What I’ve Learned About Theatre School
This is an open letter to Phoenix first years, or anyone starting theatre school.
So. You’ve decided to attend theatre school. Awesome. As I am now going into my fourth and final year of theatre school, I have a few pieces of advice for you that I’ve learned throughout the years:
There will be good times and bad times. Ridiculously terrible and horrendously bad times. Don’t let it discourage you. Don’t let anything or anyone discourage you, ever. If you persevere through the rough times, you will come out a better person. There may be moments where everything in the world is against you, telling you that you can’t do this. You’re a terrible director, you can’t write a proper script, you get a horrible review, your design gets ridiculed, your professor tells you that you aren’t talented enough. The world will find ways to challenge you, it will find ways to try and destroy you and your dreams. Don’t let it succeed. You are stronger, and you will fight. One person’s opinion is subjective. Hold up your confidence and lean on your self worth. You can do this.
There will always be someone better than you. Always. And you need to accept this early on in theatre school if you’re smart. But the trick is, you are unique. You are the only you in existence. And the combination of your talents, experiences, skills, personality traits, all of it that makes up who you are, is completely original. You may not be the best, but you are unique, and the combination of talents you have will be different from everyone else. Find what your strengths are, and cultivate them. Work them until you master them.
There will always be politics. Learn to accept this and move on. There is nothing you can do to change it.
Your auditioners are your cheering squad. They want you to succeed. They are looking to cast the perfect person for their role, and they want you to be this person. It would make them unbelievably happy if you succeed in your audition. They aren’t there to judge you, so don’t act like they are. Don’t view auditions as something “scary.” Auditions are chances to do something you love – acting. And they give you a chance to share your talents with other people. When you don’t get the part, accept it with grace. Know that there are more factors to these decisions then just your talent. You may not look right for the part, you were too tall for the person working opposite the role, etc. But accept it with grace and integrity. Congratulate those who deserve it. Don’t be bitter, don’t be resentful. You never lost the part, because it was never yours to lose, you never had it to begin with. So stop acting like you did. Brush your ego off and get yourself to that next audition, there will always be more.
Don’t skip your classes. Or zone out and go on facebook on your laptop. I know it’s tempting to skip that one theatre history class where you’re just going over more French classicism, blah blah blah. You’ve kept your grades up and just want to sleep in a little. Missing a few classes won’t hurt, Amy!
I don’t think you’ve thought this through.
You are attending a post-secondary institution in a program you wish to build a career out of and have loved all your life. First of all, you are lucky to even get the opportunity to be attending a post-secondary institution. Second of all, you are paying roughly $500 to take this class. Get your time and money’s worth and attend it! You may be questioning the importance of knowing all this “useless information,” but what you don’t realize until it’s too late is that the learning you experience in the early years of your theatre education provides a foundation for the work you learn later in your degree. Make that foundation a solid one.
You are no longer the high school drama star. You are a little fish in a big pond called university. Theatre school will force you to start at the bottom of the ladder and work your way up. You may complain because you seem to be doing all the grunt work in first year. But that’s because you are. And you need to. So stop whining about it, because we’ve all had to do it. That’s how you learn to appreciate the amount of work it takes to put on a production, and the team of departments that must work together in order to be successful. Who knows, you might find something you love doing more than just acting. But if you come to this program with the mindset that you only want to act, and everything else is just a waste of time, then drop out. Seriously. You need to be open minded about everything you do in this program. And you will be surprised by the things you didn’t know before. I fell in love with Front of House and box office work. You can have more than one area of specialization. You can love and master more than one job in the theatre world, so why not in school too?
Always treat your peers with respect. Just because you are “the actor” does not mean you can treat anyone like crap. There is a hierarchy of theatre positions, you need to learn them quickly. For example, your stage manager is above you. Treat them as your boss, not your gopher. The props team is essential to you walking on stage with your cell phone in act two. Don’t brush them aside, they contribute just as much time and effort as you do in this production. Just because they aren’t on stage doesn’t mean they are any lesser. You try doing their job. And when you do, realize how important every role in the production is.
Learn professionalism. And learn it fast. It will only serve you better. Be professional with your peers, your professors, everyone. Theatre school is supposed to prepare you for the real world. So use this time as a chance to master professionalism while you can.
Pick and choose what you take away from your professors. It is true that they are professionals and have years of experience in their fields. But their opinions and views are subjective. They are human and make mistakes. They have bias about who you are as a person that will reflect in their judgements about your work. Let them challenge you in constructive ways and critical ways. But never hold their remarks as the be-all-and-end-all of your theatre education.
Make mistakes. Like, a crap ton of them. Because the real world is less forgiving. Theatre school gives you a great opportunity to fail as many times as you want. And you should take up this offer. You learn more from your mistakes than your successes. Theatre school gives you the chance to brush yourself off and get back in the game as many times as you need to. No one will judge you for this, because everyone who’s smart realizes they need to fail too in order to learn the most about themselves and their work.
Make great friends. Make great enemies. Learn to work with people you can’t stand, because you’ll have to do this in the real world so you might as well learn how to deal with it now.
But most of all, never lose sight of your love for theatre and why you wanted to be here in the first place. Let theatre school change you for the better. Let it challenge you. Somewhere along the way you will stumble across who you are. You will gain transferable skills to use for the rest of your life. You will succeed and fail in invaluable experiences. When things turn dark, just remember to rekindle the fiery passion you have for your art.
“Go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
– Kurt Vonnegut