A Director’s Guide to Making Your School Theatre Casting Process a Learning Opportunity for Everyone

If you’ve ever performed in school theatre, you know what a horrible, exciting event the posting of the cast list can be. When the roles are assigned for the annual fall play or musical, tensions tend to run high, and students sometimes turn their backs on teachers. Feelings can be hurt, and the casting process can often seem like a personal rejection. Finding ways to keep this process productive and educational for everybody can make your program stronger and help increase retainment between shows!

Truly, every student can learn from every experience they have in the theater. This can be a hard lesson for young people to grasp. Directors can help by making small adjustments to their auditions and communication with students.

The following is a list of suggestions for directors following a rough chronological order. The list is divided into four sections: Before Auditions, Auditions, Casting Considerations, and Posting the List.

A side note: Many teachers are of the mindset that casting drama is below their circle of influence and not of any priority. They will also argue that the casting process is not about making anyone feel good about themselves, but setting yourself up for the best show possible and preparing students for real-world auditions and experiences. This is true. However, I urge all educators to remember that experiences in school theatre can make or break a student on performing for the rest of their lives. While I don’t advise pandering to students with bad attitudes, I strongly believe it’s necessary for educators to enforce fair, understandable casting policies, and treat all students with empathy and respect.


Before Auditions

  • Establish a good relationship with your students. Before auditions even begin, do your best to open lanes of communication between your students and yourself. Make clear that you are a trustworthy figure that harbors no ill will toward any student. This will also help keep nerves low.
  • Be clear about your program’s values and realities. Make it clear that the program will be enjoyable no matter what, and that while not everyone can be a lead, your program will celebrate every member of the cast. Set a clear example of what it means to respect ensemble members.
  • Make your expectations for auditions clear. Explain what the audition will look like, how to prepare for it, and what you want to see. The clearer you are about your expectations, the easier you can justify your casting decisions. This way you can also make sure every student has a fair chance to prepare, and that your auditions will be relatively smooth and stress-free.
    • Host an audition workshop. An audition workshop is a great way to do this! If many of your students are first-time performers, they may have never auditioned before. Going over the process of preparation, choosing a song, and performing in front of the production team can be very helpful for veterans and first-timers alike. Check my article about audition preparation if you need some ideas for preparing your students!
  • Explain the casting process. Explain that casting is never personal, and that many diverse factors impact your decisions. The more students understand the process, the less likely they are to argue with it.
    • Be clear about casting realities. Make sure students know that ensemble is a fact of life, and never something to be ashamed of. Share your own stories of being in the ensemble, or about getting cast in parts you didn’t feel right in, or about getting cut altogether– the more you can show you understand and have been through the same situation, the more likely your students will be to work with you.
    • Find ways for students to try out the process themselves. If your students can get hands-on experience with casting others, they’ll understand how complicated the job actually is. If you can set up classroom projects, workshops, or student-run productions where young performers can experience this, you may find the drama and intrigue around the process minimized.

In general, seek to humanize yourself and the process as much as possible. Keep discussion about what to expect frank and simple, and try your hardest to make sure students never think of auditions as any sort of personal judgement.

Auditions

  • Make sure everyone gets a fair shake. It is disheartening to feel like the director is done with you while everyone else reads multiple times. Don’t be disingenuous in your process, but give everyone an equal chance– don’t let one student read four times while another reads one, for instance. You can also lessen post-list hard feelings if everyone is given completely equal opportunity.
  • Consider creating an audition rubric. Even though you don’t necessarily have to follow this rubric by the word, having one makes defending your casting choices easy and makes your expectations very clear to students. It can also make giving feedback post-auditions easily demonstrable.
  • Be supportive and lessen students’ anxieties. As famed director William Ball states in his book A Sense of Direction, actors are vulnerable when they audition– part of the director’s job is too make the process easy for their auditors. In school theatre, I believe this goes double. Being a young adult is already hard. Don’t make it harder with unnecessary panic.

