Well everyone, tis the season…the season of college applications. Many of my students are applying to various musical theater programs across the country and I'm in the position of writing each of them a warm and honest recommendation.
It occurred to me last night, as I was finishing my sixth letter of recommendation this year, that my students might be surprised to know what I write about them in these letters. I'm sure they all assume I am regaling these admissions officers with tales of there unmatched talents as singers, dancers, and actors but in reality the talent of a student is kind of the least important thing I can talk about when recommending them for college programs. I find myself discussing work ethic and attitude and determination much more than I would ever discuss their level of talent. Because at the end of the day, talent doesn't matter so much. In fact there are a myriad of things that a performer can do that take zero talent that will get them noticed, get them accepted and ultimately get them hired.
In my experience training young performers to have success in the professional world, it's really more about how much they're willing to work to improve rather than how talented they are to start. I would rather have somebody 100% dedicated to growing as a performer but who maybe struggles with vocal ability or has never taken an actual dance class over an incredibly talented but lazy performer.
We've all worked with them before. The performer who was blessed with a natural talent for singing or who has impeccable comedic timing and can cold read the most complex scripts without breaking a sweat but who doesn't practice their songs outside of the rehearsal room. Or doesn't actually read the play, just memorizes their part. And they do well enough, don't get me wrong, but they will never find much success without improving their work ethic.
My favorite students have always been the students who were willing to put in the extra time and effort to challenge themselves and grow as performers. They were the ones who showed up early to rehearsal to go over the choreography or who stayed late to help stack the chairs. They were the ones who sat with a piece of paper and a pencil at the end of the dress rehearsal, ready to take notes. They were prepared for rehearsals. They were supportive of their cast members. They always hung up their costumes! And ultimately my favorite students have been kind, compassionate, and basically good people.
These qualities are sometimes hard to find in the theater world. We have egos as actors, as directors, and as designers. Sometimes we get caught up in the work and the desire to create something amazing and we forget our humility. Our ego can show more than it should. But the hard-working performers, the ones who know the names of their crew members and who still send thank you notes, well, they're the ones I want in my cast. I want the ones willing to put as much effort into the production as I am. And my family can tell you I put a lot of my time and energy into these productions.
So the next time you have an audition or you head to rehearsal or dance class, remember that talent is not a performer's most important quality. A performer needs to be respectful. They need to be patient. The need to be hard-working. And anybody can be those things.