He landed his dream role but his job wouldn’t give him the time off, so he quit
Caleb Lacy landed his dream role in the theater production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, but his job wouldn’t give him the time off—so he quit. Now he’s a theater director with a career that makes space for his passions outside of work.
“Encourage your friend’s side projects even if they seem silly or inane. We’re all just trying to find what makes us happy and simply showing up can make a huge impact.”
Caleb’s methods for making space:
Moved into a smaller apartment which forced him to offload clutter, reducing what he has to organize and keep clean.
Spent the better part of a year finding a job that fits his financial needs and allows him the time for theater rehearsals and performances.
Uses the Fudget app to track spending and ensure he has the money for those social outings with other theater folks which in turn gets him leads on theater opportunities.
Minimizes small purchases because it’s always the under $20 spending that sneaks up on you.
One thing at a time. Opportunity is exciting and shows up more often than you’d think, but if you take it at the wrong time then it just becomes disappointment.
Small Space, Big Taste Survey:
What did you want to be when you were a child? What did you end up doing for a living?
I've always wanted to be an actor from a very young age. I was Toto in my first-grade production of the Wizard of Oz—I had no lines but that show got me hooked! I pretended to be a dog for a classroom full of parents and I remember getting one laugh because I stood up and immediately slipped on the plastic Yellow Brick road and it was instant—I could sway a room full of people.
Now I work for a Medical Technologies company that I love during the day, and my evenings are spent performing, directing, and designing live theater in one of the largest theaters in Maine.
Tell us about your passion or creative project that you're making space for in your life.
I am directing a musical at City Theater in Biddeford, ME called The Drowsy Chaperone. It's a show that is very near to my heart. I've been in the show twice before and received an Irene Ryan Nomination from the Kennedy Center for my performance in college. So being able to bring my own vision of this production to life is not only a dream come true but also the result of a lot of hard work, life management, and sacrifice. Because, honestly, even two years ago I would not have been able to find the time.
Before you got started, what was holding you back? Was there someone or something you were waiting for permission from?
The biggest thing holding me back, and I know this sounds corny, was my own self-doubts about my capabilities. I had served in the Marines for five years and then attended college. While I had performed a number of times with different theaters, the financial struggle was real. Finding a job that paid me enough to support myself, and still have the time off to do shows right after college was near impossible. I started taking jobs with weird hours (4pm-1am, 11pm-7am, 3am-2pm) because they paid better but then I couldn't muster the energy to put the performance in my schedule. It forced me to back out of shows and turn down parts. After a while, it became very discouraging because it's a small community and you worry about the kind of reputation you build. It reached a point where I was too discouraged to even audition and stopped performing altogether for a few years.
“My plan was if I got a small supporting role I would schedule rehearsals the half of the week I didn't work and if I didn’t get a role, I would be done with theater.”
What was the turning point that made you decide to make changes so you could pursue your passion?
I was working a third shift manufacturing job from 6pm to 6am three to four days a week and my car was un-driveable so I was borrowing my roommate's car to get to work. On my days off I was completely nocturnal because I didn't want to mess up my sleep schedule. I hadn't performed in a show for almost three years and I was absolutely miserable.
One day I saw that City Theater was producing one of my bucket list musicals, Stephen Sondheim’s Company, and it just clicked as a career ultimatum. My plan was if I got a small supporting role I would schedule rehearsals the half of the week I didn't work and if I didn’t get a role, I would be done with theater. I went back to my old voice coach and let my boss know that I might take a couple days off around the performance dates.
Auditions came and 20 minutes after callbacks I got a phone call from the director asking me to play Robert, the lead! I was floored. It was a dream role come true. Immediately after I hung up the phone, reality started to creep in; the character almost never leaves the stage throughout the entire show. I would likely be needed at almost every rehearsal, which was always right when I would be working. I didn’t know how to make it work but I knew I wanted this role more than anything.
So I talked to (begged) my coworkers to switch shifts and managed to work it out so the team was only down a worker 5 times over 3 months. Not perfect but considering I didn’t receive any PTO and the company had months of notice, it would be fine. Rehearsals started and I knew from the first day that was where I wanted to be.
