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money talks with tom dugan


In today’s Money Talks column, actor/playwright Tom Dugan shares a story about being so committed to his work that he was willing to bleed for it. That’s pretty darn devoted!

Hopefully most of us don’t need to go quite to that extent to prove our dedication to our creative work in the world. But reading Tom’s story — and some of his other responses — did give me pause to think: how much am I willing to sacrifice in order to do my work in the world? What lines do I need to draw in the sand? What do I need to communicate to others about my work as a priority in my life? Have I made my creative work a priority in my own life?

We all have choices around how deeply we can or will go into our creative work. Perhaps after reading Tom’s responses, you might want to take a few minutes and consider what lengths you would go to keep your creative life alive and kickin’.  I’d love to hear, if you’re willing to share a snippet or two. Please comment below!


Tom Dugan bioTom Dugan
Woodland Hills, CA

Tom has recently been honored with the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award, as well as nominations for the Los Angeles Ovation Award, the New York Outer Critics Circle Award, and The New York Drama Desk Award for his one man play WIESENTHAL.  tomduganplays.com

1. Are you earning what you’re worth? I have found it important to separate my personal worth from the professional artistic creations or “products.” So my answer is: yes, I do think I’m earning what “I’m” worth. I am, however, always thinking that I should be working more— and that can be frustrating.

2. What does the expression starving artist bring up for you? The harsh reality of living as an artist. Actors always think that they will be the exception — that they won’t be the ones to have to starve for their art — but the vast majority do.

The “starving” can take on many forms, not just eating ramen noodles three times a week, either. Most actors I know never plan a vacation, never get married, or never have kids because they must always be available for auditions, and of course be available to work when they’re lucky enough to get a job.

Okay, so here’s my example of how important an acting job was to me. While working as a recurring character on a soap opera (the gig lasted a month: about $400 per day for three days a week for four weeks = two months rent!) I had to keep sneaking to my dressing room between takes to change my tee-shirt so that no one would notice the blood seeping through the costume from a very recent abdominal operation.

3. Do you have any childhood money stories that have to do with making a living from work you love? My Dad was a construction supervisor and, as far as I know, he found his work interesting. However, he was frequently unemployed. Our financial hardship became completely debilitating to my parents and the four kids. In fact, I’d say it broke our spirit.

It’s difficult to express love in a home that is in self-preservation mode. We became an unhappy family. I swore I’d never put my children through that same trauma. As a committed actor (I had come to the understanding that I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else) I felt the responsibility to make it clear to the girls that I dated that I could never marry a woman who depended on me financially. Happily, I did marry a woman with a secure job and we now have two kids and our home is a happy one. Thank God I’m making enough (at this time) in the arts to contribute my fair share to pay our bills. I count myself lucky to be someone who is making a living doing something I love.

4. What’s your biggest money story currently? I qualified for unemployment!!!

5. Do you think the expression, “Do what you love and the money will follow” is accurate? (Would you add anything to it?) Not in my universe. The surviving Beatles, at the time, George, Paul and Ringo were asked in an interview “Is it true that all you really need is love?” They all answered at once in a burst of passion, “No! Of course not! You need money, you need health, you need to have a brain between your ears…” etc. It made me respect the Beatles even more! I believe that you need to create a balance of art and commerce; the few actors I know who have survived continue to find that balance of maintaining financial security while living an artistic life.

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