Making Progress When It’s Slow Going

Are you working on a new show that’s taking longer to complete than expected? Have you walked away from it a few times, for weeks and even months?

Same.

So I’m relieved and proud to announce that I just submitted the latest draft of my new show to a prestigious program that supports and helps playwrights to revise, rewrite, re-imagine, and complete works in progress.

Before I submitted the draft, the program’s deadline galvanized me into reading the script aloud to my husband, which was something I had meant to do the month before…and maybe the month before that…and maybe even…I’m not sure, let’s not dwell on it.

The deadline sparked me into taking swift, decisive action, so I gave the reading just a few days after learning about the program and two days before the application was due.

Deadlines are beacons, as I’ve mentioned before. Thank goodness for this one, which pushed me to take the next necessary step.

Reading the script out loud to another person helped me to understand exactly where the biggest problems were in the writing. (You know you need to revise an entire section when you, its creator, find it tiresome to read aloud! There were several instances of this during the reading.)

My husband confirmed the problems. On the bright side, he also noted that I had improved the flow of the story by making a huge structural change since my last reading a year ago.

At that reading for him and a small group of trusted theatre friends, the consensus was that I needed to sharpen the script’s focus. After working on that for a few months, I realized the piece also needed a structural overhaul, so I added that to my efforts.

I didn’t spend hours of daily labor agonizing over those changes. I didn’t even work on the script every week.

I spent anywhere between 10 to 60 minutes at a time on it, working once every three weeks, on average. That means I sometimes worked two days in a row, but then wouldn’t get back to it for six weeks.

Ideal? Nope. Did I make progress, albeit slowly? Yup.

After reading the latest draft to my husband and seeing how much work was still needed, and how much progress had been made, I felt ready to submit the draft to the program. They may reject it as unworthy of more development under their auspices, but that’s not what matters.

What matters is this:

  • incremental steps moved me forward
  • a deadline was my beacon once again
  • now that I know what needs fixing and still believe that it has promise, I feel optimistic.

I started writing this script in November 2014. I could feel embarrassment over how long this one has taken me to complete, but I don’t.

I’m just glad I didn’t give up.

The adjudicators will let applicants know if our scripts have been accepted in early April. Regardless, I’m going to keep working on mine. I’ll finish this sucker with or without the help of a renowned program. Much as I would love support in an intensive, playwright-friendly environment, I know I can create a worthy show without it, because I already did with my first show.

I’ll perform this new one in L.A., either as a limited special event, or as a bona fide production with a four-to-five-week run. It will depend on what’s happening in my life at the time, and on how relatable or “niche” the final draft turns out to be.

I’ll have a final draft no matter what, and a world premiere after that, and you’re invited!

If you’re trying to get back into the habit of working on a script or other creative project, and you need a deadline to ignite you, look for one here:

Please drop me a line in the Comments if you know of other sources for submissions. Their deadlines are our lighthouses.

May you make progress on your project, in leaps and bounds or inch by inch. Either way, you’ll be honoring your creativity and making something, and I’ll always insist that that’s why we’re here.

BONUS: Wise advice on how to make progress when you’re feeling stuck:


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How To Keep Rehearsals Fresh When You’re Sick of Running Your Show

Do you have a performance or whole run of your solo show coming up?

If so, are you deadened by the thought of having to rehearse that thing…again?

You haven’t performed recently enough to have it “in your pocket”…but the thought of running it over and over until it’s finally polished again is just…blargh.

I feel ya from the very bottom of my soul.

So here are some tips:

1. If it’s been a long time since you performed it, spend at least 3-5 days just running the lines again. Consider recording the lines so you can relearn them aurally.

  • Record the lines in a sometimes robotic, sometimes atonal singsong voice, in order to prevent falling into predictable line readings.
  • When you play the audio, speak the lines along with it. Stop and rewind when you get to a section you can’t recall verbatim, to repeat it at least once.
  • Do this while doing something else that doesn’t require intellectual focus, so you’re completing two tasks at once. I listen to my recording on CD when I’m driving. (Yes, CD. My car is old but mighty.)

2. Once you’re ready to put the show back on its feet, rehearse it in chunks.

  • Start with one-thirds. Day 1: Run the first third (1/3) of the show. Day 2: Run the middle third of the show. Day 3: Run the last third of the show.
  • Graduate to halves. Day 4: Run the first half (1/2) of the show. Day 5: Run the last half of the show.
  • Take a break for two days. By golly you’ve earned it.
  • Day 8: Run the whole show, stopping and starting to finesse blocking and characterizations, even if you also did this during days 1-5. (Oh, now you remember, you make that gesture with your left arm, not your right…wow, it’s been a while…and maybe that character’s facial expression could be truer and less broad…etc.)
  • Day 9: Repeat the step above.
  • From here on: run it nonstop, inasmuch as that’s humanly possible, at least six times. Preferably eight.

