What Did I Just Sign Up For?
–A Vocational Journey by Lindsey Oetken, Simpson College ’12
A 2 minute audition was all it took to get the job. 2 minutes was all it took to accept the job.
As I was chopping vegetables to throw into the meal I was cooking, the vibrations from my cell phone ringing on the dining room table startled me. The number on the screen was unfamiliar, and I answered.
“This is Victoria from the Missoula Children’s Theatre, and we would like to offer you a 12 month contract as a Tour Actor / Director. Are you still interested in this position?”
Calmly, I hear myself reply, “Why yes, I am definitely still interested.”
“Great! How long do you need to think about it?”
“Actually, I have been thinking about it a lot, and I’d like to accept the full year.”
“Great! We’ll send you an email with the first information you need in the next few days. Welcome aboard!”
Wait, WHAT? I stood there watching my soup bubbling for a minute or two while my brain caught up with what just happening. Did I really sign my life away for the next year? A true out of body experience, I had answered without even taking pause — normally not my style, aka worrying and examining, poking and prodding and researching until the idea is dead and I felt safe with the option. Nothing about this felt safe. Yet, it felt right. What did I just sign up for?
The information rolled in through my email… here is the paperwork you need to get back to us… contract, personality quizzes, what is your address? and your address again? and once again your address and birthday… Ah! you are assigned Red Riding Hood! Yes, I’m playing Red Riding Hood! Wait, no I’m not. I’m playing the Big Bad Wolf. ME? Cute little ingenue Lindsey, playing BBW? What did I get myself into? Oh, Ok. And my partner’s name is Ashraf. What’s an Ashraf? Ok Facebook stalking… Oh he just graduated from conservatory. He is huge with crazy fun curly hair and kind eyes. I hope we don’t hate each other. The script! Yay! The script arrived! Oh… the whole first page is a Big Bad Wolf monologue… What did I get myself into?
FAST FORWARD. One month later, I’m standing in a small airport in Missoula, Montana where the taxidermy animals outnumber the people. Less than 12 hours ago we had just finished up packing up all my belongings from my apartment in West St. Paul, smashed it all, miraculously, into a small UHaul trailer, my dad’s truck, and my car. Less than 7 hours earlier, I said goodbye to Kelly, my roommate for the last 7 years. We were partnered as roommates our first year of college at Simpson and have lived together ever since. Somehow, we still weren’t sick of each other, but it was time for a new chapter in my life. It was bittersweet. Beautiful and terrifying all at once. I’m shaking the hand of the men who are picking a group of us up from the airport and taking us to the hotel, where all the new Tour Actor Directors, also referred to as TADs, are gathering for training.
Everyone at training is so nice. Each day I learn more and more about what this job is and why it is important. Two weeks to learn all the blocking for all characters in the show. A healthy amount of fear is instilled about not crashing your new home for the next year — a red Ford F150 or “the Little Red Truck” as it is nicknamed by the company. Have you ever seen a Ford F150? Not so little, really. I learn how to teach the “Missoula” way. I learn all the things a TAD is NOT supposed to do. I learn all the basics on how to be successful at this job. In 2 weeks. For me, it was like being back in college again. You are training from 9:00 in the morning to 9:30 in the evening. Your intellectual, social, and emotional parts of your brain are tested. It was difficult for everyone to adjust to the strenuous schedule and to the idea that after this it was just you and your partner doing the job, with no one looking over your shoulder. For me, I’d been out of school for 3 years, and while I was used to working long, hard hours, it was a different kind of learning and stress than what I have been dealing with the last few years.
Before we could even blink, this stranger, Ashraf, whom I’ve only known for 2 weeks, and I pack all of the equipment we need to put on an hour long musical with 64 kids into our Little Red Truck for a 37 hour drive from Missoula, MT to Ocala, FL.
And so it began. The first week on the road was rough. Despite the intensive 2 week training, I didn’t feel wholly prepared and was very nervous. This could be this group of children’s one and only chance to do theater all year, and I didn’t want to be the one to ruin it because I’m fresh meat. Now, luckily, MCT doesn’t just throw you to the sharks completely. We had a lovely woman work with us the whole week as our on the road trainer. A former TAD, it was her job now to help us work through the daily grind, and apply what we learned in training to real life. Having her there was so important to my personal learning experience. She not only helped us field some difficult situations in a professional manner, but also helped to build up our confidence about our new, difficult and exhilarating job.
The next 10 weeks were all structured the same, but no two weeks were ever alike. Every Monday we would audition a large group of children. Using specific exercises created to challenge and showcase children’s theatrical abilities, we chose which child was best for what part and heartbreaking though it is, which child maybe isn’t ready for this experience at all. Up to 64 children are cast in Red Riding Hood. After auditions, we jump right in that same day to the first set of rehearsals. We split up the cast into certain groups and teach them the entire show in one day, gradually adding in new groups and teaching them over the next few days while simultaneously reviewing what the other groups learned on the first day. Midweek the piano accompaniment is added and the big picture starts to reveal itself. Friday or Saturday brings show time! Costumes and makeup are added in and voila, a full-length children’s musical in one week!
Each week brings different challenges. Each town has different levels of exposure to the arts, different socio-economical backgrounds, and behavioral standards. We worked on military bases, in small tight-knit rural communities, in bigger theaters that had money to spare. The key to this job is flexibility, patience, problem solving, and a well-rounded background of knowledge in theater. You are working with children with disabilities,
children who don’t know how to read, children with exceptional abilities. You are also working with the adults who run the
organization who bring you in as well as the children’s guardians. On top of that you also teach workshops, put up the set,
wash and organize all of the costumes, and then pack it all back up into your Little Red Truck. Sunday you drive to the next location and start all over again. On top of ALL of that you have to live and work with one other person, your tour partner, for almost every hour you are awake. I’m super lucky — my tour partner is not only a talented actor and director, but he is an awesome friend. I’d hop in a truck with him and tour the country any day of the week! I for one am thankful for my liberal arts education for giving me a rounded skillset and for my time working in customer service outside of college for teaching me patience, communication, and problem solving skills. I could never do this job without either of those things.
I have a crazy, at times weird, and incredibly rewarding job. Not only do I get to see different areas of the US, as well as make connections with all types of people, I also get to be immersed in theater 24-7, expose children to arts experiences they never would’ve had without us being there.