An Open Letter to the #EPCooker Community (Artist-in-Residence Series)
Dear #EPCooker Community,
First, let me apologize for our absence and absence of communication about our absence. Kyle and I have experienced “The Summer of Strum und Drang.” In no particular order here is some of the craziness:
1.) A family health crisis that has resulted in two major surgeries
2.) Three weddings (Kyle and I were groomsmen in one)
4.) Roommates/best friends moving to Colorado and new roommate moving in
5.) A family death
6.) A world premiere show
7.) Wandering Aesthetics Summer Theatre Camp
8.) A personal health issue for an #EPCooker team member that resulted in a surgery
Almost everyone on the #EPCooker team has a similar list. Maybe we can blame some planetary alignment or July’s blue moon?
Needless to say, it’s been extremely difficult to get our team members together to talk about the future of the Electric Pressure Cooker or, let alone, plan a single event.
We have yet to hold a meeting, though one is schedule for Friday. So, for the moment, consider this a lone transmission from an #EPCooker satellite. This does not necessarily represent the views of our entire team or speak to what may or may not happen in the future.
However, talking with one of our biggest supporters, he said, “the Pressure Cooker is one of the most professional open mics in Akron. If something is changing or if you’re cancelling an event, you should maintain your level of professionalism.”
I agree. I wanted to hold off until I could craft a communiqué that represented the whole team’s viewpoint. But that’s just not possible at this time. Again, I apologize that it’s taken us so long to say anything.
Kyle Jozsa and I are Wandering Aesthetics. We have no other members. We like to keep it this way because we believe, very deeply, in paying artists for the work they do and we are just beginning to be able to pay ourselves. There is a tremendous amount of guilt that comes from asking anyone to help us for free. Especially when they are other artists who are also overworked and underpaid.
We are taking great strides to make Wandering Aesthetics our livelihood. We want to be completely self-sufficient on the art we create. We realize the difficulty of our chosen path. We realize this may not happen for another 10 years. But it will happen.
At our hearts, we are storytellers and theatre artists. Many people compliment Kyle’s storytelling, “you are the best storyteller I know.” Another of our biggest supporters was raving about Kyle’s abilities just yesterday. (Check out this review of our most recent play!)
What people don’t know is that we spend three hours almost every night rehearsing. Much like everything we do in life, we are constantly trying to improve our skills. Most people who are into sports understand how hard those players work to be their best. We have a similar mentality when it comes to our art.
An actor uses their body and voice as their instrument. A pianist may lose finger dexterity, if they don’t practice daily. But if an actor doesn't practice daily, the whole instrument goes “out of tune.” (There’s a lot of bad theatre out there. You know it. Don’t lie.)
Our rehearsal time does not include the hours spent on the business side of being an arts entrepreneur or the time we spend researching, writing or memorizing. Luckily, we both have flexible day jobs we love and our bosses actively encourage us to pursue our dreams.
Unfortunately, due to the necessary part-time nature of the work (so we can do everything we need to do to run successful small arts business), combining our incomes, Kyle and I are lucky to make $30,000 in any given year. Those of you with student loan debt know that this is not a lot of money.
We started the Electric Pressure Cooker for many reasons. One of those reasons, a deeply personal one, was that storytelling was something completely new to us when we came back from the trail. Kyle had never done anything like it. We needed a space to experiment with our work as storytellers with the most important aspect of any performance – an audience. At the time, we didn’t see very many of those “experimental” opportunities for storytellers around Akron.
Due to its success – which we are deeply thankful for – running the #EPCooker started to become a full-time job and was taking time and attention away from creating the art we are really passionate about.
Our team had two 3-hour meetings a month to plan the event. We would ask: What went right? What went wrong? Where do we need to put our attention? How can we improve everyone’s experience? Then there was the time spent designing posters, marketing the event, fielding questions and finding an emcee. Between setting up for the event, the event itself and tearing down, we would spend 10 to 12 hours at the venue on the day of the open mic.
I am a fastidious person. Every detail matters to me. Each one adds or detracts from the audience’s enjoyment. Which, when running an event, is one of the most important parts of the experience. I want everything that is attached to the Wandering Aesthetics name to be of extraordinarily high quality.
I may miss the mark. But that is always my goal. And that kind of attention to detail can really take a toll on someone. Especially with an event as big as the #EPCooker.
For this work, we would make around $200; often, we would make less.
This $200 would be split among our entire team – all of whom are artists – and each of us would make around $20 a person.
Our cut of the money would go to cover expenses such as ink to print posters. Which, for any of you business minded people, is a terrible business model. If the #EPCooker took less time each month, the money would make no difference. (We gladly volunteer our time to many events and organizations throughout the community. Giving back to the community will always be part of the foundation upon which we’ve built Wandering Aesthetics. ) Or if we made more money, the energy we put into the event would go toward making Wandering Aesthetics our livelihood and it would be copacetic.
I am not writing this to say, “woe is us.” After the crazy summer we’ve had, I am happy to report that Kyle and I are at a very good place with Wandering Aesthetics. (We have exciting plans for next year!) The only thing akin to woe that I feel is a bit of sadness that we can’t maintain the #EPCooker at it’s current level and do everything else.
As an event that is beloved by so many people, I am writing to explain why we are going to make some changes moving forward. As we have not had our meeting yet, I am unsure of what those changes are going to look like. I do know we are going to try to keep the spark alive in some way.
If you know anyone with a big, fat checkbook, that would go a long way to help.
Editor’s Note: This essay was originally published on August 12, 2015 on the Akronist. It was the first essay in the “Artist-in-Residence Series" exploring the struggles, challenges, and triumphs of being a young artist and entrepreneur in Akron.