Monday, August 20, 2007

Making It on Broadway

One of my favorite Broadway books, and as far as I’m concerned a must-have for any theatre fan, is David Wienir and Jodie Langel’s Making It on Broadway, which is a collection of first-hand accounts from contemporary Broadway performers about the heart-breaks and disillusions they’ve met along the way. If you don’t already own this book, honestly, go out and buy it!

I bought it as soon as I could when it was published back in the spring of 2004. I had just started a job substitute teaching for a wonderful teacher on maternity leave in a district with a strong middle school reading program. Each hour, these seventh grade students would begin class by reading for ten minutes at least. I brought the book to school knowing that I would have at least ten minutes each hour to read.

It was instant meth. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I’d give the kids a few extra minutes to read, would be reading it during passing time, during my prep times, during lunch, while walking down the hall to the copier, and while the copies were being made. I devoured the book in record time. It was that good.

Some of the book does sound like whining, like a book I could have easily written about the teaching profession when I quit my first job after two years, having entered it with passion and, in a matter of two years, witnessed all my hopes, ideals, and dreams pulverized by the grind of working 80-100 hours a week and dealing with all the traditional teacher crap that propels 50% of new teachers out of the classroom within five years.

But Making It on Broadway has honestly had a profound effect on me as a theatre-goer and as a future librettist. When I think about whom I’d love to cast in my shows if they ever made it to Broadway, I think about this book. When I see Jerry Mathers stumbling through a televised performance from Hairspray, I think about this book. When I see people attacking performers on message boards, I think about this book. When I envision the career I’d like to have as a writer and the impact I’d like to have on Broadway no what genre I write, I think about this book.

Most recently, Making It on Broadway has changed me in another way. I have found inspiration in the experiences of the actors still struggling to survive the Broadway lifestyle. I’ve been candid on here about the [horribly wrong but well-intended] choices I’ve made in my attempt to get somewhere, and I recently hit rock bottom. After my summer school job in a juvenile detention center ended, I found myself unemployed and in a panic. I took a job as a debt collector, which, for the record, is nowhere to be found on the list of 9872 jobs that best fit my personality. Despite my training managers giving me encouragement that I’d be very successful and a strong candidate for supervisor in the future, I ended up quitting after three days on the job because I couldn’t sound commanding and authoritative on the phone no matter how much pressure my new manager applied. I just don’t have a flexible voice, and I am physically unable to sound commanding and authoritative on the telephone. It sounds odd, but if you ever heard me, you’d understand. This was another one those horribly wrong but well-intended decisions. I expected I could get more bears with honey than with vinegar. I never had the chance to prove it, but apparently that’s a stupid theory in debt collections. Oops.

That was a new low. I mean a low new low. A really low new low.

And like I’ve often done in the past, I picked up Making It on Broadway to re-read a few chapters, and I somehow opened up to the end of the book when people are taking about the financial and personal toll their career choices have had—having to sell houses, living in severe financial instability, taking on horrible jobs to make ends meet. Okay, so other than the taking horrible jobs, I’m not there quite yet. And I don’t begin to suggest that my life is anything comparable to the tough life of an actor, but it’s a nice reminder that this is the way things are supposed to go. Maybe through all my horribly wrong but well-intended choices, I’m still somewhat on the right track.

I like John Rubinstein’s opening thought in the book.

If someone tells me, “I love the theater. I have always acted, sung, and danced throughout high school and college. While it’s my favorite thing, I also love marine biology. I am torn. What should I do with my life?” Then to that person, the absolute rock-solid advice is, “Stay away from show business and go into marine biology.”

And that’s my problem. There’s nothing out there that seems like it will bring me joy except writing—writing any number of things, but writing nonetheless (I’ve always felt as if one writing opportunity would lead to another, like Broadway). I live in a state of constant discontent, but it’s that discontent that drives us on. We should all be thankful for discontent.

So, it looks like I will return to teaching again. I’m a very good teacher, fortunately, and I love kids. I honestly never fully recovered after the devastation of my first two years of teaching, but it pays the bills. And, like I said, I’m very good at it. The good news is that I think I’ve found the avenue to get a job in California, at least somewhat closer to a place where I can get my Master’s in writing or producing. Maybe I’ll stop making horribly wrong but well-intended mistakes and actually make it somewhere.

I’ve actually thought many times that if I could never get produced or published, I’d pay off my debts and move to Africa to teach orphan children in a mission school. It’s the only teaching situation I could think of that would be permanently worth the all-consuming nature of the profession.

But I still don’t think I’ve exhausted all the possibilities yet for getting produced and published, so onward I go.

I once heard that a person forms images in their head of their ideal situation. I forget the term for it, but it is essentially a scenario people create for which they strive. For example, if a man forms the image of a nice home in the suburbs with a wife, two kids, and a huge SUV, that’s for what he strives and not reaching that image becomes a source of strife and conflict.

I don’t want to go into details on my own ideal situation, but Making It on Broadway has actually helped me form an image in my mind of how I could make a difference for this amazing art form I love.

Please forgive the self-indulgent nature of this entry. I generally avoid this sort of thing just because it’s not the focus of my blog. But I found Making It on Broadway so inspirational these past few days, I couldn’t help but write about how.

Honestly, I need to also say, I really think Wienir and Langel should write another Making It on Broadway book, perhaps dealing with another aspect of the business, like what performers think about current trends—amplification, the types of shows that are produced, savage message boards, etc.

I end with a quote. I find the song “Astonishing” from Little Women to be very inspirational, so with an excerpt of it, I end to inspire all those who refuse to “disappear without a trace.”

I only know I’m meant
For something more

I’ve got to know if I can be
There’s a life that I am meant to lead,
A life like nothing I have known.
I can feel it far from here.
I’ve got to find it on my own.
Even now I feel its heat upon my skin:
A life of passion that pulls me from within.
A life that I am aching to begin.
There must be somewhere I can be
I’ll find my way.
I’ll find it far away.
I’ll find it in the unexpected
And unknown.
I’ll find my own life in my own way—today.

the Broadway Mouth
August 20, 2007

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled upon your blog and read your comments on Making it on Broadway. Thank you for such kind words. I am glad the book has made such an impact on your life. I was equally impacted writing it.


David Wienir