I'd like the address this particular quotation:
MARTIN.The really, really good young people - you can have them when they're just in college and just after. They're quite right, they go to New York. I don't blame them, they have to make a living. A really hot theater town - which Boston wants to be so badly and may be someday but really isn't yet, if I may say so - in a really hot theater town, a good actor can earn his living doing theater. And when [celebrated local actor] Nancy Carroll has to work a day job, that's just wrong.In the novel The Alchemist, author Paulo Coelho describes "the world's greatest lie," which is "that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what's happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate." The theatre has its own version of the world's greatest lie: that are lives are controlled by place.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell once wrote: "One of the problems in our tradition is that the land -- the Holy Land -- is somewhere else." He follows this up by talking about a section from the book Black Elk Speaks, in which Black Elk describes his vision: "He says he found himself on the central mountain of the world. And the central mountain of the world was Harney Peak in South Dakota. 'But anywhere,' he says, 'is the center of the world.'"
Nicholas combines two great theatre lies into one quotation: that the center of the world is New York City, and that it is possible for a young actor to make a living doing theatre there. Do we really need to rehash the argument against this? The Actors Equity employment figures, for instance? Do we really need to discuss whether there is a need for more young actors, even "really, really good" ones, In New York? If there is a need for actors in New York, I would venture to say that it is a need for an entirely different demographic -- say, "really, really good" middle-aged men. But young people? Dime a dozen. But the center of the theatrical world can be anywhere, as long as it is where you are actually doing theatre.
What Martin is talking about is not really "making a living" in theatre, but rather participating in more auditions. There is no arguing that there are more auditions in NYC on a weekly basis than anywhere else, more by far than a single actor can possibly take advantage of. What is the value of all the auditions that you can't attend?
And while there are many, many auditions, the ranks of the unemployed in New York are so huge and the over-abundance is so tilted toward the young end of the scale that even if you are "really, really good" the likelihood of making a living in the theatre is infinitesimal. But we keep repeating this lie, sending our young, talented people off to NYC like they sent the soldiers of World War I over the tranches to certain death from machine gun fire, because we can't think of a different way to do it, a different story to tell.
I agree with Martin that young actors should go where there is the best likelihood of working as often as possible. Actors get better mainly through trial and error, by being in front of audiences and figuring out what works and what doesn't. The same is true of directors and designers -- practice is the best teacher. But what you are going to get the most practice at in New York is not doing theatre, but auditioning. And maybe networking.
Of course, part of the problem is that someone like Martin, who is in a position to actually employ young actors, doesn't want to actually grow good actors, he just wants to pluck them ripe from the tree. They have to be "really, really good" before he'll touch them. It is the super market approach to theatre, where somebody else does the spade work for you. George Steinbrenner is the ultimate example of this in action -- don't develop players, just buy them after somebody else does the work.
Well, for young people, I would argue if you really want to have a career in the theatre, figure out the best way to get yourself in front of an audience as often as you possibly can during your younger years. Any audience. Work work work. Then debrief debrief debrief. After every show, try to figure out what worked, and just as valuable figure out what didn't AND WHY. Be honest, be critical, be focused. Use your stage time to learn and grow, not simply to self-promote.
I would argue, contrary to Martin, that New York City is NOT where young people should go. If you are moved to see NYC as your final destination, I would argue that you would do better to do what Moliere did: spend some time learning your craft in the "provinces" BEFORE you head for NYC. Moliere BOMBED in Paris the first time, because he got an opportunity to perform for the court before he really knew what he was doing. So he took his company on the road for over ten years before he ventured back to Paris again, and to eventual triumph. During that time, he worked constantly and grew as an actor and as a playwright. That's what young people should do.
And that probably means being part of a company, and there are many people who are afraid of that. But if you have a group of people all of whom are committed to working and developing, even if it is just doing plays in church basements or living rooms or on the back of a pickup truck or on a wooden stage in the park, you will become a better artist.
I'm not talking specifically about a theatre tribe here, although you could use that model. I'm just talking about doing work any way you can, and doing so by being in control of the work that gets done rather than hitting the audition circuit and relying on other people happening to pick plays that are just right for you.
Don't let your life be controlled by fate. Take active participation in your life.