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big change/small shift

16/11/2009

The last couple of years have seen a slow but steady shift in me away from a life I used to lead, and thought for a while this year that I still did. As of course, one is always the last to know oneself, it has taken me until around about now to understand exactly what the nature of that shift is, and why it has occurred. Believing for a while that it was simply a case of ‘gross discontent’ with my lot, a big, scary dose of Saturn return, or simply emotional burnout, I at once thought that perhaps a good wedding and a week off would do the trick. Alas, as that elusive week off loomed, I began to realise that the affliction was far less disease-like (ie: not temporary, and not ‘fixable’), and resembled more accurately the shedding of a snake its skin, or the chrysalis-to-winged-insect transmutation. I’ve been changing. Hurrah.

Pretty terrifying thing, going through one’s ‘normal’ daily existence realising that it is no longer suited to oneself. Not, I think however that that change – that internal shift – is ever made necessarily terribly overt, so to speak. That is to say that I highly doubt its self evidence to any other but myself, and perhaps, my husband. But it’s important to put forth, for me at least, into the ether, as I suppose my output in this particular format may begin to shift, and I feel it necessary to preface with some sort of (albeit vague) explanation of what may be taking place internally.

A few years ago, when I was writing Mink Tails, I went to the theatre most nights of the week. I lived alone (as in, single), in a share house with two others. Both of my housemates were actors, one also a film director. It was a difficult time. I held various jobs, wrestled with how to divide my time between money earning and art-making, convinced myself I enjoyed a lot of the acting jobs I did, when in hindsight I realise now that I probably didn’t, and saw as much work as humanly possible: good, bad or indifferent. I was happy, in my own funny way. I had a purpose, I had a blog. I had drive, zeal, passion and all that. I had something to do on weekends, and usually a ready-made group of friends (read: colleagues) with whom to get blotto and maudlin post-show. Single, the manifestations of my having responsibilities to no-one (least of all, myself) were hilarious, and at the ripe-old-age of ‘my late-twenties’, I can now look back and in quavering, geriatric tones, chuckle about the heady days of my youth. What I find truly funny now, however, is that I believed that this might never end. I honestly believed that this was my life, and that I would forge forever onwards in this fashion. Oh, sure I might move out of my share house and into a little flat on my own (with cat, of course). Eventually, I would move overseas and form a collective. Or would I? Might I just stay in Melbourne and toil on, eking out my own creative niche in this city? Whatever the future had fated for me, it would be steadfastly rooted in a performing arts community – the thing I called home – and I would largely be a lone agent. Seeing half-a-dozen works per week, blogging nightly until 3am with a wine in one hand, and my cat curled up on my lap. How delightfully spinsterish.

Oh, how things do change.

Without putting it all down to coupling, I have to confess that my life since settling into domestic bliss has been radically different. For one thing, I stopped wanting to be out every single evening. In fact, quite the contrary, I wanted to stay in, most nights, curled up on the couch in domestic bliss (with wine and cat, as well, no less). I never predicted I would be the type. And at first, I couldn’t fathom what that could possibly mean. Was it a terrible middling? Had I let all my intellectual priorities fly in the face of love and comfort? Was I a disastrous cog in the great cultural downfall of the nation? Was I sacrificing everything once held dear for a third-round viewing of all seven seasons of The West Wing? But no. On more careful and reasoned analysis of the situation it is quite clear to me that it is all a simple question of domestic psychology. Being out at the theatre every night, I had been seeking a sense of belonging – a sense of home. Believing in some perverse fashion that I might find it amongst my colleagues and their work, I continued searching – working vainly through my (frequent) disillusionment, thinking that ‘if I just saw enough’ that it may, one evening, reveal itself in some obscure, yet-to-be-understood form. But here, in fact, on a couch, with my life partner (and cat), I had found it. Home. That sense of utter and complete belonging. No more was I searching. And so, when it came to see work in the evenings, I approached each outing with a very changed palate. I felt nothing that resembled my former thirst. And I thought there was something very wrong with me.

And so I struggled, for almost two years with this question. “Why don’t I yearn to see work in the way I used to?” I had thought perhaps it was because I had seen so much work that had hurt me, that I was no longer inclined to put myself in harm’s way so often. But, as I’m not really the kind to be once-bitten-twice-shy, I strongly doubted that theory. Because of course the reality was that I used to go to the theatre hotly, as if to see a new lover. It is rare that I feel that way before seeing a work anymore. There has been one this year, before which I quivered with anticipation. Only one. And I am happy to say that it did not disappoint. But that could be for a myriad of reasons, none of which are related to the scale upon which I once assessed the artistic success of a piece of theatre. And so, I suppose, it became evident to me, that in order to continue to enjoy theatre going, and involvement in theatre full-stop, I needed to severely limit my exposure to it. Otherwise it becomes a little like work. Which, while acceptable for a time, inevitably breeds contempt. And, as it was once beloved to my heart, that is the last sentiment I wish to feel towards my old flame.

