5 With: Gemma Irish

November 5, 2014

Gemma Irish wrote for Minnesota Playlist about how her day job skills have made her a better writer (read it here), and I was instantly smitten with her perspective. The advice is my favorite kind-- get out of your own way and make the work. You know, very Steven Pressfield's The War of Art. So much of the creative puzzle that Gemma shares below echoes my own-- the challenge of making the money piece work; the realization that no one else can make this happen for you but YOU. I'm so happy to share her words.

Describe your creative work:
I write plays. I love language and storytelling. I love a good fight.

I believe that the theater teaches empathy, certainly to its practitioners but also to its audiences. Because of this, I think of theater as a political tool, something that can affect change. But I also think theater can be fun, and weird, and smart, and (gasp) entertaining. All of these can co-exist.

What's your biggest creative challenge?
Getting my work out into the world. No one really cares about what you do until you make them care. That is to say, no Artistic Directors are pounding on my door begging me to let them produce my scripts. So I’m doing it myself, here and there, trying to pay people with money and not just beer and pizza. But I only have so much cash and time (and beer and pizza), and it’s a challenge.

How do you balance paying your bills and making your art?
This has been a huge struggle for me. The problem, for me at least, is that 40 hours a week is too many hours to do anything besides make theater. It’s just too much. But I need close to 40-hours-a-week worth of paycheck to pay my bills. I’m not a person who can live exclusively on beans and rice and food rescued from a dumpster. I didn’t take a poverty vow when I chose to be an artist. Maybe this is crazy, but I think I should be able to write plays AND enjoy a nice meal out once in a while. It takes skill, talent, and hard work to do what I do, and I believe I should be compensated for my time and expertise.

But until I can figure out how to make that happen, I have a corporate day job. I actually really like my job, and I’ve been there long enough that I’ve gotten a few raises, and built trust with a few key people, and was able – though some hard work and compromise and negotiation – to go down to 3 days a week at work, and still earn enough to live on. This has been literally life-changing, and I’m starting to find some balance after nearly 10 years of trying to juggle it all.

Give some advice:
Ask people out for coffee – they will probably say yes. As an introvert, I used to think I was bad at networking. (The idea of “working a room” and handing out business cards makes me nauseous.) But I’m good at knowing what I like and sending emails to the people who make it. People love talking about what they love. Literally no one has said “no” to me when I asked them to coffee – if anything, they’ve all asked me “what can I do for you?” and I’ve almost never had a ready response. Ask someone out for coffee, and then show up knowing what you want.

What's inspiring you right now?
“I am not afraid. I was born to do this.” – Joan of Arc

You can find Gemma on Twitter here, read her various Minnesota Playlist writing here, and read more mini interviews here


  1. Gemma! You WERE born to do this! Your courage amazes.



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