Can Work and Creativity Co-Exist?
"What do you love best about community theater?" I asked the twelve-year-old girl. We were backstage at the Cailloux Theater, waiting in the wings for our entrance into The King and I.
"It's great training," she said, "for when I want to do real acting someday for my job."
I'm not sure what answer I was expecting in those thirty seconds before the school room scene. Anna was about to sing "Getting to Know You." I was holding for my romantic duet. And this twelve-year-old proclaimed that none of it was real.
She meant that it wasn't professional. It wasn't work. To be blunt, we were being creative, but we weren't being paid. Unless you count the orchestra. And the music director. And the executive director. And my wife who works part-time for the company by day keeping the books, then volunteers to perform on stage by night.
I found myself getting a little defensive. I wanted to say, "This is real!" This theater fills each weekend with hundreds of real people who pay real money to see us perform. It is a nonprofit business, but it is a real business with real market needs and very real limitations.
As it turns out, a community of 40,000 people can support two live theaters, but only if you don't pay the actors.
And most of all, this community of volunteer actors is real. We just don't get paid. We are creative amateurs, motivated to work out of pure love. That's what amateur means. The word comes to us through French from the Latin amare, "to love." I know this because I was a professional Latin teacher for a few years. I can not say that I loved teaching Latin exactly. Also, they paid me.
But no one pays me to act. Does that make my acting less than professional? Of course, it does. In truth, I'm a warm male body with reasonable diction and decent pitch. Those are hard to come by in community theater. But that doesn't mean I can't approach each play with the same focus and discipline that a professional would pour into his or her work. Our male lead does this. He studied theater in college. Our female lead does this. She has been singing professionally at local events for several decades.
My wife does this. Last weekend, she closed Nine to Five the Musical, her 20th show since 2007. She performs in three to four plays each year in one of our two community theaters—the Cailloux Center for the Performing Arts or The Point outdoor theater on the banks of the Guadalupe River. When she starts rehearsals on a new show, I can expect her to be gone nearly every weekday evening for six weeks leading up to the performance. When the show opens, she is gone every weekend evening for three weeks of the performance run, plus occasional pick up rehearsals. If you do the math, you'll realize that three to four shows each year makes this a near continuous cycle in our home.
Here is what an evening looks like. I arrive home just after five o'clock to sit down for dinner with my family. We have about an hour together before my wife goes to work.
This is what we tell the kids.
"Mommy, has to work on her show." We are open about the economic situation, too.
"Why doesn't she get paid?" my daughter asked once.
"It's complicated," I said. "There isn't enough market demand in our area for her to get paid to act. There is demand for her bookkeeping skills, so the theater pays her for that. But since people will act for free, they don't have to pay her for acting."
"That's not fair," said my son.
"It's just the market reality," I try to explain. "There aren't enough people giving money to live theater in our community to financially support the actors. But acting is part of Mommy's calling, so she has to be faithful to God even if she can't get paid for it here in Kerrville."
We could get frustrated with God, I suppose. Why call my wife to this creative task and this local community when there is no market to pay for her skill?
In the parable of the talents, the talents double and the people become rich.
My literal brain wants my wife's talents to bring in money just like the parable. Instead, we find that developing her talent just brings more talent. She is much better on stage now than she was six years ago. We have talked about commercials and equity acting and getting an agent in Austin where there are more professional opportunities, but she is committed to working creatively for our local community.
"Mommy has to go to work now," we tell the kids each night at 6.
Because work is more about what you give than what you receive.