Previously, I told you about the advantages of writing plays in a small town. The increase in time and money are the primary benefits. If you are planning on staying with theater, there are significant downsides to moving away from the city.
Before we begin, I should remind you that my experiences are based on living in a small town (population 18,000) in Alabama. I previously lived in cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Austin. I know what to expect upon arriving to a new location.
I’m sure that my experiences are compounded by the fact that I chose a radical move. I’m originally from Connecticut. If I chose a rural New England town, maybe I would’ve had more success. Certainly, living in a rural town closer to New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles would’ve eased the problem. Nevertheless, I think almost every playwright who moves away from the city will experience these downsides to some extent.
The Big Disconnect
In 2004, my then-agent attempted to discourage me from moving away from New York. When he found out that I was considering Austin, he vehemently argued against it. Moving away from New York was like a demotion. And Austin – in Texas – really?
In the eyes of many theater people, living outside of the large cities – way outside – is a way of acknowledging your amateur status. You become a lesser writer through your location. Clearly, there are many talented playwrights and theater folks in Austin. And I can only imagine the coronary that my former agent would’ve had if he learned that I eventually ended up in Alabama.
You may also have to deal with stereotypes from theater gatekeepers and colleagues. Your small town might be in a red state, for instance. People will have expectations about your politics or your writing based on your mailing address.
I can’t honestly say whether your rural address will hamper the possibilities of being produced in other parts of the country. I expect that there are companies out there that would not be open to working with playwrights from undesirable locations. Whether this policy is explicit or simply understood, I would be surprised if it didn’t exist. I base this assumption on three factors: 1) It has been explained to me in the past that one of the benefits of having an agent is that you can live anywhere, 2) My own experiences as a script reader for several theater companies, and 3) Some of the attitudes theater folks have thrown my way about moving away from the city.
Lack of Community
Prepare to be invisible. The Big Disconnect means a downshift in your desirability career-wise. Networking on a national level is radically different when you live in a small town. Others may think you don’t have anything to offer them, so there’s really no point in getting to know you.
If you move to a small or rural town, you will not have the comradery that exists in the city. You will not be able to discuss theater in the real world. Your small or rural town likely has no actors, directors, set designers or maybe even theater instructors. You may not be able to find people who can read your work back to you in rough form. Not everyone likes theater or wants to be involved in it.
To me, this has been the backbreaker of my life here in Alabama. I’m someone who enjoys her own company; yet, the lack of community is soul-killing. I’ve often wondered if it’s simply a matter of the intense cultural differences. It’s possible. When I left New York in 2004, I had a fledgling theatersphere to fall back on. But then again, I hadn’t yet moved to a small town.
As I mentioned already, the cultural differences I’ve experienced here in Alabama have been limiting factor. In small communities, trust is a major problem. I’ve been here for five years now. After trying various means of connecting with people, I’ve simply come to terms with the limitations of this situation.
Distance and Convenience
If you want to take a break from your small town and attend a concert or go to a museum, it may prove to be a high-priced experience.
When I first moved to Alabama, I thought that living near Nashville, Atlanta, Birmingham, and Huntsville would provide me with ample theater opportunities. For the record, Nashville is two hours away; Atlanta is three hours; and Birmingham/Huntsville are both one-hour from my town. What I didn’t count on was the cost of getting to those places. Alabama has very little in the way of public transportation. I used to commute 100 miles a day, round-trip to get to my job in Birmingham. Driving is costly. Add gas prices to the amount of a theater ticket and you have an expensive night out.
Improving your skills is also problematic when living in a rural area. You will likely have to travel far to attend a playwriting group or class. For example, I wanted to take an acting class in Nashville. While budgeting for the class, I realized that the cost of transportation was more than the price of the class itself.
Like many people actively following an artistic pursuit, you will want to seek out networking and development opportunities. The big question is this: How do you continue to grow and develop your craft while writing plays in a small town? The answer: It is nearly impossible. The only way you can do it is to take online classes or travel great distances. If one of your priorities is to grow as an artist, consider this limitation before making the move.