Casting Considerations

  • Cast according to best fit. Remember that your first and foremost consideration is casting the best show possible.
    • Stay strong! Even if you feel bad about a decision, never apologize to another student or tell them they deserved a role over another. Always stay strong in your decisions. Do not risk jeopardizing your students’ trust in the process by wavering.
  • Consider spreading the wealth. Look for ways to cast people who don’t normally get roles. Don’t be disingenuous, and always favor best fit over personal relationships. An opportunity to rise to a higher standard is always beneficial for every student nonetheless, so definitely seek ways to provide them as much as possible.
  • Keep an eye out for new talent, and don’t be afraid to take a risk. Don’t shy away from casting new faces. New students can really be hidden gems! Use your best judgement– a new, very talented student who is unreliable is likely never a better choice over a reliable but perhaps less gifted veteran.
  • Consider using students as crew leaders. If you have a particularly reliable student with useful skillsets that aren’t necessarily in the realm of performance, consider using them to create student-centered technical theatre programs. Student stage managers, technical directors, and sound or light ops (to name a few) can lighten your workload and really shine with an opportunity to do so. However, these students must be responsible and you must really commit to giving them real responsibilities. Never relegate students to technical roles as punishment or because they didn’t make the cut to be in the cast!
  • Ensemble is never to be used as punishment. Enough said. This totally undermines your message that the ensemble is important. If you need to make it clear that a student’s behavior or attitude isn’t acceptable, don’t cast them at all.
  • Consider establishing rules and regulations related to casting. For instance, if there are multiple performances a year in your department, consider establishing a rule that says no student may hold more than 2 leads roles a season, or set up cabaret performances exclusively open to students who weren’t cast in other shows. This will show your actors you are committed to providing opportunities to many students, and grant them chances to show their stuff.

Sharing the List

  • Consider sending personalized casting emails. Instead of posting the list with no context or fanfare, consider sending personalized emails to every student to offer roles. This can remove the feelings associated with finding out roles in a public space or from others. This is also a good way to make sure every student feels seen, rather than like a forgotten name at the bottom of the list. However, the emails must be truly personalized in order for this to be effective– sending one generic email to everyone is no better.
    • Offer constructive criticism. Open yourself up for questions related to auditions. Be sure to establish clear parameters for doing so. You could offer specific questions for your actors to ask: “Is there anything in particular that impacted my placement?” “Is there anything I can work on to improve for next time?” This way, the exchange remains entirely productive and avoids accusations or self-pity. Provide the actor with a few examples of things you liked and things you disliked. If you used an audition rubric, feel free to share it with them with some contextual notes and suggestions for the future. This promotes a growth mindset among students and creates dialogue rather than unspoken frustrations.
    • Only offer criticism in writing or in the company of others. That being said, sharing constructive criticism can open the door for further drama if you’re not careful. Give advice in ways your words cannot be twisted around.
  • Make it clear you will not tolerate drama related to the list. Be strong and unapologetic on this point. If students behave poorly in regards to casting, do not be afraid to remove them from the show where appropriate.
  • Celebrate the list. Celebrate every student on the list and make it clear everyone who auditioned has done something brave and commendable. Uplift every individual cast member and show you are proud and solid in your choices.

 

 

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Get the Most out of Your Rehearsals by Journaling Them

About a year ago I was assigned a project for class that involved learning about anything and tracking your learning in a multimedia format. Since I was at the time involved in three different productions occurring simultaneously, I decided to make a blog about my efforts in learning to be a director. Though this project itself was very low-stress and even enjoyable, I got a perfect score and a glowing review from my professor, as well as a brilliant learning experience I didn’t expect.

Apparently required journaling of rehearsals is pretty common in school theatre programs nowadays– I never had to do this, and so I was able to approach the task with a fresh mind. Even if an assignment like this has previously tainted your experience with journaling rehearsals, consider revisiting it– it can be very beneficial for your learning, both in regard to that show and to your overall development as an actor and artist.

