Being Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

Blog Post by Jen Viens, May 4th, 2018

Hey! My name is Jen Viens. I’m an actor, director, and producer here in Montreal. As of May 2018 I’m also an artistic and administrative assistant for Imago theatre!

For the first time in nearly four and a half years I find myself trading in the world of freelance for a ‘9-5 office job’ – as much as working for a theatre company constitutes an ‘office job’. Transitioning from a self-employed actor and filmmaker with complete control over my schedule, to a traditionally employed administrative assistant will take time to adjust to. Any artist might wonder why in the world I would want to trade one in for the other. I’ve asked myself that very question many times. The answer? There is one thing that makes this ‘office job’, and therefore this transition fundamentally different; the fact that it’s Imago Theatre.

I have worked as an actor, director, producer and coach in theatre and film for over ten years. In my practice, especially in recent years, my work and my mind have been obsessed with the notion of home, identity, and what it means to be a woman in today’s climate. What does home really mean to a person that has ancestry in Austria, was born on the west coast, and now lives in Montreal – a city she never thought she would visit, let alone reside in? What does identity mean to a child of divorce who was estranged from her father for 6 of her most formative years? What does it mean to be a female with ambition in an industry that is largely dominated by men? What does it mean to even broach these subjects publicly? By writing this blog post, what kind of a message am I sending about myself and my worth and my place in the world?

In recent years it has become more and more important to me that I artistically align myself with individuals and companies that ask equally as difficult and uncomfortable questions. Our natural instinct is to run in the opposite direction from discomfort. Most of us don’t understand that discomfort is not something that should be shied away from, but rather something that we should pay attention to and embrace – from discomfort comes change. So instead of turning the other way, we should be leaning in. (This term might seem familiar to anyone who’s heard of the best seller by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg). My understanding of discomfort and its importance is a relatively new discovery. With this new comprehension, I find myself moving further and further towards collaborating with artists who are just as uncomfortable with leaning in as I am. Which brings me to Imago. When the opportunity to work with Imago on a deeper level (I performed in What Happened After Nora Left Her Husband during Imago’s Her Side of the Story this past fall) came about, there was no debate. It’s a female driven theatre company that explores themes and stories that are thought provoking and difficult; it challenges its audiences and actively examines and re-examines its place in the community and its voice. It’s brave and willing to ask tough questions even despite fear. It gives space to marginalized voices and stories. It’s conscious. It’s self-aware. It leans in.

I am so excited to be a part of this community, but I admit that I’m also frightened. Making the transition from freelancer to Monday to Friday assistant is a scary thing. It’s a big adjustment from life as I’ve known it for the last four years. I do and will continue to create and work as an artist – I’m currently wearing the directing/producing/acting hat for a handful of theatre and film projects. My freelance art making spirit will never disappear, whether I spend 35 hours a week sitting at a desk or not. In fact, I think my creativity will only be enhanced by being constantly surrounded by the energy in this office. Clocking in every day is something that doesn’t feel familiar to me and yes, it’s uncomfortable. But I’m leaning in.