Crossing the Line

by Jenna Harris

I have a pretty standard line that I say when explaining to people that, after completing a degree in Anthropology and International Development, I decided to pick-up and move to New York to study acting:

“It wasn’t like I was going to make money in Development anyways.”

I say this with an impish grin and a glint in my eyes.

I believe that I originally started framing my choice to go to acting school in this way – by essentially deflecting what appears to be a completely irrational decision with a joke – because of the tremendous guilt that I felt at being privileged enough to be able to go. But the sad reality of my joke is that there is truth to it. In the field of International Development, at the time that I graduated, there were very few jobs despite the overabundance of work that could be done world-wide. And the ones that existed were plagued by low wages, a high burn-out rate and almost insurmountable competition. The Development inner-disciplinary joke was:

“You need a Masters even to get a job photocopying.”

Said again with an impish grin and a glint in the eye. Again, because it was true.

But as we are all now well aware, it isn’t just the arts (fine and general) that are plagued by this inability to find work; like a virus, unemployment is spreading in ways that past generations would have thought impossible.

So the point then is what? That life sucks? That there’s no hope? That this is just the way things are right now, that a sizable number of us will not have job and financial security? That we should just throw our hands up and say “We surrender!”?.

We could. Or we could fight.

The thing is, is that it doesn’t feel like we are at the fighting point yet; as Millennials we haven’t hit our breaking point. Our point of action. We are great at talking about the issues, complaining about them, but not actually doing anything about them. I think that the reason for this is that although many of us live below the poverty line, we still have roofs over our heads, food to eat, clothes to wear, and Netflix. In short, we haven’t suffered enough. And although I’m not wishing that anyone ever suffers more, I do think that in times of suffering the world has seen great art and innovation spring forth because people were angry, fed-up and had nothing left to lose.

As Millennials, we are living in a kind of safe no man’s land where we are not yet angry enough or fed-up enough to risk big. In my mind then, in order for things to change – in order for us to bring about the change we want – and to find ways not just to survive but to thrive in the economy as it currently is, we have to push ourselves to our point of action. And this takes work. Canadian Millennials are not lazy, but we are used to living in a relatively peaceful country where we do not have to fight to exist on a daily basis.

Okay, so again Jenna, jeez, what then is the point? And the truth is that I am not 100% sure. I think that as Millennials we need to, to be honest, stop wallowing. We need to move past our feelings of loss over how we thought the world was going to be, and on to something that energizes us, empassions us and pushes us to act. We need to ask questions, like a child be inquisitive and see the world anew so that we can shed our jadedness and stop allowing ourselves to fall back on lines like: “I wasn’t going to make any money anyways.”

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Arts Majors: Stop Complaining About Your Useless Degree

by Meara Tubman-Broeren

Since graduating from university, I’ve noticed the phenomenon amongst my peers of demeaning your own degree. In the bar with friends, bemoaning our lack of monetary funds and upward mobility, we roll our eyes and say, “Well, that’s what you get with a useless degree.” These are people with general and fine arts degrees, majoring in fields such as Theatre, Visual Art, Philosophy, and Classics. But what do we mean by useless? Not immediately leading to a lucrative career? When did that become the purpose of post-secondary education?

I believe the value of education lies far beyond the comforts of a great pension and benefits. The pursuit of knowledge is a long held tradition and one that has fundamentally shaped our world. As far as I can tell our greatest thinkers, artists, and scientists didn’t pursue their knowledge in order to be able to one day afford a mini-van and a 4-bedroom 2-bath in the suburbs. They followed their interests and passions in order to investigate, describe, and define the world around them. The purpose of acquiring a degree should be to learn, gain new perspectives, become a more complex thinker and articulate communicator, discover new ways of looking at the world, and experience the excitement of actively engaging in a body of knowledge.

But somewhere along the line, I suspect post-baby boom, education became a commodity, a means to an end, a path to wealth, stability, and status. Millennials were born into a society already deeply invested in this notion, so I’m not blaming us for internalizing it. We were told that if we went to university we could expect a stable and comfortable life. And for a long time that was true. A graduate with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of 30% more than a high school graduate in 1980, with this number growing to 50% by 2005.

