We're all in this together
When I was in theatre school a teacher once said, "you are the next generation of actors coming up. You get to choose what the industry looks like." This statement came after the class had been complaining about the unfairness that exists in the entertainment industry. We had been discussing how casting is often based on how someone looks, on their 'type', rather than their ability as an actor. Her words about changing the industry struck me as a revelation, an opportunity to take action. Unfortunately, this moment of inspiration was short-lived as she followed this statement with an exercise where she asked us to take a look around at each other, find the people who had a similar 'type' to us, and realize that they were our competition. She gave us two truths that day: the industry can be a very competitive place, and we can change it.
There's always been a struggle between co-operation and competition in the entertainment industry. To a certain degree, I imagine this struggle can result in excellent and creative work. We try to out-do or impress each other; show that we are the leaders and experts. This can be a strong drive when creating work. However, this drive is just as likely to separate us, and divide our community into smaller cliques. But goodness knows, our community is small enough already for us to be dividing it even more.
I have to admit, I'm just as guilty of seeing an artist's work, or even just hearing a story about them, and making an assumption as to whether they are on the same page as me, and whether or not I want to work with them, or even support their endeavours. My biggest issue are with those who have no humility; amateurs who insist their work is as good as professionals; professionals who look down on others for doing work that is not to their taste. This judgement I feel is not something I agree with or am proud of. I often have to remind myself that these artists probably aren't aware of their attitude, and it's most likely not coming from a combative place, but one of wanting and desiring acceptance and praise.
That doesn't mean I want to work with these individuals; I don't anticipate it would be a good experience for either of us, but I do think it's important to keep an open mind, and accept that I'm just as at fault as those I am faulting.
Creating is difficult even at the best of times. And there is room for all types of creation in this industry. Community theatre has a place, social-political theatre has a place, comedies, musicals, and intense dramas all are valid forms of the industry. Theatre can be created to change the world, or to just be entertainment; both have worth.
It is folly to assume that any one type of theatre, or one type of artist, is better or worse than another. This is a high school mentality; the popular kids are better than the geeks, the social outcasts feel superior to the popular kids, the social justice warriors are self-defined as the top of the food chain. But really, what makes one group, one focus, better or worse than another? Are burgers or pizza better? I bet you all decided very quickly which one is better, and you could argue very well why one is better than the other, but really who cares? It's food. Some people prefer burgers, some pizza. But the world would be a lot less interesting if we only had burgers, or only had pizza. There's room in the cafeteria for both.
I know many artists who despair that we don't support each other enough, while not going out to see theatre themselves. These artists are missing the point: support goes both ways. I can't expect people to support me if I'm not supporting them. None of us are at the top of the food chain in this analogy. We're all just a bunch of drama geeks hoping to parade as something cooler.
My teacher was right: we do get to create the industry we work in. I want to have one in which we strive together to create excellent work; where we support each other, not just ask others to support us; where we admit we all have worth. It's hard for everyone out there; we all have our own struggles and challenges. How about we try letting go of our preconceptions about each other, and maybe allowing ourselves to think about the possibility that we could benefit each other? What would happen if we focused more on the co-operation than the competition side of the industry? Why not give up comparing ourselves to other artists and companies, and realize that we all have something of worth to offer that is no better or worse than anyone else?
In the end, after all, we're all in this together.