Thursday, July 10, 2008

Christ, bad analogies can be infectious--someone has already written a long post on how much being a working artist is like being a professional gambler after reading Don Hall's short statement about it.

Sigh. Since it looks like the idea has legs, unsteady and nonsensical they may be, let me quickly chop through a few more reasons why these two things don't really have any resonances with each other.

—The author uses a poker tournament as an example. In his example, 6800 people enter, but only 700 leave with any money, in a logarithmic progression with one person getting $9 million dollars. Artists, however, do not enter into closed systems that exist to take money from other artists and award them to small groups within it--that's gambling. Artists are in the open system of society, and they're never getting all their cash at the expense of other artists, because then they would fucking starve.

—Then there's some kind of connection drawn between bad artists and bad poker players. The difference (of course) is that you NEED bad poker players in tournaments, so that then you can take their money. There doesn't NEED to be bad artists in the same way, and there's no problem existing now of bad artists getting too much support (though when depressed, I may say differently)—the author points out that he sees a lot of bad artists get chewed up because they're bad at being artists, which is obvious and no one has ever contested.

—Then he makes a connection between theatrical reform for artists and messing with the rules of poker:

I could decide right now that I'm a professional poker player.  Spend a year saving up 10,000, go play in the Main Event and lose it all in 10 minutes.

There is no analogy that remotely connects in theater in here. No one "decides" that they are a gifted actor who works on show after show except by virtue of long hard work...and it is precisely journeyman artists, deeply talented but deeply unsupported, that are the point, not some hypothetical impossible dude who BECOMES an actor suddenly.

And then I could jump online and talk about how unfair poker tournament's are and how they really should create tournament's that allow everyone to make a little money and maybe even provide the players with health benefits. And I would get laughed at.

Of course they would—it's a game about taking away other player's money. They should laugh. The idea that the theater is even seen as similar enough to this world that it can become people's reference point tells us how badly things have been going.

People would remind me that I decided to become a pro poker player and when I made that decision I accepted all the risks and if I didn't prepare properly (or didn't understand the risk), then that was my own fault.

This is exactly what people say to artists in the American theater: you took the risks, and you pay the price. You will never have children, you will never have a family, you can not be integrated into a community...and if you balk at any of these, you make another choice and you are that much less an artist.

ALSO you will have to remember that they will say this to you EVEN IF YOU ARE ENTIRELY SUCCESSFUL, because as the system works now, a successful theatre artist with a thriving career is screwed.

THE DIFFERENCE IS that you didn't ante up $10, anted up your LIFE. Comparing the two activities is deeply, profoundly insulting.

Look, I love what Mike Daisey and Scott Walters (and others) are doing.  The regional theatre world should actively find a way to fund more money to the artists and the only way that is going to happen is by making some noise. But my gut tells me that making a living as a professional artist will always be like making a living as a poker player.

There is at least one huge difference—it is easier, more stable and more lucrative to be a professional gambler. I know—I have a couple of friends who have been professional gamblers (one blackjack, another poker) and they agree. From the bankrolls to the freedom to choose venues to the amount of cash flowing, across the board it is much simpler and more secure to be a professional gambler.

8:01 PM