Sometimes as a working artist, you have a meeting with an Industry Person. This is someone whose job is to buy the work of performing artists. There are plenty of nice ones, so I'm not knocking them per se. Without fail, though, they always ask this question:
"What's next for you?"
They want to know what your next project is, what your next show will be, the next direction for your work. Why do they always ask this? Probably a few reasons. Not being an Industry Person, I have to hazard guesses.
Perhaps one reason is to take the pressure off the work you are currently trying to sell them. Maybe Industry Person feels the truth of things: that selling one's performance work is stressful and it's a buyer's market and that sucks because that's a lot of pressure pressing down on something that just wants to flutter and breathe and be. Maybe the conversation got heavy and the Industry Person likes it light. So they try to focus on the future, hoping it's less confronting to talk about than your current present.
Also, they probably want to know if your next product is something they might want to buy. Either in addition to or instead of what you're currently offering.
Hey, who can blame them? Industry People want what we all want: good working relationships with colleagues. When they find someone who meets the basic requirements for Good Colleague—you answer emails, you can spell, you treat them courteously no matter what's going on in your life—they want to know if they can continue to have a working relationship with you. It's way easier than trying to find someone else who is courteous and can spell. They want the nice option they already know.
The problem is only for us, the artists. Frankly, thinking about our commercial viability, thinking about our work as a series of products, well, it might just kill what we do—kill it dead.
Here's an example I can think of: um, myself! I came up with a good show. It's cheap (solo, with minimal baggage), innovative, and fun. It's led to a lot of touring and performing opportunities all over the place. I did one good one! I win! But of course you never win. The thing is, that might be the only show I've got in me. Seriously. I mean, maybe, at least. I definitely might not have another solo show in me—see every blog post I've ever written about how fricking lonely solo-touring can be. These days I'm focusing more on teaching, exploring local performance opportunities, writing. I've also become way more interested in interactive experience design, escape rooms and games. All of this boils down to me not being able to tell an Industry Person What's Next.
This is what I tend to say: "You know, I still really love doing this character and this show—it still feels really fresh to me, and although I'm interested in a lot of different things, I don't actually know what's next."
Sure, it feels momentarily bad, when you realize that you might not be a viable product, that you may not be an Industry Person's best bet for those long-term relationships, that if you don't have a What's Next, in their eyes, you barely have a What's Now.
But we have to honor where we are, and what the Muses have already given us. We can't get too greedy in this life. We don't have to apply capitalist principles to our art-making, just because other people do. Just because it feels gratifying to our capitalist veins, our capitalist capillaries, to have those moments of capitalist blood beating through the body UNHHHH, SOMEBODY'S PAYING ME MONEY FOR MY ART UNNNHHHHH. Yeah, it's fricking awesome. Does it mean you need to think of yourself as a product farting out products on somebody else's idea of a schedule? Yeah, have fun with that. You see what happened to Season 3 of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" (and if you haven't seen, for satan's sake DON'T WATCH SEASON 3). You see what happens to every artist who has to crank shit out on the regular. Art does not respond to factory conditions. I mean, neither do people, once we start really going for this train of thought. But seriously.
Maybe it's fine to not know what's next. I'm not saying it's fine, like, you'll still get Industry People to return your emails. Most of the time, I have no idea how to get Industry People to return my emails. They do when they want to, they don't when they don't.
I'm saying it's fine like you're still probably a worthwhile artist, even if you don't have another Insert- Artform-Here all ready to pitch. You've made something valuable that gave you and a lot of other people joy. Once in a while, in your dark nights—with the unknown unfolding in front of you, like a ribbon from a future birthday party for a friend you don't yet know—focus fully on what you've already done, and let it surround you, and just sometimes, let it be enough.