Happy Graduation — Theater is Hard

It’s the end of the semester. The weather is getting warmer, your mortar board has been expertly customized, and the only thing standing between you and a liberal arts theater degree is the final flip of that tassel. Your parents couldn’t be more proud. Well, they could, but they’d never come right out and say it. If they’re anything like my parents they’ve learned the skillful art of crafting the compliment sandwich. “We always knew you could do it! With brains like yours I’m surprised you didn’t go into law! You’re mother and I are so proud!”

See? Hardly noticeable, except when they start mailing out law school brochures and entrance exam deadlines.

Truth be told, they’re scared. They know how fantastic you are in your line of work, or at least pretend to understand what your line of work may entail, but they are also aware of the fact that this is not a steady career choice. There are ups and downs, both emotionally and financially. Many nights where ramen noodles are not the last resort, but the only option. Not to mention the possibility of moving, far away, in order to make these dreams come true.

However, despite the inevitable roller coaster ride that will be your mid-twenties (regardless of college major or agenda), I would just like to say, congratulations. You’re doing it, and doing is more than half the battle. Stay focused, stay driven, and, if you haven’t already, start now.

To be fair, I can only speak from my point of view when it comes to the matter of post undergrad theatrical pursuits. Our experiences are going to be different — bottom line, and you may very well disregard everything else I’m about to say, but here are some things I wish I had known before taking the leap of faith into this industry.

It Won’t Happen Overnight

I know you know, and you know you know, but just to make sure we all know, I’m making it known.

While in school there are so many ways to become involved. Rooms are available for rehearsals, theaters available for tech, and you can’t throw an Anne Bogart Biopic without hitting a professor willing to answer your every question. It’s all right there, at your finger tips.

But look at you now. Frantically searching for quarters to catch the next bus through the Lincoln Tunnel, only to find out that the rehearsal room you booked was for 12:00 AM, not PM. Also, you forgot to eat breakfast.

Don’t let this discourage you. Maybe the resources you need are no longer in arm’s reach, but that does not mean that they are not obtainable. At the risk of sounding cliché, this is an important opportunity for growth and discovery. Gone are the days where sign ups for auditions meant simply writing down your name, knowing that, no matter how much time or preparation was spent on the material, you would be seen. Those who want to stay in the business do not wait, they search. Always looking forward to the next project, or audition, or playwriting opportunity. The things that we, or at least I, had taken for granted are now a responsibility. But listen. It’s cool. You got this.

There are plenty of opportunities to get involved in the theatrical world, either through internships, administrative work, performing, managing, and a boat load of other possibilities. The trick is to stay focused, keep working, and (because this is now a necessity) get paid. I’m sure there are some people who, directly out of college, were able to land their dream job within theater. I personally don’t know who these people are, nor am I one of them, so let’s pretend that along with your passion for art is the need for a survival job.

For all the actors out there, your want is a fruitful life within theater, your need is a paying job, and the obstacle is money, or the lack thereof. Cue the job hunting montage.

Find the Right Day Job

Alright, so now I’m going to write something that almost nobody wants to read — If you desire to pursue a career in theater/entertainment/the arts in any capacity, you must be okay with being uncomfortable. Unless you are wealthy, famous, or were able to get a degree on the tech side of the operation (and even then nothing is guaranteed), immediate satisfaction is not a luxury we thespians can afford. A survival job is key. This means working however many hours to meet bills (more in regard to medical benefits), while balancing a social life, and a constant thirst for art. In theory, the type of job you get should work in tandem with your theatrical goals. For example:

  • If someone were to pursue a job in Arts Administration, an administrative job, even through a small business or temp agency, could benefit their experience, network, and resumé.
  • Those who seek a managerial position in theater, whether it be for small stages or large scale companies, might want to work hands on with people, gaining experience by climbing up that ladder on a more daily basis. Finding managerial positions in either a store, small business, or restaurant could lead to future employment within the ranks of a professional theater.
  • If the passion is writing, find a job that will allow you to do some writing on the clock, i.e. something white collar, or one the will give you the time and freedom to do so elsewhere.
  • For all the actors out there, flexibility is the name of the game. There aren’t too many jobs that allow employees to miss shifts at the drop of a hat for auditions, or employers that are keen on hiring people just to be handed a list of rehearsal conflicts. The stereotype is waiting tables and for a good reason — It works. Good money, constant use of your well crafted people skills, and even after the worst shift, you’ll never bring your work home with you. This isn’t to say that you have to become a server, it’s just an option. Other flexible jobs include but are not limited to bartending, babysitting, athletic instructor, extra work, line reading, professional online psychic, and, if you can find flexible hours, temping.

Of course these are not the only available fields within theater either. Directors, designers, and dramaturges alike must also pound the pavement in order to keep their craft fresh while maintaining *Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Whatever job you do decide to take, remember to enjoy and respect it. So what if you’re bagging groceries and stacking potatoes all day? Each box of organic fennel is another step closer to greatness.

Start Paying Off Your Student Loans Now

Glad we had that chat.

Stay Focused

Well, you did it! You graduated, found a job, and are paving your way to a career in theater! Just make sure that when you are carving that path that you are actually doing it and not just talking about it.

This happens to everybody, we get sidetracked. We focus on the unimportant and justify our laziness. I know. I do it constantly. If it’s between learning a new monologue and Netflix, or writing a ten minute play and Netflix, or literally anything that isn’t Netflix and Netflix, Netflix usually wins. We live in such a strange age, having everything we need for success at our fingertips, only to be thwarted by distraction. In this instance I wish I could lead by example, but please, do not let this happen.

Instead, read a new play, familiarize yourself with a new form of acting or directing. Write something, anything, even if it’s a jumbled how-to for current graduating college seniors, write it down. Most importantly, create.

Create, Do Not Wait

Create your own work. Do not commit all of your time to waiting by the phone. Audition, self submit, apply, but do not wait. If you are graduating from a liberal arts school and receiving a degree in theater, chances are that you’ve grown very close to a few classmates, some of which may feel like family. Live together, write together, eat ramen together. Create your own staged readings and plays. Establish your own theater. Invest in a camera, shoot a film, make demo reels. Work around your schedules and above all else:

Have Fun

People don’t pursue theater because they have to, they do it because they enjoy it, so enjoy yourself. At the end of the day, there isn’t a clear or distinct answer on how to succeed in this business. Maybe some of the stuff I have written will help, applying directly to your post undergrad adventures. Maybe it won’t. Either way, you’re here, you’re doing it, have some fun. The people, places, and opportunities that you’re about to meet will vastly outweigh any anxieties that you may have about the future.

In conclusion, it’s going to be awesome. You are going to be awesome. Remember, we’re a team. We all come from different backgrounds, finding each other in the same place perusing the same happiness (regardless of college major or agenda). Without further ado, I welcome to you to adulthood. Spoiler alert: We’re all faking it.

Have fun, hang on, and happy graduation.

*Refer to that one psych 101 class that nobody paid attention to.

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