By Tiffany McCullough (AT student since 2015)
The first week of October is here. Woof! Before we know it the holidays will be upon us and we will be racking our brains on what to tell Aunt Mary about our life in New York as we pass the green bean casserole. (Just me?? Okay.)
Sooo, what is it you actually do in New York? Are you in a show yet? Where are you working?
As a creative, (what I call myself, because I work in multiple mediums) I used to feel so awkward when these questions would come up. Me, being the witty yet awkward avoider that I am would respond with, “um I’m a human BEing, not a human DOing!”
I would then back pedal and follow it with explanations, excuses, and apologies for my very existence.
Creatives, particularly those in performance industries live by a different set of rules than do our friends in other lines of work. Our lives require a certain amount of flexibility and availability that leaves those on the outside shaking their heads. That lack of understanding can lead to impossible expectations and judgment and let’s face it, shame...as was recently seen in the treatment of actor, Geoffrey Owens (The Cosby Show) when he was noticed cashiering at Trader Joe’s in New Jersey. A customer photographed him bagging groceries and it ended up being picked up by a couple news sources and igniting a twitter-storm.
(You can find his response to the attention here.)
That Geoffreys picture would be taken by a customer at his workplace without his permission is troubling enough but too, that the “story” was given as much attention as it was, is just...gross.
The non-story of it only illustrates that art-consumers have very little understanding of what we creatives give up to pursue this life wholeheartedly. And WE sit in shame sometimes knowingly and sometimes completely unaware.
I was recently out having drinks with a friend of mine and the topic of survival jobs came up. He had recently finished a short contract and was distraught that he needed to get a job again. A lot of the conversation circled around this idea that he didn’t want a job that people he knew would see him, because it would be embarrassing. I mean, what would people think, he questioned. His friends knew he had just booked a show and now he’s waiting tables again...what an utter failure!
We talked for awhile and it occured to me, this friend hadn’t come to terms with the lifestyle required to be a working creative. I think for a lot of people, there is this idea that once an actor books something, some magic snowball of “success” picks them up and roles just come at them and they will never have to work a service job ever again!! STAAAAR!!
Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works at all. Especially in the beginning of a career. Now of course, there are rare people that does happen to. But the real work of an actor is learning how to build a healthy and happy life in the GAPS. Part of that healthy life does involve the kind of work one chooses to do and the degree it impacts your creative life.
For me personally, my work life has fluctuated a great deal since I decided to pursue my craft full time. Initially I was working 9-5 in an office and taking classes in the evening. This was sufficient when I was just skill building but once I had my footing I had to let that go. I then went and got the dreaded food service job and juggled it with a retail position while sometimes squeezing in one off event staffing. I had convinced myself that multiple little jobs would allow me to not invest too much energy into work I didn’t care to grow in. I thought the flexible scheduling week to week would allow me time for auditions and more classes or coachings. But honestly, I wasn’t willing to let go of a certain quality of life I had while working in corporate America. It resulted in having too many obligations and dedicating the “leftover” time to my own artistry.
That cannot happen. Our art cannot take the back seat. It was such a challenging time. I was disappointed in my work life. SHAME! I have a masters degree, what am I doing in food service and retail, I would ask myself. SHAME! Too, in class I would end up not being at my best and beating myself up. SHAME! The voices in my head were getting louder, I am just not good enough. I can’t afford to be an actor. I will never… I am not… SHAME! SHAME! SHAME! The negativity was out of control. SHAME!
About 6 months ago I took a hard look at what was getting in the way of my own success and it was ME. Not because I wasn’t working really hard but because I was working too hard on the wrong things. Of course we all have to pay for our lives...bills suck, but they are a reality we have to manage. For me, work had become my ENTIRE life. I was going from one job to the next and then to the next in a single day. 3 months ago I did the scariest thing. I quit. And truthfully, I went a little hungry. And it was literally the BEST thing I have ever done for myself. It allowed me to prioritize and adjust. I still have a survival job, but it is now one that SUPPORTS my goals!
As actors, this is the life we have signed up for. We will forever be going from show to show or from show to side gig so we need to get comfortable with this lovely vagabond/minstrel life! Geoffrey Owens had come to terms with pursuing his craft and was willing to do what was necessary to provide for himself and his family; just like hundreds of thousands of actors all around the world, like me, and like you. We are all juggling! The trick to doing it well, is keeping your eye on what is most important and getting rid of whatever is in the way. And not allowing shame to take hold.
Let’s commit this first week of October to embrace whatever allows you to create and discard what doesn’t…nature is reminding us it’s not only okay, but necessary to let dead things go!
Tiffany is an NYC based Actor, Writer, and Photographer. She currently can be found promoting shows for both on and off Broadway with Broadway Crew. Her favorite role portrayed is Beline - Imaginary Invalid.