The tortoise and the hare...
Updated: Aug 31, 2021
Ask most American elementary aged students about Aesop’s fable, and they can tell you the story of the patient tortoise and egotistical hare that decide to race through the forest. Ask them the moral of the story, and they will probably tell you, “slow and steady wins the race.” The recent drama surrounding the closing of a production by a new company due to safety concerns has gotten me thinking about the slow trajectory of my directing career.
Four years ago, I arrived in Minneapolis eager to dive headfirst into a glamorous directing career. Armed with the advice to “never compromise for your vision,” “make bold choices,” and “take risks, even if they might fail,” I was convinced that my “edgy, feminist perspective,” “dedication to movement,” and “strong visuals” (yes, all of those air quotes are necessary) would be instantly adored by the theatre community. But, things like rent payments and a realization that there are about 75 other directors just like me in this town got in the way of my instant ascent into theatrical stardom. Naturally, I was upset. I was terrified that if I wasn’t “successful” by that time I was 25, I had ruined my chances of a career. Sure, I was an intern/AD for a few shows, I directed a Fringe show that did relatively well, and I made a few neat connections, but I was certain I hadn’t done enough, worked hard enough, been enough for this game. I applied to grad school, and didn’t get in. I considered going back to school to become a teacher. I thought about switching to stage management. I even thought about moving to a new city.
But I’m not a hare, and I’m so, so, so glad.
About a year ago, I was asked to direct a show that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. When I thought about that play, I knew I didn’t have the money to produce it the way I wanted. I didn’t have someone in mind to play the lead role. I hadn’t done the research. I hadn’t even written it! (yup, you read that right). I could have whipped up a script, cast someone based on a recommendation, and compromised on the design… but why would I do that? I said no.
When I read the article about a certain, young, theatre company’s challenges with money and safety, all I could think of was how a little time and patience could have avoided all of those problems! Don’t have the money to work with a certain actor, wait to cast them until you can pay their equity contract. Can’t hire a TD? Make careful choices about the design, since no one else will have their eyes on it. Don’t have the resources to grow your company quickly? Grow it slowly and do great work with what you have.
I am not saying you shouldn’t make big bold choices, you ABSOLUTELY should take big risks with your art. But if those risks put others in danger, you’re not doing anyone a favor. I don’t want to do a show unless I can do it right. I don’t need to direct 3 plays a year if I can’t pay for them or do them justice. And, what’s more, being an artist is more than having big ideas. True creativity happens when you are able to realize your big ideas within the constraints of your medium. A painter must find a creative way to finish a piece if they run out of paint. They can break the rules of their practice by using alternate resources, employing collage or charcoal to finish the piece, or they can finish the painting later when they can buy the paint… but the painter cannot try to paint with blood they’ve harvested from their colleagues. They cannot charge the paint on their credit card because even if they sell the painting, they will still have to pay back their debt!
I am happy to take it slow. And taking it slow has worked out for me. That Fringe show did quite well- we got an encore. I was an intern or an AD for several really cool companies. And the relationships I built in the community have paid off, literally. This year, five different people reached out to ME. Five times I was asked to join a project I wasn’t initially involved with, and was paid reasonably for my time and talent! Sure I’ve been working almost full time at an exhausting job that doesn’t provide any benefits or pay very well. Maybe the Guthrie isn’t knocking on my door, but I’m doing good work with interesting people while maintaining and excelling at a day-job that is fulfilling and important.
I may not have the career I dreamed about until I’m 30, or 40, or never. But at least I didn’t fizzle out before I could really get started.