The "theatre scene" -- like many industries, I'm sure -- is this strange plane of social existence where you are both trying to make new friends and new networking contacts with everyone you meet, and often at the same time. I like you! I also like your taste and your work! Let's hang out and also do you know about anyone who's got any auditions or openings soon?
I am no longer nervous about going to plays alone, in part because I'm 27 years old and I'm a gotdamn adult and being alone in public spaces doesn't make me self conscious anymore... but primarily because I'm pretty sure I'll run into at least one person that I know at the venue.
After the pleasantries, compliments on the work they did (or the work we both just enjoyed), and inquiries about what's in that drink, one of the first exchanges almost always tends to be, "So what are you working on lately?"
Recently, this has been my internal monologue when this question is posed to me: Ah, yes, what am I working on... what gig do I have... what content am I in the middle of producing... what company has hired me recently... and who else is working on that show... and yeah, um, so...
"Oh, I'm sort of taking a break right now," I respond, with a flush of anxiety growing up my neck as I anticipate a glance of surprise and disappointment. "Focusing on some other life things, and work, and you know, seeing more plays," I explain, offering more detail than necessary to get my point across because oh my gosh I don't want this person to think I'm I don't have any work lined up because no one is interested in me right now.
Which is very very silly, because I am taking a break. I have, with absolute intention, elected to take a break this fall from theatre work. After working almost consistently for a year, I don't have any work lined up until December 2018. That project, Consenting Bodies, is one of my own making and one that I am extremely excited about bringing to Houston. In the interim, I'm preparing graduate school applications, which demands a lot of time for the work as well as the reflection on my purpose and goals. In my mind, between juggling my full time job and these applications, I'd be too stressed to do this consideration mindfully if I was also at rehearsals. It's nice reset time for me to look back on my last five years, and think about what I want my next fifty to be.
Also, I'm getting into baking bread, and it's just nice to have a hobby that isn't also work for a little while. I definitely don't hate that.
I'm certainly not out of touch with the 'scene'. It is a pleasure to focus on being a patron of the arts right now! What a privilege to be able to take a night to attend a lecture or a panel on the state of theatre! What an honor to help run box office for a fantastic production! What joy to stay late after a Friday night show, without being exhausted from five preceding 12-hour work days, gushing over the production and learning about how wonderful all of these artists are!
Somehow, the insecurity remains.
I am honored to have been recognized by the Houston Press Theatre Awards a few weeks ago. And at the ceremony, I heard compliments for many people, and suggestions that we should work together soon. To which I responded with humor, but absolutely sincerity, "Well I'm not doing anything anytime soon -- hire me please!"
I feel like I have a lot to live up to. This is a very self-centered response to this praise, but in the interest of honesty, it is what I feel. I want to raise my bar, whatever the next project is. I'm really scared that I'm not going to get the opportunity to. This is an unfounded fear because I have nothing but support and encouragement from my friends, my collaborators, and my friends-and-collaborators.
Most of all, seeing other work is so invigorating! It reminds me of what can be done with stagecraft, and it moves me as an individual who has a life and feelings independent from theatre.
I understand why we ask "so what are you doing lately?" In a scene where so many artists are working multiple jobs, our personal time is limited. Pretty much the one thing we all have in common, and thus makes for a good ice breaker, is the work that we're doing. It's often the one thing we find joy in that we have the time to do and talk about. (I can't really talk about my day job, which I very much enjoy, because it generally involves sensitive information.) The question is not rooted in networking -- it's sincere interest! All the same, when my answer is "nothing! and it's awesome!", I feel like I am failing some aspect of the rubric of our social interaction. And I am starting to get better at redirecting the conversation instead of lingering on the nothing.
But I do want to hear all about that thing that you're working on right now! Please tell me all about it. I probably have time to see it.