[Thanks to DK for sharing her informational interview report about musical theatre as a major and career.]
Though I do not have a current career goal right now, I have an interest in theater as a major. I chose the person I interviewed because I specifically like musical theater and know that’s what she studied in college and professionally. So she was a good person to interview.
I was still curious to know what it’s like as a career and what kinds of information is needed to help decide on theater as a career. I know my interviewee because she was the director for the two family theater shows I was in a couple years ago, and she currently runs a theater company in San Francisco and still performs.
My main goal for the interview was to find out more information about musical theater as a major and career.
Here is the interview, conducted via email.
How did you get into this career?
I’ve been interested in doing theatre as long as I can remember. I got started in theatre when I was in elementary school, making up plays and performing them with my friends and classmates. In middle school I started doing community theatre productions and then got somewhat “serious” about wanting to train and get better at doing theatre. In high school I went to an arts magnet and did as much music/theatre as I possibly could. Because it was an arts school, pretty much everyone I was around was interested in musical theatre and many decided to pursue it in college. I didn’t really know if it was what I wanted to do, but I honestly couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do. I auditioned for a professional program for college, was accepted and trained rigorously for 3 or so years. Then hit the field!
Is it necessary to have a degree in theater or a theater-related degree?
There are no set rules. There are always exceptions. That said, most people who end up making money with theatre and musical theatre performance have some degree in the art or have studied it professionally.
What do you like most about your career?
I love the opportunity to create new and interesting characters. I love the challenge of a new part — trying to figure out and embody different aspects of a person in a role (what makes a person tick, what excites them, what they’re scared of) is thrilling. I love somewhat losing myself in a role and letting their person shine though — this doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s glorious.
What kind of experience does someone need if they want to have this career?
Most important thing is to stay true to yourself a midst all of it. Keep yourself as healthy as possible. Keep learning as much as you can in different areas to keep your instrument sharp. Be nice to people — they are often the doors to the next show that you really want to be in — so always be kind. Have fun. Try not to rely on it to make you a lot of money so you don’t take yourself too seriously.
What is the least favorite thing about your career?
As with any art work, there is a lot of unpredictability. You never really know when there is going to be work. For theatre, generally it’s not particularly lucrative even at the highest level. Now again, there are exceptions, but that’s usually the case. I also never really took to auditioning in mass in new york. While it’s different in the Bay Area and in other cities, in New York, I was never able to get passed my detest for that process — it just wasn’t a match for me. Though in San Francisco and other places, it’s a different story.
What is your favorite thing about being in a show?
I love rehearsing with a case and director. I love trying things, making mistakes that lead to discoveries. The show at the beginning of a rehearsal process is a jigsaw puzzle and it’s fun working with a team to find out how all the pieces fit together. And then you do your best to make the show as great as possible, but the rest is all magic. With the right people and the right attitude and the right story, the magic falls into place and it’s truly an awesome wave to surf.
What do you do during a typical day when you’re in rehearsal for a show? After the show starts?
I practice what I have to know for rehearsal that day. It’s important to come to rehearsal prepared as much as you can (without over-preparing or over-thinking things). When I’m in a show, I usually work out, go outside, take care of myself as much as possible. I try meditating or sitting the sauna and try to clear my head as much as possible so I don’t let negative thinking get in the way of the flow. I try to empty out as much as possible and feel good — that always makes the show and rehearsal go better.
What advice do have for someone who wants to go into this field?
Audition. Be in plays. Produce plays. Put yourself out there. Be willing to make mistakes because they lead to discoveries always. Be serious/professional but don’t take yourself too seriously. Most everyone makes an idiot of themselves sometimes or falls on stage, or forgets a line, or gets super nervous, at some point — so it’s really learning to let yourself do that stuff and have it be ok. Take class, make friends with people who you like who do theatre. You don’t have to feel like a “theatre person” to be one, you just have to like theatre. Trust yourself as much as possible — your instincts outside of fear are your best friend. And never forget to have fun — that’s really what it’s all about.
What experience is necessary if you want to enter this field?
Being in shows. Just do them when you can. Some training is important if you want to do it professionally (acting classes, singing classes,etc.).
What’s your work environment like? (settings, colleagues, management)
It’s always different which is both the beauty and the struggle. The rehearsal room to the show on stage varies in environment It’s never the same, unless you’re in a set show that’s running for a very long time. Then it’s a matter of finding ways to keep it alive amidst the sameness.
You also never know where you’re going to be or who you’re going to be with from one show to the next. Some environments are more professional than others so management varies from place to place. But the common denominator is that you’re around people who think theatre is really cool — so there is always that to bond over.
I thought it was interesting that even if you are in a professional show, you still don’t tend to make a lot of money. Her best advice was to be serious and professional, but not too serious. She said that the most successful people have a degree in theater or have studied professionally. It is strange that even though you must audition to be in a show, that is her least favorite part of the process. Her favorite part was not really the performance, but the ability to create a character – “to bring it to life.” She enjoys the beginning of a show, bringing together the cast and director, and figuring out how to put the pieces together. The idea of meditating is also interesting; to clear her mind and keep negative thoughts away before a show isn’t something I would have thought about doing.
I think it created both a positive and negative effect for me. I know that my interviewee mentioned that you have to practice and train a lot to become more advanced, knowing that you might not even get a part in a show, which would make it hard to continue trying. But she also pointed out that she does it because she has fun and couldn’t think of anything else she’d rather do. I’m not sure if I really want to put in the time and work to do it professionally, although I still find performing fun.
I would ask follow-up questions about the audition process and how to prepare for it. I’d also ask her advice on how to stay involved in theater if you have a non-theater job to make a living. I would want to know how many hours a day you rehearse for a show professionally. I might want to find a time to do it over the phone or meet with her in person, if she’s not too busy, so I could ask any additional questions easily.
I sent my interviewee a message by email the day after she answered my interview questions, thanking her for putting in the time to do this.