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"I Wish I Knew That Before College: Advice for Incoming Performance Majors"

Updated: May 5, 2021

By Robert Frost

TheoryWorks Coach, Music Director, and Voice Faculty at NYU Tisch

It feels like roughly 18,325,325 people have asked about your plans after graduation ("Yes, I want to be a performer." "Yes, I know it's hard.")

You scoured the internet for advice on college auditions. You auditioned (a lot). You learned how to do it online (!). And now: you're at last making your final decisions.

So: what now?

I'm on Voice Faculty at NYU Tisch. And I polled my students at NYU, friends, and colleagues: what do you wish you knew before college? What would have helped you the most?

The answers may surprise you. Here's what they said.

1. The Road to Success is Not Linear

The rest of your life has infinite possibilities. The BFA to Broadway pipeline glimmers on the horizon, but the road for every artist presents itself in many different forms.

I teach for NYU Tisch School of the Arts. But I trained at a small liberal arts college, in Bulgaria, and at the National Theatre Institute. Walking Dead actor Colman Domingo majored in Journalism. The Office’s Ellie Kemper majored in English.

Colman Domingo majored in journalism, and went on to star on the Walking Dead.

Great training exists at many top programs. But the path to success is not defined by a fancy piece of paper.

You might be the favorite at your program. You might not be. But these are hardly ever indicators of overall success. The path to success is so much less linear than that.

Wherever you are in the early fall of next year -- be it a studio at Carnegie Mellon or a studio apartment in Lima -- you are continuing your growth as an artist and as a human being (although, the difference between the two is fairly non-existent).

2. No One Can Make You an Artist

It's true. Start to internalize and believe this now: nothing, be it a school, a studio, or a mentor can teach you how to be an artist.

But that’s because you are already an artist. You enter into a program with your brain, your spirit, and your voice. What a gift! And no school can give it to you -- or, take it away.

Your supporters -- both teachers, and fellow classmates -- will develop those gifts alongside you. And no good teacher or colleague expects perfection.

They know that growth is messy, and human. Plus: they are also humans! Speaking as a teacher, it thrills me when students question why I’m doing what I’m doing. It shows a deep sense of investment in your own growth.

The work you make and the community you build and the things that bring you joy and the things that break your heart make up this big, wonderful being that is you.

3. You're allowed to quit!

And you may be going to a BFA program. You may be taking a gap year or you may be skipping school altogether.

Or: you might get to your program, and hate it. Guess what: you're allowed to quit. You can move straight to New York and work with coaches and teaches in the city, and build your own program. You can transfer to a different performance program somewhere else. Or, change majors altogether.

New York will always be here and theatre isn’t going anywhere. (Even a pandemic couldn’t kill it!) So take whatever time you need to become a full human.

I cannot stress this enough: this is the biggest arbiter in who's "successful." You'll have a better worldview, head on your shoulders, and set of wonderful life experiences to draw from.

4. You Can Always Learn More

Your training will never stop. Even after school, actors in NYC are constantly enrolled in class. Even the top performers nominated for Tony awards are in their own voice lessons, weekly dance class, and acting class.

So this summer, spend the summer with people you love. Travel! But if you're looking to prepare too, you can start this awesome practice now and learn some music theory with me! We have an online course you can take from anywhere to help prep for your theory entrance exam.

But above all:

You never have to force yourself into an environment that doesn't feel right for you.

Be true to yourself. Invest in what makes you unique.

And remember: you’re a human, first.


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