I think I might be done.
It’s been interesting to me that for months I’ve been talking about how burned out I am and how absolutely nothing has slowed down. And most of the people at these theatre companies seem to be fine with me passing out in my living room, working 70-80 hours a week with no time off, and having anxiety attacks about money because despite working nonstop, I still wasn’t making enough money to be comfortable. I wasn’t living paycheck to paycheck anymore but I wasn’t comfortable enough to have any savings either.
In fact, I feel like I’ve been screaming at the top of my lungs that I needed a break. Didn’t matter. Edits were due. Folks wanted plays. It was this nonstop machine and it was killing me.
Then, my cat died. And my grandfather died. And I just stopped. I took a moment to catch my breath. And I started to ask myself “Why am I doing this? The pay is terrible. I’m barely making a living and I’m not sure I enjoy it.”
Theatre is abusive. It’s toxic. It’s draining. Theatre learned absolutely nothing from the pandemic and, if anything, things almost feel worse now. Folks keep saying “the intermission is over” but when was this intermission? I worked more during the pandemic than I ever had before. Did all that work just not matter? Did all the creators who made sure theatres kept their donors suddenly get exiled?
Sure feels that way. It has been the biggest slap in the face to say “I’m tired” and to be handed even more work. I was burned out all of 2020. I’m beyond that now. Now I’m just broken.
I need a break from theatre, as a playwright. People keep saying my voice is one that “needs” to be heard but no one is listening. I don’t want to work in an industry where literally no one checks in on me after I admit to hitting my head on a table, passing out from exhaustion. Actually, instead of checking in on me, I get stories like “Oh you think that’s bad? You should hear about this one time I almost died but I still showed up to work. The show must go on.”
This is not normal. This is not okay. I do not want to be a part of this machine anymore.
Recently, I accepted a theatre job I was super excited about because it meant that I could let playwriting take a back seat but someone at the company (who I would be supervising so my workload would likely be more) mentioned they work on average 70 hours a week, every week. And that freaked me out. My immediate instinct was “I don’t want to work like that anymore. Shit, am I lazy?”
We, as an industry, are running on empty. And our art is suffering because of it.
I want to take this week to really plan out what my next steps are. If the expectation is for me to work to the point of exhaustion only to never really recover, I don’t want to work in theatre anymore. I need to take some time to figure out exactly what that means and how exactly am I supposed to move forward.
Really, my question this week is “so what now?”
I will always write plays. I don’t know how to stop. Walking away from theatre to me is walking away from the toxic PWI theatre companies that care more maintaining their racist and problematic audience rather than supporting innovative new work (and frankly expanding their audiences to a more inclusive group).