10 things to know before going to theater school
This month’s Atlantic Theater Company blog is from Christopher Jewels-Booth, Director of Admissions at the Atlantic Acting School.
1. You are not meant to be an expert.
If you were an expert, you wouldn’t need any additional training, would you? So don’t doubt yourself for a perceived lack of knowledge. A) You probably know more than you think, and B) Use what you know as a basis for new knowledge.
Also, give yourself grace.
The only person you’re competing with is yourself. Do your best every day and know that what you are capable of changes every day. The hardest critic you are going to encounter as an artist is yourself. What you need to do is get past that inner criticism, get past all the noise in your head and outside your head to find what I call your “zone”. Part of finding your “zone” is to grant yourself grace in finding that “zone”. If you continue to apply a good work ethic to develop good habits, you will reach this “zone”. The key to the “zone” is to understand that it is not a destination but rather the journey itself.
That being said…
2. Be prepared to learn.
Any form of artistic training will require you at some point to let go and / or go beyond your previous knowledge or skills. And it’s good. We must be humble and open enough to accept this new teaching. As a teacher and student, I always remember this axiom. It is the teacher’s job to teach and it is the student’s job to learn.
This brings us to …
3. Have a game plan.
One of my first acting teachers (Paul Sills) told me to give myself a “to do” list for each class and for each day of class. You can also think of this as a goal sheet. You don’t need to share this with anyone. Give yourself three âto doâ or three goals to achieve: one that can be accomplished today, one that can be accomplished in a week, and one that can be accomplished in a month. These can be as small as âbeing more presentâ or âreading playwrights with a different life experience than mineâ. Not only are you learning in the classroom, but you are also actively working towards personal goals. The game plan also extends to your career.
That being said…
4. Be flexible and be prepared to reject your plan.
Another way of looking at it is: don’t let your ego get in the way of growth. If someone inspires or encourages you to change your plans, goals, or “to do”, be ready to let go. Your goals should be steps to success, not weights in an ocean of possibilities.
5. You are going to work harder than you think.
A life in the arts is much more difficult than you might think. There is a reason the tired old axiom of “if you can do something else then do it” gets rejected so often. However, it is rarely explained. You will hear “no” more than “yes”. And you have to be prepared to work hard to get a “yes”. No one is given a career. Yes, there are people who, with financial or personal resources, can be further along on the journey than you; however, if you are willing to work hard and be kind, you will find “success.”
6. Define “success” for yourself.
I often ask students, “What do you want out of this?” What is your objective ? And their response is “to be a working actor.” You really need to define what this means to you. What does “success” look like in school, what “success” in this industry looks like … to you? This is closely related to âhaving a game planâ. If the achievement is a door and you are looking for the key to unlock it, you need to know what type of lock you are looking to unlock. Also know that your idea of ââsuccess will change and evolve, and that’s okay.
7. You will “fail”, and that’s okay.
A friend once told me, “there is no failure … there is only feedback”, talking about their work. You have to be willing to take risks to be successful in the arts. And with the risk comes the reward and the feedback. See your “failure” as the fertilizer for your success.
8. Read. Read a little more. And when you’re done reading, read more.
For actors, the words on a page are one of our most powerful allies. And don’t just read plays and scripts that you think you are good at. Read anything and everything. Read work that has nothing to do with you. Read jobs you will never be in. Learn to appreciate writers. Today’s niche writer could be tomorrow’s premier writer / director.
9. Watch television, watch movies and watch plays.
It’s your industry. Devour content. Descend rabbit holes, develop your artistic spirit and taste. Especially in New York you have a great variety of entertainment. Live Him. It will inform not only your soul, but also your art. Neil Pepe, artistic director of the Atlantic Theater Company, says: âDo five things a day to advance your careerâ. It could be anything, going to the gym, reading a sonnet, watching an episode of that TV show everyone’s talking about, or sitting down and writing a list of goals.
10. Be the first to enter and the last to exit.
I cannot stress how far a good work ethic will take you. The best advice I ever got from an agent was, “if you show up early and know your lines, you’re going to work”. It’s simple; However, you’ll be surprised how many actors don’t do any of these things and then are surprised that they don’t. It comes down to the idea of ââworking harder than you think. I both got gigs and lost gigs because of my arrival. Setting the standard to always be early and leave late will give you time to focus and be able to fully present yourself in the moment.
11. And a bonus note … Have fun!
… because that’s why we do it! Being an artist, and more particularly an actor, is a joyful exercise and experience. There will be tough times and days, but don’t forget to have fun.
Christopher Jewels-Booth (AEA) is an award-winning actor / comedian / writer / illustrator / storyteller living in New York City. Along with projects he wrote for Spike TV, Travel Channel and NPR, Chris has been seen performing both Off-Broadway (Awesome 80s prom) as well as in various self-written individual programs, including Bowhead Whale, BaBoom! and the system. His radio play War of the Worlds: Mosaic was played live on NPR affiliate WJFF in upstate New York. Chris has nearly a decade of admissions experience, the last five years being proudly with Atlantic. You can find mostly artwork on Chris’s Instagram @thechrisbooth.
Ready to start your journey through drama school? Atlantic Acting School offers training programs throughout the year for actors of all ages. Full and partial scholarships available! To learn more, visit atlanticactingschool.org.