Like many young kids who find themselves drawn to the stage, I started acting in church productions and school plays at a very young age. I landed my first lead role in 5th grade and from that point on I was hooked. I participated in any and every theater production I could find. I was glad to be in the ensemble, or a back up dancer, or a tree. Whatever role I had to take to be on stage I took it.
Lesson #1: No part is too small.
Of course I wanted lead roles. I never auditioned without the lead in mind, no matter how under qualified I was. And I always believed I could do it if I worked hard enough.
Lesson #2: Always believe in yourself.
In the town I grew up there was a local youth theater production company called JuMP (Junior Musical Playhouse). You could audition for JuMP productions until the summer of your senior year. My first JuMP production was a variety show where I recited a Shel Silverstein poem. I was 12 years old. I participated in every fall and summer JuMP production until the summer of my 14th year. JuMP was producing “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.” That same summer my Uncle Dave invited me to visit him and his family in Tennessee. HOW WAS I SUPPOSE TO CHOOSE? The trip would take me away for two weeks and I knew it wouldn’t be fair to the other kids cast or the director if I was gone that long.
Lesson #3: The show goes on, even without you.
After my one missed production I “jumped” right back into every JuMP show I could.,, Until the summer of my 17th year when I wasn’t cast. I couldn’t believe it. The production was “West Side Story.” It was the summer before my senior year which meant I only had one more summer to participate and I didn’t get cast. I was devastated.
Lesson #4: Rejection hurts but it is not an excuse to quit.
I later discovered that I was not cast because more kids had auditioned than were roles to cast. I had been offered many opportunities with JuMP and the directors felt it was someone else’s turn. That stunk and I felt a little cheated. I worked hard, always showed up, followed instructions and was a team player. I felt like I was being punished.
Lesson #5: It isn’t always about you.
I ultimately wrapped up my time with JuMP in a small fall variety show and didn’t audition for the summer production. I was offered an apprentice opportunity the summer of my senior year with Old Lyric Repertory Theatre. An experience I will never forget.
The best lesson learned from my time in the theater? If you really want something you have to work for it. Hard. I have easily given more than 10,000 hours of my life to the stage and the study of theater. I’ve played amazing characters and few rotten ones. I’ve learned so much from other actors, directors and theater enthusiasts.
But the study of theater is about so much more than the art form. To study theater is to study life. To learn how to manage disappointment, rejection, diversity, challenging problems. . . the lessons I’ve learned in theater are numerous. And I’m pretty sure I’ve got a few more to learn. . .