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I’ve Got Two Jobs

03.02.11 | 6 Comments


CATEGORIES conversation starter, playwrights, rabble rousing, the process, theatrical ecosystem

Only one pays.

You see, I have an MFA in Poetry and when I was in graduate school I knew that said degree wasn’t going to translate into a paying job. Are you kidding? You think playwrights have it rough? Try the world of poetry.
Poets hobble together a living. Some teach at non-tenure positions as adjunct, which means no health insurance, others simply write on the side while they work full time in some other unrelated profession.

And as for a Holy Grail position in poetry, well, I suppose getting tenure at a university teaching poetry might be it. Because you see, there are very few superstars in the world poetry. And I doubt that even they can write poetry full time or live solely off the revenue from their books. Most are professors. And getting published (a poet’s version of a theatre production), well, that doesn’t guarantee that you’ll make money…or that people will buy your book because unfortunately people in this country don’t cram into auditoriums to listen to you read your poems like they did for Neruda.

My poetry peers and I had no delusions when we got our MFAs. This wasn’t a step on the career path to becoming a successful professional poet. We were taking time to hone our craft.

During my last semester in my MFA program I ventured into the genre of playwriting. After six years I now think of myself as a playwright first and a poet second. So, am I going back to get an MFA in playwriting? No. I have enough student loans to pay off thank you very much.

But, wait, this post was about my two jobs.

Last this week Gwydion wrote about his work arrangement which allows him to work only 25 hours a week. That’s pretty much my ideal situation. I’d love to work from home and only focus on, say, the social media aspect of my current 9 to 5 job.

But my reality, for the moment, is that I work a 9 to 5 job. Which I need to do in order to pay the rent, the bills, the student loans and cover whatever else might come up living in a city like San Francisco. It’s that “dreaded Pro-Am designation” David mentioned. Though I do choose to work a 9 to 5 job, it’s not because I don’t feel a need to pursue a professional life in the arts. It’s just that I have to pursue it and still somehow have money to live.

So maybe you’ve guessed what my other job is. It’s playwriting. For the most part playwriting doesn’t pay me. It does on occasion, but at the moment it doesn’t pay me regularly.

Yes, it is hard to balance my life, a full time job and playwriting. Yes, there are weeks, like last week, when it feels like my brain is melting-melting-melting and I can’t summon the energy at the end of a long day to jump back into rewrites. Yes, it’s not ideal.

But I am working hard at playwriting. And I am trying to pursue a professional life in the arts. One might argue that it doesn’t look that way from the outside. But I’ve come to accept that my career may not look like other people’s careers. But why should it? Some playwrights have careers that take off right away, other toil for years before being recognized nationally (I know a few).

So I’ll keep toiling away. Because I love writing. It’s who I am.

Marisela Treviño Orta

Marisela Treviño Orta

Playwright and poet Marisela Treviño Orta has an M.F.A. in Writing from the University of San Francisco.Marisela’s plays include: American Triage (commissioned by Marin Theatre Company, 2007 MTC Nu Werkz new play reading series, 2008 MTC workshop production, 2011 East LA Rep reading series, 2012 Repertorio Español Nuestras Voces Finalist); Heart Shaped Nebula (2011 Playwrights Foundation Resident Playwrights Showcase, 2011 Impact Theatre reading series, 2012 O’Neill National Playwrights Conference Semi-Finalist), The River Bride (2013 National Latino Playwriting Award co-winner);and Woman on Fire (2006 Primer Pasos: Un Festival de Latino Plays, 2007 full-length commission by the Latino Playwrights Initiative, 2007 Bay Area Playwrights Festival BASH, 2008 Playwrights Foundation’s Rough reading series, 2012 Teatro Luna Lunadas reading series).

Marisela is an alumna of the Playwrights Foundation’s Resident Playwright Initiative, a former member of Playground’s writers pool and a member of the Bay Area Latino Theatre Artists Network. Currently Marisela is working on two new plays: Wolf at the Door and Alcira.
Marisela Treviño Orta

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  • Kate Foy

    Hang in there! Not sureif this is comfort, but Ibsen proclaimed he was a ‘poet’ not a ‘playwright’ – which, along with stage managing, paid the bills. You’re in good company! Best wishes.

    • Thanks, Kate. I’m all about hanging in there. I often take comfort in something Adam Szymkowicz once wrote to young playwrights starting out: it can take 10 years before you see any movement. I’m at the halfway point.

  • Great post, Marisela! I support myself, so without question I need a full-time job. I totally identify with “I’ve come to accept that my career may not look like other people’s careers.” Theatre has to fit into MY life, not the other way around, these days. I think 10 years ago I would not have said that. Luckily I live in DC and there’s lots of opportunities–not to mention a lot of folks living their lives like I do. Cheers to you!

    • Thanks, Toni. I feel lucky too being in SF, there’s a truly supportive playwriting community here that I’m a part of and lots of great theater as well. Best of luck to you as well!

  • You are very much not alone. I, too, have a master’s degree in poetry (an M.A. from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins), but ended up writing plays instead. I encourage you to find ways to convince your 9-to-5 employer to scale your job back even a little bit to give you more time to write. Even 35 hours/week, rather than 40, would mean an extra hour a day to write. That’s the first bargain I made, many years ago, and it got me where I am today.

    • Hello Gwydion, yes, it seems there are quite a few of us poets who ended up in playwriting. I got my MFA here at the University of San Francisco. Thanks, for the advice on how to shorten my work hours. I’m hopeful that sometime in the future I can make that move to fewer hours.


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