So you think I'm taking a break from theatre, do you?

First off, Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter.
It seems wrong to start with anything else this week.

Sorry for leaving you hanging last weekend! My parents were in town, and I didn’t have time for the epic weekly battle with my computer to get this thing to post.

A few days ago, I was planting shrubs alongside a new friend. We were asking polite questions to get to know each other, and my background in theatre naturally came up. He asked follow-up questions, and I shared my well-oiled monologue about how I’ve been doing theatre since I was a child and how I recently graduated from an intense conservatory program and how I’m now taking a break to define my artistic voice because my limited perspective as a young, privileged white woman doesn’t feel too relevant in 2016. It has started to hurt to say these things because I don’t believe that I’m “taking a break.” I don’t think it’s possible to “take a break” from one’s identity. But more on that later. A comment that he made in passing has left my brain spinning.

Shortly after graduation this spring, I found a book on my bookcase that was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. For my high school graduation, my mom compiled a book of production photos from 2003 through 2012. I sat at the dining room table with my roommate and her boyfriend, flipping the pages. They giggled and pointed at my bowl cut, famous funny faces, and amateur cuteness. I saw my life as a string of characters and fell into my quarter-life crisis, where I now still reside. When was I just playing Gail? Did my theatre life make me more self-aware? Or did I cloud many young, impressionable years of identity exploration? That book encapsulates my childhood. You can turn the pages and watch me mature. I look at the pictures of Fiddler and think of how I was so mad to miss trick-or-treating yet again that I wore my mustard-clad wiener costume to rehearsal and informed the director that “It was OK, I was kosher!” I look back at all of the classes and shows that I did at Open Stage and remember cold parades, a nap ended by a lick to the face from an actor goat, and the indescribable feeling of having a second home for the first time. I literally grew up in the theatre, and it’s something I don’t regret. I didn’t think of the strict discipline in my life as “giving things up.” (Most of the time.) If anything, I was trading experiences for other, unique ones. However, I will say that when I found out that we’d soon be rehearsing a scene with a stage kiss during my tween years, I ran to my school and kissed a boy as fast as I possibly could so that it would be “real.”

But life in the theatre isn’t fake. Theatre artists get a bad rap that what they do is “pretending” and narcissistic. The guy I mentioned earlier asked me, “So what’s the overall objective to being an actor? Is it to be the best actor in the world?” I tried to be articulate and explain in short that I understood why he would think that because of Hollywood, but theatre is a form of activism and a platform to reflect the pulse of a society and elicit introspection and present-ness in a mostly sleep-walking populace. I didn’t do a great job explaining. And I doubted my words as they came out of my mouth. So much of theatre feels wrong right now. All of the superficial bullshit (that’s in every industry, Gail) and empty networking (every industry there too) and sacrificing of one’s personal life (again, everyone does this, you’re just young, you dummy) is making me want to dip a toe rather than dive headfirst. Maybe I’m afraid of failure. Aren’t we all.

This brings me back to what my anonymous new friend said. He told me, “You can’t maximize your life.”

(Insert slow motion close-up of my face exploding in a non-violent, comedic way. I’m probably a smiley face.)

He elaborated that college students are often trying to maximize their time, taking as many classes as possible and absorbing everything they can. But life moves much slower after that chapter, and you can’t be constantly worried that you’re using your time and energy the right way because you’ll drive yourself crazy.

Here’s my bullet point list of “Wait! But’s…”

·      I’ve come to find that where I invest my time is the most valuable gift that I can give. I only have so much time and energy, and I want to put it in good places. Which means I have to constantly question my career moves, right…?

·      That cliché quote, “If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet” is allll up on my Pinterest board. Is it a strength that I like to hop around? Or a negative impulse to run?

·      What’s the line between trusting the spontaneity of your life and lazily letting life happen to you?

That last one touches on a personal frustration with organized religion. Often, people of faith are encouraged to “give things up to God.” Surprise surprise, but I’m not comfortable handing my goals over to a being that might very well be yet another old white man!!! Joking aside, I do believe that this thinking is a trap for people of faith. If you believe in God, you have to meet him/her/them halfway just like any other relationship for it to be healthy.

Here’s what I’m feeling deep down: (Eek!)

A couple of times in my few years of life, I have felt very strongly that “Yes, I can do this. In fact, I’m very good at it. But I don’t know if I want it.” I would love to hear from people in all walks of life and professions about those moments in your personal experience. If you have an opinion about my following questions, feel free to leave a comment or email me at gailtierney4@gmail.com. Or click that handy dandy “contact” button.

If you persist through this type of doubt, and fulfill that career or those goals anyway, does that feeling ever go away? Did you have a moment where you knew it was worth it? Did you find unwavering desire to do the thing you had begun?

The only way to find out seems to be continued persistence and hard work. I’m not afraid of working hard. But now that the world has opened up and I can do anything that keeps food, shelter, and health in my life, I feel like my brain is a stock ticker full of causes, jobs, and travel destinations to consider. Where’s the off switch up in the ole noggin?

So, no. I’m not “taking a break” from theatre. We all have the freedom to walk away and change our minds. We shouldn’t get stuck in the daily grind. (Hah! That rhymed! You didn’t escape my poetry after all!) Artists need supplemental income. So do teachers. So do horticulturists. So do most people. It’s one of the cruel realities of the world. We’re not compensated for dedication or passion in this life. In some seasons of my life, there are bound to be moments when my “day job” feels like my “all the time, this is actually just my job” job. So while fighting the impulse to maximize my choices, I’m trying to breathe and chill in a garden. Come eat lunch with me sometime!

I’m going to start ending some posts with a thing that’s making me laugh that week. Because life is stupid and funny and we have to laugh. We have to.

Whenever I see a man lower a lace thong to the floor like it’s the f**king holy grail, I flashback to middle school when I was kicked out of the Dollar Tree because my gal pals and I were sling-shotting thongs at each others faces. They’re not that fragile. Just put it on the floor.

Quote from my roommate last night:
“I just shlapped myself in the flace. Wait…”

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