This blog post has dual inspirations, both linked to recent events. First, I recently listened to a great podcast over on the Prosperous Artists called How Not to be an Overnight Success. Listening to that podcast reminded me of my favorite quote about overnight sensations, which I will share with you in a sec, after I tell you about the second inspiration for this post.
One of my all-time favorite musicals, Rent, just closed after a twelve-year run on Broadway. From a marketing perspective, it’s hard to say if Rent would have been the huge success it was, had it not been so shrouded by tragedy. For those of you who don’t know the story, Rent was written by Jonathan Larson, a 35-year-old struggling writer and actor in New York City. His work was starting to become more and more recognized, and he was being mentored by the great Steven Sondheim. Rent, which, in his own words, “is about a community celebrating life, in the face of death and AIDS, at the turn of the century,” had gone through an extensive workshop process, and was poised to open on Broadway. The night of the final dress rehearsal, Jonathan, not feeling well, went home and put on the kettle to make a pot of tea. He collapsed on the floor, dead from an aortic aneurysm.
Rent opened at the Nederlander Theatre on April 29, 1996. It launched the careers of Jessie L. Martin and Taye Diggs, among others. It won numerous Tony Awards and Jonathan was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer that year. In 2005, it was made into a feature film, starring 6 of the 8 original cast. It created a new generation of Broadway theatre-goer: the Renthead; die-hard fans who returned dozens and dozens of times to see the show, often camping out for $20 day-of performance tickets.
Okay, that was a long introduction, but here is the meat of the matter: in her acceptance speech when she accepted the Pulitzer Prize on behalf of her brother, Julie Larson said, “It took my brother Johnnie fifteen years of really hard work to become an overnight sensation.” Being an artist it tough, few people with argue with you on that. You learn and work and create, and sometimes you don’t book the role, sell the painting or land the gig. We live in a country where the arts are under funded. It’s discouraging.
Whenever I’m feeling discouraged, I always ask myself this: “what else am I going to do?” For me, being an artist is pretty much it. I get frustrated sometimes, I want to walk away, but it never lasts long, because the passion I feel for what I do always brings me back. And I am ultimately grateful that I have found a profession in life that I love.
Let me just add one thing to that: it’s great to have passion and belief that you are going to ‘make it’ (whatever that is, to be discussed in a future blog post), but you also need to put your money where your mouth is. That means, make a plan. Do tangible things like marketing and networking to help you on your way. Create or join a community or support group, and get them working for you, and you for them.
You might never be an overnight sensation, but then, maybe those don’t really exist. Instead, I’ll leave the last word to Julie Larson: “Stay true to yourselves and to your dreams, and know that they can come true.”