphorical battle armor on, where you kind of always had to be ready to fight. And I had hoped that things would change and they haven’t. I wasn’t there long enough to see all the people I wanted to see and had to say “I am doing the best I can”more than anyone should have to.
(Looking at the bright side, my mom came to see a play of mine and I got to see friends I haven’t seen in years so that was great.)
So instead of talking about LA, I want to talk about what being a playwright means. (Really what being an artist means.)
This year, I’ve started a playwright budget to track all the money I have coming in from plays. And I know, it’s not cool to talk about money but we have to if we’re ever going to talk about the realities artists face. So, just this year alone, I’ve made $6150 gross income from playwriting projects. By the end of the year, if I get nothing else, the gross income will be $12,400. With taxes taken out, my take home is $9,300 (remember that number).
Recently, I had to switch jobs. The long version is sad and heartbreaking but the short version is I thought my dream job was to be Director of Production and be a working playwright. Well, for one thing, that’s not possible ((more on that in a second) and for another thing, turns out I hate that part of production. So I had to switch jobs. I left my job as Operations Manager and became Artist Services at a different company which is just a fancy way of saying Company Management.
The new company is a major presenting house that (I’m not kidding) has at least one show every single day of the weekend (Thurs-Sunday). Sometimes even during the week and the weekend. And my job is to advance* every show and do hospitality for all the artist that come through.
Taking this job was a hard, hard choice for me. Because even though it’s more in line with what I want do on the management side of things for theatre, it means I can’t leave as regularly for playwriting. My first day on the job was August 28 and just since then I’ve had to turn down three opportunities because I couldn’t travel.
And to put that in perspective, that means I’ve turned down $8,550 (!!!) in less than a month.
So remember that $9300 number? Well, let’s add $9300 + $8550. That’s $17,850. And all of that $8550 isn’t take home. Only $5890 is. So really it’s 9300 + 5890 which is $15,190.
I’ve done the math and based on all my bills and cost of living, I need $30,000 to live. And even with all those amazing opportunities, I’m -15k.
So I can’t be just a playwright. It’s not possible. I don’t know any playwright who is just a playwright. Many playwrights teach or work as teaching artist or they also act. There seems to always be a playwright and ________.
When I was teaching, I was making $15,000/year but still couldn’t leave as regularly as I needed to. Which is fair. Your students need you around and if I really wanted to, I think I could line up playwriting opportunities so that I’d be gone for at least a week once a month. Somehow my name is picking up traction and people want to do my work.
Only if I can be there.
And really, I’m lucky. My friend in comedy said she makes $0 for a three-day festival. Only headliners get paid. (WHAT?). So I should be happy I’m getting paid at all. And I’m in no way complaining about my plays getting picked up. I am so incredibly thankful people want to see my work and that it’s impacting them in a really great way.
I just wish artists were paid more. And had health insurance. And didn’t have to make a choice like the one I’m having to make: keep traveling and doing the playwriting thing and make nothing (because it all ends up being a break-even) or get a steady job for a couple of years and slow down my own career with the long-term hope people will still want to do my work later.
It’s rough. We love it but it’s still rough.
Here’s what my life looks like right now: Last night (or really this morning), I worked until 1:30 am. I went in at 8:30 am (that’s a 16 hour day). And this weekend was a slow weekend at the job. So bed at 2 am, woke up at 9 am, and I need to edit three plays by Monday so my only weekend off isn’t really off. Next week, I’m working about 70 hours (which I hear is the usual) and still need to work on plays and keep networking and doing all the things. So I’m working 90 hours a week when you consider working on my full time job and working on playwriting.
And it’s work. I love it but that doesn’t mean it’s not work.
I talk a lot about not sleeping and this is why. I’m trying to do this impossible, impossible thing. And yes, I am in a fortunate place where I could get help from my family but that comes with strings attached. And I can’t live that way anymore.
Don’t get me wrong. I wrote my first full-length play in 2012. Six years later, I’m making almost enough to survive. That’s a miracle. I’m sure (if I don’t ruin my career by saying no to too many opportunities) in two-three years, I’ll be making enough to be a traveling teaching artists + playwright + reader full time (which is the dream). My hope is supplement my income with grants. I just need to build a savings account first.
But, if by literally the grace of God, I am some big deal playwright in five years, I want to make sure to be honest about what it took to get there. What I had to give up and what I lost. Because I don’t think enough people talk about how much we all sacrifice (actors too!) to do this thing we love so much.
And that’s a miracle in itself.
I may not ever again get my preferred nine hours of sleep. But if it means more people can hear my work, then okay. I’ll take that trade-off for now. But when you hear about the government cutting the arts or people judging an actor for working a day job, these aren’t abstract, impossible ideas.
It’s our reality. And maybe hopefully one day that reality can change.
(And now for this gorgeous picture of the ocean. One day, I’ll live by the sea again and not just a lake. One day.)
So it’s weird to talk about tips in LA because I grew up there and I just see it differently. I will say I went to a restaurant called FIN in Culver City and the yellowtail roll is THE BEST THING EVER. The place is a little too nice for my taste but if you’re into that type of thing, have at it. It is also a little pricey.
Beaches–The best beaches in LA are Dockweiler and El Segundo. Especially at night. I will fight you over this. (But don’t get in the water at night. It’s not the movies. The tide will literally kill you.)
*To advance a show means to do all the prep work for it. So to arrange the car, the hotel, the food, the hospitality staff, and anything else the artist might need for their stay.