3. After you’ve run it all the way through nonstop at least once, are you totally sick of rehearsing it, while also aware that it’s not ready for an audience?

Again: I feel you. Therefore, make it entertaining for yourself. Do the whole shebang with one of these attributes during each run-thru:

  • A thick accent that ain’t yours. I tend to gravitate towards Russian, which then weirdly morphs into Scottish. I eventually get bored with that and do French. I don’t question this, I just do it, and by golly I always learn something about a line or a moment when I do this in a run-thru.
  • An overwrought soap opera / telenovela acting style. If you don’t take pregnant pauses with flared nostrils and an accusatory glare, or with halting speech and quivering lips and eyes brimming over, then you aren’t committing. Commit and have fun, dammit!
    • Consider adding some stereotypical-Tennessee-Williams-play-acting: use a US Southern drawl and move as if you’re wearing a negligee or tank top and jeans in a hot, sultry environment. This can help you to be more over-the-top, which is what we’re going for here.
  • A standup-act quality. If your show already has this trait, then do it more like a hokey sitcom.
  • An Oscar Wilde / Noel Coward leading-role quality, British RP accent and all.
  • Enunciate every consonant as if your life depended on it.
  • Hyper-speed through it as fast as possible without injuring yourself.

If you get bored doing it one way, try another. Feel free to mix it up. Just make sure you’re engaged in the process.

The reasons you’re doing the above are threefold:

  1. It will prevent your falling into the habit of predictable line readings.
  2. You’ll entertain yourself, which is key to maintaining enthusiasm.
  3. You’ll learn something new about your show each time. Maybe the soap-operatic version will teach you that a particular moment actually deserves more gravitas. Maybe the thick accent will help you understand a line even better—even if you wrote it and even if it’s about your own life. Maybe doing it all for laughs will highlight new sections that should be played for laughs, or will prove that you need to give other sections the vulnerable poignancy they deserve.

By the last two run-thrus, you may be itching to perform it the way you want to for an audience. Think of those two rehearsals as the dress rehearsal and preview.

  • If you’re doing a full run-thru for a tech crew, that counts as the preview. Don’t despair if your energy is low—previews are rarely good, and if you’re performing that same night, you’ll want to conserve your energy anyway.

For more tips on how to keep feeling inspired and ready between bookings, read the section “Between Bookings” in this popular post. (You’ll need to scroll down.)

I hope this helps. Please let me know in the Comments if you have other ways of keeping rehearsals fresh. We all need as much help with this as we can get!


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Cold Calling To Pitch Your Show

First off, my apologies for not posting last month. I was working my tail off, not managing time very well, and thus neglected to write anything. I’m back with a hopefully helpful entry.

Do you call campuses and venues to ask them to book your show? If you do, great! In that case, you don’t need to read this post.

If, on the other hand, you email people because the thought of cold calling them fills you with dread, I hope this blog entry will help you to bust through your aversion and proceed with courage, which will develop your confidence, which will ultimately lead to bookings!

Many of us already know, per the experts: when it comes to sales, phone calls are more effective than written correspondence.

That doesn’t mean we ever want to follow the experts’s advice.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I booked my first solo show at most venues via email. The liaisons and I may have spoken on the phone as the performance dates neared, but my initial outreach was always via email for five-plus years.

This was because I was chicken.

Cuz cold calling sucks! Right?

Then, after the 2016 US presidential election, I did a lot of phone banking. This was frightening—both the calling and the result of that election…which was why I was calling people.

I was so scared of phoning total strangers that I began by calling only five people per day, and if no one picked up, so be it.

Predictably, it became easier over time. Most people were quite cordial if they picked up the phone.

You know how these things go: if it’s not life or death, we can usually get used to the discomfort around the scary thing and then make progress as the fear dissipates, even if it never disappears completely.

You’d think I would have applied this knowledge to the sales pitches for my show—if not when I first began touring it, then at least after all the phone banking. You’d think I would have started calling colleges and presenters by January 2017, right?

Nope.

I hate sales.

If I have to do it, and I have to for the show, the film of the show, and my workshops, then I want it to be not scary or even awkward.

Hence: email.

When I finally garnered the courage to make calls, which was over five years (!) after the show started touring, I still timed it in a way that would make rejection less painful. I waited until right before I retired the show, when there were only a few months left for people to book it.

It was the ol’ Only Be Vulnerable Right Before You Leave Forever (OBVRBYLF) strategy.

