Audria Larsen has the perfect job.
Actually, she has seven perfect jobs. Or is it nine?
For Larsen, 26, there is no line between work and life and she's OK
with that. For the record, she is a part-time bookstore employee at
Barnes & Noble, a burlesque performer, a hoop fitness instructor,
hoop business operator, a freelance writer for REVUE Magazine, an occasional model, headmistress of Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art Class, and director of Shimmy Shack, a soon-to-debut burlesque review. She's also a full-time student at Aquinas College.
While Larsen's story may seem unique, it doesn't appear to be uncommon in metro Grand Rapids.
She is one of a growing number of people in West Michigan whom the social researcher Richard Florida might
describe as the "Creative Class," his term for those who are paid
primarily to do creative work -- from art and music to design,
engineering, and scientific research. Florida contends that this
population is growing dramatically -- he suggests it accounts for
nearly a third of the U.S. workforce -- and that its attitudes and
ideas about work are affecting how people view their jobs, their
careers, and their community. One of the key motivating drivers for
creatives, according to Florida, is that they look for places they can
Larsen seems to have found that here. A native of West Michigan,
Larson grew up on the West Side and attended Montessori grade schools,
a parochial middle school and Forest Hills Northern High School. A
self-described free spirit, Larsen doesn't see herself so much as
having many jobs but a singular focus.
Jumping through hoops...and loving it
Her passions are dance and theater, around which many of her jobs revolve. She is an original cast member of the Super Happy Funtime Burlesque
group. Billed as "The Vivacious Miss Audacious" ("It plays off my name
and describes my personality," she says), Larsen has gained a following
for an act that includes hoop and fire hoop dance.
She has taken her love of the Hula Hoop several steps -- or perhaps
twists is more accurate -- farther. She teaches classes in hoop dance
and makes and sells her own -- Audacious Hoops are available in a
rainbow of colors, including neon, with the option of an accent color
or sparkle tape.
Her work with the Dr. Sketchy program involves performance art as
well. Held at local bars and nightclubs, the program is an extension of
theater. Models show up in creative costumes and patrons who pay $10
for the opportunity to draw, sketch or otherwise participate are
affectionately referred to as Art Monkeys. The program, which is
actually a franchise, requires a lengthy interview process, a franchise
fee, and regular dues. It continues to work well for Larsen and she is
hoping to incorporate it into next year's ArtPrize competition.
does all this on coffee -- but just one serving a day -- and a
seemingly bottomless reserve of energy. If and when she has time to
sleep, Larsen's dream is to become the ultimate showperson, to produce
better shows, more elaborate costumes.
Her boyfriend, Chris Eddy, 37, is a full-time musician Larsen
describes as having "been a member of every band in Grand Rapids for
five minutes." At present, Eddy's connections are with groups such as
LSDudes, Night Toucher, and The Fainting Generals, and he's working on
putting together a string band.
The pair have been together for three years and have collaborated on
a couple of projects. They ran an underground breakfast restaurant
during a recent summer. Attendees paid $7 for a vegetarian meal
prepared by Eddy, who Larsen describes as "a fabulous cook. I played
waitress and I was quite good at it, which is funny because I've never
tried to do that for a living. The breakfast became pretty popular. By
the end of summer we were getting 30-40 people."
All the World's a Performance
Show business remains
Larsen's focus, however, and she is dedicated to making a mark in it.
Much of her time and money is spent looking for ways to improve the
look and appeal of performances. This includes her own show, Shimmy
Shack Burlesque, for which she has become a one-person promoter.
"I make posters, write press releases, look for sponsors," she says.
"I have a web site, but I don't have time to learn code. I could really
use a personal assistant."
Even so, Larsen manages.
"You begin to layer things," she explains. "I try to keep weekends open."
But even the layers get filled. Larsen has recently been spending
time with another dance troupe that is reorganizing and rehearsing. She
is incorporating new elements into her act, including a fire hoop and
While her jobs may seem a bit unconventional, closer examination
shows there is a business sensibility to all. There is a business plan
-- even if somewhat open-ended -- and she regularly evaluates product,
materials, venues, and expenses. And after a couple of long sessions
filling out tax forms a few years back, she now relies on an
Would Larsen abandon her many irons if, say, a
marketing or directing job offer came along? Probably not, she says.
