Tag Archive: performing


Thoughts on Taking a Step Back

I read something recently about “earnest prayer.” I’m not, nor have I ever been, religious but I will admit that sometimes I long for the solace of prayer and believing that there is someone there listening. Sometimes I find life so overwhelmingly complicated that I yearn to be able to put it in the hands of someone else. Unfortunately for me, I just can’t bring myself to really believe in a higher power nor do I even believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that you make what happens and that sometimes pure chance either helps you out or knocks you down. Nonetheless, this earnest prayer that I was reading about was from a lifelong actor who prayed that her call to the theatre would be taken away from her until she was ready to go back to it and this struck a chord with me.

I’ve been out of theatre school for the better part of two years and have done exactly one project that I cared about. One single project that filled my artistic cup and made me remember all the reasons I got into this messy life in the first place. Sure, I’ve worked on half a dozen shows in this time period but most of them were the bottom of the barrel. Take-what-you-can-get kind of stuff and I can’t seem to “get” anything worth doing. I feel out of my element and lost. I feel like I’m drowning in the overwhelming task of making a life in the theatre. I love it. I do. There is nothing in life that gets me more passionate and feeling more alive than working on something that I love but all of these projects I’ve been doing just to do something have left me feeling drained, frustrated and hopeless. Which is why, lately, I’ve been wondering if this is the right path for me and why reading about that prayer nearly brought me to tears.

I’ve been considering the idea of just giving up. Of packing up my vocal warmups and my transitive verbs and my clown nose and putting them in a box in the darkest corner of my proverbial closet but every time I get close to a decision I get scared. I’ve done basically nothing with my life in the last 16 years that didn’t revolve around theatre. I don’t have any other passions in life. There are other things I like, other things I enjoy but there is nothing else that I have ever encountered that makes me feel the way theatre does. So if I give that up, what do I have? And if I give that up, how do I hold on to my pride and my identity? What will my theatre school friends think? How many I-told-you-so’s will I have to listen to from my friends and family who have always thought I was out to lunch to even go to theatre school in the first place?

I know I could never give it up forever. That is not an option but I am exhausted from failure. I have completely and totally failed in pursuing my dreams and while that is not necessarily a bad thing (all good theatre emerges from failure, after all) it is demoralizing and I can feel my spirit breaking. I just need a break. I need some time to figure out what I really want in life and to revitalize my will to get there. Writing this down is the closest I have ever come to speaking these words out loud. And, of course, we all know that saying it out loud makes it real. I’m still not ready to do it for real, I don’t think, but I’m getting closer. So, I guess in a way, this is my version of an earnest prayer and boy is it ever scary.

I wish that somehow this could be easier or that someone could just hand me a neat and tidy solution but life’s not like that. There are no pamphlets or neon signs or perfect little ribbon-y bows, there is just a mess of desire, emotion and fact that never seem to get along. But If I can’t find revitalization from what I love then maybe the only answer is to leave it be. I’ll come back to it, I know I will, but maybe, just maybe, now is not the right time to be in it.

 

It’s been one year since I moved home after graduating university. One year of not being a student. One year of living with my parents. One year of being in the same city I grew up in. One year of being apart from a lot of the most important people in my life. And I’m still not okay with it. I’ve been struggling with what to say for a couple of weeks and I’ve still come up short. I want to be able to write about how this past year has enlightened me and I’ve grown into a happy, go-getting graduate but in reality, when I looked back at what I wrote six months ago, it still felt pretty accurate. On paper, my life still sounds great. Actually, even better than it did six months ago but I’m still not satisfied and I’ve spent a lot of time being very frustrated by this and trying, desperately, to figure out why. And then when all of this year’s grads were posting their pictures I saw one with a quote that really resonated with me. It said:

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place because you’ll never be this way ever again.”

