Notes to Myself
Pep Talks, Reminders, and Observations on Making a Life in the Arts
If I could give myself some advice it would be this: this industry could make you spend the next fifteen years wishing you were forty so that you could have some gravitas, or experience, or an established career. Don’t let it take the next fifteen years away from you. You are twenty-six, not twenty-eight or forty. You are supposed to be twenty-six. You are supposed to be dating, feeling lost, reading books that make you feel less anxious, and thrift store shopping with your best friend. You are supposed to occasionally feel young in professional situations, like you’re still learning how the business works and how not to apologize for being young and female and wanting something very badly. Work on those things, but be unsure. Wander. It’s OK. Life is long, and you are at the beginning of it. You will get somewhere, eventually, and in the meantime you might as well try to relax and have a little more fun.
Take up space. TAKE UP SPACE!
You deserve it.
Ask for what you want.
The solution to feeling lost is to find the community again—find the people who are here for the same reasons you are. When you are lonely in a crowded room, remember that they want to find you just as much as you want to find them. They are waiting for you, and they won’t find you if you make yourself small.
What I have to hang onto is that my eventual success or failure to 'make it' as a director has nothing to do with whether or not I succeed at making a life as an artist. My artistic practice belongs to me.
Focus on the work. The work does not require you to feel comfortable at cocktail parties at which people are interested only in who you know. The work rewards listening, being fully present, and forming authentic relationships. Show up, pay attention, listen fully. That is enough for now, and it will make the work better later.
Remember, as difficult as it is to make a life in the theatre, it is something I am lucky to be pursuing. What I am pursuing isn't a career, or “success,” or a title. It's an artistic practice. It's a lens through which to look at life; a platform on which to ask questions about the world we know and create visions of worlds we have so far only imagined.
What I have to hang onto is that my eventual success or failure to "make it" as a director has nothing to do with whether or not I succeed at making a life as an artist. My artistic practice belongs to me. Booking the job, getting the fellowship, networking well? That's all just noise. The practice is what matters. The way I make my life is what matters. I choose to make it this way—sometimes difficult and often frustrating but also full of more magic than I could ever have imagined.
I am pursuing a life in which I am at my best when at my most real—when I am listening and really hearing, looking and being required to actually see, reading and digging deeper. It is a life and a practice of regularly paying attention to what matters.
I am young and I am hungry and I want everything to be faster than it is. It is easy to feel tired and cynical even at an early stage in this business, and I often do. To try to make this a life is to deal with a lot of rejection. The fellowships don't want me right now, it is a slow slog to find an artistic home in New York City, and it seems like every coffee I have with someone is another reminder of something I could be doing better. But all that? All that is window dressing. Behind the curtains, through the windows, and inside the house is a practice that I am building strong enough to be the foundation of a life. I am a theatre director, yes. But first and foremost I am a practicing artist, and because of that I am the maker of my own success.
Some days I am just surviving, and some days I am full of joy.
Get naked. It is possible to be both strong and emotionally vulnerable. Embrace the necessity of your imperfection. Against all odds and anxieties, believe in the value of your singular voice.
Sometimes I forget why I do this. Days, weeks, months go by, and I fail to remember. I talk, I dream, I direct, I go see plays, and I fail to remember. I read, I think, I go see plays. I go see plays. I go see plays. Then—once in a while, every so often—I go see a play, and there is this moment.
It is the last, perfect chord of Fun Home that causes tears to stream down my cheeks for the whole curtain call, so that when Michael Cerveris meets my eyes as he bows, he nods. He knows.
It is a gesture, subtly repeated over the course of Wolf Hall, which tells me something about Thomas Cromwell that Hillary Mantel never wrote and, perhaps, never imagined.
It is Antony Sher with his back turned to the audience at the start of a scene in Broken Glass, when just the shape of his back tells me everything I need to know.
It is Raul Esparza’s voice during the final lines of “Being Alive.”
It is Sarah Treem’s line, “But what about your work?”
It is, it is, it is. It is rare, but it is possible. For every terrible play I see, for every frustrating conversation I have, for every eye roll I make about the state of American theatre, there are, every so often, those moments to hang on to.
Despite all the frustration, the anxiety, the financial sacrifices, all of the negative things this attempt requires, it also gives me these tiny, shining moments. They are gifts that will belong to me always.
They remind me: this is such a rich life.
The article is just the start of the conversation—we want to know what you think about this subject, too! HowlRound is a space for knowledge-sharing, and we welcome spirited, thoughtful, and on-topic dialogue. Find our full comments policy here
This was really confusing but I enjoyed reading it
Thank you for this. With every sentence, I was cheering "YES!"
Thank you Julie! I'm so glad it resonated with you!
Thanks for the pep talk, Lucy. A year behind, playwright instead of director, Toronto instead of NYC but same mantras. Thanks for making me feel like I've found my people, too. I'm sure you're building a beautiful artistic practice house and it's the type I'd love to also visit, reside, live in or place next to mine.
Maggie, isn't it lovely how many of us have such similar experiences no matter where we're from? It makes me feel like I have people everywhere. Thanks for reading!