Jay Duckworth Explains the Artist Bugout Bag

by Kathy Eddy

At the recent USITT Conference, Jay Duckworth shared some sage advice in his keynote speech for those eagerly starting out to build a life in the theater. We particularly liked what he packed in his ‘Bugout Bag’. Here is that excerpt of his speech and a video of the entire speech.— SD

I decided what I should share with you is what I wish someone would have told me when I was younger. We’ll call it the Artists’ Bugout Bag. 

The first item is a map: now unfortunately the map you will be given when starting out is only filled out at the fringes. We have done our best to fill it out but we can only show you as far as we have gone. You can use it to see where we have been and what we have done. If you want to grow you have to go into the uncharted territory. Especially if you want to be an innovator. 

It’s difficult to go bravely into the unknown. The only time you honestly can be brave is when you are afraid. Have courage to break through that imaginary tissue of fear - trust me - it is not a wall no matter how impenetrable it seems. The map is a new country for you to discover. 

Once you carved out your territory, plant your marker. Then let others copy your map, so they can go further. Each artist was mentored by another they worked with. That connection is called the golden thread. It is that kinship that each one of us have from one of our mentors that connect our traditions and our heritage to the ancient past. That thread is being woven right now in reading this. 

Next in the pack is something we all had as a kid, a compass. Keeping your journey on track is just as important as knowing and logging where you are going. The compass I suggest is more of a moral one. Make a list of everything that you would do for that huge amount of cash and then make a list of things that you will never do no matter how much someone offers you. It needs to be a physical list that you can go back to and reference. Next year, on New Year’s Day, go back and revise that list. See if any of your rules have changed. See if these rules still serve who you are and who you have become. These are your values. 

Having your values well defined you will never be caught in a situation where you say, ‘What the Hell was I thinking? How did I get here?’ Knowing them will keep you on point. With these set-in stone no one will ever be able to take advantage of you or your character. 

On the side of your bugout bag is an axe. It is not a refined carving tool. It’s to help clear your way. You need to get out there and make your own opportunities. When opportunity isn’t knocking on your door, you take that axe and you bust down a wall and you make a door. You make your own entry. You must make your own luck. You say, ‘but what if I fall? I say what if you fly?’

The axe is for pruning as well. I learned this in the apple orchard right by that apple shed where I did my first plays. In order for a tree to grow and produce fruit it has to have healthy branches. The branches that are no longer growing or bearing fruit, have to be removed. 

Folded inside the front pocket is a star chart. We need the constellations as reference points to know that we are going in the right direction. So, the star chart for us comes in the form of a Moleskine notebook, and it’s a way that you can recognize the players in the game and know what their stats are. If you hear a person’s name twice during work hours write that name in the book and then later look them up. This way when you have the opportunity to meet one of the constellations that make up our universe you can make quality use of your time with them. 

Lastly, down in the bottom under some crackers, a bandana, and a Clif Bar is your log book. You always need to keep in mind where you have been and focused on where you are going. You need a plan how you are going to get there but also a log book keeps a list of your assets. Keep notes of who you have met and follow up every interview or important meeting with a hand-written card. A hand-written note is as vital and important as having a business card. 

So that’s it, your bugout bag. There is enough room in there for more stuff. You will find better tools out there; you may even make your own. Also, always have a business card! The only time you should write your name and phone number on a slip of paper and give it to someone is in a poorly lit bar after 1 AM.