I've tried to not make my college experience the focus of these blog posts, but as my daughter wraps-up a summer of performing prior to shipping-off to college, I've had a realization. It's occurred to me that even though times have changed, in many ways they haven't. One area of my experience that has proven quite helpful is the ability to talk my daughters and other students through the ups and downs of the world of performing. Having "been there" seems to help. I'd like to travel back in time for a moment with the hope that some of what I encountered--which hasn't changed much--might help the next generation of college students, performers and parents.
Freshman orientation week in college contained, by far, the most lonely moments in my life. From the time my room was set-up and goodbyes were said to my family, to when classes officially started, I encountered bouts of utter loneliness I'd never experienced before. I didn't quite know what to do about it. Fortunately, they were incredibly short-lived and the fact that I knew no one on campus when I reported for college wore-off quickly. But, that time is still etched in my mind. As the youngest of three kids, those first few weeks created moments of soul-searching I'd never encountered previously. I also learned the importance of showing-up for things and connecting with others even when you don't know anyone. Lesson: The loneliness forces you to become more comfortable with yourself and helps you find ways to cope.
The first student recital of the year bowled me over. I sat and watched as incredibly talented senior women performed beautiful renditions of arias at a level I never thought I could attain. It led me to tears in my dorm room that night, followed by a call to my mom to tell her I was out of my league. Another crying session ensued in my next voice lesson where my voice teacher/advisor spent the entire lesson talking me thru it. He told me, "My job is to make you as good as them. Your job is to spend the next four years working on that." I don't know if I was ever quite as good as those girls, but I did vastly improve and sang leads in operas by my senior year. Lesson: Use the challenges placed before you as motivation to overcome and excel.
Many of my peers who started out in musical theatre or other performance areas changed majors or moved out of their programs. This happens, but don't let it create unnecessary confusion for you. As mass exoduses occurred, I remembered wondering at the time if I was missing something. Upon further reflection, I knew I didn't want to be in college unless I was studying musical theatre. I resolved that there was no way I would change my major. Lesson: Sometimes the road less-traveled is the right road for you.
Something to expect, especially at the start, is that you may not get to perform. I wasn't allowed to audition for "Brigadoon" my freshman year, and I begged and pleaded as musical theatre performance opportunities within the program were very limited. It meant my time would need to be spent practicing harder and looking for other outlets. That's exactly what I did. I joined the school's forensics team which travelled all over the country for competitions, worked tech and participated in student-led performance opportunities. In time, we were permitted to audition to perform in "mainstage" shows/operas. Benj Pasek told me he and Justin Paul were repeatedly cast in minimal roles in the ensemble, which led them to start writing together. Edges is one of the results of their creative outlet, and I'm pretty positive they found their thing. Lesson: Use the limitations set before you to drive other opportunities and use your creativity to devise new ones.
Working on your "time off" is, in my opinion, something that is almost required in this industry. It may be a challenge, but try to work in the performing arts every summer break while in college. I was very fortunate when it came to auditions and connections for solid performance experiences every summer throughout my college years. One summer I made over $5,000 as a singing waitress. Through that job, I developed cabaret skills, had the freedom to try out new material in front of an audience, worked old standby songs into the ground and become an all-around better performer. Plus, I learned to wait tables (which was a viable survival job for me.) Another summer, I added 6 professional shows to my resume through summer stock and NEVER got bored. These summer opportunities showed to be critical throughout college and were essential to launching a professional performance career. Lesson: Do what you can to work or continue training in the industry during what others consider "time-off".
In many ways, the things I learned throughout my college experience have stayed true over the years. The addition of technology has made access to information on performance opportunities, audition submission and social connectivity much easier. Although a fantastic resource, it can't do it all for you. Self-motivation, resilience and creativity can and will be some of the most helpful attributes any performer can have.