Thursday, March 10, 2011

Advice to a Theatre Major: Finding Your How (Part 1): You Are Not a Migrant Worker

I've spent a few days talking about the importance of "finding your why," finding the reason you get out of bed in the morning, the thing that drives you to not only do theatre, but do anything that you find fulfilling. And the purpose of all this is to help you, through looking inside and out, into your past and present, and at society's past and present (theatre history has a lot of techniques that could be dusted off and put into practice again) to find your own individual path.


This is important, I would argue, because education (especially theatre education) tries to tell you there is one true path for everybody. That's why books like Robert Cohen's Acting Professionally: Raw Facts About Careers in Acting, which I read when I was in high school in the mid-70s, is still in print forty years later, and is still ruining the lives of all but a handful of actors with its one-size-fits-all advice. That's why the information in that book and books like it, are still taught by the majority of teachers in so-called  "pre-professional programs," despite a success rate that is beyond dismal. Hey, it's better than nothing, right? Wrong.


What I am telling you is that there are many ways into the forest, and each of you has to find your own place to enter. And that's why you need to understand your why. "Why" is your north star that you keep in sight as you weave your way, sometimes in directions that seem counter-intuitive, through your daily life.


Now let's look at your "how." First, review Simon Sinek's "Golden Circle," watching from about 2:20 in through about 4:30 or so.





Remember, as Sinek says, "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." If your "why" is totally self-serving and egoistic, then you will eventually find that people start not wanting to work with you. They instinctively sense that your "why" doesn't include them. On the other hand, if your "why" is inclusive and inspiring, people can sense it, even if you don't explicitly tell them in words, as long as your actions illustrate your why. Again as Sinek says, your goal isn't to sell to everyone who wants what you sell, but rather to those who believe what you believe. You want to surround yourself with people who help you fulfill your "why."


And this requires that you think about yourself very differently than you are "trained" to think about yourself. Most theatre training isn't about creating independent artists with a strong "why," but rather about creating employees. And not just employees, but employees with the mentality of a migrant worker willing to put up with whatever the employer dishes out in order to have the chance to work. As the A Chorus Line lyric says, "I need this job, oh God, I need this show." What is taught most strongly is compliance. Dennis Baker wrote about this in the Rutgers program, and I have observed it in action myself -- the attitude of all too many theatre professors is that your job as an artist is to jump when they say jump and ask how high on the way up. 


In fact, the lessons we imbue most strongly in the young theatre person would be applauded in any boardroom in the world.

1. Know your place in the hierarchy. In the rehearsal room, the director is king. Everyone else does the director's bidding. And the director does the producer's bidding. In the academy, we really reinforce this because not only is your director king in the rehearsal studio, but he's also your king in your classes where he can give you lower grades if he doesn't like your attitude. In the corporate world, the producer is the stockholders, the director is the CEO, and the rest of the artistic staff are middle managers and employees. Fits perfectly. In the theatre world, we have a slogan that can be trotted out whenever anyone questions the hierarchical model: "You can't make art by committee." We make sure that idea, which is never backed up with any data, gets tatooed on the psyches of every drama major that is "trained."

2. Efficiency is everything. If you don't believe that this is a strong value, suggest to a group of theatre artists that a less hierarchical, more collaborative rehearsal process might create a better production. The first argument you will hear (after "You can't create art by committee,") is that we "don't have time" for that, we have to get the show up. We have internalized the short rehearsal period to such an extent that we behave as if there was another tablet Moses brought down from Sinai that decreed how many weeks are allowed for the creation of a production. After all, time is money, right? Perfect for the corporate environment. The majority of Broadway productions fail every year at a rate most businesses would find horrifying, but we never question this value. It's too expensive to spend money on rehearsal -- better minimize the investment and hope for the best.

3. Do what you're told. Everyone is trained to wait patiently for the director to indicate what they should do, and then do it as effectively as possible. Don't take chances carefully analyzing the script you are given to understand how it works in order to develop your own ideas about how you might creatively support it -- that'll only get in the way of doing what the director tells you. You are a blank slate to be written on by the superior intelligence of the director. Yours is not to question why, yours is but to do or die.