But what does it all mean in terms of theatre practice? Good question. Well, small doubt it has been an incredibly busy year for little old me. I started out, thinking I had it all sorted, in place, and with plenty of time and energy allocated for the accomplishment of each (ginormous) project undertaken. This year I worked variously as a director/dramaturg, actor, writer/devisor, devisor/director, and a myriad of other incarnations of all of the aforementioned in between. Good, juicy stuff, right? Absolutely. I went through hell, I went through heaven. It was glorious and painful and often both at once. Financially it has sucked pretty much most of the time. Even when I was being paid to act, I was scraping every penny together to pay for the next show I was going to produce. Such is the life. Such is the life. And so, I learned – oh. So much. I have to say, my understanding of the craft of theatre expanded at least ten-fold in the last twelve-month period alone. There really is something to be said for continuous fucking practice. And then there is a whole other thing to be said for complete fucking burnout.

Well. There will be some to whom this next move of mine will seem like selling-out and walking away. Quitting when the going gets tough? This is hardly the case from where I stand. In fact, there’s a little bit of leaping out of the frying pan and into the flames going on over here. I want to continue to love theatre. I want to continue to run my company and feel passionate about making work, learning more, developing my skills, nurturing other people’s, and supporting my peers’ output, too. In order for this to happen, I need to do two things: I need to a) take a break, and b) earn enough money to survive. I made big financial sacrifices this year to accommodate the creation of so much work. N and I ended up living off his really meagre casual actor-teaching wage, a tiny bit of screen testing, and not a lot else. We made a lot of A/R on our credit cards, and while this is certainly not something I regret, it isn’t something I ever want to do again. 2009 was one of those ‘final fling’ years. The last big hurrah before you get serious about life. And I’ve been torn. Believe me. What does ‘serious about life’ mean? Does it mean ‘settling’? Surely, one must continue to live la vie bohème at all costs, sacrificing nothing, least of all one’s integrity. Sure. But our twenty-year-old our car has no air conditioning, and on days where the mercury tips 30, it’s a fucking oven. So… balance, baby. Balance.

The overriding idea behind starting my own business is to gain enough financial freedom to be eventually able to return (at least part-time at first) to the creation of work, and be not beholden to the constraints of external financial forces. N now handles the bulk of screen testing and tutoring (he has more flair – and stomach for it than I). I have enrolled in NEIS. Like many great artsy business people who have gone before me, I am going to be working my little tushy off over the next three-to-six months to get my own little enterprise up and running, and eventually, raking in the cash, so that eventually-eventually, I can return to my own work, unencumbered. However, and I can not make this clear enough (especially to myself), the business itself must be viewed as an enterprise that is entirely sistered with my own art practice. Whilst I will be arse-deep in PAYG tax, insurance, work cover, security, inventories, POS systems, outgoings, and commercial leases, I will fight tooth and nail to ensure that every single creative decision made within the business is authentic, and a direct result of all that I have learned in my practice across the last eight years. The rest is just jumping through hoops with which I am already vaguely familiar. It’s not a big leap for me, from independent theatre company/artist to artsy retail outfit. As in, not a bit leap in terms of headspace. Yes, the amount of work involved in its execution will be phenomenal. However, I grew up in a small business family, and have been at both my parents’ side as businesses grew and fell and grew again. The ins and outs of small business are second nature to me, and I suppose that that is a truly wonderful, and very useful gift, and one that I no longer wish to overlook.

And it is true. All this time that I have been eking out a meagre existence via agent and ABN, I have missed and yearned for small business desperately. Screen testing, while a great toe in the waters is such a limited market, and negates my ability to exercise such a myriad of skills that I have garnered across the years. This is me giving myself the opportunity to put everything into play. To really dictate the playing field. To make mistakes for myself, too – oh yes. For, in so many casual shit-job positions I’ve held (particularly retail, hospitality, etc.) all I’ve wanted to do is wade on in there and fix shit up. Innovate, et cetera – show my employer how to do things better. It was a huge part of my childhood, really, as well. Silently observing the things my parents did really well, and the things they could shift for the benefit of the business. It is, as they say, in my blood. Seeing just what I can achieve with this gift truly excites me.

So, it feels to me like a big change and a small shift at once. Big because, well, there’s a lot to do. A whole lot. Small because in actual fact, very little is changing. I’m still going to be making art, just in a different context. I’m still going to be dancing between my right brain and left on a daily basis, only that I am going to have to be far more disciplined with the points of transition that I ever have before. This is my enterprise, so I make the rules. And along the way, I get to rediscover my love for theatre, and what it means to me to be a theatre practitioner, a writer, an entrepreneur, an actor, an installation artist, etc, etc, etc. But differently. Slightly differently.

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