I was recently asked to speak on a panel for soon to be graduates of my alumni Ithaca College as part of their Field Studies week. Jam packed with guest artists and information, these hopeful students are usually bleary eyed by the time Friday rolls around, but I was lucky enough to participate at the beginning of the week with four other alumni friends to talk about working as an actor in New York.
When it came time for the Q & A at the end of the session, one student asked, “What do you do when you’ve been working hard and everyone else’s career seems to be taking off instead of yours?” I perked up, slid to the edge of my seat, and practically sat on my hands until she finished to answer her question. “Keep your eyes on your own page,” I said.
I could remember a teacher from fourth grade, Mrs. Coleman, with her appliqued seasonal sweaters and matching themed earrings. Frequent hugs and kitschy attire was the yin to her arsenal of harsh discipline yang. You never wanted to cross the likes of Mrs. Coleman because she had a way of making an example of you, especially when you cheated. I learned this when I tried to bribe Jenny Taylor with Double Bubble for answers to our American geography pop quiz. As soon as I copied her answers, I was met with a thwack upside the head and a stern, “Eyes on your own page, Price.”
This same concept is something so basic we learn in grade school, but could be applied as adults, minus the head thwack.
One of the first jobs I ever auditioned for was for a workshop choreographed by Chet Walker. I suddenly felt terrified in the holding room as I watched people stretch and practice splits against a wall. I felt completely out of my element. I knew I moved well, but lacked classical training and tricks as a dancer.
After making it through the first round of cuts, Chet brought a few of us back, one by one, to do a movement improv where the pianist played a random tune and we danced freestyle for two minutes. People began rehearsing in the halls before going in, practicing pirouettes and split leaps. Unfortunately, the only tricks I knew involved a deck of playing cards. I started talking myself out of the audition until I pictured Mrs. Coleman with her furrowed brow. “Eyes on your own page,” she’d say.
I eventually convinced myself that what was unique about me was the thing that was going to get me the job, despite the leagues of professionals around me. I couldn’t do splits against a wall, much less on the floor, nor could I whack my face with my leg. That would have involved a trip to the emergency room. When it was my turn to go in, I knew I moved well and had a sense a humor, which I displayed as I spanked myself across the room while the accompanist played “Sweet Georgia Brown” on the piano. I hadn’t planned on spanking myself for that audition, who in their right mind would? I just made a pact with myself that I was going to go big or go home and have fun in the process. I ended up getting the job because they needed dancers with personality who could bring something more than technique to a rehearsal process.
When the success of others and skill sets around you cause you to doubt your own capabilities, keep your eyes on your own page and look for ways to have fun in the nooks and crannies. Not taking ownership of the challenges along the way could result in missed opportunities that are conditioning you for your own success. Enjoy the journey!