The start of a new school year is exciting for a performing artist. Hopefully, you go to a school or college that has an active, professionally-managed drama department along with student-run productions.  Day one of school is an exciting fresh start.  Your time in school is a special period of life where you can focus on developing the necessary skills to become the adult you want to be someday. A brand new season of plays and musicals opens up a world of artistic possibilities. Here are some tips to help you make the most out of the coming school year:

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Set some goals:  Having goals will help you make the most of your time this school year, and actually writing them down provides a visual reminder, giving you something to aim for.  Make sure these goals are achievable during this school year. You might want to make it to Broadway some day, but smaller milestones will provide you greater motivation. Examples of achievable goals include mastering a particular tap dance step, working as artistic staff on a production, or adding ten songs to your singing repertoire.

Get organized:  Time management is one of the most important issues for an artist. Be careful not to over commit yourself.  Research and decide on the classes you want to take, long in advance.  Avoid committing to multiple major extra-curricular commitments that happen simultaneously.  Aim to work on a play in the fall, if you’re going to be playing tennis in the spring.  It’s better to do a few things well than lots of things poorly. You will also enjoy things more if you don’t totally stress yourself out.  

Stay healthy:  Make sure to eat well and keep a regular sleep schedule. Do whatever it takes to avoid getting sick. Hydrate!  When it comes to performing, your body is your instrument, and it is very important to take care of it.  

Prepare:  The name of the game at the beginning of the school year is audition, audition, audition!  There are so many opportunities, and it’s tricky to balance them all and also do your best work.  A savvy performers prepare for auditions far in advance. Start working now to master a repertoire of audition songs and monologues that suit your type but also show range.  That way, you have an arsenal to draw from at the drop of a hat.  When you’re not sure if a part is right for you, and there are a bunch of auditions happening simultaneously, read the guide for each show on StageAgent!  It will save you a huge amount of time and help you know where to focus your energy.  

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Once you know you’re auditioning for a play, try to read it carefully before the audition and find appropriate material that will allow auditors to see how you are right for the role for which you are auditioning.  Decide on a few audition outfits now, instead of at the last minute.  You want to avoid rushing to prepare for an audition and avoid surprises. By preparing now, you will be much more comfortable on stage when that perfect audition comes along.  

Find a mentor!  Every great artist has had one or more mentors guiding him or her along the way. Unless you are psychic, you will need someone to guide you along your path to success.  School is a great place to find that mentor. Research the reputation of each teacher.  Just because he or she has a fancy job title, it does not necessarily mean that you will want to spend your valuable time with that person. Find a teacher that people love and respect and do what it takes to get that person’s attention. The performing arts world is very small and recommendations from the right people can give you a huge boost.

Last but not least, be kind.  Making art is hard, and falling on your face is an integral part of that process.  In the words of the great director, Harold Clurman, “You can’t have good plays unless you have a lot of bad ones.  People have asked me why don’t we have more good plays; I say why don’t you ask me why we don’t have more bad plays, because if you have more bad plays, you’ll have more good plays, because that feeds the ground — that’s the manure that makes things grow.”  

Dancer

Take risks, but be kind to yourself when they don’t work out, and extend that same generosity to your fellow artists.  Kindness makes you more professional, gracious and courteous — and it also helps you navigate the inevitable politics of every drama department. With your peers, try to become a great listener, but don’t become a judge. Suspend your ego, and give only constructive feedback, and only when asked.  It’ll help you in the audition room, as well.

Directors want to cast great performers, but they like it even better when they are also great humans!  The best artists don’t just play roles well, they are masterful collaborators — and becoming a great collaborator early can make all the difference in securing a role.  You might be in school, but if you act like a professional, people will treat you like one.

2 comments

  1. Excellent article! I would add four–

    1. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Many performers I’ve met, especially among the university-trained, Mom/Dad/Grandparents-funded group, will be surprised when science finds the center of the universe and it’s not them.

    2. Strive for balance. As wonderful as it can be, theater is not everything there is to life. Other subjects are important, particularly (and this is just my opinion as someone whose career has nothing to do with theater) things that can lead to PAYING JOBS. And within theater, neither drama, comedy, musicals, nor any combination is all there is.

    3. Nothing can lead to more friendships or more enemies than how you treat non-performers within theater. Yes, technicians may be “mere mortals”, but they can help you a lot and can sabotage you with the punch of a button or the flick of a switch. And they’re lots of fun after rehearsals and performances.

    4. Network. You never know when that struggling chorus member will wind up running a theater or becoming a casting agent, and will say, “Oh yeah, she was good and a good person when we were in school 20 years ago!” or “That summer stock show we did 15 years ago was awful, but he was terrific!”.

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