Ah, I know it well. Maybe I’ll write a show based on it.

Anyway, this past spring I called 17 or so people on college campuses—people whom I’ve emailed individually and mass e-blasted for years. I followed up with an email message, and lo and behold: several people responded and two expressed real interest!

Those calls did not ultimately lead to bookings, mainly due to scheduling. Campuses usually book guest artists at least three months in advance, and normally six to nine months in advance.

I made the calls four months before the show’s retirement date and only two months before the semester ended.

OBVRBYLF, indeed.

I’m nevertheless glad I made those calls, because it boosted my confidence. Plus, one of the people I called said our schedules weren’t compatible but asked what I was planning to do after I retired the show. They wanted to know if I might be available as a keynote or guest speaker at a conference instead?

Of course I said yes.

Now I can follow up with all of those people about the film of the show. I’m segueing from performing it to doing talk-backs after screenings of it.

Meanwhile, I recently called around 30 conference organizers to pitch the film, and was invited to screen it at three conferences!

So the experts are right: calling works.

Perhaps ultimatums work, too. Maybe another reason the college folks responded to my follow-up emails in the spring was because of the looming deadline of retirement.

In any case, I hope this galvanizes you to start making calls if you haven’t yet. Some tips:

1. Before you make the first call:

  • pour yourself a favorite non-alcoholic beverage
  • have a snack if you’re hungry
  • do some tongue twisters
  • read the script aloud before calling
  • do a very short body-scan meditation
  • stretch any area that’s stiff
  • have a funny YouTube video or comforting image or inspiring quote at the ready on your computer screen for right after the call
  • sip some of that lovely beverage
  • remember that you’re offering something valuable: the transformative power of theatre

…and make the call.

2. As you make more calls, reward yourself after each one, and then reward yourself with something more meaningful after finishing your calls for the day!

3. Below these tips are two cold calling scripts you can use as templates and edit as you see fit. One is for people who pick up the phone, and one is for voicemail. You’ll see that the first one includes a request to schedule a second call.

Of course, when potential leads pick up the phone, they might not want to schedule a follow-up conversation with you. They might say they’ll respond to your follow-up email if they’re interested. That’s fine. It doesn’t hurt to ask about calling again, but don’t be devastated if they say they would rather correspond via email from now on.

4. The main thing is that you cold called a potential booker, and you must, must, must acknowledge yourself for doing the brave thing. (See tip #2.)

Remember: hearing your voice helps people to picture a real human being with feelings and courage and ambition, and this could help them to take your pitch more seriously.

If you get an awkward or brusque rejection, still pat yourself on the back, breathe deeply, and watch the funny video or look at the comforting image or inspiring quote on your computer screen. You’ve earned that reward or pick-me-up.

I think you’ll find, as I did in November 2016 when I was calling total strangers in Louisiana (I’m in California), that most people are cordial when they receive a phone call, no matter what their answer is.

This is especially true when you’re proposing something good and worthy: your art and craft and expertise and humanity…and a great story.

Good luck and may you book book book!

******

PHONE SCRIPT — when you get the person on the phone

Hello, may I speak with [contact’s first name]? Hi, I’m ______, creator of [title of show], my one-[man/woman/person] show that tells the story of [very brief description of show, perhaps including a logline].

I’m calling to propose the show for your [organization/campus/office/club] because it’s a great springboard for discussion about [topic(s)].

The show has received rave reviews and is the only solo show that addresses [topic] via [unusual perspective, theatrical genre, etc.].

[Mention if it won any awards and if it has been to festivals, conferences, college campuses, etc.]

I’d like to ask if you might be interested in hosting the show with a talk-back afterwards at [campus/theatre/etc.]?

[If they say yes or maybe:] Great! I’ll email you a link to the show’s website plus a pdf of the Press Kit. What’s the best email address to reach you? And to confirm, that’s [spell it out]?

Great. Can we put our next conversation on the calendar for a convenient time during the week of [date 2 weeks later], which is two weeks from now?

And what time is best for you?

My name again is ______. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions. You’ll receive an email from me shortly with my contact info.

Thanks! I look forward to speaking with you in a couple of weeks.

******

PHONE SCRIPT — when you get the person’s voicemail

Hello, [contact’s first name]. I’m ______, creator of [title of show], my one-[man/woman/person] show that tells the story of [very brief description of show, perhaps including a logline].

I’m calling to propose the show for your [organization/campus/office/club] because it’s a great springboard for discussion about [topic(s)].

The show aims to both entertain and educate. It has received rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. It’s the only solo show that addresses [topic] via [unusual perspective, theatrical genre, etc.]. [Mention if it won any awards.]

