Hey, Johnny! Theatrical Advice – How Do I Tell My Parents I Want to Major in Theatre?

Hey, Johnny!   Hey, Johnny! Theatrical Advice – How Do I Tell My Parents I Want to Major in Theatre?
 
Playbill.com's "Hey, Johnny!" theatrical advice column is back this week with a response to a teenager asking how to begin a conversation about pursuing a future in theatre.
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In our new advice column, "Hey, Johnny!" (as in: stage door Johnny), an anonymous Broadway veteran answers the burning questions that might just be keeping your theatre-loving soul up at night.

Read last week's column here.

Hey, Johnny!

I just read your answer to Grace's question from Dec. 7, and I'm in an analogous situation. I'm an American teenager. I am an excellent student at a very competitive school. Since I first started pursuing theatre, I have been asked several times whether I want to pursue theatre after high school. For a long time, I gave a weak response; "Oh, you know, not as a major or anything, but I'd like to do it as a minor or extracurricular or something." I don't think that's true any more, and I don't know if it ever was.

During the spring of my sophomore year, just after we did Forum, I finally came out of the closet through Facebook to an open and accepting friend group and family, something I am very proud of. It was my first time seeing the theatre as a refuge and a support group, and it changed how I viewed the theatre as a community.

My family, as I said, is very supportive, not just of my sexuality but also of my extracurricular pursuits. I know they want me to major in a science in college. I think they would at least nominally support me if I wanted to major in theatre, but I don't know if it would be more than skin deep.

I love theatre but I'm scared that the "starving artist" stigma surrounding theatre as a profession is true, and I'm scared that my parents won't fully approve of my choice of major if I go through with this. I guess my dilemma is starting this discussion with my parents and convincing them (and myself) of the validity and plausibility of making a life and a living in the theatre. Any insight that you have on these issues would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time.

With Love(ly),

Sean

Dear Sean:

I'll tell you one thing: You're a writer.

I'm sure this is true, as sure as I'm sure of climate change, and how the original "Annie" film still holds up.

You may be a good actor, or even a great one. You might become a professional, or you might "just" be a science guy who dabbles in the spotlight on the side….

But what I know-know, which is so rare for me in this column, is that you are gifted with words. They come easily to you. You have voice — that annoying word people use to say: When I read your sentences, they feel like somebody is speaking instead of dictating.

Anyway, I don't know if you LOVE writing, but there's a reason I'm pointing this skill of yours out to you: Every truly smart actor friend I've got eventually realizes that it's utter bullsh*t to wait around in your long johns all day for some intern behind a desk to call you in for an audition.

That is: The really smart actors eventually expand.

Think: Sherie Rene Scott. Think: Mindy Kaling. Both wrote shows for themselves. Think: Lisa Kudrow, even. I keep thinking of women, actually, because I think guys have it easier than women do, sadly, in general, especially in musical theatre, and so these women have had to be smarter than their male counterparts. Take inspiration from them, because I think acting is going to get boring for you, after a time.

That doesn't mean you "shouldn't" do it. It also doesn't mean you "should" become a scientist. I don't know anything about scientists, not really, other than that they have wacky hair and wear lab coats all day (?), but here's what I do know: You're a high schooler and you used the word "analogous" in a message to an internet advice columnist. And that's called brains, baby.

Whatever you end up doing along the way — even if you've got the vocal chops of Gavin Creel and the face of, well, Gavin Creel — make sure you keep challenging yourself. Write journals, funny online articles, a webseries. Stay incredibly curious. Go follow Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter and see how enthusiastic he is about subjects that stretch beyond the 10 square blocks of Broadway. These things will make you a better actor and person.

The odd thing about giving people advice about the theatre, particularly young actors, is that I don't get to actually see them perform before doling out my thoughts. So most of what I've got to say here has to do with witnessing the heart and soul and fear and wishes of my readers, and simply saying their own words back to them in a way I hope they'll hear. That's what makes your letter different.

My advice to you, the kid with "the voice": You're looking for an "in" with your parents, a way of discussing the "validity and plausibility" of the theatre. How about sitting down and saying, "I don't quite know how to have this conversation, but every time I think about pursuing anything other than the arts, I get an x feeling in my stomach. But! When I'm onstage, I feel y. Could we, as a family, talk about strategies for how I can attempt to feel more y than x, at least for the next couple of years? And even if you don't totally approve of it, will you accept me?"

No matter how well (or not) this conversation goes, Sean, here's the big secret: you will have a version of this talk again and again. With boyfriends, exes, roommates, husbands. With dog-walkers, bosses, exes, co-stars. That is, you'll have to navigate a life that will constantly be changing under your feet, no matter what field you end up in. So start navigating with your parents on the ship. They're likely to steer you toward the safer bet, but you already know that going in. This isn't a conversation about making a decision. This is a conversation about enduring the experience of being uncertain in front of other people.

I'd tell you to choose your words wisely, but I'm not too worried about that.

Break a leg,

Johnny

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.

Ask Johnny a question!

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