THE RISING COST OF EVERYTHING: Recent College Grad Feels the Pinch of Economic Downturn

Young dramaturg works as barista until dream job opens up

By Ellen Fike

Special to the Wyoming Truth

At the beginning of the year, Katie Overstreet, 25, could not wait to get her bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Colorado.

Her degree is in theatre studies, and she also earned a certificate in arts entrepreneurship; Overstreet, a Cheyenne resident, wants to be a theatrical dramaturg, an expert in the study of plays, musicals or operas.

“What really drove me to this was my love for history and where art and ideas have come from to contribute to the present,” Overstreet said in an interview with the Wyoming Truth.  “I love being a part of the creative process in making a piece of performative art while upholding and honoring the history and intentions of artists.”

Pictured above is Cheyenne resident Katie Overstreet, a recent college grad who looks forward to a career as a theatrical dramaturg in a major city once the economy recovers. (Courtesy photo from Katie Overstreet)

As a dramaturg, Overstreet must inform the casts and crews of shows about vital research and interpretation of the work they are performing. It’s the type of theater job that can take an ambitious person all over the country or even the world. Every theater company needs a dramaturg, whether full or part time.

Unfortunately, Overstreet graduated during one of the most expensive time periods the United States has seen in recent history—and arts organizations, like every other business, are feeling the financial pinch. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in October that the costs for goods and services increased by an additional 0.4 percent in September, making prices 8.5 percent higher than one year ago. Inflation stands at a 40-year high.

This makes life in a post-graduate world especially tense, Overstreet said. This is typical for most people in their mid-20s, but battling high prices while trying to get started in life makes the days of being a broke college student seem closer than ever.

“Seeing the entire world go into recession makes it seem a little less alone, I suppose, but it is still very disconcerting to watch it all keep happening and [there’s] nothing we, the layman, can do about it,” she said.

Pursuing a career in theater and arts is difficult even in major metropolitan areas, much less Wyoming, where there is only one four-year university and all of the arts and humanities programs are small. Overstreet’s ultimate goal is to move from Wyoming to a bigger city, preferably one in Colorado.

“I believe that [being a dramaturg] is really about the connections and networking, and knowing which places are big enough for that extra staff and pay, which is why I think I’d have a little bit better luck in a bigger city with more theatre companies around to be paid for my work,” she said.

Since Overstreet graduated six months ago, she has worked part time as a barista at one of the Starbucks locations in Cheyenne and has landed a few paid dramaturg jobs, including one position where she was an advisor for a Cheyenne theatre troupe’s summer production of “Macbeth.” She also will direct a project with a group in Cheyenne, along with a large dramaturg project for a show that will be staged next May, both of which are paid gigs.

“It would be nice to move out of the family home and [to] somewhere I’d prefer, like Colorado, but even Cheyenne’s cost of living has gotten higher, so having a single income barely cuts it to find a place to live,” Overstreet said. “Even driving around town gas spends like crazy. I go to the store and the gas station, and there goes a good chunk of my paycheck.”

Currently, Overstreet earns $15 an hour, plus tips, at Starbucks, but she doesn’t feel that’s a livable wage due to the rising costs in Cheyenne and beyond.

Overstreet described herself as “frugal,” but noted she rarely dines out anymore or buys fancy drinks, whether at Starbucks or at a bar. She spends around $30 per week in gas and around $40 to $50 in groceries.

“Mostly, my spending money goes towards gas and groceries and a small treat, like a lipstick or a shirt on sale or a dessert, every now and then,” she said.

However, Overstreet is cautiously optimistic about the future, telling the Wyoming Truth that she believes prices will continue to fluctuate for a little bit longer, but then there will be a drop.

“I have to continue to say: ‘It is OK that things aren’t exactly where you thought you’d be, there is no exact timeline for these things and they will still be there for you later,’” Overstreet said.

She does not know where she will be in the next year or even five years, but she continues to remind herself that this is not a bad situation to be in. A dramaturg is a relatively new position in the theater world, and Overstreet said not all theater companies or troupes will see the necessity for the advisor.  

At least not until the economy improves. The cost of living in Cheyenne and elsewhere has spiraled so much that Overstreet has had to be strategic about where she pursues dramaturg or other theater positions.  

“It’s come down to looking at multiple areas and suburbs [in Colorado] and constantly readjusting my savings goals for if—or  even when—I’m going to move . . .” she said. “So for now, it’s a lot of searching, comparing and re-evaluating, whether a job would potentially be worth it or the possibility of how far I’d be willing to commute.”

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