Playbill knows that your first days at college can be nerve-wracking. It’s totally normal to be scared, or as Stephen Sondheim would say, “Well, excited and scared.” We asked Broadway stars for their best advice—from classes they wish they took to dorm-life hacks—for those of you ready to start your first year.
Three things: Flip-flops in the showers...trust me. Take advantage of the soft serve and cereal selections, you'll never survey such bounty again. Take all kinds of classes! There's so much to learn and this is the perfect time to do it.
Jerry Mitchell, three-time Tony-winning choreographer and director
Say yes to everything. Get involved. Now is the time to cement what it is you LOVE and what it is you are certain you do not. Appreciate the things you do not love by experiencing them, understanding them and then saying ‘not for me.’ This will only help you focus on what it is you want even more and build your determination to make it happen for yourself! Fullout or get out!
Devin Ilaw, currently Thuy in Broadway’s Miss Saigon
Carnegie Mellon University
I wish I knew that failing wasn't only a good thing, but that this was the best time to experiment, fail, try something new, grow, fail again, grow some more, and keep failing. College is a safe environment and you need to start building up your personal armor now to serve you for the rest of your life. Make every experience a learning experience. If you feel like you're not learning anything or hate a particular class for some reason, ask “Why am I bored? Why do I hate this class?” and take this opportunity to learn something about yourself. My job as an actor is to tell stories truthfully that people can connect with. That being said, every experience you have in Life will better serve your Art and make you a more empathetic and understanding human being.
Olivia Puckett, currently an ensemblist in Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen
I took pretty much every [class] I could, but I wish I had paid more attention in music theory. Take. Music. Theory. And [college] is only four years so experience everything you can. Lastly, this advice goes for college and beyond: Your only competition is yourself. You should root for your friends just as much as you root for yourself.
Anthony Lee Medina, currently John Laurens/Philip Hamilton in Broadway’s Hamilton
College is prep for your life after college. Do the work, soak it all up, and remember the choices you make today shape your world tomorrow. (So don't go out partying the day before a final.) I'm a firm believer that you need to know a little bit of everything in this business—even science. I can't tell you how many times I've been sent audition sides that had medical jargon on it and I've thought, "Thank the heavens that I decided to take that Chem 101 class."
Stephen Carrasco, currently a swing in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
College is 150 percent what you make of it. You're only going to reap what you sow. If you work hard then you'll learn a ton; slack and waste time...it'll pass you by. I wish my school had offered a class about the "business" side of show business. There are a ton of cold hard facts about this career path that I could've learned from someone in a classroom setting. Instead, I made those mistakes and taught those lessons to myself along the way. I wish I could've saved myself the heartache. During my junior year, an alum was passing through town on a national tour. While chatting one day in the department hallways, he laughed about how "big of a deal" it all was as he looked at the cast list for the spring musical. He said that after he graduated and had some distance, all those major disappointments of being looked over when casting came, or even those amazing victories of scoring a lead role...none of it mattered after graduation. While he was there of course, it was all that mattered. He felt the same way about high school. And so did I! That hindsight allowed me to let go of so many things I was holding onto, and also, it eased the pressure I put on myself in my final year of school.
Sharon Wheatley, currently Diane and others in Broadway’s Come From Away
University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music
I wish I'd realized it is the first time you get to practice discipline. College is a terrific transition from high school--where everything is mandatory--to real life, where you have to motivate yourself. Once you hit New York or wherever you land to make your career, it is completely about self-motivating. I will forever rue the day(s) I opted to skip or not take dance classes. But I think, even more, I wish I'd started out in a really crackerjack acting class right out of college. I kind of leaned into my strength, which was singing, rather than honing and polishing the things I was a little weaker in. Work hard to avoid the drama off stage. College theater programs are full of unnecessary drama, and I was a magnet for it. Work hard on the drama onstage, less energy to the drama off stage.
