Camille Schenkkan is a theatre management professional and educator, passionate about career development for artists & arts managers.

Posts tagged ‘theatre’

No One is Going to Kickstart Your Career (Except You)

Ashton Kutcher’s 2013 Teen Choice Awards acceptance speech is making the rounds on Facebook, and for good reason: Kutcher takes the opportunity to talk about the value of hard work, creating your own opportunities, and acknowledging your power to shape your life.

It made me think about my experiences working with teens and young adults.  I love it.  I love them.  They make me proud and give me hope that the future will be better than the present.

But there’s one thing that makes me cringe: their tendency to ask other people to help pay for what they want to do.

This is especially prevalent among theatre and arts students, as summer programs, arts schools, and classes can be extremely expensive.  I remember feeling that combination of excitement (I got into this amazing program!) and dread (how the heck am I going to pay for this?).  Had Kickstarter or IndieGoGo existed when I was a teenager, I would have jumped on the bandwagon and asked friends and family to help pay for my education, my travel, even my move to LA after graduation.

I am so glad these options didn’t exist.

Now, a lot more has changed since the early 2000s than the availability of online fundraising platforms.  The economy has tanked while the cost of education continues to rise.  In the arts and arts management fields, having a Masters degree has become more and more of a necessity for many jobs.  I would argue it’s more difficult to be a young adult in 2013 than it was in 2002.

That said, here’s what always comes to mind when I see these Kickstarter requests.  First, I picture myself at 17 or 18, big with the sense of my own talent and intelligence.  And I think:

There is only one person in the world in charge of your success.

Your parents do not owe you anything, nor do your relatives (even if they have money).

Your friends love you, but they do not need to help pay for your cat’s surgery, for your trip to Europe, or for the summer arts program that will change your life.  And it will change your life.  Your life.

See, the difference between a charity asking for money to bring joy or reduce pain, or an artist asking for money to create an art product that will be enjoyed by others, is that your ask is fundamentally about you: your growth and development as a person, an artist, a citizen.

Asking for people to fund your life makes you a product.  It crowd-funds you away from the driver’s seat.

If you are waiting for other people to make your dreams come true, doesn’t that feel just a little scary?  It takes away the certainty– I will succeed, no matter what– and adds a conditional– I will succeed, if other people come through and help me do so.

It also– and here I’m really speaking to 17-year-old-me– presumes that you are worthy of being funded, just for being you.

Millennials already have to fight against our “Trophy Generation” perception and older generations’ complaints about our overdeveloped sense of entitlement.  Just Google “millennial entitlement” or “Trophy Generation” and you’ll see litany after get-off-my-lawn litany about people born in the past 30 years.

You are entitled to a damn good life and a successful career.  You get those things by believing in yourself and fighting for them.  Even if you do get people to pay for your education, your travel, your unexpected expenses, eventually those opportunities will fall away and you will be standing alone on the merits of your accomplishments.  If your college resume shows no work experience or volunteer service, every accolade in the world won’t get you a job.

Before you set up that Kickstarter, ask:

1. Am I doing everything in my power to make this opportunity happen? I see many students fundraising for opportunities while also posting about how boring their summer is.  Are you working?  First jobs suck.  Second jobs suck.  But they can make a little money, and show you’re serious about getting what you want.  This summer, I saw nearly a dozen young people post Kickstarters.  I saw one person post about needing a job to raise money for college.  Guess which person I helped?  Also: guess which one was most successful?  That student is on his way to an excellent school, with two flexible jobs, and will not need to take out loans for his first year.

2. Does this experience benefit others, or only me?  If you’re creating art, doing volunteer work or community service, or generally helping others, please ask your network to support you.  If the experience solely benefits you, see #1.  If you are doing everything you can and are trying to close the gap, make that clear.

PS: You, as a person, are not art.  Even if you’re planning to write about your trip or become a better actor through the experience, solely being you is not a reason for people to pay for you to do so.  I don’t care how talented you are. Here’s the beautiful and terrible part about being an artist: someone is always better at it than you are.  If they’re working harder, you’re fucked.

So work harder, be kinder, embrace humility, and know that the power to be successful is in your– and only your– hands.

And paradoxically, that’s when people will go out of their way to help you succeed.

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Selfish/Selfless: Why Saying “No” Might be the Right Thing for Your Career

(Originally posted on RAWartists’ I am Indie blog, accessible here.)

I love my career. At 28, I have a job I love as the Educational Programs Manager at Center Theatre Group. I also serve as the volunteer Director of Development for Circle X Theatre Co. In late 2010, I joined the national Emerging Leader Council through Americans for the Arts, and have Co-Chaired the council for the past year.

Everything is great, but then I try to balance one– more– spinning– plate– like agreeing to help with a friend’s really cool art project, or assisting with the coordination of a local conference.

And all of those things are great too. That’s the hard part. Because as much as I want to do them, sometimes taking on one additional project is what pushes my life from awesomely fulfilling to overwhelming and stressful.

I am a strong proponent of volunteering for events or projects within the community where you want to work, whether that’s geographic or discipline-based. In 2005, I started volunteering within the Los Angeles theatre community, and it helped me find my creative home and hone the management skills I’d use to build my career. Hours spent behind check-in tables continue to pay dividends; at a recent Los Angeles County Arts Commission grantee event, the Circle X board member I’d arrived with was impressed that I seemed to know everyone in the room. Becoming this kind of ‘known quantity’ did not happen overnight. I have been successful as an arts manager because I say yes to things, and then do them. (That last part is the important bit.) I like being someone my colleagues reach out to when they need a reliable, organized person who gets stuff done.

To say no to an opportunity seems anathema to how I’ve carved a niche for myself in the LA theatre management scene. Eventually, though, I need to become more strategic about saying yes to things.

