Making It: Behind the Scenes of Will Work For with Dacyl Acevedo
We’re illuminating personal experiences from all walks of life at this year’s 15th Anniversary First Person Arts Festival. From sexuality to immigration to ethnicity, we’re putting a spotlight on some of the most timely topics of our day. And how could we possibly talk about real life without talking about that “W” word?! WORK!
New York-based artist Dacyl Acevedo is no longer shy about the fact that her life was turned completely upside down by the economic crash of 2008. In fact, she’s turned her woes into a wonderful one-woman show, Will Work For, which makes its Philadelphia premiere at the milestone Festival on Thursday, Nov. 10. Tickets on sale here.
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FPA: Like many people in 2008, you found yourself out of a job, in line at the unemployment office, and eventually receiving eviction notices. What would you say is unique and important for us to know about your personal experience navigating life after being laid off?
DA: First and most importantly, that my experience is not unique. It is unfortunately, still a shared experience with about 600,000 Americans TODAY, who’ve been unemployed for 99 weeks or more. I wanted to include my life as an Artist and all the complexities that come with us trying to juggle day jobs with our artistic lives. An Actor’s life is not all play and fun, and it’s rarely glamorous. It is for most, a constant hustle just to survive. My family’s immigrant experience also came up for me as I was creating the piece. The work ethic I was raised with and their ideas about what constitutes work, success and achievement of the American dream are deeply rooted in me, but also frequently in conflict with the realities of trying to “make it” in America.
FPA: What do most people not know about what it’s like to be unemployed, looking for work, and still unable to find a job?
DA: We can all relate to the worry, stress and anxiety, but as time goes on you start to feel isolated. You start to have serious doubts about your abilities, your competency, the choices you’ve made that have led you to this point in your life. You start to compare yourself to others who may have already found a job or are doing well while you’re struggling. You feel guilty and blame yourself. You feel shame for needing to ask for help. You feel like a disappointment and a burden to your family and friends. I think, in America a lot of our identity is wrapped up in our job/career. We introduce ourselves by saying, “Hi, my name is… I’m an Artist, Doctor, Engineer, Nurse, Teacher…” When that is taken away, who are we? It feels as if, you’re nothing, worthless.
FPA: Your piece tells the true story about your very real and serious experience navigating the economic crash of 2008 through theater, storytelling, and in some places through clowning. Tell us about how you approach such a serious topic through such a lighthearted form as clowning.
DA: The whole show really took shape from a scene that I wrote based on a dream that I had of myself as a Charlie Chaplin-esque type clown begging for work and/or money in a subway station. At the time, I didn’t have much clown training, but the more I learned about clown work and experimented with the form, it became the heart of the piece. I was lucky enough to get into a couple of Christopher Bayes’ weekend workshops and it was some of the greatest training I’ve ever had as an actor. A clown is essentially a mirror into our purest and truest self. The clown is simple, innocent, hopeful, honest and curious, like a child. We are instantly attracted, fascinated and connected to this strange, ridiculous creature because we don’t know what they’ll do. They unknowingly reveal our greatest truths and teach us lessons while we’re laughing and our hearts are open.
FPA: From your experience, how does society view people who are out of work? Did you find that people’s perceptions of you changed when you lost your job? Did your perception of yourself change?
DA: The switch from compassion and empathy changed sharply after the first 6-9 months after the jobs crisis peaked, to judgement, ridicule and scapegoating of the unemployed. As a society, blame-the-victim seems to be our default stance when we can’t figure out what to do about anything that seems threatening to us. It was interesting to watch the 2012 election unfold during the jobs crisis and listen to people talk about this excruciating process you’re going through with such glibness and dismissiveness. I took it all personally. It hurt, infuriated and motivated me. I tried to hide my situation or downplay it as much as possible from my friends and family. Many never knew until they saw the show. The people who did know were extremely helpful and supportive. I learned a lot about myself and it shook me to my core foundation. I lost a lot of my self-respect. Building this show was my way of rebuilding myself. There’s still so much work for me to do, but I’m more hopeful, humble and grateful for any help I receive.
FPA: Sometimes as a culture, we associate joblessness with laziness. But that’s not always the case. In fact, in your experience, you applied to many jobs, took classes on professional development, and sought out support wherever possible. As you mentioned already, this much effort with little response can leave a person feeling feeling hopeless, and out of options. What would you say to someone who might be in that situation and feeling that way right now?
DA: Hold on! It will pass. Blaming and punishing yourself is a waste of time and energy. I know because I did it, a lot. Don’t bother trying to deny or avoid the pain and bad feelings just go through it. Be honest and face the realities of your situation, then focus on solutions and ASK FOR HELP! Other people can sometimes see opportunities that you can’t. You can only tackle one thing at a time and it’s ok. Finally, find something outside of looking for work that brings you joy and fight like hell to keep that joy alive!
FPA: Why should someone come to see Will Work For at the First Person Arts Festival?
DA: Come, for some good laughs! When have you ever seen a show about unemployment that’s fun, political, educational, dramatic, realistic and absurd in less than 90 minutes? It’s got storytelling, poetry, intriguing characters, and a clown!
FPA: This is our 15th anniversary Festival! In honor of this milestone, share with us your 15-word memoir!
DA: We never create anything alone, it’s always a collaboration. Without it great art cannot exist.
Will Work For is part of the 15th Anniversary First Person Arts Festival presented by PNC Arts Alive. This show is part of our RAW Series, dedicated to presenting cutting edge new work by emerging artists who are pushing the boundaries of memoir and documentary art. To view the full Festival lineup, click here.