Falling With Style: Freedom’s Just Another Word, Y’Know?

Bay Area actor Helen Laroche introduces her column about exploring one’s personal definition of artistry.

Today, I’m closer to being a true artist than I ever have before. How did I get there? By quitting a steady job, putting my marriage in jeopardy, and generally blowing to smithereens the scaffolding of my life. In other words, by laying myself down right on the tracks of the oncoming failure train.

But let me back up.

I graduated a few years ago with a BFA in Opera Performance — a major that sits just above Underwater Basket Weaving on the list of practical subject matter. I loved my college experience, but had always been under the impression that, once I graduated, I’d have to “settle down” and figure out a “real job.”

Cut to the Bay Area. I moved immediately after college, with an offer in hand for a desk job at one of those Silicon Valley mega-tech companies (thanks to a pre-recession hiring boom and a computer-related college work study). I spent the next 5 years making lateral moves at that company while moonlighting as an actor and singer. At first it was perfect — I was making bank at the office, my marriage was still in its honeymoon phase, and I could dabble in the arts from time to time. Such the dilettante.

But it was unsatisfying. I got lazy as a performer. First, I would sabotage auditions, worried about the choice I would have to make between comfort and art if the production company actually saw enough to want to hire me; then, I would flail around, terrified, looking for any company that would have me. I was not picky in my projects — I just wanted to feel like I was still an artist, wanted to be in a show so that I wouldn’t have to think about what was going on at work. I wasn’t curating a career so much as whoring out my talents to whomever would have me.

Meanwhile, I was sitting at a desk job feeling my soul leech out onto the floor, and getting the distinct impression from others that my ‘dabbling’ in theatre was getting to be kind of a problem. If I didn’t want to move towards a promotion, my manager implied, then what was I doing that company of overachievers?

What was I doing there, indeed. Eventually, despite the cushy salary, I needed out. I eventually settled on a couple of survival jobs, finding (considerably less) money and (considerably more) satisfaction in teaching kids music and science.

My soul has returned to my body, and with it, the confidence of a discerning artist to choose only roles that interest and inspire her. I’ve come up with a list of goals for my upcoming year that will help me feel established as a theatre artist in the Bay Area. But I recognize that part of becoming an artist is subjective; that is, one must learn what makes oneself feel like an artist.

It is my aim to explore that feeling in life, and to document in this column what I have found to be true for me. Perhaps in doing so, I give other Bay Area artists food for thought on their own subjective definitions.

Helen Laroche is a Bay Area musician, actor and voice teacher. Her ‘survival jobs’ have ranged from children’s birthday parties to restaurant dishwasher. You can find her online at http://www.helenlaroche.com.