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Tracey Conyer Lee Headshot

Gratitude

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I made the decision to be an artist many, many years ago. But I made the decision to live my artistry far more recently. That decision changed my life. I gave up on the benefits of waiting tables between paying acting, singing or writing gigs in order to add to my toolbox the art of saying "Yes." It comes with its consequences; certainly a tightening of the belt, but more importantly, it comes with its own sense of protocol. See, as a waiter who would periodically take time off to do her art, I would often have to say "No" to auditions or to industry events or to tickets to a show because I had to work. And on nights I had free because I had worked the lunch shift, the thought of squeezing my tired feet into a pair of real shoes and doing anything, other than falling asleep to my TV, was an abomination. "No" was the form and "No" was my fashion. So when I began a collaborative artistic journey with some trusted friends who are now also respected colleagues, it was a commitment to myself to always say "Yes"... whenever possible. Say "Yes" and mean it. And enjoy the commitment, regardless of the fit of the shoes. That was gratitude.

Almost four years ago I had been asked by an artistic associate if I was familiar with the Fire This Time festival. I wasn't, and was completely entrenched in my life of "No." A year passed. I had begun this burgeoning life of "Yes" as I received an email that I would have previously deleted. It was from an acquaintance who had written something being presented in a festival of short plays. The name of the festival felt familiar, but I headed out, alone, purely to support this man whose work I respected. It turned out I knew a few others involved in the evening and by the end, I was a die-hard fan. Had I seen the best work of my life? No. Did I see a way to get rich by participating? Not at all. Whatever the risk, whatever the benefit, all I knew is that the Fire This Time festival was a place for me. Fast forward about six months and I am with a dear friend as he receives his invitation to become a part of the festival as an artist. This was my in. I traded on our close friendship for an opportunity to be in the room with the people who make this thing happen. I needed to know them and I needed them to know me. So he created the opportunity -- an opportunity, mind you, that meant temporarily trading a decent artistic paycheck for a paltry one. An opportunity that had no promise other than the joy of creating in that moment. Oh wait, it did offer many nights to support other artists and attend panels, network and learn from those who are doing what I love. But I didn't attend those nights.

I happily did my work (a "Yes") and went home (a "No"). And then I got my own invitation. The very next year, far sooner than I expected, I was one of these artists. I put the wonderful, lucrative and abundant work I was already charged with on the back burner and got to work on the project that would make me no money and offer me no exclusivity. But it was the Fire This Time. Every deadline was met with excitement and anticipation because I knew this was something the off-Broadway show I was in and the TV show I had just filmed couldn't offer. This was a chance to share my voice in its truest form. As the festival neared, I cleared my calendar of any conflicts because this time I was going to those panel discussions and seeing the work of the other artists. I was saying "Yes" to as much of this festival as I could. And tomorrow night I will say my final "yes" to it, which saddens me. But my expectations (which are never about getting rich or recognized) were met and surpassed in the first hours. By saying yes to a random email four years ago and continuing the yes today, I have learned through this festival how to properly embark on my next project. "Yes" has introduced me to a handful of future collaborators and offered me the opportunity to talk to you all here now. I stand amazed and grateful, with no expectation. Thank you Fire This Time for the "Yes."