Total Snooze Fest: A Lesson I've Learned about Myself Working in the Arts

Updated: May 23, 2019

This year has been my first year working full-time in theatre. It’s been pretty eye opening on a lot of different dimensions but the biggest lesson I’ve learned this year is that I am not objectively fun. I’m 23, going on 43. I’m a total snooze fest. I’ve been compared to a sentient Kohl’s mannequin, which I believe was intended to be an insult made in jest. Now you may notice I have categorized this post as a “HOW?” post relating to what I do rather than a “WHY?” post about who I am. And I suppose the following post would fit fine in either category, but I want to talk specifically today about my approach to what it is I do that I view as completely independent from who I am.

My family reunion in the Kohl's backroom

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As you probably know, I came somewhat late into the arts. I began my time at Wheaton College thinking I was going to be either a pastor or a therapist. After landing on communication as my major, I then thought about going straight through to the PhD route in communication and someday becoming a professor like my academic advisor, Dr. Langan. All of those career choices are fine and respectable, I haven’t even ruled any of them out for a “someday” professional position, but in the moment in college, they weren’t really reflective of what I was capable of or interested in doing. I’m sure I’d be a perfectly fine pastor, therapist, or professor, even if I stuck with that track in college, but I’ve always been interested in creating things that entertain people.

I have always connected well with people outside the arts. In fact, I would go as far as to say the people I hit it off the best with are science people, and I have the receipts for that in many of my closest friendships (including my shared sense of humor with my PhD chemist sister, Dr. Julie Fenton). One thing that I had been afraid of as an outsider looking at “theatre people” or “arts people” is that in order to be successful, I thought, you had to be exactly like everyone else – which is kind of funny, isn’t it? Theatre and arts are places where uniqueness and diversity of voices is expected, nay demanded, but yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I was going to have a career in the arts, I would inevitably grow to be like “all those theatre people”.

Welp, I didn’t. I doubt I ever will. One thing that has made my Mom very happy, especially over my high school years, is the fact that I’m very good at ignoring peer pressure and just doing what I personally want on a day-to-day basis. Yes, I am a theatre person in the sense that I write plays for the stage and work in a theatre, but I view these things purely as work. It’s work I’m at least somewhat good at (especially since my plays have been published), but I want my life separated from it – and I do a pretty good job at keeping my life out of work and vice versa.

But I think that’s the key difference between Peter Fenton, the sentient Kohl’s mannequin, and most theatre people, objectively interesting and fun people. I think for a lot of theatre people, the theatre community becomes a person’s chosen family. And that’s great! I’m really happy when people find their people and enjoy themselves. For many in my Walnut Street apprenticeship cohort, it seems to have become a wonderful community for like-minded arts people from all over the country to explore the nightlife of Philadelphia together. It’s objectively great they have this. I also don’t mind that I’m not particularly involved in it – I know in my heart I have rich relationships and community, they just exist outside the industry.

But what I think one of a few things that has made this year extremely difficult on the performance schedule is that, by design, if I ever want to see or spend time with anyone outside the industry, it has to happen on a Monday night, the only night that there are no performances. Many people outside the industry work 9-5 Monday-Friday. I super don’t. In general, my work week is 4:30-11 Tuesday, 6-11 Wednesday, 12-11 Thursday, 6-11 Friday, 12-11 Saturday, 12-10 Sunday. It’s kind of brutal for anyone wanting anything resembling a social life completely separated from work.

The primary motivator when I go into work is: how can I further my career as a writer of excellent theatre? I spend my time in the theatre networking far more than I spend socializing. Of course I’ve made a few friends along the way, and I think the pattern I’m finding is that most of these friends hold a similar view to me in terms of our approaches to work in the arts and having fulfilling lives outside of it. I’ve connected with Matt over our shared history in Christian colleges. Taylor and I have also connected over our shared faith. Katie and I have connected over the fact that we hate going out. Kelly’s raising a toddler. Kiesha has several grandchildren. Rebecca’s married and lives in a nearby suburb – to name a few friends.

As soon as I step outside the theatre for the night, I’m generally exhausted and all I really want to do is go home. My post-work routine is pretty predictable, I go upstairs to my room, change into athleisure wear, come back downstairs to the kitchen, cook dinner, have a glass of wine or a beer while watching something on Netflix, heading upstairs and then falling asleep. It’s extremely predictable and it is objectively boring, but I have no desire to leave work and expend more energy in a loud room paying for expensive alcohol with a group of people who are having a great time together who just aren’t my people.

Cocktails for $15 in a very loud room with people I don't really click with? Pass.

I’ve learned this year that I’m not a very fun person. And for all the reasons listed above, I’ve learned to be OK with that. I’m really excited for my schedule to change to allow for more flexibility in relationships to exist outside my work – and I’m hoping and praying that change comes sooner than I could ever hope.

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