When I finally decided to not pursue the thing that I had intensively studied for four years, it was the calmest I had ever been. There was no dramatic call for a family meeting. There was no sit down with my entire acting studio to explain why I was making the decision I was. In fact, I hadn’t even intended to tell everyone, but my Dean mentioned it in passing and it prompted a conservation with my graduating class. It wasn’t a “movie moment” and if I typed it out in detail, you’d probably fall asleep. So I won’t. But I will say, for making such a life-shift, it couldn’t have been more bland.
I didn’t quit acting because of a bad director, bad experience, found the career to be useless or self-indulgent. I quit because of an eating disorder. It’s sadly not an uncommon story - young, impressionable girl with the hopes of landing leading roles starves herself in the pursuits of snagging the parts she dreams of. But what those stereotypical stories don’t include are the changes in one’s mentality and how the things you once loved become unimportant - like what you’re in school for. When I wasn’t eating, I fell out of love with everything. With the lack of nutrition came an “I have to just get through it” mentality. The regular stresses that actors went through during a rehearsal process paled in comparison to the inner problems I was dealing with. I sat in this mindset for two years and one year of “recovery” while still in school - recovery being in quotes because I was definitely still hoping to lose the weight I gained back during the summer. But slowly, as I made it more known to my studio, professors, and family that I didn’t want to become an actor, I felt stronger. That notion of “quitting acting” was my savior senior year - if I wasn’t liked by the visiting agents, casting directors, or not getting the roles I wanted, I could easily think “It doesn’t matter, I won’t be doing this a year from now” and it would save me from falling deep down the rabbit hole.
So I graduated. I graduated with a BFA in drama and an internship at a prestigious New York casting office that began in May. I had a friend to move to NYC with and an excitement to finally let go of my “actor” title. My first summer was interesting - it hadn’t yet hit me that I wasn’t going back to school. My eating struggles were still present in my life but slowly waning and I was excited to explore this whole new world of casting. It was a crazy time - me and the other intern ran from audition room to audition room and I met some of the most influential people in the theater today. I felt like a fly on the wall - I practically was, for most of my days were spent recording actors and their work sessions with Tony-winning directors. It was fascinating and educational but something about it didn’t click - so when my time was done at the casting office, I landed two more internships - one in public relations and one in talent management.
I should have been over the moon: in the six months since I graduated, I never had to face unemployment and already had added three internships to my resume. Everyone was telling me that it was crazy that I had done so much so fast - people were telling me this who I looked up to and wanted to be like. These compliments should have meant the world to me and really fueled my fire. And yet, I was dissatisfied.
The dissatisfaction came slowly and I didn’t know what to call it at first. When sitting in a movie theater or seeing a show, sometimes this odd feeling would creep in…it wasn’t sadness or disappointment. It definitely wasn’t anger. But something had shifted in me and there was a weight to it. Around the time I started to recognize this, a friend of mine was making his Broadway debut. X is an extremely gifted, talented actor who I have admired for years. When I finally got my ticket to see the show, I was a mess of emotions. Just seeing X on stage sent me into tears. I wasn’t sure why though - yes, I was extremely proud. Yes, I was thrilled and it felt like the world was finally going to see what I had been seeing for years. But the tears that would sporadically flow throughout the show came at the most random moments and that weighted feeling came back.
Shortly afterwards, I was offered a job at my talent management office. This is what I had been working towards since May - a JOB. Not an internship, a job. As many an intern knows, breaking out of that mold is hard. You can rack up as many prestigious internships as you want - doing one opens the door for another which opens a door for another - but having a potential employer take that leap of faith to hire you full time feels like the biggest hurdle to overcome. And I had! I should have been thrilled. But as I was being trained for my new assistant position, it hit me what my feeling had been for months: where is the art? More importantly, where had I gone in all this mess…and am I still an artist?
The term “artist” had never been one I was comfortable with. Since I was never a writer or director in school, I never considered myself a “creator” - merely a vessel for someone else’s words. I felt you had to be a “creator” to be considered an “artist.” I never called myself one throughout my four years at conservatory, which was ironic, given that practically every student dropped the phrases “as an artist,” “being in a community of artists” and “my artistic duty” on a daily basis. It didn’t feel like I had an artistic duty. It was a term I shied away from, even when I had an opportunity here or there to direct. The term felt extremely grand to me and almost other-worldly. And I definitely couldn’t fill its shoes.
And yet, here I was, yearning to put myself in that category again. It hit me when I was berated for an email I had written. An EMAIL. My boss’ assistant was rolling her eyes the whole time I was being yelled at on speaker phone, used to getting this type of talking to for something that had been asked to be accomplished. But I wasn’t used to it. And instead of making me cry and feel the need to do better, I sat there with a blank look on my face and started to space out. I have never reacted that way to any kind of tough love. I had had directors speak to me like this - the conversations had usually ended in tears followed by a ranting episode to my closest actor friends and an intense re-reading of the script that lead to new revelations. A feeling of unrest would settle in my belly until I achieved the level of truth that the text, and my director, demanded of me. And here I was, receiving the exact same talking to that a director had once given me, and I was almost catatonic. And then it hit me - I was reacting in this way because I am not passionate about this project. I am not invested in this. You know, artistic passion? Yeah, that. There was none.
So now I ask myself: am I an artist still? Or an employee instead? I don’t know if working for actors, putting together their auditions, organizing their travel and booking their concerts makes me an artist or a business professional. All I know is, I can never leave the theater. But I’m in a place where I am so close and yet so far from what I studied for four years. So I took to my keyboard and poured out all I was feeling. I wrote and wrote and wrote in a way I have never been able to. I had a story to tell and a need to get it down as soon as possible. And when I finally looked up from my keyboard, an hour had passed and that weighted feeling was gone. Completely and totally gone. And I had, for the first time, felt like I “created” something.
I don’t know if this is meant to be an autobiographical story, a story to uplift you or make you think, or just the thoughts of a young, newly-graduated twenty-something. I don’t know if this means maybe I have a passion for writing that I haven’t yet discovered or if this is just a passing phase. But I do know this: I think I am still an artist if I feel like I cannot rest until I tell a story. And maybe that need to say something is what I have been searching for during those years of conservatory. Those tears at the Broadway theater, watching X perform, weren’t disappointment, sadness or anger - they were the sign I that my artistic side cannot leave me no matter what I pursue. And that maybe, I should listen to it.
The author recently graduated from an intense, four-year acting conservatory. She lives in Manhattan with one of her dearest friends. She wishes to remain anonymous in order to write with openness and honesty.