There’s two key words being flung around the theatre world a lot these days – “emerging” and “midcareer.” They’re particularly noticeable when one is looking at grants and grant applications. This means that as an artist, one must categorize oneself as “emerging” or “midcareer.”

So what the hell am I?

Personally, I think I’m “midcareer,” but technically I’m not. The reasons I think I belong in this category are extensive, but have little to do with how much money I make. I have a lot of contacts in the theatre community, who know and appreciate my work; I’ve been asked to work with reputable artists, especially in the last year; and I am very productive as an artist, in general. In the last 6 months alone, I’ve worked on 4 shows: 1. I was the assistant director for a cabaret-style clown piece, which involved attending rehearsals and offering critiques; 2. I wrote and performed a 10-min solo performance, originally for a class, but which I have since performed as part of the XX Fest at Stone Soup Theatre, and which I will again (upon request) be performing as part of Macha Monkey’s MEOW Cabaret Fundraiser; 3. I was the dramaturg for Taproot Theatre’s “Leaving Iowa” (they have asked me back as a contract dramaturg for a few years now); and finally, 4. I directed an original short piece for Live Girls! Theatre’s “Quickies 13,” their annual play festival of female playwrights.

That’s a lot of work, a lot of hours in rehearsal, production meetings, and in front of my email. It’s a lot of reading, thinking, and creativity. Some of those rehearsals overlapped, so it was practically a full-time job’s worth of hours for 4 months.

All told, I made $500 from all of those shows combined, plus got some good reviews and a great deal of thanks.

I’ve expanded the above-mentioned solo performance into a show of about 1 hr in length, which is perfect for fringe festivals. I want to perform it by the end of the year, or early next year, and while I edit the script I’m researching festivals, venues in Seattle, and funding opportunities (from grants to Kickstarter). This is no small task, but I cannot make money from this show until I actually get ticket revenue from it.

I have a day job to support all of this, so all told, when I am in full rehearsal mode, I work 70-80 hrs a week.

Am I still emerging, or am I midcareer?

According to Yahoo! Answers, I’m midcareer:
“Entry Level means you have very little knowledge about the job, or are just fresh out of trade school or college and apply for your first job.

mid-career – you have worked in this field for at least 2 to 3 years already. In some fields mid career can mean anything from 1 year on the job to 10 years. But overall you know this job, have done this job and are somewhere in the middle of the job ladder within that job’s career path.”

This is also true, according (loosely) to the Harvard Business Review: “Mid-career employees are more likely to question the meaning of their work, the value of their company’s mission, their job autonomy, their contributions, and their relationships. Leaders mistakenly tend to leave mid-career personnel alone to work as they normally do. Instead, leaders should look toward forming closer alliances with the middle layers of the organization.”

But in the art world, I’m still emerging. *I would like to note here that, although I’ve seen “emerging” and “midcareer” on a lot of grants and in a lot of parlance about theatre, I have yet to find a blog, person, theatre, or artist-oriented organization with theatre people involved, who defines these terms clearly. So I had to go to the visual arts world.

According to BmoreArt: “An emerging artist is someone who’s in the early stage of their career, someone who’s caught the eye of an art critic and/or gallery, but hasn’t yet established a solid reputation as an artist amongst art critics, art buyers, and art galleries” while “The Mid-Career Artist [is] An artist who has created an independent body of work over a number of years and who has received regional or national recognition through publication or public presentation of his or her work. A Mid-Career Artist has had a significant number of solo exhibitions at significant galleries and museums, located nationally or internationally, rather than locally.”

I have a significant resume, but I’m still working on recognition, and I certainly can’t support myself on selling my art alone.

So I asked Facebook, and got these responses:

“The terms imply that all career paths are or should be uniform, which is an idea I don’t care for.”

“I usually just go with the term; ‘Starving.'”

The problem, really, with the “emerging” category is that there is no clear time when you transition from “emerging” to “midcareer.” You don’t magically become midcareer when you turn 30, like you magically become an adult in the United States when you turn 18. It’s not like you become midcareer after someone pays you more than $100 for a job, or when you reach 25 theatre contacts on your Facebook page, or when you’ve directed 10 shows. It’s a nebulous term, and therefore “emerging” can be used to keep small theatre artists in small theatre, because “small” theatre is clearly not professional quality (despite entire categories for professional small theatres in LORT and Actor’s Equity).

When HowlRound recently published Nicole Watson’s “The Myth of the Emerging Artist or Why I Love this Collaborative Experiment” I was ecstatic. She picks holes in the term “emerging” like crazy, and how it is used to denigrate the hard work that small theatre artists and fringe artists do.

Here’s the meaty middle:

Emerging artists are like the moles of the theater community, dwelling and creating in underground, off-the-grid spaces for who knows how long until some day, who knows when we will emerge into the light and into more legitimate theater. There is no timeline for this emergence. I could be an emerging artist for the rest of my life.

I’ll be honest, this whole idea of being an emerging artist drives me crazy.

1. It assumes that I am working in some liminal space—some pre-professional netherworld, between intern and real live theater maker.
2. It allows my work to be undervalued—literally. In the time-money continuum, emerging artists tend to donate their time and spend their own money on their project.
3. It implies that there is someplace—some magical, legitimate theater place I need to emerge to in order to matter. At the end of the day this idea of being an emerging artist puts the emphasis of my work onto a place that I have to get to to be considered accomplished, rather than looks that the work I am currently doing as accomplishments in and of themselves.

Don’t get me wrong—there are institutions that I would love to work at. I imagine making new artistic homes and families. But I am a working artist right now and my collaborators and I are making art right now. And I reject the notion that I’ll be a theater artist when someone else tells me I am. I have already emerged.

Thank you, Ms. Watson. I will stop trying to label myself “midcareer” or begrudgingly referring to myself as “emerging.” Neither of these things are true. I just am an artist. I’m a practicing, working artist. I create, promote, and critique all the time.

I am an artist.

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