Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

They say there’s always magic in the air

Just last week I had a conversation with one of my cast-members about the differences in pay between stage and television actors.  He offered a shocking example of comparable salaries.  In 2003, when Bernadette Peters, a highly sought-after and respected headliner on Broadway, starred in the Gypsy revival, she earned $20,000 per week.  It was the highest reported Broadway salary at that time.  In comparison, an unknown regular on Medium earned $20,000 per episode.  (Bernadette Peters later accepted a significant pay cut to keep the show open longer, and shortly after, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane beat Ms. Peters’ record, each earning $50,000 per week when they returned to The Producers in 2004.)

Choosing a life in theatre is not guaranteeing financial stability or “success.” Part of what makes theatre so thrilling for me is the remarkable people I meet in this field, who have all chosen a career for the love of the work, and not for the paycheck. Similar, I’m sure, to the non-profit and educational fields of my fellow bloggers.

I am, for the first time, making a living wage doing something I love.  I don’t have any dependents and I live with two fantastic roommates, which helps.  Luckily I really enjoy having roommates, especially these two. And I am actually grateful to have the experience of not having enough money while I was living in New York City.  I had to cut out different things from my daily routine and really decide which items or activities on which I spent money. I found free or discounted activities and this group of women has been very good at locating the best happy hours in the city!

However, I have memories of New York as a cold and somewhat lonely place. Particularly compared to San Diego, which is warm and full of the good friends I’ve made in the four years that I’ve been here.  I think that view of the city and that time in my life has a lot to do with money. While I lived there, I worked in a Malt Shop and Barnes & Noble, not making enough money either place and stage managing for free. I wanted to go out and do “New York” things and meet new people, but I was on a very tight budget.

The plan was to obtain my MFA and then move back to New York and “conquer the city,” being in a position to make enough money stage managing, without having to have another job.  Enough money to pay the rent and buy groceries, but also to go out after a show with my cast without worrying if it costs too much. One of these days in the not-too-distant future, I will move back to New York to pursue the dream of working on Broadway and rediscover my romantic love of New York City.

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At tonight’s performance, the role of Isabel will be played by Erin

Isabel had to go out of town suddenly for work and will not be able to post for the next three weeks. Fortunately, we have guest blogger Erin to fill in until she returns! Thanks, Erin! Enjoy!

Hi everyone, I’m Erin!  I’m currently living in San Diego and stage managing at The Old Globe Theatre.

A brief personal history: I grew up in State College, PA with Mom, Dad and my younger sister (who is getting married next month!) I went to Penn State with most of these other lovely ladies. I majored in Human Development and Family Studies, which is not my current area of focus, but it sure has helped me navigate the many colors of crazy that one finds in the theatre.  After college I lived in New York City for two years.  I used the time and the city’s vast opportunities to discover where I really wanted to focus my energy.  I stage managed a few fun and quirky Off-off Broadway shows and met some really great people.  I decided to pursue stage management as a career instead of an avocation. So, I moved to the West Coast to get my MFA in stage management at UC San Diego.  I fell in love with the city (oh, the weather!) and these top-notch regional theatres.  For the past couple of years I have been working on some great shows at the La Jolla Playhouse and The Old Globe, and actually making a living doing something I really love.

We’re opening Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound in Rep this week at The Globe. I have such an attachment to these shows.  It’s been an incredible process and the shows themselves are so beautiful. This particular cast is a talented, professional, accepting and appreciative. My favorite kind – and they like to go out together after a show! I think especially for audiences who see the full arc of the two plays in one day, it’s going to be a very moving theatrical experience.  It’s for shows like these that I work in live theatre.

I love the energy on the stage before a performance.  I’m sitting in the theatre now just before the half hour call of our third preview of Broadway Bound. My preset check is complete and the actors have started to filter onto the set for their warm-ups.  We’re all sharing the space and doing various pre-show rituals. Reacquainting ourselves with the space, stretching, breathing, checking their props (the silly house-key works beautifully until he’s onstage in the moment), and my favorite: listening to the totally absurd articulation warm-ups (“What a to do to die today at a minute or two to two”).

