When I tell people who are not involved with the performing arts that I am studying theatre and aspire to pursue it professionally, their reaction is almost always the same, no matter whom I’m speaking to.
Whether it’s a family member, friend, acquaintance, classmate, or even a doctor I see only once a year, when they ask me what I want to do with my life and I respond with the word “theatre,” their eyes widen and they freeze like deer in headlights. However, the verbal reply that I receive immediately after the “deer stage” (as I have affectionately dubbed it) is the part of the interaction that truly makes me angry. After their joints start working again and their eyes pop back into their heads, a condescending smile sneaks across their faces, as if they simply cannot help themselves, and they say four words that make my skin crawl: “Oh, that’s so fun!”
Now, I know that this might not seem monumental to some, but to me, it seems as if their preconceived notion of my passion is that theatre is a frivolous pursuit, I never do any actual work, and what I'm studying isn't difficult in the slightest. When I’m doing plank after plank and completing Sun Salutations to strengthen my core, improve my respiratory system, and thus improve the alignment of my spine and quality of my voice in my Theatre Movement class at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts this week, I will try my best to remember that.
In order to cope with the frustration I feel toward these people, I have come up with my own term for them. I have begun to refer to their lack of respect for my decision to dedicate my life to creating art on the stage as “Performing Arts Condescension,” and I find that this ailment continues to spread like a virus; it is incredibly contagious. No matter where I go, it seems to be lurking around the corner, and I find myself tensing up whenever I sense its presence. Those who know me well know that I am a highly talkative person and that when I am exceedingly quiet, something is definitely wrong; no matter how many times I have encountered Performing Arts Condescension (P.A.C.) in everyday life, it has never ceased to cause my blood to boil and my mouth to clamp shut.
People with P.A.C. seem to believe otherwise, but pursuing a career in the world of performing arts requires an EXTREME amount of exertion. If performers are doing their job correctly, their performances are perceived as effortless onstage, but the amount of effort that has been meticulously applied to their rehearsal processes in order to construct the final products presented to audiences is beyond belief. We strive to emulate the human experience in a seemingly natural manner, and in order to do this successfully, we must become fully connected not only to our own minds, bodies, breath, voices, emotions, and life experiences, but also to those of the characters we portray. Personally, I believe that pursuing a career as a performer is one of the most difficult possible paths a person can choose to follow in life based upon the workload required alone (let alone all the other difficulties involved). However, due to the fact that the general public only witnesses the culmination of the work and (in some cases) the resulting achieved celebrity status, P.A.C. unfortunately exists.
The difference between pursuing a performing arts career and pursuing another field of work is the amount of unpredictability that is involved. No matter how many hours we spend exercising our muscles and voices, how much scene analysis we do, how copious the amount of our own vulnerability that we pour into our character work, or how much time we dedicate to perfecting an accent that is foreign to us, our chances of booking a professional role are unbelievably slim. I am fully aware of this, and have considered my options carefully, but my love for the craft, which is difficult for me to fully express in words, outweighs my fear of rejection.
Yet countless P.A.C.-afflicted people, many of whom have little to no knowledge of the theatrical universe, often feel the need to remind me of the rarity of true professional success in the performing arts world. I understand that this, at times, can come from a place of caring, but it can be irritating nonetheless. I know that I might not succeed, but if I do not even try to do so, my chances will no longer be slim, but rather will have become nonexistent.
I am fortunate enough to have some truly supportive, caring people in my life (some of whom are fellow performers, some of whom are not) who understand that when I am involved with a theatrical production, the genuine happiness that I radiate is second-to-none, and understand that I need to perform to feel truly content. So, even though P.A.C. can be maddening, when I come across it, I will continue to try to remember these amazing people and my adoration for the amazing art form I wish to be a part of. I will continue to pursue my passion with unwavering determination, drawing strength from the encouragement of my loved ones, and knowing that theatre is very challenging yet so very rewarding; it has the power to change lives, to make people as happy as it makes me every single day.
No amount of P.A.C. can ever change that.