Hey, Johnny! Theatrical Advice - I'm Scared I'm Risking My Future By Doing What I Love

Hey, Johnny!   Hey, Johnny! Theatrical Advice - I'm Scared I'm Risking My Future By Doing What I Love Playbill.com's "Hey, Johnny!" theatrical advice column is back this week with a response for a teenager who fears studying theatre will doom her to a future without stability.
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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.

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,

I'm a 15-year-old British girl and I'm reaching a kind of pivotal point in my life. In England, we attend a primary school until the age of 11, then secondary school until 16, then college until 18 and, optionally, university after that. I'm about to pick the subjects I want to do for college (we have to pick four) and I'm scared stiff. Musical theatre is everything to me — I'm studying drama and music at the moment and I was lucky (like, SUPER lucky) to be cast as Belle in my school's production of Beauty and the Beast in August. I could choose to take theatre studies and music in college and focus on a career in those fields, but here's my problem — I'm an academic person, great in English and sciences and history, and I'm scared that I'm risking my future by doing what I love.

Theatre is the most cut-throat and unstable business in the world, and if I don't make it big I'll be relying on my parents or my future partner and I really don't want to do that, but in my heart I can't imagine myself doing anything else with my life. Every time I think about the prospect of choosing between my love for theatre and future job stability as a scientist or journalist I end up in tears. I have absolutely no idea what to pick. Any suggestions would be very much appreciated, I don't really know where else to turn at this point.

Love,

Grace

Dear Grace:

You know how I know you're young? Because you think being a journalist is a solid backup plan.

I type this with a smile.

"I'm scared that I'm risking my future by doing what I love," you write. And then, at the end of your letter, you sign it "Love." Love is all over the place, here. Love and fear, that is, which is love's bitter cousin — the one who never gets invited to parties but always manages to show up anyway.

You're the first person to ever sign a letter to me "Love," and I don't think it's accidental. I think you have, at 15 years old, an extraordinary grasp on that which makes you tick. You are in a quandary, yes — I feel that anxiety all the way across the pond, through multiple time zones and filtered through an adorable accent — but in most ways you only need permission. Permission to follow what you already know is right.

There is no such thing as risking your future by doing what you love, Grace. There is only the opposite. I mean, sure, I'm no fool. I've dated bankers and I've dated artists, and the bankers reach for the bill more quickly than the artists. They just do. They also have higher-ceilinged lofts and nicer-quality shoes, but are they happier? They are not.

You're only 15, and yet I think you're afraid of making an Irreversible Life Mistake, and that's a theme that comes into my inbox far more often than I expected back when this column began. From 15-year old British girls to 60-year old American men, 90 percent of the letters I receive include some theme of "What if I make the wrong choice?" And hidden behind that very practical and exceedingly normal question is something I've noticed again and again: In being afraid to make a choice, we often don't choose anything at all.

And yet! "The choice may have been mistaken," as Dot sings in the magnificent Sunday in the Park With George, "but choosing was not." It never is. We always gain more by choosing than by staying on the sidelines fretting and pulling on our dress.

It seems to me you must choose the theatre arts as at least one of your four subjects, mostly because you told me as much: that you were "lucky" to play Belle (I doubt it), that musical theatre is "everything" to you (I'm sure of it), and that you see yourself choosing primarily between "love" and "stability" (I can relate to it).

But I'm here to tell you there's no such thing as stability. There are certain paths — bankers, barristers, barbers — that are clearer-cut than that of a musical actress. But any one of those people can also get hit by a train or fall of a cliff. Any of us can. I was just like you at 15 — certain theatre was my life, which it was — but I am not more than twice your age, and I am doing something entirely different than what I moved to New York to do. And yet I've never been happier, because I keep following my gut. Year after year. Not my heart, so much. Hearts are fickle. But guts are better. They rarely break.

You asked for suggestions, so here's mine: Go Google how long the world has been around. It's a long time, right?? It's longer than, like, every Broadway musical's run, combined. With luck on our side, the world will outlast both of us. We are but a tiny piece of dust, you and me, but even dust can catch the light and sparkle.

I hope you keep flexing your musical muscles, but no matter what you choose, you'll have a thousand more of these so-called pivotal moments. Frankly, they'll never stop. You win an Olivier and then it's: But when will I win a Tony? And then you get a Tony and it becomes: Why hasn't Hollywood called? And then Hollywood does call, and the movie you star in tanks. Pivotal moments are the price of admission for being alive and having a dream.

Get ready for all the pivotal moments that lie ahead by practicing the art of not knowing. And, while you're practicing, you might as well fake a smile, too. After all, your name is Grace, and is there anything more graceful than floating above all of these unanswered questions with a sense of poise that only an actress can pull off?

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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