Theatre burns people out

Saying this isn't going to make friends, but . . .

An acting teacher I knew in New York had spent a couple of decades performing in every production he could waiting for some agent or producer to notice him. None of the productions paid a living wage. He worked other jobs to support himself while living in horrible circumstances on too little money and expending a great deal of effort not to spend any.

Finally he couldn't accept one more role. He didn't have the faith anymore. He became a teacher of theatre voice and speech. When you went to visit him in his tiny rent controlled apartment, a bicycle that hadn't been used in many years was hanging on the wall where it always had been kept. Boxes, books, winter clothes, and possessions that really should have been discarded were piled high. There was a path through them to the few chairs in which one could sit.

He hadn't cleaned in years. His down parka was soiled and frayed. The fabric on the chairs was worn through. Nothing had been improved or replaced in twenty-five years. There wasn't the money. There wasn't the energy. He too discouraged. Theatre had taken everything he had and given back nothing. He had nothing left inside.

It is not an uncommon fate for people in theatre. A lucky minute few find a place that allows them both to be creative and to eat. The rest either get out or get worn out.

And yet I wanted to produce another show, even after crimes committed against me in a hospital made it unlikely I'd ever do much again but try to pick up the pieces left after that. It would have been on a different basis than normal shows - something like "The One-Minute Play Contest" that leaves both the cast and audience energized. It would have worked me nearly to death, but the creative opportunities that result from such a production are ripples that can carry both the community and the artists to places that feel illuminated.

But the injuries perpetrated in the hospital were too great. I had to get out.

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Joel Selmeier
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Site Updated October 24, 2011