The Blanch Blog
Follow Kyle's thoughts on his artistic journey
Never pray for something if you aren't ready to take the consequences, good or bad, with full responsibility. For instance, last January I prayed for a year to be “uncomfortable" (I can even show you the very page in my journal). And I meant what I penned because I was tired of the stale, lack-of-growth I had experienced during the previous few years. But gee, was my prayer answered with unexpected gusto! This past year has been one of exponential growth in every area of my life as a performer; I’ve not only expanded my resume, but I’ve grown in confidence, and overall skill.
I started the year living in my hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia. I worked my part-time muggle job and submitted auditions in the hopes of booking a few gigs while I considered applying to grad schools for a Master’s in Directing. To be honest, I didn’t really know what I wanted out of my year; I guess I didn’t want to set my hopes too high.
I tech-ed a show at the local opera (Opera on the James), and booked a short film with a local company (Hello Studios). Both are fairly typical gigs I book while I am living in-town; easily acquired from a mutual friend or referral, or a rehire. But these gigs are so short and so few-and-far-between that I get antsy if I stay at home for more than a few months. I find that to be happiest I need to either be leading administratively or staying artistically stimulated. I do try to keep busy through constant brainstorming of ideas for future theatrical and entrepreneurial endeavors, but that road is one I’m ready to walk… I need more business experience, networking exposure, and social esteem before I start a company—or at least a partner with some of those things—I learned that the hard way a few years back.
Clearly, my mind has a way of getting off task and trying to pursue too many things at once. Luckily, at the new year of 2018, I started dating a wonderful, talented, beautiful girl who helps keep me focused on achievable goals and cheers me on with confidence I didn’t think (and still sometimes don’t think) I deserve. Seriously, if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have even submitted for two of the four gigs I booked this year, and I certainly could not have dieted and gotten in as good a shape as I did for my summer stock gig. She’s also a performer, and happens to be a personal trainer, so that helped me a lot. Her name is Cat McWhirter, or “Meow” as I affectionately call her. I owe her a lot for my growth this year. (Shameless plug: go check out her website blog here.)
So I continued auditioning for lack of a better idea. And I hate auditioning. At least I did; this year has slowly changed that. (It’s a wonder what a good pair of LaDucas, Lulu Lemons, and confidence will do!)
And what do you know? I BOOKED!
By March 17th (...my birthday of all days. Luck of the Irish?) I had booked:
I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had never been booked this far in advance and for this length of time. On top of that, little did I know I would also later book a gig at Busch Gardens Williamsburg as a vocal track in one of their Christmastown shows: Deck the Halls! That makes for almost 10 months of straight work with less than a week between each contract!
Could I actually have what it takes to be a consistently working performer?
So I began Big Fish. I was performing at the professional company linked to my Alma mater University: a place where I felt constantly inadequate and insecure. It’s interesting how our bodies instinctively respond to poisonous environments. I found, even after six contracts with this company, and no matter how hard I tried, I would lose about 40% of my talent whenever I returned. But this time was different. This time I asked myself to rise above the insecurities, the caring what others thought, the fear of authority.
Literally, I rise above it...I stood nine feet tall….
I had, for once, a skill that no one could not deny was talent, nor could they afford to lose: I performed on stilts… full dance numbers….while singing base notes… In a cumbersome costume… standing over an orchestra pit (very dangerous)…and I did it WELL. It’s huge that I can say this. For the first time since going to college (that would be about nine years) I was 100% confident in my skills. I stood up for what I needed (stilt insurance), completed the contract with confidence, and moved on without any new scars. I conquered the giant, and now I could move on to the promised land.
The day after Big Fish closed, I flew to Utah and began rehearsals for Tarzan and Juanito Bandito. This contract equipped me with countless practical skills for performing in the future; Tarzan was a very challenging physical role outside of my comfortable singing range. It was my first professional lead, and talk about vulnerability, being mostly naked the whole show.
Then came the most challenging dance show I’ve ever done. At the end of my summer contract, I road tripped back east to Roanoke, Virginia for West Side Story! The whole first week I wanted to quit. I was so overwhelmed by the dancers and the fact that we were doing the original Jerome Robbins choreography. This contract taught me to remember that people in the cast are on my team. They want me to succeed and are willing to help, even if I’m slightly behind the learning curve. I was cast for a reason, so I deserved to be there; and confidence, regardless of whether or not it’s justified, helps. The show turned out great, and my hard work paid off.
