I am a University of Michigan Musical Theatre grad and I wear my Maize and Blue proud. Being a U of M grad in the world of musical theatre has given me opportunities that never would have been open to me otherwise, and dear friends and a network of professional artists that I am blessed to have. It’s like having a golden ticket- a degree from Michigan is a privilege, an honor, and a great accomplishment.
It’s also a burden to bear.
You graduated from U of M? Wow! You must be so talented! Are you on Broadway? Have you been on Broadway? How many Broadway shows have you done? Are you friends with Gavin Creel?
The answers are no, no, none, and no- although we do live in the same neighborhood and I smile at him when I see him walking his dog.
What no one tells you in your four years of preparation to enter this crazy field is that there is no guarantee of success. And what’s more, the expectations we have for ourselves as graduates of such a program can be too much to handle.
I graduated in 2012 thinking I would make it ‘big’ right away. Every week my classmates and I would hear the awesome news of friends of ours in previous classes making their Broadway debut (or second or third appearance) or getting a tour, or even a TV gig. It was Broadway or bust for all 24 of my classmates and I. We saw the standard of excellence for Michigan grads and we were chomping at the bit to have our chance at success.
Things did not play out how I imagined. I finished showcase, didn’t sign with an agent, and set out on a year and a half of auditions where nothing really came to fruition. I was called back for Broadway shows and tours, I performed in small things here and there, but there was no “I’ve made it in New York” moment for me. It was discouraging to say the least.
But what my real mistake was, and the whole point of me writing this, was… I was looking sideways the whole time.
You know Mr. Wagner’s line? Something like, you can’t go forward if you’re looking sideways? That was me. And that was so many of my friends. And that is so many of my talented, incredible, hard working students now. I was absolutely comparing my life and my success to people on completely different paths. I kept happiness at arm’s length because my life looked different from theirs.
My life started to look more and more like this: spending time in the studio teaching voice lessons to people who valued my skills and whose energy brought light to my life, pursuing a relationship with my now husband and then planning a wedding, growing my teaching business, pursuing continued vocal education, pouring energy into my friendships and family and getting back the same.
I always knew I wanted to be a full time voice teacher one day, I just didn’t imagine it meaning so much to me so quickly. In fact, I’ve been teaching, training and re-certifying as an instructor every year for the past ten years, with what is now the Institute for Vocal Advancement. What was initially going to help me avoid waiting tables has become my real passion and the thing that I am most fulfilled by.
It was hard to admit this to myself, let alone my friends, a few of whom were making huge strides in their acting careers right about this time. It was honestly embarrassing for me to say things like, “It doesn’t seem like now is the right time for me in this business. But you know what I might like even more? This whole teaching thing.”
Did people think I was “giving up?” My professors and family expect more from me, am I letting them down? Am I letting myself down? Isn’t acting what I was “supposed” to do?
I just found this “journal” entry in a forgotten notebook tonight. It’s from the day before last year’s incredible Maize and Blue on Broadway concert in honor of Brent Wagner. I wrote,
“I am sad not to be important enough to to be in the Maize and Blue concert. Not to not be in it, but to be of so little consequence in this field, I’m useless… I’m afraid to feel fat, unimportant, untalented by my friends and colleagues at the concert tomorrow. I feel like nothing I’ve accomplished matters, especially in the Michigan MT context.”
Have you ever felt this way?
Here’s what I’ve learned. My path is not the same as yours, and yours is different from the next person’s. When I have let success be defined as just one narrow outcome in a world FULL of opportunity, I have absolutely let myself be miserable. When I measure myself against my friends with Broadway credits or Broadway bodies, I keep happiness at arm’s length.
If this is your dream, do it! Do it with all your heart, mind, and strength! If it’s taking longer than you expected, that’s ok. Breathe, relax, and keep working. And if it turns out this funny business of show isn’t where your heart lies, then give yourself permission to follow it elsewhere. I admire my friends and colleagues who have found themselves in law school, behind a casting table, teaching children’s dance classes, writing Oscar winning songs, directing commercials, starring in their own plays, becoming parents, launching a community theatre, and going to med school.
The world is wide enough. You are important just the way you are, and Broadway credits or not, that will not change. We each have inherent value, and this life is too short to not find out what your unique contribution to the world will be.
Today, seeing my best friends’ names in the playbill is a thrill. I genuinely rejoice in the success of those around me, and I’ve allowed others to celebrate mine as well. To my fellow Wolverines and all dreamers out there- I can’t wait to see what you create. Keep looking forward, because I promise you don’t want to miss the beautiful path you are on.
Photo credit to Lauren Hartman