Wednesday, March 09, 2011

More Advice to Nervous

I received the following email from a former student of mine in response to the "Advice to a Theatere Major" series of the past couple days. She adds a little different twist. I will also be following up soon with additional posts. Here is her letter:
I was in Nervous' place just three years ago: liberated to wander my mind ,seeking the endless possibilities that existed after graduation. But at the same time, Nervous as Hell. A little background about me.

College gave me a neat four year path, outlined with specific classes, schedules, and community functions. Having this nicely packaged lifestyle allowed me to explore myself, my "why" comfortably. I had ( I thought anyways) a pretty good idea of who I was, what I believed in, where I was going next and where I would be in 5 years time.

Here was my 5-7 year plan:

  • become a freelance costume designer for local theaters
  • having built up my resume apply for grad schools
  • apply and be accepted
  • graduate
  • apply for costuming positions at small liberal arts colleges

Here's what I actually have done in the last three years (in chronological order):

  • Freelanced for local theaters
  • Was a teaching artist for charter school
  • Taught two college courses on Costuming
  • Resident designer for small liberal arts college
  • Moved to the beach and became a server and bartender
  • Moved to NYC
  • Worked as a cocktail waitress
  • Turned down offers to work as a Production Designer for a movie
  • Turned down paying gig at SPIDERMAN
  • Moved back to my college town, waiting for the summer so I can go back to the beach to work again.

You'll notice a very "non theatre-y" period of the timeline. This was for a few different reasons. For one, I was on the exact path that I wanted when I graduated. At 23 years old, I was teaching college. SUCCESS! (especially in my parents' eyes.) On the drive home from a final dress, I had a panic attack in my car. "Why was I teaching college at 23 years old? " Everything I thought my professors and parents and friends expected me to do, I was doing. But who's expectations were these in actuality? All of these kernels of realizations popped off in my head as I drove home. I wasn't equipped for all of this "life" responsibility quite yet. And it showed. I'm still very much proud of my designs, but I lacked the years of experience when it comes resources, communication, and balancing of work/life challenges. So I flat out stopped doing theatre. I wanted time to truthfully answer the question "Do I want theatre to be apart of my everyday existence?"

Even after the beach, I didn't move to NYC to do theatre. I went up there to explore my personal "Why." I worked in service by choice. I love meeting so many people with different stories, backgrounds, insights, and "Why's." Everyone's favorite question in NYC when you first meet them is : "But what do you dooooo?" "Why are you here?" I got so sick of telling people my whole history of occupation, I started to tell people I moved to NYC to "lose my mind." That usually shut them up. And it wasn't that far from the truth. But what irked me most is this notion that we are defined by occupation. More important questions in the world are "What do you do when a friend calls you at an inconvenient time because they are down?" "Do you hold doors for strangers?" And like Scott points out, "What gets you out of bed?"

I was getting ready for an interview with a Yoga Center in Brooklyn when a NYC friend called me: " I've seen your work(costumes,sets, props,make up) online. My buddy is working on Spiderman and they need some help. Like an hour ago." Due to my giddiness for adrenaline, high stakes and action-packed short-term work, I said yes. My buddy later told me what happened next. He called his Spidey friend back. " What is Katie like?" he asked. My buddy's response: "She's skilled, determined and has a good sense of humor." Spidey said, " That's exactly what we need". And the experience was awesome. I learned a ton about the industry (for instance I was the only one in my department that went to school for theatre. Everyone else was an artist supporting themselves with theatre!) More importantly, I learned about what kind of worker I am/ how I interact in new situations and environments. (Internships are awesome because people are willing to teach you, honestly critique your strengths and weaknesses, and shower you with gratitude for your dedication.)

And now I'm far away from the hustle of NYC living across the street from donkeys and roosters with minimal belongings and no car. By choice.

Nervous, this is my advice to you: Take a break from Theatre. Go to Chicago. Find a job that sounds interesting you. See some comedians (they've got some great insight.) The worst that can happen is that you'll find that everything inspires you and makes you wonder how you could turn it into a play or costume or character monologue. That's where I am now. I've learned from theatre training and the last three years that I love to invent, share stories, make people laugh, make people think, express my emotions, learn everyday, take adventures, and step out of my comfort zone. And it's good to know that I can find a job within theatre doing all of those things. And it wouldn't be a bad life at all. The best artists(be it theatre,fine arts, musicians, thinkers, engineers) find their craft in the most unexpected places or paths. Or rather, it's always there but new situations and challenges bring out different shades of their craft, informing the skill and the head and heart it belongs to.

Am I still confused as to what I want to do with the "rest of my life"? Am I still Nervous as Hell? Hell yes. But so is everyone. Even my retired Grandparents are. Do I still think constantly about going to Grad School for an MFA? Hell yes. I know that when I'm the least focused or stressed out about this particular decision, the answer will come to me. So Nervous, proudly join the ranks of the "Quarter-Life Crisis" and be thankful that we have the great opportunity to explore, fumble, create, reflect, and succeed the way we see fit.

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