“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” – Calvin Coolidge
“The golden age is before us, not behind us.” – William Shakespeare
The first time I sang onstage, I was in 6th grade, and I warbled my way through the second verse of “Winter Wonderland” in my school’s holiday concert. The first time I had a lead acting role was when I was fourteen, in my high school’s production of Godspell.
Since then, I’ve been on a hundred stages, sung in countless recording studios, performed in one-room school houses in the Ozarks and even, once, danced on a Broadway stage. Working in the arts has been one of the great gifts of my life. But working as a performing artist was also one of the most challenging of all my pursuits. (Though parenting takes that particular cake.)
The hundreds of hours of practicing my craft, of battling crippling stage fright, of the constant search for the next job, of dealing with elation one day and rejection the next – all of this gave me skills that have proved invaluable: grit and determination.
I hung up my acting hat over a decade ago, for two reasons: one, I wasn’t that great an actor and I knew it. Two, I always knew that there was something else that was truly my calling. Luckily enough, I discovered what I am meant to do, and get to answer that call every day at the Arts Council. My hard-fought grit and determination have never left me, and now I get to use them to build community through the arts.
Any artist will attest: working in the arts requires a profound sense of self, shutting out the naysayers, constantly proving your worth and relevancy, and baring your soul.
The passionate folks who are spearheading Shakespeare Play On are doing just that – with an astounding amount of grit and determination – and the world is responding.
For those of you who don’t already know the saga, in short, the University of California Santa Cruz’s Dean of the Arts pulled the plug on Shakespeare Santa Cruz (SSC) one week prior to the closing of their regular season last summer. I wrote about this back when it first happened, and won’t get into the “why” and “how” at this point. But I will say that after 32 years of being one of the most excellent Shakespeare companies in the country, and a beloved institution of theatergoers in Santa Cruz County and far beyond, the outcry was immense.
The Arts Council was, cumulatively, one of Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s largest funders. And many of us at the Council, as lovers of great theater, were also raving fans. When talk began – almost immediately – about saving SSC, we wanted to be involved. Several SSC board members stepped up and created Shakespeare Play On (SPO) with the intention of reforming the organization as an independent entity, with the same artistic integrity (and artistic staff) as SSC.
Their idea is to front-fund a 2014 season by raising $885,000 by February 1st. The 2014 season proceeds would then seed the 2015 season. (Most theaters, out of necessity, operate in the opposite direction: they expend their resources to put on a season, and then pay their debts with ticket sales and sponsorships after the season is over.) This is a very simple but smart idea. In December of last year, the Arts Council signed on as Shakespeare Play On’s fiscal sponsor. Since then, we’ve been strategizing with their board members, helping to promote their vision, and receiving donations on behalf of the newly-formed organization, and holding those funds in trust as SPO works on getting their own non-profit status.
I’ve worked in the arts and in disaster relief, and rarely have I witnessed the kind of determination exhibited by the Shakespeare Play On leadership. They’ve been unwavering in their vision, clear about their scope, and unapologetic about what they need to make this thing fly. They’ve also developed one of the most impressive Advisory Boards I’ve ever seen. It’s been thrilling to be a part of it. As of today, they’ve raised over $682,000, and done so, as they say on their website, “with only Facebook, Twitter, and word of mouth, and without access to Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s 32 years of donor, subscriber, or patron information.”
This is an extraordinary accomplishment. They still need to raise $203,000 in a very short time frame, but I’m confident that they will make it happen. And when they do, it will be a testament to the power of the arts, the passion that people feel for great theater, and the generosity of this incredible community.
Grit, and determination. With these, we can move mountains – and keep great art alive in Santa Cruz County.