Finding Your Niche in the World of Theatre
Anthony J. Piccione
- OnStage New York Columnist
I remember a moment when I was a freshman in college, and I had my first one-on-one meeting with the technical director of the Theatre Department. Near the beginning of the meeting, I remember him asking me a simple question: “What are your ambitions?”
I honestly can’t remember exactly how I responded to that question, at the time. I may have said that I was aspiring to be a director. I may have said that I wanted to do both acting and technical theatre. In any case, what I do remember is this: Looking back on it, I honestly had very little idea over what exactly I wanted to do with my future Theatre degree after graduation. It wasn’t until taking a Playwriting class during my second year that I ultimately started rethinking some things, and eventually decided on what it was that I wanted to focus on.
The reason I bring this up is simple: Early on in our lives and careers, the path we take in the future isn’t always certain. Some people might have already found their niche in the world of theatre, and a few others may even be able to focus on multiple things at once. However, for some people, it’s not always clear. As much as someone might love theatre, and as much as they know they want to be involved in theatre for the rest of their life, they might not always know exactly what they want to do in theatre.
The Many Roles in Theatre
Luckily, for those people who might not be too certain, there are many roles in the world of theatre, many of which ought to be considered by someone who is still in the early stages of their career in theatre.
Of course, there are perhaps the three most obvious roles: The actor. The playwright. The director. These tend to be the roles that get the most attention from audiences, and therefore, they tend to be some of the first roles that people might think of, in terms of what they see themselves doing in theatre.
However, are several other behind the scenes roles that are waiting to be filled, as well.
I would argue that the stage manager is just about as crucial of a position as the director, in terms of making sure that the show doesn’t fall apart, right up until the very end of the production.
It takes a lot of talented designers to help make the production incredible, in terms of aesthetics aspects such as set design, lighting, sound, costumes, props, makeup and projections. (I apologize if I’m forgetting anything.)
Furthermore, it takes backstage assistants and board operators to make sure that those same aspects of the show run smoothly.
Before all that happens, there may be either a literary manager that selects the script, or a dramaturge that works with the director to prepare it for a production.
Also, let’s not forget those responsible for filling those seats on each of the performance nights. From marketing the show to potential theatergoers to raising money for the production to even greeting people as they arrive at the show, there are several roles outside of the creative and technical aspects of the production, but are just as crucial to ensuring that the show is successful and that the audience enjoys their experience.
The bottom line is this: there truly is something for EVERYONE in theatre, even if they may not know yet what it is, and it’s just one of many reasons why I believe all people should feel welcome in our wonderful artistic community.
So What Should You Do?
I’m sure some of you are probably reading this, and are thinking “I wanna do it all!” Maybe some of the more experienced people reading this already have the stories to prove that they’re capable of doing it all.
More often than not, however, people in theatre eventually tend to find one particular area in theatre that they are especially good at, and over time, that becomes their creative niche, and the focus of their life and career in the arts.
That’s not to say that they don’t occasionally do other things in theatre, as well. I’ve known working technicians who act in shows during their free time. I’ve known people who’ve spent years directing the material of others, before eventually writing their own material. I’ve known people who were extremely talented actors, but are now working more on the marketing aspects of very successful productions. The list goes on and on. However, in terms of their identifying discipline, it’s tends to stay at just one, or sometimes two, areas in theatre.
The Skills Worth Taking Into Consideration
So what should your focus be, if you don’t already know?
Well, consider this: What are some of your additional skills, outside of theatre? Yes, I know theatre is your life, and all that. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have some sort of additional skills. We all have them, whether we think about it or not. More often than not, it’s the way to figure out where in theatre we are most likely to be both more useful, and more at home.
Obviously, if you have a past background in any kind of dance, then being a choreographer might be something to consider.
Or perhaps you have a hidden talent for the visual arts, whether it be drawing or painting, dabbling with Photoshop or similar programs, or anything in between. If that’s the case, there are plenty of positions related to set design that might be worth considering.
