Consider the source

Sabrina’s got a necessary post up today about the startling laziness and ill manners of a certain percentage of our young actors here in Vancouver. Apparently we’ve acquired a reputation for it across the country. Great. So the question becomes: what is the origin of such a poor work ethic? When did it become okay to blow off any appointment, never mind an audition – the brass ring of the acting profession/obsession – without so much as a dog-ate-my-homework text?

A quick twitter query offered some suggestions that it may have something to do with the pervasive emphasis on film/TV work here as potentially more legitimate and/or lucrative work for employment-seeking actors, and that this has lowered their opinion of stage work. It was even suggested that some agencies counsel their charges to steer clear of theatre as a career move. One hopes this bizarro-world scenario is untrue, at the very least. But there is clearly something discouraging about the lack of stage verve in the available young actor stable here. Where is the next generation of theatre-goers coming from if the people invested in the trade themselves are lackadaisical about just showing up for a shot at some work?

I wonder about this a lot. So do other people around here, thankfully. I wish more of us talked about it. Excitement for theatre as a unique arena has to be instilled early, as I was blissfully reminded of in this post on Amanda Palmer‘s blog (h/t Trav, with gratitude. Check out his post on the matter), this is exactly what we’re talking about whenever we talk about where theatre is coming from and going to. I wish that every parent of every histrionic student, every high school drama teacher, every acting coach and every theatre department prof could absorb this post, I can think of no higher career high than this from a former student:

my jaw hit the floor. this was an adult – a teacher – who was treating the teenagers like they were adults. there was no patronizing. there was real art. we were digging into ourselves and finding real things. my heart exploded.
for the first time in my life, i felt art the way i knew it could be, i was watching it happen and i was a part of it. my life was changed.

Seriously, you’ve got to read the full post. You’ll want to take this guy’s class yourself. His enthusiasm for his work and respect for his student’s intelligence resonated so deeply that Amanda was thrilled at the opportunity to come back and make more art with him, and with his current crop of students, who in turn got a huge bump from the success that she brought back with her. You can actually watch the entire product of that reunion here, if you like. Doesn’t look anything like what my high school was doing, I’ll tell you that much. I don’t recall ever being told in my entire scholastic career, not even in passing by a teacher or a counselor, that being a working artist was a career option. Not once. And if I was know for anything back then, it was for being an art nerd. I didn’t even see a play until I was in my twenties. I am left to only imagine where I’d be now if I’d been drenched in enthusiasm that infectious when I was a teenager.

Choosing theatre may never be as cool and romantic and full of potential as it is when you’re in high school. At least offering the choice and doing it with the passion that typifies long-term practitioners seems like a pretty good place to start. And I’m betting these kids show up for work when it’s their turn to jump off.

Palmer, her mentor & the next gen...
Palmer, her mentor & the next gen...

Photo courtesy of


  1. Great post. An inspiring post and story!

    So I am curious why it seems to end (by my eyes) on a note of lament. Really, given the power of this story, it should end with an empowering call to action because the proof is right there in the pudding.

    Here, for me, is the really insightful observation:

    “At least offering the choice and doing it with the passion that typifies long-term practitioners seems like a pretty good place to start.”

    Instead of waiting for schools to offer the choice, or hoping a Steve Bogart happens to start teaching at a school near “our theatre, market, etc.”, long-term theatre practitioners should offer this choice.

    So here is my proposed call to action: every single theatre company and / or practitioner in this country, in this world, should be working with teenagers in the same way Mr. Bogart worked with his students.

    It’s a potential source of revenue, volunteers, and talent. Moreover, it is the only certain way to grow your theater’s audience. We should not wait for others to spark the imaginations of the younger generations. We should do it ourselves.

    So, to return to the original spark for your post: what is the best way to instill the work ethic that is being lost. By teaching it ourselves.

  2. Right on, Sterling, that’s exactly where I was going here. Certainly didn’t mean it to read lamentable, that’s what I get for late night blogging.

    We should be doing all that. All of our companies should have youth initiatives. We need to be including them in our marketing thrusts, especially students, and extra-especially their teachers. Student discounts! Student talk-backs! Free take-aways! Get ’em into your facebook accounts, all that stuff that they know more about than we do.

    It’s brilliance is in its simplicity, and in its inherent necessity.

  3. Marketing to youth is important; engaging them is even more important; teaching them is the key to creating lifelong lovers of theatre.

    I’d start a youth company or youth workshops before I worried too much about a youth orientated marketing campaign.

    If a company had ten to fifteen talented teenagers working on a piece of theatre they cared about under the tutelage of practitioners who treated them with respect, the teenagers would do all the marketing and more — instinctively and genuinely. No theatre can buy that, but it can earn it — just like Mr. Bogart did.

  4. Well, sure, those companies that have the resources and the aptitude to teach youth should certainly be exercising that. I’m trying to say that there are things that all of us, at every level of the industry can be doing to engage with the next generation and make them feel part of the community, or at least that there is a community for them to strive to be a part of.

    I sincerely hope one day that I have the money and space to run youth workshops. Right now I can talk to them, and lead by example.

  5. Absolutely, we should talk with youth and lead by example before and after shows. I agree. We can also talk and lead by example, by “hiring” them as volunteer assistant X’s, by bringing them into the rehearsal processes to see how it is done or even to participate, and / or let them shadow a professional, etc. Telling a kid s/he could work in theatre is good; letting that kid “work” around people who work in theatre is better.

    I agree not all practitioners are necessarily good teachers and that’s an important point. So maybe I am using the wrong terminology. Maybe what I am talking about is mentorship and any reasonably skilled practitioner who is also a decent human being should be able to do that.

    Recruit talented kids and give them a couple hours of theatre attention each week and it will help them and help us. In the amount of time it takes to set up a decent Facebook page or write a Twitter play, we could all do a lot more to make a real difference for our own companies and theatre generally. And again, not to put to fine a point on it, all of this can be revenue generating now and in the future.

    I also appreciate your point that it may seem we are limited by a lack of resources but I know that “insufficient resources” is also another way of saying “not my job”. If theatre practitioners can’t find the time and money to engage and mentor our own audiences, I’m not sure why we should expect anyone else to find the time and resources to do it for us.

    At any rate, my claim — and I may be wrong on this — is that the companies and practitioners who find the time and resources to mentor today’s youth will be far better off in the long run.

    Again, thanks for the post and the discussion. It has definitely clarified a few ideas in my head and even given me few practical ideas to boot. What more can you ask for from a blog!?

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