BWW Blog: Erin Kong - The Young and the Restless: One Actress's Tale of Summer Unemployment
"And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. And then there was nothing else. Just 120 degrees of scorching hellfire, and a job in retail. And woman saw that it was not good."--The Book of Genesis, retold (trying her hardest not to encourage blasphemy) by a restless college student
I am the kind of girl who likes staying busy.
If I am not constantly stressed, sleep-deprived, and/or having a panic-attack in a public restroom at least once a week, I feel unproductive and unfulfilled.
This past year, I balanced 19-credit semesters whilst having the privilege of performing in Arizona State University's Lyric Opera Theatre's student production of Grease, and Binary Theatre Company's devised theatre production of Women of War. I had classes from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., and then rehearsals following from 6 p.m. to 10 or 11 p.m. On top of that, I was writing for ASU's student-led paper The State Press, and trying to hold on to the remnants of my slowly--but surely--dissipating social life.
And then, summer came. Dry, scalding Arizona heat was the scenery, and irritated honking during rush hour was the underscore to the tragedy that was my life. Summer in the American Southwest is not romantic. No poetic heat waves rippling through steady afternoon, no sweet sunlight peeking through tree branches. There are no trees. Just a Starbucks on every corner of every major crossroad.
Yet, the suburban wasteland did not deter me. I kept my spirits up, optimism high. I continued writing songs and brainstorming different collaborative projects. Anything to nourish my starving creativity. But those projects were often placed on the backburner in exchange for recreational moping and self-pity.
Is this what it's like to be relaxed? I wondered, lying in bed at three in the afternoon. Or is this what it's like to be... complacent?
I longed to perform in a show. Any show. I would sing and dance outside of a Starbucks if someone could find a lighting designer. I could figure out the rest.
I was not the only one in distress. My close friend and fellow ASU classmate, Julia Davis, was equally--if not more--desperate to perform in a show. Julia was working at *insert name of a well-known diner here*, and was spending her nights off attending a dance program. She invited me to attend with her, but by 7 p.m. I was usually seduced by the siren song of Netflix.
Meanwhile, our older classmates were spending their time doing what we wanted to do most: perform in shows. In fact, in ASU's Music Theatre Facebook Group, there was an entire thread dedicated to the work our classmates were doing over the summer.
Anasofia Gallegos, recent graduate and personal role model, and Ben Massouras, fabulous human and real cutie patootie, said they were preparing to perform in Shrek at Arizona Broadway Theatre.
Jennie Rhiner, one of the coolest people I know, was performing in Freiberg, Germany in a production of Hello, Dolly! as Ernestina.
Tyler J. Gasper, another recent graduate whom I was always too intimidated to actually talk to in real life, was performing in When You Wish at Phoenix Theatre, and afterwards flying to New Jersey to perform as Riff in West Side Story.
Caitlin Dhuse: a puppeteer in Phoenix Theatre's production of Avenue Q. Alex Crossland: Buddy in The Buddy Holly Story and two other shows at Theatre West in Nebraska. Elyssa Blonder: a performer in the same three shows at Theatre West. Sedona Ramonett: Rosalia in Hale Theatre's West Side Story. Anissa Griego: Consuela in Hale Theatre's West Side Story. Lane Northcutt: Che in Evita at Bay View Music Festival. Adam Sowards: Beast in Beauty and the Beast, Will in Big Fish, and Reverend David in The Foreigner in Cardston, Alberta, Canada. Janine Colletti: Associate Artist Director with Des Moines Metro Opera in Indianola, Iowa. Kayla McLemore: Sandra in Big Fish at Mesa Community College.
The list went on. It seemed every student enrolled in Music Theatre Performance at ASU was performing in at least one show over summer. Meanwhile, I was binge-watching ShondaLand shows on Netflix and selling intimate wear to older women in my retail gig.
I had to ask myself: Why didn't I audition for summer stock? Was my musical unemployment an active choice? Did I think I wasn't ready? Will I ever feel ready? Will I ever be ready?
Why was I stewing in self-pity over something I could change? Was I to waste my summer because I wasn't cast in a show? Was summer not a time for additional preparation, free from the burden wrought by the classroom?
Once a week, Julia texted me to join her in a Summer of Dance class. I could do that. My other friend Michaela Okland was recording song covers during her free time. I could that.
I didn't have to be in a show to be a performer.
I realized my classmates received the privilege of performing, because they had spent their previous summers preparing. I could do that.
I wrote more songs. Songs specifically for my friends to perform, tailored to their individual voice characteristics and personal stories. I practiced lyric writing--trying to make every word in a phrase have some sort of rhyme. I warmed up and practiced singing songs out of my comfort zone. I mixed, I belted.
But why stop there? I thought. Why not get an upperhand on the business aspect of the industry as well? I remembered a marketing internship opportunity emailed to me by the Barrett, the Honors College Honors Digest. Digital marketing was a valuable tool in the entertainment world, and almost vital in recent technological times. I interviewed, and was offered the marketing internship. I accepted. If I could learn how to market real businesses, I could surely learn how to market myself as a performer.
Vacation was not a time to relax, it was a time to grow. To work harder, to prepare for the upcoming school year. #thegrindneverstops. Summer was already halfway over--I would not waste the rest of the time I was given.
I could learn from the Arizona heat--I too, could be relentless.