Two and a half months have passed since the monkey relocated to San Francisco. The search for employment continues. The intention was to change my means of employment—to stop relying on theatre for my income. It seems the universe has other ideas.
MONKEY BUSINESS by Tony Asaro (Composer/Librettist)
Ask anyone looking for work right now: it’s rough. If you have a job, I suggest you keep it. I had a job. Actually, I had many. All at once. In New York, I was a freelance artist and arts educator. I cobbled together a decent living from teaching kids voice lessons, teaching grad students and elementary school students lyric writing, singing in a church, conducting a community chorus, assisting a famous playwright/director in his office, assisting a famous composer/librettist in rehearsal. My resume is eclectic.
While these jobs were never lucrative, I did always manage to put food on my table. Well, almost always. Paychecks were inconsistent, both in terms of frequency, and in terms of amount. When you’re a freelancer, inconsistent pay is part of the game.
There were definitely benefits to the freelance life: my schedule was my own, and it changed every day. I liked the variety. Also, I often worked after school or at night, so my days were free to run errands, or go to yoga, or watch episodes of 30 Rock online. Oh, and write.
I was in NYC to write, and while these little arts jobs didn’t provide me with wealth, they did provided me with ample time to write. It was a great set up...or so I thought. While this was ostensibly true, I couldn’t deny the experience of my friends who were holding down 9-5 jobs AND still finding time to write award-winning shows. Each time I would ask them about their dual existence, I expected stories of exhaustion and apathy for their day job. Instead, I usually found them to be content with their situations. They were somehow able to make it work, AND had a regular pay check and health benefits.
So, after five years, the bohemian artist life—complete with the phone calls to credit card companies, and the wishing I could go to <insert event or trip here>, or the many bowls of generic raisin bran standing in for a full meal—I decided it was no longer charming. When I made up my mind to leave NYC, I decided to leave the freelance life behind as well.
Upon moving back, I had lined up a few summer camps to teach. I really wanted to distance myself from the world of teaching kids to sing, but it’s what I know well, and it was a way to turn a quick buck while I looked for other work.
I started scouring the internet for jobs that might match my experience and my interest. You know how many I found?!
Right. There’s not a lot out there for theatre enthusiasts. There are, of course, jobs in educational theatre. There are college theatre departments, high school choral director jobs, etc. But these positions did not seem to be open. As a general rule, people in the Bay Area that have good paying jobs in theatre in academia tend to keep them. (You basically have to wait for someone to die.)
So I started looking in other fields: Marketing. Sales. Publishing. I sent some applications out. And you know what? After 10 years of dedicating my life to the performing arts, I found myself to be a pretty underwhelming candidate. Yes, I have a masters degree from prestigious NYU, but somehow my resume, consisting of “theatre theatre theatre theatre” trumps that three letter acronym. At least I’m guessing that’s why I never heard back from these places.
I have a friend, a friend through the theatre, who after years with Wicked (the tour and Broadway) settled in San Francisco and got an office job with Pixar Studios. Pixar is located right across the Bay in Emeryville. I had been speaking with him about his career change, and he couldn’t be happier with his current job. He doesn’t miss theatre at all, and he loves both the work culture, and the actual job.
I thought, “This is it! A desk job where I’ll be contributing to storytelling!!! It’s a dream come true!”
Pixar is the fablemaker of our time. They are our Brothers Grimm, our Mother Goose, our Aesop. Their stories speak directly to adults and children equally about the world that exists today. They take strong, progressive positions on social issues. Their movies incite laughter, tears, and squeals of delight. I have always been a big fan of their work.
I asked my friend about the possibility of working there. He said he thought I’d be a great fit. I found a job opening on their website in their Production Management department, and I applied. My friend contacted Human Resources and put in a recommendation for me. The following week, my friend suggested I come meet him for lunch on the Pixar campus. Maybe I’d meet some of the folks from the Production Management department.
It was literally on the BART train over to Pixar that I received this email:
Despite my rejection, the Pixar campus was still intoxicating. I did my best to seem disinterested, but I failed in about 20 seconds. My jaw found it pretty hard not to drop as I sat in the waiting area—NEXT TO THE GIANT TROPHY CASE WITH THEIR OSCARS, AND GRAMMYS, AND PEOPLES CHOICE AWARDS, AND KIDS CHOICE AWARDS, AND…
I couldn’t believe how cool it was—it was like an office and a theme park and a resort all rolled into one. It’s one of these Bay Area company models like Google and Apple: they don’t ever want you to leave the office, so they bring everything to the office: meals, drinks, the gym, massages, kickball. Everyone is dressed casually. Everyone looks happy. Oh, and did I mention that there is a GIANT TROPHY CASE WITH ALL OF THEIR AWARDS. And there is art based on their films everywhere. From giant paintings to huge sculptures, to Buzz and Woody made from Legos. Oh, and the food in the cafeteria was delicious.
I wanted to work there.
Relatively soon after our lunch, my friend contacted me to say that there was a temp opening IN HIS DEPARTMENT! And temps often get hired full-time. Schedule-wise, it timed out perfectly. The temp position was for the end of August, and I had work through the middle of August. This was it! The big break.
I was scheduled for an interview. Pixar is particular. For a two-week temp job, I had to interview with two people. But, it was the most fun interview I have ever had. I got to answer all kinds of fun questions. I felt charming, and surprisingly well qualified. The job was going to require some audio production, and they seemed to like that I had audio software experience.
I aced it. I was confident. And I was wrong. A few days later, I got this email:
Again, Wah Wah.
But, simultaneous to this, the kids from the camp I was teaching started contacting me about the possibility of teaching private voice lessons. And the theatre company that was sponsoring the camps told me that they would let me rent their space really cheaply out of which I could teach. And my alma mater, Santa Clara University, wants me to teach private song writing lessons.
And I have a second interview today for an after school choir director position at a private high school in San Francisco that would be three days a week.
It looks like I’ll be falling back on what I know, at least this fall. I’ll be freelancing yet again. At least for now, this is what the universe seems to be offering to me. Frankly, I just want to pay my bills, so I will accept.
TONY ASARO is a composer/librettist currently working on various musical theatre and opera projects including the award winning Our Country. To learn more about Tony's writing, please visit unrelentingmonkey.com. NEVER STOP SWINGING!