Creation is Creation is Creation: I Won’t Hush About What Gets Me There

Photo by Sarah Paterson

When one decides to support a creator how much control do they believe they’ve acquired over the artist’s life? Entitlement is a thorny mess, and there is a lot of confusion about how and why creators create…

Every now and then someone shows up and tells me all of the things they think I’m doing wrong — as if I haven’t carefully made decisions about my career, or as if actively believing in something other than the status quo is an indication of a deep confusion on my part. I think it’s important to hear this voice when it pops up, but I also consider it a certain type of violence upon me and my life as a creator. It pricks at the parts of me informed by being a female-enculturated person, a queer, and an artist because through those vantage points I already struggle every day to find my voice despite the onslaught of loud suggestions demanding that I live differently and be different. I could be doing a million more steady and lucrative things than being a queer performance artist, however in the interests of my mental health, my tolerability as a human being, my hard-wired passions, and my love for my real-life communities, I use all that I have to say what I believe. Recently I received a letter from someone adamant that this very blog shouldn’t be a part of my Patreon campaign. In essence they wrote that I should only make money off of certain pieces of my art and not others to be an artist worthy of their support. This person had seen me perform live years ago and they found my patreon, they pledged to support my campaign and remained a faithful supporter for all of 3 days. I don’t decry that in the least, I completely understand changing one’s mind or reconsidering. However, this person took it upon themselves to write a long and accusatory letter scolding me for writing about sexuality and doing the art that I do (which I have always done) which wasn’t explicitly “character acting for stage”. In the letter the person didn’t ask me a single question about what my goals are as an artist or what projects I am currently working on, and they made broad sweeping judgements about how I would never amount to anything if I continue to talk about my experiences as a queer, gender-fluid, kinky, pro-choice artist — that instead I should just “become more mainstream” in order to succeed. Sufficed to say, the letter was a bizarre, badly edited, jumble of heated accusatory emotions which left me thinking that my work must have hit a rather personal nerve somewhere.

A bit about my Patreon campaign: My artist support page says quite clearly that I intend on posting paid content 4-6 times a month, and that my posts are mainly fed from my ABCs Of Kink blog. This blog is the only “content creation” type of work that I do, and so its existence helps me monetize my entire artistic career as I write it. This blog is the “day job” I have created for myself which allows me to build all of my other art. Through Patreon I also release the occasional script or video of my theatrical work, which are usually not available to the general public. Regardless of what I publish 6 times a month though, published content is what pays my bills and it is the only steady income stream that I currently have. A lot of people are very interested in supporting this blog (thank you!). They find comfort and interest in my frank discussions about sexuality, kink, identity, and related matters. People also enjoy paying to take classes with me to learn about creativity, performance, exploring identity, and to pick up BDSM skills. I was recently on a tour performing my newly created solo show, NO SHAME, which premiered at and won an award at the Asheville Fringe Festival. On that tour I also performed at other events and taught kink skill classes to make ends meet. It is only because I am making a minimum amount of money through Patreon that I have the freedom to write and produce theater and tour my work. Counting for people who cap their donations, after fees and cuts are taken I make around $350-$375 a month from this job. This (barely) covers the bills I have to pay each month for insurance, debt, and business expenses. I hope it continues growing, and I’m grateful for what it already affords me. Considering the expenses involved with touring a show, and that pay for performances is extremely low, without also teaching kink and theater classes while on tour I wouldn’t be able to pay for gas to get from theater gig to theater gig. This speaks nothing of hotel bills, car fixes and upkeep, parking, cafe-for-internet charges, actual meal eating, personal necessities, and other road expenses, and it certainly doesn’t cover spending that’s fun or helpful for networking. This blog also helps me find paying participants for my classes!

I am the artist. The career that I grow must be one which allows what I believe to be said as it makes sense to me. These are my creations. They couldn’t exist without me. You can’t truly value one part of what I do without understanding that the work you may like less is still intricately a part of how I came to create the work you most enjoy.

I was told in this letter just how tragically talented I am — if only I’d just perform on Broadway like Lily Tomlin did with her solo show (what have I been thinking?!)! I also take enormous issue that this person defined my fans as garbage, and said that I should be seeking a higher quality of appreciation, implying that by remaining an artist who talks about sexuality and my own exploratory experiences, I was relegating my career to the annals of low-brow coulda-been-ery when what the world really needs is more talented, smart, character actors who will STFU about the ways they’re personally oppressed when they’re not precisely in one place: in character on stage.