At this point in the process of a production (the week before opening), when I’m awake, I’m at the theatre.  Which is why this post has become so much about this play – because that’s the world I’m in right now.

Thanks for the opportunity to guest blog!  How exciting!

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Teaching: Not My First Calling

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I sort of always knew I’d be a teacher, although it’s not where I originally started out. I was planning on working professionally in technical theatre, mainly stage management and lighting.  I was a theatre major in college, I worked at the campus concert/sports arena, did any freelance theatre/concert work I could get, and had even started looking into touring companies for my post-college employment. However, by the time I got to the end of my undergraduate degree, I was rather burnt out on theatre.  Too many semesters doing academic theatre in which everyone was doing what their professor expected of them to get the best grade possible plus years of working as a grunt in any place that would hire me wore me down.  I left school with a degree that I didn’t think I’d be using anytime soon.

Due to a friend’s recommendation (and later reference), I ended up serving in AmeriCorps for two years.  I worked with low-incidence special education students and loved it. During that time, I also tutored some of the general education kids in English.  Around the beginning of my second year, I started looking for a grad program for teacher certification because by then, I knew that teaching was where I needed to be. I found a program that combined my Theatre major and English minor into a dual-certification program at New York University. Two years and two student teaching placements (one elementary, one secondary) later, I was certified to teach in New York State.

NY - Albany: New York State Department of Educ...

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I was hired by the New York City Dept. of Education at a huge job fair in February, three months before I graduated.  Now, the way the NYCDOE does their recruiting is that the main administration hires teachers and then puts on a series of job fairs for those new employees to meet potential principals.  I had a job, but I didn’t have a school. After a snafu at the main office, I was placed in the wrong area of the city at an elementary school.  After multiple calls to my recruiter, she got me into a high school, but still in the East Bronx instead of Manhattan/West Bronx, which would have been much closer to where I lived in New Jersey.

Anyway, I showed up to the comprehensive high school on the first day of school. No one had any idea I was coming.  I ended up sitting around for two days, shuffled back and forth between the English and Special Education departments.  Finally, halfway through the first day of school, I was sent to teach self-contained English to students with learning disabilities. Not having an official training about teaching special education, I was making it up as I went along. I had no curriculum, no textbooks, few novels, and fewer resources. If it wasn’t for a veteran teacher who took pity on me, I would have been lost during that first month.

After two years, I decided to return to the Seattle area where I had grown up. Armed with glowing recommendation letters, I applied to several districts, including the one that I had been in. However, due to a unforeseen and completely out of my control incident, I was unable to get my teaching certification in Washington before the beginning of the school year. Turns out that only one person at NYU can sign off the paperwork stating that you have completed an education program, and that one guy was out of the office for six weeks because of an emergency knee surgery. I got the papers signed before I left the state, but it took another eight weeks to go through Washington state.

Fortunately for me, an English teacher at the high school less than a mile from my house retired at the end of the September. Turns out he’d been on medical leave the year before, returned in August, and shortly realized he couldn’t do it.  I applied, interviewed and started on October 15th. Unfortunately, it was a non-continuing contract, meaning the school district was under no obligation to keep me the following year.  I started the next school year without a position, but then took a long-term sub position that turned into another non-continuing contract. A letter from the superintendent in February informed everyone that while there would not be any layoffs that year, no non-continuing contracts would be renewed. I decided to take the opportunity to go back to school and get that Special Education endorsement that I had been thinking about.

So, here I am, at the start of another school year. I have my certification in English, Drama, and Special Education, four years of teaching experience, and no job. A large part of that is due to the state that the economy is – one of the first things cut was education.  While people aren’t being laid off any longer, no one is really hiring much either. I have had three interviews and no offers so far with another two or three coming up. School starts either Sept. 1 or 8, depending on the district, so the jobs are starting to taper off.  If nothing else, I can sub or get a job in a tutoring center somewhere.

I had hoped at this point in my life, I would be at a school somewhere, well integrated into the school culture, and involved in after school activities.  Hopefully, I will have excellent news in the next couple of weeks – that I have found the school I want to be at long-term and I love my new job.

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