“We’ll say we knew her when….”
“Will we see you on a Broadway stage some day?”
“You majored in musical theatre? Do you want to be an actor?”
These words, or similar sentiments, I hear quite frequently. It makes sense. First of all, I’m constantly meeting new people, so small talk often includes asking about future plans. Second, it seems encouraging to imply that my craft will one day take me to the highest heights of the big Broadway stage or in a major motion picture. It’s a compliment, right?
If you’re reading this and thinking, “Uh oh… I may have said this or something like it at some point,” don’t worry. I’m not offended because I know these all came from a good place. However, I’ve been meditating on this for a while and have some thoughts to share.
Yes, it makes sense to be curious about the next step in my life. Hey, I’m curious too! I’m making this up as I go along! But, jumping ahead to picturing my name in flashing lights troubles me. To me, it’s the same as assuming all teachers want to be principals or superintendents; all employees of the company want to be CEOs; all small-town farmers want to upgrade to be massive producers.
But, Samantha, why wouldn’t we assume that? After all, aren’t all of those people more successful? Perhaps…. Financially? Yes. More power? Yes. In the actor example, fame? Obviously. Yet, with each level of “success” there are more sacrifices that must be made. And when does the road to “success” end? Do people reach a plateau when they’re successful and are fully content with life? Doubtful.
I’m not saying goals are bad or ambition is the enemy, but I’m also not sure if fame and fortune are part of my goal. After all, we celebrate celebrity couples that manage to stay together because it’s such a rarity. Family is so important to me, so I don’t know if a lifestyle that makes it that difficult to maintain a marriage is actually that desirable.
As to the question about whether I want to be an actor, my answer is that I already am. I am working for a professional theatre company where I act, direct, stage manage, teach, and get to work with so many wonderful kids. When I made the decision at age 17 that I wanted to major in musical theatre, I did not have working for a touring children’s theatre in mind. Of course, because I had no idea this wonderful job even existed! And yes, eventually I will do something else. A person can only tour for so long before needing to have a more permanent home, but even then, I am not going to place my identity in how “successful” I am as an actor.
John Mayer, a successful songwriter, pondered success in “Something’s Missing:”
A well slept (Check)
Opposite sex (Check)
Messages waiting on me when I come home (Check)
I’m going to be honest, I don’t have as many “checks” as my friend, John. And what is “a well slept”…? Still, any time I listen to this song, and he keeps repeating that something is missing, it just seems so obvious to me. God.
When I think about my life in terms of my career, it is easy to get overwhelmed. There is a lot of unknown. Actors live contract to contract. There’s a lot of rejection. There’s a pressure to be successful.
Here’s the thing, though. My identity is not in my career. Or even in my passion for acting. Instead, I identify first as a Christian, and suddenly life is as it should be.
Here’s my checklist:
Enough money to live (Check)
A job I love (Check)
Feeling safe and secure (Check)
Success (That’s subjective)
Being a Christian, sometimes I wrestle with what it means to work as an actor. There seems to be this pressure to put your career above everything. And at the surface, so much of it seems quite self-absorbed, especially since I have to carry around an 8×10 picture of my face.
A different songwriter friend, Jon McLaughlin, sings, “I wonder how it feels to be famous/ but wonder is as far as I will go/ ’cause I’d probably lose myself in all the pictures/ and end up being someone I don’t know”
This post isn’t to say that I’m giving up on a dream or that I’m settling. On the contrary, it’s to say that I am an actor. I’m going to find jobs that let me be an actor. I don’t know where that will lead. Maybe I will be famous if that’s part of God’s plan. But maybe my biggest fans will be my future children. I don’t know them yet, but I already know that they’re more important than my career.
“You make known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11)