There’s nothing quite like a fresh start to make you see the reality and positive side of things.
As I watch all of my friends preparing to go back to a performance institution, there is a real sense of melancholy. No longer for me are the days of walking into an institution where music pours out from the walls. There will be no more dancers preparing their routines or guitarists practising in the foyer. At a normal university, you don’t find yourself asking “Are they fighting for real, or are they just practising for a play?” It feels super strange to think that I’m not returning to that.
But it also feels like a massive relief. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing better than the performing arts and the hustle and bustle that comes with being at a performance institution. But after attending a party with younger peers the other day, I forgot about the stress that comes with being in such a tight vicinity of each other. So, my dear friends, as a Performance Institution Graduate (a PIG if I may), I offer this friendly advice for you to do with as you wish:
- Pick the Right Friends
Performance Institutions usually require really long hours. You want to make sure that you have a really good bunch of people to hang out with to keep you ‘sane’ during this time. People who you can laugh with and share a coffee with after an intense class. Make friends with the people who are going to keep you on the right path: Who work hard, practice and love their art form as much as you do. That way, you accomplish your work and achieve great things together.
- Do the Work. Attend your Classes.
“Do work?! But I went to a Performance Institute to have fun!” I know it’s crazy! But if you actually do the work and attend the classes, you will actually understand what you’re learning/studying which means you begin to have fun because the hard stuff gets easier. Also, attending classes means that your lecturers can put a face to a name. Whilst that might not be important at a normal university, at a performance institution these people are the ones that cast you and recommend you for shows. They also recommend you for scholarships, concerts and events. If you don’t show up or do the work, don’t complain about not getting the opportunities.
- Don’t Question the Casting!
JUST DON’T DO IT. So much of the bitching and whining from a performance institution comes from complaining about the casting of a show. (I know. I was that person whinging at some point). But crying about it is not going to change anything. Most of the time at performance institutions, shows are chosen because the Head of Department has particular people in mind for roles. They’d be stupid to choose shows that they didn’t know they could cast, right? So yes, quite often you’re auditioning for a show that the Director, Music Director + HOD have already cast in their head. Don’t be bitter about that. You’re not going to change their mind by being bitter. You could however change their mind by doing a lot of practice and work to show them that you’re serious and committed.
Just because you’re “only in chorus” (don’t get me started on that line) doesn’t mean you’re not good. It just means you weren’t right or they had someone else in mind. Put the work in. Despite (fortunately!) playing quite a few lead roles throughout my time at university, I was never cast because I had the best voice: it was because I was reliable and I learnt my music. There’s a lot to learn from that.
- Don’t Blame the Institution
Obviously if there is something illegal or morally wrong going on, find the problem and fix it. This statement is difficult because I do think that, sometimes, the institution is DEFINITELY to blame. However, this piece of advice refers to the people who complain about lack of performance opportunities and their bad grades, threatening to move to another institution if things don’t change. You have to create that change yourself. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, YOU’RE the one that has to change it.
If your marks are bad – put more work in and change them. If you’re not getting enough performance opportunities – create them. If you think your department is being unfairly treated – Do something about it. Don’t just whinge about it. Performance Institutions are huge and in order to be seen – you have to do something!
- Have a Life outside of the Institution
This one’s pretty basic but hard to remember when things get busy. I’ve made a massive point about doing the work in order to get results. But don’t give your life away to the institution. Find something outside of your degree to keep you sane. Most people are straight out of high school, so you need to find someway to unwind. This could be anything from tap dancing to martial arts to yoga. Remember to go out on the weekends and enjoy times with friends, make time for family, exercise and remind yourself who you are as a human being and what makes you you. Otherwise you could graduate and have a complete identity crisis. It sounds like complete bull, but trust me: Remember to take a step back occasionally, have a night off and get a life outside of your institution.
- Look after your Mental Health
Throughout your years at the institution, you’re going to go through a lot of stress and anxiety. I’ve watched a lot of my friends, and have fallen ill myself, to anxiety and depression. You have to look after yourself. This sort of refers to Tip No 5 but remember to create a balance. It’s okay to not be okay. Also remember, it’s okay to need help. Performance Institutions have professional help to get you through stressful times and give you coping mechanisms. Don’t allow your mental (and physical) health to come at risk. Look after yourself, be kind and seek the assistance that you need.
- Finally: Remember Why You Came Here in the First Place
It is so easy in the drama of friendships, the stress of classes, and the bitchiness of castings to forget why you are here. But every day, you should remind yourself why you’re here in the first place. If you’re here for the right reasons, it should be because you love what you do. You are committed and passionate about the work that is in front of you, and despite it being difficult, you love it. It is hard, it requires so much effort, sometimes you feel like pulling your hair out – but it’s fun.
IT’S FUN. It should be fun. Don’t allow it to not be fun because you get pulled into the drama. Work hard, practice lots and have fun.
Written by Katherine Goyder