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Moving On Up [without starting at the bottom]

December 22, 2011

There’s a 4-year cycle that life follows.  It begins when we enter the journey to “adulthood” at 14 going into your Freshman year of high school.  You grow, you learn, you rise to the top, and before you know it you’re among the most knowledgeable and comfortable of your peers.  Slam into the year that follows and you’re back on the bottom, all bright-eyed and awkward walking through a college campus looking for your dorm room.  Rinse and repeat until you are holding the most expensive piece of paper you will ever own, all for those few letters to put on your resume.  Then – SLAM – back on the bottom because you have no “real world” experience.  It’s been nearly 4 years since I’ve entered this “real world” and I must say, the 4-year cycle that has been ingrained into my system since I could walk has taken hold of my career.

In early summer, I had “graduated” from taking showcases and the comfort of working in educational theatre.  Instead of getting “stuck” in the loop of financial comfort and being artistically stifled, I have challenged myself to continue to find work in this crazy business while maintaining my double life as a freelance SM/electrician and the Artistic Director of a rapidly growing company. [For the record, nothing against those important individuals in educational theatre, but as an SM it wasn’t for me].  Booking myself solid as an SM/ASM for 8 straight months on recommendations alone was easily the greatest accomplishment of my SM career.  There was even a time where so many offers were flying that I turned down more than I actually could take.

This year in my Artistic Director life, I entered the film business.  I went from what my colleagues called the “ignorant theatre kid” to a lead producer on 7 short films, one of them award winning.  My company went from me and my husband working in our spare time to a fully staffed, multi-media company that – for 5 blissful  months – we had a space and office at our disposal.  Welcoming our dedicated and phenomenally supportive staff who allowed us to continue the momentum of the company was my greatest accomplishment as an Artistic Director.

Oddly enough, my proudest moments in both lives provided me with my greatest challenges. Saying “no” to the showcase offers while struggling to find work in for-profit theatre was a test of will.  A fully functioning company with recurring events, full staff, a space to maintain, income & bills comes with its pitfalls.  The bigger you rise in a short amount of time, the harder the fall when something unexpectedly devastating happens at the peak of your momentum.  Pulling through, not giving up, and refusing to compromise your ideals is the most difficult satisfying experience I’ve faced to date.

On to 2012, I realize that while I’ve “graduated” this Post-College Life I’m not about to slam back to the bottom.  Instead, a parallel path of productivity has presented itself. The “up” I go from here doesn’t start from scratch, rather it is a continuation of my career.  What I learned from 2011 is that advancement doesn’t always come from the source you expect. Don’t be afraid to try something new [like the movies] or leave behind something comfortable [like SMing showcases].  This next year, I will continue to find new, challenging projects as an SM by networking appropriately and take the next step in my company towards the ultimate goal: having a space, working full-time, and giving my amazing staff the salaries they deserve.

Life is organic, so don’t stifle the growth and above all things, remember “It’s only work if you’d rather be doing something else.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sean McCain permalink
    March 21, 2012 1:18 pm

    This is quite timely for me. I’m an AEA stage manager as well. I’ve been in the city for about 2.5 years, and I have been in what I call “Showcaseland” for most of it. I have a 9-5 dayjob outside of the theatre, and this past Friday, I put in my two weeks notice, as I have lined up 4.5 months of work on recommendation alone. While I was working constantly on showcases, I was bogged down with so much stress because of my corporate day job that did well with paying my bills. I started to feel like my day job was getting in the way of my career, so I made the leap and as of March 30th, I’m a full-time freelancer. While I will most definitely be taking a pay cut, I can rest easily, knowing that the work that I do will have my 110% effort. That, alone, is satisfaction enough.

  2. The Practical Artist permalink
    March 28, 2012 12:13 pm

    Congrats on the life-change, Sean [and stocking up a bunch of those contracted weeks]! Freelancing isn’t as terrifying as it seems at first, and – as I’m sure you know – AEA has a lot of programs and support to help deal with individual finances. Getting out of “Showcaseland” is a weird transition [and, wouldn’t-ya-know-it, the first Showcase I turned down is now in it’s 3rd extension with the possibility of moving to the Great White Way…but there’s always another show] Once you break into an inner-circle of the theatre scene [right now I find myself part of the off-Bway family], you see the same faces around tables at Production Meetings, and I’ve really come to realize how rarely one books jobs from seeing a notice and submitting a resume. I submitted for a company about 3 times the past year, they hired me on recommendation, loved me – said “how did we not have you before” and I simply replied “I guess you didn’t recognize the resume… I’ve submitted for you before” and they had no idea. As Cliche as this sounds, it is a lot of “who you know” and how your reputation proceeds you [the nickname an Actor gave me – “The Prop Ninja” – has been brought up by a Producer I never met before and I was told that’s the reason they brought me in… silly as it is, it’s the truth]. Reputation is everything [I smell a future blog post about that…]. Best of luck on your shows, continue networking, and welcome to the crazy world of Theatre Freelance.

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