You know that moment just past the point of sanity where words start to lose meaning? Like if you were to say the word ‘avocado’ fifty times in a row and the letters began to mash together into some sort of sad, word guacamole. Or if you’ve ever stared at yourself in the mirror until the shape of your face ceases to make sense and it slowly becomes an amorphous puddle in your mind. That mental space, that fuzzy little spot where what was once incredibly familiar devolves into a goopy mess of white noise and dancing teddy bears, that is where you will find the essence of what it is to be a swing in a long running production.
For the civilians: A swing is a member of the cast (yes, Carol, they are actually a member of the cast) that is offstage most nights, but can, at any point in time, step in for most of the actors onstage. For example, one time in Austin two of our actors got stuck in an elevator half way through the show, and I had to jump onstage wearing my street clothes and a plucky attitude.
Before I go too far, I don’t mean to bag on being a swing. I’ve been a swing on the Waitress tour for almost a year and I was an offstage cover for In Transit on Broadway as well. It’s a wonderful job and I’m blessed to have it. In many ways it’s one of the more secure gigs in the industry because you’re the only one that knows ALL. OF. THE. THINGS. That being said, there is definitely a level of insanity that sets in when you’re sitting offstage most nights. We literally hear the same words hundreds, if not thousand of times, without the benefit of performing along to them.
Every week you find yourself in a different windowless room for hours on end, only vaguely sure of what state you’re in (geographically or emotionally). And yes...there are so many mirrors; just an ungodly amount of mirrors; everywhere you look...your own face, staring right back at you. If you don’t keep yourself productive, it’s really easy to lose a grip on reality, not to mention what sent you on this journey to begin with. Your career.
My career. What is my career? That’s a great question, Carol. Part of the answer to that is, “I don’t know, I’m hurtling blindly into the abyss. Can I get anyone a Fanta?” Another part of the answer would be that I’ve been on Broadway and I’ve toured, so things are going well and I’m working at a high level. Somewhere in between those two parts, however, lies that elusive sliver where I’m surviving, and creating a plan for the future; I’m setting myself up for better roles and decidedly less abyss. It’s also in that narrow patch of light that I get to keep my sanity, because it’s in figuring out a way to plan for the future that I also get to keep myself productive.
At the beginning of this contract I took one of my songs and decided to put together a music video for it. It’s called Antarctica. Check it out in all of its DIY, stop motion glory. I know what you’re thinking, Carol. Making a music video isn’t a plan for the future. In a way you’re right. In and of itself, no singular creative pursuit is a plan for the future.
However, signing myself up for the act of creation is definitely a plan for the future. That sounds like hippie nonsense but what I’m saying is that, in a measurable way, consistently creating art makes the art I create better; makes people see me as someone who creates and as someone to create with; reminds me that I am a creative person; and takes away the some of the pressure surrounding each artistic opportunity that comes my way, because it isn’t the only place where I get to use that part of my soul.
Of course the idea of creation is always easier than the actual act of creation. The blinking cursor can have a similar effect as staring in the mirror or repeating avocado. Brain mush. I have found though that scheduling the art in like I would any other job seems to be the key; it’s the consistency and structure of it that make it less paralyzing.
Now, obviously, first I have to learn all the parts I’m tasked with; doing the job I have professionally is the most important thing. I make sure to to schedule in some weekly maintenance time. Then I break up the rest of the schedule into small chunks of art. I found that giving myself a two-hour slot to work on the musical I’ve been writing, then switching it up with a couple of hours doing something more active, like filming the series of cover videos I’ve been putting out with my cast mates.
Side note: It’s really amazing to be on tour with an astonishingly talented group of singers who have most of their mornings free. If you want to check out the series, it’s called Ditty in the City.
Anyway, switching up tasks keeps my brain moving in different directions. I’m also really liberal with the amount of chill time I give myself. I’ve burned out too many times trying to schedule out every second of the day with something productive. I schedule in time for Netflix, brunch with friends, a long bath, etc. but I’m diligent about jumping back into the good stuff when the clock says it’s time.
Lastly, I know it sounds nerdy, and is in practice actually nerdy, but using spreadsheets to schedule out tasks so much mental effort off your shoulders. It’s like a regular old ‘to do’ list, but you can break up all of the items into different categories, so you can make sure that you’re taking care of all of your projects equally. Occasionally, I go full type A and color code my to-do spreadsheet to match the level of immediacy of each task. (slides glasses back up nose and sips on herbal tea)
I would imagine that everybody’s brain works differently, requires different amounts of structure, with varied ways of recuperating. The lesson I’ve learned though, is the importance of having something creative to work toward and keeping yourself honest with it. It’s the only way to stave off the brain mush. It’s also a killer opportunity to head back into the city with a good amount of money, some great material, and a bunch of momentum. Nothing wrong with that, Carol.