4. Strive to be what they want you to be. This is what everyone learns in auditioning class. The theme song for this is "Dance Ten -- Looks Three" from A Chorus Line sung contrapuntally with "Razzle-Dazzle" from Chicago. What does the market want right now? That's what you should be. Great way to move up the ladder in corporate America as well. What's conventional wisdom about getting your second job? Play well with others. Theatre is Dale Carnegie central.

5. Delude yourself about the product you are working on. I was once told that, if asked by someone about the show I'm currently working on, always say its the best thing you've ever been associated with. Say something critical about the product and it gets back to someone else on the show -- you're dead. Production is a process of group self-hypnosis. Loyalty demands that you leave your critical mind at the stage door. This skill is particularly helpful in the corporate world when you have to defend your products against accusations of health hazards or environmental destruction. Tobacco execs were experts at this skill -- it's ingrained in theatre people, too.

6. Don't let your ethics get in the way of your career. Given the slim employment opps in the theatre, it is in your best interest to accept whatever comes along that pays. In fact, having no moral or aesthetic values at all is a great benefit, because you'll have nothing to stand in the way of employment. And if anyone asks about an artist's responsibility to society, you can laugh with great commitment. An artist has no responsibility to ANYONE, you can snap. Does the play reinforce negative stereotypes? Hey, it's only theatre -- we don't actually affect anyone's ideas, right? Film filled with violence and misogyny? It's entertainment -- nobody really takes this stuff seriously. A highly developed sense of rationalization can serve you well in the corporate world, too. Just take a little of that money you make, wipe the dirt off of it, and contribute a few bucks to a women's shelter or something.




It's time for this corporate theatre training to end, and the way it will end is if you, as theatre artists, begin to take your talents seriously, determine your "why," and then sell to the people who believe what you believe, who share your values, who want to do similar things. Throw away your CD of A Chorus Line and buy a copy of Daniel Pink's Free Agent Nation and Tom Peters' The Brand You 50. Stop asking for people to "give you a chance" and instead start making your own chances. 


Or you can keep playing the Scarcity Game, putting up with 88% unemployment and pounding the pavement, hat in hand, looking for artistic handouts. 


The choice is yours.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Tom Vilsack, Ezra Klein, and Assured Mutual Idiocy

I'm not certain I can write coherently about this, because I am so angry. It might be better to just read this blog post on "Blog for Rural America" entitled "What are the rural subsidied that Ezra Klein and Tom Vilsack are debating?" And even more: "The Myth of Rural Subsidies."


Ezra Klein, obviously on some sort of buzz following a reading of Edward L. Glaeser's self-congratulatory and parochial book Triumph of the City, wrote a blog post entitled "Why We Still Need Cities," a title which implies, like the Religious Right's mythical "assault on Christmas," that there is some sort of assault on cities underway that he and Glaeser need to defend against. He concludes his superficial piece of a superficial book with a superficial conclusion:
The overarching theme of Glaeser's book is that cities make us smarter, more productive and more innovative. To put it plainly, they make us richer. And the evidence in favor of this point is very, very strong. But it would of course be political suicide for President Obama to say that part of winning the future is ending the raft of subsidies we devote to sustaining rural living. And the U.S. Senate is literally set up to ensure that such a policy never becomes politically plausible.
What???? 
   First of all, there isn't a "raft of subsidies" devoted to "sustaining rural living," there are subsidies devoted to sustaining corporate agriculture, and that is something else entirely. As is noted in CFRA blog post linked to above, "USDA investment is [badly skewed] toward very large farm operators and away from investing in programs that build a future for all of rural America. The report found that the USDA spent nearly twice as much to subsidize just the 20 largest farms in each of 13 leading farm states examined as it invested in rural-development programs to create economic opportunity for the 3 million people living in 1,400 towns in the 20 most-struggling rural counties in the same 13 states." Sort of like the arts funding distribution system: the rich get richer. Subsidizing Archer Daniels Midland is NOT "rural living." In fact, it is subsidizing the killing of rural life. Plus, more is spent per capita in urban areas than in rural areas.


