BWW Blog: Back to School - Five Thoughts for Freshman Theatre Majors
The summer of 2017 saw me at the end of my successful high school career. I grew up as a military child, having lived everywhere stretching from Germany to Kansas, and from where I was stationed in the hot, sticky climate of North Carolina, I had no idea how confusing and difficult my first month or so would be in college.
I was moving to the Big Apple itself, New York City, to study playwriting, with the goal of re-auditioning and landing a spot in my college, Marymount Manhattan College's prestigious acting program. I would later achieve that goal in my second semester of college, but leading up to that point I had a lot of curveballs and obstacles in the road on my way to success. I'm sure many young theatre majors have heard plenty of the same advice at this point, but I feel that sometimes it's through repetition that we learn how to absorb and embody the best versions of ourselves and to make ourselves the most marketable in a cutthroat career. Over the next four years, you will find yourself making connections and discoveries and those can make or break it for you after graduation.
While some of these may sound repetitive in nature from any other advice you may have received, in my discussions with professionals over the course of the past year, these were my biggest takeaways from my freshman year of college. There is much advice to be given to young theatre majors who are just starting college, but here are the best five that I can think of that I wish I'd been told (or perhaps needed to listen to more) when I was just beginning to find my way.
1. Be kind, above all else.
I put this word of advice first, because I do find it incredibly essential to your career as both a student and as a professional (whether it's acting or doing the work behind the scenes) to be kind. If you've ever read a tabloid or been down the checkout line in a grocery store in your life, you've probably seen hundreds of negative press about celebrities and their lives. While obviously tabloids are blown well out of proportion, I think a line from Hamilton, "Who lives, who dies, who tells your story" rings true to it. In this industry, those who are kind and known for being amicable are remembered and called in the most for jobs. Your peers are not your competition (which I will touch upon in a moment). Having a reputation of being a good person will do you wonders and open more doors and opportunities for you over being known as a troublemaker. Which leads me into my next advice...
2. It is okay to make mistakes.
Make no mistake here when I say that it is absolutely 100% okay to make mistakes in college. You are young, and you are not a perfect human being. And don't beat yourself up over it when you do. My biggest vice is always beating myself up over the tiniest little mistakes I've made, like choosing to see a friend I haven't seen in a while over proofreading an essay due the next day, or buying myself a pastry (or five, or six) at a fun bakery instead of saving my money. Of course, those are little things compared to some mistakes other peers might make, but the point still rings true. Sometimes you do have to live a little and treat yourself, and not "what if" yourself to death. You can't change the past, but you can learn from your mistakes, and you absolutely should both make and learn from mistakes. It is the only way you can grow as an individual and prevent yourself from remaining stagnant as both an artist and individual.
3. Remember that everyone has a different path.
This comes as both advice for college and the professional world beyond. You never know what the director or professor or auditor is looking for in that audition room. Believe me, as someone who utterly bombed their first audition but nailed their re-audition. It is not the end of the world if you don't initially get something. You cannot compare yourself to other people, because your path is going to be different. We can't all be Ben Platt, and being extremely talented doesn't always equal a job. Everyone in New York City is talented, which sounds ridiculous when you hear it, but this city is so full of talent that the goal of Broadway isn't an easy path, no matter how talented you consider yourself. But that being said, take every opportunity presented to you and don't take it for granted. If you are offered something and it's within reason, take it. Go to that open call. Do a student film. Put yourself out there and don't limit yourself to restrictions that you place on yourself. Be known as being available and versatile, and not constrained and unreliable.
4. Your job is being a student first. Don't let anyone stop you from being the best student you can be.
But also, make friends. Make lots of friends. That goes in hand with the kindness advice. Don't let being a student limit you, but if you have friends that limit you from building your craft, maybe limit your time with them. Be involved with your school and be involved with outside opportunities. Join a club. But most definitely get some sort of a job, it will mature and prepare you these next four years and help mold you into a responsible individual. I spent my freshman year of college working as an intern for Arts in the Armed Forces, which opened doors for the three jobs I now work in the city and has prepared me for taking on these sorts of opportunities. But, my job was very flexible for my needs as a student, so that tended to be rather convenient and helpful for someone like me who needed to remain dedicated to my craft. I did a workshop with Annaleigh Ashford at Marymount Manhattan College this spring, she said that auditioning should be your first job as an actor, and to not take a job that doesn't allow you to do so. This is true for students as well. Being a student is your first job, and if your job or friend circle can't respect that, that is not a relationship to pursue. Having a good work ethic is key for both business and academic relationships. Remember why you are here and prioritize that.
5. Take care of yourself, and don't be afraid to be your own biggest defender. Your body and health are extremely important.
I was a perfectly healthy student up until I suddenly came down with an upper respiratory infection that took my voice for three months. I was a modern day Ariel walking around New York City without a voice for an entire semester of college, and it was very scary and abrupt. Do not take your health for granted, because anything can happen in the blink of an eye, especially if you're like me and you're moving thousands of miles away from home where you might not have family immediately nearby to help nurse you back to health. I'm tough as nails and made a full recovery by mid-December, but October and November were very frightening for me and unexpected.
You must take care of your mental and physical health as a theatre major. Our bodies are our number one storytelling tool onstage and backstage. Don't let this scare you off, but you need to prepare yourself for stress and illness and make sure your body gets the best care at the first possible signs of illness. Go to yoga, do some meditation, speak to a counselor, do whatever it is that you need to do in order to find ways to keep yourself at a low stress and well equipped with the tools to cope with whatever life throws your way. This is a business built on unexpected moments. Do not push yourself too hard.
But also bear in mind that you are your number one advocate. Do not be afraid to stand up for yourself. Communicate with your professors, and especially challenge them and yourself. You are paying for your education. Never be complacent, don't be afraid to challenge yourself and your school to achieve the best possible education you can get. Now, this doesn't mean to excuse being rude, that would be entirely missing the point and could burn bridges, but be a standout for being assertive. Professors love communicative students. If something doesn't make sense, speak up. Write an email. Challenge opinions and make yourself known as independent and bold. That isn't a bad reputation to have, it makes you a strong student, and may even open up opportunities for you that you might not have known existed prior to building these relationships and a positive image for yourself.
That's the top five pieces of advice I can offer to new freshmen entering a theatre program at their college. Be involved, be kind, and be your own advocate, and it can get you very far in this industry. And most importantly, remember that it's not the end of the world if something doesn't go the way you thought it would go. There is no real "path" or "plan" set out to make it as a theatre artist, but you will find your way there with perseverance and dedication.