But now there has been a shift. The economy went down the toilet in 2008 and the number of Canadians under 30 with a post-secondary education has skyrocketed from just under half in 1990 to 75.5% in 2011. Now we are living in what Al Jazeera has termed a “post-employment economy“. As all sectors work to recover from the recession, even the traditionally stable and financially rewarding degrees in science, technology, engineering and medicine are no longer sure bets. Only 55% of law students who graduated in 2011 now have full time jobs. A colleague told me about a Stratford Festival actor who went back to teacher’s college in hopes of gaining a more stable and well-paying career. Upon graduating, they were not even able to get on the supply list as a Drama teacher. Far from being the path to stable employment, university graduates now experience only
1.7% less unemployment than high school graduates. If education costs are factored in, Fine and Applied Arts graduates earn 12% less than those with only high school degrees.

So it turns out they’re almost all “useless degrees” now. Which means maybe this is the opportunity to re-frame the discussion of the value of post-secondary education from being the way in which to make yourself the most employable, and instead make it about the importance of learning, knowledge, and exploration. The critical thinking and original thought fostered by an academic environment might be what gets us out of this economic mess.

To even have the privilege to have attended and graduated from a post-secondary institution means that you have much to be grateful for in your life. By all means complain about the cost of education (bachelor’s degrees now cost 20% more than they did less than a decade ago) and by all means complain about the lack of job opportunity for young people, but to call a degree useless because it does not lead to steady gainful employment is to discredit the value of learning and knowledge.

Maybe it’s even the easiest time to justify the choice of a career in the arts – if the sensible choices aren’t making money either, might as well do what you love.

Workaholic

What Happened to ‘the Workaholic’?

by Emma Letki

There was this article that came out a few years ago in the New York Times (cause really I’m just that cool) about being busy (but I have only Just had time to read it). The article, The ‘Busy’ Trap, by author Tim Kreider made me really take a good look at my life and what I want with it. Not what I want to do as in career, but how I want to live.

It seems that these days there is such a focus on what we do with our lives and what our career paths are. When you ask a friend how they are doing, chances are they will respond with their work schedule and expect that to answer your question.

Up until about 6 months ago that was me too. I lived my life as busily as I could. While at school, I was always over committed, super anxious, and always too busy. When friends called I would always have to reach for my agenda to find that one time slot a week that I could fit them in to my schedule.

I will be the first to admit that my understanding of my self-worth in intimately tied to how busy I am. If I am busy I must be needed, and if I am not busy I must be worth less. Right? But I started asking myself if it was really worth it.

Recently I finished a great internship. It was awesome, and fullfilling. It was for a wonderful festival, the 35th Rhubarb Festival, that I was thrilled to be a part of. As with any festival the intensity of the internship increased to a high, and then it was over. My serving job took over for a week or so, and then I went to my cottage. When I got back I had that sinking feeling: I don’t have a job. I’m not doing anything. I had a break down in my parent’s house; I’m not doing anything. When in reality that’s not the case at all. I was crashing hard from the high of working at the festival. So how do we deal with the high of work, of being busy and needed, and then the after effects of it all? Or if you have a full time job never coming down from that?

There is a word that I used to hear quite a lot: Workaholic. When was the last time you heard that word being used? I feel now that this state of being is the norm, the expected. So “workaholic” has fallen out of our language. Being a workaholic is now the average where everyone is expected to start from. We are now taught this addictive behavior starting from the earliest ages.

Kreider says it well when he says “it’s something we collectively force one another to do.” This is an addiction that we are going to have to face. What are we willing to sacrifice to this addiction? What is the price that we are willing to pay? What will happen to make us stop and realize that maybe we are going too far?

The generation of children who are growing up now are over worked, just like their parents. And for the first time in history, these children are expected to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

Is this enough to make us slow down?

I get pangs of guilt and panic attacks at the idea that my career is “not where it should be”, but I am trying to figure out what is important to me. And trying to fight the addiction to work that my education system taught me was necessary to survive.

