I am an Artist and… an Interview with Guy Ventoliere

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This article originally appeared in Huffington Post
Does an artist have to starve in order to make a life in art?
In this series of interviews, I am asking people who have, by their own definition, a successful creative career.  They have built a life around conscious choices and values that looks very different from the standard idea of what an artist is.
What their lives look like may surprise you:  they are artists in studios, part of city agencies, owners of manufacturing and real estate companies, artists-in-residences in all kinds of places.  
What is common to all of them is this: they are happy.
I believe there is great wisdom behind the in flight safety message that instructs you to put your oxygen mask on yourself first.  In this situation, you clearly will not be able to help anybody else if you cannot take care of yourself first.
The same is true in life.
You cannot build a successful creative life if you do not take care of yourself first.
Guy Ventoliere is an artist with a unique and successful career path that has earned him the name of “the theatre whisperer”.
He has harnessed his skills as an actor and in many other areas of theatre and business to grow a successful artistic career and now helps others do the same.
How do you self-identify?
“You are at a cocktail party and someone asks you who you are. What do you say?”
It depends on who I am talking to. I usually say I am the Director of Sales for a large audio visual company.
“How do you answer that question for yourself?”
I am a Renaissance man. I want to know how to do everything. A lot of artists will say things like, I can’t do numbers and taxes… I’m an artist.

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As Lopakhin in “The Cherry Orchard”

For me, the opposite is true. I can do anything because I am an artist. I direct, act, and I know most of the technical elements of theatre like lighting. I have built sets and props for many plays for places like Lincoln Center. I know fundraising and development and how to direct children’s theatre. The paintings on my walls I have painted and the furniture throughout my house I have built.  And I have had a very successful career in large enterprise account management and sales.
I started out as a stage carpenter with very little experience. I was teaching kids, doing my carpentry, acting and directing. Then made a drastic turn and became the director of development for a nonprofit in the arts. I didn’t know anything when I started but eventually managed to double the budget. How did I do that? I communicate well with people and I’m not afraid to fail. That is so important.
Acting and art is about honesty. About being truthful on stage and in life.
I hate the term “starving artists”. Many people have more than one job to make it. Artists can also supplement their needed income to survive. Sometimes we have to embrace a life of multi-careers so there is food on the table. You don’t have to starve. Look, I’m an actor and a sales guy. I do different things because being an artist allows me to think creatively and critically, embrace the diversity around us and to do the variety of jobs one may need to do in order to survive. And being an artist allows us to do these things well.
When I was in telecommunications, I was the top sales guy with a higher client retention rate than all my other coworkers who had more education and experience than I. My boss threw a surprise party for my 40th birthday where she wrote a note about me that read, “Thank you for reminding me to always hire sales people with an arts background.”
Many artists close themselves off, they don’t have a lot of world experience and they stay isolated with their art distrusting things like corporate America, stock brokers, men in suits, and CEOs.
My experience in corporate America has been different. My last CEO was an opera buff. He was so happy to see that he had an actor and a director in his employ that he allowed me and my girlfriend to expense tickets to DC to see a production of “Romeo & Juliet” with him and his wife. This CEO loved and appreciated the arts. I have never come across people in business that looked down on me  because I was an artist.
I have always been able to direct and act on the side while holding down a full time job. I never wanted to be a waiter so I could go on auditions and wait for my big break. I wanted to work 9 to 5, have health insurance and stability and have my nights free to rehearse theatre. Feeling secure allowed me to have the finances and freedom of mind to explore and explode artistically.
There was a time I was given an ultimatum by one of my bosses to attend a conference in the summer during the Hip to Hip Theatre season that I was involved in. I was saddened by this but did not hesitate to choose theatre. Management grew to understand doing this theatre work was important to me and only enhanced my capabilities at the job. I am always one of the top sales people at my job, the top out of about 200 during my heaviest season of theatre actually.
Now, I use the various aspects of business that I have learned and what I do to help other artists and arts organizations. This past month I facilitated an interview with the Public Theatre for our dramaturg at Hip to Hip and provided the needed equipment to the American Bard Theatre’s production of “Visionary Voices”. I also got them an intern to help with costuming. I helped transform a cafeteria into a theatre for Riverdale Children’s Theatre Company while also playing the cat in “Suessical” along with all the pre-season work that needs to get done for Hip to Hip including meeting with several possible interns for our upcoming season.
What are the benefits and challenges of being an artist and…
One of the benefits of what I do is the extreme diversity of communication I have with all kinds of people, from CEOs to inner city kids. People come to me as an “idea guy” because of my varied experiences in the corporate environment, knowledge of art and theatre. They know I can step in and help. Someone at The Nicu’s Spoon Theatre Company once called me the theatre whisperer”. The term stuck.