Finally, I finished off the year with one of those easy-but-looooooooooong-workdays kind of gigs: Deck the Halls at Busch Gardens Christmastown. Luckily it payed hourly. Singing 20 minutes straight up to 5 times a day can be rough, especially when you’re one of only four singers vocally carrying the whole show. I learned vocal endurance. Boy did I!
Before I finished the last contract, I was ready for a break. But now that it’s over, I am already inspired to continue with my discipline and growth. Let’s just hope that 2019 is as productive as 2018 was: filled with challenging roles at exciting new venues.
Then again, when it rains, it pours. It’s either feast or famine. Such is the life of an artist. Whatever happens, I have learned this lesson: The gigs I book (or don’t book), do not reflect my worth as a human or my value as a creative. I’m sure I’ll deal with feelings of insecurity and lack again, but this year taught me that I am indeed capable and competent in my craft. It gave me practical and encouraging examples to remind myself of in the future. I did it! I hope this blog post can be an encouragement to someone else out there who is going through a rough patch of self-doubt and insecurity.
Here we go again. I'm sitting at my desk avoiding starting my taxes...
Paying Uncle Sam: it's one of the worst things about being an independent contractor, in my opinion. But I think every year I get a little better at it, and I've found some great ways to cut corners (legally) to make things a little easier, and hopefully save more. I'm definitely no expert, and some of these ideas I'm not even sure work yet, but the hope is that my sharing will inspire peers to try the same ideas! ...and then let me know how it goes for them.
It's all so tedious: keeping all the receipts, organizing them at the end of the year into types of expenses, saving all your pay stubs and checks from random gigs, waiting for all the W2s to pour in, logging business miles, adding it all up, then storing it all for three years. Then there is the pain of separating the 1099's from random side-hustles. We probably have the most complicated tax process of any profession. So much is deductible... haircuts, new clothes, gym memberships, going to the movies, SOME gas, perhaps even the part of my house that I use to warm up and practice, or sit and send emails. I've found each year that the better I am at deducting all the things, and entering all the little exceptions, the more I feel like I am simultaneously being dishonest by stealing from the government, AND getting gypped by missing something major. But I think that may just be the correct feeling to have.
Part of me wonders if it is all even worth it yet at my current level of income. The other part of me says, "Start learning now, you'll be happy you did once you are making enough for the IRS to actually care about you." Another part of me thinks that I should probably just hire a CPA... and then the last part of me reminds me of what the second me said, that I don't make enough to have a CPA yet, and also reminds me that the two CPAs I've dealt with in the past didn't even seem competent to deal with our strange profession.
Soooooo, with all that being said, I hope it is clear that I have NO IDEA what I'm doing.
Nonetheless, here are some pointers:
I've found that an app called MileIQ really helps with logging my drives. All you have to do is swipe left or right for personal or business, record an odometer reading at the beginning of each year, and then I write the odometer reading on each gas receipt just to help cooberate the app's data when it compiles it all at the end of the year and puts it in a nice little statement. It's about $50 a year, and helps a lot... I've been using it for about 3 years... aaaaaand I'm still not sure if it actually saves me money.... because I typically just take the easy deduction option. Ugh. (Oh, and let me refer you if you sign up... we both get free moneys.)
Something I'm trying in the upcoming year is designating a business credit card! I overheard an older guy talking about this technique on a TV set last year and have been excited to see how I do with it. Basically, just use one credit card for ANYTHING business and the statements are very thorough. You can see where, when, and how much you bought, and can even see how much of what type of thing you bought by category. I may not even use my divided receipt folder this year! The helpful categories with my CitiBank Card include: Vehicle Upkeep, Gas, Postage, Personal Care, Supplies, Entertainment, and others! It is soooo nice!
On another note, I think Credit Karma now does free tax preparation... but don't quote me. I know nothing.
And I guess that's about it. I hope those three tips were enough to justify reading through my rambling thoughts. Maybe one day it will all be recognized as wisdom... until then take it for what it is: confusing. I guess I should stop typing and tackle this stack of receipts.
This is a safe zone for me to record artistic growth. This may include: character research, behind the scenes peeks, expounding on the places I travel, interesting interactions with other humans, lessons I've learned, advice for other artists, or anything that strikes me as inspiring on any given day!