Virtual Visionaries Week 5: Managing the Artist Lifestyle

About the Authors

Todd Buonopane has appeared on Broadway as Jean-Michel in Cinderella, Roger in Grease, Amos in Chicago and many characters in  …Spelling Bee. He has toured with The Play That Goes Wrong, Chicago and Godspell. Off-Broadway credits include The Butter & Egg Man, Henry & Mudge, and The New Yorkers at City Center Encores!  Regionally, he has performed at the Alliance, The Old Globe, Asolo Rep, MUNY, Signature, Pasadena Playhouse, 5th Avenue, Ordway, Papermill Playhouse, Goodspeed, Maine State and Barrington. TV credits include roles on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Braindead, Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order: CI, and 30 Rock (as Weinerslav). Todd is a Councilor for Actors’ Equity Association and a proud graduate of The University of Michigan.

Praised by The Washington Post for her “marvelous violin acrobatics,” Sarah Whitney is a widely recognized, violinist, musicians coach & productivity expert. She is a founding member of the string quintet SYBARITE5, whose latest album entitled Outliers reached No. 1 on the Billboard Charts. SYBARITE5 is winner of the Concert Artists Guild Competition and has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Library of Congress, the Aspen, Grand Teton, and Ravinia Festivals. As a musicians coach and productivity expert, Sarah helps musicians create the career of creativity and fulfillment they’ve always desired and has given workshops at the Curtis Institute, The Juilliard School, New England Conservatory, Rice University and is author of the widely-read blog The Productive Musician.

From Todd Buonopane

I’m an actor. I’m a singer. I’m a teacher. Therefore, I work best in front of a crowd. And crowds are exactly what we have to avoid right now.  

When the pandemic hit the U.S., I was touring the country with The Play that Goes Wrong. I was sent home to my New York City apartment on March 12th. At that point, we had no idea how long this would last or how awful the pandemic would be. I just knew that if I sat still, I’d get depressed. So…I decided to record myself doing a great monologue from Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers and put it online. It was a silly idea. While it’s a powerful piece of writing, I will never play the part of Bella in Lost in Yonkers. But where to record myself? I needed a quiet place. See, in NYC (even on the 4th floor), you can hear the city streets throughout most apartments. Then the bathtub caught my eye. It’s pretty quiet in there. And it came with a curtain!

And so, Bathtub Theatre was born. Since that night, I have given 56 performances in my tub. I’ve done so many great pieces from M’Lynn’s graveyard monologue from Steel Magnolias to “Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy. The performances have grown more musical and often more technical. 

Yes, it’s all silliness. It’s a 42 year old, chubby man playing great female roles in his bathtub. But to me, there’s something pure about that. It’s not an audition. It doesn’t say “Oooh, have you heard me sing this? I gotta play that part!” I couldn’t realistically play any of these parts. So, there’s a bit of camp factor to the whole thing. However, these are great pieces of writing. I take them seriously. I commit. 

And, it’s kept me sane. It fills my days. This silliness takes a lot of work. Also, I’ve gotten to practice my art. Actors and singers have to keep their artistic muscles in shape. I’m singing all the time. I’m acting all the time. And in these scary, trying times, it’s good to have an emotional outlet. Check out the more dramatic performances, I really go there. 

Finally,  I’ll admit, the praise is good for my self esteem. We, performing artists, tend to be rather delicate creatures. I have been alone for twelve weeks. The encouragement is the extra boost I need to get out of bed each morning. 

I keep thinking about the next time I’ll hear a Stage Manager call “Places!” I imagine that, and tears come to my eyes. Nothing beats the magic of connecting with a live audience. Nothing beats the camaraderie a cast and crew develop during the run of a show. Nothing beats a live laugh, or a gasp, or seeing tears in the eyes of playgoers. But, that can’t happen for a while. Until then, I’ll be singing and acting and calling “places” for myself. What is it Shakespeare said? “All the tub’s a stage!” Something like that. 

From Sarah Whitney: “Why I love failure”

I’m going to tell you something you may think is a bit crazy – I love failure. 

Now, you may be shaking your head or wondering how that could possibly be the case. I hear you and I used to think that too. 

But I’ve learned how to shed new light on the word “failure.” And this skill has been essential to my success and ultimately enabled me to have a more fulfilling career. 

Keep reading. I’ll tell you how.

I’ll start by telling you about 3 of my failures:

  1. I was kicked out of a violin studio of a very prestigious teacher. 
  1. I once paid A LOT of money for a videographer I blindly hired based on a recommendation. The quality of all of the footage ended up being so bad that I couldn’t use any of it. 
  1. I BOMBED an orchestra audition for a small regional orchestra I was sure I’d nail. (I’m talking full-on lost my place in my concerto and had to stop.) The judge’s comments said, “Did she forget to practice?” (I’m not kidding.)

Yup. All true stories. 

When things don’t go how you want them to go, it stings for sure. 

And then maybe those voices show up…How could I screw this up? Ugh, I’m an idiot! I always make bad decisions….

The self-doubt, the judgement….

But what if I told you, you have a choice? 

You can let those voices run you OR you have the power to see that failure in another light. 

As I look back on these experiences, I’m truly grateful they happened.

What?! How could that possibly be?

Those experiences taught me valuable lessons that have crafted who I am today, made me a better person and violinist and ultimately, led me to a more successful career and life.

Hear me out…

Why am I grateful that I got kicked out of that violin studio?

I didn’t practice or take seriously the work that I needed to put in. When I got kicked out, I was mortified. I worked my tail off for my new teacher who eventually encouraged me to pursue music professionally. If I hadn’t learned that lesson, I would not be where I am today and wouldn’t be able to thrive in the competitive music scene, where nobody has time for lack of preparation or time-wasting. 

Why am I grateful that I hired a terrible videographer?

I was insecure about my knowledge of videography and doubted my ability to make an informed hire. I was the only person who knew exactly what I needed and had I researched this videographer, I would have realized it wasn’t a good fit. Now, I always do my homework about someone when it comes to making a hire. This is a crucial skill I have needed in order to grow and sustain my concert series, coaching business, and performing career. 

Why am I grateful that I bombed that audition?

I was no less susceptible than anyone else to the nerves of auditions. I let my ego and the fact that the orchestra was “small potatoes” get in the way. I didn’t respect myself, or the committee, and failed to prepare adequately. This taught me that I needed to get my ego in check and honor and respect every performing opportunity, no matter how big or small. Not only has this skill helped me immensely as a performer, but it has also helped me navigate all of my personal and professional relationships. Having an unnecessary ego never gets you where you want to be.

These are all important lessons that I carry with me to this day and because of it, I’m glad I failed. 

For years, I let these experiences weigh on me as proof that I made bad decisions. When I learned how to reframe them, a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. Failure was not something that I needed to be afraid of. With this perspective, I gained newfound courage to move forward and take new risks which opened doors for me in my career.

These lessons can be painful but when the time is right, can you bring yourself to look at your failures and figure out what you learned from them?

Learning how to relate to your failures – because we all have them – is one of the most important skills when it comes to refining your craft, building courage, taking bold action, and being resilient.

And these qualities are essential ingredients to true success and fulfillment. 

That’s why I love failure.

So, let me ask you – what’s something you’re glad you failed at?


Want to hear more?

Join Todd & Sarah this Thursday, June 25th at 3:00 PM EDT via Zoom. This conversational session will delve into their posts in greater depth, providing a chance for participants to ask questions and engage with these authors in real time.

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