You know that famous saying,"Nothing is certain in life except death and taxes?" Well I'm amazed this year that I was able to survive, and it took taxes to review what I actually did in 2008. Ten shows! On top of my regular job. And one of them was hellish enough to put me into a different career. I went running back to my costume shop job in hopes of never finding such negativity, egotism, and what's the word when someone from a really small town thinks they own the world because they've never seen anything bigger?
In a way it has made me even more cautious. How much info do you have to dig up about a theater and its employees before you commit to a job in hopes that it won't ruin your life? In my case last year, I didn't do any digging. I was so excited to be able to "design" that I took jobs right away with very few questions. And in doing so, I caution young designers. Many theater companies are looking to save money in any way they can including exploiting and deteriorating young artists. When I graduated from college, I was sure to balance what would be my day-to-day activities with an "impressive" sounding job. I knew that seeming to others that I had a good job was important, but it was more important to my own happiness and sanity that I a)got along with my co-workers, b)had at least a little autonomy and flexibility, c)like 50% of my daily activities, and d)made enough money to make all of my bills. All this I had in my full time part shop/part wardrobe position. In hopes of advancing and fulfilling a big dream of mine to be a Costume Designer, I took many short jobs which a)compromised a job I already loved and maybe took a little for granted, b)set me apart from my beloved co-workers, c)demanded I perform even more work for A LOT less money, for example, advertising a position as "Costume Designer" when really you would have to act as the whole shop. I definitely drew the line at running the shows., and d)hardly made any money.
I was lucky to have been the only one around when a Major Choreographer came to the costume shop where I work. The company didn't want to spend any money on costumes so it came down to me to "design" them, i.e. pull them from stock. He was a very salty and sarcastic man and wanted me to give him all of my time while I was also putting back together about 6 other shows. And the company swore they didn't have any money! After finally agreeing on some very simple tux-like outfits for the men and a teal color for the woman and seeing it on stage once, choreographer gave me the reins, "Just go for broke," he told me. Go for broke. I though. Go for broke. Hmmm. I don't want to go for broke. I have a lot of friends who find it romantic to be starving artists, to just get by, but often times they seem miserable and unable to work due to worry and job searching. I ended up adding my own artistic embellishments and working really hard to make the piece look polished and beautiful, which I think is what he really wanted. But I sure as hell didn't spend my own mone on the peice. The business of Costume Design is constantly humbling in realizing that many times you are just a means to an end. The Director will be glorified and the leading man or ladies, but the designer is this weird go-between for directors and crew which takes thorough (almost unnatural) proactivity, mind-reading, communication, and acting skills. It takes forgetting yourself and telling everyone else their bodies and work are beautiful and moving. It takes sifting through requests which really aren't your responsibility. Hmmm, this person wants me to find him tissues and food right now in the middle of my first dress rehearsal? Which I have done. But I am drawing the line. And I am definitely not going for broke.
I am now aware that companies will chew you up and spit you out in order to do something inexpensively. Some of them are nice and accomodating and you want to go back even though the pay is so low and others are nasty, jealous, unprofessional, and backstabbing and could never pay you enough to withstand the emotional tolls. And maybe I won't recover. But I sure as hell know that I will not work for another company unless they are recommended by a friend or I have a sense that they function professionally and with a greatfullness to supplement the shitty pay.