* real title: Sixteen Things I've Learned from Running One Successful Arts Business and One Failed One
*Dedicated to my good friend Dan Russell, who told me most of this years ago and has been patiently waiting for me to figure it out.
Last night, I sat on a panel about arts in my city, Hartford, Connecticut. It was an interesting conversation, though much too big a topic for the hour-long program, and I was, as always, fascinated by the experiences of the other artists. I was by far the youngest and least experienced person on the panel, and it was an honor to be in the company of great people. I also spent major parts of the night in hot debate over how to succeed as a small arts business in Hartford, and whether that's even possible.
I truly believe that it is indeed possible to operate an arts business in any city while creating great art and remaining happy. Over the five years that Sea Tea Improv has existence, we've learned a lot of things the hard way, and we aren't shy about sharing our experiences, successes, and failures with people who ask. We are insanely proud of the fact that we are in any way successful (more on our definitions of success later). On the flip side, I'm also a writer who, by my own definitions, is pretty much a failure at the moment. So I feel like I understand the success and failure point of view at once.
I want to offer my experiences as an artist, an arts administrator, and an arts consumer up in the form of a list of things I've learned. I've also decided to take the Tina-Fey-Bossypants approach, take ownership of my experience, and phrase it as advice (since I get asked for it fairly frequently anyway). Maybe this applies beyond the arts, and maybe it applies to bigger places, but that's really up to you. Take or leave anything you like. Also, these are the opinions solely of myself, not of Sea Tea Improv or Greg or our home inspector. You'll learn about him.
Before we get started, here are some of Sea Tea Improv's successes, so you know I'm legit:
1. We have performed almost 500 shows
2. We pay our performers most of the time
3. We have collaborated with hundreds of other organizations
4. We have won tons of awards both for the quality of our art and our business. Go check on www.seateaimprov.com.
5. We own and operate a teaching & rehearsal studio.
Some of our imperfections:
1. We can't pay people for rehearsals and all shows, yet
2. We don't have our own theater space, yet
3. Occasionally we have a show that does not go well
4. No one works full-time for the company, yet.
Now about you, you artist, you:
I am assuming that you really care about your medium and that you are putting out the best work you can do. That's already #1. Everything from here on out stems from my assumption that you believe in the quality of your own work and are constantly striving to make it better.
Here we go, the Sixteen Things!
1. Never assume anyone knows what your art form is.
The other night, I was in New York at the Upright Citizens Brigade, arguably the most famous improv theater in the world, seeing their most popular show, Death By Roo Roo. This show has sold out every Saturday night for years. What's the first thing they do? The improvisers come out on stage and say, "who has never been here before?" and then they explain what's going to happen, and what improv is, even though it's the most popular show at the most famous improv theater in the world.
At every single Sea Tea Improv show, we similarly always assume that 1) there are people in the audience who have never seen us before, 2) there are people in the audience who are not even sure what improv is at all, and 3) there are people who are automatically ill at ease with the idea that they don't know what they're in for at this show/class/corporate luncheon. It might be weird! Someone might embarrass themselves onstage! I love these people and I love the fear in their eyes, because I know that they're the ones most likely have their minds blown and have a great time. I try to go into every show thinking: obviously we're going to do great improv, but first I'm going to set your expectations in a place that's comfortable for us both. So the first thing I do when hosting a show is figure out if there are new people in the audience (after almost 500 shows, there have been new people every time), and then explain to them what improv is. (There's an added benefit that people who are there for the 2nd or the 200th time get to feel like they're in the club.)
For improv, which is still a relatively underground art form, this is not an interesting story. But in my life as a writer, I experience the same thing. Just last night someone asked "what kind of writing do you do?" I said nonfiction and I could see the wheels turning really fast: "is that the true one or the not-true one?" I deal with this all the time so I was ready with a more detailed explanation. There are people out there-- a lot of people-- who haven't read a book in years. So you have to be prepared to explain yourself calmly, non-condescendingly, and enthusiastically at every turn. This goes for painters, dancers, musicians, everybody. And even if they know what jazz is, you must be ready to explain the kind of jazz that you do, the instrument you play, or the lyrics you write. And maybe a literary critic from the New Yorker knows what creative nonfiction is, but he doesn't know why yours is different-- so tell him.
