How do you define success?
We came across this opinion piece about the idea of “success” in artistic careers (specifically theater), and thought the question – what is success? - worth considering, especially at this time of year when we’re mapping out our goals for the year ahead. Is success being able to support yourself with your chosen line work? Is it a certain level of peer or public recognition? Are you just happy when you manage to finally finish writing that script?
From Polly Carl:
“I think the idea of what defines success in our field has become significantly more narrow over time. In fact, I might argue that what defines success has become so tedious and tiresome that new definitions are coming out of the closet to challenge a version just serving as a cover-up.
Tired Trajectory to Success: Theater artist gets trained > Theater artist emerges > Theater artist gets small gigs in small theaters > Theater artist gets big gigs in small theaters > Theater artist gets small gigs in big theaters > Theater artist gets big gigs in big theaters.
This journey toward success suggests many things that I find problematic for any art form: That success is linear. That the definition of success is predetermined. That success in the theater is realized by simply counting the number of people sitting in the theater who see your writing or your performance or your design. These problems beg the question: Why? Why do we love theater? Why do we make it?
The problem with predetermined paths to success is that for better or worse, the paths are well trodden, and the deep grooves cause us to try and find a way to make ourselves fit into something that has become ossified and unoriginal. And the truth is that not many theater artists, because they are such creative people, can make it down that predetermined road with any regularity. And strangely, many artists who do find success on these terms don’t recognize it when they get there. I’ve met very few theater artists who will acknowledge that they’ve “made it” even though from the vantage point of those success markers, they clearly have. Why is that? Is it because they had to make so many compromises along the way? Is it because like for those who go down the Wall Street road, there’s never enough? Never enough money? Accolades? Positive reviews? Awards? Standing O’s? Like the billionaires, they’ve spent so much time in acquisition mode, they can’t stop wanting more, they can’t stop and see that at some point there is enough for them, and perhaps in a more generous world, for everyone?”