Lacy Katherine Campbell: On Art and Advertising

Balancing art and commerical work

The thing I hate the most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative and ambitious young people, leaving us mainly with the slow and self-obsessed to become our artists.… Never in the field of human history has so much been used by so many to say so little. Bansky


Hmm. Well. The thing is, nowhere in the field of my bank account has so little paid so much, Banksy. And based on the economy we live in, I'm not sure anything else will anytime soon. 

Also, since by your definition, I’m bright, creative and ambitious, perhaps you would like to check out the show I wrote, designed and am self-producing this fall, “Then, One Night?” Oh…wait. This is awkward. Am I allowed to advertise my own art?

I love advertising. I like the psychology of it, the variety of it, and the paycheck of it. I love that what I do—something I like to call “speaking”—has some value in the field. I can say no to companies I disagree with, and I do. I can be enthusiastic and proud of companies I believe in, and I am. Here’s a link to my voice as a goat for Heifer International, where kids can learn about giving bees and water buffalo to families in need. HECK YES!

I love it. And what’s more: it’s what allows me to be an artist. 

Let’s leave Banksy and visual art aside for a moment and talk about theater, which is a lamentably expensive thing to make. Most theater is produced at a loss. That was a crappy realization when I got out of theater school. When I moved to Chicago, I worked for a paying educational touring company whose owner disliked children. I worked for a paying multi-million dollar theater company and regularly watched audiences sleep through entire plays. And I worked for a nonpaying storefront company held together by gaff tape and stubbornness that made beautiful, moving work. In theater, quality of art and quantity of money often live at opposite ends of the map.

So if you want to make adventurous, bold, new theater…you’re probably going to have to find a job.

My story might be different if I weren’t a terrible waiter, but I am. My story might also be different if my first temp job hadn’t been a horrifying nightmare of misogyny and corporate investment, but it was. I also had the distinct advantage of getting picked up by Stewart Talent, a fantastic agency that gets me in the door to meet all the people who give me jobs.

What is my job? Well, my over-arching job is commercial work, specifically, voice over, print, and on-camera work for commercial or industrial use. Most of the time, my job is auditioning. Occasionally my job is shooting a commercial or reading a script in a tiny sound booth. There are about two dozen people watching/listening to me do this (in another room) and voicing eleven dozen opinions about it. That’s their job (and I wouldn’t want to have it: It seems really stressful). I would rather hold up a box of tampons and smile, or, say the name of an office supply company with a lot of warmth and love in my voice. That is ridiculous, funny, and at times, very precise. My job is like an utterly absurd game.

Then, after I have set down the box of tampons, I go make some art. 

Let’s say that on a great week, I have seven auditions and two jobs. Let’s say they’re both voice-over jobs. Thanks to my union, no audition can hold me for longer than one hour without paying me. Also thanks to my union, that voice-over job is probably going to be no longer than two hours. I have worked eleven hours. The rest is mine to make theater.

This, however, is a great week that I just made up. An average week might look like one audition. Or twelve. And no jobs. Commercial work is freelance, and there are unquestionably peaks and valleys. I’m in a valley now and it stinks. However, look at the absurd amount of time I have to find other jobs! And once more, thanks to my union, my paychecks get taxes taken out, so I can collect unemployment while I’m going on my dozen auditions and looking for work. Then, when things do pick up, I know to save my paychecks judiciously (some might say obsessively) to ride out the valleys the next time around.

This fall I’m producing a play that I wrote, built, and directed. It’s a completely wordless puppet show inspired by graphic novels. My goal is to tour the world with it, though I’m focusing on our October 31 opening at the moment. In the past year, in the process of building this show, I’ve led a team of 16 artists, written and received grants, led three workshops and mounted three performances. None of this would have been possible for me while working a 40-hour week. Instead, I shot three commercials, two industrial videos, a TV episode and did a bunch of voice-over. Commercial work has not removed me from the artistic world. It has given me the freedom to live there.

I must specify that none of this would be possible without my union. Through them I get paid on time, taxes taken out, set hours, clear contracts, health insurance when I earn enough and when I don’t, unlimited access to a low-cost, full-service healthcare clinic. And get ready for this: I even have a pension

Yes, there are bad days at the office. There are terrible scripts, unreasonable clients, and generally lousy days at work. But that’s any job. The trick is coming home, leaving that behind, and using your energy to make something beautiful.



Lacy Katherine Campbell is a Chicago-based theater artist, a company member with Barrel of Monkeys where she adapts, performs and directs, a Redmoon Collaborator, and the creator and director of "Then, One Night" with her company, Hearts and Brains.  She is a regional council member of SAG-AFTRA and is proud to list acting credits in the upcoming Superman movie alongside storefront theater productions. An avid independent traveler across five continents (so far), Lacy is passionate about spectacle theater, shared storytelling and the similarities of folktales between cultures.

Written in October 2012.

Published by Aeneas Hemphill on Tue, 09/25/2012 - 9:07am
Updated on Tue, 01/28/2014 - 12:30pm