At your earliest convenience, I’d like to speak with you about how we can work together to bring [title of show] to [organization/campus/office/club].

You can reach me at [phone number]. That’s [phone number]. I’ll also be sending you an email with my contact information and links to the show’s website with the trailer and reviews.

Again, this is ______ with [title of show]. I look forward to hearing from you.

[Edited 9/3/19, LL.]


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Small Audiences and the Art of Surrender

Have you ever had a dispiritingly small audience well into a run of your show?

Even though it had already toured elsewhere and been very well received in many locales, and the previous week’s audience members were praising it to the skies on social media?

Yeah, I’ve been there.

I’ve written about the importance and even magic of surrendering to what is when attempting to:

There’s another instance when surrender is equally vital for you to practice as a performer and producer. Just as in other circumstances, it can be paradoxically effective:

Surrendering to your sadness, disappointment, and heartbreak over having a tiny audience…could catalyze one of the most inspired performances of your show.

For me, it happened toward the end of a run of Alien Citizen: An Earth Odyssey at a festival.

I was waiting in the wings at “Places” and could hear that there were maybe 10 people in the seats.

There had been many more audience members at the previous performance a week earlier, so I had foolishly assumed there would be no more small houses during that festival.

This was my second run in Los Angeles (USA), where I had premiered the show in 2013. Back then the audiences had grown steadily, with rare fluctuations.

Now it was four years later, and 95% of my peeps had seen the show already…in 2013. The remaining 5% had come earlier during this 2017 run.

Total strangers and more recent acquaintances had also attended, which was wonderful, but audiences had not grown steadily, to my dismay. The numbers were always up and down.

I saw that I would have to promote the show and beg and bother people to come see it to the very end.

I was exhausted at that point, and frankly devastated.

So in that moment in the wing, I followed the sages’ advice and just let myself feel my profound disappointment and sadness. And I wept.

That’s not something I normally do right before a performance.

But I did it then. I cried as I waited for David Bowie to sing “Space Oddity,” which is the audio cue that plays as the house lights go down.

What do you know: the sages’ counsel turned out to be good! Any strong emotion will peak for 90 seconds, like the longest childbirth contraction, because that’s what our bodies and psyches can handle and no more.

Of course, the pain—physical and/or emotional—doesn’t magically end, but the times when it spikes at its absolute worst last for 90 seconds.

Thus, on that night backstage, my most intense, heartbroken weeping only lasted for 90 seconds.

Naturally, the sorrow didn’t disappear and the crying didn’t end abruptly, but I was amazed at how the release helped them to dissipate. Suddenly I felt more space inside my chest, and the tightness around my head relaxed.

I was sad but not tense, accepting the disappointment almost as if it were an old friend who was grieving and I was grieving with them.

The next part is probably predictable: I breathed more fully and easily, felt glad to be in the moment, and whispered my thanks to the 10 or so marvelous people out there who were joining me that night.

By the time Bowie began counting down, I was ready to give that small audience everything I had.

So I went out and did my job.

The audience was fantastic, of course, because I gave them a damn good show.

I did have larger audiences after that but the numbers still fluctuated tremendously for those last few performances.

It was what it was, and I always quietly thanked people for being there as I stood at “Places.”

The show renewed its tour in 2018 and 2019. Audiences were larger everywhere.

Now when I’m disappointed or stressed backstage before a performance of my show, there are steps I take, which I humbly recommend to you here:

  1. Accept reality. The audience is that small, or the booth op is that unskilled, or the liaison is that unhelpful, or the costume is that tight because you’ve been working out less, etc.
  2. Let any emotional labor pains flow. Allow the worst 90 seconds to move and even blow through your body. Notice how the intensity peaks and then ebbs when you don’t fight it.
  3. Give thanks. You get to perform your show for an audience that’s sitting out there just for you and your story! What a life.

I hope this is helpful. If you have more tips on how to deal with the discouragement of small audience numbers, please share them.

Also, please know that you’re in good company. I went to a revival of one of the most lauded solo shows in the US a few months ago. It was not only not sold out—they were selling heavily discounted tickets to fill seats.

The show was magnificent.

BONUS: Martha Beck’s compassionate and funny essay on the 90-second intervals of pain that allow us to feel better in the long run.

Experiencing Pain Is the Only Way to Achieve Happiness by Martha Beck


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Touring It: More Lessons Learned

Sometimes you have to be reminded of—or relearn—the realities of touring your show.

In my case, I relearned several things during my first booking of 2019 a few months ago:

1. Bringing your technical operator (the person who runs the screen projections and audio cues) with you makes an enormous difference.

