It takes wits, ingenuity, and endurance for the thousands of aspiring young artists to stay afloat between sparse roles, engagements, or assignments in New York's competitive art world. But each year struggling young artists find new ways to beat the high cost of pursuing a career in the Big Apple.
Janet Lee, for instance, who grew up on a farm in Minnesota, trained first as a classical pianist and later as a flamenco dancer. Both she and Liz Neumark, a New York-born photographer, were raised in large, hospitable families where lots of good food was served. So when the women put their heads together to see what sort of part-time venture they could cook up to sustain themselves between flamenco and photography, they turned to the fine art of party giving.
With $100 in hand they formed Great Performances, Artists as Waitresses Inc. and began last fall to recruit their staff of 25 other artists who needed flexible working arrangements while they worked into the fields of acting, painting, producing, or dancing.
Great Performances workers are picked on the basis of skills as waitresses hostess-helpers, guest-greeters and coat-hanger-uppers, hors d'oeuvres circulators, and fastidious cleaners after the festivities are over.
It required $900 more, which they gathered from their small savings and from family loans, to buy their crisp black and white uniforms, to have brochures designed and printed, to become incorporated, and then to launch themselves (to save rent) from Miss Neumark's apartment at 1619 Third Avenue in Manhattan. They were quickly invited to "do" the Harper's Bazaar Christmas party as well as dozens of other company and private holiday parties. They have served VIP dinners at Carnegie Hall and small luncheons to executives at Bergdorf Goodman.
They have been picked up in chauffeured limousines to oversee New Year's parties in Westchester County and planned a "junk food of the 1980s" party for a group of food manufacturers.
They will hire caterers for any kind of food, arrange for musicians and rental equipment, order flowers from florists, and privide live entertainment. Thus, they contend, their little enterprise not only gives employment to them and their staff, but to dozens of other artistic people as well.
They specialize also in children's parties, taking the load off harassed mothers who find it difficult to cope with 20 excited and squealing youngsters.
One staff member, Celia Hughes, says she loves working for Great Performances when she isn't directing or producing her own performance. It give her a chance to use many of her other talents, such as cooking and pulling things together for a successful party production.
Charges vary according to the types os services rendered, but the minimum rate is $8 per hour per pair of helping hands, for a minimum of four hours.
Partners Lee and Neumark both worked for a time as waitresses for a similar group, Lend-A-Hand, a personnel service opened in 1971 by Donald Eggena, a former actor. He employs both men and women from the world of show business, including theater, ballet, television, and opera, and they hire out for party helping, too, as well as for a myriad of other services such as baby-sitting, dog walking, telephone answering, housecleaning, paperchanging, and the like. Mr. Eggena's client roster includes corporations, galleries banks, magazines, and such private customers as Barbara Walters, Andy Warhol, and Barbara Rockefeller.