If I Were a Class of ’20 Theatre Grad…
I saw an interesting question on one of the Facebook stage management groups I’m part of the other day from a younger member asking what any of us would do if we were recent grads this year and I thought a lot of the answers were pretty great.
It left me wondering what I would do as a ’20 or even ’21 theatre grad.
I graduated in ’05 with my theatre degree and then went right on to get a Masters in a different field and graduated in ’08 – what was previously a banner year to be heading out into the world, but I really do think ’20 and ’21 have us beat in how difficult it is right now by miles.
I was also teaching stage management at a university last spring and had some time to reflect on how the advice I gave the juniors and seniors in January and February changed considerably by May.
I really think that if you want to go to grad school, you should go work for 2 years first.
I do not think this right now. I would say if grad school is on your radar, my number one advice would be that now is the time.
I think it’ll be another year before we’re running sort of normally and I think the competition for the first jobs will be pretty fierce. I also think a lot of pretty established stage managers will take jobs at a slightly lower level and payscale than they were working at right before the pandemic, which is going to have the most impact on recent grads and entry level positions.
On the flip side, I am very hopeful that three years from now (the length of an MFA program) things will be closer to prepandemic employment normal.
But all of that is also my mid-career self giving advice – not how 23 year old Mel would’ve seen the world.
And I am honestly not sure what I would’ve done.
I think I would’ve submerged myself in the incredible online community that exists now. But I also think I would’ve been a little stumped about how to move forward. I didn’t go to a school with a large alumni network or really anyone to provide advice on what to do next.
I did have two pretty phenomenal professors who I probably would’ve asked for some advice.
I am also drawn to unusual experiences so there is a good chance I would’ve applied for some out there jobs like driving the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile for a year (this is a real dream of mine), joining the Peace Corp., or wandering America in an RV and exploring while working any digital minimum wage job that pays the bills.
I have honestly considered a few of those things for this year as it is.
I also think I would’ve done every class and certification I could get my hands on, in the hopes of being employable in the post-pandemic world.
We talk a lot about mental spoons and mental health and balance and how it’s ok to feel overwhelmed by everything right now. And we all are who we are. And in waves, absolutely because this is a marathon, not a sprint.
But I also suspect that when things start to reopen employers are going just going to weed right out resumes that don’t have exactly what they need on them because they will have a massive pool of candidates who do have those things – and at the forefront, I’m thinking things like CPR certified, OSHA cards, and COVID tracing skills.
I think if you can swing it at all, it’s worth doing at least one or two digital theatre events and having them on your resume when we all return. Heck, do 8,000 if you like them and they are available to you.
As someone who hires on occasion, I would be looking for the same stage management skills as before, but I would want to know what you did with this time. And if you had a family, had to take care of sick loved ones, or were working a soul-sucking minimum wage job to get by the whole time, I want to know that because I do understand that you could be the most together, capable person and those things took up your whole year.
But if you’re the average 20-something recent grad (and really anyone with the spare time/enough money to do this), I would expect you to have dabbled in a virtual production to keep your skills fresh (because I think a lot of the end results are generally kind of rough, but the rehearsal and tech process are a lot of the same skills) and you should have all those certifications I mentioned above.
Class of ’20 and ’21, you have all my sympathy about what a rough hand you’ve been dealt, but I have been super impressed by the resilience and ingenuity I’ve seen in so many of you over the last few months.
At least it’s pretty likely to get better from here?