Note that I use “journaling” as a light suggestion rather than a commandment– you can record and track your rehearsals in any way that works best for you. A blog can work well, as I’ve already found. You could also keep voice recordings or record video or photo diaries– whatever works best for you is the route you should follow!

Once you’ve chosen your method of tracking rehearsals, it’s wise to establish some parameters to follow with every “entry”. On my blog project, I set a few basic rules for every post. I decided that in each post I would:

  • Briefly summarize the events of the rehearsal
  • Note how the director managed the rehearsal and whatever difficulties/successes occurred
  • Verbalize one main “take-away” lesson from the rehearsal
  • Note what I should do to prepare for the next rehearsal and when/how I would do so
  • Mention anything else worth note

These guidelines were broad enough to allow a lot of freedom, but also specific enough to keep me on task and keep me focussed on the goal of deriving directorial insight. Some other suggestions for things one might make a “rule” for their posts include:

  • Light analysis of rehearsal’s scenes/songs/blocking
  • Relate rehearsal events to readings/recent lessons in acting/voice/dance/etc
  • Describe personal character choices/revelations
  • Analyze the rehearsal practices of other actors/director/etc whom you look up to
  • List areas in which you did well and areas in which you need to improve
  • Record questions you may have for the director in the next rehearsal

Possibilities are really endless, but these are some general examples that may come in handy. Ideally, your “journal” should be uniquely fitting to your process, so feel free to add/drop guidelines as you go should you see fit. Find what works for you!

I recommend making a “journal entry” every time you have rehearsal, preferably as soon after the rehearsal concludes as possible. The closer you write to the rehearsal itself, the fresher your memory will be, and the more useful the writing will be to you. You may also want to make an entry when you do anything adjacent to theatre, your rehearsal process, or your learning. In my blog, I reflected upon chapters of books I was reading, discussed podcasts and YouTube videos I had consumed, wrote “reviews” of shows I saw, and wrote about any revelations in the “homework” done as I pored over the script outside of rehearsal. You can include passing thoughts about the show, ideas for character choices or blocking, or frustrated comments about whatever is bothering you– whatever. It’s your journal to use as you feel fit!

Recording all of this is beneficial for many reasons. For one, you’ll have an easy way to review your previous rehearsal efforts, and be clear on what you need to work on going forward. You can piece together the information you’ve acquired across all of your learning– for example, bits of knowledge gathered from rehearsals, auditions, book learning, classes, and random thoughts– and have an easy place to synthesize it all while reviewing prior thoughts. You have a constructive way to air frustrations, and a private place to reflect on insecurities or concerns. Reflection is an important step for growth and personal improvement, and contributes to a more mindful life. Plus, you’ll be easier able to set and keep track of goals you have in regards to your show or acting career. I really think the perks can’t be overstated.

Make your “journal” yours and make it as beneficial as possible to you! That might mean heeding none of my advice, or following almost the exact same parameters as I did on my project. Regardless, as long as it is what works for you, you can derive some meaning from it, and you are able to stick with it, recording your growth will be of your benefit.

6 Non-Theatre Subjects Every Theatre Person can Benefit From Learning More About

A single performance in theatre requires many diverse skillsets from many diverse people. There’s simply so much young actors and artists have to learn about the craft itself just to get through auditions that spending time on learning things that aren’t immediately connected to performing skills can seem like a waste. However, it’s precisely because shows require such diversity that learning everything you can about nearly every subject you can will always be of an actor’s benefit. If you’re ready to take your theatrical training beyond the basics, try moving away from acting, singing, and dancing for a bit and looking to these adjacent areas of knowledge instead!


