About four years ago, right after I moved to NYC, I started a word document simply called “Life.” It evolved into my Morning Pages, and sometimes acts as a ranting journal for when I don’t feel like using a pen. Occasionally, especially on snowy days like today, I skim through it and relive getting to know Ben, quitting a million temp jobs, and struggling through an endless slew of days loving or hating New York City Theatre. I will gladly skip the tiring bits about Sallie Mae or getting stuck on the D train and gravitate toward the wine-induced evenings when I sounded surprisingly poetic. Good for you, tipsy brain. Either way, it’s always an adventure to read. It usually ends in me declaring I forgot to feed the cats, and then the sentence abruptly ends.
The hard part when looking back is seeing the patterns. Have I always complained about not being able to pay my bills? Have I always believed that I don’t work hard enough toward acting? Have I always hated living in a densely populated city???? Am I a crazy person going in circles slowly accumulating cats and cat pictures??
I’ve struggled with getting caught in patterns for years. If you look back through these posts, you’ll definitely see it here. I have written about pretty similar themes each time: surviving your survival job, overcoming stress in an audition, not going insane even though you’re broke. Round and round I go. Not to say these posts weren’t genuine or warranted, but they weren’t kidding when they said being an artist is exhausting (They being all my guidance counselors before college).
Speaking of guidance counselors…
I partially blame this fretting cycle on the American Dream-esque rhetoric we are fed in school. “If you try hard enough (or “want” something enough), you can achieve anything.” Then I mix this with a good dose of, “If you can’t stand the hard life that comes along with acting, what will your fall back be?” Ew. What a terrible, and illogical amount of pressure to put on yourself, not to mention your creative self. I should pick a secondary career to pursue if I decide one day that I don’t “want” something enough to push through the hard stuff? That doesn’t sound pleasant or productive. What I feel the question leaves out is:
-When you act/write/paint/stand on your head while juggling, do you feel that you are truly at home? Do you know that this is the best way to share your ideas with the world? Then congrats, you are that. That’s the end of it.
-If you enjoy something else right now (working in an office, bartending, driving the A train) does that mean that you’re not actually meant to be an artist? No. Wrong. And let’s stop saying “meant to” please. You are what you are.
-If someone doesn’t hire me to practice my art, does that mean I am failing? Nope! It just means ten million other people are doing what you are doing, and there is no logical latter to the top of the arts. Actually, there is no top of the arts. But that’s another blog post.
-Is my friend on Instagram who always takes pictures of their feet before an audition trying harder than I am? Probably not. They just take more pictures. #blessed #coolit #unfollow
If I was to talk to a room of doe-eyed college seniors in a theatre program right now, I wouldn’t threaten them with, “Times are hard! Jobs are few! If you can’t take it, don’t be an actor!” Instead I would say, “You have your art, whether you need to pay back Aunt Sallie or not, money or time will never dictate that. The trick is keeping your lifelong goal of acting alive. So what job will you take on that will feed your creative soul while allowing you to progress as a person at the same time?” Hey, hippie Ginny, nice to see you this morning.
Finding Your People, and your Lifestyle
One of the biggest artistic things I have learned from my older and sometimes wiser husband (he is currently debating with me that he is never wiser, but I disagree) is that there is one thing in theatre that cannot be rushed: building your community and finding your people. There is a joke among Ben’s friends called “the six degrees of Ben Bartolone.” When he meets someone new in theatre, chances are they were his college buddy’s ex-girlfriend/worked at the mall with his best friend in high school/goes to his Steelers bar/actually a distant relative. It never stops amazing me. Why? Because he knows the power of community in this field, and that time is necessary to build one. We are all running in circles at times, it’s just a matter of starting to run into each other.
Realizing who you don’t work well with is just as important. I’ve taken a few acting classes when I’ve felt that I was missing some inside joke the rest of the group was riding on the whole time. I felt old (not in a bad way) and that I’d rather go home to a book and wine at the end of the night instead of shots of fireball at a crowded midtown bar. I sit in the Equity Lounge (something I couldn’t wait to do) and wonder why I don’t have any interest anymore in spending 12 weeks in a van performing Shakespeare to middle schoolers. Does this mean I don’t want to be an actor enough?
Between the countless Drew grads in my life that share the same bitter-snarky optimism, and some lovely people I have found during my time here, I see how a community clarifies your artistic path. Suddenly, like magic, my thoughts have shifted from “who will hire me?” to “what do I want to create with these wonderful people?”
Happiness also exists when you’re not in a show…
I am very fascinated by the phenomenon of two questions:
“What are you working on?” In case you haven’t seen this…
“Oh you’re writing now…so you’ve given up Acting?”
Whaaaat?? I recently told a group of my coworkers that this was a common theatre phrase and they looked horrified. What kind of career constantly asks you if you are giving up your career?
Since the wedding, I have been primarily freelancing in fundraising, specifically in a school. I originally sought this out with the expensive wedding on the horizon. But amazingly in the process found that working around adorable babies while working toward a cause I care deeply about, was pretty damn fulfilling. It transformed from something I could do to something I wanted to do. And the happy side effect? I can finally work toward financial freedom, afford classes I enjoy, and free up a little part of my brain that used to focus on bills but now focuses on writing and acting. How delightful! Am I going to EPA’s every morning and hoping to win the acting lottery? Not right now. Will I again? I’m sure. But my life is by no means on hold in the meantime.
The New Question (open to suggestions here):
Instead of “What will you do if you fail as an artist?” how about “What will I do to remain an artist?”
In other words, in today’s economy, with NYC becoming a more and more expensive city full of more and more trained talented actors (like yourself), what work can I put my energy toward that I care about, is in-line with my ethics, and will sustain that innate part of me that is, and will remain, an artist.
Isn’t that better than waiting for some impending moment to pull the plug on your passion? Also, isn’t this option more logical? There is no more “starving artist” archetype. There is however, a “working three jobs while also doing my art-starving artist” archetype. We need to adapt with the times without giving up our art, otherwise, the world will miss out of what you have to give. So we need a better way to sustain ourselves: financially, creatively, and physically.
As usual, it’s all about intention.
If your intention when taking a job is just to make money (see myself, three months ago) there is a chance you will hit an artistic wall. It is not in our nature to be obsessive consumers. If your intention is hiding from being an artist, I can make an easy guess that will also fail. It will find you.
I have to say that since I have set my sights on making education administration a long-term part of my life, I have begun chipping away at two writing projects, met a lovely Jersey City theatre community, and started singing regularly again. This idea will not work for anyone, why would it? But removing the pressure to live an actor’s like in a “typical” way, strangely made me feel more like an artist. So let’s give ourselves a break and remember this is our life goal, not a “by next week” goal. By having a varied and dynamic life, we are still hard workers, still passionate, and yes, still actors.
3 responses to “Rephrasing the “Fall Back” Question”
This is a lovely, well written, and thoughtful piece on a very real part of an artist’s brain. Love it!
Thank you Carla! It means so much to get feedback!
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