Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The Business We Call Show

I'm sorry I haven't been blogging as regularly as I'd like. Work has been rather unpleasantly all-consuming. Even when I write, I'm so fried that I'm convinced it's unpostable garbage. Granted, I've posted unpostable garbage in the past, but at the moment I have three or four pieces of unfinished unpostable garbage.

Whenever I complain about work, I feel the need to add the disclaimer that I'm very grateful to have a job at all. I'm lucky to be making a living wage in the theater, working under a union contract, getting weeks towards my health care and money in my pension. I'm lucky to be working at all in this economy, as the six months I spent last year barely averaging eight hours a week as an office temp will attest.

But does that mean I'm not allowed to bitch about work when it undeniably sucks? Or does that just mean I'd be a moron to quit?

A couple of weeks ago I had a long e-mail exchange with an actor friend who, like me, was doing a show again after a long hiatus (though her hiatus was much longer than mine). We were both complaining about our gigs, and she told me a joke I hadn't heard before -- "How do you make an actor complain? Give her a job." -- and then asked me (thinking I'd have some insight because I'm a stage manager), "Are we, actors, that way inherently and come to the business, or does the business turn us all into little complainers?"

Initially, I said that I think the business breeds it, because we tend to get abused. We're so grateful to land jobs at all that we'll put up with all manner of crap, and people know that so they give us all manner of crap.

But the more I thought about it, I realized that there's this sense about entertainment professionals (and we have it ourselves) that because what we're doing is supposed to be fun, and because we've chosen to enter this crazy business in which we're lucky to find work at all and even luckier to keep it, that we shouldn't complain. And to some extent that's true -- it's not like we're digging ditches or fighting fires or (shudder) telemarketing. And in this economy I'm grateful to have any job, let alone one doing what I love. We’re putting on a show! This is fun!

And it is fun, most of the time, or surely we'd all go hang it up for something stable that pays better. But it's easy to forget sometimes that it is hard work, even if it involves something called "play." And I don't know anyone, even among my happiest, most well-adjusted friends, who doesn't complain about his job at least a little. During rehearsals, I drag my ass out of bed at 7 am and ride the subway at rush hour just like all those people going to work in offices. Unlike most of them, I only get one day off and put in 50 to 60 hours a week. Now that we're up and running it's gotten a little easier, and no more early mornings, but I still put in 40 hours. The actors don't do so much time, granted, but since their work requires them to be physically and vocally fit, they could easily argue that they're always on the clock, or at least conscious of it.

I too have crazy and incompetent coworkers, tyrannical and clueless bosses, mind-numbing meetings and unrealistic deadlines. I file daily reports that I strongly suspect nobody reads. I do very similar tasks every day. I have protocols to follow and arcane union rules to wade through.

On the more positive side, I have a steady paycheck (at least until the show closes), health insurance, a pension, a 401k and a credit union.

So yeah, it's a real job, and don't you dare call it otherwise, because it's not really all that different from yours when all is said and done. And I love it, and I'm grateful for it, and I know how lucky I am to be pursuing my career of choice. But that doesn't mean I have to take all the crap without a complaint or two.

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