It’s evident this person’s missed the entire point of my body of work over the past 20+ years as a professional teaching artist who consistently and specifically focuses on gender, sexuality, inequality, identity, and queerness. I work hard to be privileged enough to be out in a number of ways, and I consider it my responsibility to talk openly about all of these issues as they’ve affected me, so that those less able to feel safe, and those more oppressed or repressed than I am can find refuge from some of their struggles, or a deeper level of self-acceptance. My art, my POV, my garbagey low-brow filthy mouth, body, brain, and typing fingers are the tools I have always intentionally used to act against this brand of erasure and tyrannical oppression. I refuse to be quiet for the status quo’s comfort. My support of people’s identities, my loud mouth, and my critique of the status quo is in service of world peace through self-actualization. Hush money won’t work here, nor will the intoxicant effects of a fairytale story called “Fame” the world keeps trying to sell me. If any version of my art ever moved you, you should also understand that I was only able to make that piece of art because at some point in my life I was given permission to be who I am, and I will not move backwards from where I now stand, and I will enact as best as I can that same service to others who are struggling.

Yes, I am a trained and talented performance artist and character actor. The queer community deserves good actors on their stages, and while I welcome straight and mainstream patrons into my performance spaces, my voice is not for sale or negotiation. Please invite me to be me on your monied mainstream stage, but if you think I’m going to be more socially acceptable there than I have been (and still am) in the gritty off-lit environments of my drag and underground theater temples, you’re just plain wrong. Sure, I perform family friendly shows too — BECAUSE I AM WHOLE. No one has the right to distill me into parts or ask me to choose one part of my existence over another to build a career entirely catered to their comfort. Every overprotective parent afraid of the day they’ll have to address “the birds and the bees” with their kiddo got there because of sex. We are all the products of hormonal desire and the messiness of our emotions mixed with primordial goo. My career is dynamic and appropriate to my audience, just like I believe it is supposed to be.

The characters I create are summoned from my politics and my struggles within this culture which asks me to be other than I am. I have been a professional performer since age 11 and have worked in every facet of theater imaginable in the 28 years since. I am currently in Boston gigging for a month as director of a show, and I can do this because I have committed everything to this career, and I have enough experience to be versatile about how my artistic voice is produced. My current artistic goal, now that I’ve created my solo show, is to tour it as I have opportunity to do so, but also I have other goals. I want to find a home and I want to build an artspace to work out of in a number of ways. I need a certain amount of money and a regular more substantial paycheck to accomplish that. It is one of the things I am steadily working on from a number of angles. I am proficient in performance and writing, I am not proficient in booking gigs and theater management. I would love to be booking more college gigs for pay, and to be engaged in theater tours, sure! If someone wants to tell me I’m doing everything wrong, please do — but then hook me up with a booking manager who is interested in facilitating these opportunities. I have a lengthy catalog of material ready for stage and am a passionate workshop teacher and lecturer at the high school, college, and adult community levels…

I want to thank you, friends, readers, and fans: I find satisfaction and deep fulfillment from performing my work on the stage, from teaching, from writing and also from being in conversation with people who want help opening up to their own sense of self. My fans are not few and far between desperate weirdos. I have touched people through my work as a gender performer, a sex and kink writer, a character actor, dancer, documentary subject, lifelong emerging identity champion, and friend. I have shifted my situation in the last year to facilitate the blooming of my art, and am struggling to make it work. I am struggling, but I am also doing it. I am listening to where there is money to be made within my paradigm of interest so that I can become more grounded doing exactly those things. Do I wish I was more grounded in my life right now? Yes I do. Historically artists who spend most of their time making art have had to diversify their focus to survive. This has meant everything from taking a larger percentage of commissioned work, or marrying into money, to being “kept” by various artistic patrons within understood agreements, or already having money from a family source or elsewhere. This struggle has coined the term “starving artist” we so love to fetishize, and has added names to the ever growing list of people who died poor yet made their inheritors wealthy. I will build my life as I have to, to be the person that I am. I have no intention to cut away any of my proclivities in that endeavor, and I intend on making my money how I need to to continue to make the art that is in me to make. The world has told me every day since my birth to be lesser than I am, and it is exactly through the outrage I have at that very proposal that I find drive, that I find my writing voice, and that I find the characters who even these entitlement minded naysayers purport to be moved by. My fire is not cold because I will not let it become so. The solo show I have written for Broadway, and for every stage, is entitled “NO SHAME” for a reason.

