Tonight, I went out. I was two glasses of wine in before I remembered that I had vegetarian vegetable soup and a handful of wheat chex to sustain, not just the alcohol, but an entire day. Oops. And so I realized it was time to get some mashed potatoes up in this bitch, drink a glass of water, and make my old lady excuses, and go home. Plus I was in a rush to get home and blog just in time.
I picked up my wedding dress today. It was all going well; I ran into a former student who helped me try on my dress while catching me up on her college career... and then she immediately inquired as to whether I was still doing theatre or not. She was one of two people who asked me this in a span of 6 hours.
Aww.... geez, louise, you GUYS.
You guys. I am a professional actor in Birmingham, Alabama. I may not always be doing theatre, but yes, I am still "doing theatre". I have no other profession to claim, other than my "scramble to" jobs.
It is a little disconcerting to be like "Oh no, I usually work about 6 months out of the year, maybe more or less, depending on what's available, and the rest of the time I just pull together other work while holding imaginary tea parties with all my famous friends, Stella Adler (she's a book) and Dobby the cat.
I hate to knock the theatre scene here, but holy tap dancing lord, doesn't anyone else get tired of talking about how talented everyone is here, and then glossing over how we just completely disregard that talent? I know people who were honest to god theatre majors who have done nothing but work for free since they graduated. And part of me admires their passion. The other part of me wants to shake them and ask, "Don't you know you are better than that? At least do enough work to repay the amount of money you dropped for a degree. A degree, for crying out loud!"
But then, the rest of me goes,"Girl. It is not your life. Just let them be them and stop being so damn selfish." Because, you guys. It is selfishness that motivates these feelings. Frankly, from my humble observations, the reason this community has just coasted along a horizontal trajectory for the past twenty years without any real, significant upward movement, is because we have not demanded to be treated like professionals.
I'm sorry, but once you drop a ton of time and money into training and marketing yourself, then child, you better start acting like you are worth the money you put out. How is it Florida, Tennessee, Georgia are all crawling with nationally recognized theatres, and all we have is Alabama Shakespeare Festival, a theatre mainly filled New York transplants? Do we not value ourselves more? Do we not see ourselves as worthy as Franklin Fucking Tennessee, who has their own acclaimed professional theatre company?
Now, clearly, we do have professional, acclaimed theatre companies here in town, bless them and the wonderful work they've given me, but you guys. If Birmingham is going to move up in the world, then we have to step up our arts game. Every major city in the country has a thriving arts and theatre community. They all have at least one major, professional, year round, nationally recognized theatre company.
We are trying. I see us trying. What is holding us back? Please forgive me for this, but is it because we have a community that cannot differentiate between community and professional theatre? In such a tiny town as ours, I am not saying one is always better than the other. One major reason, is because we have actors crossing back and forth over the line, from professional to community. And I don't blame them. Since moving back to Birmingham, 6 years ago, I have worked for free only two or three times. Because! I was given an opportunity at roles I really wanted, and I wasn't sure if any of the three professional theatres in town were ever going to offer that same opportunity to me. And I am only EMC at this point, so why the hell not? It is good to do a little "on the job" training every now and then, to remember why you're here, to only be motivated by passion rather than a paycheck.
That being said. What we do, is work. It is a profession. It is a job and should be treated as such. You wouldn't ask any other profession to work for free/for exposure, nonstop, would you? If you are a professional actor working for free, stop. Look at what you're doing. Are you doing this the way a lawyer would take a pro bono case, or are you doing this the way a desperate girl answering modeling ads on craigslist would?
You guys, Birmingham is better than this. We are better than this. The talent in this town, deserves better.
And while we're at it, I would like to address, just for a moment, the inherent sexism, even in small town theatre. In our city, we are overrun with actresses. Female directors, producers, theatre managers? Not so much. And that is okay, if there truly are not any women here who have an ounce of desire to be in charge... but I have observed so many actresses here who are infinitely outsmarting the director on a regular basis, but they don't see it. Ladies. There is nothing in this world wrong with only wanting to be an actress, but there is also nothing wrong with wanting to be more. How many male directors in this city, in the WORLD, started off as actors and then followed their gut feeling that they would better suited to running the show rather being told where to stand, how to look, how to act?
Why is it the majority of actresses in this town don't have that gut feeling? It is not just because we love being in front of the audience rather than behind the scenes. Obviously, being in charge of a theatre has not held any men back from also fulfilling their desire to be on the stage as well. There is a meekness, a quiet submissiveness, that is bred in actresses. Good actors listen, they take direction, they say "yes sir" and don't ask too many questions that could contradict the directors vision because then all you're doing is wasting everyone's time, right? How could you not feel inferior after having that instilled in you from your first day at musical theatre camp?
Yet somehow, more women than men cling to this idea that being a beacon of silent obedience is the closest they will get to being a working professional in theatre. It is hard for a woman to stand her ground without being called a nag, a bitch, a has-been, and, worst of all, a diva... Not the fun diva. The diva who works according to her standards and never says "I'm sorry" before asking a question (which yes, I have already done at least once in this post). The diva who says "you're welcome" in response to "thank you for..." instead with an overly sincere "Aww, Thank Yooouuuuu!!". It is different for men in this profession, and if you haven't realized it, then sister, you better start taking a good look around. For a community that is so progressive and accepting, this should not be happening. And I'm not saying that there has to be an exactly equal amount of women and men running the show in any theatre community, but there shouldn't be this amount of quiet subservience. Broaden your view of what you are capable of, ladies. And gents. And everyone.
Anywho, that was my late night, two glasses of wine, old lady tangent. Ruminate on it, Trixies and Tricksters. Theatre: can we do it, 21st Century?