The not for profit theatre is a scrappy, tough, beautiful field to work in.

Personal Information

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NAME

Tony Estrella

JOB TITLE

Artistic Director

LOCATION

Cranston, Rhode Island

COMPANY

Gamm Theater

Career Bio

The profession

The not for profit theatre is a scrappy, tough, beautiful field to work in. You're job is to tell stories that matter to how we live now, bring people together and engage them at the deepest level, personally, politically, socially... It's a privilege and a very difficult place to earn a living. The arts in America are not especially valued. Every day we have to make the case that they matter and that we can't rightly call ourselves a society without them.

How I got here

I started late, not studying seriously until my junior year of college. Then went on to professional conservatory training after graduation. From there it was scrap, scrap, scrap, hustle and make you own work.

A typical day

A typical day of work is more or less 24 hours. Yes, this job even affects my sleep and dreams. Once awake, I read the british papers and NYTimes with my coffee, scoffing up as many reviews of plays etc. as I can. Typically, I'm already answering emails and texts. A typical day includes admin. work, scheduling, budgeting, staff and personnel meetings, as well as teaching, and then finally rehearsal and/or performance. I run the theatre on a day to day basis and am responsible to produce all of our plays most of which I also have a direct role in as an actor, director and sometimes as a playwright.

The hardest parts

Fundraising. Ticket sales only account for about half of our budget. As theatre is a human endeavor, it is expensive to produce. We want to keep prices accessible so we need to be finding funds elsewhere. It's nerve-wracking and hard. There's a lot of us all fighting for the same charitable dollar.

The best parts

Rehearsing and performing. It's the only reason I'm here. Making the play and sharing it with the audience is a high.

The myths of the profession

That it is in anyway glamourous. Sure, performing for an audience can be thrilling and applause is nice but it's often dirty, grimy, hard labor. I still plunge toilets and shovel snow. This is a chief cook and bottle washer job. Only movie stars can avoid the crap parts of the gig. But, down here in the not for profit trenches we have to do a lot go grunt work so the audience doesn't have to.

The workplace

The theatre is a playground and a serious place of business. I wear many costumes, mostly jeans and boots and comfortable casual clothes unless I have formal meets and openings then its suits ties and the occasional tux. Whatever it takes. My desk is a mess and I have to be ten places at once so it's a peripatetic and everyday is a surprise. We have a close knit staff and everybody is expected to pitch in on everything when needed regardless of job description.

Advice for someone thinking about going into the field

If you are looking for fame and fortune, you are a fool. If you are hoping for a comfortable life with 2.3 kids and picket fence, look somewhere else. If you care about the art and need to be a part of it, then welcome.

Advice to my younger self

Get good at improvising.

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