Introducing La Fogata: You’ve Got 99 Problems and a Mentor Ain’t One

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Fogata. Bonfire. An outdoor fire, corralled and controlled, used since The Dawn of Man to rid a space of refuse, and and for communities to gather around and celebrate Life itself. Yes.

And now, in that same tradition, the Staff of pLAywriting in the city have corralled and controlled their inner fires and refuse to bring you La Fogata – an ongoing series erected and set aflame with the earnest intent to share our erudite and superficial gripes and passions with you, the gregarious and distinguished Interati.

We present to you Column 1, Vol. 1 of La Fogata.


You’ve Got 99 Problems and a Mentor Ain’t One

Behold, theater artists and all other creative peoples: a handy list on how to get yourself a mentor (and maintain that relationship) if you need one. There is no fancy formula for how to approach someone you admire and request mentorship. Don’t be scared.

Highway Signpost "Mentorship"

  1. Don’t grumble about not having a mentor when you haven’t even asked someone to be your mentor. Seriously. I’ve heard so many artists say they need mentorship but they can’t get one, or don’t know how to get one, or they’re afraid, so they don’t even ask anyone. You know the saying, “no pain, no gain?” If you are not willing to put yourself in an uncomfortable position to get what you need, then maybe you don’t deserve it. Yet. Until you’re ready, that is, to go out and make it happen.
  2. Don’t just ask just any famous person to be your mentor. You love Quentin Tarantino’s work? How about Philip Glass? You want to be mentored by them? Unless you know someone who knows someone who knows them and can hook it up, chances are you’re not going to be mentored by them. Find someone local. Many people you know do great work, maybe they haven’t won an award, but they can share a few words of wisdom with you. What local artist is producing work that inspires you? Go see their shows. Read their reviews. Read any interviews they’ve given to magazines or blogs. If they’ve published anything, read that too. In short, do your research.
  3. Not everyone who is awesome knows how to mentor. It takes a special person to share the time needed to mentor someone. Don’t get discouraged if the first person you ask to mentor you either says “no” or eventually sucks at it. Nobody’s perfect. Mentorship is a special skill that not everyone wants to hone. Ask until you find the right fit.
  4. Use social media to get to know your potential mentor. But don’t cyber stalk. Use social media etiquette or simple common sense. Don’t just “friend” them without introducing yourself first. Send them a private message. Start by asking them when their next show will be produced. If they are a writer, ask them if they are working on a manuscript. Maybe they have a calendar of events that will give you the opportunity to stop by and introduce yourself in person.
  5. Don’t be afraid of being the annoying “fan.”  Do acknowledge their work. People love being acknowledged. Ask them questions. Gush over their work but don’t be a Crazy. How do you avoid being a crazy? Respect a person’s personal space. Pay attention to non-verbal cues like body language and facial expressions to gage whether a person welcomes your conversation or not. If they are rushing out, don’t hold them hostage. You’ll get another opportunity to talk to them, I promise.
  6. Don’t tell your potential mentor that you want to “pick their brain” about something. There’s something really self-centered about this phrase, very clinical and one sided. Are you going to replace this scavenging of knowledge with anything? Or are you just taking their knowledge without offering anything in return? How about inviting them to coffee and having a dialogue, a conversation that will allow you to exchange ideas. Don’t suck them dry of every piece of wisdom they have to offer – share something of yourself or your work. Be vulnerable and open. Don’t be a wisdom vampire.
  7. Your mentor is not the father or mother you never had, but they may act like one if they are older than you. Don’t get offended by their parental advice. Just take it and shuffle it away in your mental filing cabinet, you never know when you might need it. Besides, you never listen to your parents. You might as well listen to your older, wiser, Been-In-The-Business-Longer mentor.
  8. Check your ego at the door and pick it up on your way out. If you want a mentor, it’s probably because you want to improve on some aspect of your work. Don’t get offended when they tell you the truth about how much it sucks. Chances are they will be diplomatic when they tell you. Use what their feedback and advice and improve.
  9. Yes, you can have multiple mentors. We are complicated individuals with complicated desires. One person can’t fulfill all of our needs whether artistic or professionally. It’s okay to have multiple mentors, and its okay if your mentor knows that you have other mentors. I think they’ll understand. In fact, they’ll probably make you go talk to someone else when you’ve finally gotten on their last nerve.
  10. Once you get yourself a mentor, pay it forward – mentor someone else. Don’t be selfish with your knowledge. And yes, if you are alive and breathing, you have knowledge and/or experiences to share.
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