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As Richard II in a Nicu’s Spoon production

Another benefit is happiness. I am always performing, I am always involved in a play, I always have an outlet. In the past 2 years, I have done 8 plays. Money is never a challenge for me. I am always able to help others and to donate back my stipends when working with a struggling theatre company.
One challenge I have always faced is that work sometimes interferes. For that reason, I have always sought out jobs that allowed me to work around my theatre and my art. Not waiter jobs. Good old 9-5 jobs.
What are you working on now?
I recently became the Chair for the Nicu’s Spoon Theatre Company and I serve on the board of the Unity Stage Company. In addition to all that, I am the Managing Director for Hip to Hip Theatre and I am proud to say that we have been successful in reaching our goal of performing in every borough. In our first year, we had an audience of 600 people. We now serve 8000 people per season in 14 parks citywide. Our next goal is to increase that to 10,000 people.
I just closed “Cows of War”, an adaptation of “Peace” by Aristophanes as part of the Hunter College MFA Playwrights. This past summer I did “Hamlet” at the Brick Theatre and “The Tempest” for the Shakespeare Forum and Identity Theatre in Manhattan. I am currently working with the Riverdale Children’s Theatre Company’s (RTC) production of “Suessiscal”. RTC is ranked one of the top 8 children’s theatre companies in the country.  I have also started preparing for the role of Cassius in “Julius Caesar” in May and have had several meetings and read-throughs for an original play called “Sweet Sixteen” that will be appearing off-Broadway the last quarter of 2017. I am also slated to perform in a series of plays this summer for a very well-known and prominent theatre company but I am not allowed to speak about it until it is announced.

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In the role of Doctor Caius that won Best Supporting Actor for Queens Kudos

I am working on my graduate degree in drama which is both theory and criticism. Next semester I have a reading list of about 1000 pages in of very dense critical theory, 31 plays from Greek to contemporary genres. I am required to submit five 750 page responses, a 10 page paper with a presentation, and a 20 page paper. And that’s for 1 class.
Where can people see more of your work?
Managing Director/Actor – Hip to Hip Theatre Company – http://www.hiptohip.org/
Board Member – Unity Stage – http://unitystage.org/
Chairmen of the Board – Nicu’s Spoon Theatre Company – http://www.spoontheater.org/
Advisor/ Teaching Artist – Riverdale Children’s Theatre Company – http://riverdaletheatre.org/
Acting Member – Identity Theatre – http://identitytheater.com/
And my future website currently in development – Simplyguy.com
What advice can you give to emerging artists and people with an inner artist?
Don’t be scared about your next meal. Go for it. I was so concerned about working to make money it inhibited me from really going the distance.
On the flip side, it has allowed me to do what I want to do, and that is good too.
Pitch in! Help where you can.  There is no room for STARS. Help out and paint something, sew costumes. This is all about collaboration and teamwork. Pitch in other areas.
I can’t stand actors who don’t contribute in other areas when they are working with a group that is already understaffed or underfunded. For younger artists, knowing all the aspects of your profession can only help you.

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Hoong Yee

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About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

What My Jewish Mother-in-Law Can Teach You About Writing Headlines

Mildred

Mildred

The Truth About Being A Great Writer

While standing on line at the local butcher, Mildred, my mother-in-law, leaned over the counter and said softly, “So Bernie, how does Mrs. Fisch do her pot roast?”

His answer changed my life.

 

Bernie bellied up to the counter, his heavy lidded eyes rolling sideways before pushing over a scribbled piece of butcher paper with his grubby finger.  “What do you think of that, Mrs. K?”  Mildred adjusted her glasses and peered keenly at the note before her.  With a dismissive sniff, she slid the paper into her purse and smiled innocently.

“The best cooks are thieves,” he winked at me.  “Julia Child stole her sauce recipes from the French, Martha Stewart practically copied her Christmas cookie book from Good Housekeeping and Mrs. Krakauer here, let’s just say she borrows from everyone.  And so should you.”

 

Me?

I was stunned.  From the very first time I sat down to dinner cooked by my mother-in-law, I believed she was making everything from time honored, secretly guarded recipes handed down from generation to generation.  Someone else with a better recipe for brisket?  Are you meshugah or what?

