Why It's So Hard To Leave A Theater Job
Updated: Mar 3
How a dangerous cocktail of pride and guilt come together to plant seeds of shame about considering leaving our theater jobs.
In 2010 got my degree in Theater and I was so proud.
Unconvinced I would be happy as an Actress, I moved to Arts Administration. This was a hard shift because I have been acting since I was 6 years old. (See above pic)
As an Administrator, I worked for renowned regional theaters across the country, and I was so proud.
Just unhappy that I didn't see greater career growth or a livable wage. This was a difficult move because I felt like I was letting down all the hard working people I had the honor of working with.
So, I worked on Broadway National Tours and I was so proud.
Just disappointed about missing big life events and having a routine at home. This was a very hard transition for me, which you can read all about that here another time.
Finally, I worked on Broadway and I was so proud.
But SO unhappy.
This is what I wanted, right? I had the option of career growth with a great company and I was receiving high praise for my hard work. I was able to have a semi-regular routine, and I loved walking through the stage door everyday but I was fucking miserable.
Girl...Why didn't I just quit already?
I struggled so much to let go of theater because it was part of my identity. It was, and is, an integral piece of me. I wanted to write out my feelings and share them, no matter how whiny it may sound to read it now. My thought is that some artists can identify with these thoughts and can use this post as a jumping point to articulate their feelings.
Here we go....
Guilt, Pride, Sense of Self, and The Rest...
"I've worked so hard to get here." "I can't have missed so many big-life-events to give up now."
*BUT, I feel like something isn't right.
"I am still paying off my student loans for my degree."
*BUT, I'm not making enough money to make a dent in those student loans.
"Think of all the people who rely on me to show up and do a good job."
*BUT, I shouldn't put pressure on myself to be responsible for everyone/everything. Is anyone asking me to do that, or am I doing it to myself?
"I've always wanted to work in theater and I can't imagine doing anything else."
*BUT, I have tried so many times to be happy doing what I'm doing and it's not clicking.
- "I'm REALLY good at my job, and people also tell me so."
*BUT, it's time to make a change. Train someone for this job and encourage them to make it their own.
- "I'm able to "hack it" when not everyone else can."
*BUT, I've missed so many big life moments that people have stopped inviting me to things.
- "I've wanted to quit MANY times but I pushed past it and I'm so glad I did."
*BUT, what if I had a job where I didn't consider quitting daily? What if I didn't have physical body pain because I was trying to prove my strength to people? (People who actually wanted me to be safe and not push BTW)
- "I've worked harder than everyone else to stand out and book jobs."
- "I've put in so many hours, especially late hours."
- "I've built a vast network and feeling that I could try so many other paths before I decide to leave."
*BUT, now that I stand out, I'm burning out, too. Am I ignoring my intuition to move forward?
SENSE OF SELF
-"I want to work in theater. It's home, it's where your chosen family comes together."
- "It's where I feel free to express myself and feel validated."
*BUT, I've trained myself to feed my happiness on the praise of others, and have little idea about what would make me happy on my own. Also, my friends will still be my family, no matter how frequently we see each other.
- "I would feel like a failure. I feel like a failure even thinking about leaving."
- "I would loose a huge part of my identity if I move on." - "If I leave, I'll be out of the loop."
- "It actually seems weird to not work 60-70 hour weeks, what would I do with myself?" *BUT, is this what I want, or am I just seeing examples of how others are thriving?
- "Literally every. time. I think I'm going to leave, I book a gig."
*YEP. That's a thing that will never end because #universe. You may still get offers even after you choose to move on, but it's up to you to decide to take it.
- "Quitting the business is easy. Quitting who you are is impossible."- Chicago actor Brandy McClendon Kae. This amazing quote is from the 2017 article about quitting the business by performer and Pyschotherapist Bill Harrison. It's definitely worth a read if your looking for more voices on the subject. There is also this great article from the author of "Letters from Backstage", Michael Kostroff.
IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER
-You are indebted to no one. You are not responsible for the happiness of others.
-Only you can create a better life for yourself.
-You are the only person who knows if you are happy. Listen to that voice and trust it.
-You can leave without burning bridges. Be honest, be kind.
-You can always come back to theater. It's family and it's going nowhere.
-Just because the job isn't right for you, doest mean it isn't ideal for someone else.
-Consider how your decision can help an arts organization grow and change. Think of the positive changes that could be made with new energy.
-At your next job, practice saying No. Set Boundaries and stick to them. Don't burn out!
Support & Resources
Actors Fund Actors Work Program is set up to help you find side work or discover new paths outside the industry!
If you've got the means to seek therapy, I highly recommend addressing this topic in session. Or speak with friends who have been down this road. If you'd prefer to have an unbiased opinion and don't have access to in-person therapy, use BetterHelp.com.
*Just in case there is any confusion about my current state of mind: I am happy where I am, and have made peace with my role within the theatrical world and am THRIVING, baby.