Five years ago, I found myself staring at an e-mail from a potential performance venue. The owner not only wanted to play hardball, but didn't have my best interests at heart. I didn't have the luxury of leaning back in my chair and saying to an officemate, "Here, why don't you handle this one?" With an expensive gig at stake, I did what every thoughtful, money-strapped, creative-minded artist has the ability to do. I created a make-believe personal assistant - Agnew Hamilton.
I created Agnew partly out of necessity and partly as a joke, but I knew when he sat down at my laptop that he was the brainchild of every telemarketing call I had ever received, every junk mail envelope I had ever opened, and every cop who had ever given me a ticket.
Agnew secured his own e-mail address with the name "agent" in it and through a series of e-mail exchanges was able to land a solid contract that had my best interests at heart. He was so good at negotiating my first contract I hired him on full time.
But beyond his business acumen, I also learned one very important lesson from Agnew - the time to leverage an Imaginary Personal Assistant within the fabric of my bohemian world had arrived.
A year later, when I was contracted to produce a six hour New Year's Eve show, I fired Agnew and hired Miniver Cheevy, my first Imaginary Artistic Director. Like an apparition of a poisonous frog, she was able to organize an entire cast of narcissistic thespians and negotiate the contracts of dozens of self absorbed modern dancers anonymously from my laptop.
Her moment in the spotlight came when, on opening night, I hired a friend to impersonate her. Her "Win one for the Gipper," speech brought tears to my eyes.
After Miniver retired, I hired Veronica Crawford who telecommuted from her London flat. Then Mr. Fringy came on board with his Fringe or Die blog to provide a subjective eye over the Fringe Festival theatre world.
In 2009, Chucho Van De Born, a B.F.A. recipient from Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires quickly became one of the most prized members of my promotional street team.
Others have come and gone through the years, sometimes only sticking around long enough to complete a quick assignment. Many of my assistants have their own Facebook profile, a few keep blogs, some have been interviewed by the press on more than one occasion and Agnew ended up in a recent anthology on creativity.
Like Eshu, Kitsune, or Krishna from ancient cultures or any of the modern day practical joke players like Andy Kaufman, Ashton Kutcher, or Sasha Barron Cohen, my entourage of imaginary employees aren't meant to deceive.
I'm honest with people. I tell people up front who they're dealing with. Just like the aspartame warning label on every can of Diet Coke,I tag every e-mail signature with the title Imaginary Personal Assistant. But, people see what they want to see. (Which I guess is good for them and for Diet Coke).
My imaginary employees have since become fodder for conversation. My friends and family ask about their escapades and adventures. They've even had their own photo shoots. But those who know me also know my assistants are meant to poke fun at the overly serious, create convoluted schemes that may or may not work, and play with the Laws of the Universe.
Agnew came back to work for me last year. Disillusioned with his role as an imaginary personal assistant, I put him to work as a Yenta (or in his case a Yento), which is Yiddish word that is synonymous with Jewish matchmaker. He's really more of a courtship counselor.
He's become a mainstay on the dating website Plenty of Fish where he helps men and women navigate the terribly rough waters on the internet dating sea. To women he offers advice regarding misleading messages sent by clever Venusian artists. For instance, she writes, "He's 45, single and says he lives with a roommate. " Agnew's response, "Red Flag! That means he's probably divorced and lives with his mother." To men, he offers advice regarding modern bohemian courtship methods. For instance, he writes, "What about roses and a rock concert?" Agnew writes, "I'd recommend raisins & a raw food convention."
In a world where truths are bent like licorice rope, it helps to have someone around who knows the territory because sometimes the truth, even when it comes from an imaginary source, is still the truth after all.