Next May is an eventful month on college campuses. The first of the month is matriculation day for incoming freshmen, within the first few weeks returning students head home for the summer, and on one of the four weekends, a fresh batch of graduates is released into the world, no longer under the guidance and protection of the alma mater. Graduation is a daunting rite of passage no matter what one studies, but for musical theatre majors in particular it can be an especially nerve-wracking time.
Students in other fields will graduate with a certificate (teachers and nurses), a clear career trajectory (the world can always use more accountants), or ready to enter graduate studies (because the only thing we need more of than BAs in English are MAs in English). For theatre students on the other hand, there is no one path to “making it” nor is there a certificate or graduate degree that guarantees a job on stage. The fortunate among us have booked national tours, cruise ships, or regional gigs right out of school. But what happens when those jobs end, or when we don’t have a performing opportunity lined up yet and we’re settling into day jobs to make ends meet? We have lived in a bubble of constant productions and performance opportunities, weekly private voice lessons, daily dance classes, monologue and audition coaching, readily available practice space, and most importantly, a family of students and faculty who have pushed us, believed in us, and acted as our personal cheerleaders. What do we do when we are no longer surrounded by these resources 24/7? In the real world, voice and dance lessons are expensive and your director isn’t just a walk across campus away, ready to give you feedback on your audition.
As someone newly graduated, I don’t pretend to have any advice to give or answers to these questions, but here are a few resolutions I have made for myself to make the most of my four years as a musical theatre major, even now with diploma in hand.
1. Keep Practicing
My weekly voice lessons may no longer be covered in tuition costs, but I still have years of lessons audio recorded and a solid understanding of vocal technique. I know what my most common problems are and I do know how to fix them; I’m just going to have to work a little harder now mentally. Instead of having my voice teacher coach me through getting that belted high E some more spin, I’ll have to think through all the knowledge she imparted on me and fix the problem on my own. Keeping up a solid practice schedule will get me the most out of four years of lessons with my wonderful voice teacher and keep me learning even though I don’t get to see her every Tuesday.
2. Dance, Dance, Dance
My worst nightmare is walking into a dance call and finding that my 42nd Street time step looks like I started tapping last week. So, I’m going to keep dancing as much as I can even though it’s no longer part of my class schedule: drop-in classes at a local studio, teaching children’s dance classes, and getting friends together to choreograph for fun. I’m also lucky enough to have had the world’s most phenomenal tap teacher (I’m serious) who will let grads drop in before an important audition, so I will most definitely be taking advantage of that.
3. Networking with Other Graduates
All of us are going to be scattering across the country to work with different companies and people of varying professional tiers. We can help one another through introductions, referrals, and recommendations when we know a certain job or company would be perfect for someone we graduated with. My class is a talented and diverse group of performers, stage managers, choreographers, directors, and writers, and I believe we can all help one another achieve our goals. I will definitely be forwarding any stage managing jobs I come across to my classmate Paul, and just yesterday my friend Nicki sent me a new musicals competition that she had heard about. We need to keep supporting one another in these ways to help each other succeed.
4. Keep Teachers in the Loop
The wonderful people we have studied under for four yeas are working professionals. Not only do they care about us as people, but they can get us jobs. If we keep in touch, they are more apt to think of us when they hear about that perfect internship, competition, or audition and send it our way. Plus, we are all colleagues now and hopefully will be able to work together on shows in the professional world, whether as performers or assistants. It’s not just about networking to get work, but about keeping that support system of cheerleaders who care about us and are happy when we succeed far past graduation day.