Theatre Three Alumna Cora Grace Winstead talks a little about what it is like to be a working actor.
An actor’s life is often described as a vagabond lifestyle. The highly anticipated offer of work is made, or The Call, and we must be ready to drop everything and adapt our daily lives to a new normal. Sometimes that offer means getting on a plane within hours The Call. Sometimes it means getting on a cruise ship or a tour bus and leaving your home for months at a time with no reliable way of communicating with those you love. Sometimes it means waiting tables in the morning, and then stepping into a last-minute Broadway rehearsal the same evening. This flexibility is challenging, yet vital to maintaining this career. A restaurant will have a much easier time replacing a server in a moment’s notice for a few months than a company that would if they needed to replace their head of marketing. We hold the flexible, impermanent jobs to better ensure that when The Call finally comes, we can shed any attachments that may impede our transition into the next project.
Being easily sheddable goes both ways.
I’ve been living in New York City since late 2018. In fact, the very day after I finished Once here at Theatre Three, my partner and I packed up his car – and my cat – and headed to Manhattan. To sustain myself, I had been working four jobs. I had eleven days off in 2019 total; this was challenging, but well worth it to be able to be living in the greatest city chasing my dream.
Then COVID-19 was declared a worldwide pandemic. On the same day, my partner and I lost every one of our Muggle Jobs (a term I so much prefer over Survival Jobs) and 36 hours later, we had packed his car – and my cat – and headed south to be with my parents. Perhaps we were able to pack and leave so quickly because of our constant planning for and anticipation* of The Call.
We left on St. Patrick’s Day, listening to XM Radio sounding off Irish jigs and reels as we passed through a ghost town of America. Schools empty. Casino parking lots bare. Wal-marts packed and panicked. Rest stops shut down, adding a layer of adventure when you’re driving on a turnpike and your next best option is a tree.
You would think that our lives as performers would have aided in our emotional well-being during this time of displacement and uncertainty. You would be right, to an extent. We’re used to adapting to new schedules and environments. But this change is strained. It feels like running in a hamster wheel. We don’t know when we can return to our home. And I find myself missing the obvious things: My books. The child I nanny. My piano. But I also find myself missing the simple things: My medicine cabinet. My worn down slippers. My dad’s old alarm clock that woke me up with WNYC every morning.
And in a twisted way, I both miss and resent my career. I miss auditioning in midtown. I miss making music. I miss preparing for classes and lessons. But it was this very career that set me up for this displacement. I had a callback on a Thursday morning, and Thursday evening, the impermanent jobs I had riskily garnered so I could passionately grab the next project without feeling tethered down – they had disappeared. This leaves me with unrest and fear… but the ache to create and perform outweighs the uncertainty. The whispers of The Calling still brush against me.
So many people are waxing philosophical about the benefits and challenges this pandemic has brought to our world, and I thought that this post would be aligned with those narratives. I had a list of “Lessons I’ve Learned” or “Wounds I’ve Healed” in my 42 days away from New York that I thought I would write about. I had predicted this last paragraph would deliver a thoughtful and resounding message to you all to conclude my post, but I think it just needs to be. Like I am trying to do right now. Like we’re all trying to do. Just be.