Vilsack, rightly feeling that Klein's post was a "slam on rural America," takes part in an interview with Klein four days later in which he defends rural areas in what seems to me the most stupid terms possible. People may remember that I took Rocco Landesman to task for his insulting comment about Peoria when he first took over at NEA, but that was nothing compared to Vilsack. Basically, Vilsack says that we need to subsidize rural living because rural areas supply 44% of the military, and because the people there have good values. WTF??? Rural areas should be supported because they raise all-American cannon fodder?

Here's the problem: Vilsack can't really deliver a smackdown to Klein because he'd have to own up to the actual subsidies that are going to corporate agribusiness, which he can't do because he is bought and paid for by agribusiness, and always has been. And so he is incapable of defending rural areas because he thinks of them as great big storage units to be mined for food and water. 


All it would have taken was a glance at the Amazon comments on Glaeser's book to be able to kills Klein's urban buzz. Here is something from Louis C. Nuyens:


Before we are too quick to unquestioningly praise cities, we should remember that today's cities rely unsustainably on fossil fuels, even if we believe the concocted attributions contained in Glaeser's fascinating but sometimes fantasy-based analysis.

The inconvenient truth is that the sustainable carrying capacity of the Earth might be a lot closer to one billion than to seven billion or more, and sustainable land-use -- which might increasingly require that food, water, construction materials, and energy supply come from locations near to the people who use them -- might look a lot more like semi-rural small towns than like medium-to-large modern cities in which nature is paved out of existence, human activities are disconnected from awareness of the limits of natural resources, and virtually all essential food, water, energy, and materials must be delivered from remote locations.
When Klein stops eating food and drinking water from rural areas is when I'll start listening to his ideas. 
   And what about all that money that goes to pay for urban problems. What percentage of the prison system is taken up housing urban criminals? What percentage of the war on drugs? What percentage of arts funding goes to urban areas? What percentage of urban planning money goes to urban areas? The list could go on and on.


Makes me so damn mad...


And while you're at it, take a look at this:"Well-Being in Rural Congressional Districts."

More on Finding Your Why

In the comments of yesterday's post, "Advice to a Theatre Major About to Graduate from College (Part 2)," a commenter, The Waltzing Belgian, who has experience with my approach to play analysis as described in Introduction to Play Analysis, writes:
The problem with using the analogy of the Major Dramatic Question is that the question "Will Hamlet--?" isn't answered from within, it's answered mostly based on clues from the play, from the plot, which guide it in a certain direction. This may be a good way for Nervous to concentrate her efforts: by looking at specific instances from her own past, problems she has solved, ways that she has dealt with things. Simply "soul searching" makes a great bumper-sticker, but it can lead to some radical wish-fulfillment dead-ends. If led unchecked, it could provide answers like "Hamlet really wants to explore the universe". It isn't enough to simply look within, a big part of it consists of looking back and possibly even of talking to other people as a mirror for looking at yourself.
4:21 AM
Of course, we're dealing with an analogy here, so the correspondence won't be one-to-one, but the point he is making is true: the further along in the play you are (i.e., the older you are), the easier it is to recognize the Major Dramatic Question. 


However, without going into a major play analysis geek out, I would also point out that the MD? arises when the protagonist first commits to a course of action, which we call the Moment of Engagement. This is the moment when the protagonist takes the first step along the road that is the play. In Hamlet, it occurs in Act I Sc 5, when Hamlet speaks to the Ghost of his father, who tells Hamlet he must "Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder," to which Hamlet responds, " Now to my word; It is 'Adieu, adieu! remember me.'I have sworn 't." At that moment, Hamlet commits to a course of action, and the audience wants to know whether Hamlet will kill Claudius. In other words, while the MD? is answered at the end of the play, it starts very early in the play. Had Hamlet said to the Ghost, like Dickens' Scrooge, "You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!'' we would have a very different play.


All of which is to say: you don't have to know how the play ends to find your "why." It is a commitment to a specific course of action.

But I would also agree with my waltzing friend's point that your "why" doesn't come wholly out of one's inner self. By all means, look back on your past experiences to find out the characteristics of those that gave the greatest  fulfillment. And be specific. If you really enjoyed working on a particular show, what made it fulfilling? Were there certain rehearsals that were satisfying -- what made them so? Was it working with a certain individual? What is it about them that made it fulfilling? Was it what the play had to say? And don't just confine yourself to theatre experiences. What experiences in school, on the job, in a volunteer organization did you find fulfilling, and why? You're looking to see if there is a common thread, something that can be applied to a variety of situations.

