The Relationship Between Artist and Entrepreneurial Activity in my own Context as an Actor and Performer

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The orginal paper was written by Marie Cooper in 2018 as part of her Masters degree.   

Introduction  

What is an ‘Entrepreneur?’

This paper investigates how my behaviours as a practising, professional performer relate to entrepreneurial characteristics. It is beyond the scope of this paper to go into a detailed discussion of what constitutes an entrepreneur. However, following a large-scale literature review in 1988, Solomon reasoned that an entrepreneur is:

“An innovative person who creates something different with value [added] by devoting time and effort, assuming the… financial, psychological and social risks . . . in an action-oriented perspective . . . and receiving the resulting rewards [and punishments] of monetary and personal satisfaction.” (Solomon and Winslow, 1988).

Artist versus Entrepreneur? Identical or Poles Apart?

In his article in Atlantic Magazine, “The Death of the Artist – and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur (Deresiewicz, 2015), William Deresiewicz argued that ‘the artist’ has historically been seen as an individual and “solitary genius” existing outside of the entrepreneurial sphere. Entrepreneurship was seen as separate from art and for commercial gain. This is why the definition by Solomon and Winslow is so interesting, as although it mentions monetary gain, it also recognises the need for personal satisfaction. 

The artist has been viewed as existing outside the marketplace and, even when recognised as professional, is still perceived as needing institutions and organisations to utilise their art and protect them from the real world. Artists can bypass traditional obstacles and gatekeepers if they have entrepreneurial drive.

The Artist as an Entrepreneur

Many artists throughout history have arguably exhibited, what would now be considered, ‘entrepreneurial’ characteristics and valued creative talent as a financial asset. In his article ‘The Shakespearean Guide to Entrepreneurship’, Mark McGuinness argues that William Shakespeare was highly entrepreneurial. Even suggesting that his moving away from patronage and aiming his business model to appeal to non-reading Elizabethans resulted in him becoming a better writer. 

“I put it to you that Shakespeare’s writing blossomed when he gave up being an artist in search of a patron and became an entrepreneur in earnest”. (McGuinness, 2009)

In his Ted talk, ‘The Artist is dead. Long live the Creative Entrepreneur’ (Van der Roost, 2018), Bart Van der Roost describes another example of the Creative Entrepreneur in Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. Rubens produced 25000 paintings over 43 years and had 80 people working for him, each specifically tasked to work on different parts of the paintings (Van der Roost, 2018).

The Characteristics of an Entrepreneur

The entrepreneur overcomes fears and risks that plague society and shows “willingness to embark”, having the resilience to stand up to the challenges of ambiguity and uncertainty, yet still able to maintain their vision despite difficulties along the way. Research, especially that of McClelland et al (McClelland, 1953) has shown that a defining characteristic of the entrepreneur is their internal locus of control. Even when an entrepreneur confesses to having been “lucky”, it’s luck, that they feel they have generated for themselves through recognising and taking advantage of opportunities and networks.

In this paper, I examine the functional characteristics of the entrepreneur we explored during the Creative Entrepreneurship Master’s discussions (Chance, 2016) and how I express these in my own life and creative practice as a performer. It’s difficult to compartmentalise these characteristics as they permeate who I am and are not easily divisible from my activities or other characteristics. For example willing to embark also assumes risk-taking, tolerance to ambiguity, uncertainty etc. I have endeavoured to avoid repetition. 

Willingness to Embark

I’ve taken the courage to follow a path that’s not easy. Despite knowing that competition is fierce in the performing arts, I had no intention of accepting difficulty as an impossibility. Many actors who’ve been students of drama have given up early in their careers, settling for “normal”, uncreative jobs or watching longingly from the periphery as educators, service providers or directors, leaving their ships at the port because they saw storms on the horizon.

However, I would not be so easily swayed. In only two years, I progressed from having no acting experience to taking lessons, falling in love with my art form, spotting audition opportunities, training with the RSC and auditioning for my first, but substantial, Shakespeare role.

Self-Reliant

Self-reliance is a core value of mine. I have always been strongly independent and individualistic. I had a deprived and abusive working class upbringing which may have contributed to this, with very few people I felt I could rely on. I was a single parent at 14 years. Also, symptoms of a genetic abnormality disfigured my mouth and jaw, making me unpleasant to look at and unable to smile open-mouthed and unconciously, from my teens, through my twenties to my late thirties. 

I spent many years bringing up my son alone during the Conservative induced stigma of being a ‘teenage single mother’ in the 1980s. I expended time pretending to be something I was not, to fit in and not have people look at me. In case they noticed that I did not smile or look quite right. I spent time listening and observing people’s reactions.

