10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went Freelance
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By Pascale Florestal
So many of us strive to be an artist, but so often we have no idea how to make that sustainable. We are fed the picture of the starving artist or the artists that are stuck in their art taking a backside to their ability to survive. Rarely do we get the chance to see the different ways you can get there or just some of the things to be mindful of and ready for on the way to being a full-time artist. I’m no expert in this: I have talked to many artists, have worked with many kinds of artists, and have figured my own way. I am lucky to have the space and privilege to share some things I think have got me through and continue to get me through.
When I first moved to Boston, I knew I wanted to direct theater and possibly teach, but was so unsure of what path to take to get me there and who I was. It took a lot of different jobs, friends, events, and missteps to finally find and understand who I am as an artist and human and how to approach it in a successful and financially stable way. My work comes from the perspective of a theater artist but specifically a director, teaching artist, dramaturge, writer, and producer. I have worn many hats and have learned so much from wearing them and hope these things can help you to your path of being an artist.
1. Email and reach out to the people that inspire you!
Cold email those people you are constantly looking up to, ask them to a virtual hang, socially distanced walk. There is no harm in making the ask. If they respond great! If they don’t, move on to the next and let it go. Most of the time they probably are too busy to read it and mean they just don’t have the capacity or time. All that means for you is to keep moving on to the next. It’s always great to have a community of people you can reach out to. Everyone has a special thing that can help to give you a better idea of what you want and how to get it.
2. It’s a rollercoaster ride, so hold on.
Being an artist is hard — it’s not easy, especially if you’re an artist that doesn’t have financial freedom. Whether you’re working a 9-5 and doing shows at night, or working in one field while trying to transition to another, bumps and obstacles will come in the way. It’s not you, that’s the journey: just buckle in, figure out what are the ways you can deal/how to deal when things like that come up. I love roller coasters, and even though they’re scarier they’re so much fun, and sometimes that’s how I’ve felt as an artist. It’s all scary and new and foreign but it can be so fun. If you like roller coasters, of course.
3. It’s ok to say yes to everything, just understand what that means.
I don’t know about you, but I remember in college being told the importance to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way. Get in the room, no matter what. Though I am here for that, because I did that, I think it’s also important to really think about what that means not just for your resume but for your life at the moment and maybe the future if that gig or opportunity may change your current situation. I always try to do a pro and con list, really lay out the possibilities, and understand/establish with myself the decision I’m making and why. Now of course it’s easier said than done, but it’s important to know that it’s ok to say no if you really want to. And it’s also ok to say yes if you feel like it’s right. It’s about what’s best for you, and sometimes that may mean saying no even when you don’t want to.
On set for ‘TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever” at SpeakEasy Stage | Photo by Dwayne Mitchell
4. ‘To 9-5 or not to 9-5?’— A survival job does not diminish your artistry.
In theater school, no one told me the very harsh reality of how many artists must have other sources of income outside of their artistry to survive. This isn’t a new idea but it’s definitely a thing I didn’t hear enough about. This doesn’t exclude other artists as well whether your artistry is dance, writing, music, visual art, or any other craft. All artists will encounter this similar feeling of how to afford to live and be an artist. My first job was an apprenticeship at the Huntington Theatre. I HAD to work at the box office while working over 40 hours a week to just make enough to afford my rent, utilities, hummus turkey sandwiches for lunch, and my commuter rail pass from Lowell to Boston. To this day I still have multiple streams of income because we live in an economy that does not support the lifestyle of an artist. The hard yet beautiful truth of artistry is making several sources of income connected to the work you do. There’s a reason why I’m a director, educator, dramaturge, and collaborator.
5. Quitting your survival job:
Now, this is a hard one because there isn’t a right or wrong answer. My advice is to quit when you have enough work that your survival job actually is a burden or you feel like the work you’ll be getting is enough to survive on and hopefully save a little. I have always had to work so it was important for me when I finally made the jump from a desk job to full-time artists that I had enough gigs that would match my current salary and have some (not much) left over to save. Now, this normally meant that I had lots of projects and pockets of time, but it was all projects and work I was excited and passionate about, so it was easy to compromise for me. There are many ways to prepare for a freelance lifestyle: you could start an LLC, set up a separate account for your gig money, or reach out to a financial advisor to get an idea of budgeting. It’s important to take the time to plan, and be prepared for the change in lifestyle.
