by Bret Shuford
Last year, my husband and I decided to take a big, bold move and relocate to Charleston, SC. For years, we’ve discussed leaving New York City and trying life below the Mason-Dixon line. You see, I’m originally from the South and always romanticised my return there. I dreamed of afternoons sipping sweet tea whilst sitting on a porch swing. After five Broadway shows, I’ve spent a good part of the last ten years working as the Broadway Life Coach while pursuing my career on Broadway, and I felt it was time to give back and bring my Broadway resume where it could help the most. Stephen had been offered a job as a business partner with his childhood friend, and it seemed like a great solution to those moments when we were between shows and not making that Broadway paycheck.
Charleston was beautiful, and I was very excited to be the artist-in-residence at the local college while Stephen taught around town. I was determined to explore why there wasn’t an Equity theatre in this gorgeous town that has access to so much. You see, for about $200 you can fly to NYC in about 90 minutes. Charleston is primed for someone to start a LORT theatre, yet what is accessible there is non-union stipend pay with an occasional guest artist contract. This is a town that is home to the Spoleto Festival!?!
Quickly, I started to realize that the issue wasn’t the town itself or the talent or the people. It was the mindset! I started to remember why I left Texas all those years ago and the stories and parental expectations I’ve spent years trying to help actors eliminate from their minds so they can better pursue a life of their dreams.
The fear mindset that so many of us struggle with in our adult lives stems from a misunderstanding of what a freelance life of an artist is actually like. For most of us, our parents’ career path was more steady: get a full-time job for life and constantly move your way up to higher income streams. When you major in musical theatre, congratulations, you are officially an entrepreneur! You own your own business, and suddenly you have to support yourself financially while you try to gain momentum in the industry. (Mind you, many schools don’t even teach actors how to own a business, which is why I started the BalanceOnBroadway.com Challenge.)
So while it looks different than your expectations, waiting tables does not mean you are failing at your dream, it means you are supporting it. “Survival work” is just part of the career path. Stop letting other people tell you that means you aren’t succeeding or that you are somehow failing. How many people take second jobs to support their kids or their family back home when it’s necessary? It’s no different for you as an actor, with a side hustle to help you reach the goals you want to accomplish, and there is no shame in that.
If you're a parent reading this, I get it. You just want to protect your child from struggle, but as a coach, I would advise you, “Now is the time to go for it! Why are you protecting them from something that hasn’t happened yet?” I have friends who majored in Musical Theatre with me that are now doctors, casting directors, lawyers, producers, directors, writers, and they’re all thriving! There’s nothing to fear. Life is hard enough; don’t make it harder by planting seeds of failure before your child has even tried.
How would you have felt if someone had told you at 16 that your dreams weren’t possible? Or perhaps someone did, and you don’t have to imagine how crushing that can feel.
You cannot be successful as an artist by playing it safe, that’s just the truth. If your parents are saying to you, “you should get a degree in blah blah so you have something to fall back on,” Stop listening to them. If you know that this is what you want to do for the rest of your life, then go for it. Now is the time.
I’m here to tell you that the worst thing that can happen is that you learn something new about yourself. You just might learn that you can do anything if you work hard enough, even make it on Broadway.