Some of us are good are math. (Although I’ll confess that I’m not one of them.) If that’s the case, there are loads of technical theatre positions that can be filled, in which that skill will come in handy.
Or maybe you’re more of a history buff, in which case you might consider using those skills as either a director or a dramaturge, where historical research is something that is a necessity.
Being a great writer and editor is also something that is desperately needed for someone interested in being a dramaturge, in addition to someone who is interested in playwriting.
Perhaps you also just so happen to be a fashionista. I think it goes without saying that someone with such a passionate would be wise to consider a career in costume design.
Other people in theatre might have previously considered a career as a businessperson or entrepreneur, in which case being a producer or managing director of a theatre company might be something to think about, in the long term.
These are just a few examples, but the overall point I’m trying to make here is that it’s worth thinking about what your talents might be outside of theatre. Personally, I would never have gotten to where I am in theatre today – or perhaps I wouldn’t have gotten into theatre, at all – if it weren’t for the times I spent reflecting on my many experiences outside of the world of theatre.
Look At Your Past Before Shaping Your Future
For that matter, you should also take a look at some of your past experiences in theatre. During my teenage years – aka the very early days of my work in the theatre community – I focused primarily on acting, but also went out of my way to explore virtually every other aspect of theatre that I possibly could. I was also a production assistant, board operator, assistant stage manager, assistant director, director, usher, and probably some other stuff that I’m forgetting, before I eventually decided to focus primarily on playwriting…which I was also already quietly dabbling in, during those early days.
In other words, it’s worth trying different things, and considering how much you like them as potential areas to focus on, even if it wasn’t initially what you had in mind for yourself. So if you’re someone who has taken on many roles in theatre, and there is something that you realize that you enjoy most of all, that’s probably your niche in the world of theatre. If you haven’t already done this, I strongly encourage you to explore beyond just one or two roles in theatre, and try broadening your horizons. Even if you don’t do it again, at least you’ll know for certain whether it’s right for you, or not.
The One Thing That Matters Most
However, it should go without saying that there is one thing – far more important than anything else – that you should take into consideration before you decide what exactly you want to do in theatre: Is it the one thing that you love doing, more than anything else?
Every bit of advice I give in this article should be taken with a grain of salt, and any advice you receive from anyone else should be taken that way. If you love doing something, and you can’t picture yourself doing anything else, then forget everything else. That should be the only thing that matters to you. The only thing in theatre that can truly feel rewarding is something that you love doing, more than anything else you can think of.
While we’re on this subject, let me also say this: No matter what you do or where you go, there are always going to be at least a few people who will likely tell you that you can’t do it, and will try to block your way and knock you down, as your follow your destiny.
If it’s something you love doing, never give up on it. Stick to your dreams, chase them as far as you can, and ignore those who tell you that they aren’t achievable. If you set a basic goal for yourself, it might not always be achieved as fast as you expected, or in the way you expected. Eventually, however, you will achieve that goal, but only if you stick to it AND if you stay focused on it.
Just be certain that it’s what you want most, in your heart. I know that might sound a bit sappy, but trust me. Focusing like a laser on the one specific thing in the arts that you love most can help a great deal. That’s how I’ve had some of my biggest successes in life, and I think it’s fair to say that about many others in theatre, as well.
So to anyone out there that may be considering a career in theatre, or may still be in the early stages of one:
It’s not always clear what it is that we want to do in life. Even if we know that we love theatre, it’s not always apparent where we belong, in this very large artistic community. That’s why I believe it is important to keep an open mind, and be willing to explore and pursue new goals and new areas in theatre, even as we stay true to who we are and what we love.
I hope you will consider the advice in this column. If you do, I speak from personal experience when I say that you’ll learn more about not just theatre, but about yourself…
This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Playwright, producer, screenwriter, actor, poet and essayist based in New York City.
To learn more about Mr. Piccione and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione).