A graduate’s tale: Expect the Unexpected
If there’s one thing you can plan for, it’s expecting your plans to change.
So, me six months ago: I’m about to graduate from WAAPA, move over East and enter an industry with some of the most talented people in the country. I literally have no idea what I’m in for or if I’m going to be stranded on the streets with no work in six months. Well, that’s an exaggeration…But being an out-of-work actor is basically the end of the world, right? As young artists on the doorstep to freedom we often find ourselves speculating what our lives are going to be like in just a few short months. Here are some of the things that went through my head between ‘nearing the end’ and now:
It’s basically a given that being a performer often means having a life of instability and irregular paycheques. That’s down to the fact that our line of work often equals short term contracts that can be few and far between. But as newly graduated soon-to-be-professionals all we really want is the chance to shine. The chance to do what we’ve trained for 3 years to do. And with the nature of the industry, sometimes there is so much uncertainty that we are left in a whirlwind of panic about how we’re going to fulfil our artistic needs (let alone pay our bills). Well, these thoughts would often stir in my head and the anticipation in those final months almost drove me crazy. “Will I get into a show in my first year out?” “How will I make enough money to pay for dance classes?” “Will I even have a social life amidst those hundreds of auditions?” These were questions that I (and my entire class, no doubt) fretted over, while at the same time trying to manage Showcase hysteria, submit final essays, set up a Showcast profile, become an equity member, the list goes on.
So as a result I, as a soon-to-be young drama school graduate, frantically tried to micro-manage my own life and forecast exactly how my first year out in the ‘real world’ would pan out. I went over every possible scenario in my head how I could live a life that bares some resemblance to that of a civilised human being. “Who am I going to live with?” “Which city am I moving to?” “Which gym am I going to be a member of?” Mentally, I was trying to prepare myself for the glamorously exciting life in Melbourne with a cafe job that would service my bank account between auditions, dance classes and Body Balance on a Monday and Thursday morning. I was going to pack my jazz shoes and acting books into my favourite war-torn Country Road duffle bag and catch a Tiger flight to the land of promise. And at the top of my list of fantasies was the idea of a Chapel Street Skinny Latte touching my lips every morning (remembering that, at this point, I was being subjected to Perth’s $6 ‘asphalt in a cup’ idea of a coffee).
But then we went on our Showcase tour to Melbourne and Sydney and suddenly everything we had spent the past few months racking our brains over became a reality. So much happened so quickly. One moment we’re in Perth and the next we’re jet-setting across the country, flying back and forth between Melbourne and Sydney trying to figure out how to get from Windsor to Brunswick in under an hour for a casting call. And I realised the more I tried to grip to my ‘plans’ and ‘expected outcomes’ the more they would take a sharp turn to the left.
If there’s one thing I realised in the first few months of being out of drama school it’s that everyone one of my ‘plans’ got tossed out the window. Yes, even my Melbourne coffee fantasy was left dead in the water. Basically, I ended up meeting someone over Showcase who I would end up in a relationship with, doing my first show in coastal Queensland, going back to Perth to perform in multiple Fringe shows, and ended up living in Sydney. Essentially the opposite of what I thought I’d be doing.
I had planned to do one Fringe show and I was part of three. I planned to live in Melbourne (Chapel Street radius, of course) and found myself in Sydney. And I definitely didn’t expect to be doing my first contract in Queensland. How did that even come about? Well I was visiting family on the Sunshine Coast over Christmas when my friend mentioned that a new theatre company was holding auditions for a regional production of Chicago. At first I didn’t really pay much attention to the idea because, well, I was moving to Melbourne! But then I bumped into a WAAPA grad from a few years above me with whom I chatted about what he’d been doing since graduating. He told be about a couple of totally unexpected shows that he’d been cast in to his own surprise, and that he’d learned to stay open to all avenues of opportunity. A few days passed and I was reminded of the Chicago auditions that were taking place that week. I was sitting in a cafe sipping Kombucha and thought to myself, “Hell, why not give it a shot?” and my second thought was “God I hope it’s not too late!” (seeing as it was now Thursday and the final day of auditions were tomorrow). I was lucky enough to be fitted in the following day and ended up getting cast in the show after several rounds of auditions.
At that moment, I said to myself that I would never keep my mind closed to what I had ‘planned’ in the past. Or put myself into a box. Don’t get me wrong, I think goal setting is absolutely invaluable and essential, as long as you are open to opportunities or experiences that lie either side of that road. Sometimes we miss an opportunity because we’re so focussed on achieving exactly what we thought we should and don’t notice something better when it’s tapping us on the other shoulder.
I also had the realisation that I’m in this career for the long run. Like any field of work, it doesn’t always prove fruitful straight away. Often graduates will feel disheartened if they don’t get picked up in show immediately but like all good things, they will come to those who wait. And those who understand this often find themsleves being creative with their need to be creative. Whether that’s doing some sort of indie work, fringe theatre, production assisting, being a runner, writing for a theatre column or interning with a new company. Stay creative and proactive. You discover nooks in the industry you didn’t even know you would totally love.
Our lives are kind of like a musical (well, duh). Every director has their vision for a show and that vision often gets turned upside down when they are faced with the creativity of a room full of artistic individuals that offer a perspective that the director hadn’t imagined before. It’s the same for our lives. The vision I had for my ’show’ changed for the better when I opened my eyes to what was tapping me on the shoulder. And that journey has only begun. Something else has now presented itself and it turns out I’m going to France with my partner for a month to study clowning. I mean, what are the odds. I definitely couldn’t have planned for that!