She's already doing what she wants and, most important to her, doing it
the way she chooses.
It's Not a Job, It's An Adventure
Personal choice and self management seem to be the mantra of others engaged in multiple occupations.
It is for Rachel Finan, a fellow performer with Larsen in Super
Happy Funtime Burlesque shows. Finan is a make-up artist who works more
or less full time at the Smooch Boutique in
East Grand Rapids. She does freelance make-up for film and theater, art
and photographic modeling, holds personal training sessions in yoga,
has directed and performed in plays at the Dog Story Theater, and recently became a member of the DareDevil Dolls, a circus performance troupe.
Finan, 38, grew up in East Grand Rapids and left town to attend New
York University in the late 80s and early 90s. She earned a degree in
fine arts and theater directing and started her career. Health and
money issues bright her back to West Michigan for what she thought was
a temporary stop. That was 15 years ago.
"I had roots here," she says. "It was an easier life."
Finan also discovered that she could make a living doing more than managing a theater.
"I'd always thought I would be running a house, " she says. "I always thought I would work in just one space."
She picked up work doing make-up and later learned yoga, studying
with various teachers in the area. With a couple of exceptions, yoga
has become a one-person operation.
"I had to branch off," she explains. "Studios can't afford to pay additional teachers."
Her work in burlesque has led to one of her more profitable
sidelines. She sells designer pasties after the shows -- the
custom-made accessories go for $10 a piece and have become quite
popular. She is, by her account, "one of the only people who do this."
Her basic materials, including sequins and feathers, come from a local
crafts store. The tassels are imported from India.
It is just one of many things Finan has embraced in a career of
which she says: "One thing just led to another. I always thought I'd be
managing a house (theater). I never thought I'd come back here. I never
thought I'd be doing aerial performances at 37."
The latter comes with her work as a member of the DareDevil Dolls, a
group founded by Cassie Truskowski, aka Miss PussyKatt and a Top 40
performer in a recent edition of "America's Got Talent." The group
practices in an area gymnastics center and already owns a lot of its
"It's amazing," Finan says of the new experience. "We do tumbling,
partner acrobatics, hoop, fire poi -- globes of twirling fire -- and
fire eating. We did a big party at an art gallery in Detroit for
There's not much that would draw Finan away from her present life.
"I never thought I would be making a lot of money," she says. "But I
don't have too much debt. I've never wondered when I'm going to eat.
And I'm able to pay all my bills on time."
The only job that might turn her head would be a chance to travel.
"If I had an opportunity to tour -- to travel around the world -- I'd do it.. I'd do it even for far less money," she says.
Until then, her plans are to keep on moving: "I know I have limitations, but I will keep going till I break."
The Music Never Sleeps
Josh Cearlock (with a hard "C"), 27, another East Grand Rapids native, started adult life as a film student at the Full Sail University in Orlando, Fla. His goal at the time was a career in the visual arts..
Cearlock discovered, however, that there were other aspects of the industry with equal appeal.
"I'd steal my classmates books and read up on audio engineering," he
says. "I'd teach myself and audio eventually became a hobby."
After college, he had work on production teams in places such as San
Antonio and St. Louis. The latter stop included a promotional tour
featuring a product endorsed by the rap artist, Nelly.
"It was an energy drink called 'Pimp Juice,'" Cearlock chuckles. "It
was pushed with 'Girls Gone Wild' type videos. We had a big bus, we'd
film parties, and none of it ever saw the light of day."
Cearlock came home for a breather in 2005. He figured he'd rest up a while then head to Los Angeles to continue his career.
He never made the trip.
In fact, he almost never made any more trips. Cearlock was involved
in a violent car accident -- he was thrown through the windshield of
his car and was rushed to the hospital where he remained comatose for
"They told my family there was little chance of recovery," Cearlock
says. "They were told I was probably not going to wake up, and if I did
I would probably have severe brain damage."
