“This is what being eaten alive looks like”: An Artist’s Confession
Our Art Editor here at An Áit Eile, Gianna Tasha, recently published an impassioned article on the realities of working (or at least trying to) as a full-time artist in Ireland and the utter despair this devotion can cause. Soon after its publication, a colleague working in theatre in Galway sent me the below article. To experience a raw and eloquent testimony of the difficulties of working in theatre and the arts, read on. The writer wished to remain anonymous.
“This is what being eaten alive looks like,” I tell my partner, as we sit at our kitchen table, cigarette in hand. The clock on the microwave reads 23:56. It’s late… I’m tired. The empty bottle of wine between us is a proof of the damage that my love for theatre has on those who love me… Those who don’t necessarily understand; “civilians” as I call them. I haven’t had a single drop of wine, and yet, my head is pounding, my stomach is turning. I want to break down in tears, and yell. Just yell.
“Look, it’s just a job. You need the money. Just think of the pleasure that it’ll bring; to not worry about money anymore, I mean, and to have a cushion on which you can fall back.”
“You don’t get it! It’s a full time job! A 10-6 job, where I’ll be sitting at my computer for 8 hours, not moving while I feel my strength, my flexibility, my creativity disappear! I can’t do that. I can’t let that happen.”
A look of confusion appears in his wine-glazed eyes. It’s like talking to a wall. “It’ll be a nice break from the stress you’ve had over the past couple of months,” he says.
“You don’t get it! I don’t need a break from that! I need a break from corporate life, from ‘real’ jobs. Finally opportunities are coming my way, and I just need to focus on being an artist!”
My mind flashes to a memory of the conversation I had with my mother just hours earlier. “You can’t make a living out of theatre, alone, honey. There will be times when you get work, but opportunities don’t often fall to fit your schedule or your needs…”
“No, Mom! I know I can make a living out of theatre. I can teach, I can act, I can make my own projects!” What I tell her is true. I’ve taught for 7 years, now. I am a theatre-maker, and I have multiple project ideas that I want to explore. “The timing is just… bad.”
I sigh. I know she’s proud of me. I know she supports me in what I’m doing because she sees that sparkle in my eye whenever I talk about the power, the beauty of theatre. I know she just wants to help, but she worries. I worry. I think of my bank account and of all the bills that are coming up: rent, mobile, internet, food, cigarettes. My lighting designer. My stage manager. The rights to the playwright.
I remind myself that I am owed money in an attempt to calm down. I tell myself that it’s not that bad and that I am doing what I love. That I am a professional theatre-maker, and a teacher. I tell myself that I have all of these gigs coming up in the next couple of months.
Quickly, though, my consciences takes over in the shape of voices that are not my own. These gigs are temporary. You don’t even know when you’ll get paid.
“Look,” I’m back in the kitchen now. “I have always said it: theatre is a lifestyle, it’s not just a career choice. You have to live, breathe, eat and drink theatre. You have to constantly work at it. It’s not something that I can do ‘on the side’. Some can, but this… this is my calling! I’m always thinking about possibilities. The smallest thing inspires me: I see someone down the street, and I ask myself what kind of character he’d be. I listen to podcasts and I want to make a movement piece. Theatre is my ultimate love…”
I can see that I just hurt him. We look at each other and I can see that he slowly realizes he’ll never be able to compete with theatre. Finally, I think. “It’s not just a passion or a hobby, mo chroí. It’s my life…”
I probably should have prefaced this whole thing with a bit of context. Blame it on “writer’s style”, if you wish. A few months ago, I quit my administrative job (that didn’t pay me enough). I knew I had to find something else, and I knew I wanted that ‘something else’ to be in the arts. Though, I quickly found out there wasn’t anything out there. Or, nothing I’d have a chance of getting, anyway. That didn’t stop me from applying, though. Box Office Manager, Marketing Manager, General Manager, Arts Administrator, Artist-In-Residence, Grants, Part-Time Lecturer, Grant, Fellowship, Grant, Artist-In-Residence, Outreach Coordinator… All of which came back with the same response:
“We thank you for taking the time to submit your application to [Insert Company Here]. The response was overwhelming. Unfortunately, at this occasion, you were unsuccessful with your application for [Insert Job or Application Here]… We wish you the very best in your future projects.”
Thank you. I’m glad you found someone, but I’m disappointed it wasn’t me. This is why I became a theatre-maker in the first place: no opportunities, so why not make my own? It’s worked so far…
But the money just wasn’t enough.
So, I thought, why not look for a ‘real’ job. One that would allow me to continue working in theatre; part-time work. What I found was a full-time job with a really badass company that take care of their employees and the start date wouldn’t be until after my next show. Sounds ideal, am I right?
Now, only days away from the start date, I am officially starting to freak out. It’s not just your typical first day jitters. No… This is fear. Fear that I’ll get engulfed in that world again, and forget that theatre exists. Fear that I’ll be depressed again, and that I’ll never be creative. Fear that I’ll be too tempted with the amount of money that I will be making. Is this fear irrational? Is this ‘imaginary stress’ as my partner would put it?
The clock now reads 01:00. I’m still at the kitchen table, this time with a different cigarette between my fingers. I take a deep breath. I tell myself that I don’t give a fuck anymore. That I don’t care. But I do… I so fucking do, and it hurts trying to explain to others the love that an artist has for their work. The love that I have for my work. Ambition can be an asset, but sometimes, it feels like it is what will kill me — and I’m just so angry that it all comes down to money.
Why can’t people understand the amount of work that goes into making theatre? Why can’t they understand the power and the beauty of theatre? Why can’t they understand that this isn’t just a hobby?
I worry. I worry that I’ll have to give up my career choice because I need to make money. I worry that I’ll never be able to devote myself fully to my art, and if I can’t do that, then what the hell is the point?
I worry, I worry, I worry, I worry, I worry, I worry, I worry, I worry, I worry. HASHTAG ANXIETY.
So please, if you’ve been successful in making a living out your art, what the hell is the secret if it is not absolute devotion?