10 Things I Wish I’d Been told in College (and 1 I was)

Everyone loves lists.

Well. I love lists, and while there’s been a lot of talk over my three years actively blogging about theatre about the failings of the Theatre Education Industrial Complex, we’ve not really attempted to create a curriculum we approve of. Largely because, well, creating a new theatre education paradigm is hard. And I’m not going to do that here, because I’m not sure how to even begin.

Instead? Herein lies a list of things I wish someone had told me over a beer the night of graduation. “Well… you made it, and now you’re ‘In the Club’ so here’s all the things you weren’t taught.” This does include stuff we’ve talked about here in the past. But not all in one place.

I also want to include the one thing I WAS told outside the framework of the program that really helped.

In no particular order:

  1. Read Everything.
    Consume media.
    Consume the world around you.

    An “artist” with nothing to say is “retired”. You need life experience, you need ideas and emotion flowing through you when you’re actively creating, but even more so when you’re not. There’s a reason that a musicians first album – culled from years of struggle and real life intruding on creation – is generally the most alive.
  2. You’re not done learning.
    And the know-it-all attitude you’re sporting will not endear you to the in-the-trenches veterans you’re now talking with. Lose it. And keep the war stories in their place. They’ve all done crazy things on a show before too, save it for beer later.
  3. This isn’t Bohemia
    You are not a Romantic Poet. You will not die of consumption in a garret, starving for your art, unless you’re stupid enough to not (y’know) go get a job and pay rent. Those Romantic ideals NEVER work out for the hero. Dead isn’t a career move unless you’ve already got a few films in the can.
  4. You’re an entrepreneur now.
    Actor, singer, dancer, tech, producer, doesn’t matter. You’re in business for yourself as soon as that tassel flips. Figure out what that means for you. What’s you plan? You have a plan right?
  5. Have a plan.
    You’re not going to show up in Major Metropolitan Area and get discovered while working at Florsheims. No. You’re not. So how are you going to make that happen? What are you going to do when it doesn’t? Is that really what you want?
  6. Make a friend. Make Five. Make TWENTY.
    No matter what mama said, you are NOT god’s special snowflake. There are 20 or more of you in every major metropolitan area. I suggest while waiting for a break, you MAKE a break. You’re not going to go from graduation to Great White Way. So be Bill Rauch. Find people you love and a thing you love making and do it. People will notice.
  7. And it can be where you are
    If you need to get out, get out.
    But there is an audience for what you do right where you are. If you’re most happy living on the New Hampshire Seacoast? DO IT. And find people who are making the theatre you like and bring them baked goods until they let you play. 
    There’s no such thing as “Never Made It Out”. There is only choosing what makes you happy. Portsmouth is as deserving of great art as Brooklyn.
  8. About the money…
    About that Plan…
    There’s no money here. Or there. Or over there.
    The very best can make a living if they hustle hard.
    So learn grant writing. Learn business modeling, and budgeting. It’s going to be tight, but you don’t have to go broke making art. Or entertainment. Or whatever it is you make.
  9. Leverage what you know, and keep increasing what you know.
    If you want to do more than a couple of shows you need to be adaptable and unafraid of the new. You can’t eschew the computer for the ol’ quill and parchment in every instance. You can’t avoid networking because ‘you hate that shit’. Here, we’ll call it “hanging out with different people and talking to them like you actually care”. Now go DO IT.
  10. There’s no time limit.
    Unless you want to be a Broadway ingénue. You haven’t failed if you haven’t done “X” by 25 or 30. You “fail” if you stop. You rarely stop something you are still in love with. If you stopped because you don’t want to do it anymore? You didn’t fail – you changed. You don’t owe theatre anything.

The one Real thing I was told off the record was by Nancy Saklad. During a rehearsal in a very large ice storm with the power out butchering a monologue from Terranova over and over again:

“You can do this you know. Professionally.
If you want it, you can do this.”

After 5 years of college and 3 years in high school she was the first person who ever said such a thing to me.
And then she stuck the landing:

“But you have to work at it.”

  • Mikela

    🙂 Good list. Who you know is important- but more so, who knows you! Your reputation can precede you- if that's good or bad, depends on you.
    Bottoms up!

  • Cool stuff. I really like this, and am posting it up to a class of graduating actors from my Uni … thanks!

  • Great list!

    It's pretty rare for any list like this to highlight something valuable with each point but you do.

    Given my own line of thinking these days, I give special marks to 4 & 5 but depending on my mood, I might easily give special marks to any of the others.

    I think if this list makes the rounds, it could be very helpful for a lot of people — whatever their career stage.

  • fishbowlmuse

    Great list. I completely wish someone had told me that stuff as well. It seems so obvious now.
    I'm not sure if knowing it earlier saves you any struggle, but it probably would have saved some wasted time.
    I especially like #10. 🙂

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  • scottwalters

    Perfect. Tom Loughlin and I ARE trying to create a theatre curriculum — and this is a good starting point.

  • Travis, as my buddy Scott says, he and I are working on trying to change the picture. I like the list, and linked to it on my blog. But as a 30+ year educator, I will add this to the mix – I have said all of these things multiple times to my students over the years. The question may be equally as much about who is listening, and what they are listening to at the time, as it is about what is being said.

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  • I think this is a sidebar to a holistic theatre training program. I think curriculum can cover the “business” portion of it. And the thrust of what a Loughlin/Walters curriculum will cover a large portion of the rest (let's not pretend I haven't been listening for the last three years). As I said up top, these are things I wanted to hear over a beer.

    My particular program was exactly what I needed but the turnover in my five years led to my not having a faculty mentor. I didn't have someone who'd walked this path to talk me through the first steps.

    And I think you're absolutely right in your second point: I don't know that I would have listened. I am notoriously hard headed, and I was 21 at the time 😉

    So aside from going to SETC (and I'm not) How do we get to hear about a revamp?

  • scottwalters

    Tom and I will be starting a blog soon devoted to revising the theatre curriculum, and it is our hope that we'll be doing a podcast (or videocast) as well. And that's breaking news…

  • Perfect.

  • Derek Kolluri

    Getting to sit down to a beer with a professor is a reward earned by displaying a working knowledge and practice of the elements listed here.

  • Derek Kolluri

    Or, the beer comes when the student asks the prof to meet. This is just another thing one might have benefited from learning… 11. If you want something, ask for it.

  • Andrea

    Hi there, love your list, and couldn't agree more. At the end you mentioned a good friend and teacher of mine, Nancy Saklad, and it is so cool that you know and worked with her as well. She is wonderful, always has a wise word.

  • Andrea

    Hi there, love your list, and couldn't agree more. At the end you mentioned a good friend and teacher of mine, Nancy Saklad, and it is so cool that you know and worked with her as well. She is wonderful, always has a wise word.

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  • Colleen

    Okay So I stumbled On Your Blog particularly this post and That is A Perfect quote from Nancy, I had her as a Professor at Suny New Paltz for my Acting one course last semester and she is a total Gem.

  • Bowenmariah

    This is great advice. I especially like the last one and it applies to everything in life. If you want to do something you can, but you have to work for it.

  • Hellokitty

    And there’s another: if someone opens a door for you even a tiny crack (networking), i.e., your mom… take it & run with it. Don’t dis a connection because you think it’s lame — you might find a few years later that your best friend scored a great gig with that same connection.

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