The Art of Survival

by Dan Safer

in National Conference

Post image for The Art of Survival

(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Survive | Thrive} blog salon, curated by Caridad Svich.) 

I survive by teaching, which I love to do, so I recommend that, but only if you are a really dedicated teacher who digs into classwork with the same drive you would a production.

Thriving is a different subject, and if I based my self worth on financial success from the shows I do, I usually wouldn’t be worth much. So here is how I think about these things, and this is REALLY GOOD ADVICE, EVERYBODY.

There’s a triangle with three “P”s, one on each corner. People, Profit, Prestige. Everything you do has to have at least one, hopefully two, once in a while you get all three. Because you have to be psyched to go do it, to put the hours and sweat and brainspace and doubt and thrills into it, it has to feel worth it.

PEOPLE – I am dying to work with this person/ these people. I love what they do. I don’t care how much money I’m making, I am so fucking psyched to be in a room with these folks making stuff and I will learn a ton and I am happy when I get on the subway and go to rehearsal and want to hang out in the bar with them afterwards.

PROFIT – even if the show sucks and you hate it, you are making enough money that it is worth it. Maybe it will help pay for your next show, or it will pay your bills for a month, or it will cover you for part of the summer when NYU isn’t paying you (because you’re still paid by the hour even though you’ve been teaching there for over 15 years, but I’m not bitter, but it does make me really appreciate a well-paid theater or dance gig).

PRESTIGE – oooooh, fancy venue or something, and it will put you in a place where more and better work might come along, it looks good on your CV and maybe you’ll get considered for that grant this year, or it somehow or other ups your profile.

And what these three things mean to you, you gotta figure out for yourself, and it fluctuates and it depends on where you are in your ‘career’ or your life or whatever. There are folks I will choreograph dances for and be happy if they buy me a whiskey and I don’t lose any money, and there are projects where my starting rate is $5000 because that is what it would take for me to not hate life going into the room. And sometimes there is a project with people you love, it pays really well, and it is in a totally amazing venue and that is really, really cool and you feel like a badass.

Oh yeah – factor in how much money you might lose doing some of these passion projects and figure out if it is too much. You can work for cheap or for free, but you might not want to basically pay for the honor of doing so.

I do not always follow my own advice, and sometimes I am wrong – I thought it was just for the cash but ended up loving it, etc, or thought I would love the project but it makes me want to hit myself in the face with a chair, etc – but my batting average is way higher when I take this triangle thing into consideration.


Dan Safer is Artistic Director of the dance/theater company Witness Relocation and works as a freelance director and choreographer. Recent credits include “Ubu Sings Ubu” with Tony Torn & Julie Atlas Muz; Dave Malloy & Eliza Bent’s “Blue Wizard/ Black Wizard”, the world premiere of Chuck Mee’s “Eterniday”; an original dance/theater/music adaptation of “Moby Dick” at NYU Abu Dhabi; and  choreography for Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” with Philadelphia Orchestra and Ridge Theater. He has directed the English language premieres of plays by Toshiki Okada (“Five Days In March”) and Mikuni Yanaihara (“The Bluebird”). His work has appeared at venues including BAM, Theater de Chaillot in Paris, Les Subsistanes in Lyon, and theaters and festivals in Thailand, Poland, Russia, Romania, Australia, and all over the US of A. He was a 2007- 9 recipient of the Six Points Fellowship (Performance) and has won two NY Innovative Theater Awards. Time Out NY called him “a purveyor of lo-fi mayhem” and he thought that was really awesome. He used to be a go-go dancer and once choreographed the Queen of Thailand’s Birthday Party. Dan is the Head of Movement Training at NYU/ Playwrights Horizons Theater School and has taught at Princeton University and The Norwegian Theatre Academy. The next WR show will be a new Chuck Mee jam at La Mama in Spring of ’15.