I was recently turned down for a faculty position at a college very dear to me. I am a bit heartbroken about this for many reasons, but mostly because it seemed like the perfect job for me at this time in my life. Steady work teaching and designing, working with people I know and love, the ability to live on campus with my husband and future children, and the goal of reaching tenure as a great push for me to further my professional career.
Switching gears, and letting go of the structure of a life in academia for now, I am left with all of the things that I still want, but no idea how to place them all in my life and still keep it functioning. This is a great dilemma of many theatre artists who want to advance in their artistic calling, but also make a living, and perhaps try to assemble some sort of family life. How do we do it all? How to we get by financially, make interesting things happen, and have enough autonomy over our time to be able to prioritize our other roles in our lives?
I have only ever worked in the arts and have a slight panic attack when I think of my skill set (painting, design, drafting, model making, mediocre carpentry...) in contrast with the skill sets required for so many jobs out there (sales, customer service, knowing the entire Adobe Creative Suite). For the skills I do have, many companies only offer unpaid internships, which is a blow to my ego, as I earned a master's degree in these things and believe I should be paid for my expertise. When I look a little deeper into what other jobs are asking for, I realize that I do have many skills that are useful outside of the theatre setting. I can manage several people on different projects at the same time. I can budget a large event and make a production schedule so it all happens on time. I know how to talk to clients and use creative problem solving to give them what they want for a fair price. I use algebra. I use Excel! I even know part of the Adobe Creative Suite!
Because of these skills, I was also offered a job this week. A very impressive production house that designs and produces large events in Chicago offered me a management position in their art department for a yearly salary and benefits. It wasn't easy, but I had to turn them down. Yes, it would be financial stability, steady work, and a creative environment, but it was not a creative position and required 60 hours a week, including weekends, leaving me no time to keep up my own design career. Even if I did make time to do even just four shows a year, I would have to further delay having kids, never see my husband, and wouldn't be able to travel to New York to do projects with Helikon. I would essentially be taking another career and not continuing the one I have started. I would also be losing my identity and missing out on the rest of my life.
So what is the answer? Should we all turn down full-time salary positions in order to follow our love of theatre? It depends. If there is a full-time job that is perfect for you, by all means take it! But perfect things are rare, and we are changeable too.
I am still trying to figure it all out, but this is how I'm managing to get by now: I patchwork. Ellie, Mary Ellen and I each have many different things we are working on, or leads we are following, independently and as a company, and that is how we get by. We just do many things, and they all eventually add up (or get really close!) to enough money, enough art, and enough time for the rest of life--one week or month at a time. Right now, because I would like to start a family very soon, I am looking for some kind of permanent part-time job at a theatre, school, or art center in Chicago managing projects or programs or teaching or something like that. I am also charging at a scene shop, getting ready to launch some outdoor Dabble courses in painting and crafting for the spring and summer, designing a play around Chicago, painting a show at House Theatre Chicago freelance, prepping to do a painting demo at a rehearsal dinner in April, putting together a series of drawings to be displayed at a venue in Cleveland, and working out a few leads for graphic designs. I'm also learning Spanish (can't hurt!).
...And of course, I am writing this blog and plotting extraordinary things with the ladies of HelikonRep!
So if you can't find a full-time job that gives you all of the opportunities you want, patchwork some opportunities together in whatever way you can, and make something new. Just because it doesn't exist doesn't mean it can't be done. It just means no one has made it happen yet. Make things happen. Build your life yourself.