This is what my life/career looks like:

  • I write this blog! It is the only thing that currently pays me regularly. Thank you for supporting me for it if you do! I literally couldn’t survive and create at the rate I am able to without this group of supporters at my back.
  • I gig where I can find gigs: drag, burlesque, solo show performance, storytelling, special appearances, character acting, performance art, clown, dance, spoken word, kink/BDSM performance, and right now I’m in Boston directing a circus show!…
  • I teach workshops and classes and privates, as well as present lectures and serve on panels. I am hired by individuals, couples, groups, conventions, and universities to do this work in a number of subjects ranging from the creative process, to acting, movement, storytelling, cultivating presence, performance skills, kink skills, BDSM knowhow, relationship skills, queer identities, drag, and gender exploration…
  • I build, direct, and manage everything you see me doing — costumes, choreography, booking management, tour schedules, script writing, curriculum writing, props, set pieces, tech design, submission proposals, grant applications, research, web design and upkeep, content research, personal research, editing, promotion, tour driving… (this is a non-exhaustive list).
  • I create content for my Patrons every week outside of what I publish: photos, journal entries about what I’m up to or have been thinking about, videos, personal appeals, script sharing…
  • I cultivate and keep up with many relationships all over the country — personal and creative contacts — because that’s part of the hustle of being an artist, but even more importantly it’s something that brings me pleasure and returns to me love and support when (deities forbid) I experience days ladden with the fearful or exhausted heart of a human creature, rather than the tireless and impenetrable drive of a robot.
  • I eat cabbage, bread, avocados, lentils, and vegan butter when I’m buying the groceries, and I try to make that food stretch. I exercise a little every day. I perform centering rituals and chip away at my writing practice every day. I have very few “days off”, and to date every “vacation” I’ve ever had I’ve turned into a secluded work retreat in order to create content I don’t have the time to focus on when I’m not “on vacation”.
  • I am homeless right now, meaning I am able to survive off such a small income because I am privileged to be offered couches and spare mattresses by a large number of family and friends across the country who open their homes to me when I am in town a few days, weeks, or months at a time.
  • I pay bills and field financial problems as they arise just like everybody else does, but I don’t have much of a margin in which to do so. I deal with problems and I struggle to make it all work. I hustle to figure out my options.
  • I win some days and I fail utterly on others. I pick up the pieces, try to learn to be better than my failures, celebrate when I can, and I move on.

I am a kink writer, a drag king and burlesquer, a teacher, a dancer, a character actor, a performance artist, an activist, a queer, someone not afraid to talk about sex and identity, a connection-driven creator, and a clown. My story is important. My story isn’t being written by the plethora of white men producing dead white men’s plays for white theater companies supported by white money in this country — and I am privileged to be white in that equation. Imagine telling someone without whiteness on their side to just focus on “fitting in” with their art (well, more than we do every single day already)…

Thank you.  Thank you to every fan who’s written me telling me not to give up. Thank you to every person who’s told me that my work has helped them find their own way in this lifetime. Thank you to every queer kid who smiled when I had the honor of teaching them how to tie their first tie, and to every privileged cishet white guy who’s humbly told me my words, performances, or classes have helped them understand something they were having a hard time grasping. Thank you to all the choir I’ve been preaching to who’ve choreographed and co-produced and rehearsed and partied in solidarity — ’cause talking out loud about the obvious shit’s the only thing to do in this world of blind eyes! I don’t need you to pay me if you think supporting my talent means you own me — money could never dominate all of what I’ve got anyhow. I want you to pay me because you believe in me as a human being with a mind worth listening to, and I hope you understand that my survival and the survival of artists who aren’t nearly as privileged as I am, when we’re supported to speak up about our own truths, are incredibly valuable assets to this world. It takes a lot of moxie to make these creations that you like. Ask questions and be humble about the parts you don’t understand: they’re part of the magic of creation in the first place.

Play On My Friends,
~ Karin

If you like my blog, please check out my Patreon Page and support me. For one time donations click here: Support the Artist

~Thank you.

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