  • They already know the show, so you only have to teach the venue’s lighting operator the minimal light cues. (Do make them minimal for the touring production. Save yourself some headache.)
  • The tech op acts as a buffer between you and any other techies. If something goes wrong, the tech op will handle it while you concentrate on your performance.

My husband was my tech op in February and I don’t know what I would have done without him. The tech rehearsal should only have taken 90 minutes, but the light board kept failing to save the cues that the lighting operator programmed into it. In the end I think we teched for four hours, which is normally how long it takes to

  • teach booth operators all the cues (not just lights)
  • do a Q2Q
    and
  • do a speed-thru of the entire show.

Guess what? The four hours did not make a difference…but my tech op did. Here’s what happened:

At the top of my show, I enter in darkness as a projection plays above or to the side of me, depending on where the screen is. Once I’m “set” at center stage, a shaft of light illuminates me directly from above. I’m spotlit.

Imagine my surprise when, as the house lights went down and the music for “places” played and then the screen projection played…the stage lights remained on. The other cues kept going. Since my husband was running the music and projections, I knew that by playing those cues he was telling me to get on stage even with the lights on, because something was wrong that couldn’t be fixed. So I made my entrance and began the performance.

Imagine my further surprise when many different light cues started illuminating the stage, one after the other. This lasted for several minutes.

Finally, that stopped, and I could focus on the show without having to grin and bear the technical glitches.

As it turned out, the light board had once again failed to save any of the lighting cues, so the operator panicked and started trying to work out the glitches during the show by manually playing every cue back to back and then over again.

Thank goodness my husband was in the booth and let the op know that there was a performance happening and all the lighting changes were distracting to the audience and performer.

I honestly don’t know if the lighting op would have realized this if it hadn’t been pointed out to him. I might have had to perform for 20 minutes as bizarre, nonsensical light changes were played.

From then on, the light op followed the performance while reading the script, skipping ahead to manually set up each cue in advance, then playing it on time. He did a good job, I’m relieved to say.

2. The self-proclaimed most experienced techies will screw up, especially if they’re the type that brags a lot.

The lighting op I mentioned above did not brag, but I had a feeling there still might be some issues based on the following:

The more the venue’s technical director talks about his and/or his crew’s experience (on Broadway, on national tours, etc.),
the more he says things like “we’ll take good care of you” (so far the person who says that has always been a He in my experience),
the more you perceive you’re being condescended to in subtle and not-so-subtle ways,
the more the techies interrupt you to say “We know what we’re doing” when you ask them to run a certain cue again…
the more likely it is that the tech rehearsal will last a ridiculously long time because of issues that are somehow always blamed on the equipment—the same equipment that they’ve been working with for years without a problem…
and the more likely it is that there will be technical errors during the performance.

The best techies I’ve ever worked with were the ones who never bragged and whose bosses never bragged. One booth op was a fellow actor who also happened to be a terrific techie in New York. Sometimes they were young college students. Sometimes they were formidable pros, like the ones at Williams College who work in the booth during the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

My favorite is my husband, who is not a theatre person, who had to learn how to run my show on the fly at my first college booking in 2014. We learned that the techie at rehearsal was not going to be the techie at the performance (!?!). That booking was at a hugely prestigious university.

The love of my life stepped in and saved the day, having never worked as a booth operator in his life.

3. Your show will find its audience somehow. 

At the February show, a woman whose upbringing was very different from mine still thanked me afterward. (My show is largely about my upbringing.) We had a nice conversation and then suddenly she burst into tears and came around to hug me as she said “It has different meanings” regarding the show. I hugged her back and assumed she meant the show had emotional resonance despite being an unusual tale with unique details.

Any story that illuminates underlying “universal” (human) truths, which any good story does, will have emotional resonance for vastly different people.

That same night, various adults and students from the region and from other states and countries praised the show and spoke of how relatable it was. They were my ideal audience and they found the show somehow, despite there having been less outreach and PR due to extreme weather that had closed the campus more than once in the previous weeks.

4. Even if you trip over your lines a few times, the quality of the show will shine through. You’re a pro, you’ve got this, remain present and keep going.

5. You are giving people permission to tell their own stories when you tell yours. Even if they hate your show, it could still galvanize them into telling theirs “better.” You’re providing a service.

I take it as a given that you’ve worked hard to make the script and performance as strong as you can, because you want them to be good more than you want attention, so I have a feeling your audiences have been and will continue to be inspired after seeing your show.

6. It really is hard to resist the sugar or salt or alcohol temptation—whichever one you need to be mindful about the most—but try. Of course, the reason to eat healthy is that you’ll feel better during the tour. Adrenaline will drive the performance, but the rest of the time, it’s awfully nice to feel well.