The hardest part of this for many people is not feeling indignant that you have to do this. I would like to venture that talking about our art forms-- not just our own projects, but the forms themselves-- should be the easiest and most joyful thing that we do as artists. When I'm reading a book of creative nonfiction and can't shut up about it to strangers (everybody go read "Random Family"), that's when I know I'm writing in the right genre. The fact that I get to tell other people about it for the first time means I'm introducing them to something that they might eventually love as much as I do. It means in five years they might buy MY book.
Repeat after me, artists: people are not idiots just because they don't yet share my passions. YOU get to tell them what improv is and why it's awesome. You get to give them their first taste of an artistic medium, and you are naturally going to do a great job, so they're getting caviar right out of the gate. That is a privilege and, incidentally, you are creating someone's taste who is possibly going to rabidly consume as many improv shows/novels/skaa concerts as they can find. Take that seriously and don't resent them.
2. Your audience and clients are hidden all around you.
My fiance Greg is also one of the co-founders of Sea Tea, and is an absolute ninja at always being ready to talk about improv or Hartford arts. We're in the middle of buying a small house in Hartford, and during the home inspection, literally while the inspector was checking an electrical panel for proper grounding, we all got to talking about an improv show we just did. By the time the inspector left he had Greg's business card in hand and was very excited about coming to a show. I see Greg do this almost every single day. This is common sense, of course, but over time I have seen our shows fill up with: our dental hygienist, the people Greg talks to in the elevator while I pet their dogs, coworkers, Greg's random people he knows from walking the streets on his lunch hour, everybody. Even more striking is the number of people who have an opportunity to hire us, or have a suggestion of a place we should perform. "Do you guys do shows down at Bridge Street Live in Collinsville?" Nope, but you can bet your ass I'm googling that the second you walk away.
Greg also makes a point to write people's names down and remember them later. This makes them feel amazing and then they come back. Whatever you can do to remember the people around you, do it.
Flipside: do not, I repeat do not, harp forever on your failures/bad shows/frustrations in front of strangers. I often see people do this in front of me when they don't know that I have the power to hire and pay them through my day job or through Sea Tea collaborations. Obviously we don't have to pretend we live in a perfect world, but be aware that someone willing to help you may come from an unexpected place.
Finally: the fact that everyone is a potential client does not mean you should constantly be selling yourself. It means you should be actually interacting with those people, listening to their stories, and asking questions. 90% of the content of our conversation with the home inspector was him telling us a funny story about an improv show he and his wife saw. We learned a lot about him without speaking, including: that he knows what improv is, what he thinks is funny, and where he lives. Based on that information, we didn't try to sell him on everything we ever do. We said, "you would probably like this specific show we're doing, come and check it out if you'd like." We do not live by "Always Be Closing." We live more like "Always Be Opening," meaning, open a door for yourself or for someone else.
3. Be a human and remember that other people are humans too.
Now that you're ready to talk yourself up, don't do it all the time. For the love of god, please don't. We all know this person and he or she is exhausting. This is what we talk about when we talk about "networking."
People will want to talk to you about your arts business if they think it is cool and interesting; and they will also hopefully think that you are cool and interesting, even if it's in a geeky or mysterious way. Part of being an interesting person (as little as I know about it) is having a variety of interests. Last night around the artists' table we spent ten minutes talking about weight lifting. I told the home inspectors about a cupcake mishap at work that has nothing to do with any arts that I do whatsoever. Remember to lay off sometimes. I have been told lately that I'm a good networker, which I think is hilarious, because when I go to a party I am usually focused on prying into other people's business and telling dumb stories about accidentally sending Japanese spam to all of my wedding guests.
As a general rule, once I know that people are aware of and really supportive of Sea Tea or my writing, I don't bring it up too often unless they ask. And then they do ask, all the time. At least 75% of my conversations about Sea Tea begin by someone asking me either "hey, when's your next show? I haven't been in a while" or "what's new with improv?" And then I tell them the thing I'm most excited about at the moment, or about a show that I really need to fill. In this way, I get to both advocate for my business and also not be an asshole constantly pushing my agenda on people. Similarly, I get a lot of apologies like: "I can't come to your show next week." This is a crucial moment. Instead of making people feel like they're missing out, I always try to say "That's ok, come next time!" I actually love when nice people can't make shows because then they're just storing up guilt that will eventually result in them coming to a different show. I feel like I sold a ticket 6 months in advance. I trust that our supporters will come back when they have time and money. If you want your arts business to have longevity you have to accept that your audience is mostly going to be comprised of people who come sometimes, when they feel like it. Let them be human, too.
