It’s only when friends remark that I light up when talking about acting or theatre, or when someone notes that I’ve seemed a lot happier and more energetic over the last few months than I did for many years previous that I notice that, in general, I am a lot happier these days.
It’s stunning how obvious it should have been. I didn’t get a degree in theatre thinking it would make me rich; I didn’t even think I could make it a full time job. I did it because it was the only thing I really, really wanted to keep on studying. I wanted to keep on doing theatre, investigating, practicing it, creating it. I enjoyed acting (but detested, and detest, memorizing lines); I enjoyed researching the history and critical theory of theatre; I enjoyed creating in a space, in a time, with people that would all come together only the once and never again be exactly the same. I figured I was good at it and could give something to the discipline.
I forgot all that for a while. Somehow, in the ordinary way that tends to happen, I wrapped up college in a damn hurry to find reliable pay – and the more elusive it was the more the view of my future became tunnel vision with a paycheck as my goal. Eventually I did find a full time salaried gig and set about trying to become an adult. It worked, maybe too well. Of course, I meant to try to get back to theatre somehow, but my attempts were desultory and I didn’t get anywhere (largely due to not knowing where to start with nothing but a degree going for me). In the meantime I worked the dayjob and I became like so many working stiffs: content to pursue a paycheck as evidence of my worth, saving up vacation days for travel, budgeting for little luxuries, contributing to charities when disaster struck, bestowing Christmas presents on family and friends…. And living with a mild depression that I assumed was just part and parcel of life.
Hearing things like “everyone hates their job” and having no reason to think that there was anything wrong with being gainfully employed, I didn’t second guess the continual dark clouds and bad mood that accompanied me more often than not. In retrospect, even the diagnosis of dysthemia had a way locking me in place, but that’s really only from one point of view. It has actually helped me to understand what is going on with me; why I passed so many days feeling emotionally submerged. Knowing the name of a problem goes a long way toward dealing with the problem. But now I have to explain to myself why the persistent bleakness isn’t quite so persistent these days.
I admit, that’s not really a problem. It’s good to know that when I’m busy and stressed anxiety kicks up and that can trip the darkness into central focus. It’s not that a situation is really that tough; it’s just my wiring over-reacting to difficult situations, trying to protect me from hard, scary things. My immune system does the same thing when I’m around cats.
But it’s been fascinating, hell, wonderful to find that the love I have for performing comes out even when I’m just sitting around talking about something I saw on stage or heard about theatre or experienced that in some way connects to that communion I was always wanted when I first fell for the theatre.
It’s a little funny, largely ironic, that friends who’ve known me for a while get taken by surprise by how much more energetic I am when I’m going on about a play or my theatre company or my latest forays into voice over. I didn’t notice the difference until it was pointed out; and friends didn’t know there could be a difference. I didn’t realize sleep would be more effective, that my mind would pay better attention or that I could give up caring about the myriad bullshit limitations in my way made of business appropriate clothing, business appropriate language, gym memberships, cash for happy hour, best practices, SLAs, PowerPoint, Excel, networking with Sales and touching base with managers and that it would make me feel like weights had come off my legs.
It’s the difference between unemployment and looking for another office job and unemployment but redirecting my career into voice over, while tackling various theatre projects and learning Japanese. I get stressed out (and thus anxious and thus a bit bleak) sometimes, but I also have something to look forward to.
Amanda Palmer likes to say “fuck plan B” by way of encouraging people to heed their calling. Basically, it involves not taking a day job to support one’s artistic habits, but to dive in and create without concern for pesky details like rent or health coverage. It’s a strategy so straightforward it risks being reckless and sloppy and plenty of folks, including friends of hers, have noted its short comings and unvoiced assumptions. Somehow you make your way…well, how? Parents pay for it? Or a spouse? Or you take on massive debt and potentially cripple yourself in financial, healthful, social and other dimensions? I could never have done it. When I graduated from college I was desperate for paying work, as I said, even if I could have just hung with my parents and let them pay my way while I figured what Step 2 was.
But while plan B helped me live on my own during the time I worked plan B, but it never worked out for me to get me anywhere else. Plan A had a critical problem in that I couldn’t figure out how to do shit without money. So this, then, must be plan C, a reiteration of plan A but with (hopefully) a better perspective and more carefully laid steps. An actual plan this time instead of a dream. A scheme to meet my responsibilities with skill and talent that make me happy to do the job.
This is how I consider voice acting – a means to an end. A little of column A and a little of column B. It’s made of the effort to make use of my theatre degree and the need to meet my responsibilities as an adult.
Yeah, I light up when I talk about theatre, about rehearsal, critical theory, dramaturgy, acting, staging, storytelling, all of it! It makes perfect sense when I admit it’s what I was supposed to be doing all along. And if I never* have to work in someone else’s cubicle farm to promote someone else’s products, where my pay is the sum total of my investment in that project, it’ll be too soon.
*Do I think I can turn down a handsomely rewarded temp office gig, should one show up? NO! I’m an adult, I have bills to pay. But dammit, it’s time to be clear about my goals.