The Empowered Artist - Sarah Wharton


I’ve been thinking a lot about power recently. Who has it, who doesn’t, how do you get it, what do you do with it, and why does it get abused so often? So much of our world, and certainly the entertainment industry, seems to be an endless power struggle - who’s on top? It’s a taking game. You have to seize power to win. It’s a selfish pursuit, and it permeates the way we do business with each other. Hollywood’s sleazeball reputation (which we now know to be terrifyingly accurate in the wake of #MeToo) has lead us to an ingrained sense of “don’t trust anyone. Put yourself first. Take the money and run.” But we’ve always known it’s damaging, right? It’s every parent’s nightmare that their kid wants to be an artist. Especially the parents who are artists themselves. Because they know just exactly how bad it is.

But it shouldn’t be. If we reposition our thinking about power in order to see it as something that is created rather than won, we can put ourselves in a power-collective, rather than a power-struggle. There is certainly no lack of power in the world. It is abundant and free! So there’s no need to fight over it so disastrously.

Instead of power, let’s talk about empowerment. Empowerment requires a gift. It’s the most glorious gift because upon giving it, you find yourself with more of the thing you gave in the first place. I’m sure this translates into economy, faith, relationships and myriad other modes of transactions in our lives, but I’d like to talk about what empowerment means an as artist.

Truthfully, when I made the decision to pursue acting as the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I was totally high on power. I had experienced what every newly zealous thespian does when first struck with the feeling of being in CONTROL. I had the power to make people laugh, cry, gasp, and maybe even question their own morals and life choices. But as I pursued acting and my passion for it further, I realized that the real magic of it was being able to relinquish all power within it. The saying “leave it all on the stage” refers to that special ability to give up the idea of control and instead turn yourself over to trust. It takes an enormous amount of skill and practice to be able to do it successfully, but it’s nothing short of magic when it happens.

So how do we translate the empowered dynamic between artist and audience to the process of making art? In other words - how do we empower ourselves in the business of art, not just in the creative elements of it?

The hard part is that there is not currently a system in place that supports a more holistic way of working as an artist. The hopeful part is that the current system is crumbling under its own problematics, opening up space for something new to emerge. The way forward right now is infuriatingly simple: Just Make Your Art. Make your art in the way that you want to make it. Don’t wait for permission or for someone else to do it. Be radically independent. Your uniqueness, your artistic vision, is your superpower.

That doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. Gather the people that you want to. Form your own power collective. We’ve adopted this strategy within The Private Theatre and it’s fascinating to watch this new system and the work that comes from it evolve. As we move forward with producing theatrical experiences, performance pieces, and our artist workshop we hope to expand our collective, bringing other empowered artists into our community in order to learn from each other and share all of our creative gifts. I thoroughly believe that the more we share, give, support one another in our work, the more empowered we all become.