My final note is that your art hopefully is a reflection and interpretation of the world and experiences around you-- your weekend hikes, your weird cousins, your afternoon at the DMV. Make sure you are putting enough non-shop-talk and time to make art that is interesting to you and to others.
4. Introduce Everyone to Everyone, and Work in Teams
I have developed a really, really weird habit that stems from my number one social anxiety: the people around me not feeling included. In my obsessive quest to make others feel comfortable, others have pointed out to me that I'm chronically introducing people to one another. Sound normal? It's not. At least half the time they already know each other, and about a quarter of the time not only do they know each other, but we've all hung out before. I just can't stop myself from saying, "Ashley, do you know Steve? Steve is hilarious." This is actually a specific, humiliating example, because in this particular case, Steve and Ashley had been on an improv team together, which I knew. We all got to have a great time making fun of me after that.
Despite the embarrassment that comes with redundant introductions, it's worth it. Introducing cool people to cool people benefits everyone. It results in so many more collaborations and so much cross-promotion. It also makes the people you're standing with feel awesome. I pre-introduce, too. I'm always interrupting myself to say, "Do you know Tim from the Arts Council? Do you know Amanda from CT Humanities? Do you know Cynthia from Open Studios?" And if they don't, no shame, I tell them all about that person. In this way the artistic community spreads a ton of knowledge and support.
This also gets to the heart of something that a lot of artists have trouble with: being socially adept. It can be really hard to talk about yourself without feeling like a braggart. So don't. Talk about someone else. Work in a team. Be deliberate about it. I talk about how awesome Greg's video game design job is and he does the same for my writing. Or, if I get the sense that he's talking way too much about Sea Tea, I'll change the subject to save him from himself, and tell my Japanese spam story. In improv we call this "make your partner look good." Extending that idea through the arts community in your city will make things easier for everyone. I promise.
5. Your clients think they know what they want, but sometimes they don't.
One of the frequent and early mistakes that Sea Tea Improv made was giving people exactly what they asked for, even when what they were asking for made no sense. We do a ton of private gigs. Here are some things we have gotten asked, and said yes to.
"We would like you to do improv at a party while everyone is drinking and talking and hanging out."
"We would like you to do improv for three straight hours. As people wander past your show. On the street."
"We would like you to do improv in an auditorium with 800 kids in it with no sound equipment."
"All six of you can share two handheld microphones."
"We would like you to embarrass this person on stage because it's their birthday."
"We would like the theme of this 45-minute show to be tandem bicycling."
And, my absolute favorite, and the request that made us start standing up for ourselves: "We would like you to casually work in our company's five core principles into the dialogue of your show."
As you're starting out as a small business, you want to (and really should) say yes to almost everything. But over time, you start to learn that certain requests will compromise the quality of your art so much that it's worse to please the client than to politely tell them what will work better. This is a very tricky balancing act and we still deal with it every week, but we have found that clearly and confidently giving clients the guidelines for what will work is better than trying to meet all of their crazy demands. It can be very hard, because sometimes they are REALLY excited about their ideas, but if you treat them with respect and say, "in our experience, we know that having the undivided attention of the audience after the speeches is better than doing improv in a corner during cocktail hour," the clients will listen and will later tell you that you were right all along. Especially if you're very experienced. Most event organizers don't know that 99% of people absolutely hate being dragged up on stage and embarrassed on their birthday. We tell them that and they get it, and work out a different way to involve the audience: get volunteers instead. Every party has at least one person who wants to embarrass themselves, birthday or not.
The trick is doing it respectfully and actually giving true consideration to their ideas. If you're the kind of person (and there are many) who thinks that their client's ideas are usually stupid, then I would give you the opposite advice. See if you can both make them happy and do what you know is right for your art form at the same time. The 45-minute Tandem-Bike-Themed show was in the top 10 best-quality shows we ever did. It was challenging, fun, and I learned a lot about bikers. I'm really glad we said yes to that.
6. Tell people exactly what you are charging them for
Artists and arts organizations are chronically and critically underpaid. This is a problem that is going to take a long time and a lot of work to change. What is the change that we can all work on, every day? Clearly defining the financial value of your art.
If I say, "this improv workshop is going to cost $1500, yes or no?" that never goes as well as saying "The $1500 includes paying our actors, our transportation, and the special curriculum we are developing for you. Does that sound reasonable to you guys?" The everyday civilian has a hard time conceptualizing what the costs of art are. It's part of our job as artists to tell them. We know that the cost of a restaurant meal includes paying the cooks, managers, food suppliers, wait staff, and rent for the building. Artists have to spend not-resentful and non-complaining time speaking matter-of-factly about our costs. Also remember that part of your value is your reputation and you can't charge a premium in your first couple of years.