Amanda Jane Cooper, currently Glinda in Broadway’s Wicked
Carnegie Mellon University
I do wish I’d known that it would fly by. How sweet those four years (and the people that I got to share them with) were! Savor every experience, because you won’t be there forever.
Michael Krug, currently the stage manager for Broadway’s Groundhog Day
Take as many varied classes as you can. This is your chance to become a well-rounded adult. Don’t be afraid to journey outside your comfort zone. Think about experiences that are industry adjacent and begin to explore. Take some risks and don’t be afraid of failure. (You currently have a safety net to fall onto, this disappears once you graduate!)
Katy Geraghty, currently Debbie in Broadway’s Groundhog Day
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
I wish someone had told me before college that everyone is going to do it differently. There are going to be so many options around you for everything, from classes to extracurriculars to food, and no one person will be doing everything the same. Be true to what feels right to you. The most valuable piece of information I was given about college was to do everything that appealed to me and really get my hands in everything. I went to a campus that was huge and had so much to offer and so many incredible experiences came out of just saying yes to as much as possible.
Bobby Conte Thornton, currently Calogero in Broadway’s A Bronx Tale
University of Michigan
“You can't move forward if you're looking to the side." My great teacher, Brent Wagner, preaches that to every freshman at the University of Michigan's musical theatre department, and it will always ring true for me. Everyone has their own path, tumultuous and treacherous and terrifying and joyous. Comparing yourself to others will only stall you. Learn from your teachers and your fellow students. Learn from your new surroundings and step outside your comfort zone by interacting with people that differ from you artistically, politically, spiritually, etc. Learn from you personal failures—the more the merrier with this one. Risk the possibility of being bad for a moment. That's where the real work happens. Comparing stalls creativity. Have the dedication and focus to make the process of your own personal growth the priority. The outcome, more times than not, is out of your control anyways. So venture off with open-heartedness, knowing there will always be distractions along the way. Just turn your head and keep moving forward.
Ben Durocher, currently Princeton/Rod in Off-Broadway’s Avenue Q
University of Cincinatti-College Convservatory of Music
Seek the attention of the teachers you want to learn from, ask the questions you want answered, put the hours in to learn the skills you want to have when you graduate. In other words, you can only get a return on the things you invest in yourself, and no one is holding you accountable to this except you. And a very fit upperclassmen once told me: Take advantage of your free gym membership on campus, the gym is much more expensive in the real world.
Nicholas Belton, currently Andrey/Bolkonsky in Broadway’s Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
University of Cincinatti-College Convservatory of Music
Every single person you meet, from the day you arrive at school until the day you set out into the real world is a huge networking opportunity for the future. You never know, some of the biggest resources in my rolodex come from people that didn't even share my major. Also, those student loan checks you get every semester are not free money – the last thing you want to have when moving to New York City is a big pile of debt. Also, I wish I had taken a business class. Not the “Business of Acting” at the conservatory, but a course at the School of Business. Marketing yourself cannot be more important in this business. It’s a great idea to take a variety of classes to see what else you enjoy; acting doesn’t always pay the bills or keep you creatively fulfilled and it’s good to have something else to fall back on. Oh, and Freshmen-15 is real! As an actor / singer your body is your instrument and you need to treat it like that. I wish I had gotten into wellness earlier—healthy eating is truly food for your brain!
Dana Steingold, currently Kate Monster in Off-Broadway’s Avenue Q
New York University
I wish someone had told me that feeling exposed and vulnerable in class was actually a super positive thing. Looking back, the times where I learned the most were almost always the times I was also the most uncomfortable. The second piece of advice I was given was to watch and listen as much as I could. You can learn a ton when it isn't your turn.
Genny Lis Padilla, currently Rebecca in Broadway’s On Your Feet!
New School University
[I wish I had taken] marketing. When I went to school, social media was nonexistent. Actors nowadays are required to self-market/brand themselves in ways they never really had to do before. That is a subject that needs to be taught to performers. I don't know if performing arts schools have added that subject to their curriculums, but if not, it should be!