And then I understood, at least in part, why I’ve been longing so desperately to go back to the school days since the second I left. There are many reasons but that quote explains something I was never able to put my finger on until I read it. While the student version of myself was deeply flawed and probably not the “best” one, there are many things I liked about that person that stayed there and didn’t come home with me. Student-me was carefree (my friends would scoff at this but I’m talking in relative terms here!), adventurous, an occasional party animal completely ready to let loose and willing to bend the rules sometimes. She always had time for friends and never turned down a beer and a chat at the local bar. She occasionally turned down work in favour of sleep or a fun time with fun people but still worked when it was necessary and remained a reliable, go-to employee. Student-me was passionate and driven and creating constantly. She was fit. She had goals and aspirations and real plans to get there.

Post-grad me isn’t any of those things and when I take the time to look at myself instead of at my circumstance I’m even more unhappy with who I’ve become. I never see my friends because I’m always working. I miss things that are important to me because I put work above all else. I’m not creating, I’m not excited about my current or upcoming projects because I don’t have any. I never turn down work so I’m always short on sleep and lacking fun. I’ve completely thrown health and fitness out the window and try as I might to get back on track, I never try hard enough. My goals and post-grad plans have fallen by the wayside in favour of “surviving” right now. I’m always stressed; about work, about money; about completely fictional scenarios I create in my head and believe to be real. This is not the person I want to be but I feel stuck in this panicky rut of having to work all the time because I don’t make enough to work normal hours and still get by. (Completely and utterly false because living with one’s parents is very cheap.) I don’t know how to get out of this rut but at least now, I know that I’m in it.

Don’t get me wrong, the year hasn’t been all bad. Despite the overwhelming feelings of being trapped and standing still I have enjoyed parts of it and I have certainly learned some things. Here are a couple of them, lest it seem as though I’ve been completely useless for an entire 12 months:

  • Sometimes you have to put yourself in highly uncomfortable situations for a short time to reap the rewards in the long term. I was really good at this in the first couple of months and it led to some wonderful experiences and opportunities but in recent months I’ve fallen back into complacency and become the excuse maker I once was but it remains a very true lesson.
  • Work is not everything. Saying no is okay. No matter how much you love your job it is not worth sacrificing other things that are important to you or that excite you. Don’t take on so many shifts don’t stay late out of obligation, stand up for your time because it is just as valuable as anyone else’s. That’s not to say never take on extra work or never stay late when they need it but just remember that doing those things is a choice not a job requirement and you are allowed to say no. (A lesson I am aware of but do not heed often and must continue to remind myself of in Year 2.

I’m trying very hard to be positive because that is something that My First Year lacked a great deal. I’ve spent a lot of time living in the past, wishing things were the way they were before and being overwhelmed by my nostalgic emotions. I hope that I can find it in myself to take back the parts of the person I was at school that I liked and discover parts of this self that I like as well. I hope that I can work less and play more and I hope that I can start to strengthen the friendships I have here in town rather than longing for the ones that are out of reach for now. I hope I can spend time learning new things and going after the things I want out of life rather than sitting complacently by. Here’s to creating, here’s to growing and here’s to the start of Year 2!

Here’s a quick rundown of the top 5 things I really don’t want to hear when you find out I have a degree in drama:

 

5. “That’s cool. I did acting in high school.”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t think that’s awesome, cause I do. I always think it’s awesome when people are getting involved in theatre, or any arts for that matter, even if you only did it cause you thought it would be a bird course. But first of all, you don’t “do acting.” Please, people, grammar is still a thing. And also, I know you’re just trying to be relatable but I can relate to you on other levels where we have mutual knowledge. Theatre isn’t the only thing I know about. (Cause, you know, I went to an actual university so I learned about other things too.)

4. “So, like, how do you memorize all those lines? It seems so hard!”

I don’t know, I just do it. I don’t understand how you crunch numbers or make graphs and stuff but I also get that that’s your thing and you do it. Memorizing is my thing and I just do it. (And also it’s a seriously negligible part of my thing anyway.)

3. “You should do this cool thing I heard about called the Fringe.”

Please. Do you really think I graduated from theatre school and I don’t know what the Fringe is? Did you graduate from teacher’s college and not know what what a classroom is? No, I didn’t think so. And also, you don’t just “do” anything in the established theatre world. Yes, you can make your own work but if you want to participate in any existing theatre, festival, major company etc., there are processes you have to follow. I don’t make ignorant suggestions to you about how to get by in your industry, please don’t patronize me by thinking you know the inner workings of mine.

