Community building (Mara Thomas, ASBX blog post 018)

Greetings, Soapboxers!

Last night I experienced musical time-travel. Two bands that were hugely important to me as a young, aspiring rock ‘n roller, reunited after many years for a one-off show. The place was packed with old friends, most of us sporting quite a few more gray hairs than we had when we first met. I spent the night rockin’ out down front just like I did all those years ago, a visceral reminder of why I love music and why music will always be my home.

Upon further reflection, something else stands out. The power of our creative community and support from our peers.

When I was young, I didn’t know the first thing about being in a band. It blew my mind to learn that a friend owned an actual drum kit, let alone wanted to play music with me. Before long we were playing Buzzcocks covers in my living room and having a ball. Then we wrote a few of our own songs. The next step was playing out in public, a daunting proposition. How would we set that up? We didn’t know anybody. Or so we thought.

[For any youngsters reading this, keep in mind: Once upon a time, there were no smartphones and no social media of any kind. For god’s sake this was before MYSPACE.]

A coworker passed by my desk one day and noticed a photo of my bandmates. A surreptitious, we-can’t-talk-about-this-openly-at-work email soon followed: “Are you in a band? So am I!” Right away he suggested playing at The Cave and introduced us to the then-owner. Within a week, we had a show on the calendar. A Monday night. We were ecstatic.

That introduction, a simple act of generosity, opened a huge door for us. In the crowd that Monday night were members of one of the local garage rock mainstays at the time. And those guys knew everybody. They took us under their wing, setting up shows with us, introducing us to out-of-town bands, and generally making us feel welcome.

They didn’t owe us anything. They weren’t looking for anything. They, unlike us, had been around long enough to know that music was never going to pay the bills. Honestly, it probably wasn’t any more complicated than that they liked our music and our bands fit well together. But their support taught me a lot about creative community building and the importance of extending a hand where and when you can.

It also made me think about the reciprocal nature of support. If you expect only to receive support without giving support to others, you can bet your returns will diminish in short order. From attending an event to buying merch to texting a note of encouragement, there are so many ways to tell your creative peers, “I see you. Keep doing your thing.” Friends, please don’t underestimate the power of these gestures. Most of us are not making significant money doing this. Sometimes, as Juliana Finch shared on Episode 051, we’re even on the verge of hanging it up. In times like those, a real or virtual high-five can truly give us the extra oomph we need to keep going.

Watching those bands last night, after more than a decade, made me so grateful for the pathways — hell, the life — that opened up to me thanks to them. I’m aware, too, that sometimes now I’m the one in a position to offer support to folx just getting started. Helping each other is one of the things that makes our creative community so strong and I’m honored to pass the torch. I know how much it meant to me.

We want to hear from you, Soapboxers! Drop us a line and tell us about a person or group or venue that gave you an opportunity or had your back. Share this blog post and tag them with a note of thanks. Looking for other ideas to support artists? Check out ASBX’s Respect the Work infographic and podcast episode.

I see you. Keep doing your thing.

‘Til next time!
MT


*Mara has a website! marathomas.com

Hear Mara on Episode 064, Bonus Episode 002Episode 017 and Episode 001 of the Artist Soapbox podcast.

Mara Thomas is a Durham-based playwright, actor, musician and teaching artist. Her original theatre piece, YES TO NOTHING, was commissioned by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern and played to raving crowds at music venues in Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham in fall 2017. Mara is working on YEAR OF THE MONKEY, a new play.

Blog posts and podcast episode about the Creative Accountability Group:

  1. Take your work seriously: put Creative Resistance on notice!
  2. Better together. A Creative Accountability Group debrief with Mara and Tamara
  3. Ask WHY to create opportunities for compassion
  4. Map your dreams

Blog posts about creativity resources:

  1. Cleaning house: Making space for creativity
  2. Nourish your creative self: Give your creative self a lift with something beautiful
  3. The importance of physical practice: Get out of your head and into your body (And here’s another)

Blog posts about creative obstructions that present themselves when you’re on your creative path.

  1. Imposter Syndrome: Who do I think I am? Why even try?
  2. Perfectionism: I’m so afraid that my creation will not be perfect that I never actually do it. And another one about perfectionism!
  3. Comparison: I’ll never be as good as that person. I should probably quit.
  4. Distraction: I’ve convinced myself that all these other things have priority over my creativity.

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