Have you ever thought about how Starbucks baristas introduce themselves to people outside of work? Every day, actors, directors, singers, dancers, artists, movie-makers, circus clowns, and so, so many others put on a costume. If they’re lucky, that costume is one for a character they want to play… but a lot of the time, they put on a costume for a job that hides what they truly are, so they can get that hourly wage to pay the bills, and support their real dreams. How many Starbucks baristas, do you think, are really just theatre artists in disguise? And of those camouflaged artists, how many, do you think, introduce themselves to people as “baristas”?
Most artists identify as their life’s calling: “actor”, “designer”, etc. Sadly, for a lot of artists, their passion/calling doesn’t always align with paying their rent. If the qualifier for being able to identify as an artist is making your complete living off of your art form, then the world would have a lot less artists, and a lot more t-shirt-folders and box office managers.
The truth is, there’s no official rite-of-passage that someone has to pass through in order to identify as an artist. People who are full-time artists are artists. People who are artists after their 9 to 5 office jobs are artists. People who are stay-at-home parents and full-time nurses, that volunteer for an occasional community theatre production in their free-time are artists, too. The only qualifier for someone to be considered an “artist” is that they make art… and putting any additional requirements on that is toxic and creatively stifling. Sure, not everybody who doodles on the corner of their sticky pad during a meeting is an artist. But if someone wants to put creation out into the world, why should there be exclusivity on who can and can’t do that? If someone wants to be an artist, who’s place is it to stop them?
Similarly, it’s okay if your ultimate “goal” as an artist doesn’t look like what society tells you it should look like. In fact, it’s okay if you don’t have any specific goals at all. Doing theatre as a hobby instead of a career doesn’t mean you’re not a theatre maker… it just means you have other interests too, or want another career, and that’s awesome! If you are a career-theatre artist, it’s okay if you’re ultimate dreams aren’t Broadway or summer stock or a BFA/MFA program. Success looks different on everyone.
Some people find success contractually, going from theatre-to-theatre, attending auditions and interviews at UPTA’s or Strawhat. Other people find success moving to New York or Chicago or Minneapolis and auditioning as fast as they humanly can. Some people get a degree in Engineering, and do independent films on the side in their small town. The possibilities are endless, and as long as you keep an open mind and an open heart, you’re doing the “artist thing” the right way.