Does anybody know what they want to do anymore? Are there any people that fall into their ideal jobs, the vocations that they’ve trained for – with their ideal starter salaries, their Charlie Church starter homes thrown in? Cut to a sequence from Mad Men: Don Draper gets just what he wants, where and when he wants it.
Or is everyone not living in the 1960s, like me, standing at the edge of a graduate precipice and waiting to jump into the black (certainly not the financial kind) and the unknown? I more and more frequently find myself teetering blindly on the edge of ominous unemployment, mental dissatisfaction and the consequential depression that seems to have afflicted, at some point in their first year out of university, every graduate from the class above me.
It’s very rare amongst my peers for anyone to respond to the question, “What are you going to do after the summer?” with anything other than “Don’t ask.” Heaven forbid that an English graduate goes straight into publishing, or worse, teaching.
Perhaps it’s what newspapers dub “the climate” in that nebulous industry we call The Arts – cut funding, fewer jobs, unpaid internships: the same old story – that leads to the twenty-somethings either being offered occasional work in the field of their choosing – research on one documentary, an assistant directorship somewhere, the odd press ticket, the intermittent commission – but never anything of any stability. Odds are, those who are truly determined to remain “artistic” have to hold down another, perhaps more menial, job so that they can at least eat – even if it is Everyday Value pasta and pesto, again.
I’m not sure whether this phenomenon is new, or even particularly bad, as it implies that the world of theatre is less geared toward nepotism (though this is difficult to argue), that music is becoming a socialist medium and, remarkably, that war orphans from Sierra Leone can become ballet stars. The lack of funding partly clears the way for the most passionate to graft through the mass of connected people to be able to cling, desperately, to some ledge of creative enterprise.
Don’t think that I’m condoning the funding cuts – God forbid, if any more is cut, even the cornerstones that are the National, the Beeb and the RSC will feel the pinch and the very fabric of British art will crumble. The cuts to fringe and Off-West End establishments in the theatre industry alone are of unacceptable ferocity, and we have to hope and vote that the current Government see the error of their ways. Maybe that will happen. Maybe not.
What I think I’m trying to say – and I think most of this could be to console myself about my own future – is that the very idea of not knowing exactly what I’ll be doing come Autumn is an exciting and a challenging prospect. A bit of writing here and there, plays and performing, as well as keeping myself going with a tutoring job. I might even sing at some weddings – you never know, that American Standards anthology might just come in handy.
The hard work that I – and thousands of other individuals – will have to ride will just make the view from the plateau on the other side of 25 (internships) all the more worth the wait.