Life outside of the arts

Actor and Playwright Rena Bryson

“As soon as you’re not a human be-ing, you’re a human do-ing. Then what comes next?” – The Simpsons

Sometimes working in the arts can feel more like a vocation than a career. Artists rarely switch off after a day of work, ideas, schedules and creative ambitions are always percolating under the surface. Opportunities can be scarce which drives artists to feel grateful to work, no matter how draining or far from their niche the work is. For these reasons and many others artists can often feel their work is a strong part of their identity. This is not the only career in which this happens. But due to the lack of stability, financial stresses and scarcity of respect it is more dangerous to blend your identity with your work as an artist than as a doctor. 

Photo Credit – Levi Regan

Due to the erratic nature of arts work it is also very difficult to work another job while building your arts career. I’ve missed so many auditions because I was working a job to pay the bills so I wasn’t available. This forces many talented artists to stop pursuing their arts careers all together and others to feel they must sacrifice their own wellbeing/ financial stability for the cause. I’ve fallen into both of these traps.

When I first moved to Galway I worked a retail job that only let me know if I was working the next day when I left, making it impossible to book meetings or auditions. After building my identity around my work as an actor for 4 years of college this was devastating. I felt totally stripped of the essence of who I was. Unfortunately although this was a particularly bad work environment this is not uncommon in the service industry. I persevered and developed my skills in arts marketing and drama teaching in order to earn an income connected to my qualifications and interests. This career path has given me the flexibility to work around auditions, opportunities and the managing of Eva’s Echo. However I am aware that I am incredibly lucky to have this flexibility that many other artists don’t. The most frustrating part of working a “regular” job while pursuing an arts career is that either side views you as one or the other. Employers don’t respect your art and view it as a frivolous hobby and other artists will sometimes not understand why you can’t call in sick on show week. Hazel worked in a creche during many Eva’s Echo shows and wrote a great blog about her experiences titled Working 9 to Art

Rena performing from her sitting room during lockdown 1.0

After the shock and stress of cancelled shows settled in March I and many other artists had an opportunity to reflect. Personally, I felt lost, the theatre was my home and the doors were shut. I choose to do what I always did and persevered making theatre through digital means. This led to live play readings, singing from our sitting rooms, zoom rehearsals and a fantastic creative writing night. I loved each of these projects but if I’m being totally honest it’s just not the same. I still crave the magical discoveries of the rehearsal room, the adrenaline rush that accompanies a Get In and the thrill of opening night. So I took some time to reflect and ask “What do I do now?” “Who am I outside of the theatre?” And most importantly “Why have I dedicated my life to this?” I’ve been so busy creating I have not asked why I’m creating in years! 

The answers to these questions were complicated but freeing. The end result is: Yes I have dedicated my life to theatre and will continue to but I am also a full person outside of my art. That sentence took a long time to reach and believe. This is not to say that aspects of my work are not tied to my identity and vise versa. Especially when it comes to the portrayal of mental health and queer characters on stage. It would be impossible (and I don’t want to) separate these themes from my own experiences and passions. The acceptance of this sentence also offers me the freedom to explore my interests outside of the theatre more fully. I hope others may relate to this and I am not the only one who has at times a toxic relationship with the theatre. Sometimes when contemplating exploring another career path or even another project I feel as though I am cheating on my one true love: the theatre. This insecurity most likely stems from the societal view that artists will grow up and give up on their arts careers. This mixed with my stubbornness, I am a Taurus after all! 

The take away from this rant is to encourage artists to look outside of their art and see what makes you you. I’m an artist but I’m also a sister, a daughter, a partner, a friend, a bad painter, a lover of horror flicks (good and bad), a comic reader, a yogi, a girly girl, someone who’s always cold and a proud fur baby parent. 

3 thoughts on “Life outside of the arts

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