In October, I will turn 28, thus marking my 20th year in theatre. Other than sending me into a bit of a crisis about how I thought I’d be a Rockette by now, I feel it will also give me the right to have loud, dramatic diva tantrums involving long scarves and phrases like, “I’ve been in this business for TWENTY YEEEAARS.”
What I found interesting about this realization is that I do not have a feeling of, “Where did the time go?” I know where it went. A lot of shit has gone down since I was eight. Good and bad.
And I believe that theatre had a lot to do with me not feeling that life has just skipped on by. Theatre fills your life with unique experiences and challenges you to be constantly looking at who you are and where you’re going. Go theatre. Ten points.
My issue? I’m scared I’m losing that feeling. Acting has been more of a struggle for me in the past four years that it ever was as a kid or even in college. Part of that is a lack of consistent practice, part is keeping up with the bills and adult life, and a big part is good ol’ fashioned laziness. Of course, another large part is that I’m not one of 10 young girls in Central Jersey pursuing acting anymore. The odds have tipped a bit.
But things do need to change. And recently, I have been making a great attempt to figure out where to start.
So I am raging against this loss of artistic presence by doing what I love most: over-analyzing my situation from a sociological standpoint and writing a blog post about it. Hooray!!!
My Two Lives
Way back in high school, I had my first food service job. I quickly realized I was the worst waitress on the face of the earth, so needed to find another game plan for my impending impoverished life as an actor. Someone suggested secretarial work, and that was that.
For four years in the city, I have befriended several temp agencies, two of which have been very encouraging about my theatrical endeavors. They know I am looking to bounce around between projects, that I am not looking for advancement in a company, and I am willing to do horribly mundane projects if they let me leave for auditions. For all this, I am very grateful, and everyone wins.
Yet the culture of most corporate offices, and the culture of let’s say, the Equity waiting room, might as well be on different planets. And most mornings, I bounce between the two. This is starting to mess with me.
Scenario A: Moseying into the office: non-audition days.
(Not a particular example from one company, just a mish-mash of experiences from where in I’ve temped.)
I come in at 8:45 and usually my office is still empty. I’m a morning person and since theatre has taught me that being late is a mortal sin, here I am (My mom once told me that unless I was on my death-bed, I get to rehearsal on time. Childhood!).
I go to the cafeteria and chat with the staff up there, who will be more chatty and friendly with me than pretty much anyone I interact with all day. Except for the mail room guys. For whatever reason, the mail room is always where the party is going on. And for the most part, my immediate supervisor is also always a doll since they are also the go-to administrator.
I settle down with my breakfast at my desk and check my work email. I don’t have any mail, because essentially, no one is really sure about what I do.
I start my ongoing data entry or filing project, feeling a bit like Sisyphus pushing a pile of file folders up a hill, but still being very grateful that I don’t have to wait tables and drop plates all day. I drop things a lot, it would be a disaster.
Around 10:30, someone notices I’m there, very nicely thanks me for doing something boring and then I spend the day either talking to no one or chatting with the janitor, who often also has a real personality.
I leave at 5, and without a doubt, someone will make a comment about how it’s almost Friday, or how they wish it wasn’t only Tuesday, etc.
After about four months, I have a life crisis, take my favorite pen, and switch to a new office.
The qualities that I adore in theatre people (friendliness, near-obsessive passion for their work, motivation, discipline, and enthusiasm for Mondays) are rarely present in the officers where I spend 75% of my waking day.
What do I learn? You can get by in this type of office by giving about 50% and you’re still patted on the back. Complaining about being at work helps you fit in with the culture. Would this attitude fly in theatre? Nope.
Scenario B:Audition Days
I wake up early and spend my shower and prep time warming up my voice and stretching. I usually sprint around looking for the stapler to put my headshot and resume together and make it out the door by 7. If I make it to the Equity building by 8, I usually get an appointment early enough that it doesn’t interfere with “office land” at all.
The waiting room is full of focused, energized, and anxious people. Nothing like a healthy dose of fear to make you feel present and awake. Yes there are always a few chatters who love to talk about the twelve productions of Midsummer they’re currently starring in, but I’m working on zoning them out.
There is a delightfully strict decorum, which as a former ballet dancer, I think is just dandy. You have all your shit in order and if you don’t, you don’t audition. You stay close by and respect each others space while sending out happy energy to those around you who know are in the same bizarre boat you are. This is as close as I can get to making audition waiting rooms sound magical.
Overall, as stressful as auditioning is, you are awake, excited, and surrounded by grateful interesting people.
Where things get wacky
Here’s where everything goes a bit awry. I get into the audition room and feel like a million bucks when I introduce myself. Here I am! Ready show you my one-woman one-minute play!
And then I open my mouth. Apparently there is a room in my brain that holds my monologues, songs, and acting skills. Also in this room lives every anxiety about theatre, my career path, my hatred of data entry, my self-consciousness about that spot on my dress, the idea that I gained weight after the wedding, and this Spiderman-like sense of every noise, smell, image in the room. It’s just a delight. I then become the psychic of the year and believe I can read into every note taken by the audition panel, every body shift in their chair, every clearing of the throat.
From a Buddhist perspective, this is fricken awesome to analyze. There are tons of things to learn from what your mind does when you are this present. And though I know I can learn from it, it’s not super helpful for getting cast.
Suddenly, my monologue is over, and I leave confused, frustrated, and unable to remember how to do basic things like use the elevator. Right, buttons. We press those. I return to office-land, where no one seems to really give a hoot about if I was ever gone, and I fall deeper into this frustration.
My call for advice…
I wrote a similar post several years ago, and have made great strides as far as my discipline in my training. Great, so I’m no longer feeling uncomfortable getting in the audition door. I am now Equity, and am super grateful that I can audition for so much more. And yet, my phone isn’t exactly ringing off the hook.
If I do not maintain a healthy and happy life outside of the audition room, it clearly shows in my acting. I am not fully present on stage, and therefore, no one is going to give a crap about the story I’m telling.
So where is the balance? Bills are important, and a life in theatre is hella expensive.
Here is my question for you actors and artists out there (or anyone else who can relate, I’m sure it doesn’t only happen in theatre): how do you “leave everything at the door”? When did you reach the point where your frustrations with the business and the life you build around maintaining the business stopped interfering with the art itself?
I am not totally without ideas. I recently took an incredible workshop with Blanka Zizka down at the Wilma which focused on a new form of actor training. It was all about the your physical capability as an actor to be in the moment at all times on stage. Her magical word that stuck with me was “Insist.” Insist on your breath, insist on being seen, and insist on telling your story. What a wonderful lady and teacher.
So this is part of my insistence to not let this complacent office culture, a part of my life necessary to supporting my art, take away from the art itself.
All comments and advice welcome! Thank you ahead of time for your love and happy auditioning/rehearsing/data entering this week.
In case you missed my recent crazy life updates, my name is now Ginny Bartolone and I have a new acting website in the works at GinnyBartolone.com 🙂 Yahoo!