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Want To Have A Theatre Career? 6 Tips To Get You Started

By Kerry Hishon

A theatre career requires work and dedication. Anyone in the industry will tell you that you need to love what you do or it’s just not worth it. So if you are looking to break in to the industry, here are some tips to help:

1: Grow Super Thick Skin

Theatre is a tough avenue to pursue. Criticism abounds, and not all of it is positive or constructive. Face it — not everyone is going to like everything you do or work on. Your work isn’t going to appeal to everyone.

If you’re an actor, you’re going to deal with rejection on a constant basis when you go on auditions.

If you’re a director, your work will be reviewed and not everyone is going to like it or agree with your concept.

If you’re a playwright, your plays won’t be purchased by everyone.

If you’re a designer, someone is going to find fault with what you designed.

But what you need to do is grow super-thick skin AND KEEP GOING.

Don’t let rejection get to you. Don’t let criticism or bad reviews crush your spirit. Don’t let the naysayers tell you that you can’t do it, or that you’re wrong or silly for trying.

The world needs your art. Get yourself out there and share it.

Story time: In my first month of university, I auditioned for a show. (I don’t even remember what the show was at this moment.) I gave a terrible audition and didn’t get cast. I didn’t audition for another show for the rest of my university career.

DON’T DO THAT!!!

What I should have done was dust myself off, learn some new monologues (because the one I presented was crap), and KEEP TRYING.

If you want to do theatre badly enough, grow thick skin and keep doing it! Criticism will come; it’s up to you to decide how you deal with it. Will you let it bring you down, or will you push forward?

2: Hone Your Skills

Theatre can be a very competitive environment. Titles like “triple threat” have been around for ages, but now it’s more like “how many slashes can I have behind my name?” As in, So-and-So is an actor/director/playwright/lyricist/model/gymnast/competitive trapeze artist. Now, I’m not saying you have to suddenly become an expert in every field. That’s unrealistic. Rather, focus on continually honing, growing, and practicing your current skills.

Take classes or lessons. Get a coach. Sign up for a workshop. Go out and watch some shows and study what you see onstage.

If you’re currently working on a show, practice your lines, blocking, vocals and choreography on a daily basis. Learn a new monologue. Read some new plays. Create a sound/light/set design for a show you’d love to work on. Sketch out some new costume designs. Volunteer backstage on an upcoming show. Stretch daily. Record yourself performing and upload it to YouTube. Push yourself to learn more.

You are as good as the effort you put in. If you truly want to be better, you will make time to hone your skills.

3: Educate Yourself

The nature of art is that it’s always changing. What’s popular and interesting today will be old and moldy faster that you can say “Mamma Mia!”

Stay current with what’s new and exciting in the theatre world. Read Playbill, Broadway.com and theatre blogs. Read critics’ reviews. Follow actors, directors, playwrights and companies on Twitter.

Sign up for emails from theatrical licensing sites to see what shows are now available to purchase the rights for. Listen to new cast recordings and go see new productions as often as you can.

At the same time, the classics are always there. They’re called classics for a reason, right? So school yourself in the classics. Explore Shakespeare, Molière, Sophocles, Euripides, Chekhov, Beckett, Ibsen, Pinter, O’Neill, Brecht, Stoppard, Mamet… the list goes on and on. Discover Gilbert & Sullivan, Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Kander & Ebb, Leonard Bernstein, and join in the discussion.

Educate yourself. Stay current. Know your basics and learn from the past so you can contribute to the future of theatre!

4: Rest

I can already see my friends and family rolling their eyes and laughing at me for posting this one, because this is the tip I so frequently and blatantly ignore:

REST.

As a theatre person, you are already familiar with the late nights and long rehearsal hours that go into making a production, particularly around tech week (frequently known as hell week, but let’s not go there, shall we?). “I can’t, I have rehearsal” is always a phrase thrown about by theatre types of all sorts, because they are generally at one of three places: at home (where laundry and dirty dishes are piling up because you are never actually there for longer than an hour), at school or their day job, or, most likely, at the theatre.