I made a HUGE mistake the other day with a gig. I quoted a price without knowing everything about the event, and then when I heard everything they wanted us to do, I realized I had undercharged by an astronomical amount. Meaning, I wouldn't be able to pay our actors their usual rates. I went back to the client and told them that I'd accidentally undercharged them, but that I would stick to my original quote because that was the right thing to do, and they were getting an awesome deal. They, being a really cool company, said that they wanted to pay the actors what they were worth and paid us the full amount. I believe this is because I explained specifically what we used the money for, so they didn't feel like I was randomly upcharging them out of greed.
Trick here: DO NOT EVER make people feel like they can lop things off your list to save money. Once in a while we get someone who has never seen an improv show before say, "can you do this with just three people so we can save money?" Nope. We know what makes a show good. Stick to your guns regarding the quality of your art, and compromise from there. If they want to save money, we give them other options, like shortening the show.
7. Big programs fund small programs
Some venues have money to burn and some venues have tight budgets. It can be so hard to say no to the church or community center whose entire entertainment budget is $300 for eight hours of programming, when you know your show is worth $500.
Ideally, you want your art to reach everybody. Right? Make room in your budget structure for the freebies, or the cheap gigs, by charging more for the big ones. The reason that Sea Tea Improv can keep its City Steam shows free is that we make some extra money off our workshops that pay our studio rent, where we rehearse for those City Steam shows. In an ideal world, each kind of program you do would fund itself, but it's even smarter to build up a cushion from the bigger stuff to fund the smaller stuff. Sea Tea Improv has taken on well-paid projects that are a little off-mission (like mile-barking the Hartford Marathon) to fund our really on-mission stuff (bringing in guest groups for experimental forms). There's no shame in that game. In fact, I think you really have to do it in order to keep doing the projects you are most excited about, which for me include shows for the homeless and really weird experimental shows that I wouldn't want to charge anyone hundreds of dollars for. My good friend Tod Goldberg is a brilliant, LA Times Book Prize-winning fiction writer. He also writes the spinoff books for "Burn Notice." It doesn't make him any less of a prizewinning fiction writer. It makes him someone who is able to eat dinner and call me on his overpriced cell phone plan.
This seems obvious, but then, mentally extend it out to an artist's whole life. I have a full-time job at a museum. At times it's really hard to balance that with other projects, but the truth is, with part of my salary, I bought all the sound equipment for my literary podcast with Tod. The big project of my Twain House job funds the small projects. (It helps that my full-time job is great. I am very lucky.) We all have to spend time doing this math, but make sure you do it in a way that you leave room for being a good person who makes art for those that can't afford it.
8. Growth can be so slow it hurts-- so don't put yourself in financial, emotional or energy debt
The payoffs for certain things Sea Tea has put in motion have taken fucking forever. Every time we start a new monthly show series, it takes about a year for it to really get running and have a good audience. I always forget this. It's always three months in and I'm freaking out that we only have thirty people in the audience, and we comped half of them, and they're all Greg's elevator friends. Yet, in our other monthly show over at City Steam, a solid 80-100 people roll in the door every month based on ongoing advertising, our reputation, word-of-mouth, and (I told you they're be back!) the friends who promised they'd come to a show when they were less busy. Most of all, those City Steam shows are full because people know that they always happen once a month. They know it will be there when they're ready.
I am so thankful that Sea Tea started tiny: one show with an audience of maybe 25 people in a small room. It cost us nothing, and then we quickly outgrew that room. And then our energy and audience outgrew that one show series so we added a second in a different location. Once that one was going well we added a third. Someday in my dreams, there will be improv every night in Hartford, in a little theater that we own.
But what if we'd opened a theater right away? With no guaranteed audience, we had no guaranteed income. We would have put ourselves into serious debt and would be suffering every day to get out of it. I'll say right up front, this would be a very Julia move. Take a big risk. Luckily for my emotional well-being, we decided to prove first that we could do our thing on a small scale. I would say now we're on a medium scale and things are going well. But we have to outgrow medium-scale before we get big. When we do get big, we will have a whole community of audience members, clients, students, and other teams that have been growing with us and helped us along this whole time.
