AYT USA: Can an artist take the ‘wrong path’ to stardom?

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Continuing the AYT USA blog series is Lauren Twombly, who has just graduated from Bryan College with a degree in musical theatre. Part of her aspirations as a singer-actress and blogger is to use her experience to encourage fellow artists. As a New Jersey girl who attended school in a small Southern town, she discusses her unique path as an artist thus far; how she is using her current resources to continue pursuing her dreams and why it’s important to fight insecurities about “making it”.

Do you ever wonder if you have done enough or made the right decisions to have a successful and fulfilling career in the theatre?

In America, as far as I can tell, many people who succeed in the business have been going at it for several years already. When you learn about how they started out, you discover that they were touring in some follies show in high school (Sutton Foster), or that they attended a prestigious theatre programme but dropped out because they were good enough to pursue a career already – the case for Matthew Morrison (Glee, South Pacific, Light in the Piazza). These people were successful at an age when I hadn’t even discovered the depth of my passion for theatre. My story is quite different from what many consider to be normal for those who become successful. And this is, at times, terrifying.

I received a degree in music with a concentration on musical theatre from a small Christian college in a small, almost unknown town in Tennessee. This means that my focus can never entirely be music or theatre, having been pulled equally in both directions, while also taking various courses in religion, math, languages, and science. It also means that I have been in a less-than-desirable location for establishing connections in theatre (other than attending the 2011 SETC Conference in Atlanta, which proved highly beneficial). However, having had hardly any previous formal education in acting or music, it was certainly an excellent training ground. It provided me with the basics of music and theatre, a huge support system of faculty and friends, and several opportunities to pursue an art that I had so little experience in but such an overwhelming passion for.

So sometimes I feel hopeless, that I’m not even close to being in a position to pursue a career as a professional performer. I know that I can’t pursue a full throttle career as a performer right away. I can’t afford to live in New York, get an agent, hire an acting coach, and spend all my time preparing for and going to auditions. But that doesn’t mean I can’t ever be a professional actress. As an artist, I have a responsibility to do what I can in my situation.

What does this mean for me, exactly? I’ve started eating better, exercising; keeping my body in shape. I’ve started taking lessons with a phenomenal voice teacher. I read Wicked in three days. I plan to subscribe to Backstage and I’m always on the lookout for local community theatre auditions. I’m working full time as an administrative assistant for a family-owned shipping company. No, I’m not getting paid to do what I love – not yet – but this job will enable me to pay for lessons, headshots, a car, moving out and possibly acting school. I’m doing what I can at this point in my life.

No one can give you a formula for success. I’m constantly talking to other theatre people, trying to figure out how to eventually make my way to Broadway. But my story will not be like anyone else’s. It never has and it never will and that shouldn’t be discouraging. Why would you want your journey as an artist to look just like another artist’s? Isn’t being in this business about what makes you unique and about what you have to offer the artistic community?

But what if I miss the perfect opportunity? What if no one ever sees what I have to offer? You seriously can’t worry about any of that. Know that you are doing everything in your power to put yourself out there and be the best artist you can be. And who knows? Unknowns are becoming famous everyday. Not that I strive merely for fame, but it literally happens overnight. So I should enjoy my anonymity while I can. I should be content to develop my craft during this period, when I am only being criticised on amateur levels.

So I cannot spend so much time worrying about whether I made the right decisions for my career. I have no regrets about my short history as an artist because I know that right now, I am exactly where I am supposed to be. And so are you. I have developed my talents and also my confidence in them. It doesn’t matter where I went to school and how prestigious my theatre programme was. I am working towards pursuing my dreams. It is frustrating when you cannot dedicate every moment of your life to what  you are most passionate about, but listen: when they say, “it’s not going to be easy”, they aren’t joking. And I’m finally starting to learn exactly what that means.

To read more from Lauren, check out her personal blog.

If you are an American reader of A Younger Theatre and would like to contribute to the AYT USA blog series, please contact blogs[at]ayoungertheatre.com.