Dear Freshman Theatre Majors

  • Arianna Engnell

Acting is thrilling and terrifying. Acting is rarely not daunting at least at one point in a process of a show (auditions tend to be). Actors have to be very vulnerable to complete strangers, or even worse to people they know. Your journey as a Theatre/Musical Theatre Major will be rewarding, taxing, disheartening, enchanting, and wonderful. Here are some points that I wish I knew or had taken to heart and embraced early on as my mentality.

(1) Everyone is on their own journey. We all start out with strengths and weaknesses in different areas. It is not fair to ourselves or others to compare. Do not beat yourself up if you do not get something right away. Some people’s tools appear to click into their tool belt faster than others but they will struggle in other places. Give yourself time and encourage yourself to keep working at it. Theatre will never be perfect because life is not perfect. Embrace the imperfections of theatre as you would/should embrace the imperfections of life. Speaking further to everyone being on their own journey, some people will be at college for four years, some for five and others for six. We each have to embrace the time that it takes for us to be a healthy college student. We need to take the time the necessary time so that we do not get burnt out.

(a)  Once again, DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF. You are you. Directors want you and not someone else that you might rather be instead. If you happen to thrive on competition, compete with yourself. Be a better actor than you were in the last show or audition. Do more work than you did in the last show. Do not cut the same corners that you did before. If you felt like you struggled in a show in a certain area like movement or voice, challenge yourself to not have that same concern for your next part. Find out how you can be better and beat your last high point.

(2) There will be valleys and peaks of trusting yourself as an actor. Sometimes there will be valleys and peaks of your ability to act. Sometimes taking on a new concept can make us feel like we are starting all over again, because we become more aware of how to either properly prepare or to live and breathe onstage. Funks happen. Be easy on yourself. Find what grounds you and stick with it. Do not beat yourself up in the valleys, because that is often where we learn the most. I have heard it said that if you look at literal valleys, they are often decorated with beautiful flowers. Look closely into your figurative valleys. In those valleys of lacking trust, find those flowers of truth and stability. Also, it is OK if you do not trust yourself immediately. It is completely natural. Keep pushing to trust, but allow the time it will take.

(3) We each have our own niche as we are all beautifully individualistic people. We each have something special that if embraced, will make us stand out. Find a school that will guide you in finding what makes you unique. The more you trust yourself, the more your extraordinary qualities will shine. 

(4) Be open to learning but have discernment to what will help you and what will hinder you. There are some tricks of the trade that help some actors take leaps and bounds while causing other actors to stop in their tracks and stumble (or, more likely, feeling as if they have). College is all about experimenting with what is the healthiest, and most efficient way for you to be the best that you can be in every role that you play. This is not a cop out on doing the work. Find the tools to help you mold your beautiful part in the resulting masterpiece of a show. Do the work but do not do yourself a disservice by not knowing how to use your time between getting cast and opening night.

(5) Everyone around you is about as insecure as you are -- be easy on yourself. Everyone, particularly in Freshman year, are far more concerned about their own insecurities to notice or focus on yours. If that doesn’t appear to be true, don’t trust appearances. If they change their focus to where you fall short, that’s their problem. Do not let them drag you down. Learn from your mistakes but them push you forward than drag you backwards.

(6) The people watching your audition want you to be good. They are rooting for you, not against you.

(7) SELF-CARE IS VERY IMPORTANT! Find how to best take care of yourself. College is a great time to experiment and learn from others how to best maintain mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health.

(8) Theatre is not fair. People will have expectations for you that they will not have for themselves. Do not let their expectations dictate your life. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Those who tend do the best in this small community are those who are good to work with and care about others.

(9) Most audience members would love for you to make them feel something but there are some who like to be triumphant in the fact that you did not make them feel anything. They will detach themselves as much as possible and there is little to nothing you can do about it. So, you just have to continue being there for the rest of your audience and your scene partner(s).

(10) Do not let your success to be dictated by other people. You do not have to be on Broadway or be rich and famous to be successful in theatre. Make your own finish line and adjust the line however and whenever you want.

(11) You may be a talented actor but that does not matter if you are not the right character type for the role. Thankfully, the theatre world is beginning to address how they have failed in terms of choosing the best person for the role (that is a whole other topic for another day). Learn what your type, in all respects (knowing if you are a modern, period, satirical, and so on and so forth [possibly all of the above] actor is important) is and help yourself by auditioning for the roles that best fit your type.

(12) Please let the director, technical director, costume designer, and so on know if you are physically at risk (examples - you were blocked to run down a very steep incline on a platform that doesn’t have a railing or you might flash someone because of how your costume was designed and the blocking you were given).

(13) I was in a theatre program that was run by parents and grandparents. I applaud them all for working so hard for their kids. However, I will admit that because of that (and not doing the bare minimum of research) I had no little to any clue about tech crew, stage managers, or the hierarchy of power in theatre. Be involved in every aspect of theatre as much as you possibly can. You will learn skills that you will use the rest of your life and have a much higher respect for the underdogs that the audiences, and too often actors, rarely notice. Actors are at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to having a say in the show. Take the time or experience to understand that you are below Assistant Stage Managers and they deserve respect. They have the authority to communicate issues that they have had with actors to the Stage Manager who will, most likely, talk to the director. The Stage Manager should always be respected. You have no idea how much power they have if you have not yet been involved behind the scenes. If that scares you a little bit, good. A healthy fear of them is good. Unless you are Lin Manuel Miranda or Laura Benanti, you are at the bottom of the totem as an actor. Let me reiterate, do not let that you stop you from speaking up about your safety.

(14) Hear a note from a director. Take it. Discuss it, if absolutely necessary, later. It does not matter if you mean well, you will not represent yourself the way that you hopefully intend.


                        Trust yourself. Listen to yourself, those who have your best interest at heart, and your scene partners; and have the time of your life in one of the most thrilling, terrifying, and rewarding professions. I am rooting for you.