The goal is to fill your life with as many things as possible that you find fulfilling.

That's why it is a good idea to make sure you don't confuse your "why" with your "what." If you make them the same ("my why is to do theatre, because doing theatre is what gets me out of bed in the morning"), then you have only a single option. And that means you will spend much of your time frustrated and unfulfilled, define your non-theatre work in a way that is unfulfilling ("my day job is the lousy thing I have to do to put a roof over my head so I can do theatre"), and miss a lot of opportunities that will be fulfilling. Maybe even more fulfilling than theatre,

As far as "wish-fulfillment dead ends," there is nothing about this process that guarantees success. After all, Hamlet might have been killed before he revenged his father's murder. But joy comes from trying to accomplish something, and being aware of the experience as it occurs.

More Advice to Nervous

I received the following email from a former student of mine in response to the "Advice to a Theatere Major" series of the past couple days. She adds a little different twist. I will also be following up soon with additional posts. Here is her letter:
I was in Nervous' place just three years ago: liberated to wander my mind ,seeking the endless possibilities that existed after graduation. But at the same time, Nervous as Hell. A little background about me.

College gave me a neat four year path, outlined with specific classes, schedules, and community functions. Having this nicely packaged lifestyle allowed me to explore myself, my "why" comfortably. I had ( I thought anyways) a pretty good idea of who I was, what I believed in, where I was going next and where I would be in 5 years time.

Here was my 5-7 year plan:

  • become a freelance costume designer for local theaters
  • having built up my resume apply for grad schools
  • apply and be accepted
  • graduate
  • apply for costuming positions at small liberal arts colleges

Here's what I actually have done in the last three years (in chronological order):

  • Freelanced for local theaters
  • Was a teaching artist for charter school
  • Taught two college courses on Costuming
  • Resident designer for small liberal arts college
  • Moved to the beach and became a server and bartender
  • Moved to NYC
  • Worked as a cocktail waitress
  • Interned on SPIDERMAN: TURN OFF THE DARK
  • Turned down offers to work as a Production Designer for a movie
  • Turned down paying gig at SPIDERMAN
  • Moved back to my college town, waiting for the summer so I can go back to the beach to work again.

You'll notice a very "non theatre-y" period of the timeline. This was for a few different reasons. For one, I was on the exact path that I wanted when I graduated. At 23 years old, I was teaching college. SUCCESS! (especially in my parents' eyes.) On the drive home from a final dress, I had a panic attack in my car. "Why was I teaching college at 23 years old? " Everything I thought my professors and parents and friends expected me to do, I was doing. But who's expectations were these in actuality? All of these kernels of realizations popped off in my head as I drove home. I wasn't equipped for all of this "life" responsibility quite yet. And it showed. I'm still very much proud of my designs, but I lacked the years of experience when it comes resources, communication, and balancing of work/life challenges. So I flat out stopped doing theatre. I wanted time to truthfully answer the question "Do I want theatre to be apart of my everyday existence?"

Even after the beach, I didn't move to NYC to do theatre. I went up there to explore my personal "Why." I worked in service by choice. I love meeting so many people with different stories, backgrounds, insights, and "Why's." Everyone's favorite question in NYC when you first meet them is : "But what do you dooooo?" "Why are you here?" I got so sick of telling people my whole history of occupation, I started to tell people I moved to NYC to "lose my mind." That usually shut them up. And it wasn't that far from the truth. But what irked me most is this notion that we are defined by occupation. More important questions in the world are "What do you do when a friend calls you at an inconvenient time because they are down?" "Do you hold doors for strangers?" And like Scott points out, "What gets you out of bed?"

I was getting ready for an interview with a Yoga Center in Brooklyn when a NYC friend called me: " I've seen your work(costumes,sets, props,make up) online. My buddy is working on Spiderman and they need some help. Like an hour ago." Due to my giddiness for adrenaline, high stakes and action-packed short-term work, I said yes. My buddy later told me what happened next. He called his Spidey friend back. " What is Katie like?" he asked. My buddy's response: "She's skilled, determined and has a good sense of humor." Spidey said, " That's exactly what we need". And the experience was awesome. I learned a ton about the industry (for instance I was the only one in my department that went to school for theatre. Everyone else was an artist supporting themselves with theatre!) More importantly, I learned about what kind of worker I am/ how I interact in new situations and environments. (Internships are awesome because people are willing to teach you, honestly critique your strengths and weaknesses, and shower you with gratitude for your dedication.)