7. Tell your contacts and networks who live in nearby cities of the upcoming performance. You’ll be amazed at who makes the two-to-four-hour drive to see a show they think they’ll relate to—it might not even be someone you know well.

8. Don’t assume that a negative experience in a particular region will be repeated. Bluntly put: not all politically similar regions are alike.

I had such a stressful time touring my show in a conservative state in the US in 2014 that I was tense about taking it to two more red states within the past year.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. People were lovely to me all over the campuses and towns, and I was ashamed to have formed a bias based on a single experience. As someone who moved a lot as a kid, my life had taught me to never pre-judge, so it’s especially embarrassing that I did so as an adult.

9. Doing the show itself increases your stamina, so if your workout routine is a bit iffy, rehearsals will help. Every time I run the whole show in my living room for the first time in months, it takes forever because I have to take breaks and am just slower. By the time of the performance, I’ve increased my stamina and become more facile and swift, so the show clocks in at its usual running time, which is much shorter than it was in my living room at that first rehearsal in ages.

Of course, ideally, you’re working out regularly—but full run-thrus will build your stamina, too.

10. Take time off after traveling with your show. You’ll need it. Tell people, including your agents if you’re also pursuing an acting career, that you’ll be gone for longer than you’ll be gone. Don’t worry, your agent will contact you with an audition that conflicts ANYWAY, but at least you’ll have set a psychological boundary that you can move as you see fit, and everyone ELSE will think you’re not available, so you’ll have a day or two (or more) to move slow and recuperate.

I hope this is helpful. For my original (and most popular) post on touring, click here.

Also, thank you for your patience between posts over the last year! I’ve been remiss and am determined to get back to making this a monthly blog. If you have questions/ideas for future posts, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

[EDITED 5/20/19 at 1:40pm, LL]


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How to Reward Yourself

I’ve written in the past about rewarding ourselves for any progress made, however small.

I hope you’ve been doing so, but if not, you’re not alone. I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t been following my own advice for a while now.

I do engage in activities I enjoy on most evenings at home: watching a show or movie with my husband, drinking herbal tea, and reading. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to relax at the end of every workday. (Or workday-into-night—I tend to work late. Do you do this, too?)

Nonetheless, have you, like me, found yourself not doing anything special or out of the ordinary—large or small—to reward yourself for completing a particular task or achieving something new?

The difference between the reward of unwinding after a long day, and the reward for a specific accomplishment, is that the latter is meant to be a deliberate acknowledgement of that accomplishment.

Relaxing is lovely and necessary after slogging away at the To Do List, whether you’re self employed or also working a day job, but we need to do something different when we’ve completed any of the tasks on that list—particularly if a task required courage or learning a new skill or doing something we disliked but that we felt must be done. An example of the latter for me is spending an entire day scheduling social-media posts on all of my platforms for the following month. I tend to work on this very late into the night and sometimes do some more the next day, so I usually feel there’s no time to reward myself because I have to go to bed or I have so much else to do.

And then I wonder why I’m feeling burned out and resentful.

The completed task could even be a tiny one that takes 10 minutes or less, but for whatever reason, perhaps we had put it off for…er, let’s not think about how long (cough cough)…so the relief from completing it might be accompanied by some self recrimination—or just plain old regret—for not having done it sooner.

It doesn’t matter if the task was time consuming or not, or if we think we ought to have finished it aeons ago. The point is that it was on the list because we felt it was necessary for the maintenance or growth of our creative careers. So if we’ve done that work, I believe we’ve earned the right to our own recognition.

This can apply to tasks that are not connected to creative pursuits, as well.

In any case, there’s a difference between taking it easy after work and purposely rewarding ourselves. I’ve finally figured out what has been stopping me from doing the latter:

I’ve been thinking it had to be Highly Ritualized, or Quite Unusual, or Involving Money I Don’t Regularly Spend That Way, etc. Even though I’ve stated in the past that the reward doesn’t have to be a big thing—it could be easy—I’ve still harbored an unconscious belief that it had to be A Thing That Required Some Effort, however pleasant the result.

In fact, the reward just needs to be a conscious, heartfelt acknowledgment. Something as simple as lying down, murmuring “This is my reward for completing [such-and-such]. Yay me,” and staying there, doing nothing, for five minutes.

Lying down just for the pleasure of it feels like a luxury to me, but if it’s not for you, then what is? What innocuous, easy, short activity that might seem like nothing to someone else—but would feel self indulgent to you—could you do when you don’t feel you have the time or energy to do more?

By the way, it’s not self indulgent when it’s a kind way to reward yourself for doing the work.

