I was recently given the amazing opportunity to talk with Kent Williams, an actor and performer in Dallas, about my thoughts on inspiration overload and got to interview him on any advice he might have for students wanting to get into a creative field who are struggling with their inspirations. This is what he said:
Kent, thank you for allowing me to interview you. You’ve been working in more than one creative field for a while now, is that safe to say?
Yes; 25 years.
Could you recap briefly the work you’ve done in the creative community for anyone not familiar with your work?
Having studied theater at SMU in the mid 80’s, I began working immediately upon graduation with Dallas Children’s Theater. They didn’t get reviewed, but they paid very well. From there I began teaching as well as acting and eventually became an administrator. After 6 years with DCT I had built up experience as a stage performer in their large season with long runs, developed my skills as a theater instructor putting to use much of what I’d picked up at SMU, and was theater company’s first Tour Director with a number one ranking by the Texas Commission on the Arts. It was also at DCT that I discovered Japanese kabuki theater, a theater discipline I continue to share nationally with students of all ages.
I then jumped ship and headed north to Addison Centre Theatre, now WaterTower, to become their first Education Director. I had one year to prove myself: create revenue to cover my salary, my assistant’s salary and the entire marketing and supply budget. I exceeded that goal. My success came from marketing my own set of afterschool, weekend and holiday classes and camps based upon my experience at DCT. I also surrendered to ACT all of the work I had begun doing with Young Audiences of Greater Dallas (now Big Thought), Junior Players, the TCA (Texas Commission on the Arts) and the Texas Workforce Commission (training child care givers around the state in creative dramatics…theater games).
But in my early 30’s, a divorced father of one, I gave up on a salaried administrative position and went freelance. 15 years later, I continue to work as an independent contractor with 4 agents, a touring marionette theater, and a shit ton of classroom hours logged.
Out of that work, what would you say “got you in” to this field(s)?
I love of theater and visual arts that I discovered growing up in rural north Texas that was powerful enough to redirect me from my plan of pursuing medical school.
What has been the most difficult obstacle you’ve had to overcome to be successful creatively?
Financial security…or perhaps the fear of financial insecurity. I got married a year out of college and became a father four years later. I HAD to make money. And I still don’t work for free.
I also had to shrug off all the self doubt and applied doubt from family and society at large. It ain’t easy making a living doing what you love. I know many, many people who chose to give up on their artistic pursuits to find secure positions with benefit packages. I long ago came to terms with the fact that I had to pay my own taxes (extra for the self-employed), have no health insurance and never knowing where my money is going to come from next. But I’m a homeowner who makes his sole living in the arts!
What was your primary inspiration for doing the things you do?
I watched a lot of Gene Kelly movies as a kid. I loooonged to do work like him and Van Johnson and Danny Kaye and Cyd Charisse…
What is your process for developing your inspirations/ideas into a workable project?
I figure out a formula that allows for minimal overhead and maximum profit. That is true for my puppet shows and my classes. (If a gig pays too little, then I honestly give less.)
Do you have any advice for those trying to getting into a creative field but don’t know where to start or how to handle having too many inspirations?
Edit. Know your skill set. Don’t ever just wing it. There’s a huge difference between a professional and a hobbyist.
Have you ever received any advice in the past that has helped you become successful?
Someone once told me that I could smell money. I’ve been trying to root it out ever since. I continually look for ways to make money doing what I know how to do in the arts.
And is there anything thing else you’d like our readers to know about working in a creative field?
Get help. Ask for it. Pay for it. Equipment, representation, training…whatever. Like Tim Gunn says in Project Runway, “Make it work!”