Meanwhile, at work, my boss had yet to approve any of the shift swaps I requested so I wasn't working ¼ of the week and my bank account started to take a hit. Despite being an excellent employee, my bosses came back denying me the shift swaps and any further time off work. I was crushed. I had done everything right in my mind: given advanced notice, offered alternatives to prevent understaffing—and they still denied it. Now the one thing in my life that was making me happy was being taken away.
It was that moment where I found my leaping off point. My job should not dictate my entire life if they’re only paying me for 40 hours a week. If they weren’t going to respect me as a human with needs outside work then that was not a company I wanted to work for anymore. So I gave my notice. I didn’t have a plan, but I had a will. Within 12 hours, my manager called me and offered me the day shift and approved the time off for performances. I had called their bluff! I had made the thing I was most passionate about my primary goal and let nothing stand in my way and it worked.
How are you making space for your passion in your home? What are you saying no to related to your physical space to make it happen?
Physically I’ve moved into a smaller apartment which has forced me to unload a lot of stuff I didn’t need and was simply hanging onto. Offloading the extra clutter has taken a lot of stress out of my life by reducing what I have to organize and keep clean. My new apartment is in downtown Portland, putting me closer to a lot of theater opportunities and good food.
How are you making space for your passion in your budget? What are you saying no to related to your spending to make it happen?
I spent the better part of a year finding a job that fits what I want. I left the company I was working for because they eventually tried to force me back into night shifts, so I went to work for a temp agency and made them do the work for me. I knew what I wanted for a job going in (something 1st shift, in the tech field that gave me the financial and scheduling freedom to perform) and while they looked I worked a bunch of lower wage day labor jobs. One week in when the day job managers start requesting me back for being on time and an excellent employee the temp agency started sending me the good interviews and within a month I had the job I have now with a local medical technology company.
I work with people I adore and receive excellent benefits and pay that support my artistic endeavors. Additionally I’ve put my budget and financial goals in front of me everyday. I use an app called Fudget which is really simple to use and I put all my spending into it at the time of the purchase. Keeping up with it daily ensures I have the money for those social outings with other theater folks which in turn gets me leads on other performance opportunities and jobs. Keeping the goal in mind makes it easier to say no to that extra coffee in the morning or grabbing a bite on the way home from work. I’ve worked toward making fewer small purchases because it’s always the under $20 spending that sneaks up on you.
How are you making space for your passion in your calendar? What are you saying no to related to your time to make it happen?
One thing at a time. Man, when I was in college I wanted to do everything. Two shows, while writing a play, while recording a podcast while etc etc. Opportunity is exciting and shows up more often than you’d think, but if you take it at the wrong time then it just becomes disappointment. I focus on one project at a time now, even if it means saying no to something I would love or my best friends. I also make sure to schedule down time. I spent 11 straight months working on shows and made sure to take at least a month and a half where I had no after work requirements so I wouldn’t burn myself out. I had multiple performance offers during that time but i have my biggest project yet coming up directing a full length musical and that takes a lot out of you.
What is the result? What are you creating? What are you most proud of?
As I said now I’m directing a full musical this summer. It’s called The Drowsy Chaperone and it’s genuinely one of the funniest musicals ever written. I’ve performed in it twice before and now I get to bring my own version to life which is a personal milestone for me. Additionally, I’ve received 5 Broadway World nominations last year alone across 5 shows. But that first show, Company, is the one I’m the most proud of because it’s the one for which I fought the hardest.
“I’ve received 5 Broadway World nominations last year alone across 5 shows. But that first show, Company, is the one I’m most proud of because it’s the one for which I fought the hardest.”
What would you tell yourself ten to twenty years ago that you wish you knew then?
Ten years ago: Slow down and focus on one thing at a time. I was so eager to do as much as possible in college I would only half do jobs.
Twenty years ago: Learn an instrument and another language! Even if you don’t make a career out of them just practice them from time to time.
Anything else at all? What would you like SSBT readers to know?
Encourage your friends side projects even if they seem silly or inane. We’re all just trying to find what makes us happy and simply showing up can make a huge impact. On that note if you’re in New England this summer come check out my show The Drowsy Chaperone opening July 19th at City Theater in Biddeford. Tickets available at www.citytheater.org/tickets/