But Cearlock woke up two weeks later and while he'd lost his sense
of smell and taste, his memory was intact and he had a new outlook on
"I had one of those experiences...you're here for a reason type
things," he remembers. "I'd always been into the arts and I figured
that's got to be my job."
Cearlock chose music, focusing on rap.
"When I started, I did a lot of what I thought was good," he says. "In retrospect, it wasn't."
A music career, let alone a fledgling one, is a tough go and
Cearlock took on numerous jobs to make ends meet -- pizza delivery,
restaurant work, handyman jobs and, eventually, a full time bartending
gig at Cambridge House that he landed with help from a friend.
In the meantime, he and long-time buddy Matt Nunn formed their own music production house, 3Sense Group, and Cearlock, by now known on stage as Ed Nino, was getting serious about his work.
One of his stated goals was to change what he saw as flaws in how music, rap in particular, is presented to the public.
"There are so many loose ends to putting on an aesthetically
pleasing show," he explains. "One of the main downfalls is that these
shows are not well organized...you have 30 guys wandering around stage
and they all have microphones."
Cearlock has invested energy in changing the perception and the
reality of such performances and has taken on virtually every job
possible within the business. He's become a promoter, stage manager,
director, publicist, graphic artist, and videographer. The only aspect
he steps aside for is recording engineer, which he leaves to Nixon, a
well-known area rap artist who also records for 3Sense.
While his bartending and occasional side jobs provide steady income,
music has become Cearlock's "never sleep kind of job. With things
artistic, I don't consider it work.
"There's not many people my age doing what they want," Cearlock continues. "They want the money but they don't have the dream."
Recycling the Past or Creating a Better Future?
their diverse backgrounds and experiences, it might be easy to suggest
that today's multitasking workers are simply throwbacks to the 60s,
recycled examples of the hippie counterculture.
There are some basic differences, however. For starters, the economy
was strong in the 1960s. Basic goods were cheaper. And people were more
likely to "drop out" rather than conform..
While Larsen and friends do not play to convention, they aren't like
their predecessors. They aren't dropping out. They are engaged with
their environment and looking for ways to create a workable niche
within it. And, perhaps surprisingly, they are all looking for a sense
Jenny Shangraw, Information Resource Manager/Cybarian for The Right Place,
a non-profit development organization promoting the Greater Grand
Rapids area, suggests there is credence to Richard Florida's ideas
about the migrating workforce and that multi-tasking may be a wave of
"The median income in West Michigan has decreased," she explains.
"People have to make up the difference from somewhere. They're finding
they need to have more than one primary skill."
George Erickcek, Senior Regional Analyst for the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research,
agrees that "more people are trying to piece jobs together. The data
suggests part of it has to do with the recession, but it also suggests
the way work is scheduled and structured is changing."
Erickcek, who also writes the quarterly Business Outlook for West Michigan,
says most employment data references what might be identified as more
conventional forms of employment -- such as writing, planning, and
consulting -- but allows that other types of work contribute.
"It may be a small subset," he says. "But we all know people who do it, and it was a trend even before the recession."
Of course, independence comes with trade-offs. Contract workers and
independents forego benefits for the freedom to call their own shots.
Erickcek suggests the lack of health insurance, in particular, could
have negative long-term implications.
However it unfolds, it's a delicate balancing act -- living in the
moment while chasing the future. But Larsen, Finan, and Cearlock seem
to be able to keep it working. And if you asked any one of them what
comes next, you'd probably get the same answer from each:
G.F. Korreck is a free-lance writer, editor, and voice talent living in West Michigan.
Josh Cearlock, pizza delivery, restaurant work, handyman jobs and, full time bartending at Cambridge House
Audria Larsen, employee at Barnes & Noble, a burlesque
performer, a hoop fitness instructor, hoop business operator, a
freelance writer for REVUE Magazine, an occasional model, headmistress of Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art Class, and director of Shimmy Shack (3)
Photographs by Brian Kelly -All Rights Reserved