Mara is a fearless go-getter whose newest venture, Secret Code, aims to inspire young girls to challenge stereotypes and go after their dreams. Here she discusses the freelance lifestyle, her best work habits and what keeps her motivated.
I’ve had a lot of jobs, more than I can count on my 10 fingers. They ranged from bartender to dog walker to Producing assistant to chocolatier to fitness instructor… you name it, I’ve done it. I did all of these jobs in order to pursue my passion and career in the arts as an actress. Over the past year, I’ve shifted my focus of being an actress and have started my own business, called The Artist Co-op, a coworking space for the performing arts community. The idea came out of frustration, as an actress. I was constantly auditioning for shows, running to acting classes, or meeting with potential collaborators. None of these activities ever made me feel quite validated as an artist. But, what I did find most fulfilling, was creating and developing my own work as an artist.
For example, last year I worked with three other women on devising a performance piece about the future of technology. We brought the piece to the Edinburgh fringe, which is the biggest festival for new and emerging art in the world. This experience was so invigorating. I met people from all over the world. We saw new shows together. Afterwards, we’d meet at the pub and discuss what we liked and didn’t like about the performances. I realized there wasn’t a space like this in New York City. As artists, we need a space to congregate, work, develop, share our skills and crafts, what better environment than something a coworking space like WeWork.
While I’ve been developing the Artist Co-op I’ve realized how the actor/artist is the original entrepreneur, we are “artrepreneurs.” We ‘sell’ our talents (mind and body) to help a vision come to life on stage. There are some creative take-a-ways the artist community can teach the freelancer gig economy:
Think Outside the Box
- Sometimes we pick up gigs in order to pay rent, utilities, and healthcare but you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your happiness to do a job that you hate. I bet you’re crafty. Maybe you’ve got a secret passion for woodcarving or knitting, so why not sell your products on Etsy. Also, there are great quick jobs to pick up on Task Rabbit that can help keep the funds coming in even when the roles aren’t …
- When you’re not performing there are plenty of jobs that creatives do that don’t rely on waiting tables: Tour Guides, Fitness instructors, UX design, Project managers, Production Assistants, Interior designers, Life Coach, etc…
You are a Business
- Even if it doesn’t feel like it, the arts is a business… why do you think they call it ‘Show Business’? We can’t let chance dictate our lives. I have had to change my mindset and not relying on chance when it comes to work especially in the arts. More on creating your own work in the DIY section, but we have to remember this is a business.
- Save your receipts: As an actor, you can write off different expenses that apply to your business. From teeth whitening to haircuts, you should always save your receipts. These expenses go towards building your artist business.
- Pinching Pennies: My bubby (grandmother in Yiddish) grew up during the Great Depression. She was always clipping coupons. You never know where you’ll find a good deal, whether it’s online, in the newspaper or walking by a shop. Have an open mind.
DIY — Creating Your Own Work
- I’ve become a big fan of creating your own work. There are many “gate-keepers” in this industry who tell us we can’t do something or aren’t good enough, whether it’s a manager, agent, casting director etc. I like to think, “if there’s a will… there’s a way.” Why not start writing that web series you’ve been dreaming about starring in. Or maybe it’s about getting an improv troupe together or choreographing a flash mob. Thankfully with the internet, we can share our work with a bigger audience. This is a crazy example, but you know Justin Bieber was discovered on Youtube! Another more relevant example is the show High Maintenance started as a mini-webseries on Vimeo and then got picked up by HBO.
- Don’t forget to take big risks: You’ll never know unless you try. You might not consider yourself a writer but more of an actor, so why not try dabbling in screenwriting. I bet your idea is great! With the help from your accountability partner and community over at The Artist Co-op, there will be plenty of people to lend advice and see your project come to fruition.
The Power of “No”
- If it doesn’t benefit you, don’t be afraid to say “no.” Gigs are opportunities, a stepping stone to something bigger, but don’t let them take time away from what you really came here to do. Sometimes I found myself in the routine of a day job I hated but I liked the consistent money coming in. Yet I was so unhappy that I stopped producing art. Make sure to check in with yourself. I moved to New York City for a reason. I thought at by 28 I would be a famous Broadway actress, but life has a weird way of opening other doors. Instead I have discovered how much joy I get by creating The Artist Co-op. I love bringing together different kinds of communities and sharing the values of communal spirit.
- Remember to take care of yourself. Especially in this gig economy when I’m trying to take every potential job, sometimes I lose sight of myself. There are small things I like to do to take stalk of what I’ve got. I try and journal. I use this great website called 750words.com. Other things that help when the going gets tough is meditation and exercise.
- Find someone that will hold you accountable and can check in on you. This person will make sure you finished your first draft of that play you’ve been meaning to write or go out an audition for that big role you’ve been dreaming about. I’ve got a friend who makes sure I’ve followed up with important meetings.
- It’s so important to surround yourself with cheerleaders. People who believe in what you’re making. They are your support system. We are in a collaborative art form. Even if you’re writing a one person show, you’ll need a director, lighting designer, stage manager, costumer and more. We build a temporary moment to share something together. As Lin Manuel Miranda wrote in his critically acclaimed Broadway musical Hamilton, “I want to be in the room where it happens.” There’s nothing in the world that technology can do that can compare to the power of LIVE ARTS.