Thinking a Lot About Less and Less
The New England Patriots are returning to the Super Bowl, but the insane fans in the streets look downright tame compared to the spring semester theatre students at my school last week.
Everyone is competing for what feels like the same eight jobs in the theatre world, and everyone is convinced that they’ll be doomed if they miss out. In a business that seems to run only on relationships, it feels like that first post-graduation internship, fellowship, or apprenticeship could make your entire career.
Other times, people are stressed about grad school. The ultimate chicken-or-egg paradox is “should I go out and work first, so MFA programs will want me?” or “should I get my MFA first so that people will hire me”? And those who decide to pursue MFAs right away are in the same boat as those applying for jobs: competing with their peers for an insanely small number of slots.
In one of my advanced theatre classes last week, lots of seniors (and even a few of us juniors) were sharing our grad-school related anxieties. Our professor overheard us, and ended up giving some advice that made me reconsider everything I do with my life.
He talked about his own experience applying to MFA programs, and being called back for a final interview at Brown. He was eagerly listing his internship experiences, and the artists he had studied under, when the interviewer asked him to talk about himself. Confused, he started to list his resume again. She stopped him, and asked him why he wanted to be a theatre director, what his vision for his career was. He didn’t have an answer.
That hit me hard. I spend so much time thinking about getting my first writing job, that lately I’ve stopped thinking about the kind of writer I want to be once I make it. The idealism that drew me to the field has been replaced with a cold, calculating pragmatism that makes life a lot less fun. I realized that if I don’t spend as much time perfecting my craft as I do trying to network, I’m never going to get anywhere.
Because we have so few ways to quantify success, young artists tend to define themselves by their internships and connections. Getting that first big break in the industry is so daunting, that it tends to consume our thoughts until we find it. But it’s infinitely more important to know your own voice, to know what you want to say once you get that big break. Nobody has ever won a Tony award for “most internships.” Success in the arts comes from having something unique to say, and saying it well.
Even if you’re not an artist, we’re probably all guilty of focusing too much on the individual steps towards our goals, and losing sight of what we’re actually pursuing. This is a good time to stop fixating on the next task, and make sure that your long-term vision is still meaningful.