Not having money sucks, but I am finding lots of great ways to survive outside of our monetary economy. By offering my time I get to see lots of awesome shows in the city. I would much rather volunteer my time for something I care about than work some for something I don’t only to spend the money on a shows any way. Life really is short, and seems to be getting shorter. I am trying to make a conscious decision to work less and have more time for my friends.

Millennials Are People Too!

Millennials Are People Too!

by Emma Bulpin

I was born in 1990, which by definition, I am in the age group that is classified as a Millennial. Being a Millennial I am told that I am lazy, entitled, and downright spoiled. Well, I would just like to take a second and speak for myself, rather than the media jumping down my throat and telling me what type of person I am.

Ever since I was little I was told to grow up, go to school, and get a good job. I was also told that I could be whatever I wanted to be if I put my mind to it. I was told that by going to school I would come out with a job I could be proud of, a job with security… But here’s my reality…

Growing up I lived with my single mother and two older brothers. We all pitched in to help out around the house and started working as soon as we could. I joined every extracurricular I could be a part of and studied hard in school. I graduated and went to university. Everything I was told to do. I now have a degree and a good job, a job I am proud of. Although, this job doesn’t pay my monthly bills. So, what is a Millennial to do? Well, I got another job.

The thing is I’m NOT lazy, I’m NOT entitled, and I’ve NEVER been spoiled… Instead I have a powerful vision of a world far different than the one I was born into. I am inspired, I am passionate, and I desire to remake the world and create a chance for impact! I am a Millennial and I’m idealistic. So, what’s so wrong with that?

First World Problems

A Maudlin Plea

by Nicole De Angelis

I’m going to tell you something that you already know. I’m going to tell you something that I’ve known for a while too, yet the concreteness of knowing still hasn’t made it any easier. Being an artist in Toronto is hard. Scratch that. Being an “adult” in Toronto is hard. Toronto is hard. Life is hard.

Boo hoo, poor me, I chose something I’ve always known would only be rich for my soul and I’m still complaining about it. This whole “boo hoo life is hard” mentality has been pretty new to me to be honest. I never gave a shit before that I was going to be poor my whole life. Hell, I have ALWAYS been poor.

Yet suddenly on January 15th of this year I woke up and went “OMG GOALZ AND LIFEZ AND EXPECTATION AND WHAT AM I DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOIIINNNG?!?!?!??!?!”…. Why?

I turned 25.

And suddenly… for the first time in 25 years… I CARED.

I wanted the house, the 2.5 kids, the stability, the structure…. WHERE did this come from? And did 25 REALLY make it suddenly matter?

For the first time, my age ACTUALLY made a difference to me.

As if I was going to wake up at 25 and suddenly not want to be an artist anymore or NOT be able to get drunk on weekdays or sleep in till 11am because my serving job allows me to do that… or be the same person I’ve been most of my life…

So I keep walking around wondering, when does real life start? When am I going to wake up and not be dreaming anymore? Where is the stability? The money? Real life—when does THAT start? Is what I’m doing right now is just an illusion? Just a dream that I must surely wake up from? When did art become my dream and not my reality, because THAT is new.

I’ve got to be honest. Since January 15th I’ve had a mini freak out every day about where I’m going and where I’m at.

I guess one saving grace is that I have not stopped working on my artistic goals since I realized that being an artist was the life for me and that was when I was 5 playing Lucy in Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown.

My other saving grace is every Tuesday night I walk into a room with 7 other people who are much more established in their artistic careers and see that I don’t have to wake up.

I can keep doing what I’m doing and be successful and be happy… and be poor. And be ok with being poor.

Because this isn’t just a dream. This is my reality. And regardless of how hard and annoying it can be, this dream/reality really does fulfill me in a way stability never could.

I’ve finally found a community of people who embrace me and my nerdiness and creative obsessions. Some of them are the exact same kind of nerd I am, and those are the people I make art with. Others are huge nerds about things I know nothing about. They are the people that teach me AND I make art with. Say what you want, we may be a community of poor nerds, but I am among some of the coolest, wittiest, most interesting nerds I’ve ever met.

