Thursday, December 29, 2011

I resolve to (fill in the blank).

At this time of year, it’s hard to avoid at least thinking about new year’s resolutions. Friends will undoubtedly ask, or you’ll see articles in print or online about how to make resolutions that last, such as this article in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune

Percentages vary, but according to many articles and sites, the vast majority of people who make resolutions don't keep them.  Why do so many of us give up or fail, when most of us know we could make changes to improve or enhance our lives? From changing jobs or careers, losing weight and/or exercising more stopping smoking, saving more/spending less or even frittering less time on Facebook and the Internet, there’s very likely at least one thing we think will make us happier and/or more productive.

If we say we want to change, why don’t we? Because the grooves of our habits are so engrained? Or perhaps because eating fattening desserts or trolling online are fun. Discipline and self-control, or maybe the learning curve and time needed to fulfill the resolution, not so much. On the other hand, the expectation of accomplishment after doing what we say we will, getting something off our plate that’s been hanging over our heads, not procrastinating or getting into our skinny jeans could motivate us to stay on the wagon. Of not letting ourselves down and self-sabotaging our success in not only keeping the resolution but the ripple effect in other areas of our lives.

For example, many actors I know rely on agents to get them work. They say they’ll do more self-marketing to get their name out there and find other opportunities, but either don’t or only make one attempt. They may do a few online auditions. But in my experience, most don’t keep at it, nor do they follow up. If no bookings result from that effort, they feel defeated and give up. A job hunter may be waylaid by a bad interview or a few rejections. A dieter may consider her entire diet blown if she eats one piece of cheesecake.

Who said achieving our goals would be easy?  That life was fair? That we wouldn’t work hard, stumble, need to dust ourselves off and keep moving forward?

Consider the alternatives.

It’s up to us to make the most of our lives, even if sometimes we have to make lemonade out of lemons or push ourselves. Giving in to our every whim, want or desire may be fun at the moment, but can lead to feelings of guilt, lower self-esteem and dissatisfaction, which may further the downward spiral that leaves some of us with extra pounds, credit card debt, missed deadlines, etc.

Make yours a Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Freelancer's Bill of Rights

Freelancers, independent contractors and those who own their own businesses can work with many clients, each having a different approach to projects and payment.  We can establish procedures and rates.  We can ask colleagues or friends if we have concerns or aren't sure of the best way to proceed with a given client request.  But if something doesn't work out as planned or if clients ask for things that seem unreasonable, setting the matter to rights to the satisfaction of all parties can be a challenge.  The Gainfully Employed may be able to appeal to a boss, manager, or HR department for assistance.  The GU is on her own.

What would you do in this situation? A returning client recently sent a project. They wanted it turned around in approximately half of the usual time, which also meant I'd need to do most of the work over the weekend.  My options were: Say no, and displease and possibly lose the client.  Say yes, and rearrange my life and work harder than usual to get the job done instead of fitting in the work when convenient for me.  Say yes, but ask for additional compensation as a rush premium. 

On the one hand, I wanted to retain the client and show I could be accommodating.  On the other, I deserve to be treated and remunerated fairly.     

Awhile ago I proposed an Extras Bill of Rights for those who work as extras in films, commercials and TV shows.  In my experience, for $65 for 8 hours, plus time and half minus mealtime, extras can be expected to freeze in cold weather, fry in hot weather, stand for long periods of time or go up and down many stairs, wait in not so pleasant conditions including (inufficient light to read and/or cramped space), or watch as the cast/crew is fed snacks while they're not.  To some, especially in this economy, eight or 12 and change dollars an hour may be enough to endure some discomfort.  What would your price be?

The Freelancers Union has been working on a Freelancer Bill of Rights.  Here's another from the renegade WRITER.  I'll have some additional thoughts soon.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Is it time for a raise?

Asking for a raise can be tricky whether you’re Gainfully Employed or Gainfully Unemployed. We all need to choose the right time and figure out what to say to achieve the desired outcome. The differences are that the GE usually receive a salary or work on commission, perhaps supplemented by a bonus, and usually only have one boss/manager. Freelancers often establish a variety of rates for different clients and projects. So if we want a raise, we may have to ask one client at a time, and may have more factors to consider.

How much of an increase is appropriate to request, after what period of employment? What evidence should you prepare to prove your value and contributions?

Some might wonder if anyone should ask for a raise in this economy. What do you lose if the employer says no? Perhaps you can have a backup plan. If he/she refuses to pay you more, can you ask for something else: more vacation time, flex time, etc.? At least you’ve gone on record that you want a raise, and documented the reasons why you should get one, laying groundwork for the next time you get up the nerve to ask.

Consider: & raises & raises

Wednesday, December 07, 2011


For many years I've performed in the Chicago Bar Association's annual Christmas Spirits musical revue, aka "the bar show," in which everyone on stage is a lawyer.

This year's show, LawLawPalooza, parodies a wide range of famous people, from Rod Blagojevich arriving at prison to Lady Gaga to Kate and Pippa Middleton, and issues such as the state of the economy, all sung and danced to tunes including "Footloose," "Bohemian Rhapsody," and "I Believe," from the Tony Award winning Book of Mormon.

LawLawPalooza is at DePaul's Merle Reskin Theatre.  Some of us have some very quick costume changes and dressing rooms on the 4th or 5th floors (There's no elevator. I'm on the 5th floor, 56 stairs), so backstage is often a flurry of performers preparing for upcoming numbers. I have only a short song to return a microphone and change from a sequined skirt and top, jacket and boots into a policeman outfit. Another cast member helps with my shoes. recommended the production, here.  We offered a Groupon (I'm to the left of the guy in the hat).  Some tickets are still available December 8 through 10 at, which also offers video clips from past shows.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

I had a wonderful time from12 midnight to 8:00 am this morning participating in's 24-hour live streaming event that brought real Facebook posts to life.

My shift's amazing cast included an opera singer, a juggler (who among other things freed himself from a straight jacket while on a unicycle and walked barefoot on an elevated sword blade while juggling knives), a freestyle rapper, a balloon artist (who made, among other things, an incredible alligator head), a multi-piece band, several hosts and some improvisers who also improvised songs or were puppeteers. My contributions: speed talking and improv.  Other shifts featured graffiti and caricature artists and an auctioneer. 

For 50 minutes each hour (the other 10 minutes were intermission), we'd be assigned Facebook posts, whether status updates or pictures, to interpret or be inspired by according to our talents.  I made up some speed talking monologues on the spot, memorized or read actual posts, or did scenes based on the post. 

Topics included "my favorite athlete's name is Bruce," someone who was up late and wanted to chat with us, and someone who wanted to know if anyone had a tent she could use.  One poster requested that the speed talker list events that occurred his birthday, 9/17/1987.  One of my friend's posts made it into the mix and was acted out by a green puppet.

A wardrobe and a props person were on hand to add suitable or amusing items to each visit to the stage, from an assortment of hats and wigs to a bicycle to a cardboard box I used. 

The event was covered in the New York Times Media Decoder blog, here.

Will I make the "Best of Stuff Theatre" coming soon?  Stay tuned...