Full of Sound and Fury
HoST and have been watching DVDs of the Canadian television series Slings and Arrows, sent to us by that great enabler of never having to leave the house, Netflix.
fizzical activitee: DO NOT WANT!!1!!11
The series is OK. Definitely some funny moments, but I don’t know if they’re plentiful enough to merit sitting through each 40-minute-plus episode. And I think the show is best enjoyed by theatre types – people who’ve seen firsthand the somewhat chaotic business- and creative process-end of professional theatre, people who’ve known the great pain of being committed to a show that truly sucks, people who have ever had to miss a wedding/funeral/graduation/baby shower because of a contract stating they have to traipse across a stage in period costume for 4 weeks in August.
Methinks my mother will never forgiveth me for missing my Aunt Trisha’s wake.
As I anticipated (and dreaded), the show made me reflect on my own complicated feelings about life in the theatre. Despite being a painfully shy kid, I took to theatre around age 11 when I managed to land a chorus role in a community show. My parents were completely stunned (and remained so for some time) that their daughter – who would hide behind large houseplants to avoid unfamiliar relatives, who was so silent she didn’t tell them about her broken arm until nearly 24 hours after the fact – was willingly getting on stage to sing and dance in front of hundreds of audience members each night. Extended family members who I only see once every ten years STILL act surprised that I act, never failing to remind me, “But…you were so SHY when you were little.” Yeah, I know. It’s weird. I still remain shy in a lot of areas of my life, but put me on stage and tell me to act like a complete asshole in front of total strangers? I’m your gal.
All I remember is calling my mother at work one summer day before 6th grade, and telling her I wanted to be in a play. She found an audition notice in the newspaper, and the rest, as they say, is embarrassingly lame history.
As I got older I got better, and I was able to score bigger and bigger roles with the community theatre, which I supplemented by being on my school’s speech team. I was an out-and-out theatre nerd, and after a brief time considering art or veterinary school, I decided to become a theatre major.
My parents wisely hid their disappointment from me.
Keeping up appearances as a total geek in high school meant that I had good grades (which prompted my uncle to once remark to me, “All that intelligence, and you’re going to throw it all away to be a theatre major?”), and I was able to score a small scholarship at an out-of-state university with a respectable theatre program.
I got a small speaking role in the first show of my freshman year, and I about hemorrhaged with joy.
(It was a terrible show, but I didn’t really care.)
(No, it was really terrible.)
I think we’re done here.
Thus began the four blissful years of my undergraduate experience. Aside from the occasional elective, I was free to immerse myself in all things theatre. Remarkably, I never spent too much time thinking what I might do after graduation – something my mother brought up with increasing regularity with each passing year. Under the recommendation of my acting teachers, I auditioned for graduate schools and was offered a spot in a prestigious masters program.
The only problem (besides the TRILLIONS of dollars my MFA would cost) was the fact that HoST wouldn’t graduate for another year, and I sure as hell wasn’t moving on without him. I’m absolutely 100% positive that all of my professors thought I was making the most moronic move ever by wanting to pass on this particular masters program over a BOY, but as I’ve said before, I’ve been completely head-over-heels batshit crazy about this man since the beginning. I made a pretty ballsy (for me) move by telling the chair of the masters program that I would not be enrolling that fall – or any fall – unless he was willing to let me defer for a year (something the school made clear they did not do).
Amazingly, he let me defer. And all was right with the world.
Well, almost. In the next year, I moved back into my parents’ house to work a [awful, horrendous] day job at a bank and earn money for grad school. This was the period of my life I like to refer to as HELL, otherwise known as HOW DID I MANAGE TO LIVE WITH THESE PEOPLE FOR 18 YEARS WITHOUT GOUGING MY EYES OUT?
The situation was made better by the fact that HoST and I got engaged and were getting married that summer. Did I mention I was crazy about him?
Well, not like THAT.
The year went by, the wedding happened, and we moved to New Jersey where I started grad school. And although it was a huge fucking relief to be back in the world of theatre once again, I was realizing that this life…was maybe not for me.
See, the faculty in the graduate acting program had a problem with the fact that I was married. A BIG problem. That they freely shared with me. Basically, they saw my marital status as a sign that I was not fully dedicated to the program or my acting career. They insinuated that a divorce was imminent if I was ever going to pursue this life, basing this assessment in the countless couples who entered the program freshly married and graduated freshly divorced.
And this, my friends, was straight-up bullshit as far as I was concerned. You ask me to choose between my career and my marriage, and it’s going to be my marriage every time. You have a problem with that, you can go fuck yourself. On stage. In period costume.
It was their blatant disrespect for my relationship with HoST (and a few other VERY JUICY incidents I witnessed with which I could have caused them major problems), that finally drove me to drop out before I earned my degree. And I was beginning to look ahead and realize that I wasn’t – and had never been – the kind of person who was willing to trade a “normal” life for the chance to play Hedda Gabler for a few weeks a year.
In the spirit of giving our dreams a fair shake (HoST also had a theatre degree, and was trying his hand at stand-up comedy), we moved to New York City to see if life there suited us any better.
Hint: It did not.
