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