The Gift of Creative Community

Guest blogger, Melissa Bergstrom, gives some helpful tips to consciously develop a supportive and challenging creative community.

Holiday trees

(Holiday Trees by Annie Spratt, cc)

It’s mid December already (despite the lack of snow in the Northeast) and the holidays are suddenly upon us. To me, holidays mean twinkle lights, hot chocolate, and cozying up with my husband and our cat for Netflix marathons in the evening while darkness falls outside. But holidays can also mean visits with family, reunions with folks we haven’t seen in awhile, and for some of us, that thought is a bit more intimidating than we might wish to admit. Spending time with family is a complicated experience for so many people, including creative souls. 

At holiday time, and year round for that matter, I make a point to surround myself with a chosen creative family, a net of kindred spirits who support me in my personal and artistic adventures. I am incredibly grateful for my tribe–kind friends who ask how a new play I’m writing is coming along, who share the tales of their latest theatre gigs with me, and with whom I can trade funny and frustrating stories of life as an artist–day jobs, auditions, and the ever evolving balancing act required to hold it all together without toppling over, taking us with it in the process.

At this time of year, we not only find ourselves spending time with people we may not see very often as we travel home for the holidays, but meeting people for the very first time at office and holiday parties as well. These social circumstances can fling us quite far from our day to day lives filled with first drafts, rehearsals, sewing projects, and baking experiments into a world where the rules seem to have changed. We might be confronted by the age old “What do you do?” question, or find ourselves being measured by new houses, pay raises, and other status symbols that can feel foreign to us.  At best, we feel disengaged, and at worst, we can begin to doubt our sense of self and our purpose. The value of our own successes, large and small, can become skewed in such a different context.  

For example, last year I got the opportunity to audition for an Equity production in Boston. As a non-Equity actor, this was a big deal for me. Although I didn’t get the role, I had a solid audition and got a wonderful compliment from the director on my cold read. My friends who are actors understood the significance of such an opportunity and celebrated with me, but when I share something like this with a family member over Thanksgiving dinner, it has the potential to fall flat. If I didn’t get cast in the end, what’s the big deal? Why does it matter so much?

In these moments, we must remind ourselves that what we are doing does matter. We must also remind others in our circle that what they are doing matters as well, and that’s what we are able to create together is indeed meaningful. There are so many ways that we can give ourselves and the people in our lives the gift of creative community this holiday season:

 1. If you have a member of your creative community nearby, make a point to schedule a get together after you return from hosting or visiting family for the holidays. Be honest with yourself about the fact that you will likely return a bit out of sorts and plan ahead for some recharging. Trade stories of family visits, laugh a little, and let yourself be comforted by the fact that you have someone who understands you in so many ways.

2. Take advantage of technology! For creative community who live far away, host a Google Hangouts or Skype session where you can catch up and share stories of your latest artistic adventures. Catch up informally, or plan themed hangouts, where you share best creative practices, like the best ways to get through writer’s block, good resources for drama lesson plans, or even your most embarrassing audition stories. Technology has made it possible for me to “hang out” with four of my graduate school friends that now live in three different time zones—incredible!

3.  Consider enlisting a few folks in your creative circle (near OR far) in a new creative endeavor. You could write a screenplay together—line by line– draw cartoons and have the other person create captions… the possibilities are endless. Do these things even if you don’t feel particularly inspired; sometimes the key to getting unstuck is to ask a friend to help you to be accountable. And don’t let distance stop you from working on a project with a friend—see #2.

4.  Find a local meet-up group and attend a meeting or event. In addition to the strong community we’ve already built, it’s never too late to reach out and make another connection. Whether it’s a knitting club that meets at your local library or a meditation seminar, you have no idea who you’ll meet. You could have a new member of your creative community just waiting to be made.

5.  Connect to the work of writers, actors, and artists whom you’ve never met when you need support. I love to watch Charlie Chaplin movies, reminding myself how many takes he did in the pursuit of the perfect film. I adore TED Talks by Elizabeth Gilbert, in which she seems to be reminding me personally to keep going, no matter how hard it may be. I also keep a whole shelf full of “creative community” books on my bookshelf for times of need. Need some ideas? I suggest The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Yes, Please! By Amy Poehler, and Free For All: Joe Papp, The Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told by Kenneth Turan & Joseph Papp.

Don’t be afraid to receive these gifts graciously from your creative community, and be generous with giving them to others as well. If you know someone who will be in need of some creative support after a trip home for the holidays, carve out time to connect with them. Offer a shoulder to cry on, a batch of cookies to share, or simply your presence and attention. In the end, I believe that what we all want and need as creative souls is to be seen, to be heard, and to surround ourselves with people who remind us that what we are doing matters.

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MelissaBergstrom

Melissa is a Boston-based actor, playwright, and teaching artist who is currently the Co-Artistic Director of the Perpetual Visitors Theatre Company. She blogs regularly about creativity at www.theperpetualvisitor.com

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