Playbill.com's "Hey, Johnny!" theatrical advice column is back this week with responses for two of our readers about how to work their love for theatre into their professional lives.
Have a question for Johnny? Ask Johnny a Question! or tweet to us @Playbill using the hashtag #HeyJohnny
Here's Johnny's latest round of reader replies.
Hey, Johnny! From the time my daughter was old enough to walk and talk, she has loved performing. She used our balcony and fireplace surround as her "stages" and would sing for anyone at the drop of a hat.
Suddenly, now that she is ready to apply to colleges and universities she has told me that she doesn't want to get her degree in Musical Theatre (I feel it may be because dance has never been her strong point), but that she instead wants to major in Music Therapy.
She says she still wants to be an actress, but that Music Therapy will allow her to combine the two things she loves most: music and helping others. Also she feels that a Music Therapy degree will allow her: 1) to find employment no matter what city she is in; and 2) give her a flexible enough schedule to perform as well.
I want her to follow her dream but want to make sure she is doing what she wants to do and not what she thinks she "should" do.
I look forward to hearing your:
A kick in the ***?
Dear Musical Mom:
Most of my inquiries are from kids whose parents would rather they go on a crime spree than major in musical theatre, so this is like getting a letter from a unicorn — one who is a bit unsettled that her daughter may be choosing the fallback route instead of following her dreams. Assuming they are her dreams, that is, and not yours.
The word "Suddenly" jumped out at me when I read your note. Suddenly implies that her whole life, your daughter wanted to be Sutton Foster, and then one day — timed to coincide perfectly with the stressful business of choosing the next four years of her life — she seems to have chickened out.
Why? Is it because she's more practical than most young people? I know astonishingly brilliant performers who end up quite willingly transitioning into careers as decorators, real estate agents and full-time parents. I know astonishingly average performers who have decades-long careers in New York. Whether somebody can or can't kick their heads or hit the highest notes doesn't always indicate how "well" she will do. There's a whole lot of between-the-shows stuff — waiting tables, waiting for auditions — that can be hard for even the most gifted of actors.
You say your daughter loves to help others. That is a miracle of a thing for a young person to know about herself, especially now, in the televised age of expected overnight superstardom. It wouldn't surprise me at all if music therapists were more satisfied, over the long haul, than many actresses are. I really mean that.
That said, are your daughter's assumptions about these apparently plentiful, flexible music therapy jobs true? I'm not so certain all those hours on the job — which can be, depending on the particular therapeutic situation, exhausting and emotional — is going to leave her much time to get her name up in lights.
But maybe she doesn't want her name up in lights. Maybe your fireplace was enough. Maybe she got the tap on the shoulder earlier than some people do, before her dear mom shells out a hundred-grand for a BFA that might almost immediately go unused. Who's to say?
The very best thing you can be for your daughter, then, is be flexible, rising to meet her highs and helping to deflect her lows. There are a great many Broadway performers who didn't get performing arts degrees (I'm one), and there are a great many performing-arts degree-holders who never get to Broadway. What your daughter is going to become, only time can tell.
Here's my advice: don't let your own anxiety about your daughter's future overwhelm hers. With her eyes on the horizon, she'll have ample opportunity to transfer schools, change majors and become whatever kind of star her (amazing) mom helps her to feel like.
Break a leg,
Click through to read Johnny's reply to Christian, who asks if talent is really what gets him cast.
I am in love with musical theatre and I love to perform. However my high school did not have a great theatre program, and I feel that I only got in productions because I was a boy.
I have an audition coming up for my college, and I am afraid that I never had talent to begin with. Can I still love the theatre even if I am not onstage in the spotlight?
Christian Dear Christian:
A lot of high schools don't have "great theatre programs." A lot of high schools don't have programs at all. A lot of people get cast in shows "just because they're boys," just as a lot of people get cast in shows because they 1) know the director from the gym 2) went to camp with the casting director or 3) appeared on a reality show for three seasons and can't sing or act or maybe even sell tickets, but the producers are trying to keep a show open.
Do not let your perceived lack of experience be the thing that holds your ambitions back, Christian. A lack of experience is largely why the three girls who got the special Tony award for Matilda were hired; the director was reportedly delighted and relieved to meet little people who didn't show up with awkwardly ingrained "dance school" habits.
You have an audition coming up for your college. Great. Go for it and see what happens. You might get cast because you're the best, because you're the cutest and/or because you're the only [blank] who shows up — boy, tenor, you name it. You might not get cast because of a million other reasons, many of which will be out of your control.
But do not let anyone tell you that you don't have talent. Talent — the stuff you're born with — can be honed, molded and trained, but you will never be everything and you will never be able to play every role. Even our greatest actors have their missteps. Google "Julie Andrews 'At the Ballet.'"
And most of all: Yes, you can still love theatre, Christian, no matter what you get cast as, no matter what people say about your talent, no matter what your background is. Love musical theatre so hard that your greatest talent—the one you can really do something about — is how much of a superfan you remain, no matter what the world does with your skills.
The theatre always needs another superfan, and something tells me you're always going to need the theatre.
Break a leg,
Send us your theatrical conundrums, and don't be afraid to dive deep. Johnny's got the time. Be warned, however: He talks straight and fast, and he's a little tired. Keep the questions vivid and you're more likely to keep him awake and get picked.