~ Frances Kitson
There are days when a career in the theatre just doesn’t seem worth it. Looking around at your coworkers at your desk/day job, it strikes you how awfully nice their lives are. Employer-matched pensions. Company insurance plans. Paid vacation. The ability to plan a vacation six months ahead.
But, of course, the grass is greener, etc. etc. There’s about two weeks of that paid vacation, and you have to be there for a while to get a third or fourth week. (Apparently in Norway they get eight. Note to self: cash in on British passport and sign up to learn Norwegian.) That pension plan might not be all that terrific. And – here’s the kicker – you might not enjoy your job all that much.
Have you ever heard anyone count down the days till Friday in the theatre? Of course, it would be weird if they did, since they’d still have two to four performances coming. What I mean is, have you ever encountered anyone in theatre who lives for the time that they’re away from the rehearsal hall or theatre? Neither have I.
Consider what a difference that makes: to be working with people who want to be at work. That means not only enormous energy and potential for the project at hand, but – if you’ll excuse the veering into Pollyanna territory – a lot more happiness at work.
There are exceptions. There are the times we work on a project for the money. There are the times when our post-production calendar is a chasm of emptiness, with no promise of creative fulfillment or remuneration. There are the times when the insecurity of the profession is getting to us and we are walking bubbles of anxiety, feeling defensive and inadequate.
Those experiences are real, and we need to take care of ourselves to survive those downs. There are more of us than there are roles, and the competition can poison us if we aren’t mindful.
The downs, though, are the counterbalance to the ups. And the ups, as we know, can be magical.
Every so often, that project comes along that produces electricity. Every so often, we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Every so often, there is a performance where we can do no wrong, when every moment clicks, when you can hear the proverbial pin drop, when the audience is howling and you just know that your next line is going to have them peeing their pants and you feel awfully sorry for the custodian who is going to have to deal with that but you’re still going to say it – and love it.
There is an energy that we can neither force nor control that will sometimes drop into place and carry us along. It is a privilege of the work, and the ultimate payoff for which we all strive. It won’t always appear, and its promise is not always enough to offset the need for more stability. And when we do need to step away from the theatre, we are no lesser as artists.
We know its promise will still be there when we return. We know that we can return to the work to chase it once again. And for that promise… that, indeed, makes us the lucky ones.