6. Be aware of your industry/field.
Just like school or gossip, it’s extremely important to keep up with the artists and art in your industry. It gives you an opportunity to have your thumb on the pulse of what’s happening and can provide you with opportunities. Whether that’s following some companies or artists on social media or reading specific articles about them, keep learning about your medium. It will pay off!
7. Don’t compare your journey to others.
The downfall of keeping up with the industry is the constant comparison we make of our journeys to others. I constantly struggle with this but it’s important to remember everyone has their own path and just because you think you want to live someone else’s life doesn’t mean it’s meant for you or what you want. Again, easier said than done, but remember all comparison leads to is despair.
Photo: Dwayne Mitchell
8. It’s ok for your dreams to change, or for life to make you reconsider.
Writing this during the one-year anniversary of COVID makes this even more applicable. Life will throw us curveballs, which means some dreams will change or go away, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. That’s just how life goes, change is hard but it’s so instrumental to growing not just as an artist but as a human. Don’t be ashamed of reassessing, putting a dream on pause, or focusing on something else. It’s your path, own that.
9. Learn how to do your taxes.
This is the second most important thing I wish I knew early on in my journey— learn about taxes and get some understanding of your finances. It’s very easy as you start out to get caught up in all the work and think when tax day comes you will just deal with it then. NO! Do not do that! Start figuring it out now, find someone as soon as possible to help you with your taxes, specifically someone who understands and works with artists. Hannah Cole is a great example recommended to me by Elena Morris and Marissa Molinar, Hannah is a tax expert who works primarily with artists. As artists what we do and how we get paid is not similar and that makes filing so hard and can become an extreme cost. So before you make the leap, make sure you talk to someone about your finances, let them know the kind of work you will be doing and what you should expect to pay in April. Some people like to save some money to pay all of their taxes come tax day; others try to pay their taxes through the year. Either works but you should figure it out before you jump to a freelance job that doesn’t take taxes out of your compensation, which happens A LOT!
10. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
The most important thing I wish I could tell myself ten years ago and all the artists starting the journey, it will take time. I think with the age of the internet and social media it’s easy to think that if you don’t become a successful artist by a certain age you just won’t ever make it. THAT IS NOT TRUE! Being an artist, no matter your artistry, takes time. The road is long and it will take you to places you never thought of. Just like a marathon, you must train for the distance because you have to make it to the end. Also, it doesn’t matter your age, experience, what school you went to; that does not determine how far you get, your persistence and motivation do. I know that sounds cheesy but it’s true if you really want this kind of lifestyle, you will have to work for it and it will take time. There will be days, months maybe years where you feel you have not done enough, but you have. It’s a marathon, you’re probably just on the first leg, we’ve got a long way to go. So make sure you have a support team or cheering section to guide you through because you will need them when you get to the end.
Header Photo: Vanessa Leroy
Pascale Florestal is a Director, Educator, Dramaturg, Writer and Collaborator based in Boston, MA. Directing Credits include; SpeakEasy Stage, Opera Del West, Northeastern University, Boston Conservatory, Huntington Theater Company, SpeakEasy Stage, The John F. Kennedy Center and others. New Play development with Marcus Gardley, Obehi Janice, Phaedra Michelle Scott, and others. As an Assistant to the Director she has worked with Kimberly Senior, Liesl Tommy, Billy Porter, Paul Daigneault and M. Bevin O’Gara. Recent dramaturgy for Christina Anderson’s play The Resurrection of Michelle Morgan, Antoinette Nwandu’s Pass Over and Breathe & Imagination by Daniel Beaty. She is the Education Director for The Front Porch Arts Collective where she created The Young Critics Program, an educational program that strives to foster and incubate the next generation of arts critics. She is an Assistant Professor of Theater at Boston Conservatory and is the recent recipient of The 2020 Greg Ferrell Award.