One time, I was watching a stand up comic whose name I can't remember. He told one joke, randomly said, "you know, I've always been terrible at transitions." Then he proceeded to tell a complete non-sequitur story.
That story would've been a lot funnier if I remembered any of the details about his set. Or who it was. But, uh, trust me, it was funny. And it totally worked.
Here's the thing I find funny about working in theater, and getting a degree in theater: in no other field or area of study does all your instructors constantly remind you about how you will not make a living doing your job. In no other major are there actually courses titled "Survival Jobs: How to Actually Make Money So You Can Live Like A Functioning Adult While Pursuing Your Career." Even when I was at the National Playwriting Conference at the O'Neill Theater last week, talking with very successful emerging, mid-career and established playwrights, all of them spoke of how you should never EXPECT to make money doing theater, but rather be pleasantly surprised if your plays get you paid now and again.
I had the pleasure of meeting up with a few good friends from undergrad the other day. We all had graduated at the same time, and they had moved out here to LA directly to pursue careers in acting. Between school for me and work and auditions for them, it's taken us three years to meet up again. We had a great time chatting and catching up, and discussing the realities of working in theater in LA.
One conversation that came up was the idea of a "back up plan," or a Plan B to fall back on "in case acting didn't work out." The topic came up when Josh mentioned how he also had a passion for teaching, and how he'd love to teach history and theater for high school someday. This didn't mean he wanted to give up acting, but he knew what he wanted to do afterwards. Nick then brought up how some people said you shouldn't have a plan B because it gives yourself a mental "out" or reason to not succeed at acting. I really like what Erica said though: that you just shouldn't call it a Plan B - that your "plan B" suggests, in its very name, that your true plan (that plan A) fell through. Instead, you should have multiple passions that you're pursuing concurrently.
I think there is a lot in a name. How we call something directly affects how we think about something. This has been especially true in thinking about what "success" as a theater artist means to me. Am I still successful if I make the art I want to make, but also have to have a job that pays the bills? Is that a "survival job," or is that a "plan B?" What if my job is also creative and I also enjoy it?
Memories of my undergrad professor looking us in the eye and saying, "if you have anything else you like doing in your life other than acting, go do that. You'll be much happier" resurface and haunt my memories.
Primarily because he was old and had scary crazy-man eyes.
In America, when someone asks "what do you do?" we answer with our job. I'm a banker. An accountant. An actor. In Europe, when asked "what do you do?" people answer with their hobbies. Their passions. (Or so I am told. This could be a load of lies. I'll let you know once I've had a chance to ask around in Edinburgh. /shameless dropping of the fact I'm traveling)
There is a brilliant poem about teaching, in which the poet is asked "what do you make?" as in how much money he made as a teacher, and the poet responds with "I make a difference in kids' lives." Just because I don't make enough money (yet) to live on as an actor/writer, does that mean I am not a theater artist? That I am not successful?
It is very easy to lose sight of your goals while working in theater. Or rather, I should say, I find I very easily lose sight as i work in theater. It's very easy to see a friend get a commercial agent and book a great paying gig and think, man I really want that! It's easy to encounter playwrights with residencies, productions, fellowships and a TV-writing job and think man, that's where I want my career to go!
My plan A seems to waver and threaten to change whenever I encounter a cool thing.
It takes effort to really deeply ask myself, what do I truly want? What is my long term plan as an artist? What are my short term goals that will take me in that direction? How do I remember to stay on course but not be closed to other opportunities?
When am I staying flexible, and when am I jumping ship to my plan B?
A little secret: having stuff is nice.
I'm 25. Just a young whipper-snapper, according to some. Old and just about over the hill, according to others. (Other whipper snappers.) I've noticed wrinkles on my face for the first time. My metabolism no longer can subsist on a fast food diet and lose weight (oh junior year of undergrad, I miss you). And I like having nice things.
This summer I've gotten to travel to Alaska, the O'Neill Theater, and I'm on my way to Edinburgh Scotland. I've gotten to act and write in stuff I love and am passionate about. I'm traveling and living the dream.
I've also technically been homeless as I floated in between leases, sleeping on the couches of very generous and wonderful friends and splitting my worldly possessions between my car and a storage unit while riding the razor wire of making sure deposits from my jobs and gigs hit just before bill payments threaten to chip me into the negatives.
Having an apartment is nice. Sleeping in my own bed is nice. Making money is nice. Making art is... why am I an artist again?
Road trips to Alaska to make art with two your best friends and favorite collaborators: brilliant and unparalleled.
Having a nice grown up apartment with real non-Ikea furniture: also quite nice.
Must the two be mutually exclusive?
Is comfort plan A or B? Happiness A or B? Artistic Integrity: plan A or B? Is plan A and B mutually exclusive? If two bullet trains, A and B, are headed in opposite directions towards each other with A traveling a 90 miles per hour and B traveling add 65 miles per hour, will my life crash into a train wreck of conflicting interests or be pulled apart by forces operating in opposing ways or will it all work out together to explode into a picture of success I did not and could not imagine for myself?
The more lines a fisherman has out, the more chances he has for a bite.
However, it also gets harder for him to manage all the fishing poles with equal attention.
I may look good in hats, but if I wear too many, do I just run the risk of looking dumb and not pulling any one of them off?
How many hats is too many? How many metaphors is too much? Why is the rule of three in comedy so dang true?
I don't know much of much, but I plan on doing what I do and working hard to be the best at what I do, setting plans as best as I can and not defaulting to a safety net while simultaneously not being closed off to other options.
AKA, do theater as long as it makes me happy.
Are you happy?