1. Human Anatomy

I recommend every performer learn as much about anatomy as possible. As a performer, your entire body is your instrument. Your entire body must be engaged to sing, dance, and act. No matter where you plan to work in the theatre, your understanding of your own body will always be of benefit to you. Learning about anatomy gives you a better sense of how your body functions, helping you use your body efficiently and to its full capacity, while also preventing injury.

For singers and musical theatre performers, I especially recommend looking into vocal anatomy. Understanding precisely how the voice functions is a powerful thing! You can effectively learn how to “hack” the underlying structure of your voice and use it to your full advantage. It can also explain and make concrete some of the weird tips from your voice teachers you’ve never fully understood. For example, many voice teachers will talk about proper breathing. Once you understand the action of the lungs and the movement of the ribs to accommodate them, you can get a better sense of how proper breathing looks and feels.

As a small bonus point, I highly recommend learning a bit about body mapping— this will help you translate your anatomical knowledge to concrete behaviors!

2. Psychology

Directors, writers, and actors alike can all find use for training in psychology. Similar to learning anatomy, learning about psychology will help you understand how and why people work, but on a mental level. When it comes to analyzing characters and developing blocking, your understanding of psychology can create more realistic characterizations.

A large part of acting is stepping into another person’s shoes. Some basic psychology knowledge can help you do this more effectively, and move beyond the realm of feelings and emotions to scientific human behavior. One isn’t necessarily better than the other! However, if you find your acting feels overly charged or superficial, psychology might be able to help you.

Understanding psychology can also be of benefit to actors offstage. Psychology can help you understand the best practices for learning and memorizing lines, or impressing casting agents in the audition room. Understanding how your brain works and how others’ brains work is truly of benefit to anyone!

3. Speech Pathology and Linguistics

Though these are two different fields, I am lumping them together in this article because they will serve us similar purposes. Just as understanding how the singing voice works benefits singers, understanding how your speaking voice works benefits anyone who speaks. Actors do a lot of speaking. By understanding the structures that produce sound and the best practices for manipulating these structures to get desired results, you can improve your vocal stamina and volume with reduced risk of injury. Say goodbye to strained throats caused by long rehearsals!

Both of these subject areas will touch upon the anatomy of the vocal tract and how our mouths shape sounds. Speech pathology is as a discipline focussed on the correct production of speech and fixing problems therein, whereas linguistics is about language and sound as it relates to language. These are slight shades of difference to the untrained eye. A beginner’s understanding of either field can prove beneficial for anyone who uses their voice on the regular.

4. Marketing and Networking

As an actor, part of your job is to effectively “sell” yourself in an audition. How well you manage to perfect this process can have a big impact on your acting career! Therefore, becoming well-versed in how to market yourself is of dire importance for every actor.

Learning to perfect “the art of the pitch” will benefit you no matter what role you occupy in the theater. Actors pitch themselves and their characterizations to directors in auditions. Directors must pitch show choices and interpretations to artistic boards or their casts. Writers must pitch their own shows to producers. Designers must pitch their art to directors and creators. In school theatre, teachers must work to pitch the entire program to their administration and community to prove their importance! No matter where you work in theatre, you’ll find some knowledge of how to market your ideas useful. Otherwise, someone else better at it will eclipse you!

Nowadays online marketing is relatively easy, which means you have to work extra hard to stand out. Familiarizing yourself with social media algorithms and content crafting is important for anyone seeking to be seen online. Whether you are looking to expand your school program, advertise your new theatre company, or build a personal website to go with your acting resume, marketing knowledge is your ticket!

Acting is notoriously about who you know rather than what you know. Master the arts of networking with the right people and marketing yourself to them accordingly, and you may find lucrative returns.

5. Wellness, nutrition, and personal health

Basically, “how to take care of yourself.”

When your body is your instrument and you submit a photo of your face with every resume, your physical and emotional wellbeing is important. Your physical fitness will effect your stamina on stage and impact the kind of dancing and blocking you can keep up with. If you don’t exercise regularly in some form, you are handicapping yourself on stage. There is plenty to be said about the superficial beauty-queen side of acting, but leave all that aside for a moment– It is important that you are at your very best so you can be at your very best. This means eating well, getting proper rest and hydration, taking care of yourself when ill, and finding a physical activity that speaks to you.