And I'll say it again: start affordable. Whatever you are making or selling, charge as little for it as you can get away with without going into debt. You can't come out of the gate with the same prices for your band as someone would pay for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Determine a price for your wares and your time that acknowledges your lack of experience and reputation, but is still fair. As you grow you can raise your prices. It's ok. You will be bringing a whole fan base with you by that time.
I feel terrible for the artists I know who are in financial debt, because they're also in emotional debt. They can't feel happy until they've filled their own big shoes. Don't do this to yourself. Do one thing at a time until you are ready to grow. It can work the other way, but you lose out on so many of the rewards of exceeding your own expectations. One of the most rewarding things about Sea Tea Improv is that we get to feel excited all the time about our growth, since we keep each others' expectations in check at all times. When you start too big, then you start feeling like the world owes you something just for you to keep going, and that is never a good place to be.
9. You're tired, it's hard, and no one cares
This one is my hardest personal challenges. I am tired almost all the time. Doing the work for my small arts business and my personal writing, plus my job, plus my personal life, plus sleeping, takes up a full 24 hours of my day. Can you believe that? The indignity! I mean, who else is using up a full 24 hours a day with a combination of both work and personal life?
Oh, that's right. Everyone in the entire world. And from anecdotal evidence, very few of those people are saying "my life is really easy and I'm doing everything I want."
People are not very sympathetic to artists who are making their art, getting paid for it, and complaining that it's hard. Of course it's hard-- you are an intelligent person who challenges yourself and has high standards. It's also a job, and a job you chose. That's what your actuarial friend who wanted to be a tap-dancer is thinking when she is squinting and nodding as you complain.
Being an artist is hard. You are underpaid and maybe undervalued, you have to be both an artist and a business at the same time (which forces you to use social or business skills you don't think come naturally to most artists), and not everyone thinks what you do is legitimate. But is being an artist the hardest job in the world? Absolutely not. If being a heart surgeon was easier, that's what I would do, because I would be rich and saving lives at the same time, but along the course of my life I realized it was just way too hard for me to cut back on coffee so that my hands don't shake when I cut a man's chest open, and also I can't stay awake for all-night surgeries. Too hard. I think being a sniper, a miner, a day care center teacher, or a tiger poacher might be harder than being an improviser. I am grateful every day that I have a day job at a museum, a night job running a theater company with my friends, and a personal commitment to being a great writer. Can't complain.
But we also can't let other people say "you get to be a painter, which you love, so you don't need to be paid that much." No. I can both appreciate my own life and assign financial value to it, thank you. It is work, and work that I love. Pay me please, then you can be jealous if that floats your boat.
We as Americans use hard work as both our reason for our success, and our reason for our failures. Either you worked really hard to achieve what you have, or the work is too hard and we're burnt out. Hard work is a fact of our cultural life. By all means try to make your life less difficult and exhausting, but recognize that most people in America are complaining about the same things.
10. Make opportunities for other people/ let other people stand on your shoulders
There are currently three or four improv groups in Connecticut that either met in Sea Tea classes, met at Sea Tea's auditions, or met at Sea Tea mixers. Sometimes we compete against them in competitions and perform with them. This a) makes me feel old, b) is incredibly cool, and c) is probably the number one sign of our success. Now there's this whole community of people who want to improvise.
We as artists have to slow down and remember that this is a good thing. We're all on the same team. We all value the best version of our art and we all want to swim together towards that quality. Let the swimmer next to you glide in your wake. Isn't that what we're all doing this for? And I know that Sea Tea is standing on the shoulders of a lot of different people in our arts community, Hartford's history, and improv's history. We should be paying Drew Carey 10 cents every time someone says, "oh, like Whose Line Is It Anyway?"
Some of my biggest personal happiness comes out of creating opportunities for other people. I love the fact that in my job at the museum I can hire writers to teach workshops. I love the fact that almost everything Sea Tea does is collaborative. I love that as we do more shows, we need to hire other groups to perform before us at our showcases. I love that we are about to launch a national festival to showcase improvisers from all over the country. Sharing feels good. It's part of the point.
11. Let your business surprise you
There is absolutely no way I could have envisioned some of the things Sea Tea is doing now: putting together a team of homeless improvisers, taking a group of teens to Chicago, interpreting historical documents and turning them into comedic sketches. We planned but we didn't overplan. We just had a vague idea of our mission and definition of success. We were never too rigid with what our improv company might look like-- and that has led us to say yes to just about everything. Surprise resonates within both the humor within our shows and the delight of running our business.
