Recently a colleague and friend made a public announcement that he was quitting the theatre. It came as a surprise to hear, partly because people rarely make such an announcement, and instead they simply drift away until one day someone says, “What ever happened to Joe?”
It was also surprising because Joe (as I’ll call him in this case) seems to work fairly often, had expanded in to directing, and is well respected for his talent, hard work and likable personality, making him valuable in any project.
The reasons he talked about included things that felt rather painful, to him and to several others who read it. Primarily it was disappointment, frustration. I interpreted it as being that every time things seemed to be looking up, as if his star were rising (so to speak) it would suddenly stop. Momentum couldn’t be obtained, and/or there was a level he felt he couldn’t crack. Mostly, he stated, he had disappointed himself.
Sounds like broken dreams to me. But even more so since the point of blame seems to be inward. He said he disappointed himself. He didn’t use the word “fail” in any sense but that’s certainly what it sounded like he was describing. He failed, and it was his own fault.
I found the post heartbreaking. On one selfish hand, it meant I would not likely ever work with or see him work again. (So now I’m disappointed.) On the other less-selfish hand, it makes me sad that the dream or goal he had set for himself was either unattainable or simply missed by his efforts.
Working in theatre is not something someone does for long unless they really want to do it – and he’d been at it for at least fifteen years. I find it sad that someone would want something like that, work so hard, and ultimately feel as if the only choice were to throw in the towel.
I had an acting teacher in college who used to tell us all that being an actor is one of the hardest choices, because the work is unsteady, unreliable, intermittent, and it’s a path full of rejection, most of which has nothing to do with the actor’s talent or passion. He would say we should allow ourselves to think about quitting once a year. Think long and hard, really wallow in it, get it out of our systems…..and then if we still wanted to do it we had to put those thoughts aside, don’t think about them, and get back to work.
I can relate to much of what Joe stated. If I took a hard look at myself and my career, and compare it to what I thought would be my path when I first started, I could only come to the conclusion that I too have missed the mark, that I’ve failed somehow. I’m not completely off—but it’s just different. And yet the truth is, goals and dreams change, and morph. I have certain expectations of myself and my work, and I’m disappointed when I don’t meet them. But if I had never changed my perception of what a theatre career could look and feel like, as I experienced actually working in it and thereby learning, then I too might have had to call it quits.
I don’t mean to sound critical or harsh towards Joe. I haven’t had an in depth conversation about this, so my analysis could all be wrong. Truthfully, if the work was not fulfilling, if the constant struggle was taking the joy out of it, then he’s right to move on. I hope for him what I hope for all my friends, whether they’re theatre artists or otherwise: That he find work and a calling that fulfills him, that brings out the best in him, and that satisfies him.
After all, we only get one life. No one should waste time being unhappy. .