How do you know when you’ve reached the point in your career when it’s okay to politely decline a high-profile, but potentially high-stress, request?

I think the key lies in selfishness. This can be a dirty word for artists and arts managers used to valuing collaboration, putting the group above the individual, and ensemble creation– all hallmarks of theatre and many other disciplines, too. But each member of an ensemble is still an individual, and that individual’s physical and emotional health has a major impact on the success of the group.

I love cooking, and curating a career and artistic life seems much like improvising a new recipe. I know I want to include family, my job at CTG and my volunteer gig at Circle X. That leaves room for perhaps one or two more flavors each month. One month maybe it’s a mentorship opportunity; the next, helping a colleague produce an event.

Just as in cooking, though, adding everything to that recipe spoils the balance and detracts from the quality of the individual elements.

We emerging artists and arts leaders need to honor that balance by saying no, even when our gut reaction is yes. It’s a skill that will become increasingly important as we become leaders of our field. We– I– need to trust that opportunities will continue to come, and giving 100% to the projects we take on is more important than spreading ourselves too thin by trying to take on the world.

Nonprofit Rockstars, EXCELLENCE and a Chinchilla

(cross-posted from Emerging Arts Leaders/LA)

“I kept looking around and wondering: Do I belong here?  Do I want to belong here?  I mean… What if I don’t want to be a nonprofit rockstar?”

The question hit me hard.  I was leading an informal roundtable on work/life balance at the Americans for the Arts Convention, and a young mother was talking to me about her experience at the Emerging Leader Pre-Conference.

She was referencing the second of two mind-blowingly awesome sessions by Rosetta Thurman, a 29-year-old writer and career coach who co-authored How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar: 50 Ways to Accelerate Your Career  with Trista Harris, Executive Director of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice. In the session, Rosetta led us through the seven tenets of the book, including Developing Expertise and Practicing Authentic Leadership.  You’ll have to buy it to find out the other five.  I did buy it, marking the first time I’ve purchased a speaker’s book immediately after leaving a session.

There’s something weird about being in a room filled with really, really motivated young people.  This was a room with the future head of the National Endowment for the Arts, the next Artistic Director of Actors Theatre of Louisville, the budding arts manager who will re-envision the museum-going experience for the 21st century.

And then there’s me.

At least, that’s always where my brain goes.  Not in a good way—more of a “Why am I here and why am I in a suit?” way.  As you’ll find out if you spend more than five minutes with me, I’m from a town of about 600 people in rural northern California.  I think that’s part of the reason I never feel comfortable in my business gear, and why my redneck accent creeps back every time I’m in one of these go-getter, emerging leader, nonprofit rockstar rooms.  It’s a not-so-subconscious act of rebellion against a lifestyle I’m afraid I’ll slip into, the kind where I’m still at my desk at 8pm while my husband microwaves a pizza and my friends go to happy hour without me.

The young woman now sitting at my table had two small children waiting for her at home.  She said, “I sat there listening to the importance of networking, self-promotion, building my online reputation, and all I could think about were my sons.  I don’t know that I can do those things and still make my family my priority.”

I think we had both missed something important.

When I went to Rosetta Thurman’s book signing, she surprised me with how soft-spoken and shy she seemed.  Her first session at the Emerging Leader Pre-Conference focused on crafting a personal mission statement based on your values; she used a photo of her grandmother to illustrate her own top value, family.  She talked about being true to yourself and seeking what feeds you.

And then I—and the young mother—went to lunch, forgot everything Rosetta said, came back to the next session and chose to feel inadequate and anxious in a room filled with smart, motivated people.  When Rosetta asked someone to share what he wanted people to see as his #1 trait, he said “EXCELLENCE” with such conviction that I felt like going back to my room and finding the Hoarders marathon that is always available on hotel TVs.

I firmly believe everyone was miserable in middle school.  This is something I wish I’d realized at the time, as it would have made it easier to empathize with the other miserable little wet rats trudging the halls at Scott Valley Junior High.

Here’s my attempt to share a similar belief that might make us all a little more honest at leadership convenings.  I believe everyone in the room—even (or especially) “EXCELLENCE” guy—has that moment of self-doubt.  For some of us, it leads to posturing or defensiveness.  For others, it feeds into a pattern of perfectionism that points toward chronic stress and early burnout.

Take it easy, guys.

I like you all and it breaks my heart to see so many amazing arts managers leaving the field at 30 or 35 because they’re tired and they want to have a family.  You don’t have to walk around with your hand outstretched, business cards at the ready, to be a stellar arts leader.  You can live a mindful, meaningful life, and those around you will see and appreciate this.  I have a strong feeling Rosetta would agree.

My heroes are not the executive directors who spend 70 hours a week behind a desk.  They’re the funny, irreverent women leaders who turn off their computers and go home to their families or a large glass of wine.  My hope is to have a fulfilling life that includes children, plenty of time with my brilliant husband, and a career I love, not to achieve a certain level of greatness or storm the Kennedy Center.  Also I would like a chinchilla.  And a yard with some vegetables and a hammock.  These are not lofty goals but they’re far more important to me than what my title is.  That’s not to say I don’t work my butt off at the office—but I also commit to my relationship, my volunteer life, and watching every episode of Fashion Star.

We all belong in the room.  We are smart and passionate and we are all leaders, regardless of where we lead.

I will see all of you at the 2030 AFTA convention.  So turn off your freaking computer and go home.

Camille Schenkkan is the Educational Programs Manager at Center Theatre Group.  She is also the volunteer Development Director for Circle X Theatre Company, sits on the Advisory Board for Emerging Arts Leaders/LA, and is the current Co-Chair of the National Emerging Leader Council.  She spends a lot of time annoying her two rabbits, Eeyore and Bumblebee, and watching bad television with her husband, Zack.