Dear Those Going Off to Theatre School...

As a theatre director, I have seen many of my students go on to incredible colleges and universities to continue their acting studies.  I'm incredibly proud of all of my former students and love hearing about how wonderful or terrifying their experiences can be in the world of academic theatre.  I myself received my BA in acting from Marymount Manhattan College and then received my Masters in classical acting from Central School of Speech and Drama so I'm a BIG fan of honing one's craft in an academic setting.  Before my students head off on this incredible journey, I can't help but give them a few pieces of advice that I wish someone had told me before I headed off to NYC for my freshman year and I thought I would share it with you now.

You are paying a great deal of money for this experience and when you speak, you are not learning anything new, you are regurgitating what you already know.  And dropping a buttload of money to only hear yourself spew what you have already learned really doesn't make much sense.  Listen to your professors, of course, but also listen to your dormmates, your classmates, the people you share the subway with.  Listen to everyone.  Listen with the intent to understand not to reply.  Theatre majors tend to be some of the most vibrant people on campus.  Chances are you spent much of your high school life singing show tunes at the top of your lungs at inappropriate times and places.  Odds are, as a theatre kid, you've lived your life loudly, which is a wonderful way to live, however, I encourage you to ignore the urge to show off to your new friends, at least for the first few weeks.  Watch and listen and determine which of your fellow classmates you feel a true connection with and seek out their company.  Then you guys can tap dance through the halls to your heart's content.

As you head to your first class, remember that only by taking risks are we able to grow.  You will want to impress your teachers with your amazing talent, and you WILL, but don't forget to show them how willing you are to challenge yourself to try new things in their class.  If you've struggled with dance, sign up for extra classes.  If you've always feared the Bard, pick a Shakespearean monologue to work on.  You are not doing yourself any favors spending the next four years polishing the skills you already have.  Drain every ounce of knowledge from that institution so when you walk out of there you never wish that you had done more with your time there.

So what if there's not a role for you in that show.  Auditioning is basically what professional actors do for a living.  If your school regulates what you can audition for then you're pretty much stuck BUT if you have the freedom to audition for student productions or professional theatre in the area, DO IT!  The less you audition, the scarier auditioning can seem.  But the more you audition, the better you become at auditioning.  You'll learn what songs are your favorite to sing, how to dress for comfort and for style, and you'll get a reputation for being a pro (assuming you've read my post about how to audition and you follow those guidelines).  Don't let any opportunities pass you by!

Really know them.  Email them questions.  Ask for their feedback.  Support them by seeing the shows they've directed or read the books they've written.  Make connections that will last a lifetime.  Don't be shy if they're famous.  They won't think you're fangirling if you reach out to them from time to time.  You don't have to attack them after class every week to make an impression.  Come to class prepared and ready to participate and you will make yourself known.  You want to have the kind of relationship with your professors that if you see them in an audition room years down the line, they remember you fondly.

Seriously.  I know that college is a time for exerting our independence and often times that can take it's toll on your body.  As performers, your body and your voice are the only instruments you've got.  If you smoke or drink heavily, you will destroy them.  For every day that you spend in bed hung over instead of heading to dance class or practicing your sonnet, that's a day that you've taken away from practicing your craft.  Don't let those days stack up... 

You're extremely hard working and talented - which is how you managed to get to this school, to make it into this program.   Stay humble.  When you find yourself the only sophomore with a small role in the mainstage production of Pirates of Penzance, stay grateful for the opportunity and avoid gloating to your classmates.  When you encounter a professor or director that uses a different style than you're used to, avoid complaining about them with your classmates after rehearsals.  Find something, anything, that you can learn from this person.  When a classmate is working crew on your show, introduce yourself and learn their name.  When you're asked to work crew for a production, throw yourself into this role.  Be the best damn spot operator they've ever seen!  Learn how to use a drill and a crescent wrench.  Take pride in working behind the scenes.

There will be times, many times, when you will get caught up in the chaos of classes, rehearsals, homesickness, drama, and the excitement of this new life.  Don't forget to stop every now and then and enjoy this incredible experience.  In your acting classes, listen to your scene partners.  Avoid trying to anticipate every tiny moment on stage and off.  Go with the flow instead of trying to control it.  And it should go without saying but a big part of being present means being PRESENT.  Go to your classes.  Strive for 100% attendance.  I cannot reiterate this enough.  You will not grow if you do not go. 

This is incredibly important.  I go back and read my journals all the time for inspiration, to remember acting exercises that I did in class, or to re-discover old monologues.  Take copious notes and observe everyone around you.  Catalogue all of your experiences and in four years, you will have a THEATRE BIBLE with everything you've learned in one place (or 10 places if you're like me and go through a LOT of journals).  It's also a great way to stay connected to YOU.  Jot down your personal thoughts about school, life, etc, and it will help keep you more grounded.
You will not regret this one, I promise!

That's all for now.  I'm so proud of you all for chasing those dreams.  Now go to class!