It finally hit me yesterday.
I was sitting at my desk reading the news and this huge weight fell on my shoulders. Shows across the nation were getting canceled. Broadway was closing down. Playwright friends were losing opportunities of a lifetime from readings to major conferences getting canceled.
I got up from my desk, grabbed my phone and my headphones, and did what I always do when I’m stressed out. I walked into the empty theater, put on my musical playlist (I put the playlist on shuffle and the first song was “I Dreamed a Dance” from Next to Normal), and laid down on the empty stage in the darkness leaving on only the ghost light.
And I cried.
I’ve made a lot of jokes about it but my job has not been going well. It really does feel like King’s Landing. The General Manager, the financial specialist, and the administrative assistant all quit within a week of each other. And it all happened when I was only a month in. My job changed drastically and I went from doing the job of one person to the job of three with virtually no help. I leave work, exhausted.
Which is a problem because I have edits due. And I’ve worked on my plays but I can’t tell if my edits make any sense or not because my brain is so tired. I put the wrong character in the wrong play at one point and after that, I realized I needed to just step away.
A part of me is like “I need to find something else to do. I can’t keep working in production. It’s draining and takes all my energy and focus. I’m so burned out.” I’ve talked a lot of sh*t about production and how eventually playwriting will need to win out.
Despite my darkest days of claiming “This is all I know how to do”, I have a lot of transferable skills. I’m highly organized, detail-oriented, and a timely problem solver. I think incredibly clearly when I’m stressed (although I know it doesn’t look like it) and I can hold a lot of information in my head at once. I’m a great researcher, can hold my ground if needed but can also step back… My friend has urged me to be a paralegal.
On bad days, I think about it. But here’s what we all know is true: I love production. I hate that I love it but I love it.
As bad as things were at my job, I loved knowing that no matter what the Lannisters at work decided, I would still be able to work events, shows. I would still be able to support students and professional artists and young playwrights. I would still be working shows. And in fact, my entire job is working shows.
I get asked what I do a lot. My answer is always “I’m a playwright and I work in production.” Both are equally important to me and always have been.
I’m sure I’ve shared this story before but in case I haven’t: When I saw my words performed on stage for the very first time, our professor told us if we wanted any specials, we’d have to show up for light hang and focus. I was the only one who showed up. So not only did I get to hear words I wrote for the first time being performed by an incredible actor, I also got to see lights I designed specifically for the play.
Lighting design is my favorite. I’m super slow at it so I could never do it professionally but I also find a light focus really calming and relaxing. If I can come to an empty theatre after the rehearsal but before tech around 10 pm, I will gladly stay until 2 am focusing lights with only one other person in the control booth while we listen to music. Many of my happiest memories involve me and usually Josh in a theatre working late trying to troubleshoot shows I was working on (thanks Josh!).
I’ve learned over the years I’m not a technician. I’m not fast enough. So I moved to my true love, production management. Ya girl can make hella spreadsheets. I know enough about tech to explain it to a renter who doesn’t and enough to translate needs back to the TDs. I can manage the hell of a calendar and I understand how long a production (including load-in, load-out, rehearsal, Q2Q…) actually takes.
Deep down in my soul, I know that whether or not I’m a playwright forever, I will work in theatre forever. I want my own theatre company and I want to be as well-rounded as possible before I step into what I feel like I’ve been called to do: run a community-focused theatre company that prioritizes producing new work.
If you’ve read this blog before, you know how much I love reading plays. You know how much I love programming. But it’s time, especially right now, to tell the truth: I love production even when it breaks my heart. Even when my bosses make me feel like my skin is going to leap off my body and attack them. Even when someone laughably less qualified than me becomes my boss and insults my experience to make themself feel better. Even when it’s 4 am and I’ve been at work for 16 hours straight and I’m not sure I can drive home because I’m so tired.
The second I walked into a booth for the first time as an SM, excited to call my first show, ready to say “House to Half on standby”, I knew. I want this forever.
Which is why my heart is broken right now. Not just for me. But for everyone who was working on a production. Working back to back 12-20 hour days. Learning lines. Playwrights angsting over scripts and previews. Designers and technicians spending extra late nights trying to make impossible things a reality. And for all of that to be canceled? Some shows were canceled before they even got a chance to have an audience. And some shows were canceled mid-run. I’m not sure which is worse. I know of one show that was canceled at intermission. Like, how do you go home having only done 1/2 a show???
Ghost lights have gone up across the country. Empty stages filled with people who thought they had work and now are left scrambling.
I know it’s the right thing to do. We all do. But knowing that doesn’t pay the bills. Knowing that doesn’t take back the hours we’ve given to this wonderful, energy-consuming machine we’re all crazy to be in love with.
And yes, I realize how dramatic this all sounds. It’s only temporary and, as one of my parents said, “it’s just theatre.”
Ugh. Talk about a major blow.
It’s not “just theatre” to me. It’s my whole job. I’ve walked around my job, nervously laughing saying “Events and shows are my whole job. What do I do now? Will get laid off? What happens now?” And I’m so lucky to have a full-time job with benefits. My heart is heavy for freelancers right now. (Try babysitting. Seriously! Watching a toddler is surprisingly similar to working with a high maintenance artist.)
But, also, I’m one of those crazy theatre people. I spent almost a decade of my life with someone who also worked in theatre. And I really do believe what got us through our worst days was our love of each but also our love of theatre. When we didn’t see each other for days, we understood it was because sometimes theatre had to come first. And we respected each other’s work ethic. It is so hard for me to imagine myself with someone who isn’t in theatre, who doesn’t get it, who will, ultimately, one day say “It’s just theatre.”
Now, to not be so bleak, the solutions theatre artists are coming up with have been inspiring. Live streaming plays, which means I can see friends’ plays now without needing to fly. Closed concerts that will still go on. Virtual walk-throughs. Small staged readings in garages and neighborhood parks. I love the resilience of theatre artists and this is the time we’re going to shine the brightest.
To all my theatre friends right now, I love you and I see you. It’s gonna be hard a month. Maybe a hard couple of months but if anyone can make it through, we can.
I’ve got your back and I know you’ve got mine.