COLLEGE IS AN EXCITING time to learn about yourself and the art of performance. It’s a playground in which to mature into a skilled, polished professional. You will learn how to be a strong actor, get hired, and leave a good impression.

In 2016, I graduated with a B.F.A. in musical theatre. I found that the professional world wasn’t quite like the one I had prepared for. While my degree was invaluable, some instructions I learned in the classroom didn’t apply to every audition.

Here are five important lessons I’ve learned since graduating college.


There is a delicate balance to handling the audition room. College professors will shower you with rules about attire, material, callbacks, and every moment of the process. Master class guests will offer additional perspectives about how to nail the audition. You’ll consistently juggle contradicting expectations.

Do not fear. While all of these opinions are valuable and worth considering, they are opinions. The real world changes constantly. The solid-colored midi dress or tucked-in, button-down shirt that triumphed in 2018 may not be the look by the time you graduate. College programs condition students to fit a particular mold. These expectations are important to understand. However, there are times when breaking a rule gets you the job. Sometimes being the only girl ditching the dress for pants or the only guy with an untucked shirt gets you noticed.

A student participates in college auditions at the 2017 International Thespian Festival.
A student participates in college auditions at the 2017 International Thespian Festival. Photo by Susan Doremus.


Schools and peers pigeonhole those of us in the performing arts. They’ll tell you that, if you love performing, it must be your one and only goal to win a Tony or an Oscar. If it doesn’t consume you, you must not love it enough. They’ll say every artist should have a “Plan B” in case acting doesn’t work out.

But Plan B is an unhealthy mindset. Theatre isn’t medicine or law. You don’t pass a slew of exams, get employed, and then have a stable career for decades. Having other options is vital to surviving in this business. It doesn’t mean you aren’t talented or diligent enough. Everyone hits a dry spell at some point.

Instead of thinking about those alternatives as a Plan B, consider what other passions can be Plan Aa, Ab, and Ac. Have more than one simultaneous option. There are jobs that require similar skills to acting. What other performing options do you have? Consider nearby theme parks, public speaking, princess parties, hospital patient training modules, or customer service. Get creative.

Consider your natural nonperforming skills. Are you good with a pen? Write content and articles for theatre websites, blogs, and magazines. Do you play an instrument? Play in a show’s pit. Do you have graphic design skills? Put them to work as a member of your local theatre’s marketing team. Having other options doesn’t mean you’re giving up on acting. It means you are sustaining yourself until your next acting opportunity comes along.


The relationships you form in college or working on a show offer numerous networking opportunities. In and out of school, your competitive juices will flow whenever you’re up against someone in an audition. This is natural. Even your best friend can frustrate you in this situation.

In the years after graduation, I found that our small, close-knit acting class didn’t keep in touch all that much. Despite how close we were, everyone went in various directions. Occasionally I bump into a former classmate at an audition or social gathering. Practically everyone is struggling. Social media has clouded our judgement. We only recognize when people are #bookedandblessed. This is an illusion.

We may be after the same jobs, but at the end of the day, we are friends. These are the people who understand your hardships because they experience them too. This business is brutal and requires heartfelt friends. Don’t forget you have them.

The network of friends you build in high school and college will serve as your allies in the professional world.
The network of friends you build in high school and college will serve as your allies in the professional world. Photo by Susan Doremus.


It’s critical to come to terms with this fact. The hustle for jobs never ends. Many people believe once you land a Broadway show, you’re there for life. That’s not the case. You get hired for short-term shows, yearlong tours, or staged readings. You work hard to earn one job, and the next day you’re researching auditions for the next one.

The good news is that years of experience will make a difference. As time passes, opportunities will start coming to you by way of the networks you’ve built. But this doesn’t happen in two or three years. You need patience if you want to build a sustainable career in the performing arts.


Let me say that again. You are enough. Nobody can tell you otherwise, even though they may try. Every person experiences a less-than-encouraging educator or a bitter auditioner. But when you get rejected for a role, it is not because you weren’t enough. It is because someone else was a better fit for that specific opportunity. That doesn’t eliminate that role or theatre from your bucket list.

Every director wants something different. They aren’t looking to cast an actor who can play the part. They seek an actor who can bring new life to the part. Understanding your most marketable type is vital to success. Are you the awkward love interest, the sassy friend, or the villain? What makes you different from every other Cinderella, LeFou, or Witch? What makes you unique? Knowing the answer will keep you interesting and employable. In other words, highlight what makes you you. Walk into every audition and rehearsal thinking you have nothing to prove, only to share.

College programs will welcome you because they see potential. They will prepare you to showcase your skill and poise onstage. But skill and devotion aren’t the only factors to success. Be flexible and, more than anything, love what you do.

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