When I was nearing 18, I attended a conference where a panel of three renowned opera directors spoke about their careers. One started as a choral singer and moved through music direction to stage direction. Full of inspiration that I could have such a position one day, I approached him timidly and asked :
“I want to be a singer and a director. Is it possible to do both?”
No, was his immediate and curt answer. You’ll need to choose. Once you’re seen in one position you’ll never be seen in the other.
I left disheartened and choosing to leave any such choice to fate (hoping that fate would prove him wrong). I allowed every rejection I got on one side to sway me to the other. If I didn’t get a role but was offered a choreography job, it was a sign. If a directing internship didn’t come through, I’d delve into my singing practice. Constantly hopping from the downward sways of one career to the upward sways of another, I was constantly moving forward and seemingly full of motivation. Whenever one side got too stressful, I could hide by pursuing a different dream until I was ready again.
My bios are a testament to my (remarkably interdisciplinary experiences yet the) clear choice to never choose. During my undergrad I divided my time between two departments. My graduate TAship was split between two departments. When people ask me what I do, I have to pause. [what am I doing right now? what title would make the most sense to this person? Musician, actor, director, accompanist, dancer, teacher, administrator, advisor….”artist,” “interdisciplinarian,” “performing-teacher”]
For the most part, this is an incredibly good thing. It leads to phrases like “I can do that for you” and “I can always do both.” It keeps me constantly employed as a freelancer and stops me from being bored.
But what happens when being free from boredom means never honing one of these skills to its greatest extent? What if I’m constantly allowing myself to tell actors I’m really a musician and tell musicians that I’m really an actor or an acrobat or a director? What if I keep myself from the peak of one hill by avoiding its valleys?
This comes to the fore as I consider the upcoming year. I currently work six jobs. (Another bi-product of saying yes to all disciplines.) All six jobs will be asking for more time in the fall. As I ponder and consider and make lists and sway back and forth, I realize that I don’t have a choice to make between these positions. I have a choice to make about my “path,” and this time fate isn’t going to do it for me.
The answer to the question posed by my 18 year old self (dearest nameless opera director) wasn’t “no.” You most certainly can do both. You can do more than both. But I think I was asking the wrong question. Perhaps he heard the smaller voice saying “why do I want to keep both options open?” And his response was for myself today; If you constantly see yourself as two different things, will you ever see yourself as an undivided being?