Growing up, I was no stranger to poverty or adversity. It gave me the advantage as an adult in my creative career, in that I now embody self-reliance as my core strength. This paper is not going to be an essay on my life. It is merely an illumination of the conditions and environment in which I developed. A glimpse into where I came from, and what forged the values and principles that make me who I am. They made me good at what I do, despite having not received the same training that drama students have.

I believe my upbringing empowered and grounded me. Maturing in adversity provided me resilience, self-belief and determination that others can only pay lip service to. It has given me the ability to authentically embody my characters with emotion. I am not pretending and wearing my character as if I put on a coat. They are not a pretence of emotions that are forced or contrived. They are drawn from experience. The character is a facet of who I am, enabling me to attain a genuine connection on stage with other performers.

I think some “trained” actors are intimidated by that, and at some level, I think they are aware that all the drama lessons in the world are no substitute for authenticity and connection. Indeed many go through their careers trying to find it. It’s the difference between a good actor and not. I’m accustomed to having doors closed in my face. I use to see these as obstacles to my progress. Now I see them as a laying down of the gauntlet.

I have a dragon tattooed on my back that embodies my strength. Its mouth is closed as a reminder of the pain I came from and its wings are feathered because I alone am in control of my destiny and I have the courage to fly by building my own wings. The wind carries me, under my own efforts.

Creative

“Imagination leads to creativity.
Creativity leads to innovation.
Innovation leads to entrepreneurship”.
(Seelig, T. 2012)   

As an artistic individual, this characteristic comes as standard, but it is not just during the preparation for a performance that I need to think and behave creatively. It is vital to me in many other areas of my life and in the way that I approach problems. 

As a performer, I recognise freedom of expression, play, and lack of fear as paramount to creativity. One of the largest inhibitors to creativity, I found, was working within organisations where everything that is the antithesis of creativity was virtually institutionalised into the culture. 

It made working in these places unbearable. Challenging the status quo is frowned upon. Doing things differently, discouraged. 

Play is not ‘work’ and fear is endemic as everyone acts in the daily performance of conformance. On stage, I can play to my strengths. I can ironically be more authentic a character on stage, than working within the fake, politicised domain of institutionalised culture.

If creativity requires uniqueness, then in creating a character, even one that has been performed a thousand times before, my character will be unique. As no one will have played it the same way before me and nobody will ever play that character in the same way again.

In Tina Seelig’s book ‘InsightOut – Get Ideas Out of Your Head and Into the World’, she quotes the definition of creativity summarised in the article “The Standard Definition of Creativity” that stated:

“Creativity requires both originality and effectiveness……Originality is vital for creativity but, it is not sufficient….Original things must be effective to be creative” (Runco et al, 2012)

Many people dream of being actors. The saturated market is a testament to that. Akin to the recruitment industry, casting directors are so spoilt for choice, they pick and choose talent that exactly fits requirements. They need not even take the time to look, as another layer of gatekeepers exists in the form of the Agent to do that for them. For the actor, they form another layer of hoop-jumping, that needs to be performed in reluctant acquiescence to the status quo.

I do not jump hoops. But vision is not enough. To be creative in overcoming these barriers means taking action to make the vision reality. This is where many actors fall short, giving up under the weight of rejection and perceived failure. However, I like those rigid processes. Once identified, once you document the process, you can start engineering ways away around, over, under or through them. The only thing I find that usually prevents me from proceeding is a lack of finance and I don’t always let that stop me.

Resourceful

The artist is their own resource and despite being limited in financial resources, I take advantage of any opportunity I can. If I do not know how to do something, I will look up how to do it myself or find someone who can help. The internet is my mollusc. 

I do seem blessed with serendipity, but this is because I put myself into situations where I can meet people, expand my knowledge/experience and explore new opportunities. I branched out creatively in writing. I knew I did not have the confidence to immediately write a script after many years of neglecting my writing. So, I sought training. In believing I can do it, I do, to some extent, retain some of my ignorant confidence from youth. But I have always been that way. The more I learn, the more I find I do not know and have more to learn. So what is the point of waiting?

To facilitate progress, I attended writing workshops with the Jenny Lind Arts Project taught by Danusia Iwaszko, Associate Artist at Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal and Steve Keyworth who trained on the BBC Drama Writers Academy. I did not initially realise the project was also encouraging participants to submit scripts for their local community theatre. I submitted a short script, ‘Abandoned Places’, which is now part of the performance and I have my first writing credit.

