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Advice to the beginner in the performing arts

Training

We asked several dozen artists, both locally and nationally, to answer a quick question: If you have one piece of advice, in a sentence or two, for people getting started in the performing arts, what would it be?

Like all good, well-considered, and hard-won advice, their answers are often as useful to the established performer as to the beginner. We will break up their answers into several postings; here is our first.

Polly Carl

I guess what I usually tell people at the front end of a career in the arts is to not spend a lot of time asking "if"--"if it makes sense?" "if it's really possible?" but rather start from the question of "how?" Then I say the first order of business is to become your own arts administrator. If you stand around waiting for an institution or an artistic director to make something happen in your career it's likely you'll be standing around waiting for a long time. Instead be your own institution and your own artistic director and take charge of your career from the get go.

Polly Carl is the former producing artistic director of the Playwright’s Center and is Director of Artistic Development at the Steppenwolf Theater.

Erik Ehn

Pray as if it were all up to god, work as if it were all up to you.

Erik Ehn is a playwright and director known for proposing the Regional Alternative Theatre movement.

Kim Estes

Ensure that you have a game plan for stabilization -- money to pay for the bare essentials to live in the city that you chose to work in. That's rent, utilities, gas, food -- bare! Every actor had better have at least two jobs -- one for the essentials and one for the passionate thing they love.

Kim Estes is an Emmy-nominated performer and longtime stage and screen actor.

Michelle Hensley

Ask yourself the question "Why do theater?" Really. Why, in this troubled of a world, do you need to do it and why does the world need you to do it? Dig deep and ask it hard and often to yourself. Then, throw away the rules of how institutions have made us think theater has to be, follow your heart and make it up yourself. Make it up from scratch -- find out what you really need and throw away whatever you don't.

Michelle Hensley is the artistic director and founder of Ten Thousand Things Theatre.

Jodi Kellogg

Only do it if it is required of your soul, because money and fame may never come. You MUST love it and be happy with that reward!

Jodi Kellogg is an Minnesota actress and director.

Aditi Kapil

I generally don't give advice, but I guess I think you need to be ok with two things: 1. Making a complete ass of yourself regularly, with all the embarrassment, cringing, humility that involves, because if you're not, you're playing it safe, which only takes you so far. 2. Working harder than most people consider reasonable at a job that pays little and erratically for the privilege of making an ass of yourself regularly. But also, hopefully, for those magical moments when it all clicks, and you connect with people in that way that only art can, making all that labor completely worth it.

Aditi Kapil is a playwright and performer in the Twin Cities.

Dominique Serrand

Be ready to fight, to earn and to deserve.

Dominique Serrand cofounded the Theatre de la Jeune Lune and currently creates new theatrical work with fellow Jeune Lune alum Steve Epp.

Max “Bunny” Sparber

For playwrights: Develop a personal relationship with theaters you admire. Volunteer, attend shows, take the artistic staff out for drinks. It is very hard to get a play produced simply by mailing out script after script after script. Most of the new work I have had produced is the result of my mentioning a script directly to the person who plans the season, usually in an informal setting, and after knowing them for months or years.

Max “Bunny” Sparber is a playwright, arts critic, and the guest editor of MinnesotaPlaylist.