Seven Things You Should Know About Working in the Arts
Drew University alumni share their experiences with arts students.
March 2016 – There will be criticism, rejection and failure, but approaching obstacles with the right attitude can make all the difference.
That was a big takeaway from a recent Drew University discussion about working in the arts that featured alumni in acting, writing, directing, dance, costume design and stage management. The actors were Nick Martin C’12 (who also directs) and Megan Melnyk C’02 (who also writes), the costume designer was Christopher Metzger C’10, the stage manager, Rachel Miller Davis C’03 and the dancer, Anginese Phillips C’10 (who’s also a choreographer). Collectively, they have 43 years of professional experience and plenty to share with students angling for a career in the arts. Here are their top seven points.
1. Summer is for internships.
“Work at different institutions,” said Metzger, who interned at Williamstown Theatre Festival and Glimmerglass Opera Festival before earning an MFA at New York University last year. “If you use those experiences over the summer, you’ll know by the end of your time (at Drew) whether you need more training or if it’s more important for you to get those skills—to be in New York working in the costume shops or to be assisting a designer.”
2. It’s a cruel business.
Stress and rejection are part a career in the arts. Miller Davis, whose Broadway credits include Allegiance, Big Fish, Elf the Musical and West Side Story, said be prepared to roll with the ups and downs. “Broadway is a cruel mistress. I had a bunch of friends on Nerds—they were about to move into the theatre, and the producers walked in on a Tuesday at lunch and said, ‘This is it. This is your last day of work.’ . . . It’s great when it’s great, but it can be cruel, and I think you have to be ready for this business to be a little bit cruel.”
3. Have a life outside of work.
“At the end of the day, I know who I am, and if I’m not acting, I still get to be who I am,” said Melnyk, who acts in commercials, films and plays. “I still get to love who I love, I still get to have the family I have. I think the most important thing for getting through for me is finding the things that feed me the most.”
4. Surround yourself with the right people.
You need people who will encourage and support you, said Metzger. “One of the most important things to not play into is the sense of competition that is so naturally a part of this business. Surround yourself with a group of people that you can commiserate your successes and failures with without that sense of, ‘Why not me?’”
5. Every job—even serving food—is a learning experience.
Martin, who worked in New York City as a restaurant manager, cupcake seller and babysitter before landing a digital project manager position at Nickelodeon, said the key to getting the job you want is knowing what you’ve gained from everywhere you’ve worked before. “It’s about taking positions like a restaurant manager and then figuring out what skills from that qualify you for other things,” he said.
6. Do your homework before networking.
Preparation enables you to ask specific, informed questions. “It really does come down to knowledge of the details,” Martin said. “You’ve got to know who the players are. You’ve got to know what the theatre companies are, what kind of work they produce. You need to understand the different directors and their styles. Having that knowledge when you’re beginning a conversation with people is what makes the networking happen.”
7. Stay in touch.
Phillips, now a licensed creative arts therapist specializing in dance and movement therapy, said, “One of the most important parts of networking is being consistent. After you meet someone, make sure you’re contacting them every so often and keeping that connection with them open.”