Raw Thoughts: Reflecting On My Year Back In Theatre
Updated: Aug 7, 2022
When I moved back to Florida I wanted to work in video or TV production but that changed when I was offered two jobs in one night less than a month after I returned. It was July 2019 and I was at Drunk Shakespeare, a fundraiser for Outré Theatre Company just before its last season ever. There I ran into a director I had worked with when he played a role the 2017 production of 1984 that I ASMed at Outré, and a friend of the artistic director who I had met at a birthday party in 2017 and was also the content manager for a marketing firm in Miami. I got there late and there was nowhere to sit in the Irishman in Boca Raton, but sitting in the only open chair led me to the SEO content writing job I’ve had for 3 years at that Miami marketing company. Then, as I was leaving the event (and going to my car with one very drunk Shakespearean actor I hadn't seen in over a year), the actor from 1984 told me he had started a TYA Shakespeare company, needed a stage manager, and was holding auditions. I auditioned since I was certified in single sword and I’ve attended stage combat workshops, but he really wanted me to be their stage manager. So I stage managed their first shows of the 2019-2020 school year, which took us to Lecanto and Dunnellon, FL on the west side of the state, and Rockledge back east (just 2.5 hours from Fort Lauderdale). We had no idea when we loaded up that U-haul to tour Florida that in that same year everything would change forever, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Obviously I didn’t work during the pandemic, so I’m reflecting on the last year. In May 2021 I truly had no idea when I’d work again or how. I had finished playing a role in the Art Heist Experience, an outdoor show that was easy to work and paid well, plus I got to work with cool people. (One of them turned into one of my best friends.) But after Art Heist I really didn’t know where I’d work.
Then I got a call in July 2021. I was in my brother’s backyard in Chesapeake watching his kids play in the pool. I was asked to stage manage Twelfth Night for the Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival. I told the director that I was in Virginia visiting my family and busy watching some kids but that I would be happy to take a call from the producer later to discuss the details. I was offered a total sum that I'd usually expect as a weekly salary to rehearse 30 minutes from my home nightly and call shows at a venue over an hour north of me. I was sure to barely break even with gas expenses. But I had worked with the director as an actor twice before, and I needed to get started somewhere, so I accepted. Later that day I was in my brother's guest room with my laptop on my bed with my feet touching my suitcase on the floor as I typed the introductory "hi, I'm your stage manager" email to the cast. We had our first Zoom rehearsal a little over a week after I returned, and I’ve been working almost non-stop ever since then. I finally crossed “worked outdoor theatre” off my bucket list with that show, and I really liked that feeling. Because most of my theatre experience is in children's/educational theatre, I wanted to expand and try new theatre experiences.
As that Shakespeare show closed at the end of August 2021, people began asking me to work with them because I kept cool and pleasant. Truth is, I really don’t care enough to cause conflict. I’m not in the mood to walk into tense workplaces, so I maintain a tone of pleasantness and joy because I really don’t give a fuck about drama. It seems counterintuitive but indifference makes me good at my job. Yes, I care about the quality of the work but in the grand scheme of things, another show is just that - another show. I don’t let myself get angry and ugly over something that will last 2 months unless I really have to get angry and ugly, and generally, I don’t feel that the people I have to get angry and ugly with are even worth my blood pressure rising.
So my pleasantness landed me four more shows thanks to the referral of the lighting designer of that Shakespeare show, and a recommendation to work on a show on a train. My goal was to work on shows that were new experiences for me. Why not, right? I couldn’t work in theatre for a long time before the pandemic because the area I lived in didn’t have as many paid jobs as here, and I had other issues in that community. So I wanted to do things that I had never done.
This past year I’ve worked in opera, as a first-time production manager on a massive show on a train that entertained thousands of audience members, for an LGBQT+ theatre company, on a show where the audience picks who will play the lead role each night, a show I heard about in college, and a show with nudity (not just nudity, but two actors kissing while fully nude and in partial light…and one of them was Equity and I had very little experience in all that).
I miss video production a lot. I am afraid to say it because I don’t want people to think that I’m ungrateful nor do I want to lose job offers if I say that I want to do something else. But I miss film festivals. I miss talking to people who speak my language. Until I studied film and screenwriting I thought that theatre and film spoke similar languages, but the more I learned the more I saw how different they are. I miss discussing art history and having museum people. I have friends who will go to an art museum with me but it’s not their thing, it’s more of a “Ooh, let’s do something different today” for them. I feel like I’ve taken a big step backward from who I was trying to be in 2017 when I was pursuing film with all my heart.
Some of that is due to me realizing that in order to be a filmmaker you need more than good ideas and skill in bringing them to life. You need people/connections, and you need money, both of which I didn’t have. So I built with what I did have - I had theatre colleagues, and I had a job. Many theatre people only want to work in theatre and aren’t interested in film, but getting into the community meant that I could meet those who had one foot in each world. Reputation matters when you want to build something because you need people to build with you, and they’ll only build with you if they like you and trust you. You have to be an asset in their life, not a liability.
So, it’s been a year. I’m tired. Literally right now I am tired from getting back into yoga after being too busy and drained for a month. I don’t have a routine since mine switches up every one or two months. It’s exhausting going from one director and production team to another, taking the risk on a new team. You never know who is going to be great to work with or who will not pull their weight and cause so much stress on the production. You never know if you’re going to work with a director who sees you as a professional with a strong technical background and ability to organize chaos with cheer, or as a naive secretary, janitor, or unwanted thing that “interrupts” to say that rehearsal is over. Some people treat me with dignity, and some high-maintenance divas treat me like I’m a servant. And the thing is, you don’t know what you will get until you work.
Sometimes I don’t proofread because it’s effort to go back after I’ve already poured out my emotions. This is what I wanted to say. If I were writing for work or to be presented, then I’d edit, but this writing was a first pass at what I had been reflecting on as I finished my first year back in theatre. I hope you enjoyed it and learned about production life in theatre. I might come back and edit later on when I have the energy to review what I’ve said and see if I’ve communicated what I wanted. But I might not.
I hope you enjoyed my raw thoughts anyway.