For the last several years, I’ve written a letter to my senior musical theatre students at Marymount Manhattan College, which I’ve published on this blog. It’s purpose is to give these young professionals my final thoughts before they step out into the world. And, in no small part, it’s also a way for me to grapple with the fact that it’s time for me to let go. That’s a hard thing to do after developing personal relationships with my students in the way a voice teacher does. And yet, I want nothing else for them than to add their names to the top of the long list of young artists who are eager to transform the world through their craft.
And so, I share with them insights that have guided me in the hopes they will be nourished on their journey.
Dear Anthony, Dillon, Emé, Kevin, Lauren & Tyler,
This never gets easier. One would think it would, but every year I develop an amnesia around how challenging it is to trust that it’s our time to transition to a different relationship: from student and teacher to colleagues.
I want to share four thoughts as you prepare to graduate. I’ve given some of this advice to students before you. Some of it is new, based on my own recent experiences. All of it is given with great love.
Use Your Voice Wisely.
It has been my great pleasure to collaborate with you on developing more vocal freedom and expression. As you know, we each work toward technical freedom as a way of being more authentically ourselves. That freedom allows a character or feeling come through us to the audience. If the sound stops with us, it will fail to move them.
We have talked about what it feels like when the tone is “in” or “out.” In a deeper way, it is now your job to listen to your voice so you can make wise decisions about what it needs. You have all the tools we’ve forged at your disposal. And, if I’ve done my job well, you’ll have my voice in your head talking you through little snafus. I still hear the advice of my teachers echoing in my ear, continually helping me to find and trust my voice.
That isn’t to say you won’t to discover new things. At age (gulp!) 41, I’m just now finding capabilities I never thought my voice had. But all of them are rooted in my understanding of vocal freedom as the true pathway to a beautiful and moving performance.
You will need to make challenging decisions about your voice. Can I perform this role 8 shows a week? Am I too sick to go on? Will I do damage if I do? You must be grounded enough in your technique to make these decisions wisely. I would like to say industry professionals will always be supportive, but sadly that is not often the case. Only you know your voice. Choose wisely and surround yourself with others who have your best interests in mind. Please know that you will always have my ear.
Beware: Monsters Ahead.
When I was a kid, my favorite bedtime story was “There’s a Monster at the End of this Book” with furry lovable old Grover. I had no idea how important the story would be to me as an adult.
In short, Grover spends the entirety of the book trying to convince the reader not to turn another page, as it’s rumored (you guessed it) there’s a monster at the end of the book. Of course [spoiler alert!], the monster at the end of the book turns out to be Grover himself. Nothing to be scared of, right?
The lesson I continually seem to be learning is that I am that monster too. True, I’m the one begging for the pages not to be turned, for fear of what’s to come. But the more I announce that I’m also the monster, the faster I turn the pages to deal with my fear and insecurities. And, in doing that, I discover there are hidden chapters with fantastic adventures I never thought I could take. One of those adventures lead me to teaching you.
When you confront the monster at the end of your book, you’ll soon enter a choose-your-own-ending reality. That’s where the good things are in life. There’s nothing wrong with being afraid, but we must never let our fear keep us beholden to an average life. Face your monsters and live the adventure you were born to live. If you do this, I guarantee you will be successful.
Support Each Other.
We all need someone in our corner. Be that someone for somebody else. It’s the right thing to do and it literally costs you nothing.
People are going to get the jobs you wanted. People you might think are not as talented as you. Or more talented. Or people who hit it at just the right moment. Wish them every happiness because doing so does not diminish your work. And you’ll want that same appreciation when it’s your turn.
Do I sometimes feel a little barb when I see colleagues announce they’ve won a big award or have received an all-expenses-paid workshop of their musical? I cannot lie: I do. But asking, “Why not me?!” is always the wrong question. Create good energy around your colleagues’ success and your own work. Your time will come, often in ways you won’t expect.
And, by the way, your measure of success will dramatically change as you get older. It has to change to accommodate who you are becoming. I once thought I wouldn’t be successful until I had a show on Broadway. Now, I’m a working artist, teaching, performing, receiving commissions, being invited to speak around the world and running my own company. I couldn’t have foreseen any of that. I’m grateful for the life I have. I feel successful. And I have wonderful colleagues who support me when I am and when I’m not.
Doing One Thing Isn’t Enough.
You’ve spent the last four years focusing on your craft as a musical theatre performer. And there will be times where that career alone will sustain you. And there will be many times when it will not.
I currently make my living doing the four essential things I listed above. Yes, they’re all in the vicinity of each other artistically, but branching out has forced me to develop skills I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Pay close attention to your interests, whether it be working with children, yoga, massage, writing, building websites, making jewelry, etc… Ask yourself if there are ways to monetize these things. Maybe getting that certification is worth the initial expense if it can bring income and help you balance your other endeavors.
Your career will ebb and flow – everyone’s does. The trick is learning how to ride the waves, knowing how and when to toggle back and forth between your gifts. Not only will this give you more income, it will make for a more well-rounded life, giving you perspective you might not otherwise have just being a musical theatre performer.
And that’s it. I could say more, but it’s so much better for you to take your individual journeys, which will teach you things I don’t yet understand.
Whatever you end up doing or becoming, know that you are loved. Know that I am proud of you. Know that you are never alone.
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