I don’t know why it’s hard for me to talk about theater. But it is. It’s hard, it’s really hard. And it should be much easier. You’d think that the thing that has been sort of at the forefront of my life for the past nine-plus years, the thing that I am trying to make my livelihood somehow, the thing that has captured my imagination for years would be the thing I’d want to talk about, write about, think about most. But, honestly, it’s not. I sort of feel mute in the face of theater. Which makes me feel a little funny.
I think part of it is some sort of impostor syndrome. The feeling that it doesn’t actually belong to me. Impostor syndrome is a sort of parasite getting into most things for me these days, a sensation I’m sure most post-grad twenty-somethings could affirm. But, that’s just silly because I’m literally writing this while sitting in the thick of a tech rehearsal for the play I’m getting paid to work on right now, so if I’m not a person worthy of talking about theater, I don’t know what I am! Impostor, shmimpostor, I’m qualified! Easy to say, not easy to feel.
So I’m going to practice writing about it.
And it will probably feel weird.
But I need to be able to say things about it. If I have any shot at all of keeping theater as a part of my life, especially a money-making part of my life, then I absolutely need to, one, want it, two, have coherent ideas about why it’s important, and, three, have some sense of what I have to add. Right now all three of those things feel mish-mashed and half-hearted inside me. I need to fix that.
BECAUSE I’M A PERSON WHO DOES THEATER! I KNOW THINGS ABOUT THIS! I have to remind myself of this, allow myself to shout it sometimes, nudge myself to speak up, put my ideas into the pot, be a part of what’s going on. It’s easy when you’re with other theater people. It was easy in college in my ensemble, because we all were into the thing, all speaking the same language, all really truly into both theater and doing theater together. It was easy when I was a musical-theater obsessed high schooler, rehearsing for hours every night, to let it seep out of my pores and infect anyone that I came in contact with, unabashedly, shameless.
But it’s not so easy anymore. In fact, it feels like a little bit of a double-life, and not an exciting one. I don’t know how to step into it, how to own it among my millennial peers, especially because I don’t have any sort of fancy lasting theater job to prove that I’m a real part of the theater artist thing. I’m just sort of never excited to tell people that I am a theater artist. Because the truth, or at least what I have found to be the truth, is that most normal people don’t care about theater very much at all. This is a fact, and it’s a shame. And knowing this cripples me, makes me feel weird when I say that I do theater, because I can see the thought process of the average person when I say it. They think, “oh, that’s a cool thing!” or “oh, that’s artistic!” or “oh, I saw a play once!” or “oh, you’re one of thooooooose sorts of people!” There is very little recognition, other than some sort of vague admiration. There is little empathy, just fascination and separation. A little box in the person’s brain filled with me and the play they did in fifth grade and The Phantom of the Opera and their friend from high school who is in California trying to be an actor. Honestly, that’s not a box I want to be in. I have graduated from a very real college where I did very real work and thought very real thoughts and now I’m sort of met with a situation where I can just tell that I have a whole lot of skills that are only useful for a small sub-set of the population. Theater is mostly either adored or entirely misunderstood. The people that love theater really really love it. And the people who don’t have no reason to care.
So, what should I do? Leave it behind, forget about those magical days of college theater where it all, blissfully, made sense, and, wallflower-like, turn into some sort of business-woman or unhappy housewife? Or own it, tell everyone, strangers and friends, that I do theater, that theater is who I am, all the while wearing funky clothes and bringing it up, pointedly, in every conversation? I know the answer lies somewhere in the middle. One thing I know for sure is that, for better or for worse, I’ll always know things about theater. I’ll always have the impulse to work on theater. I’ve come too far, I’ve worked too long, it’s gotten too far into my mind, my dna, my instincts. I’m sort of stuck with theater, forever it seems. I just simply really like it, and the reasons don’t have to be clear.
Theater is a slippery thing, hard to talk about productively or define, because it sort of means different things to different people. This makes it an expansive thing, spacious and wonderful, and I’m honestly only interested in certain parts of it. I like theater that honors, theater that isn’t about being showy or impressive, but rather honest and intimate. I like theater that values every person in the room, from actor to audience to light board op. I like theater where the process is as valuable as the product, where money is an afterthought, where creative people are able to try things, take risks, see a crazy idea fleshed out. It’s a shame, but that sort of theater is actually sort of hard to come by in the world, and when I see it I recognize it immediately. I’m drawn, like a moth to a flame, to this theater, this crazy communal thing, one of the only art forms where you are confronted by people, actual people with bodies, standing right in front of you and asking you to see. People quite literally drawing you into what they are doing. And for a lot of people, like me, once you are in, there is no good reason to want to leave.
That’s sort of what happens, I think. Most of the people who have made theater their life get sort of sucked into it at some point and then let it carry them as long as it will take them. I have a hunch, reader, that if at some point in your life you would have gotten to experience theater in the way I have, the immersive, communal, wonderful-ness of it, you would be wanting to make it your job too. People get a taste of it, even a little one, as a child or teenager or college student while entrenched in the utopia of not needing to make money to support their self, and somehow that’s enough. For a lot of people, those small years are enough to keep a person coming back, to make a person chase such a crazy thing as their livelihood, to be, like me, knocking on the door and shouting, “I know something about this, I need to keep knowing things about it!” Being a theater artist is not a thing to walk away from easily. But people do it all the time, people sad to say goodbye to something that often gives such a lovely picture of what the world can be and value. They leave because they think they have to, because the money-making world of theater doesn’t feel welcoming or possible. And I’m teetering on the edge of that.
I don’t know where there is a space for me in theater. I don’t know if there is a space for me in theater, and if there isn’t then I have no idea where to try to take up space. Both of my theater jobs are ending in the next week or so, and the future is very unknown. But I know that I know things about theater. Real things. Things I can’t un-know. I’m going to keep shouting that I know, whether there is space for me in theater or not. I’ll make a space, even a tiny one. It does belong to me, even if I’m the only person who knows that.
So I am going to write more about theater. I’m going to say more about theater, here and other places. I’m going to speak like I know, because I do. I’m going to find some sort of space and fill it with myself, my own body, all of it, and say what I know about theater. And hope to be honored as much as I honor.
Stay tuned for more posts about theater showing up on the blog in the next few months. I’m finishing up some big projects and cooking up some more. If you’re curious, or want to talk about theater, any part of it, send me an email! We can all try to figure it out together.