Ep 5 - Becoming an Artist
After getting pulled back to California with a phone call, Shannon alternates between professional branding roles and pursuing her art - a one-woman show, studying Meisner technique and even auditioning for the movies. Unexpectedly, she also starts a business.
Kerri: Last time on ArtistCEO, we took a deep dive into Shannon’s back story by going through her old blog. From her unsettling addiction to work, to living in Vietnam as a Buddhist artist to the devastating experience of her brother’s unexpected death. We left off as she got a call, from a woman named Amanda Peterson, who is basically Shannon’s professional fairy godmother. You’ll hear a lot more from her later this season.
Shannon: Amanda called me up and basically offered me a job. She remembered me from my internship and was looking for a writer. It was a good job, but -
Kerri: Shannon just had this transformational experience in Vietnam and learned a lot about herself through writing about her travels and her grief. She doesn’t want to repeat her last branding job burnout and sacrifice her new-found creato-spiritual lifestyle. However, she does need a job and knows it’ll scratch her professional itch. She decides to risk it, go back to California and -
Shannon: So I take the job. I get all this experience now on the client side, in depth about global nomenclatures and business departments and Purchase Orders. I learned how to work from inside big global behemoths instead of just from the artsy agency side. When Amanda leaves and there’s a re-org, my role changes and I don’t really like it, so I leave. Because on the side, I’ve started writing a one-woman show.
Kerri: Shannon’s one woman show is BURST. You heard a clip of it back in episode 2.
Shannon flashback: I work at a hip branding agency where I’m a namer.
Kerri: That’s the one. This is a weird place where my story and Shannon’s connect. I wrote a one woman show after experiencing a health crisis, telling my story of how I tried to be a singer/songwriter after acting school, but I lost my voice and had to start over. I took counter jobs at mini-cupcake stores and coffee shops. Then got my first real job...as a copywriter, which was Shannon’s first attempt at bridging art and business. I told you my connection to Shannon was weird.
Shannon: I’ve been working on my show and done a few performances of it. Then I get this opportunity - someone invites me to go perform in New York at a festival, and I’m like “Hell Yeah!” So I leave Logitech to go do that and I tour my one woman show. I perform in San Francisco, I love it. And then I get another call from Amanda, she’s now at a new company and she says, “Wanna come work for me again?"
At this time I’ve done my tour and I was getting to the point where I was getting disillusioned, like do I take it to more festivals? What do I do? I think I got caught up in the success of it again, like how do I be a successful artist instead of just staying with the making of art - and I also ran out of money. I had been riding on my savings so I could coast while touring my show. But it doesn’t last forever - so I take the job.
Kerri: And history repeats itself, to a degree, with the same overworked and under-inspired Shannon yearning for art again.
Shannon: I’m working at (classified) it’s miserable, it’s soul-sucking – but simultaneously I’ve enrolled at this acting conservatory studying nights and weekends to learn a craft. The program is all about authenticity, it’s all about your truth and I’m finding it increasingly difficult to deny that my truth is that I’m totally miserable at my job. And while it’s important to me to have a professional career, this still isn’t the way to do it.
Kerri: So again, she jumps ship and leaves a super-cushy 6 figure with benefits job to do acting training. She goes through a year long, intense program that’s famous for crushing people and breaking them down, and then, if you’re lucky, you get built back up again. It’s a method of acting training called The Meisner Technique, which is the same acting program that I went through at NYU. I can attest that it breaks you down. Shannon says that this program was -
Shannon: Some of the hardest work I’ve ever done, I’m barely able to keep up. I’m having to come up with new scenes every 24 hours and memorize 5 scripts simultaneously and I’m going home crying every night and yet, I love it. Because its work and it’s hard work, but it’s the work of my heart.
Kerri: But she hasn’t left naming and branding completely behind either.
Shannon: Because this whole time I’ve still been freelancing. I’m working as little as possible to stay focused on my acting training - just enough to literally feed myself. But so much work is coming in, more than I can handle, so I realize: “Aha. I need someone to help me. In a deep way.” Whitney and I have known each other and worked together for years - she’s a friend, fellow artist and namer - and so I bring her in to help with my entire client list so I can keep my business running while I simultaneously study as an artist.
Kerri: That was the seed of House of Who. Shannon pursuing her art and adding some creative solutions to how she managed freelancing (ie - bringing on the ridiculously creative force of Whitney, who is now our lead namer). Is anybody else remembering a certain fortune cookie - “Your life will be prosperous if you use your creativity.” Creativity in art. Creativity in building a business. Finding a balance between the two.
Shannon: What ended up happening was that I graduated, I started auditioning and really quickly realized “Wait a minute - this also isn’t for me.” The work of being a commercial actor...I went on this audition for this thing called “Eat My Flesh” that’s like a Zombie flesh-eating apocalypse movie and it’s not even for the movie, it just for the trailer to pitch the movie to the studios.
Kerri: Can you hear the commiserating groans from all the actors in the audience?
Shannon: I don’t get cast. But the casting director writes me later and says “Hey, we should go out to lunch.” He remembers me, he said, because he thought I was interesting and authentic. I think it’s because I mentioned that I did branding. So we sit down for coffee and he’s asking me for branding advice and it’s this turning of the tables. He says “I’m a casting director but I’m also trying to get back into acting myself, plus I have this startup company, and I also run this other business…” So he’s also this trippy entrepreneur, wanting to be both a professional and an artist, and he’s looking at me as someone who’s doing it - and that means I have something to offer him.
And this situation kept happening in different ways.
Once I was on a phone call as a copywriter with a client and one of my colleagues let it slip that I was also a performance artist. They said, “Shannon’s performing in a one woman show in New York!” and the client said, “Oh we have to come see it! What is it about?” and I’m thinking “No, I can’t talk about my art on this call!” because my show is so deeply personal and I’m thinking I’m going to be so embarrassed, but instead the client says, “Well we know you must be creative and really good at your job if you’re an artist.” So there are all these things starting to happen that really point me to this integrated path: people like that I’m both.
Kerri: Which brings us to the next phase of this story, where Shannon is running her company, House of Who, an arthouse and agency that specializes in naming and branding. She’s building a team of Artist/Professionals and wants to be a new kind of CEO, an ArtistCEO that makes business and art live in harmony. Can she do it? Subscribe to ArtistCEO to find out.
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This podcast is brought to you by Arthouse of Who, a division of House of Who, Inc. Music by cf watkins and www.cfwatkins.com. My name is Kerri Lowe, you’re listening to the story of Shannon DeJong. Signing off.