The WORK of ART: Finding Stability, With Grit, Determination And Luck

By Thomas Becnel
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Columnist Thomas Becnel shares the unique stories of several local artists. How they make a living and continue to do what they love!

Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.

For years, Leymis Bolanos Wilmott ran a dance company out of her Honda Civic.

What became Sarasota Contemporary Dance, with a spiffy new office and rehearsal space in the Rosemary District, started out as a small company with an odd name, Fuzion Dance. The founder was also the choreographer, manager, planner, marketer and chauffeur.

“In the beginning, things were really hard,” says Wilmott, 41. “I would say Fuzion Dance On Wheels, because everything was in my car. But I always made the company a priority.”

She did small jobs for little money, but they were all dance-related.

She taught dance classes at Booker High School, the YMCA, the Senior Friendship Center and any other place she could find.

Wilmott and her husband lived in Bradenton, where housing was cheaper, but they committed to Sarasota. She began a relationship with New College of Florida. She collaborated with local arts groups.

Her company matured. She got a new board of directors. Community support helped give Sarasota Contemporary Dance a high-profile headquarters on the Boulevard of the Arts.

“This is saying we’re established, we have a home,” Wilmott says. “It’s rare to have a home. I have friends on Facebook who are like, ‘How did you do it, Leymis?'”

The answer to that question includes 12 years of toil and sacrifice. Wilmott, a mother of two, only got health insurance last year. Her confidence and determination came with reflection and thought.

She keeps a prayer journal and tries to be mindful of her success.

“I believe in the power of prayer,” Wilmott says. “I believe that I was put in Sarasota for this. I was at the right place at the right time — and I put in the time. This didn’t happen overnight. This was not done alone. This happened with a tribe.”

Music fame, baseball hook
Lots of artists have talent. Most performers have enthusiasm. Staying power is another thing.

A career in the arts requires tenacity and endurance. Maybe a little good luck. Also a kind of selfishness, or single-mindedness, that keeps people on track.

Some artists create their own opportunities. They open a gallery or start a theater. They find a niche.

For other performers, fame is fleeting and careers are short. Classical ballet dancers, for instance, often quit performing in their 30s.

Taking the next step in a career often calls for a different set of skills.

Open-mindedness. Flexibility. Adaptability.

Consider Marcus Ratzenboeck, the 42-year-old concertmaster for The Venice Symphony. He’s had three musical careers so far, along with a claim to fame in baseball, of all things.

He grew up in Chicago, but moved to Sarasota and studied violin at Booker High School. He developed his talent at Florida State, Indiana University and then the Louisville Symphony.

Ratzenboeck spent 10 years in Kentucky. He did session work in a local recording studio. He hooked up with a hard rock band called Tantric.

He wound up playing electric violin on a song called “Down & Out.” It became a big hit. He joined the band and began touring.

“It was an interesting life,” he says. “I was still doing classical music, but the rock really took off for a while. We had a good six-year run.”

Raztenboeck made good money in popular music. He still drives a BMW. Not a lot of classical musicians can say that.
The baseball hook to the Tantric story came when former Tampa Bay Rays star Evan Longoria chose “Down & Out” for the walk-up music that played every time he came to bat. Thousands of sports fans learned to associate clutch hitting with the powerful opening chords of that song on the violin.

Duh-duh, duh-duh-duh-duh. Duh-duh, duh-duh-duh-duh.

Ratzenboeck got to meet Longoria and go to some Rays games. He played the national anthem at Tropicana Field. That was fun, too.

When he got tired of touring with Tantric, Ratzenboeck moved back to Sarasota, where his parents had a machine shop off Clark Road. He turned it into a recording studio. He returned to the world of classical music, which was harder than he thought it would be.

He spent long hours practicing the most demanding pieces for violin. He did orchestra auditions to stay sharp.

“It took me years to get back to where I was,” he says. “In some ways, it was even more of a challenge, but I always knew I would.”

Ratzenboeck joined the Venice Symphony and became concertmaster. He also plays with jazz bands and rock groups.

“I work hard,” he says. “I work a lot. I’m always doing something. I’m always trying to create. There’s never any downtime.”

A bag of nickels?
Before Tim Jaeger figured out how to make a living with art, he had a variety of jobs.

Dog walker. Book seller. Art dealer. Wine server. Lawn mower.

He drove a 15-year-old Chevy Citation. No savings account or health insurance. He shared a rental house with other young artists.

Jaeger kept painting, though, and kept networking at galleries, frame shops and art supply stores.

He finally got a job at Art Center Sarasota, and that helped him return to the Ringling College of Art & Design, where he had earned a bachelor’s degree in 2002. Now he’s campus and community engagement manager, in an office crowded with large canvases and small photos.

On the bulletin board behind his desk hangs a plastic bag filled with $1.75 in change.

“See that?” says Jaeger, 38. “That’s the bag of nickels I had in my car on my first day of work here. A dollar seventy-five. That’s how much money I had. I’m not joking. It was all nickels because I had spent all the quarters.”

A few years later, during a recession, he helped start SaRtQ, an art collective that helps local people show and sell their work.

In a city like Sarasota, artists must fight for attention.

Jaeger still paints every evening in his garage studio. It’s important to him. At shows and sales, he enjoys talking to people about his work.

That’s important, too.

“Let me put it this way,” he says. “You’re not going to sell a lot of paintings if you can’t talk to people.”

Jaeger shows his work across Florida and around the country. He leads workshops. He’s active at Ringling, with SaRtQ and in Gulf Coast galleries.

A life in the arts. There’s satisfaction in that.

“I feel like I’m a success,” Jaeger says. “I can support my family and my career as an artist.”

Last actor standing
Since 1996, David Breitbarth has been a resident actor with the Asolo Repertory Theatre.

Sarasota fans know the 60-year-old from his performances in more than 70 plays.

These range from “Julius Caesar” and “I Hate Hamlet” to “Nicholas Nickleby” and “Glengarry Glen Ross.” From “The Crucible” and “The Diary of Anne Frank” to “A Flea in Her Ear” and “Don Juan in Hell.” From “Amadeus” and “God of Carnage” to “Shakespeare in Love” and “Rhinoceros.”

This is a great swath of theater. More great characters than he can remember. More great lines than he can count.
“I’m a lucky one,” Breitbarth says with a smile. “I think I have the best theater job in the state. I never forget for a moment how lucky I am. I know so many actors who haven’t had the breaks I’ve had.”

He’s from New York City and began his acting career there. He never appeared on Broadway, but did do a couple of off-Broadway plays.

“None of which were any good,” he adds. “It was just a job.”

One of the best jobs he had was understudy for a touring role in the musical “Spring Awakening.” He remembers the travel. He also remembers the expense account.

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