As some of you will have seen from Facebook, I started a masters degree this week. I enrolled on UCL's MSc in Light and Lighting last Wednesday, lectures started this week and yesterday I picked up one of the course books from the campus branch of Waterstones; I think I can safely say, it's started!
I remember hearing about the course back during my undergraduate degree and thinking, since I was told it was incredibly hard to get into, that I wouldn't even try applying.
6 Years later, with a considerable amount of work experience under my belt and with much more of an idea about what I want to get out of my career, it's perhaps not a surprise that I found myself applying, still nervous about getting in but more confident in my abilities than I have been in a long time.
Some context, perhaps? Over the past year, I've found myself becoming increasingly disillusioned with the world of theatre, especially with regard to pay and opportunity for career advancement. And before you even start to think about saying 'You get out of it what you put in' or similar ludicrous aphorisms that are the mainstays of the most privileged in our industry, I have put 6 years of my life, plus the 3 I spent training, countless 12 hour days, evenings, weekends, spare moments, any time that was available to me, and anything I could think of, into advancing in my chosen field. And although I'm in a better position than I was a year ago, although I can gain recommendations from some very well regarded theatrical colleagues, I still find it so hard to find work that it feels like a constant struggle rather than a career. Having a producer completely screw me over a month before I was supposed to start a 6 month tour was, frankly, the final straw. There have been a few articles recently about the detrimental effects working in theatre can have on one's mental health, and I am not afraid to tell you that my depression and anxiety hit their worst in 10 years at that time.
I have reached the conclusion that, although it was always my dream to work in theatre, it is not for me. This has been an incredibly hard thing to admit to myself but ever since I acknowledged it I have been happier and able to move forward with other ambitions.
I'm not so naive as to think that having a further degree will necessarily guarantee my future career, but the opportunities afforded by being a student at such a well regarded and supportive university, as well as studying further into the subject that really excites me - Light - can only help.
Every new thing I hear about what I'll be studying, every new person I meet, every opportunity I hear about, makes me certain I have made the right decision.
I will continue to work in Theatre for the time-being, enjoying it all the more because I am closer every day to moving on from a career that has caused my mental health to deteriorate, my faith in myself to dwindle daily and my sense of self-worth to plummet.
I want to mention here that I have met some amazing people and fantastic friends whilst working in theatre, and it is with no reflection on them that I make this decision. Indeed, I have had this conversation with several of them who have expressed the same frustrations with this isolating and all consuming industry. Unfortunately, no amount of wonderful people and laughing in the good times can stop the bad times from being crushing. As much as I have enjoyed parts of my work so far, and I honestly wouldn't trade some of the theatre making experiences I've had for anything, I cannot continue knowing that I'm doing so only so I can stubbornly say 'I didn't give up' when it is much better to say 'I gave it my best, now I'm going to try something else'.
I haven't taken the decision lightly but I know it is the right one for me.