You also need to be able to take care of your emotions and mental health. Acting means accepting a constant stream of rejection and criticism. You won’t be able to handle the work if you can’t handle this. Familiarize yourself with coping mechanisms or seek help to do so!

6. Finances

Acting is a notoriously lean profession. It doesn’t necessarily have to be! Keeping track of personal finances is a skill absolutely every actor should become intimately familiar with. I’m certainly no expert, so I have relatively little advice to offer here, except that this is absolutely crucial if you plan on attempting to make a living from theatre. Find good resources to learn from and spend wisely!


There is always more to learn! Because performing requires so many miscellaneous skills and benefits from the performer experiencing many things in life, actors shouldn’t discount the opportunity to learn about anything. All learning can be of benefit, even if indirectly. Take the time to learn something new every day!

10 Ways to get an Education in Theatre Outside of College

A college education in theatre is an incredible opportunity. However, for many reasons, it’s not always attainable. With the current cost of college, any degree should be closely examined for its post-graduation worth. Though a theatre degree is as worthwhile as any other degree, the capital required to earn the degree is a huge barrier for many, with often uncertain returns.

Whether you cannot afford a degree, or are in the process of preparing for a degree, it is necessary that those seeking education take initiative. In today’s society, the ability to learn on your own is paramount. There are many resources available waiting to be taken advantage of by those committed to their own growth!

Here are 10 suggestions for taking your education on theatre into your own hands.

1. Learn on the job.

This is hopefully the most obvious way one can learn about theatre– do more of it. I place this first on the list because I believe it is also the most important. Do as much theatre as you can, in as many places as you can, in as many ways as you can. Branch out! While it’s good to determine favorite production companies or theaters to work with, and the connections derived from frequent work together are highly important in an industry as reliant on who you know as theatre, it’s also in your best interest to see a gamut of styles, atmospheres, and conditions. Seek as many different locations as you can, and seek varied work there. If community theatre is your usual gig, consider going to some professional-level auditions. If you normally act, consider trying directing or stage managing. Even if all of these experiences don’t lead to big roles or opportunities, the opportunity to evaluate the experience and use it as wisdom later is invaluable.

I must absolutely emphasize that any engagement with theatre in any way is a success. Usher for shows. Take tickets for shows. Be a carpenter, costumer, or props master. Act in the ensemble. Go out for auditions for ensemble and get cut. As you work your way into more roles in theatre, you will broaden your skillset, build your resume, and create for yourself a more holistic understanding of the art. This is a fun and free (maybe even paid!) way to learn!

2. Go to classes, lectures, and private lessons.

The very same classes offered at $500 a credit to college students are often offered much cheaper through other means. Search your area for opportunities like classes, lectures, talkbacks, seminars, readings, and private lessons. Community colleges are cheaper and less commitment than large universities, and often offer “non-credited” classes to the public body. Some performing arts companies and theaters offer classes on the side, and private voice and speech teachers are usually easy to track down, depending on your area. Local Facebook events are a fantastic way to search for these opportunities! If you struggle to find anything nearby, “webinars” and skype lessons can also be beneficial.

It’s important to remember that some classes aren’t going to be as good as others. Be wary of taking anything as gospel in these classes. Unless it really, personally works for you, it simply may not be your style. Add it to your personal bank of information and move along if that’s the case. However, remember that an important part of education is keeping yourself open to possibilities– even if you’re skeptical, remember to search for meaning and use in every opportunity.

Speaking of keeping your mind open, remember that there are a variety of skills connected to theatre, and I want you to dip your toes into as many areas of theatre as possible. Therefore, a community college class in welding or carpentry totally counts here! Any way you expand your horizons is never wasted.

