Cowan Palace: Why Being a Theatre Person with a Day Job is the Best… and Worst

Ashley Cowan takes a moment to express some of her many feelings about being a “Theatre Person”.

Being a “Theatre Person” is both the best and worst thing about maintaining a professional career outside of the industry.

Like many others, when I’m not fortunate enough to be spending my time near a stage, I have to work a “real job”. And real jobs can be kind of the worst for folks like us, you know? At least they can sure seem that way. Maybe it’s because my Mercury is in retrograde or whatever but this year I seem to be struggling with that balance of doing what I love and doing what I need to do to do what I love.

I moved to San Francisco after landing a role in a show and managed to make ends meet by performing and working at some nonprofit Theatre companies in a variety of ways. And I was happy. I had a lot of responsibility and I wore a lot of hats (and you know I love hats). But I was also struggling and making my parents nervous with my lack of a long-term financial plan. So I got a job working at another nonprofit outside of the Theatre and made a little more money but gave up a little piece of my soul. When that didn’t pay off (literally), I took a more corporate track that offered some stability but demanded an even larger chunk of my soul in exchange for a position lacking challenge or creativity. Which are two of my favorite things! So I can’t help but feel a little stuck. And torn. So I endlessly analyze to no avail.

What I want to be able to tell my higher ups is that thanks to my background in Theatre – I can do anything. Okay, maybe that seems a bit ridiculous but follow me for a second. Thanks to my experience working on a variety of productions I can confidently say that I will do whatever it takes for the show to go on. And in a more corporate setting that may mean a variety of things.

In my current position, I feel a bit under utilized, and I blame the Theatre. It’s taught me to be resilient, passionate, quick thinking, flexible, good under pressure, a team player, all without breaking a sweat. I’ve watched my coworkers panic about small details and crumble with anxiety over minor moments. To them I want to say, “have you ever been through a tech week?” Or a dress rehearsal where the actors are barely off-book, the set and costumes are incomplete, and everything seems impossible? Because I have. And I continue to strive for that because I don’t know how not to. I’ve always believed that the Theatre is magic and blessed are those who make magic. Theatre people can do anything.

But I don’t really get the opportunity to tell my corporate higher-ups any of that. I’m a mere chorus girl in a cast of professional myriads; singing and dancing my heart out in the back hoping someday they might notice. And while I’m thankful to be making a decent enough living, it’s sadly not in my nature to silence my ingenuity and be satisfied.

Unfortunately though, I don’t have a solution. Do you? How do we similar minded people manage when we’re away from our true love? For me, spoiler alert, that love has always been the Theatre. Is it too much to ask to find some joy from the jobs that allow me to keep it a part of my life? I seek any and all council on this, my friends, as I seem to be at a crossroads and unsure which step to take next. In the meantime though, I’m incredibly grateful to be writing for an artistic community that I love dearly and who gets me through some of the darker day job frustrations. So I thank you all for that and will keep you in my thoughts until we meet again to discuss Theater Pub’s next project!

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7 comments on “Cowan Palace: Why Being a Theatre Person with a Day Job is the Best… and Worst

  1. No counsel for now. Just love ❤ and empathy!

  2. SuzyMac says:

    Oh, Ashley if I knew the answer to this I would be a much fulfilled woman indeed! Many years of trying to make ends meet and way too much time Not doing Theatre has been tough. I have continued to try to do creative things. Just keep doing what you are doing and know that you have lots of wonderful friends around you!

  3. All I can say is that I feel your pain, Ash. When I try to “sell” myself to a prospective employer, it sucks that they only read the boilerplate data of my OTHER resume. Why can’t I tell them that “Yes, I’m a manager – I’ve directed several things this year!” or “I’m a writer, so I know exactly how this report should be worded”?

    The game is rigged.

    • ashcows says:

      Charles – that’s exactly it. It’s frustrating knowing you are capable of so much more than people assume… while being away from the thing you love most. Ah, life!

  4. […] and goodbyes was touching and beautiful.  But my favorite post would have to be Why Being A Theatre Person with a Day Job is the Best…and the Worst.  She beautifully lays out the complex and heart breaking experience of knowing a “the show […]

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