Monday, January 08, 2007

Decisions, decisions

I'm in a meeting (I spend the better part of my life in meetings) but I feel the pull to write. Maybe I should adopt a motto: Never let work interfere with blogging.

A Girl is in rehearsals for a theater production and I was able to watch them run through the second act yesterday. I doubt A Girl understands how lucky she is to be working with professional, experienced actors within an established theater company. There is so much "small" theater out there but there are few such established companies and very, very few good roles for children. She is one lucky kid.

As I was watching the actors yesterday, it struck me that several of them are supporting families while working as actors. (Well, most of them have "day" jobs - as teachers of theater or other theater-related activities. But they work pretty regularly as actors.) This particular ensemble has been around for 20 years - it started when the founders were in college together and many of the founding members are still regularly involved. That's some serious dedication.

As I watched them work I thought how lucky they are that they can pursue their passion. For the most part, they don't have to go to an office (and sit in unending and very boring meetings about the accounting treatment of various investment products). They get to do fun stuff like play different characters, learn a new dialect, and perform for an audience.

But the reality is that I don't have to sit in those meetings either. I'm free to pursue my passion, too. I'm also free to tell my family that we can't afford our mortgage or school tuition. Because for most actors (and people in the arts generally), that's what it means to pursue your passion. It means you give up what you can get from a more practical (but far less creative) job as a lawyer or accountant. Although I didn't think about it this way at the time, when I decided to leave the commercial production industry to go to law school, I made the decision to take a more practical road. I didn't do it because anyone was telling me I had to. My parents were as supportive as anyone could hope for. I just didn't have it in me to live in a studio apartment smaller than a postage stamp any longer. I was at the point where I would have needed to work freelance in order to move ahead and I couldn't see myself living job to job.

I'm sure my husband will agree (probably a little too whole-heartedly) that I often don't use a very good decision-making process. I'm a "wing it" person who makes emotional decisions which drives him nuts because he's a logical planner. (Before I continue, let me fully acknowledge for the record that going the "planner" route is generally far more successful than going the "wing it" route.) I bring this up because many of my life decisions - including leaving a creative job for law school - were not very well considered. It was an emotional decision brought on by fear and by the high level of comfort I thought I had with what it meant to be a lawyer. My dad was a lawyer. My mom was a legal secretary. All my friends' parents were lawyers (or doctors or accountants). I knew what to expect from going to an office every day. I knew that I would be able to afford the lifestyle I grew up with. I didn't know what to expect working freelance as a production coordinator except that if I didn't work regularly I would have a hard time paying rent.

I'm not saying I made the wrong decision. Maybe if I had thought about it a bit more and considered all my options, I still would have decided to go to law school. But I wouldn't then look back (as I sometimes do) and wonder what the hell I was thinking.

One thing that A Girl will have is an understanding of what it means financially to be an actor. And to give credit where credit is due - this was my husband's idea. He has explained to her that most actors (particularly those in theater) don't make enough money from acting to support themselves and that they have to do other things (wait tables, do TV commercials, have a regular day job) so they can pay the rent. She's learned that to be a successful actor it takes a combination of talent, hard work and luck. Too many people think that if they're talented, they'll be successful but the world is full of talented, but unemployed, actors. Even hard work doesn't get you very far if you aren't talented AND if you aren't lucky enough to get the right opportunities.

My husband and I believe that it's important to encourage our kids to follow their dreams but it's also important to help them understand the realities of certain career/life choices. I had unrealistic expectations of a career in the arts and when things didn't turn out as I thought they would, I cut and run. I'm not complaining - I have a really good life. But there is a part of me that wishes I would have had the guts to stick with a more creative career path. Whatever our girls decide about their careers, I hope their decisions are made based on a reasoned analysis of their numerous options and not based on illogical and hormone-driven emotion.

In other words, I hope they take after their father.


landis said...

It's funny to see you describe yourself as an emotional decision-maker. I have that tendency too, and after--what, a year?--of reading your blog, it's not something I would have thought of you. Last weekend, I had the house sold and our bags packed to move to California (metaphorically speaking) after a bad day at work. My dh, thankfully, is a little more stable.

I think it's great that your daughter has the ability to see the things you and your husband are showing her. I had similar fears about the idea of working my whole life in a hand-to-mouth capacity when I was working in theater, and it put me on the path I'm on today--but it would have been nice to see some more people who were succeeding as actors then.

AfricaBleu said...

I like your motto. Blogging first, always.

I understand your dilemma -- I am a writer, which means I spend most of my time sweating and never getting paid. Oh, I've sold a couple of things -- but considering the time I spend writing versus the money I make, I'm working for like, a penny an hour. It's true though -- I don't do it for the money -- I do it because I can't see myself doing anything else -- it is who I am. Thank God my husband has a better-paying job than me.