One on one classes in voice are so beneficial to anyone interested in musical theatre, I heartily recommend them whether you are currently in theatre school or not. Find a voice teacher you love and never let go!

3. Read, read, read

Reading is a great way to learn, especially if you’re limited on time, monetary resources, or mobility. Nonfiction can be a little dry, but when you’re passionate about the subject, it becomes easier– and learning to read and understand nonfiction is a valuable skill! Check your local libraries for books on or related to theatrical arts. If this fails, you can also seek ebooks. Scribd.com is a great resources for ebooks, for a small monthly fee– much cheaper than individual purchases. You can also find books heavily discounted on Amazon if you’re lucky– I bought Anthony Rapp’s memoir on his Rent experience, Without Youfor $0.01 (plus $3.49 shipping) through Amazon. Shop around! Of course, you can also buy books full price at bookstores, but I always recommend thrifting before going for the gusto.

If you’re absolutely diametrically opposed to nonfiction, there’s hope: reading plays and scripts is also beneficial to your growth! Again, consider seeking these cheaply before purchasing them full-price. Scripts are often easy to find online.

You can also consider taking out subscriptions to magazines or news services related to theatre!

4. Use online resources

Alt title for this point: “Duh, use the internet, you goof.”

There are quite literally infinite educational resources online. YouTube, podcasts, blogs, and Facebook groups have, at times, done more for my education than anything else. Best of all– they’re typically completely free.

Seriously, if you need a resource for anything, you can bet your bottom dollar you can find it for free online. Want to learn how to work the archaic light board at the high school where you’re volunteering? Great news, here’s a complete YouTube tutorial and a copy of the user manual that the school lost the instant they installed it. Want to learn how to sew costumes? Here’s a thousand free downloadable templates with step-by-step instructions in the readme file. Don’t know much about theatre history? Here’s a twice-weekly podcast and a blog that’s been active since 2008 written by a PhD holder.

Do yourself a favor right now and google any topic related to theatre you want to learn about. Right now. It’s free and easy and fuller than any library you can imagine. Go wild.

Apps can also be highly useful in this department!

5. Seek employment

If you’re lacking the free time and capital to attend classes and volunteer your time for rehearsals, seeking a paying job even tangentially related to theatre is a great move for your wallet and career.

Available jobs will often deal with the business and customer service side of theatre more than the artistic fulfillment side. As I’ve already established, this is all useful to your education, and since it’s connected to your passion, it’s easier to stomach than retail or food service in terms of jobs requiring entry-level skills. Even if you can’t find a job in a theater, there are a lot of jobs where you can flex theatre skills– “Princess Parties”, where actors dress as princesses for children’s birthday parties, Renaissance Festival work, and haunted house gigs are popular paid acting opportunities among my theatre friends. Anything requiring public speaking is also generally of your benefit.

Jobs in technical theatre are usually readily available as well. Join your area’s technical theatre job-seeking Facebook group. Stagehands and riggers are almost always in demand, especially for concerts and music events.

Keep an ear out, and make those connections! You never know where a seemingly insignificant job opportunity can turn into a better one.

6. Create a study group

If you have a lot of friends interested in theatre, there’s nothing stopping you from getting together to learn. Start a book club and read plays together! Do table reads of your favorite shows! Critique each others’ audition songs! Start an unofficial improv troupe! Possibilities are endless as long as you are all committed and willing to learn.

7. Practice skills on your own

Theatre is a team sport, so solo learning can be a little antithetical. Further, having the input of others is often very beneficial, and at times crucial, to your growth. However, there are a lot of tangential, useful skills that can be practiced entirely on your own.

Think about things that are relevant to theatre. Being physically in shape is important, as is being flexible. In musical theatre, basic piano and music reading abilities are useful. The ability to analyze characters and scripts gets easier with practice. These are all skills you can flex on your own.

