Create Your Own Work

I think it is the case with many artists that we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how, exactly, to make a fulfilling creative life happen. For performers, it involves a combination of auditioning (seemingly endlessly) for companies and productions that we may or may not get, and creating our own work. Writing, producing, teaching, and piecing together various other projects to keep ourselves occupied and (hopefully) at least somewhat fulfilled.

I’ve been struggling with this lately. I mostly let go of auditioning for community theatre (that is, unpaid work) a few years ago, and that has led to two years of largely unsuccessful audition seasons with professional theatre companies.

Now, I’m pretty good at handling rejection. I get that it’s part of the career I’ve chosen, and I understand enough to not take it too personally when I get turned down for a role… however, multiple years of hearing “no, no, no” (or sometimes nothing at all) is tough.

Of course that leaves me with the only other options for artists (at least among those who wish to stay artists despite the “no”s), which is to create my own work. This is a lot more difficult than you might think… unless you already assume that it is scary, and vulnerable, and embarrassing, and confusing, and seems impossibly daunting, in which case you’ve got  it exactly right! This past year has basically forced me into doing what I should have started on years ago–namely, writing, producing, and performing my own work–and, I have to say, it’s hard. I’ve produced and performed in a couple of cabarets and house concerts in the past, but that feels like kid stuff compared to the work I’ve been doing/attempting lately. Preparing for a sketch comedy show with a friend (“Erin and Erin Get Sketchy,” which we performed at the Grindstone on Feb 24); submitting a one-woman play for NextFest; conceiving a one-woman character-driven cabaret show… It is exhausting. And intimidating. And the hardest, scariest part is not knowing if it will be worth it in the end. I mean, it has absolutely been valuable just to have projects on the go, but I am genuinely afraid that no show that I have conceived and created will ever be good enough by my own standards. Yet it is one of the only ways for me to start piecing together a fulfilling creative life, so… here I go! I now pronounce this the year of risks, possible failures, getting in over my head, and making a fool of myself. Cheers to the creative life!

Promo shot for “Erin and Erin Get Sketchy.” Photo credit: Shawn Hutchison


*bonus points if, after I said “here I go!” in that last paragraph, you followed up with, “and there’s no turning back!” (Little Women the musical reference)

Life Philosophy #1

“Make 10-year-old Erin happy”

I believe that everyone has an age, some year of their childhood, where they were at their peak childhood enthusiasm, creativity, and love for life. For me, it was at 10. I was going to be a writer, and with my friend Quinn, I would create novels, short stories, and comic books, and pursue other creative ideas like caterpillar houses made of index cards, eraser people, and the plotting and mapping out of an imaginary island that we would rule together. I had an obsession with monkeys and apes, and a stuffed chimpanzee toy named George, who still sits on my bookshelf, guarding my now-rarely-used diary. I had big plans for publishing books and becoming a famous author, and, by the end of grade 5, my passion for singing and theatre was just starting to blossom. This passion, of course, has now turned into a lifelong love and career goal.

The writer, writing

So that was 10.

Years later it hit me that, after grade 5, things started to get a little rocky. I was friend-dumped in September of grade 6, because we were “too weird” together, and this was the first time it ever occurred to me that being “weird” could possibly be a negative thing. Up until then, I wore my quirkiness proudly. I liked the creative eccentric label. I thought weirdness was just the natural way to be, and the only real way to have fun.

I didn’t exactly stop being weird after that moment, but I do see it as “the beginning of the end”–the first hint that living a crazy creative life was going to get harder as I got older.

And then junior high hit. Oh boy. That sucked. Sucks for everyone, doesn’t it? The amount of judging yourself and others… yikes. Absolute enthusiasm killer.

Not that I knew the pit I had just been thrown into–honestly, at the time I thought junior high was fine, and it was only afterwards, looking back as an adult, that I realise what a mess the whole situation was.

In high school, things slowly improved, and by college I was on a roll once again. This was when I started to reflect back on what I had lost after 10. I was still enthusiastic, still loved life, and was definitely still a little weird, but I didn’t feel like I had quite regained by childhood zest… yet. It took a couple more years until I felt like I had finally “returned to 10” at 20 years old, and it is a state of life that I have (mostly) managed to maintain.

All of this back story leads me to one of my big life philosophies: Make 10-year-old Erin happy.

Classic pose, complete with belly button tattoo.

It is something I try to do everyday. It works by giving me something to aim for, in terms of energy level, optimism, creativity, and fun. It also gives me some perspective on my life. When I start getting the feeling that I’m not as accomplished as I would like to be, not as successful in my artistic career, maybe, or not as “established” and “grown-up,” I like to think of what 10-year-old Erin would think of me now.

And you know what? She would think that I am the shit (not that she would have used that terminology). I have done some travelling; I still sing, act, and write, and find random creative projects to keep me busy and fulfilled; I own a monkey onesie and a mermaid tail blanket; I have an amazing boyfriend (and little Erin was boy-crazy–although I also like to think she’d have thought I was cool when I was single, too); I play 3 instruments at a respectably amateur level; and I have my own apartment. 10-year-old Erin would have loved this life, and it makes it easy for me to love it too, even by my 26-year-old standards.