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. Previous columns have covered everything from how to tell your parents you want to major in theatre to whether you need a "Broadway body" to make it big.
Got a question? Ask it here.
I am in a high school where favorites are picked early and not usually deviated from. How do I get cast despite not being one of my director's "favorites"?
Dear 2nd Place:
I feel your pain, but you might NOT get cast, ever, at least not at your particular high school. If yours is anything like mine was, you've got one guy in charge of the whole shebang, which is only good news if said guy is fair, sensitive and out for an overall enriching experience for the students. After all, most high schoolers, even the ones cast as the lead, just aren't going to be the next Jeremy Jordan or Kate Baldwin.
But if you've got a director who plays the favorites game, and it sounds like you do, then you need to decide whether you can put up with the shenanigans.
Let's say, for a second, that you still have a shot at getting cast in the ensemble (my high school had a no-cuts-whatsoever policy, which is why we had 95 orphans in Oliver!). In that case, you need to decide if A) you can "put up" with "just" being in the chorus, B) you can actually learn something from the experience — whether it's how to be patient and gracious, or how to approach a scene or song like the girl who DID get cast in the lead, because, well, she's really talented.
A note on A) above: Some people are perfectly fine in the chorus, thrilled, even, just as some people want to work on the crew and some people want to avoid the auditorium altogether and head out to the fields. If you can tolerate the lack of limelight, you might gain something from being in the background, especially when juggling the pressures of an academic workload. The ensemble is less stressful than playing a lead and can actually be much more fun; it's nice not to spend your life worrying about homework AND high notes.
But if that's not your bag — if you've got your sights set on taking the final bow — you need to find some extracurricular theatrical pursuits and/or or have a sit-down conversation with your director during which you ask for his advice on how you can get better. Point-blank.
Don't expect a straight answer. People get awfully squirrelly when the blunt truth is asked of them, especially when they don't actually think you've got "it" — but it's worth a shot. "My dream," you could say, "is to have a career like Lindsay Mendez. Any ideas for how I can start, given how young I am and how far away New York is?"
Maybe he'll be so touched you trust him that something will change. Maybe not, but it sounds as if you don't have much to lose.
One thing to know, however: favoritism continues all the way to Broadway. (Same goes for bullying, by the way.) It doesn't at all just magically disappear once high school diplomas are handed out. Directors often cast their favorite actors in show after show. Music directors often hire (cute) junior music director versions of themselves as assistants. In general, it's quite a task to break through and actually BECOME somebody's favorite. You can do it the old-fashioned way, like taking the master class of an established choreographer who may end up noticing you at the next audition. Or you can do it the new-fashioned way: becoming your own favorite. Even before you get permission to.
Create a YouTube channel where you and your friends sing tightly harmonized covers of pop songs, and then BAM you're winning your own Grammys. Or start a Vine account that's all about six-second interpretations of Broadway musicals, and gain a following, and become a whole LOT of people's favorites; we call them fans. In other words, don't wait until you're somebody's cup of tea before you start brewing. (It's very cold out as I'm writing this, so sorry for the mixed metaphors.)
There's one other thing you can do to set yourself up to eventually be the first person on everybody's list: train hard, yes, and hone the talent you were born with — but also stay incredibly classy, and kill them with kindness. I'd rather you be easy to get alone with than stratospherically talented; in New York, the former is actually more of a premium.
So go be nice. If that doesn't work for your high school director, he may be the one missing out. In the meantime, you've learned the skill of soldiering bravely on despite a letdown — and that kind of person is my personal favorite.
Break a leg,
Johnny will be back next week with answers to your questions. Got one? Ask here. Need to catch up? All his past columns are here.