It’s so easy to get swept away in the excitement of getting a show on its feet, but it’s also very easy to burn the candle at both ends and forget to take proper care of yourself.

That’s why it is so important to make time to rest. Particularly because you don’t want to be a zombie at work/school, and you don’t need to make yourself sick, especially during the run of the show.

If you do get sick during rehearsals, do everyone a favour and STAY HOME. You need to not spread your germs around to the rest of the group, and your body won’t be able to truly heal up if you’re continually pushing yourself. If it’s a performance, then it will depend — if you have an understudy or an assistant, give them a call and get them on that stage or running those cues for you. But if you are *it* and people are depending on you, then you’ve got to push through and get through the performance as best you can. This is why “preventative resting” is so important!

Theatre people need to learn to not figure out how far they can push themselves before their bodies just give out. Before you get to that point, you need to just STOP, GO HOME, and REST. And not just a nap in the seats at the theatre (although I have been known to do that once in a while), but a proper eight hours of sleep in your own comfy bed. No phones, no television, no video games — just pure, simple sleep.

It can be hard to unwind after you’ve been super-energetic and hyped up at rehearsals, or wired from a great performance.

Try creating a wind-down routine that helps you get in the mindset to sleep. Perhaps a warm bath or shower would help, or a mug of sleepytime tea, or some soothing music, or a lavender pillow spray.

Whatever helps you get the shut-eye you need to keep you going for eight performances a week. Try not to be tempted into going out for drinks or snacks after every show or rehearsal with the rest of the cast and crew. There will always be another get-together.

Know yourself; know your limits; listen to your body and just rest.

5: Support Other Artists

What do all artists, no matter their discipline, always need? (Other than to get paid… I’ll get to that in a minute!)

They need an audience. They need consumers for their art. They need people to see their shows, buy their paintings, listen to their music, read their books. They need people to know about their upcoming gigs. They need people to share their social media posts. They need to be seen and heard and talked about.

That’s where you come in, dear reader.

I bet you’ve got a project on the horizon. You’ve got a show in rehearsals, or a book about to launch, or a gallery showing, or a new piece of choreography about to be unleashed upon the world. I bet you’d love it if someone reached out and told you, “What you do is awesome. Other people need to know about your awesomeness.”

Why don’t you be that person for someone?

Do you have friends, family members, or even an artist you don’t know but admire the heck out of? Do them a solid and support them. Buy their art. Listen to their music. Put up posters advertising their upcoming performance. See as many live performances as you can. Tweet, share, like and heart all their social media. Write a blog post about them. Interview them on your podcast. Tell everyone you know how awesome this artist friend is. Get the word out. Help them to earn those dollar bills! Don’t just limit yourself to artists in your niche either.

Support it all — from circus performers to slam poets to Irish dancers to sculptors to tattoo artists, and everything in between.

And then you know what will happen?

People will start to do that for you too.

Share. Be a supporter and advocate of the arts. Put yourself out there. Get the word out. The world needs more art!

6: Practice, Practice, Practice

There is an old joke in the theatre world that goes, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” You may not be trying to get to Carnegie Hall, but no matter what, if you’re an actor-type, you need to practice… and not just during rehearsals.

If you want to succeed at acting, you need to practice on your own time, every day.

You can’t just show up to rehearsal and expect to perform at your best. You need to review your lines, your vocal parts, your choreography, your character work — and as often as possible — on your own.

There’s never enough time in rehearsals to get absolutely everything perfected as much as a director would want to, and if you aren’t practicing outside of rehearsal, then your precious rehearsal time is going to be spent re-learning and reviewing stuff you should already know.

You can’t move forward and go deep into your character and just generally improve as an actor and performer if you aren’t working and reviewing your stuff frequently. Worse, you’ll be outshone by those people who ARE working hard outside of rehearsal, and you’ll be viewed as a lazy actor who just phones their performances in. You might be a good actor, but don’t just settle for good. Work towards being great.

Focus. Put the work in. Practice, practice, practice.

 

Also by Kerry Hishon:

Three Theatre Games To Break The Ice

A Costume Is A Costume

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