Arts Funding and Mid-Life Crises, aka My First Blog Post.

Big_River

I got some good advice recently. (No, it wasn’t, “Hey, you should start a blog!”) It was wise words from a friend about how I could change my approach to my seemingly never-ending job search. I know, I know, this is a theatre blog. Don’t worry, I’ll get there.

Perhaps a tiny bit of background is in order.

I’m in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Ok, maybe that’s a touch dramatic. I’m 38, and I’m trying to figure out what the heck I want to be when I grow up. Perhaps this is entirely normal. Or perhaps I’m flirting a little with lunacy. Or perhaps a bit of both in equal measure. But there you have it- I’m a woman in the midst of a life and career change, and it’s messy and uncertain and terrifying and thrilling.

So how did I get here? Let’s see:

I gave up a successful career as an early-learning professional and independent consultant.

I went back to school to study international law and human rights.

I took five years off to care for a family member.

Then, I went back to school again with the intention to pursue a PhD in political science. I dropped out after one quarter.

And finally- I decided to follow my lifelong passion for theatre and go into the performing arts professionally.

Questions? Yah, me too. Loads of them. But there’ll be plenty of time for that later. For now, back to my first ever blog post. Which is quickly going off the rails already. Where was I? Oh yes, the good advice.

A friend from the Seattle theatre community and I were enjoying our delicious Tom Douglas Tacos one afternoon, when I explained that I am struggling a bit with what types of jobs to pursue after my current, temporary gig ends. Most of my non-teaching experience is in development and events for non-profits, which I’ve done as a volunteer for several years. In January of this year, I got hired as the temporary Event Assistant at Village Theatre.

Working in arts funding is something that I take immense pride in. My connection to my current work home, Village Theatre, actually began when I was just twelve years old. My father came home one night humming the tunes of Big River, the musical he had just seen in their lovely little theatre space in Issaquah. It wasn’t long before he and I were circling the block in his old Honda Civic singing “Muddy Waters” at the top of our lungs while the Broadway cast album clicked away in the cassette player.* It was with great pride that twenty years later, when Big River returned to Village Theatre, I was able to buy two tickets- one for me, and one for my dad. Together, we sat in the shiny new Everett theatre, sang along to our old favorite songs, and I felt deeply grateful for the love of theatre that my father had passed on to me.

When I walked into the Village Theatre offices as the new Event Assistant this past January, I brought with me that memory of my father and I watching Big River together. Knowing that the funds I was helping to raise would create similar memories for our patrons informed my work and inspired me to see the potential in every donation.

That all sounds pretty good, right? Like, yes, I’m in the right place. And oh god how I love just being in the theatre everyday. Still, committing to a life comprised primarily of being seated at a desk eight hours a day… it gives me pause. My entire career in early learning was spent on my feet, interacting with families, students, and fellow teachers. I absolutely loved rolling up my sleeves to mix paint colors one minute, and then meeting with colleagues and parents to collaborate on creating an arts curriculum to fit this class’s unique interests the next. While paperwork was always a necessary evil, it never took up the majority of my daily routine. But now, in an administrative position, even in a place I love, I find myself mostly alone with a screen.

I’ve spent a lot of time hemming and hawing about this dilemma. Loving the organization and the outcomes of my work on one hand, and missing the collaboration, creativity, and variety of work that I crave on the other. I’ve thought about going into the production side of theatre. I absolutely love the idea of working behind the scenes, on props or casting or stage managing. I’ve tried my hand at house managing. I’ve considered internships, apprenticeships, freelancing, you name it. I’ve been bouncing around trying on as many hats as possible, hoping that one eventually fits perfectly. There are things that I love and value about each role I’ve tried,  including fundraising, an yet I haven’t quite landed anywhere long term. Adulting might be overrated at times, but having some certainty, some career path and possibility for a steady paycheck, are still things I’d like to have.

After hearing all of this, my friend gave me the following response (ok, maybe not exactly this, I’m paraphrasing in my own words):

Don’t look for a particular “job.” You don’t have to decide that you are absoeffinglutely committed to a long-term career in Development. Or Production. Or Seat-Filling. Or whatever. You have serious skills. You deserve to be somewhere that you love your work. Because god knows you’ll bring all your badassness to wherever you go. So start looking for an environment that you can be a part of that feeds you. When asked what kind of a job you’re looking for? Be honest. Say you’re looking for a role where you can have variety in your work. Where you can build relationships with your co-workers over coffee in the breakroom and meetings where you collaborate on projects. Where you can be part of a team, work with your hands as well as your brain, where you can have a healthy work/life balance, and be appreciated and supported. Go looking for that.

Everyone needs a friend like this. It is good advice, no? It makes sense to me. And certainly feels better than having to have everything all figured out right here and now. Truth be told, depending on the day, it feels entirely fabulous and full of possibilities- or- actually kind of unrealistic and impossible. Either way, I think it’s good advice and I’m gonna give it a try. Stay tuned!

 

*By the way, I totally cried while watching this performance before pinning it here. Just in case there was any doubt that I am, in fact, a total theatre nerd.