Friday, July 31, 2009

Through the Looking Glass

I've been at my current day job, officially, for a year as of tomorrow. (I temped there for about eight months before they hired me full-time.) I'm very, very, exceedingly lucky. Just a little bit after I was hired, the economy went into a tailspin and the company I work for had some scares. Still and all, they hired me, give me a nice salary and benefits (I even got dental!). I'm doing better than a lot of folks.

(Speaking of which, a couple of different folks sent me this today. If you live in NYC, take some time, do the survey and use username ART371.)

I haven't worked in a theatre for almost two years. It will be officially two years in September since my last position ended (short-term fellowship). It's the longest I haven't been associated with any theatre in a substantive way for most of my adult life. I moved to New York at the tail end of the '90s, did my first intern stint about a year after I got here, joined a writers' group right after that, went to grad school here in the city, got my first arts admin job right when that ended. All and all, I spent the better part of a decade in 99-seat black boxes and cramped, script-filled offices.

I had friends who worked day jobs, square, regular day jobs and wrote in the evenings or mornings or on weekends and saw theatre where they could. Mostly, I felt kind of sorry for them. Sure, I worked long hours for lousy pay (when I got paid), with demonstrably crazy people, but I was making theatre, 24/7. I was immersed in it. I told myself, I could understand, because while it was a theatre job, it still took me away from writing. It was still a day job, after all.

But it wasn't. It isn't the same. I was still on the inside. I knew the game, the players, the inside dope. Maybe I wasn't a player, but I was in the game. And now...I'm just a regular schnook. A complete civilian.

I never know anything before it hits (Well...not exactly true, but close.) I try to see shows, but usually only ones my friends are in or I get a comp to. I write when I can and have actually had a productive writing year, but all of the other stuff, going to readings, meeting people for coffee, going to benefits and galas and whatnot to press the flesh, that's the part of this that's hard when you have your 9-to-5 gig and want to have something like a personal life.

When I was in grad school, one of my teachers always told a story about how, at the O'Neill Conference once, when he was just there as a spectator, he bought an ice cream cone for an literary manager and that was how he got his first big commission. That's how the business side of this works. It's a step away from secret handshakes and backroom cigars (maybe less than a step sometimes). When you're in it, it's easy to forget it. It's the air you breathe. But once you're out of're out.

There are times when I feel like Ray Liotta at the end of Goodfellas, living the easy life in Arizona, a nobody who can't even get a good bagel.

Next year, my boss is hoping to move me up to manager and give me a nice raise, make me a vested employee. But the price of that has been doing my actual job all day. Less time on the internet, less time on my own work when I'm at the office. It's a devil's bargain. When he told me about it, it made me long for the devil I already knew, the one I'm still chasing. But would that be better? Would it better to try and go back, back to cramped offices, working 24/7 for a lot less money and no security, no benefits, just because it made me feel more alive? I don't know. But I miss it.

A while back, some of my new co-workers and I were trading horror stories about old jobs. I, of course, trumped them all with the harrowing tale of how I got fired from the same job...twice (though a co-worker holds the record for getting fired three times) one summer, the same summer I went six weeks without getting paid after having paychecks bounce for the six months before that. And then I stayed at that job for another two years. They all looked at me like I told them I hijacked trucks and robbed airlines for a living. How could you do that?, they asked. How could anyone?

It was the life I chose. Just the life I chose. kind to those of us out here, especially those who have been where you are. Cut us some slack. We've forgotten your secret handshakes and shibboleths. But we're true believers still.

And cut me some slack. I'm still trying to figure out when I can keep this blog up.


Marisela said...

I've only ever known this side of it. I fell into theatre by accident during the final year I was getting my MFA in poetry. So I started a playwriting career (it's still in its beginning stages) while working a 9-5 job. I tell everyone it's like having 2 jobs. I work my 9-5 to pay my bills and then I have to try and find time to write, go to plays, and read plays (since I fell into theatre I have a lot of learning to do).

So...I feel your pain.

Tony Adams said...

Change rarely happens from inside. it's usually those true believers who don't know the secret handshakes.

Tom Loughlin said...

A very nice post. Thank you for sharing it. I always like posts which let me see a little into the writer's soul. -twl

cgeye said...

Same here, Marisela.

Didn't start writing plays until I went to night classes at theatres. There are no secret handshakes to get, when I'm not having coffee with people because I'm trying to fix dinner, then read, then write, if I can.

It's going to take a long time to get produced, if I ever do.