The Musical Theater Major's Survival Guide
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The Musical Theater Major's Survival Guide

A guide to success in college for the Broadway-bound.

The Musical Theater Major's Survival Guide

Maybe you watched the Grammys this year and pictured yourself onstage with the "Hamilton" cast. Perhaps, like myself, you created such a riveting portrayal of the Little Red Hen in your second grade musical that you realized this might be your calling. You might have even caught a glimpse of a class full of students playing tag as you walked through the Performing Arts Building and thought, “Damn, that looks easier than mechanical engineering.”

If you’re in that last group, get ready for a rude awakening. Declaring yourself a musical theater major is not so much committing to a major as it is committing to a lifestyle. We may look like we’re having fun – and that’s because we are – but the road to a BFA is full of difficulties, trials and tribulations that you’ll never see coming. Want to survive life as a musical theater major? Consider this your basic training.

1. Never Say Never

The first rule of survival in the MTP (Musical Theater Program) is simple: the answer to a question is never “no.” If someone asks if you can do a cartwheel, perform a new monologue this Friday, or sing that high note, always give it a shot. We’re asked to be multi-talented, which means you’re likely to feel like you have some weak spots in your repertoire. Still, it’s respectful to your peers and your teachers to give it your all, even if you’re not feeling completely confident. Fake it ‘til you make it!

2. Pack Your Survival Kit

The right gear for a musical theater student changes from day-to-day. That said, there are some things you’ll always want on hand:

  • Leggings - Ever walk by the girls in high school sporting Lululemon and think, “I’ll never wear workout clothes to school!”? You thought wrong. With at least one dance class every weekday and a healthy dose of courses requiring “movement clothes,” showing up in leggings is always the safest bet.
  • Water bottle – Ducking out of ballet class to run to the drinking fountain isn’t going to fly with your professor. Invest in a good water bottle and refill every morning before classes start.
  • Songbook – Your “book” is a two-inch binder full of your go-to audition songs. This should always be in your backpack. You never want to flash your professors the deer-in-headlights eyes when they ask you to sing sixteen bars of “that other ballad,” or “the one you did last semester.”
  • Elastic Hairbands – You’re going to need your hair out of your face for almost every class. You never know when your hair tie will snap, or when someone else will be in need of an extra.

3. Commit It To Memory

If someone asked you to learn a full song, a minute of choreography or five pages of dialogue by next week, could you do it?

What if someone asked you to learn them by tomorrow?

For most people, memorizing is more of a learned skill than a natural talent. Put in the hours to learn your material. After that, it’s time to repeat, repeat, repeat. Recite lines under your breath like a crazy person as you walk down the street. Mark your dance moves in the shower. Keep on quizzing yourself until it’s time to show your stuff. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll be able to pick up new material once you’ve trained your brain to memorize quickly.

4. Keep It In the Family

In other majors, you might make a few friends from your classes. But in musical theater, your peers become family. You have almost every class together for four years, and it’s your job to support each other through all the vulnerable moments you encounter as an artist. You build genuine trust with your classmates. Unless you’re looking to break that trust, keep the drama out of the drama department. Got a problem with someone that you can’t let slide? Take it up with them directly and work it out. Gossip doesn’t solve anything.

5. Rejection Is Your Friend

Most of our job is auditioning for jobs. To deal with all the "no"s, you have to learn to look at auditions from a different angle. An audition gets you free practice and an opportunity to be seen. Go in, make the most of your time in the audition room, then leave it all behind you. No callback? Tell yourself, “That’s their loss,” then repeat that until you believe it.

That kind of attitude can be harder to maintain in a school setting. Receiving rejection from people who mean as much to you as your professors do can be a tough pill to swallow. If the cast list goes up without your name on it, it’s okay to wallow for a night. But by morning, you better be back on your feet with your game face on. Ask your professors for feedback on your audition. Then get your butt to the practice room! Use rejection as your opportunity to ensure that your next audition is better than your last.

6. Do Not Throw Away Your Shot

Sometimes during a lecture class, it can get easy to slack off a little and still skate by. But in musical theater, that doesn’t fly. Your classes are highly participatory, and most of your classwork demands that you’re physically and mentally engaged. The last thing you want to do is disappoint your teachers or let your classmates down by skipping out on classes or letting your performance slide. Plus, you don’t want to let yourself forget why you’re here: to improve your craft. If you slack off, you’re not cheating the system -- you’re cheating yourself. (Oh, and P.S. - the attendance points you’re missing from those 8 AM classes you’re sleeping through will tally up faster than you think. Trust me on this one.)

The life of a musical theater major is a crazy one. You’re pushed as a student, an artist and a human being. Your successes fulfill you and your failures leave you devastated. As long as you work hard and hold on to your passion, you're guaranteed to survive.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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