I need to tell you a little bit about The Compass podcast. Because it is fantastic and was created by a fantastic lady.
As you all know, I struggle a good deal with the inconsistent, and often discouraging, artistic lifestyle that goes along with being an actor. As I sit here at my desk in a school in North Jersey, I don’t exactly feel like a professional artist. It’s actually a shock to my coworkers when I tell them I am a union actor, which is understandable because I work here full-time…so how does that make me an actor?
However, maintaing a job outside of theatre is often the nature of the beast. The Compass is a reminder that I am not alone in feeling this way. The host and creator, Leah Walsh, tackles the complex question, “What keeps you from going the dark side as an artist?” She interviews professional performers, writers, and producers throughout New York City on what keeps them artistically connected throughout their day-to-day lives.
Even recognizing that there is a “dark side” to slip into is helpful to me. I know it’s there, I am aware of its sneaky presence every day, but giving it a name allows me to be more mindful of its power over me. The dark side is the feeling that I am not talented enough, not working hard enough, or not doing things correctly. It is the slump I fall into when someone asks, “Are you still doing that acting thing?” as if it’s a weird phase. And it’s the wave of fear when I realize I may never fall into the category of financially healthy adults that many of my friends are working towards in other careers.
What’s really interesting, is that this podcast is relevant to people in and out of the arts. It reminds you that there is more to someone’s life than what we see on social media. I know I often fight off waves of envy when I see an old classmate booking shows or auditions, and this isn’t fair. First of all, I wouldn’t want any negative energy coming from them when I have something to announce. I also have no idea what their day-to-day life is like. As Leah and her first guest, Alejandro Rodriguez, discuss in the first episode, booking work and caring for your personal/family life is a very difficult balance. They also discuss the challenges of accepting labels when you begin to explore other art forms outside of performance that bring you fulfillment, and what this means for your original goals. Perhaps what is most unique about their chat, is the focus on specifics of living as a freelancer, opposed to spouting “reach for the stars”-esque advice without anything to back it up. I’m pretty tired of the “You gotta do what you love,” speeches without any logistical information on how to pull that off.
Most important, discussions like this redefine what it means to be a professional artist, especially in today’s industry. When someone asks, “Are you an actor?” I have finally worked up the courage to say yes, even if I am not currently working on a show. But when the question becomes more complicated, as in — “Do you think you’ll give it up when you have kids?” or “But you work full-time somewhere else, did you give it up? Aren’t you writing now?” — I have to pause and remember that it is difficult to understand, both for artists and non-artists, that careers are not always this black and white. For those truly in love with the art, it will always be a part of their lives, and no, that does not mean they are giving up. It is about balance, and about finding a way to stay away from your dark side during the days that shake your confidence. As artists, we are not on a traditional path, and it is hard for many people to understand this. The Compass does a damn good job at working to clarify that.