Theatre: It’s not a job… it’s better

Liz Chirico 

  • Massachusetts Columnist

Americans are obsessed with work. We work too much, don’t take enough vacation, bring the job home on nights and weekends and start most conversations with strangers using the line “So what do you do for work?” We understand and accept whether readily or grudgingly that our work, our jobs, are a priority. Why isn’t there that same level of acceptance with our hobbies?

If I said, “I can’t go out this weekend, I have to work” it’s immediately accepted and understood, no questions asked. If I replace work with “rehearsal” or “dance”, it might be understood but it’s not really accepted. It’s thought of more as fooling around, as something kids do but adults should have grown out of years ago. Nope. Sorry. Wrong answer. 

I fully appreciate that unless you’re intimately connected with the world of performing whether it’s singing, acting, dancing, etc., chances are you’re only familiar with the finished product, the final performance. Few people outside that world see all the hours spent rehearsing for that show. They don’t see the hours you spend practicing and honing your craft when there was no gig on the horizon. They don’t know what you gave up, the dinners with friends you had to skip, how you juggle rehearsals, workshops and classes to improve yourself for the next show, the next performance. They only see the main event which, if it’s done well, looks effortless. By working so hard to perform our best we put ourselves in a Catch-22. No one can really understand the effort, time and sacrifice that goes into being our best and so to them it seems trivial and unimportant.

Is it merely payment that turns a task from a frivolous hobby to one deemed worthy of devotion? There are people who spend hundreds of hours volunteering with various charities and non-profits and those hours spent away from family, friends and “other” activities is applauded so it can’t simply be a monetary thing.

Is it because they are helping others with their charity work? Performers help others too. They help people escape their routine lives for a couple hours. Plus I’m helping myself. I’m gaining new skills, self-confidence and friends. But because I’m not paid in the traditional sense and I’m not literally, physically helping others, somehow all of what I’m gaining and giving are deemed less important and therefore can be skipped in lieu of other more worthy tasks. 

It’s unfortunate, unfair and simply not the case. If you choose to learn a new skill by devoting hundreds of hours to practice, making sacrifices in other areas of your life to improve yourself, than it is important and good whether others see it or not. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all.

Keep plugging, keep telling them what you do and keep showing them what you do. Invite them to the finished product or better yet, invite them to a rehearsal or to watch you practice.  Maybe they’ll understand, maybe not but regardless keep what makes you feel your best. 

Photo: Endstation Theatre Co