Thursday, December 8, 2011

82. The Power of Celebrity

"Here's my big question to you and your generation of artists. It's a question that comes because we are now so very entrenched in a celebrity culture. Are you becoming an artist because you want the world to look at you? Or are you becoming an artist because you would like to use your ability to attract attention -- and the ability to get people to look at your work-- in order to cause them to see themselves and the world differently through you?" - Anna Deveare Smith, Letters To A Young Artist

"Why would anyone EVER want to be famous?" I used to ask. To my 16-year-old self the idea of having photographers following you around all the time, people constantly prying into your personal life and getting asked for autographs in the ladies room was tantamount to a lifetime prison sentence. Ick!

Yet, when you tell people that you want to be an actor...the first thing they say is..."Oh, you want to be famous?"

No. I want to ACT.

But sometimes acting does lead to a certain level of notoriety. It's the nature of the profession. The better you get at acting and the more people see you do it...well, they're going to remember you and recognize you. It's a natural bi-product of the work.

Though many of the trappings of "fame" don't sound particularly appealing to me... even now... I have shifted my opinion slightly regarding the allure and value of notoriety as an artist.

First...Celebrities and/or well-known artists have a fantastic advantage in finding creative fulfillment in their work... because they have what I like to call "artistic choice." This means that they've made enough money doing their work that (hopefully) they no longer have to worry... "How am I going to pay my rent if I don't take this job?!" Because their survival is assured, they can then focus on committing themselves to doing projects that excite them or challenge them... with people that they love or have always wanted to work with. How awesome is that?!

Celebrities have the power to lend their name to projects that they believe in and it will actually help these projects get funded and produced! What better position could an artist possibly have than to know that they've got the power to say "No, thanks. Not interested that project... But THIS one... now, THIS one is something I can really get into!" And to know in your soul that you're not doing it for the money, but for LOVE! How fantastic to be able to really follow your heart and not your pocketbook... not that every celebrity DOES that... but they could probably afford to, if they chose to... and it's "artistic CHOICE" that's so attractive to me.

Second...Regarding all that ATTENTION that famous people get... That can be very disturbing at times for them, I imagine, but it has certain advantages too I am realizing. I no longer think that being famous is as big a curse as I used to... However, I am not really interested in getting people's attention so that they will look at me... no, no, no... I want to get peoples attention so that they will look at whatever I am pointing to... Does that make sense? I would love to be able to earn people's trust (through my work) and that their care and attention to my work would also give me the ability share with them the causes and issues that I care about and I feel are under-represented, worthy of more attention, in need of someone to throw them some support and get the word out there!

For example, in just three weeks Hugh Jackman: Back On Broadway raised $857,740 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids. And this was because Mr. Jackman engaged with the audience in such a way that you felt he was your close friend during the show... you were totally with him. So at the end of the show... when he offered to auction off his sweaty undershirts from Act 1 & Act 2 for a donation of $10,000 a piece (gross, but true)... well, people jumped at the opportunity to give (he even threw in a kiss for one particularly generous female donor)...AND for a $2,000 donation to BC/EFA you could meet him backstage and take a photo together. Now THAT is using your celebrity to do some good. He's a HUGE star! He did NOT have to offer all of that... He could have done a 20 second post-show-speech and called it a night... but he went the extra mile and offered his own time...because he knew people would pay for access to meet him because he is FAMOUS and that donated money would make a HUGE difference to the charity! A-MA-ZING. Bravo, Hugh! Bravo! If I were a celebrity, THAT's the kind of celebrity I would be.

Third...It would be awesome to make a "famous-person's-salary." Because then I could probably afford to buy my Mom a house in Marin County like she's always dreamed of owning. And I could pay for my brothers' college educations, so that they wouldn't have to spend 20 years paying off their student loans (like most of us). And maybe I could afford to fly us all to Hawaii for a two week vacation where we could all learn to wind-surf and hike volcanos and sing together in the moonlight on the beach. And I could make sure they all have really awesome health insurance coverage, so that they can get the best care if they ever get sick...and not worry about how they're going to pay. Dream big!!! But for now...I just want to be able to make a decent living to start with...anything beyond that is gravy!

Soooo... for the three reasons explained above... I think I'd be willing to give up my anonymity and submit to the challenges of being "well-known."

Now... How to do something well enough to be "known" for? That's the question. Hopefully, grad school will help me find the answer!

In my own small way, I guess this blog is a way of throwing focus on things that I think are important to growth in the creative process.

Who needs fame when you've got the internet?!

But don't worry... I won't be auctioning off my sweaty t-shirts any time soon...probably never.



P.S. If you want to throw some focus on an organization you think is worthy of some attention. Post a comment on the bottom of this blog post and tell us about WHY you love this charity and why attention must be paid!

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