Auditioning in New York was even more disheartening than having crusty old acting teachers predict the doom of my marriage. I wasn’t Equity, so the auditions I was eligible for were for random, non-paying (and often nonsensical) shows I wasn’t the least bit interested in. I went to the auditions anyway, usually spending a few hours standing in line to SIGN UP for a time slot, sandwiched between girls who looked exactly like me. The precious few roles I did score were in productions so abysmal I begged my friends and family not to come.
The paying gigs I was eligible for simply didn’t pay enough to keep me afloat with the cost of living, so I found myself spending the majority of time temping in day jobs, which also wiped out any possibility of being in a show that rehearsed during the day. HoST, on the other hand, was making great strides with his stand-up, booking bigger and bigger shows, and starting to get noticed by agents. When it came time for him to bite the bullet and make the move from steady paying day job to touring comedian, he said what I had been thinking for a while: FUCK THIS. We decided to leave New York, which solicited responses of, “Oh my God, WHY? I thought you wanted to act!” from just about everyone we told. Because – apparently – the world of theatre does not exist outside of Almighty New York City. We moved to Pittsburgh in 2003.
I assure you I am not exaggerating when I say that Pittsburgh is a wonderful place for theatre. It’s everywhere, it’s accessible, it’s truly collaborative, and at times it provides more paid acting jobs than I can accept. Of course, there are very few professional actors who actually live full time in Pittsburgh, which is why I work a day job, giving me the freedom to take on acting work whenever I want with the security of knowing I can go to the dentist without taking out a loan. And the reasonable cost of living here enabled us to buy a house and a car, and to purchase groceries with COLD HARD CASH instead of credit cards.
I hate you fuckers.
And while the move to Pittsburgh proved to be a great one for the both of us, I often have a hard time expressing my choice to live here to other people [read: people I encounter in the workplace]. People in theatre circles get it: there is an entire community of us who want our reasonable cost of living and the chance to act, too, and if this means putting in 40 hours a week at a “regular” job, then so be it. But co-workers? Not so much. No matter how many times I explain to them that I work a full-time job BY CHOICE, and how I have already done the New York thing, and that no, I honestly would not want a movie star lifestyle where the tabloids posted unflattering pictures of me in my bathing suit, I still – STILL! – get introduced as the girl who is working here “until she gets her big break.”
“As you can see, this monitor is pretty damaged from where Jive Turkey smashed her head into it after you insinuated for THE THOUSANDTH TIME that she was ‘waiting for her big break.'”
When I try to explain that no, I am not actively looking for fame and fortune and my name up in lights, just the opportunity to do good work when I want to, I get a pause, a look, and then the telltale “Oh…” which seems harmless enough, but there’s a definite subtext: “I get it. You couldn’t make it professionally; now you’re settling.”
It’s at this point in my story that I know I sound defensive, and I won’t deny that I am…mostly because it took a long time for me to accept the fact that I never was hard-wired to live the professional actor’s lifestyle. I want a home that I own, stability, and to call my own shots. And unfortunately, those things are pretty hard to come by as a full-time actor.
Which brings me to what I perceive as the greatest unfairness of life as an artist: being good at what you do does not necessarily equal success. In any other profession – medicine, marketing, accounting, even professional sports – if you’re good at what you do, you’re going to go far. But if you’re a good actor? Eh. Are you gorgeous, too? Don’t mind being a nomad? Willing to put your personal relationships in danger for a career move that may or may not pay off, for money that may or may not come through? OK with the prospect of living the rest of your life on a month-to-month basis? Then maybe. Otherwise, no dice. Too bad if being a good actor is what you were put on earth to do; you’d better also be good at filing if you want to be able to afford your birth control pills this month.
Because Lord knows you can’t afford a baby.
And it took me a while, but I finally realized that – for me – the quality of day-to-day life was just too important. As an actor, there’s no better feeling in this world than being part of an amazing show. But the moments in between those shows? The days, weeks, months, years that can pass before you have the opportunity to take part in something truly rewarding and worthwhile? Those are the moments that make up the bulk of your life, my friend. And if you don’t enjoy regular, everyday, going-to-the-grocery-store and doing-the-laundry life, then you’re miserable most of the time…whether you choose to admit it or not.
Life is too motherfucking short, yo.
I think the one thing that solidified my belief that I was not cut out for the world of full-time acting was a show I did a few years ago. The lead – a full-time actress based in New York – was immensely talented. She could sing, act, and dance (a “triple threat,” for all you theatre nerds out there!), and was gorgeous to boot. And yet. During the entire rehearsal process and run of the show, she ran herself ragged doing odd jobs for extra cash and driving herself to and from New York on our Mondays off to audition for commercials, stage work, whatever she could find. When we closed, she had nothing set up and was in a total panic. Did I mention she was immensely talented? Well, she was also 40 years old. And the thought of living a life that unsteady at age 40 scared me senseless, my friends.
“Do you have any idea how hard it is to get cast as Ado Annie when you’re incontinent?!”
Not to worry; she eventually found work. But the fact that a woman with her talent and experience could be left high and dry at any time by the industry she’d devoted her life to? It’s horseshit. And one of the things that people who aren’t familiar with the inner workings of theatre should know before they pass judgment on my decision not to pursue the life of a full-time actor. The cost is just too high.
So that, my friends, is why I am where I am, why I work the job I work, and why I live the life I live. And for a girl who always dreamt of finding the love of her life, living in an old house with a porch, and finding success upon the stage…well, three out of three ain’t bad.
A life without clown white is not a life worth living.