Building a Life in the Arts: Meet Theater Artist, Tatiana Baccari

Hi everyone. Thanks for having me on here. I’m so grateful to be welcomed into the Creative Pinellas community! I’m a bit nervous about writing these blog post but mostly excited to craft a space for thinking out loud and to grapple with the nuance of navigating an early career in the arts. 

Photo by Corinne Louie 

As a theater creator/director/producer, I haven’t had many occasions to blog; believe it or not this is actually my first one! But I’ve had thoughts brewing about the landscape of the theater industry, particularly the ways in which theatrical institutions are set up to protect the lucky few who have been accepted in, while keeping the majority of young, emerging artists out. I am grappling with that in my own path forward.
It’s truly been amazing to see the ways in which artists in my community have pivoted and are transforming, organizing and innovating in the midst of upheaval, reckoning and scarcity. You all inspire me and give me the strength to keep moving forward.
I hope in these post to be radically transparent. I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I imagine across these post that I will probably ask more questions than I will be able to answer. Above all, I’m hoping to use this platform to reach out about the questions on my mind and I hope that you will feel like you have the space to respond. 
Let me take a step back and tell you a little bit more about myself. My name is Tatiana. I was born and raised in Clearwater, Florida. I’m the product of Roman and Sicilian Italians on my mom’s side and German and Russian Jews on my dad’s side. My family’s story on both sides includes leaving New York to make the mecca to Florida before I was born. Before that, we escaped pogroms in Russia, ran a meat shop on the Lower East side (which is now the German Consulate!), and got drawn into Italian mob activity in Rochester. My family story includes murder, deportation, mental illness, poverty and building back up, healing from trauma, pursuing education and attaining the elusive (and maybe now delusional?) self-made American Dream. I’ve only recently begun to more fully integrate this familial history into my own sense of identity. To call it my own. I am also an artist, a feminist and proudly queer.
My great-great grandfather Meyer Wetzstein and his meat shop on the Lower East Side in New York City.

 
I came to the performing arts first through acting. I had wonderful teachers growing up in Florida. At Shorecrest, I studied with Bill Leavengood. I had the great privilege to also study with Eugenie Bonduront, Mary K. Wilson, and incredible teachers, dancers, singers and musicians at Ruth Eckerd Hall, all of whom provided me with a creative outlet and access to arts education at an early age. My wonderful, caring parents, though terrified by my choice to go to a conservatory and pursue the arts professionally, have supported me in each step I have taken to get to where I am now. I have had many privileges along the way. In the spirit of radical transparency it feels important to acknowledge the ways I have progressed partly because of my talent and drive but also definitely because of my privilege. 
A major reason that I applied to Creative Pinellas’ Emerging Artist Grant is their mentorship program. There are so few opportunities for mentorship in the arts and it is so valuable. Mentorship falls into one of these categories I so oft have heard mentioned when discussing How to Build a Career in the Arts. Here’s the secret they never taught me in acting school: you need deep and trusting relationships with peers and mentors to build your network and by virtue, your work. “Network” was the scary word that was always thrown around in acting school. In my young brain I equated “network” to quid-pro-quos and quid-pro-quos to sleaziness. But the funny truth I’ve experienced so far is that it actually means people with great mutual passion coming together to build a better future with dynamic and equitable art.
In 2016, I started a producing company called Experimental Bitch Presents. I wanted to create a womxn+ space where I felt empowered to take risks and grow my artistic work and the work of my collaborators. I was able to do this because I had no college debt and a few connections coming out of school. But let’s be clear, we had no money when we started out. We have a little bit of money now but still not anywhere near enough to make the large-scale theatrical productions and films that I dream about making. We are surviving, which honestly is significant in and of itself because so many companies are going under right now. My dream is to artistic direct on a larger scale and to develop ambitious, risky, sweeping plays, musicals, series and movies that bring the worlds of theater and film closer together. I am drawn to live theater and film that misbehaves, that grapples with big questions and that is formally rigorous, feminist and queered.
Tatiana Baccari at Experimental Bitch Presents workshop production of “In the Kitchen” in 2019

 
Why is it so hard to make a living as a working artist? We all know now, in the midst of this pandemic, just how much we need art and artists around. My fiancé is finishing law school and already has a job lined up where he will make a living wage as a lawyer. All this before he’s even passed the bar. I trained for four years in a BFA conservatory program but my trajectory toward making a living as a working artist is arduous and windy. I think the answer lies partially in early-career support for artists just starting out professionally. Where do young artists go who have the ideas but don’t necessarily have the experience or resources yet? What would it look like to have opportunities for the kind of growth that expensive conservatories and specialized programs provide without the prohibitory cost? Does this look like better federal funding for the arts? Does it look like seed funding for artists to start their own companies and non-profits? Does it look like more programs like this one?
I say all this to say hello, that I want to know you, that I want you to know me. What do you dream about and what you are chiseling to get closer to day by day? I’m grappling with these questions, right now especially. I hope, if you’re still reading this, that you’ll consider shooting me a message (tatianabaccari@gmail.com) to let me know what you’re thinking about as we continue to weather this storm together.

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