Anthony R. Miller checks in with a response to a question all artists dread being asked.
So this last weekend marked the opening of TERROR-RAMA (perhaps you’ve heard of it). And it’s been going great. But over the first two days I’m inevitably in the fun (for some) situation of meeting people, this and that person’s mom’s friend, a friend’s friend, a friend’s significant other, it’s one of these odd windows of time when I’m someone to talk to (I don’t get it either). Inevitably when you have enough conversations with strangers the now dreaded question arises:
“So is this like a hobby for you?”
I seriously didn’t know what to say, I’ve heard about people getting asked this question. I had had a few beers so I wasn’t at my most eloquent (if that’s a real thing). I stammered, talked about where I made my money. But nothing came out right. I mean, here I was fresh off a hot opening of a show my cast, crew, and I, had been killing ourselves over. Picture a triumphant beer in my hand, and everyone in good spirits, and then this dude compares it all to having a kick-ass collection of baseball memorabilia. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. I mean here was a seemingly nice person who just paid good money to see the show and had a good time; I didn’t want to yell “No! are you fucking crazy?”. OK, maybe I did WAN’T TO, but only for a second. To him, it was probably a reasonable question, because lord knows my living isn’t made in a 36 seat theatre right? But this week’s edition of The Five is my response to his question, more specifically, what I wish I had said.
No, it’s not my fucking hobby.
You call this relaxing?
Hobbies are recreational, something you do for fun, to relax. Camping is a hobby, toy trains are a hobby, fantasy football is a hobby. This, my Khaki wearing friend is work. It’s rewarding work, but making theatre is stressful, intense and time-consuming. My life in theatre is constantly at odds with my relationship with my family, my finances and my general sanity. I don’t do theatre after a long day to unwind, that’s what watching pro-wrestling is for. And I get it, since you don’t see much theatre and really have no idea what goes into it, you can see a reasonably well done production and to you, it looks easy. And just so you know, your kid’s school play that you hated was also a SHITLOAD of work. I have seen people crumble into tears, go into therapy after a show closes, and run on 6 hours of sleep over the course of 3 days for this “Hobby”. So sure, I can see why the untrained eye could see this as something we just throw together in our spare time. No, it’s actually why we have no spare time. When your friends call you to go to the bar to watch the game, or golf, or whatever it is you do and you have to say “I can’t, I have rehearsal”. When you look at pictures of your friends at the beach on Facebook while you’re in hour 7 of a 12 hour cue to cue, is it a hobby then? Studying American Presidents is my hobby. (True) This is my fucking Job.
All my jobs are theatre jobs.
During the day, I work at a theater, selling theatre tickets in large quantities to retirement homes. Would you feel better if I said I was in sales? On a daily basis I perpetuate the patronage of Theatre. I can sell anything, but I choose to sell theatre. My part-time job, is House Managing for another Theater. I work on the front lines, making sure that patrons walk in happy and stay that way. I care enough about theatre that I can find the nobility in simply having the opportunity to participate in someone’s experience seeing a play. But only maybe twice a week, otherwise I’d lose my mind. Now, neither of these jobs are very sexy, but on a daily basis I am surrounded by theatre, every aspect of it. My cubicle neighbor is the Marketing director and also one of the hottest actors in the Bay Area. My water cooler chats are with artistic directors, designers, and technicians. I may be wearing a polo shirt, but I AM LIVING THE MUHFUGGIN DREAM IN THIS POLO SHIRT. (Albeit, in return, I am also screamed at by patrons who can’t seem to read a fucking start time on a fucking ticket and somehow that’s my fault.) And yes, I consider my third job to be a freelance theatrical artist, one day I hope it’s my only job. But Drama teachers who act at night aren’t “acting hobbyists”, they’re actors. More so, they are artists. All day long, they work in theatre. Even the many people with non-theatre day jobs who do theatre at night aren’t hobbyists; they just have two jobs. All my jobs are in theatre, because that’s what I do for a living, that’s my career, I work in theatre. Is it lucrative? Is it a comfortable stable living? Fuck No, but that just brings me to…
I never got into this for the money.
I am fortunate enough to be at a point where in any given month a part of my income comes from freelance theatrical work. But it’s not often huge money. So I never go into a project thinking about making huge money. I’ll be concerned with breaking even. The potential to not lose money is a big factor for me. I like profit as much as anybody, but financial success is a close second to just knowing I got to do it. For instance, the way the financials for TERROR-RAMA work, I will be the last one to get paid- if at all. Before me, everybody will walk away with a little something. Now, if the show is a runaway success, that’s where I might see a financial return on investment. But this show took over a year and a half to make happen, it was rejected by another company and frankly it’s a weird concept, so it’s a risk any way you look at it. But fuck it, I got to do my show, and the feeling I get from that accomplishment is not the same one gets from collecting stamps (I could be wrong, there’s probably some impressive stamp collections out there.) It’s the same feeling you get when you do well at work, or get promoted or close a big sale. I think to myself “See, I knew that would work.” Now if paying my rent and having that feeling cross paths time to time, I’m excited. I also understand that some people just don’t quite grasp the concept of dedicating yourself to something that may yield little to no financial return. If you’re a rocket scientists say, and no one has hired you yet to work full time for a big legal rocket company, and you decide to spend thousands of hours, and dollars, some of which you have crowdsourced, just to build your own rocket. Then you are likely crazy, and on several government’s watch lists. So I get that this does not translate easily to all other career choices. Some people are lucky enough to not have to build portfolio’s on their own dime and time. But take away my art and I don’t know if I’d like myself as much. Which brings me to…
This is what makes me interesting
Take away theatre and my creative endeavors and you’ve got a pretty normal dude, (relatively). Even though I currently have steady jobs in some facet of theatre, I didn’t always, and some of the most talented people I know putting on shows have total non-theatre day jobs, and they’re all artists first. So strip away the writer, director, producer side from me and you get a very boring 36 year old guy who likes pro-wrestling, football , craft beer, his daughter, and his cats. It’s what I’m good at. It’s the thing I’m passionate about. And I can be friends with a lot of different people, the only kinds of people I don’t understand are people who aren’t passionate about anything. It’s not the thing I think makes people think I’m interesting, It’s what makes me interesting to ME. It’s as an integral part of describing me as is calling me tall. So I guess you could say;
This is what makes me, me
A friend and fellow writer once said to me “This shit stopped being a hobby a long time ago, It’s not even something I do, at this point it’s who I am”. Through all the crappy day jobs I’ve ever had, I never considered myself a camera salesman, a liquor store clerk, or a mall store manager. First and foremost I (and many others like me) consider myself an artist. It’s just who I am, for better or for worse, for richer and poorer, putting on shows is what I do. There isn’t some other option for me. With the exception of being a father, the next play I get to write or direct, the next show I get to produce is my motivation to live. I know and work alongside people working just as hard I do (if not more) living just as shitty, because sharks die when they stop swimming. I have sacrificed a great deal in my life to do this, that’s real. Don’t mix up what I do to pay my bills with what I believe in my soul is the only thing I was meant to do. So no, otherwise very nice guy, this isn’t my fucking hobby, it may be a very unstable, frightening and poverty ridden career choice but it’s me. It’s who I am and you can’t put that on sale buddy, oh, and thanks for coming to the show.
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 is open now until Nov 1 at the Exit Theatre.