The reward could also be something you haven’t engaged in in a while that you enjoy. When’s the last time you added cinnamon or chocolate sprinkles to your coffee at home? Or read that comforting blog by so-and-so? If neither of those examples sparks you, take a moment to think of something that does—something easy that warms your insides even a little bit and perhaps has a “playing hooky” vibe when you think of it.

Part of the problem for me has been that I’ve confused a reward with A Pleasant Activity Done Concurrently With An Unpleasant Task. For instance, I listen to favorite podcasts while bookkeeping. Since a lot of the work we do for our shows or other creative pursuits is the opposite of creative: promotion, sales, administration, bookkeeping, etc., we may try to make it as pleasant as possible. This is understandable, correct, and the only way to do it, in my opinion.

However, my tendency in the past was to think: well, I’m already doing something pleasant while doing something tedious, so isn’t that the reward?

No.

No, it is not.

Nope.

The concurrently pleasant task (CPT?) is the thing we do to make the unpleasant task bearable. It’s good to have a CPT but it is not the reward. The reward cannot be done simultaneously with anything on your To Do List.

It has to stand on its own.

Allow the reward its own moment. It is the moment.

In fact, a synonym for “reward” is “honor.” So honor it.

When I publish this blog post I will reward myself in some way that feels luxurious, even if it’s small. Maybe I’ll look at a website I haven’t been to in ages that makes me laugh or smile or daydream pleasantly.

Or maybe I’ll lie down for five minutes. That option is feeling like the winner to me. Somebody needs a vacation.

Since the holidays are upon us in many parts of the world, the above can also be applied to surviving stressful holiday gatherings. Anything stressful is hard work in its own way.  It might have its good qualities but it’s also hard work.

Of course, we need to have wonderful rewards in mind for our larger goals, rewards that electrify us into taking steps towards those goals, but we also need exponentially smaller, easy-to-manifest rewards for the individual (sometimes baby) steps.

I really believe this. I’ve been remiss of late but that’s changing because I’m about to publish this post, you’re going to read it, and that will make me more accountable. (Accountability buddies can be very helpful for goals and rewards!)

What will you do to reward yourself for completing the next thing on your To Do List? (Was reading this blog post a “task”? Then reward yourself for it!)

If you find yourself stumped—which may be a sign of overexertion/exhaustion, which I’ll write about in a future post—may I offer you this:

If you’d like to share some of your favorite ways to reward yourself for a job well done (better yet: a job done), or you’d like to make yourself accountable toward rewarding yourself, please comment below. Happy Holidays!


Announcement: The film of my first solo show, Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey, is now streamable online! Huzzah!!!

For monthly updates on the goings-on of my solo shows, workshops, acting gigs, and moresubscribe to my newsletter. (It’s different from this blog, which is exclusively about creating and touring a solo show.)

Thank you for reading my thirtieth post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.

You Never Can Tell, So Don’t Give Up

I was starting to despair.  Universities and international schools would respond to my messages with interest and then back out or disappear.

I‘ve been pitching and promoting my show, Alien Citizen: An Earth Odyssey, all year long. I’ve emailed people at colleges, universities, and international schools individually and I’ve mass-emailed even more of them via MailChimp.

I’ve done this since January without fail while also working on a gajillion other tasks for this small business.

By June I was seriously contemplating the possibility that I would never perform the show again, because no one seemed to want to pay for it. This was especially disappointing because I only intended to perform it for one more academic year and I thought pitching it as the “final tour” would help with bookings.

It was looking like I had made a mistake.

Then: I booked the show at a community college in Florida! I was flabbergasted because I never thought a community college would have the budget for a guest artist. My ignorance is really something.

I ended up performing the show in Tampa in September. Now I have two more college bookings set up for 2019!

Meanwhile, I almost had an international school booking for January in Singapore. It seemed like a sure thing…but it fell through.

Then it looked like a university was going to screen the film of my show this month. At last, a non-conference, non-classroom screening for a wider audience!

That fell through as well. You win some, you lose some.

I’ve learned some valuable lessons this year about booking the show. I wrote extensively about touring in the past, but we learn more as we go. Here are some new tips:

1. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: don’t give up and do follow up.

For the Florida booking, a friend recommended the show to that campus and I gamely followed up. I was pleasantly surprised to receive an immediate, positive response. I replied again but didn’t hear back.

Out of sheer stubbornness I contacted them months later…and now I’ve performed my show in Tampa to a warm and engaged audience in a lovely community college theatre!

2.  Community colleges with performing arts buildings are absolutely worth a pitch.

To my surprise, many community colleges do have a budget for visiting artists and it’s not miniscule. We negotiated and I lowered my rate for Tampa, but I still made more than I was paid by Ivy League campuses back in 2014, my first year of touring.

