Over the years these words have rang true time and time again. As an actor, a writer, a teaching artist, really, any kind of creative, you do need to be able to juggle these roles in order to make your way in this big artsy world. While I don't do any of these roles perfectly by any means, I am pretty comfortable with most of them. Procrastination aside (see this month's post about procrastination and perfection) I am willing to work hard, put in the time and energy required for a project, and generally feel like I have a final product I can feel good about. No, my ongoing issue seems to be with the marketing role. Don't get me wrong, I am very passionate about what I do, and am happy to talk about it with someone who is genuinely interested, but I have realized this is an area I need to work on.
Networking. An often dreaded interaction this introverted artist fears. You have to understand that I understand why we need networking events, and will be the first to admit that I try to attend them whenever I can. But once I'm in the room, I morph into a deer in the headlights, unsure of who to talk to, and more so, what to say when I get the opportunity to introduce myself to another artist in the field.
One instance that sticks out in my mind is when I attended the Howlround Theatre Potluck in the fall of 2013 in Boston. I was freshly graduated from Emerson, excited about continuing work on my play SafeGuard, and looking forward to spending an autumn evening in the Black Box Theatre at Emerson's Paramount with other theatre folk like myself. I went with a friend and we made a point of talking to as many new people as we could. I realized that I don't mind striking up conversation with a stranger, in fact, I'm getting better at being comfortable asking questions and learning about the work a new friend and colleague does. Things started off kind of like this:
Melissa: "Hello, my name is Melissa; it's wonderful to meet you! How long have you been in Boston? What kind of work do you do? A new play, that sounds very interesting....I'd love to hear about the performance when it goes up, let me get your card!"
Not bad. Then comes the part of the conversation when my new friend asks what I do. In theory, this is a kind gesture and is meant to provide a chance for me to share what I love to do and what I'm currently working on. In reality, it becomes a situation when I find it hard to define what it is I do, and feel like I'm drowning in self-consciousness and doubt. Here's an actual exchange from the Howlround event last year:
Lovely New Acquaintance: "So, Melissa! It's great to meet you, what do you do? Tell me about your role in the Boston theatre scene!"
Melissa: "Me? I, uh.....went to Emerson....and now I'm, uh, living in Boston.....working, in Boston...."
LNA: "...you're working in Boston, doing your thing....yeah! Good for you!"
She was so nice when she said this, and it was clear that she was trying to ease my self-doubt, but I felt so embarrassed. I wasn't even able to state with confidence what it is that I do and why I love being part of the theatre.
Later that evening a friend and I that had gone to the event together were involved in a conversation that went down a similar path, each of us not wanting to sound too confident about what we do and what makes us tick. In fact, when I was asked what I do and eventually began to stumble over my words a bit, my generous friend gently piped in, and shared a few words about my play, SafeGuard. Later, I did the same for her, and when we left, we laughed at our difficulty to be willing to promote ourselves.
Where does this struggle come from? I've got a few ideas. Growing up, I was taught to be modest (a good thing), but I often observed my parents brush off sincere compliments from well meaning friends and family, dismissing them, not wanting to seem conceited or boastful. I think this may have rubbed off on me. It also stems from a fear that if I say "Nice to meet you, I'm Melissa and I'm an actor", the next question will be "Oh yeah? Are you Equity? When's the last time you performed?" It's amazing how strong the need to prove yourself is.
Anyone else have trouble marketing yourself and your work? Any ideas why? Maybe more importantly, any strategies that have helped you become more grounded and confident in speaking to others about what you do?