A while back a good friend and talented musician was speaking to a group of young, developing Artists. He asked some of us to write to him and offer any advice we might have for them as they make those important choices we all must make. Choosing a University, a discipline and whether or not to pursue a career in the arts at all. His response to my reply was part of the inspiration for this blog. So it seemed an excellent choice for one of the initial posts.
My advice to those of you who have already decided to pursue a career in the Arts, is as follows –
Attend a program that is run by currently working professionals in their field. They will be able to equip you with the tools necessary to succeed in the business as well as providing you with the training you need to develop as an Artist.
Make Frankie Fear your best friend. Any challenge you face in your development can be traced to a fear of something….and your success traced to your ability to overcome that fear. Usually, though not always, it is related to your ego in some way. David Mamet said that 90% of being a good actor, is being comfortable, being uncomfortable. Embrace it.
Be prepared to have a day job that is not related to your chosen field of study. Most of the work available to you out of undergrad is going to be part time, evening, no/low paying work. That doesn’t mean you have to work at Starbucks or wait tables.
You can get a really great, really fulfilling day job. Working in advertising/marketing, photography, graphic art or in an administrative position for a Theater Company, Symphony, Art Gallery or Museum. Perhaps in their Development or Audience Services Dept. This can not only keep you in your field full time, but be an excellent networking opportunity as well. I worked as a Scenic Carpenter for many years during the day while acting at night and on weekends and made a nice living doing it. Major in your Art, but get a minor in something to help you pay the bills.
Most people burn out or give up within 1-3 years of graduation. When I am working exclusively in the theater, I work anywhere from 30 – 70 hours in a week. When I have a day job while working in the theater on the side, I work 40 – 80 hours a week. I often operate on 4 to 6 hours of sleep a night for weeks at a time. My body hurts, my brain is goo and sometimes I don’t get to see or talk to my very best friends for weeks or even months at a time. …And there is nothing else in the world I would rather do.
I love everything about the theater. I love the neon burns you get under your eyes from a week of tech and a 6 week run of 4-6 shows a week. I love the smell of the makeup under the hot lights of the dressing room mirrors. I love the way the pages of a script feel in my hand. I love the feel of the fabrics of the costume against my skin, denim and flannel and crushed velvet. I love putting on a pair of shoes I would never buy for myself or wear anywhere or ever again except on that stage as that person. I love the smell of the drapes in the theater. The old musty tabs and borders and the chemicals they are treated with to make them flame retardant. I love the words we use that are completely anachronistic to the theater of the day, but they are our tradition and so we have held to them. Words like pin rail, box boom, phrases like, “trod the boards” when most stages are made of materials barely resembling wood, let alone actually being wood. Sometimes after a rehearsal I will sit in the theater for hours, literally, 2 or even 3 hours. Watching the show unfold before me on the stage like a movie in my minds eye. There is nothing about the theater and the process of creating our work within it that I do not love…cherish, with all my heart.
We have been given a great power as artists. A power to impact humanity and be effectively affective to a group of people who come and give us the gift of their undivided attention for 2-3 hours. That is why I love them most of all, the audience members. For the gift they give me. The gift of opportunity. Not the opportunity to perform for them. Not the opportunity to hear them laugh at me or applaud for me. But the opportunity to have a positive and lasting impact on the rest of their lives. That is why I do what I do and it is the driving force that gets me out of bed every morning and keeps me going until the wee hours of every night. I will not fail to take full advantage of the opportunity they have given us and the power God has granted us as artists.
The great Bobby Jones wrote of the theatre, “Get the personal you out of your work. Who cares about you? Get the wonder into it. Get your dreams into it. Where are your dreams?”
Another useful question, the one that guided every aspect of my life for many years, and can help focus those dreams…What do you want? Not what do you want to be…what do you want? When you know the answer to that, grab onto it with both hands, and fight like hell for it.