I want to write about day jobs, the things we do to pay the rent. It used to be that artists never admitted to having day jobs, but economic reality has gotten harsher, not kinder, and we can all do the math. I have a day job. I’ve had one for a while. So in September, when the MacArthur genius fellowships were announced, I did a little dreaming. $625,000! That’s a life-changing amount of money. Playwright Sam Hunter (The Whale, among many) was one of the lucky Fellows, and that is definitely a life-changing amount of money, and recognition, for any playwright. For a playwright, the recognition might be even sweeter than the cash.
It seems that way for performance artist Marina Abramovic. Her retrospective exhibition and performance at the MoMA in 2010, documented in the film Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, was the kind of artistic recognition that few (if any?) performance artists have ever attained. And the performance she created for the event, simply sitting across from museum patrons one by one, is legendary. Very simply communicating an ideal of total presence, something we don’t often bring to our daily lives, became an international draw.
In the documentary Abramovic talks about state of mind, and training for and achieving the proper state of mind to make art and to perform. This is not an artist I associate with the quotidian, but as I mused on mega-fellowships, day jobs, and capital ‘A’ Art, I decided that the very opposite of the proper frame of mind for an artist, the very opposite of presence, is to constantly be wishing I was somewhere else, doing something else, with different people.
So what would I do if a six-figure chunk of change were to suddenly materialize in my bank account? I wouldn’t quit my day job. OK, I would, yes, of course. But it’s not what I’d do first. If you’re old enough to have gone down the stairs of life face-first a time or two, and got back up and actually continued working in the theater despite all appeals to rationality, you have probably learned that a day job is more than a life-preserver. It’s a boat.
The title of this essay is Scary Things. If the idea that a day job is not just a necessary evil but might actually be a vehicle doesn’t give you a thrill of fear, you’re either a) 20 years old and dismissing this whole thing, b) not a playwright, or c) Sam Hunter, and this really doesn’t apply to you anymore. The indie film world faces a similar economic problem to theater makers, and they talk about it at Filmmaker Magazine. And then of course, there’s Sharr White.
So yeah: day job. Key to productivity. Wall of thorns to climb. Font of health insurance. How do you think of yours?