7 Reasons to Keep Making Theatre (Especially When You're Broke)

The question begins innocently enough. What do you do? Despite how cool it feels to be a member of the theatre community, the moment I begin to answer and that flicker of doubt crosses the eyes I find myself spewing multiple nonsense responses, all attempting to stamp out any doubt said person might be having of my ability to succeed in my creative career. My back up plans. My day job. My ability to make it, to make money, to build and sustain momentum.

It doesn’t matter how many years I spend in the field, a stranger at a party can deflate me in about two seconds, with a flicker of the eye.

Thing is, that flicker has little to do with me. You know what I mean? The flicker has everything to do with dreams, goals, and projections of another person, including the state of their health and happiness, and that one summer at camp when *insert fantasy career* seemed right but Dad said nope. Mom said ok...but how will you make a living?

Culturally we are obsessed with income, status, success, and longevity. Our jobs assume meaning relevant to inner being and worth. What we spend our days doing defines our value.

It’s all garbage. Really.

On top of unrealistic expectations of success, we have an inflated sense of time, an expectation that most commonly translates as pressure to have a house, yard, pool, and family by 30. Woof.

On top of that, it’s really fucking difficult to afford the basics required to live, particularly for an up-and-comer. Loans, debt, rent, food shipped from another country so we can have fresh avocados year round (yea I know I buy them too)..achieving a monthly income equal to the actual cost of living is already near impossible, especially if you hope to live in a city. And if you’re a creative, ya probably do.

Cue eye flicker from stranger at the party. Yea, but how will you make money?

It’s challenging enough to hear the call to pursue a creative life from beneath the noise. It’s significantly harder to accept. Harder still is the decision to study a supportive art from. Harder than that is the transition from school into the field. The hardest? Sustaining a career.

I offer you this affirmation: your dream is more than worth the sweat required to get there. Your creative expression is worth the mystery of making it work. Your longing to make is worth the struggle. If you know you were born to be a maker, then you were. You are. You will always be.

I know it isn't easy. I do. But there are plenty of reasons to persist:

1. Your stories matter. To me. To your people. To the people half a step behind you. To people who know you and who don’t. All stories matter. All stories deserve legs. Your life experience is valuable. It is! A million forces combined to get your soul into your body and on the life path you are on - there have been many billions of people and only one you. Are you getting the message through my cliche snowflake references? I know. But it’s true! And that leads me to…

2. There has literally never been a better time to go public with your life experience. You can blast it on the web. You can make movies with a phone. The entertainment industry is actively breaking down old ass patriarchal walls on the daily, and lifting the mic to intersectional territory we’ve yet to really tap. Get. In. On. This. We’re changing the way the world understands humanity. You are a human. Tell your piece.

3. In the political shitshow that is 2018, we actually need you more than ever. Look at periods of political strife throughout history, and observe the art spike before, during, and after. Look at the stressed out people all around you, wondering how to fix it. We are in a major period of political fatigue, and it’s more important than ever to resist. Do you have something to say? Please say it. And not just to the people who agree.

4. Art will tell the next generation what it was like to be in the middle of this one. We learn history through art. Let them see through your eyes. There’s no rewind button on this; retrospect changes everything. Make things NOW. And document them. You don’t need a budget: perform on street corners and snapchat it. Gram it. Make this a habit now.

5. It’s not just about future people. You actually never know who is watching...imagine the moment you decided to pursue theatre. What were all the moments leading up to that one moment, in which your life was changed forever? We are affecting each other all the time.

6. You already have what you need. You have a body and a mind, and if you’re reading this, I assume you have a desire to make. That is enough. Theatre requires a space, a performance, a doer, and a viewer. That’s it! Street corner, speech, you, and passersby. Voila. Ya made something today. Forget the complicated logistics.Write a play and read it at the coffee shop. Or invite your friends over for a living room reading. Making doesn’t have to require a buncha clams. Think time and energy as currency, and give what you can. 

7. It doesn’t have to be good. Ha! Did you know? Shitty theatre is made ALL THE TIME. It doesn’t matter, just practice making. This point should be obvious but we are a culture obsessed with perfection so…if you are worried about having resources to make good art will you stop already and practice following your impulse to make? Please? Imagine all the times people throughout history have started and failed, and started again. Literally every genius, artist, musician, politician, public figure, CEO, actually it’s not worth listing because EVERYONE does this in some form or another! Start. And repeat. And start again.


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Kendra Holton