After graduating from college and returning for one final (for now) summer stock stint with Interlakes Summer Theater (if you've never heard of them you should absolutely check them out, Nancy Barry is making Broadway-style magic on a microscopic budget) I have spent the majority of my professional career in Philadelphia and the surrounding region. While my involvement changed and evolved over time I have very much cut my teeth in one specific theatrical community. Then I got my first real life professional gig out of town (and by town I mean a the one-hour theatrical radius around Philly). This summer I packed my bags, loaded up the car and took a 7 hour journey to the beautiful, spacious, quaint*, town of Saranac Lake, NY.
*I want to elaborate quickly on what I mean by quaint. There is one main street, Main Street, which features about 15 establishments all of which are named by function "Pharmacy," "Dentist," "Ammo Store." You cannot get pizza delivered here and everything is cash only. This town is everything that Main Street USA at Disney World wants to be. This is something I can say with confidence having recently returned from a Disney excursion.
Now to be fair I had been here before. When I was 19 I applied for a summer internship on a whim and ended up in the North Country to work on a production of The Fantasticks & Lend Me a Tenor-the difference then of course was that I was an intern. I don't claim to know much about interning in other fields but in theater-particularly in small regional theater-it means you are hired for a job (sometimes a very high skilled job that you're underqualified for) and are also on-hand to do anything and everything else. It was great and totally worth it and shaped the artist and person I am today-but it was a full-time job so I didn't worry about how I spent my time. Don't get me wrong-I have had plenty of scheduled time here too, putting up a massive show spanning 200 years like Arcadia in a few short weeks certainly consumed the early days here but then we opened and I was left with a massive feeling of "now what?"
I explored a bit and tried to find the local equivalent of my favorite haunts, but after a few too many trips to the Karaoke-Diner-Bar (Romano's-it's also a bowling alley) and the harsh reality check that the movie theater only showed 4 movies a week, most of which are for children (yes I saw Minions, yes it was wonderful) I returned to my unentertained state. My colleagues proposed something different, "How about we climb Mount Baker?" I should've known then what they meant-"How about we huff and puff our way up sheet rock, become lunch for every bug imaginable, get absolutely schooled by group after group of walking-stick wielding Boy Scouts, get passed by our Artistic Director on her leisurely morning trek (she also passed us going down while we continued to ascend), AND THEN reach the summit AND THEN climb back down.
Which brings me to the top of the mountain. Have any of you climbed a mountain recently? Do you know what is at the top? VIEWS OF OTHER MOUNTAINS AND MORE TREES AND DIRT AND A SMALL PIECE OF METAL YOU STEP ON AND A SIGN STUCK TO A TREE a la WINNIE THE POOH THAT SAYS "TOP OF MOUNTAIN." I looked around confused-where was the air-conditioned gift shop? The cocktail lounge with granite themed drinks? Surely we had missed the snack shack near the summit??? But no-those things don't exist here. I innocently asked my fellow climbers what we did once we arrived and was told to "enjoy it"-that's when I truly knew-I am an urban dwelling indoor kid.
Which is not to say that I have not enjoyed outdoor activities here-on the contrary I recently had the best food that exists in this town (Left Bank Cafe) in the form of brunch on a pseudo-dock, a s'more filled joyous night of bon fire on a deserted beach, as well as an epic boating trip around Lake Placid (there was a very full cooler and pocket bacon).
Now this may sound like complaining, but it's not, it's quite the opposite. This blog post is an affirmation and a letter of love to Pendragon. Being here has taught me so much. I am fortunate enough to have worked on a role that demands attention in and out of the room, with a leader (Kim Bouchard) who has pushed me to do things on stage that I didn't know I was capable of. I spoke to one of my cast mates recently, a former company member here, about my envy that he had an Artistic Home-one company he worked with so consistently that he knows the ins and outs of practices and personalities-and as I think about it more and write this out I realize I too have an artistic home. I may not always get the work that I want and it usually (always) won't pay enough, and there are times that I am frustrated by my peers/theater siblings but there is a place where I have learned to be the person and performer that I am today and that place, Philadelphia, is full of an incredibly rich, diverse (I could count the number of non-white people in this area on my limbs), community of artists and muggles, joyous indoor and comfortable outdoor activities...AND has Thai food that you can order at midnight. This has been an incredibly eye-opening experience and I hope to do more and more work out of town to see other places and worlds and artists. As we enter our last week of shows I can already tell I will miss it here but I can honestly say, there's no place like home.
I often (sarcastically) say I’m living the dream-but this time, I mean it. I have spent the last five weeks working on an absolute thrill of a project. Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People at Bristol Riverside Theatre brought together a play I've always wanted to do (I missed it by a year at my undergrad!), a part I love (serio-comic social climber who is goo-goo eyed over the beautiful blonde), a company I've been auditioning for for years (perseverance!) and a fantastic Philebrity cast (Kevin Bergen, Laura Giknis, Sabrina Profitt, Keith Baker)-I have been literally (none of this literally means figuratively garbage) living the dream.
Today I received an e-mail with the subject line "Your Online Pay Stub is Available" and reality smashed through the serene dream state I have been basking in with a cruel vengeance. Trust me, I know it is absolutely crazy to complain about anything when you’re being paid a living (for artist squalor) wage while pursuing your dreams and ambitions and fulfilling your artistic sensibilities. Normally I gleefully acknowledge impending digital currency. I overjoy that the bit coins will magically appear in my account just in time to pay my student loans (take that SallieMae!) but today is different-today an instant rush of terrible fear and self-doubt encompassed me.
Ending a project is always a tricky thing-but in most fields (or at least the ones I've worked in besides acting) the end of a project doesn't instantly mean unemployment but in this world, at least for this actor, there can be (are often) sizable gaps of time between gigs and those periods can feel killer and can bring in all the worst questions for an artist brain:
“Was this a fluke?”
"Will I ever get rehired here?"
"Do these people actually like me or are they just putting up with me till this contract ends?"
“Am I good enough?”
"WHAT IF THIS IS IT? WHAT IF THIS IS THE LAST TIME I WORK?”
I happen in this case (and this is rare) to know that I am spending the summer in Saranac Lake, NY with Pendragon Theater (doing another dream project, Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia #blessed) and yet somehow I still had a wave of fear and doubt today that I wouldn’t work again. “Sure I have summer work out of town-but what if I come back and don’t book anything?” This crash course in reality checks from the external world and internal voices made me realize something. There will always be another gig. If you have the passion and drive for this business there will always be another gig-maybe not at the scale I would like or the perfect combination of collaborators, venue & script but if I want this and keep working the law of averages is that someone will say yes (and hopefully talent, networking, experience and all those things help too)-but as excited as I am about this idea my inner pragmatist knows that one day there will be a last gig.
I mean everyone has a last time they work right? A final project before retirement, career change, death, or ya know anything else that prevents you from getting hired again. Maybe it’s better not to know.
What do you think? Would you want to know you were doing your final project so you could leave everything you have-heart and soul-in the performance (or presentation or surgery or whatever other people do for their jobs) or would that knowledge destroy your ability to do the job?