This is a guest post by TJ Dawe, a trusted fellow artist, friend and multi-faceted writer in my network.
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My experience in theatre school was unfair, and was the perfect preparation for the real world.
I went to a university theatre program. The first-year class was the same size as the rest of the department combined because so many first-years drop out because it’s so competitive. And it was. I wasn’t the star of the department at all, and neither were most of my classmates. But one guy was.
Here’s how it worked: we did acting exercises and scene-work in class. And then there were all the plays put on in the department, which were cast by open audition. Directors cast whoever they wanted. And surprise, surprise, the same people got cast in everything, every time. None of us cared about our grades. All anyone cared about was who was cast in plays, and how people did on stage.
Some theatre training programs work differently. Students are cast according to who needs to play a role, who would learn most from a role. Every student graduates with a very rounded experience.
But in my department, not only did the same people get cast again and again, the inverse (obviously) applied: the rest of us didn’t get cast in anything.
It wasn’t fair. But neither is the professional world. In fact, it’s way worse. In theatre school, the senior class graduates every year, leaving at least some room for newcomers. In the professional world, if someone gets cast all the time, they stay right where they are, taking job after job after job.
So what do you do if you aren’t one of the lucky few?
You can wait, and keep trying. Maybe things will open up, if you work hard and meet the right people. But here’s what’s frustrating about that: every year there are at least some newer and younger people who do get let in. This delightful experience confirms that it wasn’t a matter of there not being any room left in the club, just that there wasn’t any room for you.
Here’s what I did: created my own stuff. On my own, and with people I connected with in the department. I put more time and effort into these projects, because they meant more to me. I was more suited to it. I had a better time doing it. I got better responses - including from my teachers. That’s what I’ve done ever since.
If you take this approach, you can do it as a showcase, and toss original work aside and play roles once people see how great you are and start casting you. Or you can do both.
Creating your own stuff has the advantage of keeping you active. There are few things more discouraging than waiting for someone to let you be creative. And few things more empowering and enjoyable to stepping into the creative space.
It has always intrigued me how much our acting career experiences have direct parallels to the startup world. The more calendars I turn the more obvious it’s become - nobody is going to pick me. I need to pick myself. Get yours.