12. You might have two jobs forever and that doesn't make you a hobbyist
My definition, for myself, of being a working artist is that you get paid for it. Maybe that pay is not enough to have a kid and pay your mortgage. So get a second job. You're still an artist. Art is not an all-or-nothing enterprise.
13. Creating an audience that loves your art form is more important than being the best person in your community at your art.
Audience, audience, audience, audience, audience, audience. Never forget them. They are your everything! You owe them absolutely everything. Never treat them or talk about them like they are dummies who just don't get you. If you need practice at this, I suggest doing shows for elementary school kids. Nobody can resent a cute five year old, even though you have to explain to them why your art is fun and cool.
At the end of the day, if people don't remember me, that's more than fine. I'd like them to remember Sea Tea, but even if they don't, if they remember they like improv, our goal has been reached. I want for our audience members to be drifting by a theater in 30 years and see on the marquee "Baba Fett Improv Show Tonight!" and think, "I saw an improv show once... it was good, maybe I'll check this out." They'll be supporting future improvisers.
To transfer the love I have for the arts I can execute is the highest honor I can think of. The hardest I've ever laughed in my entire life was at an improv show called "Ten Hours on the Megabus: The Musical." If someday, someone laughs that hard because of something I recommended to them, my time answering emails for Sea Tea has been worth something. Or, if someone someday buys the book of a writing student of mine, then something I did created a paid opportunity for an artist. Nothing is more important.
What Sea Tea has been really good at is building the whole community: the audience, the improvisers, the clients, the city, the press. When we ask who knows what improv is, most people know now. Man, is it cool.
14. You're on a team.
Even if you are a failing personal essayist who has published barely anything, you're on a team. Find a team. Make a team of people who share your vision. Improv teams, like bands, are really lucky in that they have multiple people at their disposal most of the time.
People on your team: your friends who consume your art, your audience, your sponsors, granting organizations, other artists that don't work in your medium but support you, your rivals, your clients, your venues, your collaborators.
Another common mistake: "your team" does not mean "a list of people that you can ask for favors at any time." Your team is the group of people you thank, all the time, for supporting your art.
15. It's ok to leave.
This is the heartbreaker. You do not have to do your art, in the same town, every day until you die. I mean two things by this.
One is: grow to other places if you want to. One of our Sea Tea founders is living in Los Angeles and doing TV work now. He'll always be one of the founders of Sea Tea, and we're so proud of him. Also, his expanded success will come back and help the company. His reputation is a contribution as much as sweeping the floors of the studio. Also, when he left we had auditions and took on some really fantastic people that we now have room for.
I also mean that if you hate it, it's ok to stop. Or let a project be a success without feeling the obligation to repeat it into infinity until it fails. It's so tempting to say, "that show was a success, let's do it monthly!" but that can suck the joy out of the art eventually, especially if you're a solo act. Improv, with its inability to be repeated, has taught be that letting things end makes so much more room for innovation. If we had a sketch show that went well, we'd repeat it all the time. But at this point we're approaching 500 shows and all of them have been different, by necessity.
And if you want to stop practicing your art, that doesn't mean you never did it. You used to play the trombone? So cool. You can still be proud of that until the day you die.
16. Have a mission
You know what the point of a mission statement is? It's not for grants. It's not for planning your programs. When it's 2 AM and you're answering emails from a client for a gig you don't really want to do, when you're eating a can of beans for breakfast because you have lost the will to do anything else, when you've done a really bad show-- that's when you wistfully look at your mission statement. It's your Mufasa in the sky. Your mission statement should be the answer to your bleating call of "why the fuck am I doing this?," and it should be a really good answer. Sea Tea Improv's mission is to build, train, and lead a community of improvisers. Nothing else really matters. So when I wander into our townie bar at 1:55 AM and I see thirty people having their last beer and arguing over an improv scene, I feel like a million bucks. As a writer, I don't have a clear mission statement, which contributes to an ongoing misery that I'm not quite good enough, no matter what I do. Make your mission an attainable thing that you truly believe in with the cheesiest part of your heart. It's going to be your pot of coffee and your bottle of wine. Because when you scream out what you meant to be rhetorical-- why am I doing this? will it ever get easier? am I doing what I set out to do-- the person that you want to answer to is the idealist who set you on this path. Yourself, in better times. Only you know why you're doing this. Write it down and memorize it for those times that you, in the exhaustion of creation and effort of your art, momentarily forget.
Above: most of Sea Tea Improv (missing Dan), 2009. Below, most of Sea Tea Improv, 2013.