In For a Penny: Running in Place

Charles Lewis III, reflecting.

“We have so much time and so little to do. Strike that, reverse it.”
– Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

I had an entirely different entry planned for today. I’d been working on it since I’d finished my last entry. It was going to be about the labels used to identify us as artists, those we choose for ourselves and those often placed upon us. It was going to be about how those labels can simultaneously be a help and hindrance, how the definition of each label seems to change on a daily basis, how frustrating it can be to constantly be typecast as one particular sort when you have a menagerie of other sorts trapped inside you just bursting to get free. But I’m not gonna write that one; not yet anyway.

You see, like all of you, I read Allison’s most recent piece and it resonated with me. After reading it I was suddenly struck by the fact that once I’ve finished this Saturday’s performance in the Olympians Festival, I’ll be done performing for 2014. Given that I hit a stride and have been working for almost a year straight – which came right on the heels similarly prolific years – you think I’d be glad to finally have a proper break. It’s right at the start of December and the rain has finally arrived, so I can spend the final month of 2014 catching up on my reading, doing a helluva lot of writing, and binge-watching to my heart’s content as El Niño promises to finally lift us from this drought.

So why do I feel like a kid lost in the middle of an airport?

like this, but with less Wilmer Valdaramma

like this, but with less Wilmer Valdaramma

Maybe it’s because there’s nothing solid for me on the horizon. Yes, I’ll be writing in next year’s Olympians, but I’ve got nothing locked down performance-wise. Even in my “down” years, I’d have at least two or three projects for the next year set in place by December. Hell, that’s usually one of the first questions on the audition form: “Are you free this time next year?” And when those down years did come (and boy, did they), I took comfort in the fact that those few solid projects were assurance that I hadn’t been completely forgotten by the performing arts community at large. ‘Cause let’s be honest: when you go to see a friend in show after show as your Inbox fills with rejection e-mails from directors, it doesn’t take long for your mind to go from “Maybe I should find a better monologue?” to “Oh God, am I the redheaded stepchild of local theatre without anyone telling me?”

I’m the sort of person who finds it really hard to brag, so I tend to downplay even the good things that come into my life: an unexpected financial windfall; a date that goes really well; and even an audition for a company and/or director whom I admire. Even when those things do happen for me, I take a pretty Zen approach to them and try not to get too excited because I know they might not last. I don’t do that for the pure sake of pessimism, but rather to give myself a little long-term perspective.

Which is really stupid, I know, but it actually has given me the ability to brace myself for unforeseen rejections. The trade-off is that there are times – though not always, I’m glad to say – when I can’t seem to enjoy the blessing right in front of me.

The flip-side to that is a mistake I’ve made far too often: accepting work I knew I wouldn’t like just so I had something to do. Two years ago I was cast in a project that I regretted almost immediately. It was for a well-renowned local company and respected director. I got along with the cast – one member of which I knew beforehand – and a few of the backstage folks were people who I’d worked well with before. But I wasn’t fond of the script, which I had a chance to read before the audition. Furthermore, the director and I did not see eye-to-eye. At all. Apparently every little thing I did was wrong and she had an incredibly condescending way of telling me so. When I was finally able to get out of the production, it was less “Damn, I blew my chance to work with a beloved company and director” and more “This is why you shouldn’t accept every fucking role you’re offered just because you like being busy!”

A sobering lesson that I haven’t forgotten. Now whenever I feel unsure of a project, but feel I should take part anyway “just for the experience”, I have a mental crossing guard with a big “Stop” sign telling me to look both ways first.

Gandalf copy

Last night I got to see a friend of mine perform as part of the Olympians Fest. I haven’t seen her on stage in over a year, so it was a nice surprise to watch her in action again. I’ve always admired her variety of skills and her spot-on timing. As those of us who follow her on social media know: she has a life outside of theatre. A really good life, at that. I mention that because I think our biggest fear is that when we aren’t busy on That One Thing we feel is most important, then we probably think that life is passing us by. I know I did. It took me quite a long time to think otherwise. I can’t tell the future, so I don’t know if the coming year will bring me as many projects as this year – let alone so many as artistically fulfilling – but I now know that I don’t have to worry about that yet. I’ve been given something most people would kill for: time off. Maybe I should try to enjoy it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been so busy with all this theatre shit that I’m only at the halfway point of 2666 and it’s really starting to get gruesome.

You can see Charles Lewis’ final theatre production of the year this Saturday as part of the closing night of the SF Olympians Festival. The festival runs tonight through Saturday at The EXIT Theatre. http://www.sfolympians.com.

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3 comments on “In For a Penny: Running in Place

  1. Reblogged this on The Thinking Man's Idiot and commented:
    In which I learn to (try to) embrace my free time after an incredibly busy year, both on-stage and off.

  2. […] feeling like a hamster running in place with nothing to do, it’s clear that my personal theatre year has […]

  3. […] have only myself to blame, really. I’ve mentioned before – twice, actually – that I was going into 2015 with nothing set in stone. I tried to brush it […]

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