Stop. Just stop.
It started as a fantastic learning opportunity. You were bright-eyed and innocent, desperate for some “street cred.” We took you in. We gave you everything you could learn from us at this stage in your life. It’s time for you to go.
I’ll be 40 in a few months. I’ve been lucky enough to work in professional theatre for nearly 15 years. I’ve seen it all. I know what this relationship can turn into. Think of me as your big sister. Or Mrs. Robinson – whatever works for you. But, listen to me very carefully:
Leave. Spread your wings. Do not become one of those people who takes the first “real” job they’re offered out of college and never leaves. It’s sad. It never ends well. Those people end up frustrated by their career, outgrow their jobs, eventually bring nothing new to the table and ultimately die miserable and alone. If they’re cat people, it’s even uglier.
You need to grow. You need to explore. You need to fall flat on your face. You need to go outside your comfort zone and force yourself to network. You need to question why you do what you do while also questioning what else there is to life. You can’t do that in this safe bubble that’s been created for you.
Street cred comes from being on the street. You don’t get to hang out in your Snuggie drinking the hot chocolate mommy made for you and earn respect in the professional world. In theatre, that most likely means working in NYC. And, I don’t mean another glorified internship that throws you a few dollars but won’t hire you. I mean, you need to shlep your ass up there, and park it for for a couple of years. You need to fetch coffee for assholes while soaking up every word that comes out of their mouths. You need to decide what you’re worth professionally and learn to stand up for yourself. You need to surround yourself with people who challenge you intellectually and creatively. You need to wait in line for free or nearly-free tickets and see everything you possibly can. You need to feel homesick. Not for a day, a week or a year. If you really want to work in theatre, you need to stay there. For a while. Until it’s in your DNA.
You need to want it. You need to want a career in theatre even after you realize there’s no money to be made. And then you need to find a way to make enough money to be happy. You need to be passionate. You can’t do that while someone else is doing your laundry for you. I’m saying this out of love: go now.
You may decide to stay there – wherever you go. You may decide, like me, to return home 17 years later. You may decide to give up on theatre entirely. But whatever you decide, you’ll have taken the time to know what you don’t know. You’ll be more content. You’ll listen better. You’ll have focus. You’ll create more and bigger and better because you’ll have had to scrape together money, friends, time and love to create in a city that you have no ties to.
And, when you return, if you return, you will have earned your street cred.
Now, get the fuck out of here. For real.