Yet, here before my eyes was Bernie, the butcher, telling Mildred  that the key to great cooking is grand larceny.  And from what it sounds like, she has some pretty fancy partners in crime.

 

Who benefits from all this stealing?

I certainly do, as well as the rest of the Krakauer family.  Our dinners are exquisite culinary experiences.  I suppose dinners are just as fabulous at Mrs. Fisch’s, at Mrs. Murray’s, at Mrs. Cohen’s as well as every house in Rockaway that participates in this ecosystem of theft.  Or borrowing, as Mildred would quickly say.  Like a Robin Hood and his Merry Men, there goes Mildred, borrowing from the rich to give to the poor, only in her case, all of Bernie’s loyal customers are swooping down from the trees in Belle Harbor to fatten their recipe files and to share the wealth with their hungry families.
No easy task to keep knocking out great dinners night after night for these ladies.  No wonder they flock to Bernie for a tip or two, an unexpected ingredient, a twist to make their husbands turn their heads and say, “Wow, honey!  I love your kashe varnishes!”

If you have to turn out momentous meals every day, coming up with your own unique original ideas is gehackte tsuris – who needs it!

And its not because Mildred is lazy, she’s busy.

The only way to survive, look fabulous and stay in control is to steal a secret from Julia Child, Martha Stewart and Mildred P. Krakauer.

 

Copy from others knowing that true genius stands on the shoulder pads of others

What About Writing?

I couldn’t help but wonder, “Could it be possible I am needlessly killing myself trying to be original all the time?”  Of course  I am.  And so are you.  We are stressing, worrying and inwardly freaking out each time we come face to face with the blank page because we want so badly to write something fabulous, something that will transform a reader by the simple experience of reading our words.

OK, here is what I think, after being in the trenches for twelve years as a professional author & illustrator, grantwriter and blogger:

You can mistakenly believe you are the most original, prolific and constantly amazing writer in the world and sputter into a fit of depression when it becomes impossible to maintain these high standards for yourself.

Or,

You can steal.

Why am I telling you to do this?

Because I know that if you are serious about your writing, you will see very quickly that there are better ways to write better and more efficiently.  Many successful writers like, Shakespeare, Jefferson and Wilde have perfected the art of copying, or as Bernie would say, “borrowing”, from others because they quickly understood that true creativity is seizing the genius in the ideas of others and making it your own.

 

Let’s Look At Headlines

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”

A great quote from Simone Weil.

How do you attract and earn someone’s attention?

Let me borrow a great word from Mark Ragan, the force at Ragan Communications: Cosmotize.

I just adore that!

When you are standing on line at the supermarket, you know your eyes go right to those riveting covers of Cosmopolitan Magazine, Vogue and GQ.

Did you know those headlines are over half a century old?  The ideas behind them are basically the same, the wording or the language changed over time, and yours to steal for your next piece.  The raison d’etre for a headline is to get you, the reader, to read the first sentence.  And then the next sentence, and so on.  If you can’t get someone to read your headline, you can forget about them reading your article.

Everything starts with the headline.

Look at any great headline carefully and you can see its bones, its architecture, its template that will work for any topic.  Just like the recipes in Mildred’s trusty collection, I am building a swipe file with hundreds of headline templates on my computer where I can scan them whenever I need to craft a killer headline of my own.

 

A Shortcut To List Headlines – Snack Size Content that Readers Will Eat Up

Everywhere you look,  there’s a headline like this, “43 Ways To Drive Your Man Crazy In Bed.  Be Sure to Check Out #7”, or “101 Killer Resources To Make Money As A Mommyblogger”.  You see them on magazine covers, on the blogs you follow and on morning and evening news shows.

Why are they so popular?

They work.

 

After attending the Boot Camp for Nonprofits!  Power of Giving Forum an exclusive event for Con Edison partners presented by Ragan Communications as well as the Corporate Writers and Editors Conference  (hashtag #raganCWE) the following day, I have a new respect for the power of headlines.

To help you write something that has the power to be a transformative experience, like Mildred’s pot roast, let me square my shoulders and become one with Bernie, the butcher.  I will share what I learned in a roomful of PR and marketing professionals from experts in their industry that earns its right to exist by how well their communications can create profit from attention.

Mark opened the session by inviting us to ask ourselves, “would I pick this up at the newsstand?”,  or “will people want to read this and do I love producing this?”.  At the top of his list of tips was this: List story.

List story: organized thought with a teaser title.  This is hands down the most popular and most powerful headline and story one two punch combo in the history of writing.

