After Theatre School I thought I was going to be invincible. When I was 18 years old I received my letter of acceptance to The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. I was on top of the world and I remember someone asking me what my fall back plan would be if I didn’t make it as an actor. I was cocky and I responded with “I don’t have one, because I don’t plan on falling.” And after being pressed, I think I followed up with “If all else fails, I’ll just start my own theatre company and produce my own work.”
If I could go back in time, what would I tell my 18 year old self?
1. Don’t be cocky, you sound like an asshole.
2. It’s okay to not have a fall back plan. But change your perspective, enjoy every experience and take advantage of everything life throws your way. You’ll do great things.
3. Creating your own theatre is difficult and challenging, not impossible, but don’t underestimate how challenging this can be.
Theatre School in New York was fantastic, I met incredible people, I lived in New York City and I was thriving. And I have a ton of stories to tell, but that’s a blog post for another day.
After graduating, I auditioned, auditioned and auditioned some more. There is nothing like waking up at 5am and sitting outside the Equity offices @ Broadway & West 46th Street hoping to be seen by a casting director and going home after 6 hours of waiting once you realize that your name won’t be called. But I did eventually land roles, and was fortunate enough to perform in some fantastic off-Broadway theatre and in some independent films. And when times were tough I did some promo work, bartending and served tables to make some extra cash.
Then everything came to a screaming halt. A year after graduating from school and finding my footing in NYC, my work visa was expiring and it was time for me to pack up and move back to Canada. It was at that point that I realized that going to a private acting conservatory in New York City was very expensive. I had a load of debt and wasn’t able to focus on auditioning once I was settled in Toronto.
One of my previous employers was willing to take me back and I found myself working as a Store Manager and the now-debunked Blockbuster Video. And I enjoyed it, I was able to immerse myself in film and study my craft in a different way. At the same time I was learning new skills about managing people, budgeting, and after a year I found myself working at the corporate office in Product Management and eventually Marketing. And I enjoyed it all, I was paying off my debt, learning new skills, and even found myself on the invite list to swanky industry events during the Toronto International Film Festival. I wasn’t actively performing, but I was rubbing shoulders with Edward Norton and Patricia Clarkson to name a few.
I wasn’t completely lacking in creative outputs; while all of this was happening I still found time to act in a few small theatre pieces, a docu-series for the History Channel and I was invited to visit film festivals around the world to promote an indie film I was in.
Life was weird and very confusing, but stable. And then suddenly one day I got a call from an Italian director who adapted a movie I was in into a stage play. They flew me out to Rome for the premiere and while there they asked me to spend 4 months in Florida to develop the script for an English version of the stage show.
Opportunity knocked and I chased it! I quit my job and found myself living in Florida for a summer. And I had a contract for another film that I’d be starring in immediately after that. Things were looking up! The four months in Florida flew by and the film I was set to shoot in Michigan lost its funding, and I was back in Toronto. Jobless.
I saw a job posting for a swanky new hotel that had a 24-hour restaurant. And I told myself that this was the answer. I could work the overnight shift at this restaurant to make money and audition during the days. This seemed like the perfect answer! And it was in some ways. I made great money serving some of the worst people in the world, and I made incredible friends (including my partner who I’m still with 10 years later). But…auditioning hardly happened. Apparently when you work all night you’ll want to sleep during the day.
The next few years were a lot of the same. Working small gigs in theatre and very random jobs, like becoming the host of an online Bingo website and doing voice over work for corporate training videos. I jumped restaurant jobs a few times and because I’m an overachiever I found myself as the General Manager of a few of them. And in 2014, I co-wrote and starred in a one-act play called Wordplay for a Queer Theatre Festival about my experiences at that crazy 24-hour restaurant I had worked at.
Notably, I was the GM of a non-profit restaurant that trained and supported new immigrants, youth and people that have systemic barriers towards gainful employment. It was incredibly gratifying. I was constantly learning, making a name for myself in the industry, and literally changing people’s lives. But the hospitality industry is hard and after a few years of working 80 hour work weeks, I decided to quit and start over.
I had no immediate plans and I was terrified, my debt was almost gone, but I still needed to pay the bills. In 2016 (10 years after graduating theatre school), I embarked on my ‘year of jobs’. I decided that I would do anything so long as it fulfilled at least one of the things that made me happy. I made a list and they became my guiding principles. And in 2016, I did all of this:
Call Centre – I was selling theatre subscriptions. So at least I was able to talk about the things I loved.
Cater Waiter – Classic job for any artist, done purely for the money and flexability.
Non-Profit Manager – Worked with restaurants to initiate a food program with local charities.
Tour Guide – I brought student groups around the world. Including Costa Rica, NYC and Washington DC to name a few.
Freelance Writing – Tried to hone some of my writing skills
Freelance Project Management – Used some of my previous work experience but in a non-committal way.
Sampler – Giving away free samples in public places can be really lucrative, but not very fulfilling.
And while doing all of the above, I was able to do the following in the Arts:
Dublin Gay Theatre Festival – Performed Wordplay in Ireland!
Threesome – A series of shows at an indie theatre in Toronto
24 Hour Play Festival – Met new writers and actors in this small festival
Toronto Fringe – Performed at the annual Toronto Fringe Festival
Bad Dog Theatre – Produced a show at a local improv theatre.
It was a busy year, and then an opportunity came up that I couldn’t turn down. I became the GM at the Glad Day Bookshop, the world’s oldest LGBTQ Bookstore. I was brought on to help facilitate a move to a new location, develop a food and beverage program and plan events for the LGBTQ community. And again, while there, I was able to fulfill my artistic needs by producing a monthly queer comedy night and in 2017 bringing Wordplay to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, working remotely while spending a month in Scotland, performing at the largest festival in the world! I met playwright Peter Darney while there and later that year produced and directed a Canadian version of his hit show 5 Guys Chillin’.
Life After Theatre School isn’t what I expected. It’s been a wild ride, and I have no regrets about it. I’ve come to the realization that I don’t need theatre to be the primary source of income in my life, living the life of a starving artist isn’t for me. I like having stability and a paycheque to look forward to, but that hasn’t stopped me from having art in my life. In 2020, I’m working in tech as a pseudo Executive Assistant/Operations role. Theatre Topikós (the theatre collective that I started) will be producing the Toronto Queer Theatre Festival (which is now accepting submissions). I recently launched the After Theatre School project, and I continue to focus on directing, producing and writing new work.
I don’t know what’s next. But I know that I have an arsenal of skills thanks to theatre school and the journey that came from it. I’m grateful for the path I’m on and excited for what else comes next.