My first year acting teacher told us that we were artists, and that we would soon have to think of ourselves as such. I spent that year, and the following two, battling the line between "actor" and "artist." I didn't know what it meant to be either, nor did I understand the difference between the two. I spent college thinking, if I become a great actor, then I will be a great artist. I now know that those two things do not equate.
The last year of college started out great. I felt deeply in touch with my physical growth in stage combat and movement. I was having conversations about what type of theatre I was excited by and how I wanted to better the Chicago theatre community. I was finally studying some techniques I had wanted to learn. And then I was hit by a giant yellow bus labelled "PROFESSIONAL ACTOR."
The words thrown around between me and my friends, and me and my professors turned from: craft, progress, ownership, artistry, release, study... to: agent, resume, industry, submission guidelines, type, demo, reel, taxes, business... I went along with it because, okay, yes, sure, I have to do these things if I want to be successful. Success was no longer open for my interpretation.
I was told that success looked like having an agent within six months of graduation (at least by next pilot season or else what are you doing??), like getting a paycheck every month for that industrial or commercial, like knowing exactly your type and how to play into it, like going to opening nights and shmoozing with casting directors and artistic directors and play directors and making plans for "coffee sometime." Like checking audition postings every other day and reaching out for every opportunity even if it wasn't something particularly interesting (because you've got to be doing something to get those college credits off your resume after all!) and like working some stupid flexible day job so that you can afford to take time off to run all over town to get to three auditions and back on a long lunch break.
Success was no longer mine to define. I felt a voice pop up in the back of my head, that one that makes you raise your hand and challenge the teacher: What if I don't want to do that? Is it cool if I don't actually want an agent? How about if the idea of shmoozing makes me sick? Is it okay if I just want to make cool art with my friends? Can I teach? Can I use these skills in another career path? Does that disappoint you? Am I letting you down?
I was asked to make a five year plan to achieve my dreams. Asking a 21 year old to define their life dreams is a silly task in my opinion. I liked the idea but I wanted to wait until I was out of school for some time, but I grit my teeth and did the assignment, and quite honestly, I hadn't looked at it since. I forgot about it in the last two quarters of school and I worked hard on making myself marketable and learning the industry. It was always in the back of my mind though - the steps and the goals and the check marks and the plan the plan THE PLAN.
I somehow got the incredible fortune to become part of Tour 68 of the National Players. It's a touring company that travels the U.S. performing shows to under-served communities. As Players, the ten of us fill all acting, technical, and administrative duties of the company, with two bosses in our head office in Maryland. I won't bother too much with the incredible details of the life on tour and the shows, as those deserve blog posts of their own right, except to say my responsibilities within the company and the benefits I have walked away with.
I was an actor in all three shows, often taking on multiple characters, the Social Media Manager, and the Education Coordinator and frequent teacher, as well as assisting on the set and lighting crew. I can't imagine another setting where one person has their toes in so many departments at a time.
I look at my five year plan and I laugh a little because I know that at the time, I wasn't being real. Even though it was a product of an honest try of labeling what I wanted out of life, I just wrote down what I thought was correct, what I thought I needed to do to reach this level of success spoon fed to me class after class. The only honest dream I have on there is "own a dog." Yeah, that one's definitely real. It was real at the time I wrote it, but it was real answers to a different question. What I thought I was answering was "What steps do I need to take to be successful?" Now I realize I answered the question "What steps do I need to take to be a successful actor." I now get to make new goals to new dreams that answer "What do I need to do to be a fulfilled artist?"
I have had to answer again and again - to family, family friends, teachers, friends, professional contacts - how my time with National Players was, and what am I up to now? Often times I can't help but to detect an underlying hint of, "When will you return to your normal life in Chicago and pick up where you left off?" They aren't expecting me to say, I don't know. Are you coming back here? Probably, unless I love Seattle. What's up next? Well, I'm training to be a teacher, and then I'm going to be a teacher for a bit so pretty much doing what I'd like to at the minute. So, you want to teach? Are you still going to be an actor? Yes, of course. On my terms.
Yes, I am living a weird few months. I have an instragram feed to prove it. I've been living out of a car for six months, and haven't slept in the same bed for more than five nights, and a rare time at that. It will be 11 months since I have paid traditional rent or rent at all. I'm traveling and enjoying the woods and training other skills and writing and reading and hiking and loving. I can imagine the thoughts from a lot of people. But I promise I know exactly what I'm doing.
What a lucky thing. My job came at just the right time that I feel like I never had to live through the typical starving artist life that works so well for some, but that I know I would have felt unfulfilled by had I stayed doing what I was doing. I could have scrambled for years chasing agencies and roles and auditions. But, I got plucked out of my little bubble and swept into a hurricane that took me across the country and threw me back down to the ground without a place to call home, but it blew a map into my hands before it left. I now know that I value spending time in nature, clean air, strong legs, and dirty boots. I know I have a passion for helping youth meet their goals and discover their potential. I know I need a career where I can use most of my skills every single day and I've got a plan to do that. I learned that I can work in any part of the country, not just the big three cities. There are jobs in theatre everywhere, you just have to stay open. And I learned that people who are important to you will stay in your life no matter how far apart you may be. And when you find people who are extra special, hold on real tight, because you may only be passing through.
About this blog
A place to post updates about what I am involved in as well as my experience navigating the Chicago theatre community.
Claire Allegra Taylor is a cultivator, investigator, and questioner of human relationships. She firmly believes that humans can always do better, be it in our treatment of the ones we love, our desire to fix epidemic social problems, or our care for our environment. Claire wants to use theatre as a means to show how this is possible. She would like to create work that is vibrant in its language and physical capacity that challenges a modern audience’s expectations.