Anthony R. Miller returns to say theatre people who need non-theatre people are the luckiest people in the world.
I was at a theatre shin-dig the other night for a play I didn’t like very much and I bumped into a local director who I have long known and admired. After saying hello came the obligatory “How did you like the show?” question, that conversation lasted about 11 seconds. Maybe we both didn’t like the play and even talking about not liking it seemed exhausting, maybe she didn’t mind it but just didn’t feel like talking about it because she has conversations about theatre for a living. It didn’t take long for us to agree that we didn’t feel comfortable at parties and schmoozing was not our strong point. Sometimes talking about theatre, the thing we are most passionate about, feels laborious. I mentioned I had a hard time talking about nothing, from there she mentioned world events were making her feel like talking about theatre was trivial. We then spent the next ten minutes discussing light party subjects like congressional Inaction and the always effervescent topic of Israel/Palestine. Now this could just be a statement on what becomes a preferable topic when there is something you really don’t want to talk about, but it was also the best conversation I had all night. At a certain point I decided theatre was not a hobby, it was something I did, it was work (In a good way), but with that decision came the realization I needed a new hobby. Because Theatre was such a huge part of my life, the need for non-theatre things became apparent. Sometimes, you gotta be able to step away and talk about how rad Guardians of the Galaxy is gonna be or how badass Kim Gordon was singing with Nirvana at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ceremony. In theatre you meet a shitload of people. You get to know people in 6 week increments, at parties, at conferences and then you add them on Facebook until you have Hundreds of people you kind of know. I don’t know if this is true for other people, but the best friends I have in theatre are the ones I can talk about other stuff with. But when those folks are in rehearsal, never to be heard from until closing night, or when I just need to remove myself completely, I find solace with my non-theatre folk. So this week’s list is dedicated those people, the “Civilian”.
When talking with other theatre folk, it’s easy to think too little or too much of your accomplishments. You could be talking with people who have accomplished more than and it makes you feel like you’ve done nothing. To others, you come off as successful, which is hard because you don’t necessarily feel that way.
To Civilians, your work in theatre goes two ways, one: they think the fact you’re doing anything is impressive, and it’s what makes you interesting, or two: they think it’s a colossal waste of time. Now let’s assume that like me, you wouldn’t be friends with anyone who thought what you do is dumb. When the inevitable “How’s your play going?” conversation happens, I take comfort in knowing I won’t be judged (at least in my head) on how important or not important my project is. It’s just this thing I’m doing, and for me that’s invaluable. I am able to look at a project not as some great statement at where I am and where I’m going, they remind me the fact I’m doing it at all is kind of impressive. And most of them come to the show, if only to know what it is you were talking about.
You Talk About Other Things
In one way or another, I essentially get to talk about theatre for a living. Whether it’s my day job of selling theatre tickets or putting on theatre at night, it’s my job. Eventually I get tired of talking about that job. When I am knee deep in a project and getting stressed, or writing and really stuck on something, hanging out with people and not talking about theatre is therapeutic. Now, even if they aren’t theatre people, my friends tend to be passionate about something. So our conversations are more about things we are both into, music, movies, comics, football, perfect subjects to find an escape in when I need a break from all things theatre. I find conversations about the new Planet of the Apes film are just as important and stimulating to me as conversations about the role of regional theatre in America today. I need both dammit.
They Get You More Than You Think
Passionate people tend to best understand other passionate people. We all at some point in our lives felt a certain safety within the ranks of other theatre people. Sometimes it’s the only place you feel understood. And yes, your civilian friends understand when you’re busy and exhausted but only theatre people know what you mean when you look at them with your eyes half open and say “It’s Tech Week”. So it’s easy to feel like the only people that get you are the folks that do the same thing as you. But you don’t have to do theatre to know what it is to be heavily involved in a project, or to be overworked, or to be sleep deprived. My civilian friends have actually given me a lot of confidence and helped feel like I belonged a bit more in the world, because I wasn’t really that different, just a little bit more passionate about show tunes than most people. Sometimes I feel more like a normal person when I’m with them.
They Have No Personal Stake in It
As artists, we so often forget that there can, and maybe even should be, a professional distance between you and the people you work with, because while some are friends, they are also your co-workers. In most 9 to 5’s you probably won’t see your manager reach into a coworkers dance thong to try to adjust some out of place tutu concoction gone wrong. We have a familiarity with each other unlike most other professionals in other fields. Because most of my civilian friends will never meet or work with most of the people I do theatre projects with, they make perfect sound boards when I need to vent for five minutes. Because to them this person I’m complaining about isn’t someone who may give them a job, or a mutual friend, or someone to worry about, they are just an annoying co-worker. I also find having to explain my theatre folk drama out loud makes me realize just how silly it is.
Because The Theatre World Can Suck Sometimes
This business gets tough sometimes; you meet people who want to help you succeed and you will meet people who don’t. The Bay Area is a medium sized pond and it feels like there are more fish than ever, and those fish are getting bigger. It can all feel like a big passive aggressive competition where no one wants to admit they’re competing ‘cause that feels dirty. I have been screwed over by people I trusted, I’ve had ideas stolen, projects sabotaged, I‘ve been told off, blacklisted, yelled at, and generally made to feel crappy about myself all by the people I was supposed to be all in it together with . For every proud moment in theatre, I have a very stressful experience or a time my feelings got hurt, or a time I hurt someone’s feelings, it’s not all awesome, but it’s not all terrible either. It’s just, well…dramatic. Sometimes, I just need to get off the ride for a while. And sometimes the best escape is to hang out with a friend, have some beers and spend 3 hours talking about why Star Trek: Enterprise just never caught on with me.
Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Director, Producer and that guy who won’t stop calling you about your theatre subscription. His show, Terror-Rama opens in October.