I also attended ScriptEast’s ‘Get Scripted’ writing event. The classes were taught by lecturers Lynsey White, from the Norwich University of the Arts, and Ian Nettleton from the University of East Anglia. I noticed they also held meetings, opportunities for feedback on writing etc, so joined their writing group. The short script I wrote for ‘Get Scripted’ was chosen and performed as part of the Sunday Scratch evening.

Managing Risk/Risk-takers

Friends tell me they admire my bravery for taking the risks I do. For choosing to pursue acting, applying for auditions for good/challenging roles, or doing postgraduate study for my Masters. There were huge uncertainties and no guarantee I’d find a job in time for my studies. Thanks to my friends, I found two, to see me through to December and things fell into place. But I’m fortunate in that I don’t own a house or car. I can risk everything because I don’t have a huge amount to lose. So is that still a risk?

Ultimately I could lose the roof over my head, but I do not have the huge financial commitments onto which other people shackle themselves. I am restricted by financial limitation and discomfort that others might find unbearable. However, in that insecurity I also have a certain amount of freedom from fear. I am not so bound by materialistic things and value experience and learning over “stuff”.

Greater risk for me would be living a life of conformity, where my time belongs to somebody else. That would be more of a risk, than taking the steps to get paid for my artistic work. Would I take the same risks today if I could lose a house, a car, forsake having a family? There’s no way of my knowing for sure, as the decisions I made and paths I chose to take have ultimately made me who I am.

I take risks every time I audition. I may not get the part I desire. I may not even get offered a role at all. But the worst anyone can say to me is ‘no’. ‘No’, to me, is not the endpoint. It’s a challenge for me to either do better next time or find alternate ways to circumvent the barriers in my way.

Motivated

I have in my hands, the creative direction that fulfils me and makes me happy. In other roles, I’ve been working for other people and organisations, so I haven’t had any motivation. I simply, and in all honesty, couldn’t care less about their bottom line or deadlines. I’m not extrinsically motivated and as soon as the work failed to be creatively stimulating or challenging to me, I just endured it for as long as I could get paid and could escape onto the next thing.

In rediscovering my creative self, I’m intensely focused on finding a way to enable me to be paid for what I do. To bypass gatekeepers preventing me from progressing and /or learning new things, to take the means of production out of the hands of organisations that expect me to give my time for free. I recognise that they are useful to volunteer for, to enable me to keep my acting skills oiled, but they do not serve me in a professional capacity and I need to focus more of my time on generating my own work to sustain myself.

I’m adapting and becoming more flexible in my approach. It’s not ideal or comfortable and I am somewhat anxiety-ridden in being drawn away from acting and into writing. However, it’s a means to an end. Writing is a massive risk. I don’t know whether my writing will be any good, whether it will be entertaining enough, or whether it will be successful. But it was always one of my strengths. It’s only a lack of confidence, finding time to get inspired and experiment with ideas that are holding me back, not a lack of skill. The ultimate aim is to write my own plays so that I can perform them, circumventing the gatekeepers who put up unreasonable barriers to my being able to perform professionally.

Diligent

I knew acting was definitely my profession and my calling. If someone asked me to do my day job at the weekend or on an evening, no money in the world would make me give up my time. I resented having only 45 minutes for lunch. I was bored. My feet dragged on the walk to work and I couldn’t wait to get out of the building each evening. I worked around my “day job”, all the hours I could, learning lines, developing character, rehearsing and performing. On the way to work, at lunchtimes, in the evening, on weekends. I knew that if I lost my job (lack of money and issues aside) I would be relieved. However, if I couldn’t perform, I was bereft. 

I had no conscientiousness at my “job”. I didn’t care. Yet for my acting, I was motivated and disciplined. I would spend months learning lines, delving into who my character was. I would turn up to rehearsals, no matter what. I took time off from paid work and lost pay, to attend workshops and to perform. Once I have a vision of what I want to do and where I want to go, nothing is going to prevent me from achieving that. I never let fear or inexperience get in my way. I man up and learn what I need to do.

Charismatic

I believe that I’m charismatic. Not in the popularly stereotypical extrovert, dominant, take-up-the-room sense and definitely not all of the time. I’m probably the opposite of that. And, as an introvert, it’s usually once I feel comfortable and open with someone and during moments of extreme confidence. 

Having read Olivia Fox-Cabane’s book, ‘The Charisma Myth’, (Cabane, 2013) I was surprised at, how the moments I thought I was just being uncharacteristically sociable, were actually moments that facets of my charismatic self were in alignment. I’ve noticed times when I have been exerting presence. When I notice people are inadvertently mirroring me. Or that I can make them look somewhere by shifting my gaze, or movements. Although, it’s often a bit like a bubble and I accidentally pop it when I realise it’s happening, and the discomfort I have in realising that I am unconsciously exerting control is probably written all over my face. 

