One Question Quiz
Should I stay or should I go? (Image: Tina Tiller)
Should I stay or should I go? (Image: Tina Tiller)

SocietyApril 4, 2024

Help Me Hera: Should I make theatre in France for the worst people in the world?

Should I stay or should I go? (Image: Tina Tiller)
Should I stay or should I go? (Image: Tina Tiller)

I can’t make up my mind and it’s killing me.

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Help me, Hera!

I am a 24-year-old female whose frontal cortex is almost fully formed, which I thought would be a good thing.

I did not know that it would make decision-making unbearable. I am now left paralysed by the endless consequences of making a cucumber sandwich. 

Two weeks ago, I was accepted into a prestigious theatre/mime school in Europe. It has been my dream to go to this school for years. I wanted to go because I loved the ideology of the school and it would give me more sophisticated tools and language to make my own work. It would give me a huge point of difference as an actor and writer. I would delete Instagram and go feral in Provence for two years. Ooh la la. I could get a grant and fall in love with a tall man with an aquiline nose.

Right before I was accepted, I decided that I didn’t want to go anymore. It felt like a colossal waste of time and money, and maybe it was a better idea to move out of my parent’s house in the suburbs and live in the city again, where I’d have community and potential paid gigs. It could be an opportunity to build a strong foundation, so I could travel and feel the freedom to change my mind about what I want to do and where I want to be in the world. I also love telling stories that are harrowingly honest and human. More so than the avant-garde. I also love shopping. I love walking around cities wearing beautiful shoes, and I fear that if I were an international student for two years with no access to any financial aid, I would miss the thing I love the most. Glamour. 

If I stay on familiar turf, I might remain a yappy cartoon dilettante forever, telling confessional stories about break-ups and lip gloss, playing Stella Kowalski until the cows come home. 

If I run away to France, I might become so obnoxious and sophisticated that I can only make theatre for people with waxed moustaches and monocles, AKA the worst people in the world. 

I have to keep deleting sentences because I could add 1000 more pros and cons for each option. 

I have 3 weeks to make a decision and every single day I change my mind. 

Do I sell all of my handbags and go? Do I move back to the city and finally get the kitten named Mr. President that I’ve been wanting forever? Do I flip a coin?

How do I do anything anymore, Hera? It all feels so grave. 


Painfully Undecided

A line of fluorescent green card suit symbols – hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades

Dear PU,

First of all, a hearty bonjour to you. 

It’s not often in my professional capacity that I get to recommend to someone they move to France to undertake mime training, but it makes a nice change from telling people to leave their unhappy relationships. 

There will be some people who read your letter and roll their eyes at the privilege of your dilemma. It seems like a problem straight out of Madame Bovary. And yet, while nobody in their right mind would describe a prestigious arts education as either a rock or a hard place, what to do with your life is a serious problem worthy of deep consideration.

My strong feeling upon reading your letter is that you want to go to France, but you’re afraid. I think being accepted into the program of your dreams has spooked you, and as the reality of the situation has set in, you’ve started to get cold feet. This is perfectly natural and exactly as it should be.  

I wonder if your reluctance to go is a way of delaying having to make any life-altering decisions. When you’re young, the fear of getting things wrong can be paralysing. If you stay, you get to hold onto that youthful feeling of infinite opportunity just a little longer. But that feeling is an illusion. Moving to the city to invest in high heels is just as permanent and life-defining as pretending to lift heavy suitcases in France, or whatever it is mimes get up to. 

I always feel nervous when writing this column, because I hate the idea my advice could colossally fuck up someone’s life. What if I tell you to move to France, and you’re immediately thrown from horseback and spend the next three years undergoing extensive rehabilitative physiotherapy? But there have been many times in my life when I’ve needed a little encouragement to do what I was unconsciously planning to do all along. 

I think it might help you to accept there is no perfect decision. There’s no point agonising over getting things wrong because getting things wrong is inevitable and an important rite of passage for anyone wanting to make art. Maybe you’ll be thrown off the back of a horse. But there are horses everywhere, and some of them are bastards. All you can do is make the best guess based on the limited information available to you. So let’s take a look at the information. 

Reason not to go: you could move out of your parent’s house and move to the city, to find community instead.

Response: moving to a theatre school in France is an excellent way of leaving your parent’s house and finding community. Perhaps, dare I say it, even better. There’s nothing that brings people together like an exclusive and gruelling education in a foreign country. 

Reason not to go: you want to stay at home to have the freedom to travel, and to change your mind.

Counterpoint: if moving to France doesn’t count as travelling, I don’t know what does. As for changing your mind, you can always drop out, but you might not have another chance to attend this school. 

Reason not to go: you want to tell stories that are honest and human, rather than avant-garde.

Counterpoint: I’m no theatrical genius, but the two don’t seem mutually exclusive. Maybe you’ll decide this kind of theatre ultimately isn’t for you, but you can’t say Samuel Beckett didn’t have some honest and profound insights into the human condition.

I would also like to add that moving to France isn’t fundamentally at odds with wearing beautiful shoes in a glamorous city. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the entire point of France. 

As for the waste of money and time. If time can be wasted, it can be wasted anywhere. 

The expense strikes me as the most serious concern on your list. I’m always wary of telling people to go into debt for a prestigious education. Nobody needs a degree to make art. But perhaps there are grants and scholarships. And if the choice is between spending that money on a life-changing experience or spending that money on accumulating designer handbags, I know which one I’d pick. 

There’s no way to know if your hope will be justified. I’ve had a few similar moments in my life, wondering whether to take a risk or stay at home and learn to breed tropical fish. But it only takes having a big risk validated once to make you forever superstitious about letting big opportunities pass you by. 

There’s also something to be said for having a horrible time. When I was 14, I went on an ill-advised exchange to Germany. Almost the entire time I was there, I felt profoundly homesick. I made no friends and spent most of my time feeling utterly bewildered and out of place. But I was also alone in the world for the first time, and even though I felt strange and foolish, it was one of the most powerful and electrifying experiences of my life. To walk around the streets of a foreign city, staring at umbrella stores and ancient cathedrals and the ergonomically perfect trains of Europe gliding past with their lit windows. That experience made me feel at home in the world. Even though it was isolating and uncomfortable, I would never take it back. 

Another point: I remember in my early 20s hearing a poet I admired (I can’t remember who, although I have a feeling it was Eileen Myles) say it was her policy in life to go wherever she was invited. For some reason that made a big impression on me. I followed that advice ever since and never once regretted it. 

Of course, in all things, you should trust your gut. But my advice is to go. You may have a terrible time and decide to come home in six months, but it’s better than forever wondering what you missed out on. And if it all turns to shit, and the handsome Frenchman with the aquiline nose breaks your heart, at least it will make a good story. When it comes to making art, having good stories is worth just as much, if not more, than a fancy education. 

But stay out of any paddocks or areas where horses tend to congregate. If only for my own peace of mind. 

Bon voyage! 

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