A couple of weeks ago at OnStage Blog, I came across an article entitled, “Dear Theatre Students, Don’t Throw Away Your Shot!” by C. Austin Hill, a theatre professor. I could not agree more with every piece of advice he gives his students about creating opportunities and taking advantage of opportunities given. Hill argues:
If you are going to school for theatre…then you need to stay involved…ALL OF THE TIME. That fact alone should NEVER be the deciding factor on whether you get the lead roles or the major design assignments. But what it SHOULD dictate is your willingness to fight to develop your resume.
In this highly competitive field, I’m amazed at the number of my students who don’t understand this simple fact: the more face time I have with them, the more likely I am to cast them or put them in roles of leadership and authority. The more you can be in “the room where it happens,” to quote Lin Manuel Miranda, the more likely I am to see what you bring to the table in all aspects of theatre. If you’re in the room, you get to show me day in and day out why I can’t live without you in my rehearsal hall.
Just recently I had a student who did not make our spring musical, Into the Woods. She’s currently a junior and has made the other musicals and one fall play in her tenure at Good Counsel. This student is a phenomenal person to work with, but she just didn’t have the vocal chops for this particular show. Instead she was placed on props crew, which she had worked on before. After the audition and callbacks, she met with me to get specific feedback on her audition. Next she took that feedback to her voice teacher and immediately put it to use. She auditioned for a teen community theatre production of Fiddler on the Roof and landed the role of Golde! However she wasn’t just content to go work on a show outside of school, she wanted to take more of a role in our current production. So she lobbied me to become my assistant director and now she’s doing an amazing job at keeping my rehearsals running smoothly, helping actors catch up on blocking they’ve missed, and even working with younger actors to beat and block scenes. I always knew this student was an asset, but she has simply blossomed in the last few weeks in this new role. You can be sure that her drive to get into the room will help to improve her chances at employment in theatre, or any field she chooses!
Conversely, I have many other students who typically follow this route: Susie Singsalot (a hypothetical teenager) doesn’t get cast in the show. She may or may not come in for feedback. But it doesn’t matter, all she wants to do is be on stage. So she sits this musical out. Next year rolls around, and she may or may not make the show. If she does, good for her. But if she doesn’t…what has she gained by not participating at all? She’s lost a whole year of building relationships to work another angle on how to land that role or a spot on the crew.
Theatre is a business of relationships and as actors you are typically the people with the least amount of power in the theatre paradigm. It’s unfortunate, but true. In many cases, directors prefer to work with people they know and trust. All things being equal, I’m more likely to take a student I’ve worked with before who I know can get the job done well, than a student with whom I don’t have a relationship. Taking this example beyond theatre, the same can be said for those recent college grads trying to get their first job. Sometimes you have to put in the time doing something that’s not ‘ideal’ or your ‘first choice’ just to get on the path to get where you want to be. Remember, “you get nothing if you wait for it.”