8. See more theatre

Seeing theatre is just as important as being in theatre to growth as a performer. Similar to the first point, see as much of it as possible, in as many places as possible. See school theatre. See community theatre. See touring broadway companies and one-person shows in coffee shops. Go to improv shows and voice recitals. See shows you love and shows you hate and shows you’ve never heard of. See classic Greek plays and contemporary rock musicals.

Don’t be afraid to be a critic. While airing negative opinions about every performance you see is unlikely to net you friends, and is a quick way to get your name out there in a rather bad way, thinking about what you did and didn’t like about every performance is invaluable. Having an opinion is great! Just maybe keep your thoughts to yourself. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!”

9. (Social) Network

If you’re doing and seeing and auditioning for as many shows as possible in as many places as possible as well as taking classes, as I’ve advised, you’re probably doing okay in this department already. Theatre is an industry where who you know is especially useful to you, and you never know when connections may come in handy.

More importantly, I’m also a huge proponent of “learning by osmosis”: simply immersing yourself in a culture and letting it wash over you is a great way to learn. Surround yourself with conversations about and related to theatre, even if you don’t fully understand all of it. Social media is a great way to do this. Follow Twitter pages and Tumblr blogs and join Facebook groups! Especially feel free to follow groups/pages/people posting about things you don’t know much about. If you’re an actor, join a high school theatre teacher group. If you’re a stage manager, follow pages handing out vocal tips. Taking in information through passive Facebook-feed scrolling is an easy way to expand upon your knowledge.

Also included in this point: get out there, people! Go to meet-ups, conferences, conventions. Most importantly, and most easily, go to your cast parties and company galas! I’m not encouraging you to schmooze, but you never know where rubbing elbows with the right people might lead you.

10. Do your research

This is a bit of a cheat-point, since it’s tangentially connected to every other point, but the best possible thing you can do for your education is explore your options. Find out what’s available to you. Seek out local theaters and theatre people. Find free PDFs of books. Read news articles and blog posts. Watch documentaries. Get into conversations and debates and disagreements with actor friends. There are possibilities for growth in literally everything you are doing already– explore those possibilities. Figure out how to use them to your advantage!

Bonus point: You’re never done learning

This is less of a “way to learn” than it is a word of caution: make yourself an expert on as much as you can, and then, once you’re an expert, throw all of your assumptions away and seek to learn from new experts. Seek feedback on everything you do, even from people who know less than you. Learn about stuff you know nothing about, learn about new ways of doing things you’ve resigned to habit. Keep learning, and never rest on your laurels.

We live in an age where information has never been easier to find. We also live in an age where education prices are astronomical and the cost of living rises every day. The resources you want and need are out there– you need only to track them down.

My Attitude is Exactly why I got the Part. Yours is why you Didn’t

Dear Friend,

I’ve gotten a lot of parts I’ve wanted through the years. I used to say I was “lucky” with casting, but there’s much more to it than that.

I’d often use that phrasing because usually when I’m bringing up this point, it’s in a very specific context that somehow seems to keep occurring for me. I’ll paint you an image: The day after the cast list came out. I’ve gotten the fantastic part I wanted, but I’m feeling bittersweet. You, and maybe many more of my friends, are in mourning, because you did not get the parts you wanted.

Almost always, the conversation that follows turns the same directions. It might take a while to get to this junction, and this might not be stated directly, but we often arrives at the same point nonetheless.

You: “I’m not talented enough to get this/that/any part.”

And every time I hear this, I sigh heartily, and say, “this is going to sound bad, but I mean it with all the love in the world.”

Here’s what I say every single time: Talent means nothing.

Often, this gets confused with “you have no talent”, which is not my point. Even if that were my point, it shouldn’t be offensive, because talent means nothing. You can be born with a beautiful singing voice, but that does not make you a good singer. No one has an inherent talent for technical ability– that is all learned. Breath support and neutral larynx placement aren’t god-given gifts, they’re habits cultivated with hard work. Even with a beautiful natural tone, bad technique will stunt your growth and can even ruin your voice from misuse over time. In a race, talent would get you out of the gate fast, but you’d wind up in dead last quickly if it’s all you had to work with.

