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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Work / Life / Art Balance

Work and Life Balance is a constant struggle for most working adults. Add a desire for a life in the arts, and many of us are in the midst of a constant battle of attention, exhaustion and dedication.

I have worked in various offices for the past 7 or 8 years. I am, in fact, writing this post from my cubicle on 44th and 2nd Avenue. The day after I got my great review in the Times, I went to work and tried to celebrate by buying an extra-nice lunch and photocopying with puffed up pride.

Add the desire to have a personal life and see a movie and spend time with my girlfriend and do my laundry and chat with my pals to a 40 hour a week day job and a commute and, of course, all this theater and blogging and playwrighting and you get a guy who feels, at times, like he's got three lives.

Oh, did I mention my family? Sometimes, very occasionally, I talk to them too.

So I'm curious how others work out their balance. How do you pay the rent and make time to direct or write? When does it frustrate you (as it always does) and when does it feel like you've got a sweet deal (a temp job where no one looks at you and you steal all the pens you want.)

Let's talk. Hit the comments below.


Tom Loughlin said...

Hello Matt,

Thanks for the welcome, and for the link. I have no idea how you did that so fast, since I just got the ting designed, up and running today! Hopefully I can contribute a bit to the theatreblogging community from my rather rural setting in Western NY. Anyone else who'd like to add my link, I will reciprocate. And congratulations on your well-received play Most Wonderful Love. Nice notices!

Funny you should bring up this work/life/art issue. One of my first essays will be about just this idea. I intend to propose that the notion of the "professional artist" who lives solely through his artistic earnings is a paradigm we must break. In fact, I think the whole notion of "professionalism" has become a destructive force in trying to create a more dynamic theatre for this century. Comment are too short to elaborate, so stay tuned for it! -twl

Alison Croggon said...

I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on that one, Tom (and welcome!) I am one of the few writers I know who lives entirely on my work (worse, I am married to another) - royalties supplemented now and again by money from various funding bodies. It means that income is about as steady as a drunk on a bender. It seems to me, from a very short visit to the States talking to creative writing students &c, that this paradigm of "professionalisation" is something that happens first of all in the academy, that writers (say) make most of their income teaching and so get tamed in that way.

Since "the lyf so short, the arte so long to lerne", it's a constant dilemma: I haven't solved it. Part-time jobs and I've done a lot of them too, tend to get in the way of the work. How do you put the time and energy into art that it requires to make anything decent and do something else?

Philucifer [aka Charlie Willis] said...

Over at Nosedive, things are a little out of the ordinary because we mostly hang out with one another even when we're not in production. So that relieves a bit of the pressure when it comes to responsibilities to friends. And since our production meetings always happen in bars, we consider it multi-tasking.

Though I'm not a playwright and can't speak to those responsibilities specifically, I can say that doing what we do in this off-off/indie world is only possible by getting up close and personal with exhaustion. At ND, we take care of production-oriented business over email during the day-job hours (thank God for Gmail), rush straight to the theatre or the rehearsal room after work, and make sure we have people in our lives who have saintly patience. I'm lucky that my girlfriend is also in the theatre scene so she understands where I am and what I have to do. And vice versa.

That doesn't mean that we don't still get into arguments about never seeing each other when one of us in production; ("did you HAVE to go for a drink after the show tonight? you see those people 10 hours a day!")

It's not a bad deal in general, although I've noticed just this year that I'm starting to feel like I'm getting a little too old for this. I'm not bouncing back from the late nights, or the long stretches at the day job, as well as I used to. Personally, I think that means I need to get more exercise, but then where do I fit THAT into the equation?

I only get frustrated about the state of things in those last two weeks before a production opens, when I'm mentally and physically on the razor's edge. That's when I start to wonder, "Am I ever going to get to a place where I can devote my whole day to this instead of trying to squeeze all this work into four hour chunks after 5pm?"

It's a daily (sometimes hourly) balancing act, and sometimes things do fall apart. But that's the life we've chosen. My girlfriend and I lay in bed, some nights, and talk about how we don't really have anything too nice in our apartment, and there's no question that anyone who walks in knows immediately that we're bohemians. But we wouldn't trade it for the world, because it's so much more interesting -- every single day, I'm surprised by things. There IS a romance to it, even when (like this week) you're so broke you can't buy a sandwich. But dammit, we've got some great reviews out there and it's gonna turn around in a day or two.

And if it doesn't, I can forget it all for an hour or two on Thursday, Friday and Saturday when I get the chance to turn into someone completely different.

Joshua James said...

