This one will likely be all over the place but I promise to stick the landing.
Kind of accidentally, I’ve been having the same conversation with theatre friends about our relationship to this career. When I first got to theatre, I remember being told the show must go on, no matter what. And they really meant no matter what. When I was SM, I called a show with pneumonia. I was running a fever and super delirious and still called a perfect show. That’s something I used to be really proud of.
The pandemic changed all of that. Suddenly, the show absolutely must not go on. But no one I know stopped working. Most of us were working twice as hard for half as much since institutions kept calling it an “intermission” and somehow that meant they didn’t need to pay us. It was a wake-up call for a lot of us. That we could choose to continue to be exploited or we could do our own thing. Most of us chose to do our own thing. Take away the space, anyone can jump on zoom and figure something out. In a lot of ways, it felt like the pandemic gave power back to the artists.
But then it felt like institutions figured that out and realized without creators, they have no content. They’ve got nothing to sell. So then we saw a lot of promises happen. A commitment to diversity. A commitment to BIPOC, IDEA, EDI, so many acronyms really. And none of it really meant anything. But it was exactly what we wanted to hear so we went back.
We went back to accepting less than because we were holding out for what had been promised to us. And the institutions never really came through.
I think about the 21-year-old version of me who called a show with pneumonia. The 23-year-old version of me who created three different festivals, all on my own, to support undergraduate and local playwrights knowing these people never showed up to see my plays (the petty part of me wonders if they’d show up now). The 26 yr old version of me who stayed at the theatre until 4 am adjusting and programming lights knowing I had to teach at 8 am. The 28 yr old version of me who threw up in between shows because I had just had a miscarriage I hadn’t told anyone about and still went back in to call the rest of the show.
Endless, limitless devotion. The show must go on. Right?
I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I was supposed to go to San Diego in early September. But right before my flight, I got the flu. And I had a crisis. Typically, I’d get on the plane anyway. I had said I was coming so I should go. Right? It’s what I owe to them? The only thing that gave me pause was that I didn’t think they’d let me on a plane with a fever. And I also went back and forth over the ethics of traveling sick during a pandemic that isn’t over yet. In the same breath, I can’t say “I wear a mask to protect others” and then get on a plane with the flu for work. That can’t be okay.
So I didn’t go. And then I hated that I didn’t go. I was so mad at myself. I’ve dealt with worse. Why was this the thing that stopped me? What’s wrong with me? Am I not dedicated enough anymore?
Lately, I’ve been questioning if I’m fully in this or not. I feel like I am. But during a job interview recently I found myself annoyed at the ways in which our structures are built. And I answered as honestly as I could and then did not get a second interview. Nor do I think that company will ever really want to work with me. Probably because I said the best part of working for an institution these days is the health insurance. I don’t like that we have to prove the company is what we need instead of the other way around and I’m f*cking tired of answering how I’ll bring anti-racist practices to the company when it’s a PWI with the same AD for the last 30 years. I don’t want to tell you about my practices until you show me it’s safe to do so. What does your company do to ensure I’m safe? That I can be myself? That I can be honest? Answer that first and then I’ll tell you what I’m doing.
Since moving here, I’ve been looking for jobs nonstop, applying nonstop, and nothing. And a big part of that on my end, honestly, is I don’t want those jobs. Am I just too burned out? Or do I know deep down working for an institution that cares more about their board than their community isn’t what I want right now?
Besides, I know what I want. I want to write. And I think I have good things to say, I think my plays contribute to American Theatre. I think I have some talent. I couldn’t stop writing if I tried.
Maybe I’m not devoted enough. Maybe I didn’t lie enough and say the right things at the right time. Maybe I don’t feel like churning out plays that are f*cking meaningless where everyone holds hands in the hands and we’ve fixed racism once and for all or worse plays that are just trauma disguised as a “difficult conversation.”
Or maybe I was completely devoted to something that wasn’t devoted to me. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t do theatre. Today I’ve been thinking about applying to be an Amazon warehouse worker knowing that would absolutely break me. Folks keep telling me my plays are important, that I could get a job anywhere, that I’ve got all this power and I can’t see it…
I love theatre more than I can stand it but I’m not sure how much I can give, especially if I don’t have anywhere to live come November.