As Neighborhood Playhouse Graduate I'd always heard about the program at Rutgers because it was run by William Esper a Neighborhood teacher and because my dad went there so he touted it as a great school. Mr. Esper has left so one might wonder how strong the teaching is now that he's gone. I can tell a lot about a program by how they respond to my emails. You'd be shocked at how many schools don't see the need for this kind of discussion for their students. One school told me straight out they don't teach Theatre as a career and their students have no aspirations to work in Theatre. They simply teach the theory of Theatre and that's it. That school costs $45k a year. Funny, huh?
Beth Wicke invited me quickly and kept up with me about the date and a few things that had to be ironed out. She was very diligent. It makes one feel wanted and lets you know that she's taking care of her students. She made the book mandatory reading for the talk. The class, both BFA and MFA acting students contacted me and had me send them a box of books. These guys were cracker jack!
I was met at the train by David and Jerry, and on the drive to campus they told me about their year in London studying Shakespeare and how solid they felt their training was. I was flat out jealous. A year in London?!
I entered the room to applause. 26 smiling, excited, artists welcomed me with an attitude of gratefulness. It was such a different feeling. Usually talks start with a melting of skepticism, but this…this was full support for simply traversing of the door's threshold!
I spoke, they asked questions, Beth reinforced things being said to make them extra clear, they asked more questions. It was time to go, they asked me to stay a bit longer. For three hours these very eager students got the most from their time with me. There was never a time when they were looking for the exits.
They'd read the book. They were prepared. It's one of the things I harp on as an absolute for a career. Preparedness. Beth made sure they were that. She's relentless with them about creating good habits early that will keep their careers moving. They didn't waste time with questions that were answered in the book, they went into personal things and applying the books ideas to their fears about certain situations that might crop up. All those nagging, scary, things you grind about when you're about to embark on something that feels enormous and you feel unprepared. There was relief in the room by the time I left.
For the next three days I received emails from that class. Then today I received a thank you note and gifts!
Flattery aside, this class is learning IN COLLEGE how to engage, follow up with, and thank the people who will aide them in their career. Which is really everyone you meet in this biz. I never learned that until years later and…the hard way. Beth Wicke worked in casting. She's aware of how casting likes to be treated. My book reinforced her views so she brought me in. The students at Rutgers have such a head start on making their lives easier in "the biz" and they have no idea. They'll just see it as normal. Good.
Thank you Rutgers and thank you Beth for caring enough about the artists that you're entrusted with. You are not the exception, but you are also unfortunately not the rule. I am meeting those schools that want to prepare their students and I'll talk about them in days to come.
But as far as a way to start a lecture tour…you guys were absolutely top notch. When I need that little pick-me-up in my day I think back to walking in to your class and that emotional hug you all gave me.
Artists offer it up like no one else.