Yesterday I came upon the following Craigslist ad:
I'm a Broadway actor, writer, and generally busy person who has finally reached the breaking point of needing some help. I have about 500 projects going on at any one time, ranging from performing to producing to an assortment of day jobs, and a couple big events coming up that I need help planning and pulling off…
Well, I just about choked on my coffee. Who could it be? Was it someone I knew? I was dying to apply if only to get a response from the person who posted it. I was on the heels of a great mystery…! And then, seconds later, a tweet from Kate Shindle (@KateShindle) popped up on my phone saying this: ok, all you tweety birds who want an internship...i finally put an ad on craigslist for the job.
Mystery solved! And the daydreaming commenced. It was like one of those movies where the screen wiggles going into a fantasy sequence – and a vision appeared in which I, in some vaguely Hamptons-esque locale, served cocktails to Sally Bowles, Vivienne Kensington, the Mad Hatter, and a Miss America from 1998.
Reading the ad further I saw that, sadly, "pouring cocktails by the pool" was not in the job description; rather, the tasks described include running eBay auctions, managing schedules, and (occasionally) walking dogs.
I may have been jolted out of my dream-state, but believe it or not, the job wasn't any less tempting knowing it dealt with the real-life responsibilities of an actress' daily routine. In fact, it became even more appealing – who wants to serve cocktails anyway? – because this job, for the right young theatre-loving go-getter, could be an amazing way to learn the ropes of the Broadway business, in a way few classes or entry-level jobs can ever do.
Every person I know who is successful in the arts has something in common: they all worked for free, or very low pay, for a long time before hitting it big. This includes administrators, producers, stage managers, directors, and especially – especially! – actors. Show biz has lots to do with talent and lots to do with luck, but without preparation and knowledge of the business, talent & luck won't get anyone very far.
Considering jobs like this in general (NOT specifically the one for which Kate is hiring!), there are two different outlooks to take, and the one you choose will make all the difference in your happiness and possibly also your success. Some people see internships and assistantships as free or low-pay labor that can be underappreciated; may cut deeply into personal time; and sometimes leave the worker in more difficult financial straits than before they started the job. This leads to stress and resentment, which makes the whole enterprise feel like a loss. After that, the prospect of another job in showbiz may just seem exhausting.
I prefer to think of any entry-level job (in an industry you love) is as an extension of your education. As the assistant to a working professional, you are exchanging your services for their expertise. If you get paid a regular wage, you're actually earning money while you learn! (Imagine a college course you actually got paid to attend – pretty awesome prospect, right?) Looking at a job this way will make every task feel like a gift, not a chore. The hard ones may teach you the most – and the most boring will be balanced out by perks (in her Craigslist ad, Kate notes "the opportunity to make serious contacts in the NY theater industry," for one).
Lovelies on Twitter often ask me how I got connected to the world of Broadway. I started as a fan; then when I got old enough, I sought out a job much like the one Kate Shindle listed on Craigslist. I mostly kept my mouth shut and soaked in everything I could. The opportunity was my payment; even if I was just following along carrying someone's bag, I got to experience parts of the theatre industry few people ever do. Running lines for hours in a coffee shop, or observing a rehearsal, or delivering coffee to the apartment of a favorite leading man – "dream job" doesn't come close to describing it. Once I said "If I worked at a law firm and some executive told me to get him coffee, I'd probably quit the next day. But this job makes me feel like PART OF SOMETHING."
If you're considering applying for Kate Shindle's assistant/internship position or any entry-level job in the theatre, prepare to feel like PART OF SOMETHING. Which, I can attest, is better than all the money in the world.