an artist attempts to justify his life choices without appearing pretentious

April 03 2015

I go to school at a prestigious university, and I am studying theatre. That gets varied responses—people don’t understand why if I’m smart enough to attend such a school I study something that won’t get me very rich. So my answer is usually “I’m majoring in theatre, with a minor in marrying for money.”

But I don’t blame people for judging my decision. The industry is oversaturated with talent as it is. Just today, I saw an incredible play which featured 28 incredibly accomplished professional actors who were paid nowhere near a living wage. They all have to work day jobs, and then come to this tiny theatre, get into costume and makeup crammed in this tiny room, and then pour their hearts and souls into this beautiful play, go home, get some sleep, and go back to the daily grind. And these are some of the (relatively) successful. There are ways to work around this: apart from the obvious getting a big break and miraculously being able to support yourself in the theatre, there are many people whose day jobs involve working administration for larger theaters in town that require full-time staff. But no matter what, the work isn’t easy.

My parents both have sensible careers, but they fully supported me going into the arts. My dad works in sales for a software company and says he hasn’t enjoyed his work in well over a decade. He told me he didn’t care what career I pursue as long as I don’t hate what I have to do to put food on the table.

They say if you can picture yourself doing anything other than working in the theatre, do it. Only the people who can’t do anything else will have the drive to succeed. Well, when I was a freshman in high school, I saw a production of A Chorus Line, and after each character explained their reasons for pursuing such an unreliable career, they all joined in on the song “What I Did For Love,” and I started to cry, and I thought, “Oh, no. I think I have to do this.”

I’m a freshman in college now, and I recently opened my first show as an assistant director. Sitting in the audience at the performances, watching a group of people respond to and be moved by a piece that I helped create (while also taking pleasure in watching the show) was incredibly thrilling. I have seen hundreds of plays in my life, and I love the excitement of seeing a great story being told by real people in front of me—the presence of living humans creates an immediacy and an honest connection that isn’t present in any other medium. And I love when I can give that thrill to other people. I don’t know what I would do without that in my life. So, I may have a choice, but it’s a very obvious one. I’ll do what I have to do to make it work.

And now I’d like to give shoutouts to Adam and Michaela, two lovely theatre people who introduced me to the listserv.

I now urge you all to go see a play!

[email protected]
Evanston, IL

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