 

Here’s What I Have For You:

 

I did a little research project in the magazine section of my local bookstore and analyzed the most frequently used list headlines into a short list of templates.  These templates are shortcuts that you can use to fill in the blanks and jumpstart your writing with a great headline.

1. 5 Ways to (do something)

Give people a little selection, not too much, and some meat on the bones for each way so that they feel they can make an informed choice.

Example:  7 Ways to Write a Better Grant

 

 

2. 52 Killer Resources for (audience)

This is a great way to dominate a narrow subject with a long list of bullet points.  Readers will shake their heads in amazement, “Wow!  There’s so much I didn’t know!”

Example:  101 Dumpling Ideas For Your Next Party

 

 

3. The Top 10 (techniques, resources, tips, you name it)

People love this.  They want their options reduced, reviewed, rated and presented to them in a tidy list.

Example:  The Top 10 Holiday Offers Your Customers Will Love

 

4. 11 (topic) Secrets Every (audience) Should Know

Curious about what secrets you are missing?  Your readers will be too.  This is one of the most effective and irresistible Cosmo headlines.

6 Sexy Secrets Every Cosmo Girl Should Know About Her Man

 

 

5.  7 Surprising Reasons (topic)

Instead of creating curiosity, tap into the curiosity that is already in your reader with this provoking headline.

Example:  15 Surprising Reasons Why You You Need Memory Boosters

 

 

6.  The 9 Laws for (topic)

Some people love being told the rules of the game.  Others want to study the law, figure out how to get around it and rebel against it.  For both, they will still want to read  what those rules are.

Example:  The 5 No Nonsense Laws of Nonprofit Fundraising

 

 

7. 5  Things your (audience) Needs to Hear You Say

If you are like me, you wonder a lot about if you said the right thing or if you just put your foot in your mouth.  Pick someone important to your audience to make the headline even more compelling.

Example:  Want a Raise?  7 Things Your Boss Needs to Hear You Say

 

 

Why kill yourself?

Mildred pulled a stubby pencil out of her purse, scribbled something on the butcher paper and pushed it back over the counter to Bernie.   She smiled.  He winked.  Then he looked up at me and said, “And what can I help you with today?”

I thought for a moment.

“I’ll have what Mrs. Krakauer is having,”  I held his gaze and said, “Theft and pot roast.”

 

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Hoong Yee

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Worker Bee Alert: The Five Warning Signs Your Inner Buzz Is Dying

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I am standing with Chase, the beekeeper, and Jeff, the building owner

the rooftop farm of the Acumen building in Long Island City

 

“Me, I’m more of a big time enthusiast, ”  said Chase.  He spoke reverently of the serious bee people who drive around the country doing bee related activities.  His involvement with this sweet little industry was a few hives at most.  “I’ve seen honey go for $15 a pound.  And all this, ”  he waved towards the beehives at the far end of the roof.  “will yield a good couple thousand dollars.”

You have to love people who love what they do.  Especially bee keepers.

What about you?

Now I have been a worker bee in many former lives so I am very familiar with those unmistakeable signals from your inner soul that tell you that it is time to make a change.  If you are not eager to start everyday doing something you love, you may notice the following about yourself:

1 You hate Sundays

That stomach ache that announces Monday.  Your shoulders slumping as you think about the week gaping before you like a black hole.

2 You hate the rest of the week

Rinse and repeat.

3 Caffeine doesn’t work

No amount of Joe gets you going.  You are dragging your heels, physically and spiritually.

4 You are not curious about anything

There is nothing that seizes your imagination and allows your mind to visualize solutions or scenarios.  This is very bad because eventually you become satisfied with accomplishing less.

5 Graduate schools look appealing

What does grab your attention is the opportunity to learn something new to enable you to do something else.  You are already out the door and searching for the next thing.

I have spent a lot of time working with people in the arts who have all kinds of challenges making a life of making art.  But one thing they supremely and confidently revolve around is their inner buzz.  Their passion for what they do.  Their life is their art.  Their work is what they do to support their art.

Life is too short to be unhappily employed.  I say do what brings you the most happiness.

Penelope Trunk has a twist on common career advice.   Here’s her advice: Do not what you love; do what you are.

The weekend thread on Corporette offers some tips on changing jobs.

And if any of you are intrigued by the thought of working in a library, Josh Hanagarne can tell you all about his career as a librarian and what he loves about it.

Think about it carefully:  doing what you love and doing what makes you happy are not always the same thing.

Get more Wow!

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Hoong Yee

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