2. “And now you’re….????”

Am I working in my field? No. Did you graduate with your business degree and immediately become the CEO of a major corporation? No. Graduating from anything doesn’t guarantee you a job in your field. We’re all just trying to do our thing okay, so don’t judge me because you don’t think my degree is valid or something.

And the number 1 thing I really never want to hear you say when you find out what I got my degree in:

“Oh! That must have been so fun and easy!!”

Oh yeah, taking a full class load on top of rehearsing a minimum of 22 hours a week and also working in a theatre to get practical experience in my field? Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Writing academic* papers when your university doesn’t take your department seriously enough to subscribe to any actual resources? Piece of cake. Not only being marked on your artistic work (that you probably poured your heart, soul, blood and tears into) but also being publicly judged on it? No sweat off my back.

*Yes, academic. I went to university too and there are as many legitimate discussions to be had in my field as there are in yours.

I know you think that all I did in school was sit around in a circle and talk about my feelings or something but believe me, we didn’t have time for that kind of BS. When you’ve got monologues and scenes to prepare, a production opening in two weeks and two papers and a midterm the day after opening you don’t have time to think about your feelings let alone talk about them. My degree entailed just as much work as yours. Just because your work was different doesn’t make mine invalid.

If you’re actually interested in what I do, then by all means, I’d love to chat. But if you’re just going to say something insulting, just stop before you get there. “Oh cool!” is totally good enough.

Let me preface this by saying I am a performer. I’ve been acting since I was a kid and have made my way through all sorts of various arts of performing at some point or another over the years. I love it, I study it, I live it. But the other night, as I was step touching my way through a choir show I was struck with a question: Why?

I have to admit, that despite how much I love the performing arts, I have this thought at some point during every show I perform in, every show I tech for, every show I see. It strikes me hardest when I am actually doing the performing though. It usually comes in the middle of a show when I look out at the audience and see the ocean of faces staring back at me and I am overwhelmed with doubt and wonder. Why do we do this? What is the point of standing up there on that stage? What is the point of sitting in an audience watching other people up on that stage? What on earth would possess anyone to put themselves through all the inevitably hellish aspects of creating a performance? Why don’t we just stay home?

I guess a lot of these questions come from the age of technology that I grew up in but sometimes it all just seems so futile and so pointless. There are a lot of logical reasons why we continue to support the live performance industry: entertainment, public platform, education, the ever abstract “art.” And yet, none of these reasons seem to satisfactorily explain my inner conflict. And then today, I was having a conversation with a voice teacher and she brought up something that finally resonated with me. It’s the group consciousness. It’s the same reason that people join sports teams or activist movements. And while I can’t exactly speak to the experience of those things I can say absolutely that there is something about performing, and even watching live performance, that takes you outside of yourself. You are part of a something bigger and sharing that consciousness with your fellow performers, and the complete strangers in the audience, is an out-of-body experience like no other. It allows you to be expressive in away that society would frown upon in any other context. It allows you to literally step inside someone else. Even if you aren’t playing a specific character, for instance like the choir show that inspired this rumination, the act of being onstage allows you to take on any characteristics that you want to. Of course there are other pretty sound reasons that performing and watching performance is pretty cool. Like getting to explore the human psyche in imaginary situations and getting to bring all sorts of art forms (costume, light, set design etc) together in one, living, breathing space. And let’s be honest, commanding that kind of attention is a bit of a rush too but ultimately, for me, it comes down to the freedom that being part of an ensemble gives me to be expressive and to experience some kind of higher, group mentality.

It’s a hard question to ponder and it always brings up some existential crisis within me, but inevitably when the show is over, the set is struck and the lights are turned off I am filled with a great sadness that it is over and a burning desire to start it all over again. I’m sure that as the months and years pass by I’ll get to discover even more of the never ending reasons that it’s all worth it in the end but for now, the next time I’m staring at the crowd and wondering what I’m doing, I’m going to make sure to take a moment to appreciate the people up there with because the bond of an ensemble is something to be truly cherished.