“I GOT A CALLBACK WITH 5th AVENUE!”. Actually she told me the news very calmly. I was the one who was so excited for her.
Up here in the Seattle theater scene and Skagit County in Washington – 5th Avenue theater in Seattle is the first major break. It’s that first line you can put on your resume that says “Yes, other people think I’m good too.” It’s validation and the richest of mana for aspiring thespians.
You start with your local school and college shows and venture into community theater. Then you get your first supporting role in community theater – and THAT’S exciting because they cast you for talent and potential, not because you’re paying to be in a class.
Then you get your first lead role in community theater – you’re excited and you give it your all. But it’s all done with the expectation of where you can go next. Sure, you’re doing community theater now – but is it good enough to go pro?
In the Seattle and Skagit areas in Washington the next step is groups like Village Theater. They are the in-between stop between community theater and 5th Avenue. Community theater strives to be as good as Village Theater, and Village Theater strives to be as good as 5th Avenue (that’s my theory anyway).
So you’ve moved up the ranks and got some gigs from Village Theater, everyone knows you have 5th Avenue on your radar. If you’ve moved up as far as a lead role with Village, you can’t HELP but want to break on through to the Fifth.
Back to my friend. She is a well known talent up here in Skagit County – EVERYONE knows her. I have never heard a single criticism of her acting – she is creme de la creme. And here’s what I like about her best: I’ve seen her in several community theater shows and she always gives her best. Deep analyzation and development of a three dimensional character. She knows her motivations at every single moment AND she knows how to lay back and let others shine when it’s not her moment.
When I first saw her perform a couple years ago I thought: “Why is she still doing community theater? She should be pro.” And that’s where we come to the actual point of this post.
I see people in community theater who have aspirations of moving up, but they give lame performances. Their attitude of “this is only community theater, I’m better than this” is so glaring, I cannot fathom how they expect to move on. A better attitude I think would be to say “I’m going to use community theater to develop my chops, until I am so good it is inconceivable that I could only do this.”
You need to be such a big fish in your pond, that the laws of physics command you out. And I don’t think it helps to be a big fish by having an attitude about your current pond.
Several months ago I had someone say to me, “Well, I won’t take a role unless it’s a lead role. It’s a waste of my time.” This was a person who is doing community theater, but has aspirations of moving up to the 5th. What made me sad was, they’re not ready. They have talent, I like them, they are cool – but they need some more development time. I watched them give a half-assed presentation of a role because it wasn’t big enough for them. It made me sad. That same experience could have been transformed into developing their chops.
My next point. Sometimes, actually many times, people have said to me things like “Thanks for lowering your bar to be part of community theater” or “It must be frustrating working with amateurs.” NOT TRUE. Those comments don’t even make sense to me; those comments are non-sequitur. Now I will admit that I have been slowly understanding the slower pace of community theater rehearsals (Yes, that can be a little frustrating sometimes) – but as long as everyone is giving their best, I have no complaints. (But people that have worked with me know I have MANY pointed and sharp criticisms in store for those that do not give their best.)
If you step from professional jobs into community theater without being kind to those around you, it is the kiss of death. In the trajectory of a career in the arts you will have the super cool jobs, the “resume jobs” and you will also have the not-so-impressive jobs. That doesn’t mean they have to be any less rich or any less in gaining experience.
I owe community theater a lot. It’s a training ground for all of us. Most of the things I have learned in community theater are not the lessons I had anticipated. They are lessons about relationships, being cool when the pressure hits and getting a feel for how hard you can push the envelope.
“Nice post Conrad, but my director doesn’t know what he/she is doing.” Know what? Not your call. ALL directors drive you crazy. They have the artistic vision, and often it’s going to be different than your own. That’s the hard part.
My friend understands this. And I really hope that at her callbacks she wows them and gets a role. And you know what, if she doesn’t; she’ll get one eventually. WHY? Because she uses every single opportunity to develop her craft. While others approach the craft in a pedestrian fashion, she is creating art. Good for her, bad for them.
If the term “it’s just community theater” is in your vocabulary – I would encourage you to rethink that. Your current role in theater is part of your journey. If you think it’s beneath you, then you shouldn’t be there. Whether it’s “beneath you” or not all depends on what you want to take from it.