When I was in college, I studied abroad in Athens. One day in Greek language class we were practicing vocabulary words, and we all had to say what we wanted to be our profession. I said “actress.” My dad used to tease me that I could be a “doctor on TV” because I loved science, but was very bad at it, and I liked theater and acting. I really wanted to go live in Ashland, OR, and work at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I never really knew what I wanted to do.
I really wanted to make theater, but I never settled on one specific role in there, or goal. I wanted to make theater, or work at a theater, and work with my friends, but also work with cool artists. I started out working at a box office and stage managing shows and worked as a business manager for a small theater part-time. It was really fun. I was really broke. So I took a day job with health benefits. I still worked on shows at night, but I completely stopped acting. Eventually, I stopped doing theater completely. Then I went to graduate school for arts administration, thinking that would be a creative career for someone who didn’t want to be in rehearsal all the time, subsidizing a career in stage management with a day job I didn’t like.
Anyway, here I am 5 years later. I worry that I don’t have a dream, or that my dream is really not a dream at all, but rather some kind of functional self-preservation thing that I am doing because I like to buy shoes and go on vacation more than I like to get yelled at by directors and doing show laundry that smells like weed and sweat. I knew that I was never going to be a professional actress when I was 22–I can’t sing and I look terrible on camera (I was even too embarrassed to get head shots, and I look like a freaky monster on film). But performing was so fun, and so easy. Stage managing was harder, but I still got to be in the room, to make suggestions and observations, and to see a lot of beautiful work. It seemed like a good compromise. In a theater scene where nobody got paid, I would get paid a couple hundred dollars. One stipend paid for my vacation to see my boyfriend who was teaching summer camp for gifted kids in upstate New York. But it wasn’t a living, and unless I stopped working with the artists I liked, it never would be.
So arts administration was my new dream, and graduate school was my way to escape Chicago and find a place that was “more serious.” I love arts administration, in contexts where I am not treated like I am a dumb idiot. It’s fun, and challenging, and I think I’m good at it. Also, I’m not working in theater anymore, I’m working in dance, and services for artists. So is this really my dream?
I ask not because of the Les Mis song that I have been listening to nonstop for two weeks, but because I just watched Sleepwalk With Me which I loved, which is a movie about a comedian trying to launch his comedy career while his relationship falls apart and he develops a serious sleep disorder. It’s wonderful, and available on Netflix streaming. It’s a movie about being an artist, and sacrificing (not in a good way) for his art. It was sad and funny, and honest. When I see movies, plays, art, literature that tackles this subject of why artists create, I get a little sad. Sometimes I think I need a new dream, or that I need to just think of having a dream as more of a goal for having a complete life (you know, a job and a boyfriend or maybe a family, a house, a hobby, travel, a pet, whatever).
Oof, this is weirdly personal. But I think it’s important for me to think about it.