When I just got out of college, straight out of the drama program, I was hungry for creative work.
I had just gotten out of the directing/acting program at NYU and I wanted to work on plays- I didn’t feel like there was any other choice. I was buzzing with musical moments- I was inspired. I yearned to put my excited thoughts to work. Whenever a possible project came up, I jumped at the opportunity. The projects always felt like opportunities- maybe scary or difficult ones sometimes, but never a drag. I was reading plays all the time and in and out of long rehearsal processes- all of this felt like a hardcore part of my career.
Of course, there were bad moments where I felt like rehearsal processes took up all of my time- and would occasionally cause fights with my ex-boyfriend when he claimed every spare moment of my time was taken up by theater work- with not a second left for him. And that was a problem, but I kept working on theater projects anyway- they were just constantly popping up because I was surrounded by people in the industry, and connected to a lot of theater groups. I tried to find some balance, and I would apologize to my ex and to friends profusely when I was in tech week (AKA Hell Week, when your life is completely claimed by the theater and you eat, sleep, and breath a play yet still never have enough time before opening night).
Through it all, I felt like theater projects were extremely important. I didn’t question why. They just were.
Then, maybe four years ago, another ex-boyfriend of mine changed the way I felt about theater. He never understood my love of theater, and was never into the fact that I loved it. He didn’t come to some of my biggest and proudest productions, always claiming some excuse or another. When he did come to the plays, he always seemed upset for whatever reason and made me nervous.
He reminded me again and again that the audiences of most of my plays consisted solely of friends and families of the cast and of myself. This was basically true. It’s rare that strangers decide suddenly to attend an off-Broadway play unless there’s a celebrity in the cast. He said I wasn’t reaching the people I’d hoped to reach anyway. This was possibly also true. I was hoping to reach many people- and if the audiences only consisted of the same people who always got ‘dragged out’ to support me or my cast, then what was the point? I was making theater in a vacuum.
Even worse, once I believed that I was making theater in a vacuum, for no one, I couldn’t stomach the fact that I did it for almost no money. Most of my theater projects have been a labor of love, with minor stipends paid to me at the end, if that. Yet, as I said before, I still felt like the theater projects were very important, and still worth working on.
Once I felt like theater projects weren’t worth my time anymore, I went on an official ‘hiatus’ from theater. I stated that I had to pay off my student loan before I ever could do a full rehearsal process again. I haven’t yet finished paying my student loan, but that wasn’t the real reason I stopped working on theater- honestly, I felt artistically defeated. I felt cheated- like theater had lied to me. I wasn’t really helping anyone. I was giving my time away for free. Theater is one of the only industries where people are expected to give their time away for nothing- and even compete to be able to do so.
Instead of the theater defeat wearing off once my former boyfriend and I broke up, it grew stronger. I still didn’t want to work on a full rehearsal process- I couldn’t shake the ‘what’s the point of it all if there’s no money in it’ feeling.’ I blamed my ex. But then I blamed myself. How could I lose such an integral part of myself? How do I get it back? What do I do if I still kinda believe that I’m not reaching people with this medium, or that theater is a dying art form that barely pays and is only attended by foreign tourists and the friends and family of the production team?
I still don’t know exactly what to do with these beliefs that continue to cling on. I wish I could press a button and feel like theater is important and worth it again.
Two summers ago, right after the breakup with that same ex, half in protest towards my ex’s dislike of theater, I’d started writing a play. For a moment, in my thoughts of protest towards his beliefs that summer, the passion returned. My anger fueled me and a character came out onto paper. Musical thoughts started to flow through my fingers. The eager audience in my head returned to cheer me on. I felt a bit crazy- a bit wild. Then life got in the way. I slowed down on the script and my project screeched to a halt. The passion was gone.
The other day, when I was feeling empty, I randomly took out the script again for the first time in over a year. It felt distant and removed from my life now, hard to relate to, which cause me some stress.
Would I ever get those passionate, wild theatrical feelings back? I started reconfiguring the script, rewriting and reworking. I manually stuck with it for awhile. Some ideas came to my head- they were shadowy and new, but for a second they felt musical and raw and wild.
And you know what, who cares if no one sees my creative projects but maybe friends and family? Who cares if my creative side work will never make me any money? This kind of work has made me feel more alive than I’ve ever felt without it. So maybe there’s something to it after all.