My advice to graduating seniors pursuing a career in the theater.

It’s that time . . . caps and gowns and commencement addresses.

And millions of young adults entering the work force.

And thousands of those millions are looking for a career in the arts.

I got an email from an about-to-graduate-young-lady last week who asked for my advice in how to go about starting her career in the theater.

Of course I could have given her a lot of specifics, like where to send her resume, and what bars to hang out in, etc.  Instead, for some reason, I was reminded of the 1980’s campaign to stop drug use . . . “Just Say No.”

(I know, just give me a second, it’ll make sense . . . I think.)

While saying no to drugs and a whole lot of other things when you’re young is the best thing you can do, for your career, you actually want to do the exact opposite.

Yep.

Just Say Yes.

You’re going to get a lot of opportunities when you’re starting out, in a lot of different areas in the arts.  Some of those opportunities may not be what you ever considered doing in a zillion years.  So what?  Just Say Yes.

Never thought about working in a press office?  Just Say Yes.  Agent?  Costume Assistant?

Just Say Yes for awhile.

You’ve got time on your side.  You may not be able to Just Say Yes in 10 years.  But now, it’s an essential part of your growth and exploration.

And you never know where the Yes is going to take you.  You never know what opportunity that you never even knew existed will end up being what you want to devote your life to.

But there’s only one way to find out . . . by saying Yes.

In 1993, I was a junior Acting Major at Tisch at NYU.  And for some reason, to this day I don’t know why, one of my professors recommended me to be a Production Assistant on the Broadway revival of My Fair Lady.

Honestly?  I didn’t even know what being a Production Assistant actually meant.

But I Just Said Yes.

And I wouldn’t be typing this today if I hadn’t.

(By the way, being a Production Assistant means getting fresh-off-the-bone roasted turkey sandwiches, walking dogs in a blizzard and being paid in lunch and subway “tokens” . . . and it was the most awesome thing you could ever imagine.)

 

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Comments
  • This is great advice Ken. I’m staying in
    NYC for a few months and I would love to meet with you and give you an updated resume too.
    Mark

  • This is great advice and similar to what many theatre professionals told me in NYC when I did a round of informational interviews post-graduating college this past winter. I know as far as internships go, I’ve said yes to marketing, ticketing services, working with FringeNYC and I’ve learned a tremendous amount by saying yes.
    My only question is, if saying yes keeps landing you internships, even great internships, but low-paying or unpaid, at what point do you have to say no in hopes of finding full-time employment? While maybe I would love to take an internship at a company I admire, at some point I need to make the transition to employment and that may require saying no to something.
    Any advice on making that transition from intern to full-time employment? So far, timing hasn’t worked out for job openings with past internships and I’m finding myself more and more inclined to take yet another unpaid or stipend position?

  • Natttalyee says:

    This article is so relevant and helpful. I’m graduating this Saturday with a Bachelor’s in Music and English Education, but theatre has been my life forever. Theatre is my life because I said yes to that first show. Any audition oppurtunity I get, I take. I can’t wait until October when I’m officially in NYC and able to audition almost everyday. It would also be really cool to get that list of right bars to be at! 🙂

  • Barb Dignan says:

    I’m cheating here, Ken. I’m bringing 33 students to NYC May 30. We see Godspell on Thurs. May 31. I’m brazen to ask in this format, but I’d be a fool not to at least see if there’s any way we could meet a few cast/crew after show? Before show? My group a couple years ago spent an entertaining afternoon with your Altar Boys–just hoping that we could do something small this time. Whether or not we can, we are so excited to see this classic musical. I get to visit my college past. I saw the tour and my college did the musical as well. Glad it’s doing so well for you! Thanks!!

  • Sarah says:

    I graduated last year with my theatre degree and this was EXACTLY what I did afterwards! It truly is the best advice for someone just starting out!

  • Heather says:

    I graduated from college almost 20 years ago and while no one ever actually said this to me, I always felt it was the way to go. Do everything you can, because the more you understand how all the parts of the machine work, the better a cog you will be when you’re doing the thing you want to do. By understanding what those other people do, you’ll have greater respect for them, if you have greater respect for them, they’ll want to work with you more, if they want to work with you more, they’ll hire you often. Not only that – for acting students – having another skill set is never a bad idea – and wouldn’t you prefer for that skill set to be part of the thing you so love? I have an actress friend who also does wardrobe – she has said time and again how much she loves doing that – it’s certainly better than bartending – when she’s not working on a role. Several other actor friends of mine are also carpenters. I’m an actress first myself, but I’ve had many a job in theater administration – now, in addition to acting, I run an Indie Theater Company which gives many of my artist friends the opportunity to do great work when they aren’t off doing paid work. Could I run a company if I hadn’t said yes to being a costume shop manager, working in a box office, being a master painter, interning in a development office, ushering, doing program layout, etc., etc., etc… Maybe, but I do it a lot better because I’ve had all of those experiences. And now my little Indie company has been nominated for 17 New York Innovative Theatre Awards (since 2008) and our first show has moved to Off-Broadway and received a glowing review in the New York Times (The Runner Stumbles, now playing at the Arclight Theatre).

    So I agree, say YES. You never know what you’ll learn or who you’ll meet.

  • Ginger says:

    While I’m usually the first to discourage people from a career in the arts (wouldn’t you rather do something that, like, pays you enough to live in the city you work in?) I do agree with this, for those (like me) who simply aren’t creative enough to imagine doing anything else. I said ‘yes’ to every opportunity that presented itself since I moved to NYC 10 years ago, and now have a solid career in The Arts. I’ll never afford a solid gold hot tub, and probably not a second bedroom either, but it’s been a good road.

  • Tzahalla Kessari says:

    Thank you so much. It is so true, saying yes opens a world of possibilities, because, in the end, you don’t know to where each path might lead you. Inspiring!

  • Kim says:

    I think saying “yes” as a general rule, no matter what age you are is fantastic!

  • Kristi R-C says:

    When I started working as an IATSE stagehand, “Pappy” told me that the more things I could do, the more work I could get. And if you’re not actually doing it, you’ll still understand better how all the pieces fit together.

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