10 years ago, I entered theatre school, all doe-eyed. I was planning to be Gregory Peck. I was the drama class rock star in high school, so success was guaranteed, right?
Wrong. While I certainly had some talent, I realized that being a professional thespian wasn’t quite for me. Instead, I shifted my academic focus from onstage to backstage, finishing my four year degree as the top production student in my graduating year. Again, I was a “rock star”. Professors and peers alike would reinforce an unhealthy cocky attitude: “You’ll be fine!”, “You’re going to do great things in theatre!” I believed them.
I naturally once again thought success was guaranteed. But the world doesn’t work that way.
Success is never guaranteed.
When I started at an arts and culture centres out West, I had an excited feeling that this was the beginning of a great career in the arts. I would be surrounded by some of Canada’s finest artists and arts professionals. I was so convinced, I agreed to work for below minimum wage $10 an hour, one year internship contract. Like all my past pursuits, I quickly impressed my colleagues around me and was invited back for a second year with a raise of $0.62 per hour.
As much as I loved working there, it wasn’t going to be enough to live on and grow the little savings I had.
I started applying elsewhere. I applied for small theatre companies, large opera companies, even companies that provided third party services to theatre companies. Nada. Zilch. Zero.
I didn’t get it. I was good at my job, I had a strong academic track record, but no employers seemed interested in what I had to offer. Then miraculously, a week before the end of my contract, a former classmate from my alma mater called and said they needed a project coordinator to replace him. 21 hours a week at $32,000. It wasn’t theatre, but it was something. I took the job. Since then, my life has gone a completely different direction.
No one will judge you.
I used to tell people my dream was to change the way theatre got produced in Canada. At the most recent quasi-reunion with my former classmates, I told them what I was really up to, close to 10 years after we started: “I work in finance in the public sector.”
I cringed as I said it. I was expecting to be reprimanded openly, amongst friends who were still slaving away in the theatre world. I expected to see finger pointing at my lack of commitment and screams of “BETRAYAL!”
Instead, they shrugged. They started telling me their stories of what they were up to and they were surprising to say the least. While some were in the theatre business, other occupations included:
- Human Resource Consultant for a big four firm
- Several schoolteachers
- Account Manager for tech start-up
- Medical student
- Aspiring optician
- Law student
- Web developer
- Small business financial advisor
- Computer programmer
- Administrative Assistant
Everyone appeared to be at peace with where they were. I recall asking some of them why the shift and the responses largely came out the same: “It was too stressful on my personal life, and while I loved it and it was fun, I wanted something more stable so I could keep a roof over my head.”
Everything gets old. Eventually.
Passions change, and as you mature, so will what you want out of life. If passions never changed, people would work the same job until death because they’d be so darn happy.
Humans are programmed to always want the best for themselves, no matter what their value system is. Some of us work out that programming by upgrading to the latest phone or moving to a bigger house, whereas others might swap out physical possessions and unnecessary expenses so they can retire early and have more free time to discover new passions (hint: that’s me!).
When it came to the theatre world, what got old for me was the long hours, the crappy pay, and the perception that one should suffer for their art. Those most passionate about it will certainly forge solid careers in that industry, but I knew I was not going to be one of those people. There’s only so much cheap pizza my body could take.
It’s all about balance.
Our society is structured around work. Elementary and secondary schools teach you skills that will lead to “careers”, and as you go through the awkward puberty phase, your world revolves around the aching question: “what will you be when you grow up?” Sadly, this question does not change that drastically as an adult. Seriously: I still don’t know and I’m 28.
But life is so much more than just becoming a grown up and adulting the rest of the way. Life is about friends, family, experiences, and minimizing your carbon footprint (apologize if this is preachy, but we’re murdering the planet. We exist because of it).
Balance is key. My life in theatre gave me good friends, but it took me away from family and it was robbing me of my ability to experience the things I wanted to experience, like travel, companionship, and just buying a nice dinner out on the town once in a while.
People sometimes ask me if I felt like I “abandoned” my passion. I tell them I didn’t. My passion for theatre still exists and I take part in that world now as a patron. The biggest difference? I actually get to sit back and enjoy the show for once.