And now I'm far away from the hustle of NYC living across the street from donkeys and roosters with minimal belongings and no car. By choice.

Nervous, this is my advice to you: Take a break from Theatre. Go to Chicago. Find a job that sounds interesting you. See some comedians (they've got some great insight.) The worst that can happen is that you'll find that everything inspires you and makes you wonder how you could turn it into a play or costume or character monologue. That's where I am now. I've learned from theatre training and the last three years that I love to invent, share stories, make people laugh, make people think, express my emotions, learn everyday, take adventures, and step out of my comfort zone. And it's good to know that I can find a job within theatre doing all of those things. And it wouldn't be a bad life at all. The best artists(be it theatre,fine arts, musicians, thinkers, engineers) find their craft in the most unexpected places or paths. Or rather, it's always there but new situations and challenges bring out different shades of their craft, informing the skill and the head and heart it belongs to.

Am I still confused as to what I want to do with the "rest of my life"? Am I still Nervous as Hell? Hell yes. But so is everyone. Even my retired Grandparents are. Do I still think constantly about going to Grad School for an MFA? Hell yes. I know that when I'm the least focused or stressed out about this particular decision, the answer will come to me. So Nervous, proudly join the ranks of the "Quarter-Life Crisis" and be thankful that we have the great opportunity to explore, fumble, create, reflect, and succeed the way we see fit.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Advice to a Theatre Major About to Graduate from College (Part 2)

Yesterday, I wrote a post to a "nervous" theatre major preparing to graduate who was wondering about the next step in her life. Judging from the amount of traffic it generated, I decided there probably ought to be a follow-up. Well, apparently "Nervous" did some thinking last night, and sent me the following response to my question about her "why," the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. Here is what she wrote:

Why?
Because I don’t understand the world any other way.
I wish I could say that I was doing this for someone else. Some day, I may very well be. But I think I can’t try to do anything for anyone else until I understand it myself. The reason I say this, I think, is because I grew up with a lot of ideas that were taught to me and that I now believe were not only untrue, but also harmful to me. They were not taught to me with the intention of hurting me- my folks just didn’t see past what they were brought up to believe. At this point, saying something like “I want to change the way people see the world” would sound really awesome, but it wouldn’t be true. Because I don’t know how I see the world yet. Theatre is the only way I know to throw what I think I know and believe out there- to bounce it off someone else's life, their perspective, their beliefs- and get an immediate response. In a scene, it's not about getting it right- it's about making that connection, saying "this is what I think, okay?"- and having that person say, "Yeah! Totally! Keep going" or "Fuck you- try again." You're playing pretend, yes- but that connection, that effort, that hope and potential for honest-to-blog communication is real, dammit. Maybe I could say that I hope people find a curiosity for their worlds, too, but for the time being, I want theatre, want to watch theatre, want to do theatre, because it helps me understand a world that’s too big for me.
That's my why. Right now.

------------------------------------------------------------


Dear Nervous -- At the risk of sounding like Stanislavski's Torstov in An Actor Prepares, or for that matter your biggest pain-in-the-neck acting teacher, I'm going to say "Nice start, but you need to do some more work!" Here's why.


First of all, I have a feeling that the question you asked yourself was "why do I do theatre?" That's not the question. Theatre is your "what," perhaps, but your "why" needs to be broader. Your "why" is about you as a human being. And it needs to be broad, but not too broad, which brings us to the next point.


Believe it or not, we're all trying to "understand a world that's too big for us." I know, I know, we all walk around giving the impression that we have it all figured out, especially if you're as old as I am, but the fact is we don't, which is why we have books, TV shows, movies, religions, families, marriages, volunteer organizations, sporting events -- well, it is why we have life. Each one of us gets up each morning and tries to figure the world out by experiencing another day. So maybe that's our "meta-why" (oh, God, I can't believe I just wrote that). Here is why it isn't your "why" (in my opinion).

