There are kids who do the school play because it's fun and then there are those who do it to escape. These are the students who prefer to be called thespians over theatre geeks and they know that this is the type of lifestyle they wish to live. Performing arts majors are fed up with people not taking arts education seriously, even those closest to them. In hopes of breaking the cycle of doubt and lack of confidence, here are the top ten things you should never say to a performing arts major.
1. "Hamilton is pretty good."
Yes, it is! BUT it is not the only one. While productions like Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen have really helped introduce people to Broadway, these same people only like these shows because they're trendy. Musical theatre has a vast and rich history, spanning from the classics of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Lowe to the more complex and experimental orchestrations of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim to present-day scores that could almost pass for pop songs from Lin Manuel Miranda and Pasek and Paul. It's always nice to find a friend who shares your love for rapping revolutionaries but it's even better to find someone who understands the importance of what came before like My Fair Lady, Sweeney Todd and Kinky Boots.
2. "Show tunes aren't real music."
A big misconception about kids who love musical theatre is that this is the only music genre they listen to. While cast recordings are amazing, people who assume such stigmas don't necessarily mean that as a positive thing and even go as far as to say it's not real music, which prompts me to ask what real music in that case, is. A lot of people still don't think rap is real music. What about the orchestral themes to Star Wars, Harry Potter or Pirates of the Caribbean? People's musical tastes are their own but claiming that a specific genre isn't real music is like telling someone that their truth is wrong. Also, if this isn't real music, then why does the Grammy Association have a Best Musical Theatre Album category? I'll wait for an answer.
3. "Do your parents approve?"
It can be intimidating for any kid to tell their parents that they want to pursue a career in the arts. After all, they are the ones who have raised them and will sometimes pay for their college education, so they should at least be supportive of their kid's choice, right? Yes, there are many parents who are skeptical about their children entering the entertainment industry but times have changed. I am blessed enough to have a mother who jumps for joy over me chasing my dream and I know so many others like that. Parents welcoming their child's future with open arms is long overdue if you ask me.
4. "Don't waste your college education on that."
On what? Pursuing my passion and perfecting my craft? A lot of people view a college education in performing arts as a waste of time and money because there are so many options to perform and train outside of college, including community theatre, dance classes and voice lessons. While these are all great options, training at the collegiate level is more valuable than people care to realize. This is a more intense and focused kind of education and isn't that what college is all about?
5. "Is it a real degree?"
Yes. Believe it or not, you can get a real degree from an accredited college or university for singing, dancing and acting. There are even schools dedicated entirely to performing arts majors called conservatories; I myself am going to one this fall. If you want an immersive and intense focus on performing, then this is the option for you. This is also beneficial in the real world of professional auditions, as casting directors might look more highly on someone who earned a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) from a respected conservatory over a traditional university with a good program.
6. "I guess you didn't really try in high school, huh?"
There is a stigma going around that people who go into performing arts only do so because they never cared about academics, which is far from the truth. In fact, participation in the arts helps students improve academically. By memorizing lines and songs, analyzing scripts and scenes and studying Shakespeare the way it should be taught, students broaden their vocabulary, practice better time management skills and even perform better on standardized tests than those who don't participate in the arts. The arts create more well-rounded students in ways that nothing else can, which is why I believe an arts education is so unique and valuable.
7. "I hope you like McDonald's!"
This is a reference to the age-old stereotype that those who pursue a career in the entertainment industry will inevitably fail and end up flipping burgers for the rest of their lives. This only proves that people need to catch up with the times and get some perspective. Theatre today is being taught in ways that not only train great actors but also impart the wisdom that learning technical skills such as directing and design make them more marketable performers. Producers and casting directors will see that an actor has taken the time to learn a skill outside of the warm, yet harsh, glow of the spotlight and they will learn that they are versatile and willing to be shaped and molded. Performers today don't need anything to fall back on and need not apply at the nearest Burger King. All they have to do is pay attention to what goes on behind the scenes and show an interest.
8. "There are no guarantees in that industry."
This makes me want to play devil's advocate like nothing else because truthfully, there are no guarantees in ANY industry! Both of my parents have been in the medical profession for over four decades and I have heard war stories of doctors nurses throwing their backs out, getting stuck with needles, maxing out their lifetime dose of radiation (my mother included) and simply getting laid off. This logic applies to an array of careers, including the lawyers who don't pass the bar on their first try, teachers whose school districts suffer budget cuts and the factory workers who get replaced by machines. It is ignorant to boast about how cutthroat the entertainment industry is when every industry faces competition and tension.
9. "Why not go into STEM?"
Ah yes, the classic feud between science and art. It's almost as iconic as the Montagues and the Capulets or the Hatfields and McCoys. In my underclassmen years, my counselor tried to shove useless science classes down my throat and convince me that I didn't need a second year of choir because I already fulfilled my fine arts graduation credit. Student artists have spent ages being told that STEM is a more sensible option for them but they really feel like they are being put in a box. People always say to think outside the box, so let's actually allow them to.
10. "What's your back up plan?"
The Queen Mother of insults to aspiring artists. I cannot tell you how many times my mother has heard this from teachers, counselors and other parents. It is the single most disheartening thing anyone can say to a performer or the family of a performer because it implies that they have no faith in their success. No one ever says this when someone says they want to go to law school or medical school, both of which are just as competitive. Without artists and schools that allow them to train, there would be no more music, art, dance, theatre, film, books and poetry. These are as essential as oxygen for the mind and soul. No one can do what artists do. This is why the "backup plan" is not in my vocabulary.
So much has changed since the dawn of the entertainment industry and people's attitudes about it should follow. Art comes in many shapes and sizes and all kinds are beautiful and crucial to living a full and enlightened life. Remember, earth without art is just eh. Arts education exists for a reason and we must let it thrive.
Lead Image Credit: Unsplash