In an unusual turn of events, I’ve quit my job of ten years.
The first sentence is highly sarcastic, but obviously that doesn’t come through in writing. I quit my job every few months, for all of 3 hours, and then the audience applaud and I’m straight back into theatre world. However, this time, I really have quit…sort of. I’m a freelancer, so it’s not so much of a dramatic exit as it is just me not accepting work anymore. It’s possibly self-destructive, but I’ve been a bit self-destructive recently anyway, just in a different way.
Last year, a lot of things cropped up in my personal life that I haven’t really been able to deal with because of work. Sometimes I run out time, sometimes I run out of energy, and more often than not, I run out of patience. In fact, I think my last ounce of patience died in 2015. Every slight inconvenience sends me over the edge, and that’s not who I am. For the past four years I’ve put on 3 stone, I’ve developed all kinds of illnesses and I’m always tired. It’s a boring way to live.
This isn’t the fault of the job, thousands of people are freelancers, hundreds of people are Stage Managers, and don’t have to take daily pain medication, they don’t have to miss weddings and funerals, they don’t keep putting off a bowel cancer test because there’s a show that day and they think they can’t afford to take a day off. This is my fault, and my hypocrisy. I’ll be first on the picket line, waving the flag for Workers’ Rights, demanding we all be given fair contracts, holiday pay and proper breaks, but as soon as I fall behind in my own work I’m missing meal breaks, taking work home and working of a Sunday. Despite my feelings towards the theatre industry, I’m proud of what I do, and I want to give every show my best, but I’m also not very skilled, and sometimes trying to do my best takes me over the 48 hr working week.
Still, to some extent, that’s every industry these days, and that seems to be the attitude of my generation. I’m not sitting here thinking I’m special, or some kind of super worker. We’re all under the same pressure now, in such an unstable working environment we’re all pushed to burnout point. But I’ve had burnout before, and I really don’t know if I could deal with it again, so I’m putting my hands up and saying that while the physical aspect of the job is fine, the mental aspect is not. I’m the issue here, I’m the one putting my hands up, saying I allow myself to get too involved in the process. I can’t separate work from home, I can’t separate critique on my work from personal attacks. If I’ve painted a prop badly, or if I’ve got a cue wrong, I can’t just get over it, I launch headfirst into a fully blown self-destruction mission. I can’t separate people’s feelings about me in my job from how they might feel about me as a friend. Everything feels like an attack; every discussion becomes an argument. If I have to do something as part of my job but that could possibly be a little confrontational (telling a cast member they’ve got a line wrong, writing up a crew member who got a cue wrong) I spend the rest of my evening replaying the incident in my head, and writing apologies for having to do it, when in reality there’s nothing to be getting wound up over.
I’m a bit of a mess, essentially, and I’m tired of it.
I love my workplace; I love the people I work with every day, and I love what we do – but my job? My place in this industry as a whole? I hate it. I hate it, and I have done for years. I’m incredibly grateful for it, and I wouldn’t take it back if I was given a do-over, but I’m finished. I always through being strong was carrying on no matter what, but I feel stronger by putting my hands up and saying, “I can’t cope, so I’m getting out.” I still want to work in theatre, but no longer in the stage management roles. I don’t need a big wage; I don’t need the high-up position. I just want to be involved in shows that are fun, see my friends and have a life again. I don’t want to spend my life worrying about how I worded something in rehearsal notes. I don’t want to wake up at 3am wondering if writing something in the show report was the right thing to do, or if I should have just let it slide. I just want to sweep floors, push bits of set on stage, make props, and get on with all the other things in life that I’ve had to stop because I spend too much time worrying. Most shows need crew; people who can move scenery, fly, operate traps and automation – which to me, is all the fun stuff without the responsibilty and admin that stresses me out. A crew wage, however, would be half of my current weekly wage, and for a shorter amount of time. Whereas as a stage manager, I’d be involved in a show for 8 weeks, crew are possibly only needed for 5. It’s a huge drop in money, but hopefully I’ll be able to supplement it in other ways. I’d hate to just trade off work stress for money stress.
Fingers crossed this is the right decision, because I’m saying goodbye to a lot if it’s not.