And artists make great drinking buddies, BTW.

My world is surrounded by what inspires me and that is TRULY how I’ve always wanted to live my life.

So yeah… I’m 25.

25 years of awesome.

Theatre Lights

Journey to Techdom

by Aidan Shepherd

When I started University with my degree in Classics, I never thought I would end up in theatre. It always just seemed like a fun thing to do. Every year I would help out with a show, some lighting here, some set building there, but never with the goal to be working in theatre as a career. (Take out finally) In my final year, I realized that I did not feel any sense of accomplishment in my field of Classics, and devoted the bulk of my time (spare or otherwise) to the theatre. I helped in every show I could and even helped organize a festival that the Acadia theatre department held every year. I suddenly felt like I was doing something worthwhile. When I returned to Toronto, I knew that I wasn’t going to continue on in my degree, and started trying to get into the theatre scene without having any courses in the field. I primarily used workinculture.ca to find a few gigs, one of them on honorarium, which was very exciting. It was my very first time I had been paid for doing what I love.

My first long term applied theatre, technical job was at a University. I got the job through a friend who was acting in a show that needed help backstage setting up lights. I volunteered, and the next day asked the manager if the was hiring. She had seen my work first hand, so no resume was required. It also happened that she was looking for a technical intern, so the less experience I had the better. For two years, I worked there happily running lights, sound and projection for all sorts of lectures, concerts, plays, musicals and conferences. Unfortunately, my internship expired, and I felt the desire to go back to school for more training, but this time in college. I hoped to expand my knowledge in electrical, carpentry etc. And because of that I needed to save more, so although my full time job is not in theatre, I am on several call lists at theatre companies who call me when they need help with grunt work.

The reality is, unless you are lucky and keep trying, you will not be able to get one long term job to pay the bills in theatre. The vast majority of my friends working in theatre have to set up jobs 6 months in advance, and they typically last a month or two. This is the current reality that we live in but they don’t care, because they love the work. That is satisfaction that no amount of money can buy.

Reality Bites

The Conception

A conversation about the start of the project boomerang by Kristin Bartlett and Erin McCluskey. 

Erin: Everything was hard about getting into this city: finding a place, meeting new people, trying to get a job. I had bounced around from job to job for some time until I finally landed at Mixed Company Theatre where I met Kristin. Creating a piece with Kristin was something we intended on doing and we spoke enthusiastically about it for some time. Many ideas were tossed to and fro, but they seemed to remain idealistic images of a desired life where we were not just administrators, but artists too!

Kristin: Although I have struggled to discover who I am in our current economic landscape especially as an artist, it wasn’t until I saw the film Reality Bites that I thought about creatively doing something about it. This 90’s film highlighted the big question – What happens next, post-graduation? And I too found myself circling around this question but I realized that this issue for today’s grad was a lot more complex. Even if you put our finger on who you are – professionally speaking that is – the market is so saturated that our resumes and cover letters have gotten lost in the abyss.

Erin: We had spoken many times about the frustrations surrounding our departure from university and entrance into the ‘real world’. Why was it so hard to get a job in the field we had trained in for so many years?
Kristin: Why didn’t university prepare us for the real world?
Erin: Why was it so hard to find a cheap, livable place in Toronto?
Kristin: How did anyone afford to live here?
Erin: Why were so many companies willing to take advantage of the recent grad by offering un-paid internships?
Kristin: Why are the few programs designed for people ages 25 and under?

Erin: Within a few weeks’ meetings over tea and coffee, we had conceived a project plan. There was a palpable excitement in the idea that we would finally be creating something artistic—that was meaningful to us, that could possibly have some potential for change, and that soon we would be working with other emerging artists who were also as passionate about these things too.

Kristin: Hosting the audition and call back session with diverse and talented artists was for me, the moment the project became real. Erin and I published the call for artists and I was taken aback by the sheer number of applicants. I felt extremely privileged to witness their incredible talent. I felt we really hit the nail on the head when we chose to create a project around the Boomerang effect and the myriad of related issues. And I now feel extremely honored to explore, share and create with a group of such talented and thought provoking artists!