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Backstage Experts

3 Common Mistakes Young Actors Make

3 Common Mistakes Young Actors Make

Every young actor makes a few mistakes in their quest of grand success. Here are some of the most common foibles young performers make at the beginning of their journey.

1. They pack their bags and go to New York City without fully considering other options.
There’s nothing wrong with New York City. Thanks to the luck of history—the development of early theater houses in the city—and compelling marketing, New York City is widely seen as the home of American theater. Just look at anyone’s resume and you’ll see that theater in the U.S. gets divided into two distinct regions:  New York City and everywhere else (regional theaters).

Unfortunately, young artists often think that the only place to launch a career is the Big Apple. This is a mistake. There are literally thousands of professional theaters across the country. In addition, there are several cities, including Minneapolis and Chicago, with nearly as many theater seats per capita as New York.  

Artists sometimes find that the cheaper cost of living, the lower expense of producing theater, and the improved odds of having one’s work publicly recognized (through major newspaper reviews and, perhaps, regional awards) make alternate places a better home for them and their careers.

2. They get their Equity cards too soon.
It is not uncommon for young artists to race toward acquiring an Equity card as fast as possible—perhaps to prove to themselves and others (parents, guardians, former classmates working on Wall Street) that they can be successful in the world of professional theater. This can be a mistake.

Young actors with Equity cards frequently find that their similarly aged, non-Equity friends land jobs more quickly and, thanks to increased employment, get more opportunities to refine their skills.

In time, an Equity-card can be essential for actors—providing access to auditions, a protected work environment, and minimum pay scales. That being said, young actors might think twice about whether an Equity-card is essential at this moment in their lives and careers.

3. They don’t prepare for “No.”
If a professional baseball player gets a hit one out of every three at bats, he will end of up in Cooperstown, the Hall of Fame. LeBron James, arguably the best player in the NBA, misses 50 percent of the shots that he attempts. Successful individuals in any industry are folks who not only risk failure but also are willing to do it again and again.

It is common for people who were extremely successful at an earlier moment in life to struggle when moving up to the next level. It can be really hard for folks who have always been praised to encounter not just a single “No” but a seemingly unending cascade of them. To cope with the stress, anxiety, anger and blow to self-esteem associated with rejection, some people adopt an array of unhealthy habits. This is a mistake.

It is always unpleasant to be told “no.” There’s no sugarcoating it. That being said, a person can prepare for “no” by employing strategies to take away some of its sting. Develop a support structure of friends who truly understand what you do and who will be there to help you see this “no” as a momentary setback. Celebrate successes—not to honor the “yes” but to acknowledge perseverance in the face of the preceding “no’s.” Identify a role model, a person who saw more than his or her fair share of “no’s,” persisted, and eventually reached a goal.

Harvey Young is a professor of theater at Northwestern University. His most recent books include "The Cambridge Companion to African American Theatre" and “Theatre and Race.”

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