This is what May 8th, 2020 was supposed to look like: I wake up in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Even though I had a show the night before, I get up early so I can explore as much of this city as possible in the 48 hours we’re there. For breakfast, I have my go-to omelette. I’m two months into this contract now, so the chef knows my order by heart. In a case of complete serendipity, one of my best friends from work was assigned the same contract, which is a life-saver when you’re on the road away from your friends and family for so much of the year. I don’t have any shows tonight, so we’re going to see the Russian ballet; we’ve been planning this night since mid-February. In just a couple weeks, my boyfriend will disembark the ship he is working on and we’ll finally get to reunite after 10 weeks apart. We’re both accustomed to life on the road. My birthday is May 31st. I’ll sign off from work the day before in Rotterdam and a group of friends from back home will join me in Amsterdam where we’ll be dumb American tourists for a week, and rely on my Dutch-speaking friends to get around. I thought about taking the rest of the summer off, but I definitely changed my mind by now. I’ll go home for a week before flying to Philadelphia for rehearsal and starting the whole thing over again.
This is what May, 8th, 2020 actually looked like: I wake up and have no idea what day of the week it is. I was sent home two months ago and still can’t figure out how to properly use the coffee machine. I sip my grind-filled mug while checking LinkedIn for job postings. I’ve been crushed by the news that almost all cruises with the lines I perform on are cancelled for the rest of the year, along with all other parades, festivals and large events in my hometown of Boston. That’s a whole summer without performing. Awesome. Similarly, my perfect career, living situation and relationship have all been “suspended until further notice”. My previously mentioned best friend/colleague is working at a grocery store to make ends meet. For the next 7 hours, I’m updating my resume and website, sending in cover letters, combing the internet for online auditions and sending my music to anyone and everyone who will listen. Nobody will listen. I did the same thing yesterday. And the day before. My brother tells me it’s going to snow this weekend in Massachusetts. Awesome.
My phone buzzes; it’s a text message. My high school boyfriend just wants to let me know that he saw the viral Tik-tok of me sans-makeup, playing the melodica — an embarrassing home video that my sister (correctly) figured the internet would find amusing.
As an entertainer, I’ve dodged job applications for the past 7 years. In the world of show biz, you prepare a song, go to your scheduled audition and someone decides whether you’re right for the part. Rinse and repeat. They don’t care where you went to school or your GPA or where you interned. Sure, maybe your past experience and training will get you in the door, but it won’t get you the part. I swear, strangers at the bar are more interested in my Ivy-League degree than anyone at work.The audition hustle certainly isn’t easy, but after a while in the “scene”, stumbling across work becomes less and less challenging. You’re recommended for gigs. You know people who know people. You’re part of the right private Facebook groups.
However, unless you’re down to star in a series of student films shot over Zoom this summer or are one of those closeted trust-fund artists, entertainers really need to come up with some sort of plan B. I’m suddenly grateful my parents encouraged me to study something else in school. Wow, I hate admitting that.
For the first time in my life, I am filling out job applications. My Master’s degree makes me too qualified for most entry-level jobs. My absence of work history unrelated to singing songs disqualifies me from everything else.
1–3 years of experience required? How am I supposed to get experience if I can’t get a job?
$15 an hour? Ok, I would make more on unemployment.
Hey, I think I found one: “Artist Marketing Manager”. 2,067 applicants. Shit.
Suddenly, the post-graduation woes of my friends, which I had previously deemed “dramatic”, start sinking in. I had no idea how frustrating this would be and with unemployment sykrocketing, the process is undoubtedly more difficult than ever. I’m just starting to realize that a few fancy degrees doesn’t instantly get you a job. Or even get you an interview. Neither does a shelf full of pageant crowns. I realize I’ve been out of touch with the real world for a while now. During my short stints home, I couldn’t believe how ignorant my generation was to what was going on in the rest of the world. Now, I can’t believe how ignorant I’ve been to the experience of every millennial in metropolitan America. I’ve been a slightly older version of that pompous kid who just returned from a year studying abroad.
Pandemic or no pandemic, the idea of getting a “real job” is the ultimate heartbreak for performers. We avoid it as long as we possibly can and no matter how practical, realistic or astute it may be, it means giving up a part of the dream and into society’s idea that what we do is not a “real job”. I’m not a household name by any means. You probably wouldn’t recognize any of my songs. I don’t have any huge honors or credits. However, I nestled my way into a well-compensated lifestyle devoid of cooking, cleaning, roommates, bills or having to work more than 3 hours a day. A lifetime of playing piano, initiated by my parents, of course, gave me extraordinary privilege and exemption from the typical struggles of 20-somethings and “real jobs”. Until now.
I’m trying to stay positive and productive. I bury myself in projects, practicing and exercise videos to distract myself from the emotional realities of being heartbroken, unemployed and stir crazy. Last week, I spent several consecutive days editing a music video from 10am until 2am, only to wake up and do it again the next day. I spend hours applying for every audition, job, collaboration and feature that I remotely qualify for. I’m working more hours than I ever did in my entire life. And I don’t even have a job.
But hey, that’s showbiz.