Independent Artists: We Cannot Rely Solely on Theatre.
Wáy Independent theatre artists,
I think this is a really pivotal moment to deeply investigate our portfolios and see how we can diversify our revenue streams.
We’re currently experiencing the fragility of the live theatre sector and if your income is solely from theatre, I feel for you but we cannot position ourselves like this again. It's not responsible to ourselves or the community.
For too long, I thought acting was the way to make $ and to be honest, it is the most temperamental, the most insecure and is the closest wage to the poverty line.
Acting contracts seem so easy, seem so lucrative because you've already got the capacity and someone else is doing all the producing work to hand you a cheque. But with capitalism, which theatre is structured on, you're getting the least amount of $ and that's messed up because you're the daily talent.
I stopped taking acting contracts in 2017 and I'm so happy that I got myself out of the cycle of thinking acting was a smart business decision, it might be fun but it's not sustainable as a single stream of income. As Independents, we have to remember we run our own businesses.
In 2011, Gordon Tootoosis told me a story about how he was a social worker for 6 years on his reserve, and that his time with his people was some of the best storytelling experience and nourishment he ever received. In that same year, after 3 years of almost full acting seasons, I was finding theatre to be quite violent to Indigenous peoples and artists, so I decided to take a break and go and serve my people and nourish my Spirit in social work.
Over 5 years, I worked for UNYA, MCFD, the Representative for Children and Youth, was an independent consultant and I built my capacity as a youth engagement and community worker, specializing in Indigenous, settler intersectional ethical engagement and programming.
I worked with National bodies to increase the positive outcomes of Indigenous youth who we're being marginalized and oppressed by the state. And I will say this, Gordon was right, these 5 years doing this work, gifted me some of the most profound experiences of my life.
I was also getting paid, well.
$30k to start and I worked my way up to $70k with healthy benefits and pension by age 27. And for an artist who had zero "official" social work training, having to compete with double social work degrees, business degrees and many other peoples with vast institutional vocational training, I was proud of myself.
I curated my own education in the field by attending conferences and enrolling in online courses and modules. I specialized in deep listening, which is exactly what these young people and our communities needed and I was getting hired often and paid very well to do this work.
But theatre began calling my name, and I remembered Gordon telling me that I was a storyteller of my peoples, that it was my responsibility to create space for our stories to be told. I remember he was driving us to rehearsal and said, "Kim, one day you are going to lead our stories, in theatre and film, you are going to do what we, my generation always wanted to do, and have all Indigenous crews, to tell our stories and do it how they are meant to be told."
In about 2015, I said, I'm coming back to theatre but I was going to come back with an Indigenous approach and methodology and I certainly wasn't going to be doing it and be poor.
Now, the rest of the story is one that I tell in keynotes, and guest lectures, so if you want to hear how I made that transition and the rest of this chapter, you can find my contact information here and I would love to come and chat with your and your community.
With this post and believing in transparency, I am going to share with you my multiple sources of income:
-film and tv
-small acting gigs
If one area is not prosperous, I can lean into another revenue stream. So I offer, do an inventory on your skills and explore how they can be monetized and leveraged to make your business sovereign and powerful.
Some areas of opportunity to look to do some pro-d and capacity building are:
-Post secondary education. If there was also ever a time to consider and research your options about returning to school for a Masters and or upgrades to get your GPA higher, now is it. I love being at school, it’s the greatest Pro D, I could do as a writer and creator and there are lots of scholarships and this can lead to many more revenue streams.
-Film and Tv - get some new headshots, sign up for auditioning courses, take online acting and writing classes and get in there. Theatre does not pay enough ever, and your skill sets are too great to ever shut out tv and film entirely. I was once told, theatre fills our hearts and tv pays the bills.
Call it the hustle, I call it The Work, being an independent artist for me, is running a business with many portfolios and that’s how I’ve had a 17 yr career in the arts.
Let’s be brave, smart and not fall into the “poor starving artist” narrative, it’s a trap. We don’t have to be poor.
Deep love and belief slaxts! ❤️
P.s Here is a picture of the my dear friend, the late great, Gordon Tootoosis. His mentorship, guidance and belief nourishes me to this very day. I feel him smiling often.
Love to him and his family.
I love ya Gordon!!