Working in Theater and Film: James Creque Pities the Fool

So you're a theater and film professional. That's a bit vague — what do you do?

I'm always a bit cagey when trying to explain my job situation.  For the last three years I've worked steadily in the production department of The Public Theater in NYC.  I have a degree in Theatre and Dance (mostly theatre) and most of my professional income has been generated by working on the production end of various theatre and film projects.  I act when I can and play poker from time to time, but my reliable income has come from being a freelance stage hand, stage manager, stage production manager, film production manager, electrician, and on and on.  When I'm not working on a project I'm getting paid for, I occasionally spend that money working on short film projects.

Does that career come with health care?

Health care.  I'm not familiar with this 'health care' of which you speak.  So far my plan has been to not get sick or,   as a predominantly freelance hourly worker, to go to work when sick anyways.  It's worked well so far, but then I have great genes (thanks mom and dad!).  My intermittent research into health care costs have shown them to be far too high a proportion of my income for the time being, but I'll keep checking.  I haven't been health insured for   several years and I'm 30 now, so it's all downhill from here.

What kind of credentials are required?

As with many professions, when it comes to getting a gig it's been less about what I can show I've learned and more about making a good impression on potential employers, doing good work, and networking from there.  I started doing more theatre and in the last few years have gotten more into film work and I've had a lot more success getting hired by people I've worked for or with than by submitting my resume.  I've found that how much you've been working is generally more valuable on your resume than where you've gone to school.

Tell me about your last film project.

I've got a short film script I'm inching along into a screenplay at the moment.  I kind of hate writing, except that I love seeing ideas manifested.  It's kind of like hating cooking and loving eating, only I actually really enjoy cooking.  I'm just more of a doer than a planner, I suppose.  I produced a short film last summer called Coin Artist, an adaptation of a short story by Harlan Ellison.  It's fallen to the back burner while trying to negotiate the final edit with the director because our schedules have had very little overlap, but the end is in sight.  Then it'll be off to festivals, worldwide critical acclaim, fame and fortune.  The short film racket is a great cash cow. Like selling t-shirts.

And what do you do for the theater?

At The Public I'm part of the Production team whose mandate is to take the available personnel and resources and use them to facilitate the needs of the Lighting, Sound, Costuming, Scenery, etc. department on a play by play basis. The big thing we do every year is the Shakespeare In The Park which is the free top notch Shakespeare performed in Central Park every summer.

So which is it for you, film or theatre?

It's both, of course.  Theatre is a more personal communicative experience.  It's there in a room and then it's gone, every performance unique.  Alternatively you can share film more readily with a vastly wider audience.  I really enjoy directing plays, nearly as much as I enjoy acting.  You get to play with people and to use them to make your ideas and interpretations come alive.  It's odd relinquishing that control when it's time to show the work to an  audience though.  I think the difference between film and theatre is that in film you do essentially do a series of rehearsals that an editor later cuts into a performance for an audience, but in theatre it's all about getting an audience-ready performance together.  I'm always struggling to negotiate the creative versus the production side of my career, mostly because it's far easier to earn a living wage by doing production work.

What's next?

Well I just finished a fairly lucrative three week stint working for a lighting company during this latest Fashion Week which has bolstered my finances enough to pay off my Visa card and put me in the black a bit.  Naturally I have little choice but to get back in the red by finishing up Coin Artist.

Any advice for readers who are thinking about a career in film or theater?

It's really a career path where you can't gauge your success by numbers.  The best case scenario is that you're part of a brilliantly written, produced, and performed piece of work that speaks to everyone in the world that everybody sees that makes you rich, but the gulf between that ideal and not getting anything of merit done at all is vast and deep and skews largely towards the latter.  And despite each of us rightly knowing we are the geniusest, it's very difficult to do a project of any significant scale without collaborating with other people who also will have their own genius to impart.  There will be overlap, but no one will get everything exactly the way they want it and the audience's reception is always the ultimate judge anyway.  The product you make is not actually for your own use and when it's ready, that project will be over.  Perhaps unique to theater and film is that as soon as  you get really good at a project, you stop doing it and move on the next one.  And there's always a next one.  All you can do is keep the quality of your work high and keep learning and networking.