3. Personal email messages and mass e-blasts can both work.

The Florida booking was instigated by email messages I sent individually. The two upcoming US college bookings were instigated by MailChimp e-blasts.

Of course, it’s more efficient to draft a chain of messages that you can schedule to go out regularly to hundreds or thousands of people via MailChimp.

Still, I send individual messages when the recipient and I know someone in common, or when I’m following up after a long delay and don’t want them to receive a mass e-blast yet.

Of course, if you’re just starting to pitch your show, you probably don’t have a database of contacts to e-blast. As you send individual messages, you can add each person’s info to a marketing automation platform like MailChimp or Constant Contact, etc. Follow-up messages can be scheduled to everyone via the platform, which will save you time.

I make my MailChimp e-blasts look like regular email messages. No layout, no images, nothing but words. The design is called Plain Text and it looks exactly the way it sounds. Email servers might still recognize that the message is coming from a marketing automation platform, so those messages may still end up in Promotions or Spam. However, I think enough messages get through…because they’ve lead to bookings.

4. If you can afford a paid intern for even one or two months, it’s worth it.

One of my upcoming college bookings is at a campus that my intern entered into the CRM (Customer Relations Management program). The college would never have received my regular e-blasts if my intern hadn’t entered the campus into the CRM, which is synced with my MailChimp account.

Quick side note: a CRM keeps track of your contacts and all of your correspondence with them—both the individual emails and the e-blasts. You can prioritize contacts as “Leads” and do other cool stuff. If you sync the CRM with the marketing automation platform, you only have to enter new contacts into one program in order for them to pop up in the other.

Back to the intern: you may wonder how I could afford to pay anyone. I had set money aside for taxes that were not owed in the end (oh glory!), so I used that money to hire a senior at my alma mater. She was highly intelligent with a good work ethic. We met via Skype and I taught her how to use the CRM. She immediately  began researching international schools and US colleges/universities to enter into the system. She only added contact info for people who might truly be interested in the show: directors of international student centers at universities, drama teachers at international schools, etc.

I could only afford to hire her for five hours per week for two months. In that time she entered almost 500 contacts. One of them has led to a booking that will pay much more than it cost to hire the intern. The booking will be a strong source of income that month, so: yay for interns!

5. Raising your rate won’t kill your chances of getting your show booked.

I doubled my rate a couple of years ago and subsequently feared it might be the reason I didn’t tour for two years. Then I remembered that I hadn’t been pitching my show to anyone with any regularity during that time because I was:

  • in post-production for the movie version of the show
  • working on a business plan and other time-consuming small business stuff
  • leading workshops
  • rehearsing, promoting, and performing the show in a festival in L.A.
  • pursuing my acting career
  • overexerting myself in general.

Of course I didn’t book the show out of town for two years.

Once I put my nose to the grindstone and started pitching the show regularly, it took six months for a booking to finally came through, followed by two more—and they’re all paying the new rate or close to it.

As you know if you’ve toured your show at all: touring is hard work. My 80-minute show is a tremendous workout. Performing it with jet lag adds to the challenge. Just traveling to the location can be exhausting: there’s luggage (even though I try to pack light); the carry-on with all the props is very heavy; I fly economy/coach and sometimes have to switch planes midway; and there’s sometimes at least a nine-hour time difference between L.A. and the booking location.

We have to keep our shows “in shape,” which means we have to run lines and rehearse the performance until it’s up to snuff in the weeks leading up to the booking date. This is time consuming and we’re not paid for our efforts during that period.

So: charge a decent rate. Ask around. Newbies might charge as little as $500 while celebrities might charge $10,000+ for a single performance. A good rule of thumb that a solo-show veteran recommended to me: when you start pitching your show for paid bookings, if you have to travel, make sure you’ll walk away with at least $1000 after expenses. It’s not worth the investment of time and energy otherwise.

As your list of bookings grows, you can raise your rate.

Of course, if you’re on the fringe festival circuit and are not booking paid performances at this point, the above is for you to consider if/when you want to turn your show into a source of greater income. I followed the veteran’s advice and learned quickly that she was absolutely right. Touring a show takes a lot of work beyond the actual performance, and we deserve to be recompensed for that.

Have you found other, better ways to get paid bookings without a booking agent? Please share if so! If not, I hope the above is helpful.

BONUS: Whether or not you’ve read or liked her books, this is a great TED Talk for when you’re feeling discouraged:

The fringe benefits of failure by JK Rowling


For monthly updates on the goings-on of my solo shows, workshops, acting gigs, and moresubscribe to my newsletter. (It’s different from this blog, which is exclusively about creating and touring a solo show.)

Thank you for reading my twenty-ninth post, especially after the long gap between this and the last one! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.