Now that we’re in the second half of 2020, most of us just want to put the past few months behind us and find what glimmers of hope we can going forward. But before plowing ahead into this unknown future with hope and moxie on our side, it’ll do us a world of good to take stock of where we’ve been to figure out what fed our creativity and what didn’t, what brought us closer to our artistic goals, and what derailed those plans.
Annaleigh Ashford went through a similar reexamination back in 2010. Leading up to that point, she’d played Glinda in “Wicked,” been cast then parted from a new Cirque du Soleil show, and closed out the Broadway revival of “Hair.” “Then I had a real quiet time, not having work, and it was a time of not only self-discovery of me as a person, but also what I wanted as an artist and actor,” she said.
Let’s face it, we’re all in “a real quiet time” right now when it comes to theater work. Why not take a moment of reflection and examine our past choices and actions? In fact, twice a year ask yourself three simple questions that will provide deep answers into your own happiness and growth. Like any good acting exercise, examining our careers in six-month chunks requires thoughtful honesty without judgment.
1. What habits did you fall into?
Whether it’s a daily vocal warm-up or some kind of actor budget, what routines were in place to keep you focused and prepared? What disciplines were in place so that when the inevitable last-minute audition comes along, you’re ready to adjust and meet the challenge? Or maybe you were like me sometimes and had those habits that were a little more lazy and distracted. More time spent watching shows than reading them. More posting to social media than submitting for auditions.
It doesn’t mean our time should be all work, no play. Rest and downtime are essential as well. But it does mean that those hours we devote to our craft should be focused and purposeful. Whatever routines that make us inactive need to be recognized and replaced with more productive habits. Psychotherapist Amy Morin says, “Acknowledging the unproductive thoughts and ineffective behavior that you’ve tried to ignore can be uncomfortable. But, stepping out of your comfort zone and choosing to proactively address bad habits will skyrocket your ability to create long-lasting change.”
2. Did your pursuits line up with what you want to do and who you want to be?
With productive habits in place, we have more freedom and resources to pursue what we truly love and what sparks joy within us. From Meisner acting classes to learning the songs of a particular bucket list role, are you clearing a steady path toward your goals? Has the time and energy you’ve put toward your goals also resulted in a happier life that excites you?
That last question was particularly difficult for me. For 12 years now, I’ve pursued my dream of Broadway. Done the one-on-ones, taken the classes, steadily built my résumé, and been in the rooms where it happens. Yet it hasn’t happened for me. This pursuit has affected relationships, my financial health, and my own stress levels until it finally dawned on me that Broadway is an exciting idea but not my ultimate destination. I want to work with talented artists, dive into complex characters, and create and collaborate on wonderful stories. It took me a while to realize that what I truly want doesn’t require a Broadway credit. I’ve found it in new musical workshops and small Off-Broadway shows, and it’s this kind of realization that leads to the next question.
3. What motivations kept you going?
None of us chose the easiest profession. Outright rejection as well as no feedback at all are both constant and universal. No one is immune. So with this dismal certainty facing us, what gets us out of bed every day? As Winston Churchill pointed out, how do we go “from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm” or even hope? We find that answer in our motivations. Those innate driving forces that keep us going no matter the headwinds.
The last six months have tested all of us. Did you find new ways to create your art? Did you explore new paths or opportunities? With theater off the table, what has sustained you and given your days purpose and meaning? These answers have led each of us to make tough decisions. Whether it was leaving New York City or taking online courses in marketing and foreign languages, what sparked your own sense of creativity and adventure? It’s these kinds of actions that give real insight into what drives us and will move us forward, even after the pandemic is behind us.
While these three questions are no magic pill toward the career you want, they are guideposts to make sense of where you’ve been and where you’d like to go. The outside forces of this business may be harsh and frustrating, but once we find our own internal compass navigating our lives and our careers can be much easier and more rewarding.
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and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.