Perseid Night at The Centre of the Universe
Perseid Night - by Erika Joubert

The Problem

I am walking down a dangerous path — that of the full-time, not-so-acting-related summer job.

From Tuesday through September, I shall be back at the Centre of the Universe giving tours of what was the world’s largest optical telescope (93 years ago), running planetarium shows, holding summer camps, and teaching school groups. I genuinely enjoy working there; the staff are great people, the job doesn’t impose undue amounts of stress, and I get paid to learn more about the universe. But it isn’t acting. It pays for my tuition for the year, and forces me to exercise by requiring an hour-long bike ride to and from work (including a few kilometres up a mountain). But it isn’t acting, and, being an observatory, I need to, well, work in the nighttime. Go figure.

And night shifts mean no acting. No Shakespeare in the Park, no Fringe Festival, limited time with The Impromaniacs… and a tiring, long-commute, full-time job to boot.

A Little History

Over four prior co-op work terms, I haven’t a good track record at keeping up my passions. As a Granville Island Ambassador, Telus World of Science Science Facilitator, TRIUMF Tour Guide, and CU Astronomy Interpreter,  I wrote perhaps three short stories and half a play in total, and acted in a limited fashion with the Impromaniacs last summer, unnecessarily understudied for a Fringe Show, and competed in a monologue competition. That’s about all.

This used to worry me, that I could effectively live a life without writing or acting, a real-world life with a rent-paying, 9-5 (mostly) job and all that comes with it. But the truth is? My summers are rarely ever nearly as satisfying as what I do for the rest of my year at UVic, learning through workshops, plays, acting classes, movement pieces, voice techniques… my summers feel like something away from myself, outside of the stream of my life. Like I go on hiatus until September.

The Questions

But how can I keep up a hard dedication to my crafts when I’m waking up at 7am and getting home at 6pm, tired to my bones and soaking wet from the rain and muddy streets? How can I focus on movement and voice warm-ups, on honing my body through training programs and work-outs, when I’m losing sleep week by week and already biking for a couple of hours every day as part of my commute? When, rather than being encircled by a fleet of eagerly encouraging classmates, I’m surrounded instead by my collection of video games and television shows; when I’m all ‘socialed out’ by the time I get home, and don’t feel a desire to go out and interact with my lovely theatre community?

I’m not saying this to go all boo hoo hoo, poor artist me… I’m genuinely asking. Because my past summers have been all about doing professional work and living a home-life hermitry. About being the average working stiff who earns his keep, then ‘relaxes’ his brief evenings away. Granted, that keep includes a year’s tuition and rent and such to help hold me through the school year (when I also work 15-20 hours a week), but still.

I’ve been trying to solve this problem for years now.

My mind shouts to me to reach out to my community, to use my community’s positive pressures, like Graeme and his excellently thought-out work-out routine, like Impromaniacs shows, and like weekly writing groups. To corner myself into ensuring that I enter my final year at UVic armed with more than paid tuition, four unrelated months, and mostly-unrelated skills.

My sanity questions whether I can handle imposing more obligations on my schedule for a four-month-long stretch.

My dreams demand that I do better.

The Plea

I don’t have a tidy answer; no little epigram of wisdom to carry me through. So I’m asking: Any advice? What do you do to stay connected to your crafts in a full-time-job world?

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4 thoughts on “The dangers of a working summer for an actor.

  1. Artists don’t stop being artists when they’re doing something else. You bring the artist to the work, whatever it is. I think you probably know all this already. I mean, look at the jobs you’ve sought out. They’re all theatre-related jobs, and your current one sounds amazing. Do you need an assistant? Job swap?

