I went to see a pair of plays recently. One was about a controversial play from a century ago that reveals what happens to the actors involved in the play, with commentary on free speech, religion, sexuality and the Holocaust. It’s called Indecent. The other was a musical about early 19th century love called The Great Comet. I realized after seeing them just how hard it is to break into theater and the other arts.
Broadway is far more competitive than Hollywood. And Hollywood is far more competitive than book publishing.
Think about it. Though there are regional theater companies dotting the American landscape, there’s only one Broadway, and at any given time, just a few dozen plays fill the Times Square artsy scene. At best a few thousand, if that many, are connected to the leading stage at any one time.
In Hollywood, there are hundreds of major movie releases in a year – maybe close to a thousand. Then there are plenty of indie films and movies made for Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Showtime, HBO, Starzz, network TV, cable TV, and online outlets. Still highly competitive, but it is much bigger than Broadway.
Then you look at books and realize nearly 400,000 authors will get published this year by traditional publishers with an equal amount – or more – of authors who will self-publish. The entry point to get published is far easier than for someone to get a part on Broadway or in Hollywood. Yet, authors feel their world is highly competitive and that to really break through – not just get published but to make a name for one’s self – is still a difficult and challenging task.
They’re not wrong.
Success is elusive to most. One can be a best-selling author and still not sell a ton of books. One can get major media coverage and still not be a recognizable brand. One can write a powerful, moving book of great importance but still not receive the acclaim, sales or public recognition s/he deserves.
Maybe none of that really matters. Perhaps all of the creative talent out there – from actors to authors – should just see themselves as pieces to a very large puzzle, no piece any more important than the other. The priority should be placed not on individual glory but in how all of the creative folks come together to impact and move society. If your book is read by 460 people or your play is seen by 460,000, you influenced, inspired, and enlightened people to some degree. That, I think, defines success.
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