Today was a long rehearsal for “Yours In Debt!” in a slightly less sweltering Manhattan that was almost empty of locals for the day. I’ve always liked being around performers and I enjoy their confidence and their physical poise, not qualities I notably associate with myself. Being around those that do raises your own standards.
This performance about debt is not without the usual tensions and contradictions in the creative industries. There’s not much by way of resources and, at least to go by one of the performer’s monologues today, there’s no pay for the actors–or myself, of course, I wouldn’t ask for it and would donate it to the others if offered. At the Debt Assembly last week, a young actress described the Catch-22 of her situation. She has substantial student debt from her acting degree so if she takes any work that she would like to do, all her pay would go to debt.
When we were throwing out words to respond to today, I noticed the performers all found an extra edge when I said “MFA.” These terminal degrees in the arts rarely come with financial support beyond some TA work but that does not mean they are cheap. That said, the musical, physical and performance skills on display today were impressive. It’s not that these courses don’t teach people how to do what they want to do, which makes the double-bind of debt all the more oppressive. One of the group had turned down a top program at the New School, despite the opportunities it offered, to avoid the debt burden.
So while I had thought that working in a hot dark room for several hours was not the perfect way to spend a holiday, on the other hand, perhaps it was. What could be more American than this tense mixture of aspiration, talent, frustration, debt and politics? In all of this, I am supposed to be The Expert. In many ways, we are all experts in this field.