But it is a skill that I have to use on stage. Presence and connectivity with other actors is the difference between good and bad acting. If it isn’t there, there’s no authenticity. When it breaks, I can feel my performance is less than authentic. It makes the performance look fake even if the audience can’t put their finger on what is wrong. An actor or director can usually see it. It’s where the importance of method acting comes into play. And it is charisma, in that it is the genuine emotions from real experience that are forming these authentic connections, both on and off the stage. 

Everyone knows the difference between the cold, falseness of the “how are you? Fine thanks” exchange in the office, to the genuine warmth when someone really cares, means what they are saying and are listening for a response.

I think my being able to form authentic connections is of advantage. Connections and networking are vitally important in the creative circles of the performing arts. And where funding is tight, we need to creatively collaborate, support and help each other with opportunities wherever and whenever is possible, building our own communities.

Conclusion

I never studied at drama school yet, growing up working class / benefit class as a single parent, I feel more fortunate than students who seemed to have followed a relatively easy and privileged path. In adversity, I have been imbued with resilience, courage and the determination to make my own way. Not restricted by process, linear path or limited by where and to whom I was born, I work on my own merit and make my own connections. I do not rely on the support and networks of wealthy parents or educational privilege. I know that I can be whoever and whatever I want to be. I will not conform. I am a Creative Entrepreneur. 

And not being able to resist the opportunity to compare myself to Shakespeare, as a chance like this doesn’t come up every day… ”In common with many entrepreneurs, he didn’t have the benefit of a family fortune or a university education – just his talent, ambition and an enormous capacity for hard work”. (McGuinness, 2009) Ok, I concede, this working class girl does have a university education now. But you get the point.


References 

Cabane, O. (2013). The charisma myth. London: Portfolio Penguin.

Deresiewicz, W. (2015). The Death of the Artist—and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur. [online] The Atlantic. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/01/the-death-of-the-artist-and-the-birth-of-the-creative-entrepreneur/383497/ [Accessed 9 May 2018].

McClelland, D. C. , Atkinson, J. W. , Clark, R. A. , and Lowell, E. L. (1953), The Achievement Motive, New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts .

McGuinness, M. (2009). The Shakespearean Guide to Entrepreneurship. [online] Lateralaction.com. Available at: https://lateralaction.com/articles/shakespeare-entrepreneurship/ [Accessed 28 Mar. 2018].

 Runco, A., Jaeger, J., 2012. The Standard Definition of Creativity. Creativity Research Journal 24, 92–96.

Seelig, T. (2012). InGenius. London [Angleterre]: Hay House.

Solomon, G. and Winslow, E. (1988). Toward A Descriptive Profile of The Entrepreneur. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 22(3), pp.162-171.

Van der Roost, B. (2018). The Artist is dead. Long live the creative entrepreneur. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lCNN8i-PS8 [Accessed 28 Mar. 2018].

Images and Quotations

Including references for the entrepreneur quotations.

All Pixabay photographs are CC0 Creative Commons. Free for commercial use and with no attribution required.  

Pixabay (2015). Mountain. [image] Available at: https://pixabay.com/en/mountain-nature-landscape-3244607/ [Accessed 22 Mar. 2018].

Pixabay (2012). Sprout. [image] Available at: https://pixabay.com/en/sprout-plant-growing-asphalt-crack-1147803/ [Accessed 22 Mar. 2018].

Pixabay. (2016). Ship. [image] Available at: https://pixabay.com/en/ship-shipwreck-adventure-setting-1366926/ [Accessed 29 Mar. 2018].

Fernandes, P. (2018). Entrepreneurship Defined: What It Means to Be an Entrepreneur. [online] Business News Daily. Available at: https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/7275-entrepreneurship-defined.html [Accessed 18 Mar. 2018].

Durden, K. (2017). The Art of Cursive Handwriting. Artwork from “Icarus Mongolfier Wright,” written by Ray Bradbury, illustrated by Joe Mugnaini. [image] Available at: http://rsd2-alert-durden.weebly.com/uploads/6/7/1/6/6716949/7546592_orig.jpg [Accessed 17 Mar. 2018].

Shedd, J. (1928). Quotation: A Ship in Harbor Is Safe, But that Is Not What Ships Are Built For | Quote Investigator. [online] Quoteinvestigator.com. Available at: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/12/09/safe-harbor/ [Accessed 29 Mar. 2018].
Wikimages (2012). William Shakespeare Poet Writer. [image] Available at: https://pixabay.com/en/william-shakespeare-poet-writer-62936 [Accessed 29 Mar. 2018].


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