"Oh my goodness, the show was so wonderful! You are so talented!"
"Thank you so much!" you reply, slightly shy at the outpouring of compliments from this family member/friend/stranger/superfan, but ultimately feeling the glow of pride in a job well done.
"Really, your voice is incredible," they continue, further elevating your spirits.
"I love this music, so it makes it a real pleasure!" you share, feeling grateful that people are so excited about what you just did on stage.
"So what's next for you? Any shows coming up?"
And just like that, the glow fades.
Because I don't have any shows coming up. I do not know what is next. I am completely unemployed in every sense of the word, and you unfortunately just accidentally reminded me of that.
Don't get me wrong, I know you only ask this because you care and are genuinely interested in where my career will take me next. I know you want to support me and see me succeed. And for that, I am truly appreciative and grateful. As real life gypsies, we actors need a lot of love and a fan club to remind us in the hard times that what we are doing is worthwhile, and that we are good enough to succeed. So thank you for that, from the bottom of my heart.
But when you ask me what is next, and what is coming up, I immediately get defensive. Not because of you, but because of my own insecurities. If I don't have a job coming up and I say so, I see the disappointment fleetingly cross your face before you cover it up with a smile and awkwardly spout out, "Oh, well I'm sure something will come up!" And then I'm forced to go home and stress out about how I don't have a job and inevitably spiral into that classic "what the hell am I doing with my life am I really good enough why is everyone else working but me" depression. If I DO have something coming up, it's usually some form of this answer: "Yes! I'm doing a new musical written by the people who wrote (insert show that theatre lovers would totally know, but this person only knows Wicked and Phantom so it means nothing), and we are doing it at (insert name of amazing regional theatre that they've never heard of). I'm very excited." Everyone leaves confused, and you leave frustrated that you can't just say, "Yes, I'm going to be the lead in the new Star Wars film."
You learn to deal with these feelings very quickly, as an actor's greatest skill is bouncing back. You learn to deal with rejection in the form of silence, and rejection in the form of press releases informing you that someone else got the part you were dying for. It's like a louder, more public version of the posting of the high school drama club cast list for "Anything Goes" when you lost the part of Reno Sweeney to your own cousin. (She deserved it and was brilliant, BTW.) But when you're forced to look someone in the face and admit to what feels like your own failure, it can wear on you quicker than any other form of rejection. It is you rejecting yourself.
If you still don't understand what exactly is so wrong about expressing interest in the career of an actor that you adore and love, imagine this. You are forced to find a new job every 2-3 months. You never stop sitting down for interviews, your resumé is just a long list of the past jobs you have held, and to make things crazier, you are always competing with your friends for these jobs. Sometimes you're too short. Sometimes you're too blonde. Sometimes you're too pretty, which should feel great but is really just rejection rolled up in a compliment, and essentially just a backhanded insult stating that you are unable to transform yourself into a different person, or as we like to call it, "act." You wouldn't want to constantly prove yourself and your career worth to anyone who asks, right?
As I don't like to complain about things without offering possible solutions, here are some things you could say and do instead:
1. Don't ask! Just state your interest in me and my career with something like, "What a wonderful job you did in the show tonight! I can't wait to see what is next for you." I will follow it with an enthusiastic "thank you" and walk away smiling.
2. If you're dying to ask questions, ask where I trained and if I went to college, or what my favorite role has been to play. Ask how long we rehearsed for the show you just saw. Ask what my favorite song is to sing. Ask if I like dogs. Ask if I will take a picture with you. Ask me if I'm single cause you have a cute son to set me up with (I'm not, sorry!). Ask me if I prefer skim or 1%. Ask ANYTHING but, "So what's next?"
3. If you do ask the dreaded question, take the hint when I say, "I'm getting married!" or, "I'm writing a blog and loving it," or "I'm going to take a bath! My knees hurt from all that dancing I just did." Don't press me. A few months ago, a fellow actor actually asked the question, wasn't satisfied with my responses, and so he further specified, "No, I mean like theatre. What show is coming up for you?" And I was humiliated into saying "NOTHING." Do not be this person. I do not like this person, and I now actively go out of my way to avoid this person.
4. Use the Internets! Follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, or Google me every so often if you are really curious and want to follow my career that closely. I appreciate that kind of support immensely, and social media makes us all feel like we have our own fan clubs, which is really exciting. But don't ask me the terrible question online. Then I will simply delete your comment, or perhaps respond with a link to this blog.
I love what I do. What I do is very hard, emotionally, mentally and physically. But I am also a person who does much more than what you see on stage. I volunteer with an animal rescue. I just got married. I love "Bachelor in Paradise." I'm currently taking a stab at writing a television pilot. I love my nieces and nephews. I am a human with insecurities and feelings and so much love to give, both onstage and off.
THANK YOU for being a friend, a fan, a cheerleader. The support is what we love. Please don't stop supporting us, but I beg you, please don't ask me what is next.