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Broadway or Bust…or Not.

December 21, 2012

Most of the performers I know, including myself, have inherited the unfortunate curse that always seems to accompany an artistic career choice: skepticism coming from every direction. Skepticism that anyone can actually find success as a professional artist, judgment that many actors have to work part-time in odd jobs, cynicism that an actor will ever amount to anything worthwhile. Personally, I’ve dealt with years of anxiety, constant struggle, and countless mistakes finally to settle on a very calming conclusion.

When I was much younger and new to the theatre scene, I was in a show with an older performer whom I looked up to as an artist and as a person. He talked of nothing but attaining his dream as a professional actor, how he simply couldn’t live with anything less than a prestigious role on Broadway, how nothing else would legitimize his career choice. As a young, starry-eyed, aspiring performer, I hung on every word he said, but being the pessimist that I am, came to the conclusion that I would never be talented enough to make it on Broadway. This, in my young mind, meant that I would never succeed in the field of theatre and should find another career path.

Years down the road, I attended a production of my favorite musical at a black box theatre, in the middle of no where, with dirt cheap seats. To my awe-struck surprise, the lead actor in the show was the same boy who had pledged every essence of his being to making it on Broadway. He had certainly done a wonderful job in the show, and though the theatre was not well-known, he landed a very coveted role in a show not often produced. Yet I couldn’t stop myself from feeling sorry for him. Here he was in this painfully small theatre, close to his hometown and lifetimes away from his dreams of Broadway.

To my disappointment, I did not find him that night after the show but happenstance would have it that several years later our paths crossed again. We fell deep in conversation until I felt comfortable enough to ask, as politely as possible, why he had given up on his dreams, if he was disappointed with the direction his life had taken, if he was giving up on his acting career due to his lack of success?

His answer affected me more than he knew. He explained that as he matured and experienced all that life had in store for him, he realized that there is so much more to discover as an actor than just Broadway shows or National Tours, there are so many different paths an actor could grow in and thrive in that don’t involve an Equity card. He simply didn’t want to do Broadway anymore, he found that he preferred small theatres with intimate audiences, landing parts that some actors never got to play, living close to friends and family in his hometown. He laughed at his youthful self who lived by the phrase “Broadway or Bust”, a teenager who felt that if you didn’t have the prestige of a Broadway credit, you couldn’t call yourself a real professional.

As someone who hates New York, finds classic theatre slightly dull, and never wants to stay in one place for too long…a career on Broadway might be somewhat of a nightmare for me. Yes, I realize what a paradox this seems like; an actor who doesn’t want to be on Broadway. But while it lacks the prestige that some actors yearn for, I’m much happier performing in a theme park show if I get to play a vivacious character with killer songs. Similarly, I’d rather be in a low-budget show if it allowed me to live in an interesting new place and I’d rather work at a theatre that no one recognized if it gave me opportunities to perform in ways I felt proud of.

Despite a lifetime of my peer’s Broadway ideals, my family’s unyielding skepticism for my risky career choice, and a myriad of classes that measured artistic success by equity points, I’ve collided head first into a most reassuring reality. Success to me is waking up absolutely ecstatic to play my part, feeling alive on the stage, and having a deep-rooted pride in the performance I put on. I don’t need fame, prestige, or riches…and I definitely no longer need the approval of others that I’ve become successful. I just want to live a life I find worth living, and I think I’ve found it in the non-equity, unconventional shows I’ve stumbled upon all over the world.

Success looks different to everyone, only you can define it for yourself.

The Reckless Artist sig
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5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2012 9:49 am

    Great post. Amazing that you were able to reconnect with that actor, and love that both of your perspectives and growth as artists over the years are helping you to prioritize things in your life and work.

  2. December 21, 2012 2:43 pm

    I always feel weird commenting on posts here because I’m not an actor, etc. but whoa, I really enjoyed this one and I had to tell you. I think that feeling of being young and wanting something so “prestigious” is one we often have. It would be like me wanting to write for the New York Times when I was younger, and then figuring out maybe writing for “blah blah paper” in my town was a better fit. It’s funny how things and perceptions change over time. What I most like about that story is that he was able to laugh at how idealistic he was back then. Great, well-done post.

  3. December 21, 2012 5:08 pm

    This is a great post, and I’m impressed by your insight and understanding of yourself.

  4. The Growing Artist permalink
    December 24, 2012 1:22 pm

    Love this post! Very inspiring!

  5. December 25, 2012 9:45 pm

    I love this. I think that many college theatre programs set artists up for believing that the only way to be successful in the theatre is to be on Broadway. It’s important to have a much broader view of what theatre is and what it can do. I appreciate this post.

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