Does the definition of “emerging artist” mean young? And should it?

 

Whenever I hear three separate people musing about the same subject, whether that’s a show, a song, or even a stock tip, I pay attention. Because it means something’s up.

And just this week, three folks in our industry were questioning what the Talent-Hiring Decision Makers in our biz meant by the term, “Emerging Artist,” . . . and if that was code for “Young Artist.”

The first to clue me into this topic was the uber-intelligent playwright and advocate, Julia Jordan, who chatted with me on my podcast about her fascination with the industry’s fascination with young writers… Since being a writer isn’t like being a Hollywood actor, you don’t need a face and a bod to write a killer play. And ironically, the more years a writer has under his, her, or their belt, the better that writer is going to be!

The second was a member of my PRO community who was told straight to his middle-aged face by someone at a certain awards-giving institution that he wouldn’t get one because he was too old. Gasp!

The third was another “average-aged” writer who said he couldn’t get a meeting with a certain agency because they said they were looking for “new” talent. When he said that he had just started writing five years ago, so he couldn’t imagine being any newer than that . . . he didn’t get a response.

So what’s the deal? Do we have some ageism going on when looking for “new” writers and directors?

Julia did hit the nail on the head when she talked about the world’s fascination with the youth. And in other industries it makes sense . . . pro athletes need to be at their peak physical shape, so there’s no surprise that we focus on youth there.

And look, “new” will always be a great driver of interest to anything (adding “new” to marketing copy always gets more interest from a consumer, by the way, so why should an Artistic Director, Agent, or Producer be any different?). But since most writers don’t produce their greatest work until later in life (until they’ve lived a few lives and, frankly, just practiced the craft more), shouldn’t we be more focused on finding more mature writers?

And if you think the above is a generalization, check out this stat:

The average age of all Nobel Prize Literature Laureates* between 1901 and 2017 is 65 years. The youngest was Rudyard Kipling at 41.

Fascinating, right?

The counter argument is a super valid one. Should the prizes, grants, awards, and industry be focused on younger writers because they may not be in the same financial position as someone who is further along, and therefore they need the assistance more? Should we give a boost to those who need it most so that they will go on to be the Laureate that they might not be if they don’t have the help?

What do you think?  Have you experienced agism either way? Do you think younger writers make better writers or that they need the support more than someone with a few more decades under their writing belt?

Let me know in the comments below.

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.

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