• Jon Jon Johnson

A Quarantine Meditation

Updated: Apr 13

tl;dr Jon Jon's thoughts on theatre.

I've expressed this sentiment to a few people, but I have to say that right now...I don't miss theatre.

I don't miss the constant hustle of the next thing. The next project, the next audition, the next reading, the next class. Theatre is an art-form that reflects life, but all too often it asks us to give up that life in order to perform in theatre.

We have fooled ourselves into creating a culture where if you want a career, you must hustle. This has been perpetuated time and time again by the people before us, and we continue to continue that cycle on the people who come after us. Audition because you need to be seen. Get noticed. Keep in the public eye. Always be closing. Double book yourself for the craft.

And in my paltry 12 year career, it has only once paid my bills. I have grown grey before my time with late nights, fuming over the injustices I have suffered in the name of an artform that has consistently demanded my humanity. I have shed too many tears and pushed my body to the brink for enough theatrical tyrants. I have made concessions of myself, let myself be walked over and abused for shows whose content meant nothing to me save for what little shreds of meaning I could find.

I made myself so small to fit in, and in those spaces I found a way to make myself big and whole again. And making myself big, and heard has cost me friends and work. Every time I put my belief out there in the spirit of self advocacy or in asking for better treatment of my fellow artists I feel like I have put my neck out there, dangling my career on the line as I've begged to be treated like a person. Begged to be treated like an artist and not the canvas or the paint. I have seen directors and stage managers walked over by actors. I have seen stage managers abuse their power.

I have honestly struggled with this in the quaran-times. I have such little desire to perform or do anything theatre related (save for enjoy talents of my friends). Having the hustle taken out from under all of us has been...a surprisingly wonderful respite. After what feels like a decade of pushing for the next job, the next height, the next version of myself...I feel relieved for the first time to just be.

This is a time of contemplation...what do I want from theatre when i return? What do I want from myself and when we get back into those empty theatres?

I think I want American Theatre to change. I want American Theatre to truly treasure its people; its artists and it technicians. We all talk publicly about the shows we've loved and how they made us feel amazing, but we leave out the hardships save in whispers and in quiet conversations with friends.

And I have seen this theatre culture break so many amazing people. Many of my friends are amazing people who come back, licking their wounds and bruised spirits, with eyes hopeful on the next gig. I always go back to the quote from Inara Serra in Firefly:

"When you live with that kind of strength, you get tied to it. You can't break away, and you never want to."

Many of my friends are amazing people who found the strength to walk away. And I respect the hell out of them for it.

To be clear:

I'm not walking away from theatre. This isn't a retirement swansong. Just...I'm amazed at how relieved I am that I'm feeling no pressure to create. It was never a major source of income, so I'm privileged in this way. Perhaps this just means that I'm even more selective in taking work that has more meaning and impact for me. I think I need to find what the heart of my art is, again , as I continue to evolve as a person.

In any case...what are your thoughts, and how has this sudden lack of theatre affected your sense of what theatre means to you?

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Donna Ibale, Executive Director


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