No, you’re not too untalented. If you keep working, you’ll get better, and more parts will be in your grasp.

This is an optimistic view, but I fully believe it’s the correct view. Anyway, why would anyone want to resign themselves to a life where they’re destined to never succeed because the Talent Fairy didn’t bless them at birth? Even if my view is a fantasy, I’d much rather live in a fantasy where people can improve themselves than any reality where such is impossible.

I always think sharing this mindset will be helpful. It often seems to be not helpful to my hurting friend at all. Usually, this is what happens next:

You: “Well, you always get good parts/got the part you wanted/aren’t in the ensemble, you can’t complain/don’t know how this feels.”

And then, I’ll explain:

The statement that I “always get good parts” isn’t incorrect. What it does not mean, though, is “I have never been in the ensemble.” Of course I have been, such is theatre life. Ensemble is a “good part”. I’ve been cast in the ensemble plenty of times, and often have just as much fun if not more fun in shows playing bit parts and mute townspeople than I do playing lead roles. 

Maybe I got the lead role I wanted, maybe I’m not in the ensemble this time. That doesn’t mean I don’t know what it’s like, and I’m not going to be dragged into ragging on ensemble roles. Ensemble isn’t a punishment. It is not the “untalented persons” dropbox.

I understand that people want to step out of the ensemble and show off their stuff– that’s natural. Landing ensemble role after ensemble role can become crushing, because it feels like no one sees your ability. Take solace, this isn’t a personal slight. Sometimes, your ability just doesn’t match up with the director’s vision, or with the demands of this particular show or role. Sometimes your ability is best used in the ensemble, where you can be a leader in keeping up the show’s vitality. 

But let’s be honest, too. Sometimes, ability just doesn’t measure up. 

See what I said above: this isn’t a condemnation. It doesn’t mean you are not untalented, but even if you were, that’s no big deal. This is a call to improve, however you can. Mourn when you don’t land your dream role, grieve it as you must. Once you’re done, it’s time to get into action. Auditions and callbacks teach you a lot about your competition. Sometimes it’s easy to spot where you failed. If you use these as learning opportunities, you get easy insight into where your weakest parts are, and can then train and armor them appropriately.

The important thing, in all of this, is that you keep working. If you want to be the best person for the part, make yourself the best person for the part. Hone your craft by sheer tenacity. By anger, by bitterness, even, if you must. Just keep getting better.

And then, quite often unsaid, but very often felt:

You: “That’s easy for you to say. You got the role.”

The weaponization of my attitude against me has always struck me as profoundly unfair. People always seem to think my mindset comes from a place of privilege. 

When does privilege inspire people to fight harder? Is privilege known to inspire people to dust off their bloodied knees and keep plodding onward? If my advice were “rest on your god-given gifts,” that would be privilege speaking. I’m telling you to rip your opportunities right from the jaws of fate and take your odds into your own hands– these are the forged-in-hardship words of someone who has struggled too hard to let circumstances beyond their control dictate their successes. 

At this point, I struggle to offer any more words, because now this is personal, and my response would be personally offensive. 

I got this role because I have this attitude. I got this role because I scrambled, panicked, evaluated, analyzed, and practiced, practiced, practiced my way into that audition, and into that callback, and onto that cast list. I took my own advice and patched the wounds on my ego and then went right back to working for next time. I have a drive to get better, do better, be better at theatre. If this attitude isn’t clear in my actions, it’s proven in the way I perform. 

My attitude does not come from the privilege of past parts. My past parts, and all my future ones, too, come from my attitude. 

As long as you nurse your bruised ego and wallow in mourning forever, your parts will also come from your attitude.

They will probably not be the ones you want to receive.