Today we have a post from Stephanie Florence, 40:20 Vision’s contributing / Millennial editor, sharing how much her former theater teacher has had an effect on her life. It reinforces the advice that many 40-something women have shared with me…that theater is great practice for real life.
At this year’s 69th Annual Tony Awards, one teacher received the inaugural Excellence in Theatre Education Award. During the presentation, Broadway stars highlighted which drama teacher they will never be able to thank enough. The award is timely as one of my favorite teachers just retired and I’ve been reflecting on the lessons I took from her both in and out of the classroom.
Mrs. Pat Haynes was our theater teacher and fearless leader in countless productions. Affectionately called PH (a nickname created by our class during our senior year of high school). But my story with PH began long before that.
I went to the theater camp led by PH from the age of 5 when my mom tried to channel my abundant energy into a creative outlet and following after my sister who had been enjoying it for years. I went back every summer until the age of 14. This camp ended up becoming the most important influence of my childhood.
The camp was hosted at my eventual high school close to where I grew up in Chicago. Theater professionals, teachers, alums and current students taught us everything from improv to swing dancing and clowning to singing harmonies. There were professional actors, dancers and theater students – and they were rock stars in my eyes.
While I looked forward to summer theater camp every summer, I was admittedly intimidated by Mrs. Haynes for years. She was an all-business director who ran a tight ship. She had to – every year she directed 3 musicals and 2 plays, plus oversaw countless other events produced by the school’s theater department year-round. I also felt the strong competition among all the fellow campers – with so many talented children gracing her stage, how would I find a way to stand out?
I came to understand her methods when I worked for PH in my first job as a camp counselor and then as one of her assistants. It’s one of those jobs that didn’t feel like work. I worked with my best friends and our ultimate task was bringing the joy of theater to a group of children. I was learning the skills I used later to audition for life and finding ways to share those with others.
PH became not only my favorite teacher, but also my entrée to New York City. As the head of our high school theater department, every year she took a group of students to sightsee, see Broadway shows and experience the theater culture at its most vibrant. I went when I was a junior in high school and still remember the feelings of excitement I experienced seeing my first show on Broadway – Wicked. I was thoroughly taken by the energy of the city and felt totally alive while I was there. I filed that excitement away with my other memories, never considering I would one day move here.
When I started considering the move, it was that week I spent in NY with PH and my peers that gave a giant push. If I felt that alive by simply visiting, I imagined what it would be like if I actually lived in New York day in, day out. Now I can see know how that experience was the best preparation I could have had for moving to NYC.
Looking back, here is what I know now:
An audition is like a job interview.
Your primary goal is to demonstrate why you are the perfect fit for the role. I credit my skills at memorizing being enhanced through dance choreography. You want that dance role? You gotta prove you know the moves. You want that new gig? You have to come prepared to speak to your experience and what you can bring to the company. Singing in front of an audience with a less than stellar voice is comparable to speaking with an interviewer – you’re nervous, recognize that you’re not perfect and push on regardless.
The feeling you get backstage right before the curtain rises comes back in waves throughout your life.
When you are introduced to someone new, go on a first date or join a work meeting slightly out of your comfort zone, you experience these same feelings. I believe nerves are good for you. They keep you on your toes and show that you’ve still got a ways to go. When I’m feeling nostalgic I think back to those moments backstage. How many curtains did I see rise? How many ‘good lucks’ did I share with classmates and friends? How many times did I try and peek through to catch a glimpse of my family? Those moments of my life were like opening a new chapter. Each time a fresh opportunity. A chance to start over. Bad dress rehearsal? Nothing like the excitement of an opening night to bring out your best performance.
You live a fuller life with theater.
Everything that I’ve become is a result of my participation in theater. I met my best friends. I found my first love. I experienced the lows of rejection and celebrated the highs of an opening night. I gained the confidence necessary to speak in classes, take on leadership roles through college and eventually take the career leap to move to New York City.
Do your favorite teachers know they’re your favorite? If not, what are you waiting for?
Stephanie Florence is a 20-something who can talk to a brick wall and dance to a kazoo. She contributes to the 40:20 Vision as the Millennial editor and on every day that ends in “y” you can find Stephanie meeting people, telling exceedingly long stories and taking the approach of a student…always. Find her dancing around New York City in her personalized Chuck Taylors, complete with her Twitter handle: @StephanieFlo.