When third place comes first
I recently heard of Ray Oldenburg’s concept of The Third Place. And I liked Ray’s thinking.
Put simply, the first place is your home – where you spend most of your time. The second place is your work – where you probably spend most of your time if you work in the arts And third places are best described by the man himself, as the places that “host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.” Oldenburg more frequently refers to them as “great good places” (also the name of his book).
The question is, when you do what you love for a job – as most of us in the arts do – where is your third place?
Could it be just arriving at the rehearsal studio half an hour early, where you can natter and muck around with whichever cast members wander in first, like you used to do when you were a relatively care free uni student. I do love this concept of ‘creative play’.
Or could a third place be the theatre when it first falls dark, and it seems every audience member has something very important to quickly whisper to their seat-neighbour; something that can’t possibly wait til interval. We pretty much all love this moment.
Well, I spent most of the first ten years of my career working at the symphony orchestra, where I went out every single Friday or Saturday night – to an orchestra gig. And while standing in the QPAC drop-off tunnel waiting for the Governor’s car to arrive was, honestly, a bit thrilling in my early 20s, by the time I’d reached 25, I started to realise I had literally no hobbies. I was completely extrinsically motivated – by the first downbeat of whatever the next concert was. I inhabited: One. Big. Second. Place.
What to do, what to do. Well, I quit the orchestra and started my own business. YYYup. Brought my second place right on into my first place.
I could have just found a new third place…
Finally, just late last year, I did.
I became the ridiculously proud owner of a foofy little puppy. And as we walked the local streets each morning and evening, we inadvertently found our third place. A community of dog owners of which we’d become instant members. Strangers who made eye contact. Vague, up-the-street neighbours who suddenly said hello. People who actually told me when my puppy needed a haircut, and where to go for it, and what style to ask for (I kid you not, there are styles).
And almost unnaturally for me, in my new third place, there wasn’t an indentifiable arts person in sight.
I’m not saying your third place has to be outside the arts. Even amongst my small group of YAQ colleagues, I’m aware of third places ranging from the gym, to the recording studio, to late night coffee shops, and to the endless possibilities of the online.
All I am saying, is that places invariably overlap, and their locations and proportions change over time.
And if there’s one thing a now over-30 like me can offer the bright young creative people I work with each day, it’s that it’s all just about trying to keep the overall balance. Or, more likely, sometimes setting aside one whole, glorious day in your third place, in order to restore a shred of balance after a month straight of performances in your second place.
So, where’s your third place???
image: courtesy Carley Commens