Theatre Thought: When passion collides with obsession: taking time out

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“Absence makes the heart grow fonder”. At least, this is what we are led to believe by numerous paperback novels and films about a passionate affair. The distance that we place between our love and ourselves can only truly make that love stronger.

I’ve spoken previously about how taking time out from seeing theatre can only benefit the theatre-lover in the long run, and yet I find myself at that crossroad once again. I’ll do my best not to rehash a lot of what I’ve previously said, but here I am, on a period of leave – although hiding might be appropriate too – from theatre in order to collect myself both mentally and physically. I make it sound far too dramatic (but darling, this is theatre we’re talking about) but I’m taking time out, watching from afar and collecting my thoughts.

A Younger Theatre has grown in popularity and size in the short span of two-and-a-half years to become what you see today. On an average day I’ll get invited to at least three shows – and this is me personally, not taking into consideration the number of shows that go directly to our Reviews Editor. This week alone AYT has been invited to more than 30 shows opening in London. Now I love theatre, it’s my passion, it’s what makes me get up each day, but even with my undeniable love I just can’t see everything, even if I wanted to.

It’s just not about being able to see everything, it’s about a way of life. AYT has been a part of my life for the last three-and-a-half years, first as my personal blog, and more recently as a platform for young people to have their voice in the industry. There’s not a day that doesn’t go by where I’m not thinking or doing something related to it. I’m not complaining, because AYT is not just a hobby or an unpaid job I enjoy, it is a passion. As Maddy Costa recently described at an event we co-hosted at BAC, her love is “an aching pain in her chest”, and this is how I feel towards AYT and theatre. I value it as much as I value my family and friends, and in many ways theatre has become my friend in times of need and despair.

This is where the problem lies. When your love for something becomes your life, your every moment and time, then it borders on obsession. It’s an addiction. But it’s not always a healthy addiction. If I followed up every invite I got in my inbox then I’d never see anything more than the back of someone’s head in front of me at the theatre. I’d no doubt strike up small but insignificant friendships with ushers and box office managers in the hope that they can offer me a moment of friendship and connection. What I’m saying is simple: theatre is my passion, but it can’t be my life too. There have to be borders, I have to define where my theatre passion starts, and where my life, as Jake Orr, begins.

To put it another way: I’m a young 24-year-old gay male. I enjoy theatre, seeing friends, reading, walks by the river, and the cold side of the pillow. (Yes, I’m sure I’ve used that on a dating website somewhere.) I love to hit Soho and enjoy the scenes of gay culture clashing and colliding. I love The Thames and The Southbank during the summer (and winter too with warm hot chocolates to sip). I’m a complete romantic, and I want to share the world with someone. But all of this isn’t possible when that nagging desire to attend the theatre to see this person direct this show, or this famous performer taking to the boards once more, takes over. If I went to every press night, and every show I was invited to, then I think that instead of the romantic Jake of gay clubbing and cold sided pillows, I’d just be Jake/Theatre. I’d be reduced to a shell of who I am.

This is the crisis that I face on a weekly basis. My passion invading my personality and my personal life. Here you might be thinking it’s obvious, why not invite friends and lovers to the theatre, and take the walk along the river before the show and you’ll reach the cold side of the pillow after the theatre itself. Well, yes, I could. But isn’t that just being half-hearted? There has to be a balance.

It’s something that isn’t just unique or troublesome to myself. Every theatre-loving person, or theatre industry person or even theatre critic suffers from this. The balance between their life beyond theatre and their life in theatre. Reading Costa’s interview with Howard Barker yesterday it struck me that here is a man of pure theatrical genius, but his intense artistic endeavours have also left him an isolated and lonely man. I’ve never met him, and you should never judge a book by a cover (or an artist by an interview alone), but it seems to underwrite everything he says – shunning the world for his passions of theatre and painting.

I can’t be that. I can’t let theatre consume me, despite this love inside my chest that aches and tries to burst forth at every given chance. I’m Jake. Jake Orr. I’m so much more than just theatre. (Excuse the melodrama.)

I realise that this has turned into some kind of therapeutic attempt at justifying why I’m taking some time out of seeing theatre at the moment. To condense it, and to do away with the personal intentions, I think it’s healthy to put distance between yourself and your passion. There’ll come that point where you’ll realise that you need to go back and throw yourself into it again, but until that moment comes, I’m enjoying who I am, a gay twenty-something man living in London. I suggest you do the same.