The Business of Show Biz: Planning In A Pandemic
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
by Velina Brown
Q: I know that you’ve been teaching a goal-setting workshop for years that friends of mine have taken and enjoyed. Well these days, every time I try to make plans and set goals I’m stymied. All the projects and opportunities I’d lined up evaporated. I have no idea when I’ll get on stage again. I’m feeling lost and a little scared. How do YOU make plans during a pandemic?
Actor and career consultant Velina Brown.
To be honest I’ve felt a bit stymied too. It can feel like there are a lot of moving pieces and a lot of stuck pieces, and they all need to be considered. So what I’ve been doing is focusing on the immediate future—today, tomorrow, and maybe next
week—and what I can do to put myself in the best position to succeed in these wacky times.
The goal-setting process I use in my classes always begins with clarifying one’s heart’s desire.
First, we look at things from a big-picture perspective. Then we zoom in tighter, break the big picture into smaller chunks, and then reverse-engineer the plans to get there.
Beginning with the big-picture vision makes it easier to keep one’s core values in mind and ensure that they are the foundation upon which everything else is built.
The first goal for many actors right now: home studio. There is the issue of having the right microphone, camera, lights, computer, and a fast enough internet connection just to successfully audition. Then there is the goal of finding out about auditions, as many of the new gigs don’t seem to be listed. Then there’s the goal of having the right software to self-record or perform or whatever. And then there’s the goal of finding a silent space.
My friend Elizabeth Carter described it this way during a recording session together: “I have to not only think about whether I have the time free to take on a project. I also have to consider what my spouse is doing at that time as well as my son. Like now, I’m recording this at home on a Sunday morning. I need them to be very quiet. So, yeah,” Carter says with a chuckle, “they’re kinda giving me the side eye.”
If you live in a small San Francisco apartment, like I do with my husband (who has his own recordings and performances) and son, schedules sometimes collide. So it takes a lot to keep up with the Zoom classes, meetings, rehearsals, recording sessions, etc. of everyone in the house.
Then … well, I kind of skip over the next year or two in my mind—except when it comes to things that would need to be done anyway or that I would happily do regardless of the pandemic. That time frame in middle distance feels murky right now.
My goal-setting class also focuses on finding your heart’s desire. A desire you believe in can be a goal. If you honor your goals then you’ll hatch plans. Plans are what can shift and change based on circumstances such as a pandemic. What is your desire? If the way a desire might have been expressed a year ago is different now, focus on the core of the desire. Brainstorm the various ways the desire could be expressed. Then hatch your plan.
For example, the San Francisco Mime Troupe’s primary desire is to put out an original (never silent!) political musical comedy every year that tours the Bay Area and Northern California. Our goal is to reach as many people as we can with our comedic working-class analysis of the issues of the day, and we deliver our work in a way that anyone can afford to see—with free shows in the parks.
But this season, we had to accept that we couldn’t to do our normal tour. We were particularly concerned about missing the opportunity to address the issues surrounding this election year, and we didn’t want to have July 4th weekend come and go with no Mime Troupe show for the first time in 60 years! So, considering (1) the current circumstances, (2) our desire to not miss a summer season or an election year, and (3) the abilities of our company members, we decided to do a radio podcast series.
We found a way to pursue our goal despite the challenging circumstances, and though it came with a steep learning curve, this route afforded us the chance to fulfill our heart’s desire, reach out to our audience with our revolutionary message, and develop new skills we will use in the future. It’s not the same as touring the parks but we’ve actually expanded our audience via radio stations throughout the country, worked with new people, and continued to work with comrades who’ve moved out of the area. So as an artist, I actually don’t feel deprived because the core of why I do what I do is still being fulfilled.
It is true though that we don’t know what the future holds or how long this global timeout will last. I’m also aware that I’m very fortunate to be part of a resident theatre company. Together we were able to pivot, upgrade tech tools, and move in a new direction. I encourage you to focus on the positive aspects of the present and look for alternative ways to fulfill your heart’s desire. As Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) reminds us
: “Sometimes we live day to day and sometimes we live breath to breath.”
is an actor and career consultant. Send her your questions at email@example.com