March 09, 2020

Musings from a Recent Theatre Grad

Written by Mary-Helen Pitman (pictured above) Department of Theatre Actor Training Program graduate. Written by Mary-Helen Pitman (pictured above) Department of Theatre Actor Training Program graduate.

U Theatre Actor Training Program alumni, Mary-Helen Pitman, shares a few tips on how to adjust and find a place in the "real world" after graduation.

During my senior year at the U, I began my search with the rest of my classmates to see what options we had for a career in theatre. The clearest option was to pick a theatre town that best fit what we wanted in a city and move there to begin auditioning and creating. Some of us chose Los Angeles: a sprawling city of freeways, filled with opportunities in film and TV with some theatre on the side. New York City was another clear option for some, the historical hub of theatre squished onto a small island with trains pulling in and out of borough neighborhoods. What I finally landed on was Chicago. 

Since flying here with just two overfilled suitcases, I’ve enjoyed beginning my discoveries of what this city has to offer. Second City pulls in comedians nationally, Steppenwolf proves the power of new work to the masses, and the city-wide storefront scene nightly tackles personal and institutional change. I’ve also been experimenting with what I have to offer! I’ve been making unlikely friends, applying to entry-level jobs in a variety of theatre disciplines, figuring out how to balance a survival job with an artistic career, and interning in arts admin with a queer-focused theatre.

In this last year since graduation, I’ve been engaging with the typical “What do I want my life to look like?” self-reflection. I’ve barely even scratched the surface on what it means to be out in “the real world,” but wanted to share a bit of what I’ve learned from new mentors, friends, and experiences since graduating and moving to a theatre city: 

  • Find your community!
    • When I moved out to Chicago, I had exactly one friend living here. I was terrified that I would spend months by myself crying on the phone with my mom, but was so surprised at how quickly new people came into my life. I found an amazing roommate (and quickly a good friend) off of Facebook! I chat with strangers waiting in line and swap social media. Some of my best friendships so far have been with other Utah theatre grads I never got to meet while at The U! This built-in, ex-pat Utah community with similar training has made it easy to hold each other accountable to go to auditions, work monologues, and swap skills we’ve learned in and outside of school. 
  • Give yourself office hours!
    • This is something that I was told by an artistic director visiting us at the U, but has proven to be very helpful since leaving college. As we all know, the work needed to be a theatre artist is predominantly self-driven. No else one is going to hold me accountable for submitting to agencies, adjusting my resume, preparing new monologues (seriously, have your 6-10 monologues ready for audition season), and reading new plays. By dedicating just a few hours every week, my work has been much more likely to get done instead of slipping away. 
  • Develop your own mission statement! 
    • A theatre company’s mission statement is what guides and motivates every decision, from choosing a season to deciding what outreach work is done. Going out into the world, I think it’s important to know what matters most to us as individual artists in our work just as a theatre organization does. What is the function of my art? Am I someone that aims to relieve the everyday stresses of life for an audience through spectacle? Do I want to advance my community’s dialogue on the intersection of race and sexuality? While I know that we as young artists should be taking advantage of as many opportunities that come our way, it’s important to remember that it is humanly impossible to do it all.My mission can and will change over time, but I can thoughtfully choose opportunities that will guide me towards the functional art I want to create by knowing what core principles determine what organizations and people I want to work with.
  • Listen, listen, listen!
    • I will be the first to admit that I am someone who tries to engage by talking too much, but now is the time to absorb as much information as possible. I have met so many interesting people in Chicago with a range of backgrounds and much to teach. I’ve found that in the moments I’ve committed to silence and listening, people have shared invaluable pieces of information and experience. That being said…
  • Find professionals who respect and value your voice!
    • In the moments I do share, I’ve been excited at how well my education at the U has prepared me to share input. I was in an amazing internship this fall where the arts administration team made it clear that they valued my voice and insights as a young artist. While my lifelong education has only just begun, I’ve learned that an essential part of learning is experimenting with sharing my own ideas and philosophies. Some of them are of course not always useful, but I’ve been proud during the times I’ve genuinely been able to help execute the organization’s artistic mission. Not all professionals have the time or are interested in nurturing young people’s voices, but those who I have found have been invaluable in my learning.
    • Learning when to speak one’s mind, making friends, figuring out a new city, and cultivating a career in theatre are all tricky. I feel pretty damn uncomfortable a lot of the time. I wish I could walk my dogs, see my friends, work with people I already know, and drive around Salt Lake. Some days I feel awkward and dumb, but I keep reminding myself that this is the time for rapid growth through experimentation. I keep coming back to something we were taught in directing class: whenever something feels uncomfortable in the rehearsal process (uncomfortable, but not unsafe), it’s likely that moving into that space will create the most interesting discoveries you never would have found while staying in your comfort zone. I’ve been doing my best to follow that philosophy not just in creation, but in life.

This just-out-of-college stage is frankly super weird and everyone has their own path through it. Everything above is my current way of exploring, but we all have different ways of figuring this stage out. We each have our own set of discomforts, and I love learning from my friends and peers how they are exploring their own.