Man Matt, you are psychic or something, I was just thinking along those same lines -

I've been working on a post called I NEED TO GET OUT MORE - in which I bemoan the fact that I find it more and more difficult to get out and SEE theatre (and can I offer my apologies that I haven't, AS OF YET, been to see your show but I am going to try to make it before the end of the run?) because of the day to day obligations I have!

One thing that has gone from my schedule is exactly that - seeing a wide range of theatre work from other artists - I want to, I do - you, Sheila, Mac, Jason - it's on the list, it really is.

I don't even have a full time, forty hour a week job at this time, so it's pathetic that I haven't caught your show. I offer my humble apologies.

I do have a large plate filled with writing assignments, and since I changed my writing habits (I do the really early morning thing now, which has helped my productivitity immensely) for the better, while that has had a positive effect on my writing career, it's really hard to get my ass out of my apartment at night when I know I'm getting up at five to write.

Writing every day, like I do now, seems to have effected everything else. WHen I started, I would binge write, nothing but writing for a few weeks, then do nothing but hang out for months, drink beers, kickbox and go see theatre and movies (not necessarily in that order).

Now that I write every day, and have projects that have deadlines, even when my lady asks me, "do you want to go to the beach this weekend?" my first thought is - will I have enough pages done by then in order to do that?" and not, "hooray, she's gonna put on a bikini for me!"

Is that messed up or what? A guy must have a screw loose somewhere to be a writer.

Anyway, I'm ranting and obviously, I don't yet have a solution - I keep trying to figure a way to fit in some juijistu lessons I really want to take (I want to learn that shit) in with my current schedule. I had to give up the kickboxing awhile back.

I'll let you know if I figure it out.

Jamespeak said...

For me, having the 9-5 office job actually comes in handy in finding this balance, since I’m fortunate enough to have a job that gives me a lot of downtime (which I often use to write the next play and email the other Nosedivians about business whatnots with the company). I don’t have a significant other (and, frankly, don’t see that changing anytime soon), so that’s something that’s not on my plate.

As for friends, most of my friends (as Philucifer said) are involved with Nosedive, so I end up seeing them while I’m working on the shows.

Right now, we’re involved in a run of a show. So far this week, every night we’ve been dark I’ve gone to see a show (Sheila’s Dead City on Sunday, Adam’s Nerve on Monday, Isaac’s Rapid Response Team last night and your show, Matthew, tonight). It’s simultaneously tiring and invigorating.

When it gets too tiring (which happens every now and again), I recharge my batteries by going home, staying in and watching excruciatingly bad television (the more insipid the better. Like, Jerry Springer bad).

Overall I really don’t think about it too much: this is the life I (we) chose.

Tom Loughlin said...

I'm a juggler - not an especially good one, but I can handle three objects of any size fairly easily and am capable of juggling four balls at once for maybe 30 seconds or so. When I teach juggling, I like to point out to my students that wht they are doing is a physical metaphor for daily living. Essentially, in order to juggle, you are forced to throw one item up in the air and release some control of it for a brief period of time, in order to direct your energies to throwing the other two in such a fashion that, when you finally release them, you can reasonably predict where and when they will land, and be prepared to catch them. The key, of course, is in the release. You'd be surprised how many students simply do not want to release that last ball.

I think one of the keys for the "work/life/art" balance is to allow yourself to release one of them when the time comes, but release it in such a fashion that you can reasonably predict when and where you have to be to pick it back up again as you release the next item. It has to hang in the air, out of your immediate control. Doing this inevitable means you will drop something, as no one can juggle forever. When that happens, it takes a moment to pick it up, inspect for damage, repair or replace if necessary, and continue to juggle.

The cliche "I've got so many thing to juggle in my life" is quite accurate, but seldom do people actually tear apart the process of juggling to see what that means. As for me, since three items is now easy for me to do, I keep it right there. Four if I have to for a short period of time. Don't add more than you can handle, but everyone can handle three with practice. -twl

P'tit Boo said...

I am reading The Right to Write by Julia Cameron and while it's not about playwriting specifically, it's really helping me out right now.
Just thought i'd share.

Kat said...

I came across your site via a wonderful blogger and it is perfect timing. I just spent about 22 hours on a film set doing Stand-In over the last two days. It is now 5am. I have theater rehearsal at 10am this morning. I have no personal life, no real valuable periods of good hearty sleep, no regulary scheduled visits with family...

and scarily...

no desire to change my lifestyle. I think - for some of us - flooding ourselves in our profession any way we can is our balance.

I'd much rather be rushing from set to rehearsal than anything else. Sleep? Who needs it? We have the arts to energize us!