It's too big. It doesn't reflect your special core, your quest, your "true north."

Bear with me for a second. As you know, I co-wrote a play analysis book with Cal Pritner called Introduction to Play Analysis, and in our chapter on conflict analysis we describe what we call the "Major Dramatic Question." The MD? is written in terms of the protagonist, and is the question the audience wants answered by the end of the play. It takes the form of a question: "Will the Protagonist _______________?" So: "Will Hamlet justly avenge his father's murder?" "Will Amanda find Laura a husband?" It's about plot, about action. The MD?, when turned around, becomes the Protagonist's objective for the play: "Hamlet wants to justly avenge his father's death." "Amanda wants to find Laura a husband." If a student turned in an analysis that said the MD? of Hamlet was "Will Hamlet understand the world better," or "Will Amanda find a way to be happy," I'd send them back to the drawing board, because even though those might be broad human goals, they don't lead to specific action. The purpose of a MD?, an objective, a "why" is to rule out certain choices and include others. Hamlet could understand the world better if he went back to Wittenberg and studied more, and he might be happy if he married Ophelia and had a nice house in a Danish suburb. But that's not what he's there to do. That's not his "why."

Of course, life isn't a play, but it is about plot, about action. You're trying to figure out what to do next.

Also, beware of this phrase: "Theatre is the only way I know..." To put it bluntly, theatre isn't the only way to do anything. If that's the only way you know how to do something, then you need to use your imagination a bit more, because there are lots of ways to accomplish a "why." So you say " Theatre is the only way I know to throw what I think I know and believe out there- to bounce it off someone else's life, their perspective, their beliefs- and get an immediate response." Really? What about more direct, less mediated ways like, say, having a conversation or writing an email or giving a speech on a street corner? Wouldn't those options also involve saying what you believe and getting an immediate response? Wouldn't it be more direct to become a minister or a politician rather than an actor? And are you really saying that, as an actress, you will always be speaking about what you think you know and believe? When you do that industrial, or TV commercial, or get that gig in Jersey Boys, will you be speaking your truths? Or will you, instead, be providing the mouthpiece to speak somebody else's truths?

Finding your "why" is hard, hard work, and by now I suspect you've had enough of my criticizing. Maybe a few examples would help. If your why is: "I want to become a famous actor known the world over," then that leads in certain directions and not in others. If that was your why, and you came to me asking about your next step, then I'd probably say "head to Los Angeles." On the other hand, it wouldn't make any sense at all for me to say, "Head to Amery WI and do shows at the Northern Lakes Center for the Arts," because you're not going to find international fame by acting there. On the other hand, if your "why" is "I want to use acting as a way of speaking my own particular truths and getting a direct response," then Amery night be just the ticket -- maybe you'd create shows that explore your own philosophical explorations like, say, Richard Foreman does. A good why leaves some things out.

And I'd also say it might be good to ask "why" a couple times in a row as a way of digging down more deeply. "I want to become a famous actor known the world over." Why? "Because I want to affect a lot of people." Why? "Because I think I'd like to make the world a better place." Why? "Because there isn't enough empathy in the world." OH! So your "why" might be "I want to teach people how to empathize."

Realizing this also allows you to find appropriate day jobs that will feed your soul rather than kill it. If I want to "teach people how to empathize," then my day job might be doing diversity training for corporations, or running a day care for at-risk children, or working for a suicide hotline, or... But if the only way you can imagine accomplishing your "why" is through the theatre, then you are going to be very unhappy whenever you're doing something else, and the reality is that that is going to be most of the time, even if you are successful.

So pour yourself another glass of wine and look inside a bit more. Find your true core, your "why" as a human being, not as a theatre person.

Then you take the next step: finding your how.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Advice to a Theatre Major About to Graduate from College

Dear Abby/Scott/Scoot,

I feel like I am forever asking your advice- and here I am again. I hope you'll forgive me, but it's difficult to talk big life decisions (about things like theatre careers) through with my folks, who just don't have a frame of reference for this kind of stuff.

Scott, I'm terrified of moving to Chicago. I like college. I like being in a safe spot. I like knowing that I don't need to worry about depending on acting financially. Thinking about turning this thing I love into a business- it just makes my stomach turn. I'm not a good businesswoman.

