Monday, August 15, 2011

The Importance of Re-centering

A professor of mine while in graduate school at CalArts advised us that if we could envision ourselves doing anything else, we should get out now. He was very blunt. Life in the theater was hard. Long hours, low pay and full of personal sacrifice.

The past couple of years have been very difficult for the arts. State arts commissions are being eliminated, Tony Award-winning regional theaters are going out of business, corporate sponsorships are drying up and nationally renowned arts education programs are disappearing. If life in the theater was hard ten years ago when I was in school, it must be damn near impossible today in comparison, given the new realities of the "post-global economic crisis" world.

Being now a decade into the profession, I have found that most of my colleagues have seriously debated leaving the arts all together (and several have). And who could blame them? In fact, I find those that have never longed for a more stable livelihood a little suspect.

Last week was personally trying for me. Exhausted and spent after several weeks of very intense work, I found myself doubting whether or not I could sustain a lifelong career in the theater. Having recently received a couple of tempting phone calls from recruiters about chief marketing officer positions at various institutions outside of the arts (and one not so tempting inquiry from a construction company), the doubt continued to linger. However, at the end of several long days, I didn't rush out of my office and head for home, choosing instead to stay behind and take in a few performances at my theater. And as Robert Frost once remarked, "that made all the difference."

Sometimes it is easy when your nose is to the grindstone to get lost in the day-to-day, and forget why it is you chose theater as a career in the first place. Your day gets gobbled by sales reports, revenue forecasting, pricing models, customer service issues, copy writing and media buying, and the next thing you know, it is time to leave (and you're probably hungry because you forgot to eat lunch). Let too many of those days go by without returning to the art that attracted you in the first place, and you will find yourself in trouble. You can do all of the aforementioned tasks for any non-artistic venture in the world. The skills are transferrable, you'll have a more stable career and lord knows, you'll make more money. But you chose to work at a theater because you have the spirit of an artist. Take the art away from an artist, and you steal their soul.

So if you find yourself lacking motivation, or a sense of purpose, take a stroll into the rehearsal room, visit a class full of young artists or watch an audience react to a performance. Doing so will allow you to re-center, and remind yourself why it is you do what you do.

P.S. for those theaters that encourage closed rehearsals, I would encourage them to reconsider, especially if they want well-informed, inspired marketers promoting their shows


Howard Sherman said...

I completely understand your experience, Chad. I briefly left theatre when I was 31 years old, having worked professionally in the biz since my junior year in college. My new job was on a political campaign, but I quickly discovered that I was in an alien world (the candidate, before anyone smirks, was and is a terrific person) and I was so removed from my knowledge base and my personal passion that, even though I had the technical skills for the job, I was miserable. When a theatre came calling (in this case, quite literally), I went running back -- and that was 18 years ago.

Fred said...

Thank you for this. I often drop into rehearsals to remind myself why I do what I do.

Ann Sachs said...

It's difficult to explain the road not taken (thank you once again, Mr. Frost) and you have managed to capture it in this personal and touching post.

I'm with you. Over the past 45 years, the times I began to seriously look at making my living in some other profession, I literally had trouble breathing.

Thank you for expressing yourself so clearly about a hard-to-quantify choice. Keep it up.

Nella Vera said...

I feel exactly the same way, Chad. Having had a very hard and hectic year, my level of exhaustion going into the summer was pretty bad. Then Shakespeare in the Park began --and like you said, that made all the difference. Sure, it's probably the most exhausting project we the staff at The Public work on all year. But spending your nights outdoors listening to world class actors recite Shakespeare under a full moon can do wonders for your mental state and morale. Thanks for pointing out how important keeping a connection to the art is for those of us on the administrative side. I often encourage my staff to attend rehearsals, meet the artists and take advantage of all the behind the scenes opportunities that are afforded to us. We are lucky to work at at theater that encourages these types of interactions. I hope that those at the top of other arts organization realize how important this kind of access to the art and process is to the general health of your administrative staff.

April said...

How may I get in touch with Chad for permission to quote?

Elaine Calder said...

Chad, here's a quick response to your article from someone who's been managing arts organizations for almost 30 years: if you are getting headhunted for work in the for-profit sector where you will make a lot more money, you can always spend your evenings in the theatre by buying tickets. You may or may not have to work just as hard, and you may or may not enjoy greater job security, but there has to be something more than access to performances that's keeping you where you are. I suppose it's the sense of personal contribution to and participation in something that you value highly, but that's a question we all have to answer for ourselves.

Sandrine Georges said...

Until now I've thought of the Intiman affair as a Seattle arts problem; it's very strange and kind of depressing to think of it as an arts problem in general.

Chad M. Bauman said...

@April. My email is

Melly said...

Chad, you honestly got me at just the right moment with this post. I just finished up a very frustrating run with a community opera (I don't work full time in the arts yet, but I've got my fingers crossed) and reading this made me remember all the wonderful times I've had doing theatre and reminding myself why I love it so much. Thank you for that reminder.