A friend of mine was playing a leading role in a show down south. "You're so talented," an enthusiastic patron told her. "I hope you make it."
My friend was taken aback. In her estimation, she was making it. She was playing a lead at a professional theatre. She has a Broadway show on her resume. Outside of a few baby-sitting gigs, she's never had to rely on a day job. She is one of the lucky few who, for the most part, Gets Seen.
"This is a professional theatre," she explained. "I am a professional, and I am thrilled to be in this show."
"But I hope you make it," the well-intentioned patron said before moving on.
My friend recounted this story to me with warmth, humor, and just a touch of despair. It brought up an excellent conversation about How We Define Success.
One of the most crippling judgements an actor can make is about who is and who isn't successful. Including ourselves. For most of us, our definition of success is having a show on Broadway, period. That is, in the words of an immortal lyricist, a "steep and very narrow stairway." But still, we feel that if we aren't on Broadway, we aren't successful.
Since this is something I am personally still working through, I turn to my husband for advice. With four Broadway shows, a slew of national tours, and credits at major regional theatres on his resume, he encourages my dreams, yet keeps me grounded. "Broadway is just another job," he assures me. "Believe me. After a while, it's less fun because instead of being thrown together in a hotel somewhere, everyone goes home at the end of the show. It becomes just another job."
I do believe him, but Broadway to me still represents a validation of my hopes and dreams, as well as one hefty paycheck. It's also, as my friend puts it, a Golden Key: a Broadway show opens doors to all sorts of other auditions.
But is it worth your pride and your sanity? "A lot of people on Broadway aren't even happy," my husband points out. Just about everyone I know who is on Broadway concurs. "BUT I'D BE HAPPY!" I scream on the inside. My husband, who knows me well and hears my internal screaming, has to agree. "Having a show makes you happy," he's said. And sometimes all I need is a show. After all, I have a partner who hears my internal screams. Everything else is just icing on the cake.
And yet, I have managed to make it this far without a Broadway show and with my sanity intact. How did I do it? Here are some tricks that might help you.
1. Set small and gentle goals, and meet them.
Don't allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the uphill battle to Broadway. Figure out what you can do today to advance your career. Do it, and then turn on Rupaul's Drag Race for the rest of the day. Likewise, figure out manageable goals for the week, the month the year. Maybe your goal is to get an agent. Maybe your goal is to get a better agent. Then it might help to book a showcase. Find a showcase EPA or ECC, or submit your stuff to some small off-off Broadway theatres. Done. Or maybe you take a class, write a friend, do a mailing. Whatever. Cut it into small, manageable chunks. Those little moments add up to something, I promise.
2. Don't cast pearls before swine.
Some of you may have heard this Biblical reference, and this is of Biblical importance. If someone doesn't "get" theatre, don't waste your time trying to explain it to them. The theatre industry is, in most cases, something that has to be experienced to be understood. I don't tell my mom about most of the auditions I go on. She will ask, six months after the date, if I have heard about that audition. She asks because 1. she cares, 2. she doesn't understand why someone as talented as me wouldn't be working (thanks Mom), and 3. in most industries you learn why you don't get a job, especially if you've made it past a certain point. (Isn't that AMAZING?!!!) But for my mental health, I can't go back to certain auditions over and over again. Which brings me to:
3. Keep moving forward!
The next audition is just around the corner. I give myself a mourning period of 24 hours once I'm sure I'm not in a show. I acknowledge my loss, I do something really nice for myself, and then it's time to brush off the dirt and move on. It benefits NO ONE to become bitter and jealous. It does not benefit you to beat yourself up. You have a future. You're doing great. Look at how far you've come. God did not bring you this far to drop you on your ass. Do what you can, do your best, and keep dreaming big.