Is it ok to blame major life changes on the economic downturn of 2008? I think so. At least for now. Maybe when things get better – really and truly get better – we’ll forget about it, and it will fade into the history books.
In the summer of 2008 I was working at a small, very independent, very adventurous theater in Chicago.
No, let’s go back a bit.
In the summer of 2004 I graduated from college with a degree in English. What does one do with a B.A. in English? One goes into theatre. And, to be fair, I’d been doing theatre all along, starting with the second-grade school play and moving right on up through the high school musicals and the college drama club. I was, and still am, a terrible actor, which is why I became a technician. Or, more specifically, a stage manager.
Stage management is brilliant. Theatre management in general is brilliant. It’s about being obsessively organized and still being a real person, and holding people’s hand, and dishing out the discipline, and being 100% behind the scenes, and standing up and cheering on opening night. How can you not love that? I love that.
So after college I moved to Chicago because it was, by all accounts, a good place to do theatre. I went with some friends who ran the gamut of theatre jobs – actors, electricians, other stage managers – and we vowed to employ each other as much as we could. For the most part we were very successful with that vow. Most members of that original team are people I still talk to today, and they’re people I would employ again in a heartbeat.
We were all working in 2008 when word started coming down from the major granting organizations – the big foundations and such – that they would not be awarding, or would be awarding only a small portion, of what they had given in the past. My position became part time out of financial necessity. I don’t blame them. They were doing what they had to do, and the going away party they threw me was out of this world. But I’m getting ahead of the story.
At the recommendation of some friends I started looking into grad school programs in management. By the spring of 2009 I was accepted everywhere I had applied. That fall I moved to Boston. This time, I did not go with a team. I did not go with anyone who was vowing to employ me, or be my safety net, or be my friend. In Boston I was very, very lonely.
The first time I showed up to house manage a student show with a whiskey-spiked tea in my travel mug, I knew I was in trouble. The second time I did it, I decided not to return to the MFA program. Then I spent three months driving around upstate New York being angry.
Eventually, very slowly, Boston and I have come to terms with each other. I have a job that pays the bills and pays off in flexibility. I have earned, through nothing more than hard work and long hours, a reputation as good puppeteer and puppet/prop/effect designer. I have, for the most part, left management behind in favor of being an artist for a while. It’s an uphill battle, but when is it not?
Artist? Inventor? Superhero? All of the above.