Crafting Your Non-Negotiables


We’re in week three of Crafting Your Artistic Handbook here in Seattle and I continue to be inspired by the artists I’m working with. They are so incredibly trusting of our time together — and before I know it, the class will be over! But it’s not actually actually over. I’m teaching an online version of this class (live! interactive! wear your comfiest clothes!) starting July 8. Intrigued? Head over to my website to learn more and register.

This week we talked about non-negotiables. And while some folks choose to keep their artistic boundaries to themselves (hence the Things I Can’t Say Out Loud journal in the photo above) my non-negotiables are outspoken. I want my potential collaborators to know why I’ve turned them down — or why I’m being persistent about a particular section of my contract.

My biggest non-negotiable is pay. If a collaborator or producer is unwilling to pay me a fair hourly rate, I hit pause and ask myself the following questions:

  • Can I imagine working on the project without this individual?

  • Does the individual share my passion for the project?

  • Are they prepared to pay me for my services once the project begins bringing in money?

  • Are they willing to cover my transportation and housing if the collaboration requires me to work out of town?

  • Does the individual understand my need to prioritize paid work until our project becomes financially viable?

  • Is it fun to work with this person?

Until I moved to Seattle and learned about the world of start ups, it was firm in my belief that the performing arts is the only industry that regularly gets away with paying their employees in “experience” and “exposure.”

You can die of exposure.

Now I’m not saying that I never work for free. I work on my own passion projects all the time. But those are plays that no one else can write. They’re plays I can’t get out of my head, themes and characters that are itching to break free. And, frankly, it’s different. Because it was my idea to take on that passion project. It was my choice.

I love collaboration. It’s at the center of every piece of theatrical work I create, every essay or reported piece I write, every class I teach. But it wasn’t until I created my own boundaries — my own non-negotiables — that I saw clearly what I was doing to myself. I was taking on a debt of stress to work on other artist’s passion projects. And that wasn’t a healthy road for me to go down.

During the activity portion of Monday’s class, I came up with another set of non-negotiables. Rather than asking myself a list of questions that basically boil down to “Is it worth it?”, I reflected on the work of the Chicago theatre organization Not in Our House. What are my rules surrounding people who sexually harass and bully? It’s an easy question, but the next few aren’t so cut and dry. Will I work with someone who uses belittling language like “hun” and “babe”? I once walked away from a project because my collaborator called me “honey.” Is that a hard and fast rule for me? What about if I find out someone’s been talking about me behind my back? Where is the line?

I’m here to say that I don’t know. But I’m reflecting on it. I’m journaling about it. And I’m taking the time to come up with those rules for myself. There’s power in those non-negotiables. And I love that.

Enrollment for the online version of Crafting Your Artistic Handbook is now open and I would love it if you could join us! Classes begin July 8 and meet on Monday evenings from 7PM to 8:30PM EST, where we’ll be diving into non-negotiables, setting ourselves up for success, and so much more. Register for the class today!