Prompt 157: Makin' It
157. Many people looking to be in the entertainment industry flock to urban areas, which means you almost always have a friend in some kind of show. Write about a few of your uber-talented city friends and which of them has the best chance of making it. Why does this friend in particular have such star power?
In some ways, I consider my choice to pursue a college degree in Theatre as the height of decadence. I made the choice when I was young, and certainly when I didn't know any better. I don't regret the choice necessarily, however I do often wonder what life would have been like had I been wired just a little differently and pursued another major or even a trade certification instead of that degree.
I was the kid who consistently earned prominent and/or lead roles in all the school plays. Even as young as first grade, I was up on stage doing some variety of performance. Besides artwork and theatre stuff, I essentially drifted through my young years not really understanding a purpose behind anything. For the arts fields I did pursue, I think I understand now that I had a tremendous need to please people. By the time I was a freshman in college in Acting 101, I understood it as "being a storyteller." I wanted to share noble truths and unveil the great mysteries of life, and all that shit. I was an idealistic, stupid kid.
This thread wound its way through community theatre in my post-college years, leading to my participation in a DIY playhouse with about a dozen other theatre grads, most of them being fellow alumni from the same college.
We did some pretty good stuff, for community (AKA "zero budget") theatre. Somewhere around that time I was dating a lady - also an actor - who encouraged me to audition for grad school so I could become a real actor. The trip to NYC was pretty nice but the auditions were nerve-wracking and I returned home nearly pissing myself in fear and inadequacy.
The DIY theatre group dissolved - naturally, this was because we couldn't make enough money to pay for rent, heat, and performance rights for the plays we wanted to stage. To keep things going in terms of living my dream or whatever, I burned my bridges with most of those people (it was like a bad breakup, because it was about money and ideals and a few broken hearts) and pivoted the establishment into a "non-profit community arts center."
In those years, nothing but that place was my breath and life. I was at my day job five days a week, and at the arts center an average of four nights a week. Even random Tuesday nights for techno house dance stuff. It was exciting and unpredictable, and even then I knew people appreciated having a place to do their thing. Eventually we were shut down by the police for not having permits: this is the de facto fate of all and every DIY venue out there. Until then however, I felt like I was instrumental: the main operator of one of the spokes in the wheel that spun the city's underground music scene. There were so, so many wonderful bands, stage plays, and films that I saw while running that space that I'll never regret that time in my life.
Didn't know shit about permits and fire code and zoning laws or any of that shit. But I taught myself how to set up a sound system and run a sound board and make a band sound fucking awesome. Didn't learn a damn thing about running a business, but for three plus years, "I was the wealthiest man in town."
Meanwhile, I had my own bills to pay. Being appreciated couldn't pay my rent. So day jobs were taken. I stumbled from my college coffee job into my first exposure to corporate culture: a game studio, where I was paid first as night-time receptionist, then as a game tester (or "quality assurance team member,") where basically I played video games for a living. My peak was as the lead of the tech support team, where I did unconventional things like bring in a massive tub of home-made granola and trail mix so people wouldn't worry about going hungry on the job (as long as they liked trail mix, I guess). My team was effective and friendly.
As soon as I had a week's vacation, I learned that tech support had been moved to another country, and when I came back to the office the only people in that department who still had jobs were one ace technician, and myself. She eventually moved on to a non-shitty company while I sat in a dark corner for a year as Associate Producer, which meant that for about eight hours a day I could slack off and play "The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind," occasionally send emails or make phone calls, and then go home and do theatre stuff. The lead producer told me of the day the studio was being downsized and moving to a smaller office, and told me, "We're not going to be able to take you with us."
I replied something to the tune of, "Well this gives me a reason to get off my ass and do what I really want to do."
Enter my non-profit service career. I'll sum this up because I'm still living this period of my life, though it seems to be wrapping up once my resignation happens at the end of this month. I started this thinking that making money was a sign of doing something bad. Those who made more money than required to provide for themselves and their families are probably doing shitty things and are likely shitty people. I still think that way, and the first time I ended up with over $10,000 in savings I felt uncomfortable.
At the same time, now that I'm shifting careers I realize that a sizeable financial cushion has a way of easing your nerves. I now have over 40 grand in savings, and I have the courage to - once again - get off my ass and do what I really want to do. It has nothing to do with being a performer and making it in showbiz or whatever. And my improvisational skills will likely have little to do with my success in this next field. So I am curious to know where it will take me and just how far beyond the mediocre I will go.