    I was a tour guide for three years at Point Ellice House before I started at Intrepid – when it was busy and I was dealing with people, giving tours, I was onstage, using those skills, developing the craft. When it was slow, I was reading something or writing something – preparing – and that kind of job gave me that kind of freedom. Most importantly for me, it was truly intellectually stimulating – which most summer jobs just aren’t. Who wants a job that’s just a place-holder in life? At the same time, friend had a job in the mall folding sweaters and gossiping about co-workers (I think that was part of the job description) – it paid better than my job and was easier, but it sounded like acres of cashmere unhappiness to me.

    The worst part sounds like the commute. Working with a telescope sounds dreamy, though. Wow, the universe – what a source of inspiration! Is a bus pass and an empty notebook an option, a couple of days a week? Think of the hours of hands-free, focused work time, mmmmm…and then you don’t get home exhausted.

    Or maybe it’s time they did a show up there? That’s one nice site-specific potential venue 😉

  2. Oh yeah, and I just thought of something else. If you can’t be involved in acting events in the summer because you’re working nights, then you can take control of your own mojo and start your own project with people who have the same fire but the same work schedule as you, which could be quite a few, since a lot of jobs like bars and waiting tables are at night. It’s a good habit to get into, because once you finish school, there won’t be that timetable or routine or that nice fertile environment full of like-minded people surrounding you for eight hours a day, so often surviving as an artist after school’s done has a lot to do with what you can create for yourself, and finding the people who want to do it with you. It is hard to keep your engine going after working all day, but it is so worth it.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comments, Melissa!

      Before I decided on this job I considered tree planting and prostitution, but didn’t think I’d find enough lonely forestry workers.

      Your comments on observation are so true, and not something I do nearly often enough.

      I’m thinking a good launching point would be to see if I can get some classmates/other people together to read a play or something together every week. I also haven’t written a play of my own in far too long, so that definitely should be a project on my agenda. That and editing my old plays to put up on my website – for the remote chance someone wants to pay me to produce them.

      Just got to keep my engine going to make them happen. 🙂

      I’ve just spent a week’s vacation at home, visiting my family, so it’s time to get back to my tasks.

      Also, interesting that you find your lunch breaks so useful because of the time restraints… I know some writers structure their writing time at home the same way – giving themselves a time limit in order to assure that they will be more productive.

      Andrew Wade

  3. Hey Andrew
    That is a very good question. I don’t know if any artist has come up with a satisfactory solution to that, then just being independently wealthy to begin with, or mommy and daddy being such. Most artists I know, especially actors, are dirt poor, and in this town, have three or so part-time jobs. As being in school is a temporary condition for most, having to make the bucks for it should come to an end as well. So at least rest assured that not every summer for the rest of your life need to be this way. And it sounds like you might not be saddled with a student loan at the end of your schooling, and that is something. In the meantime, as an actor/writer, you can still use your powers of observation at the Observatory. I mean, what do writers and actors form their craft around anyways? People. The clamorous mass of humanity. As a low-life worker in the service industry, the oppurtunities to observe a myriad of people and situations is endless. And they not infrequently treat people in the service industry with less than respect. This is my only salvation for having to work at least one soul-draining, energy-sapping job to support my filmmaking habit. I am watching them all the time; observing their behavior, the way they carry themselves, the way they interact with each other, and recording it in my brain for future characters, scripts and films. There are a million little scenes playing themselves out in front of you every day. You can file it all away and pull it out later to build a character or write a script. And the great thing is, they never know you are observing them. You just smile and nod and say “have a nice day” (sucker). It sounds like you have a pretty nice job. It sucks that it is at night, but it is paying for your school and living expenses, and that is rare that one job can do that in one summer, besides tree-planting or maybe prostitution. You can make the best of it. You can still be an artist 24-7. The most important thing at being a good one is really seeing people when you look at them, having an honest curiosity about them and their lives and what makes them tick, otherwise all your characters and words will come up empty. And you don’t have to shut off your imagination at work. I carry a notebook I write in on my lunch and on my breaks. I often get more done in 45 minutes on my lunch than on one of my days off, because I am under a time limit.
    Have a great summer, no matter what you choose Andrew!

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