That said, I know that if I were working a 9-5 without theatre, I would go bonkers. I'm not adverse to hard work- I've had a job consistently (through school and productions) since I was sixteen. I just can't get over the feeling that Chicago- and the hunt for acting jobs there- will not be the fulfilling experience everyone promises it will be.

What am I missing? Is there a blatantly obvious answer for how to "make it"? If I don't "go for it" in Chicago theatre, will I regret it the rest of my life?

And how the hell do you keep your spirit up when you're worried about whether or not you've booked an industrial shoot? They don't teach us that between iambic pentameter and Meisner.

Best,
Nervous in Normal

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Nervous in Normal -- You are right to be nervous, of course. Everyone who is getting ready to graduate from college ought to be nervous. The entry into the BBW (Big Bad World) -- especially THIS BBW -- is scary stuff. So give yourself permission to be scared as hell.

But this is about more than Chicago -- it is about your own happiness. You're fortunate: you're young and without a lot of financial responsibilities, so you have the ability to try things out. No decisions are permanent at this point.

Let's start with what you have going for you. This has nothing to do with theatre:

1. You're smart.
2. You're articulate.
3. You're likable.
4. You're educated. (you have a BA)
5. You can work as part of a team. (that's what shows are based on)
6. You are self-disciplined. (or else you wouldn't learn your lines and show up for rehearsal when scheduled)
7. You can present yourself in front of people. (acting)
8. You can manage people. (directing)

So you have all the tools to be successful in whatever you do. Remember that -- the conventional wisdom that a degree in theatre isn't useful in "real life" is stupid. Don't accept the fallacious idea that your options are waiting tables or working temp.

Now: watch this video:


Then spend some time thinking, journaling, and/or talking over wine about what your "why" is. What gets you up in the morning, what is your purpose. Your "what" may be "theatre." Your "how" is all the things you've been taught. But dig deeper: what does theatre allow you to do that makes it worthwhile. (Hint: if the answer resembles anything like "I just get so buzzed when I get to be in front of people and they loooovvvveee me," then don't go into theatre, go into therapy: we have enough narcissists in the business already.) DON'T SKIP THIS STEP. You may be surprised at how your "why" may be able to be realized in many different ways.

Why is that important? Because discovering your "why" may help you look for a day job that can also be fulfilling while you're looking for theatre work. There is no reason why your day job has to be unsatisfying and underpaid. (See numbers 1 - 8 above.)

Now read this: http://networkedblogs.com/f7EkQ. Don't let your inner cynic get in the way. Money quote from post: This is why you must not work for the approval of cynics; you must have a higher motivation that is yours alone. You must work for what is noble and right, and for what is true to your own self.
Because you, not being a cynic or a naysayer or a charlatan, have already tipped the odds in your favor simply by daring to believe in something. "

Now comes the hard part: first, ask yourself this question: is it necessary that theatre be my primary income source? Could I be happy doing theatre avocationally if my day job was satisfying? This is an important question to ask yourself, because if you don't need to, as you say, book an industrial in order to pay the rent this month, then you have the freedom to do only what interests you. 

Second, ask yourself this question: does it matter to me WHERE I do theatre? Is it important to me that I be reviewed in the Chicago Tribune? If I were doing theatre that I love in, say, Bloomington IN would it be less satisfying than doing theatre in, say, Chicago? If the answer to this is "yes," be sure to revisit your "why" to see where that fits in, because what you are saying is that the quest for fame is part of the equation, and it needs to be in the "why." For some people, that is very important; for others, it is something they've been brainwashed to believe. This is about YOU, not your teachers or your fellow students. You are trying to find YOUR life.

If what you're asking me is whether going to Chicago to pursue theatre is "sensible," I'm not going to answer it, because that's not the important question -- in fact, it is entirely irrelevant, not just for you as a theatre artist, but for anyone. The important question is: what is my why, what gets me out of bed in the morning, what would make me fulfilled? Once you've answered that question, then you can move out to "how" and "what." But start with why.

Your answer needs to be honest, your self-examination needs to be thorough, and at the same time you need to revisit the question periodically throughout your life, because it may change over time. 

Once you can answer the "why" question to your satisfaction, then email me and we can go to the next step. Sound good?