Every Spring, we get invited to speak at a circuit of career day assemblies at local elementary schools. Most of these fairs are held in the school’s gymnasium or lunch room and feature grown-up after grown-up talking dryly about their jobs in finance or law while students try not to fall asleep. Usually crammed between fractions and lunch time, these assemblies seem to be less about helping students find answers to the age-old question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and more about grown-up show and tell. When faced with a room full of kids, every adult wants to look hip, even if they’re talking about accounting.
The good part is that working at a children’s theatre looks like the height of glamour and excitement if you’re still in the fourth grade. When compared side by side with a career as an insurance salesman or a dental hygienist, we look like the bomb. While other vendors give kids free calculators and samples of toothpaste, we do demonstrations of puppetry and fencing! Plus, we give them real pirate gold to take home. I don’t want to brag, but we’re kind of a tough act to follow. Especially if you’re a software engineer and give a Power Point presentation about how to make Power Point presentations.
I imagine that we’re quite annoying to everyone else at the fair. Nicely polished, sensibly-suited professionals come in to speak to students about their work, armed with flow charts that depict the staggering number of years of college you will need to become a pediatric neurosurgeon. All while we make balloon animals and wear silly hats. Take that, rocket science! Why study to be a lawyer when you can just play one on tv?
Our biggest competition at these events is the local petting zoo, which for some inexplicable reason always brings baby alligators to the assembly. Call me crazy, but I consider any reptile that must be contained in a steel cage with a leather strap around its mouth to be an ineligible candidate for a petting zoo, and I would encourage said alligator to seek employment elsewhere. Of course, the kids go crazy over reptiles and the presumably badass park rangers that work with them. I would rather lick a public toilet than pet a baby alligator, but that is just one of the many things that makes me different from a 9-year-old boy.
No matter your position on baby alligators, I think we can all agree that the worst person to be at a fourth-grade job fair is the funeral director. It’s a hard sell, especially when your handout is a pamphlet on grief counseling and your show-and-tell consists of formaldehyde, embalming fluid, and a baby casket.
~ I’d like to take a moment to remind you that this blog is a work of non-fiction and that I’m not making any of this up. These elementary school job fairs actually have baby alligators and baby caskets, and if I ever find out who’s in charge of coordinating these things, I plan on writing a formal complaint. ~
At the end of the assembly, the students have to rank each career from “Most Appealing” to “Least Appealing.” Then they must compare and contrast the answers to four questions in the hopes that they will, at the ripe age of 9, discover their true calling in life based on a systematic matrix of data. Unfortunately, this Q&A session is when the students begin to back away from a sparkling life in children’s theatre with fear and dread in their eyes.
What are the average work hours? Always.
What is the average salary? Hilarious.
What skills are necessary for this profession? Creativity, passion, insomnia, patience, tact, and hot-gluing.
What advice would you offer someone who is interested in pursuing this field? Don’t get a dog.
After all that, dental hygiene starts to look pretty good.
Joking aside, I have to admit that, despite how much I truly love my job, I don’t really consider children’s theatre to be a viable career option for, well, most people. Just like other fairy tale professions (Princess, Cowboy, Mattress Tester), there is no career path or road sign that points directly to “Children’s Theatre Director,” even if you’ve taken the time to get one of those highfalutin MFAs (and believe me, those first two letters don’t stand for “Master” or “Fine”). You can’t travel that route in pursuit of an amazing paycheck, incredible hours, high recognition, glitz, or glamour. Instead, you can only follow your heart down the path that says “I-Believe-I-Can-Make-the-World-a-Better-Place-by-Inspiring-Creativity-in-the-Minds-of-Tomorrow.”
What’s at the end of that path? Stay tuned. 🙂