The Art of Making Art…

This blog is a part of The Directory of Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers, found online at www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com
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I have a confession to make: I hate networking. I’m using the word “hate” here. In a sentence. About networking. Hate it.

In my mind, networking looks like this:

Or this:

I don’t want to promote the stereotype of the reclusive composer, but it’s hard for me not to shrivel up when it comes to the thought of forcibly (or least that’s how it feels) trying to make connections to further my career. Part of me feels as if I’ll meet who I need to meet when I’m ready to meet them. “When the student is ready, the teacher appears,” as the saying goes.

And yet, I realize that’s simply not true. I have watched other writers ascend from the purgatory of endless readings and pleading letters to agents, some of whom are no more talented than I. Good for them. Seriously. No sour grapes here. Either they were at the right place at the right time, or more likely, they made the connections they needed to make to ensure they would be in the right place at the right time.

Regardless of how awkward I feel, networking is a necessary and invaluable part of getting one’s work out into the world. I often have to say to myself, “Get over it!” when I begin to take an imperious attitude. This much I know for sure: no one is going to do it for me.

Working on the directory has been very helpful in combatting my networking phobias. I’ve come to realize it’s completely possible to find an authentic interest in meeting other artists, learning about their work and pathway to success. I’m on fire about my directory project, and it’s great to see others share my enthusiasm. Likewise, I’m happy to share in the joy of their work (as long as neither of us goes on too long about it).

“Who recorded that demo for you? I love her voice!”
“Your website is amazing! Who designed it?”
“I’m looking for a good musical director. Who MD’d your reading last month?”

I’ve found myself asking these kinds of questions with genuine interest when I put together the first incarnation of the directory for the NATS conference a month ago. And maybe that’s what networking is about at it’s best. It’s not just randomly handing people your card and hoping someone gives you a call. It’s an earnest excitement in sharing what we’re doing as artists (not for the sake of boasting) and learning about how our worlds can and do connect.

Contrary to popular belief, networking is not mercenary. And if we feel it is, that’s exactly what we end up broadcasting when we reach out to people. It’s the same thing we tell musical theatre students: be yourself and the rest will come into focus. If you go into an audition desperate for work, they won’t be interested. How many actors have I heard say, “I landed this show because I didn’t care if I got it or not.”?

The other night I went to hear several Directory writers featured on NYMF’s “Cutting-Edge Composers” concert. I really dig these writer’s songs and was looking forward to hearing songs by writers I didn’t know. On my way to the concert (OK, while inhaling a piece of chocolate cake at Amy’s Bread), I bumped into my friend Michael Wartofsky, who’s a fabulous Boston-based writer and member of the directory. He was chatting with a lovely producer friend of his, who expressed interest in my project (I always have postcards and business cards on hand). She had a friend we met at the concert venue who also showed interest after seeing a hard copy of the directory (I normally DON’T carry that around). More postcards and business cards.

The concert was really wonderful – I heard some great new music performed by very talented singers. One of them I knew from last year’s NEO Concert at The York Theatre. My collaborator Tom Gualtieri and I had a song on that concert. I friended him on Facebook and reminded him of our previous connection. He’s someone I could definitely envision asking to perform at our launch party in November. He added me as a friend. Score!

And then, there was the drummer. Holy Macrel what a beast, but never overstated or in the way. I told him about my project and we exchanged cards. I followed up with an e-mail the next day.

Finally, I chatted with one of the composers on the concert – a seriously talented guy. I also gave him my card and postcard for the directory. We’ve exchanged e-mails and he’s interested in being involved. Another composer overheard our conversation and was also interested. More connections.

While math is not my strong suit, I believe that makes 6 people I met within he space of 2 hours and 20 minutes. And part of that time I had cake in my mouth.

Had I not wanted to go to this concert, I’m sure the outcome would have been different. But since I was happy to be there, I remained open to the people I ended up meeting. I tried to make room for their enthusiasm as they talked about what they’ve done or are doing, and when I felt a kinship, I gave them my card.

This is a lot easier than I realized. And sometimes without even trying, things fall right into your lap.

A couple years ago, I was at Staples on 184th and Broadway copying music before heading downtown for a rehearsal. A mid-40’s gentleman in a business suit came up to me and said, “Are you a musician?”

If I’m being completely honest, my first thought was: “Really? You’re hitting on me in a Staples in Washington Heights? Why do these weirdos always find ME??”

Instead, after a bit of a pause – licking my finger to turn a page in the score I was copying – I said, “Yes.”

“What kind of musician are you?”
(sigh) “Well, I sing, play piano and compose.”
“You compose.”
“Yes.”
“What do you compose?”
“Mainly art song and musical theatre.”
“Really – musical theatre.”
“Yup.”
“Excellent. I’m a producer.” 
“Oh?” (read: “And my name is Liza with a ‘z.'”)
“Do you know who Rue McClanahan is?”
(What self-respecting gay man doesn’t know Blanche from the Golden Girls?)
“Yes, I’m very fond of her work.”
“Well, she’s a dear friend of mine and I’m producing a one-woman show based on her best-selling book ‘My First Five Husbands.’ We’re looking for an arranger/orchestrator. Would you be interested?”
(Would I be interested?! OH MY GOD, YES!!)
“Sure, I’d be happy to talk to you about it. Here’s my card.”

Would you believe he was telling the truth? I met Ms. McClanahan at her lovely apartment in east midtown. She was everything you would hope one of your idols to be and more: gracious, as witty as her TV alter ego (if not more) and a straight-shooter. I fell in love with her on the spot.

Rue and the producer liked my work as an arranger/orchestrator so much, they asked what I would think of writing the show with them. I immediately called Tom and we all got together to discuss it. Rue baked the best oatmeal raisin cookies I have ever had in my life (sorry, mom). An amazing host, she also invited us to a barbecue to meet her son and some of her life-long friends.

Tom and I wrote an Act II opener for Rue and the producer on spec and they loved it. I also wrote a bitter-sweet arrangement of “Thank You for Being a Friend” for Rue to sing as an encore.

It looked like all was set, but then Rue had a stroke, then another months later that would take her life. It was a devastating loss. She was such a dear soul.

While the show never came to be, Tom and I still had the opportunity to meet and chat with one of the most interesting ladies of sitcom TV. Had I not been even a little open at Staples (though I could have been more congenial to the producer, that’s for sure), I never would have had that amazing opportunity.

I don’t pretend to be an expert at networking, but from my experience I can tell you this: if we find genuine enthusiasm in our work and inspiration in the work of others, things  will have a way of falling into place. Yes, it takes effort, but so does our craft. Why not commit to this work with the same drive?

In short (too late, I know), this business called show is just that: a business. We’ve all got to ring them bells (“It’s such a happy thing.”) in a way that shares our excitement for what we’re doing and leaves room for others.

So, step outside your practice room, voice studio, man cave – wherever you feel comfortable – and see who’s next door. You might be very pleasantly surprised and I bet your work will grow as a result.

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One thought on “The Art of Making Art…

  1. “You don’t get paid for what you create but rather, what you deliver to the marketplace.”

    They’ve said “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” but I would also add, it’s who you are nice to.

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