Yesterday I attended one my favorite events of the year. I always look forward to the University of Illinois Theatre Department Portfolio Review. It's my chance to talk to current students in the program about what the theatre scene is like in Chicago and my experiences that I've gained working for almost 4 years in the "real world". My desire to pursue theatre has waned but my drive to help my former faculty and current students has not.
For tips and highlights of some of the conversations...
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I headed over to the UIC Student Center West around 12:30. Julie, my props teacher, asked if a couple of the BFA alumni who have worked in Chicago to come in for a free pizza lunch and a chat with the soon to be graduates. I was more than happy to help out and free lunch didn't hurt either. After almost 4 years working professionally I have running list in my head of the things I wish someone would have told me before I got into the "real world". I loved this opportunity to share my story and some of that hard earned knowledge with the seniors.
A couple of highlights and key points we hit were...
Internships and Apprenticeships
This is some of the most valuable experience I've ever got. First I had my job at Goodspeed Musicals as a Scenic Art Apprentice. Working with Goodspeed showed me a completely different side of scenic art that I only read about in books. They have a high standard of quality and precision which made it a great learning environment. Moving from the Goodspeed Operahouse in Connecticut to the trenches of the Chicago Storefront Theatre Scene was a complete shift in skill set. Where Goodspeed was vast in resources and precise in their technique, Collaboraction was cheap, quick and dirty but always got the job done. Both of these experiences helped me realize my worth as a theatre artist and helped me get my Scenic Charge job at Means of Production.
Networking happens anywhere and everywhere. My suggestion to the soon to be grads, was to find a theatre group that they admire and think are pretty cool people all around and then go and hang out with them. Hang out after the shows, at the bar, at fundraisers, wherever. I've gotten jobs from a door guy at a regular bar hangout, made contacts at a softball game, met a random person because we all caught the same cab after a show. You can meet people everywhere, you just have to be open about saying "Hi! I'm Steph, who are you?" Theatre is a small world and it just gets smaller with every person you meet.
Get Job Experience
One of the best things I did for my career was getting non-theatre job expereince. I worked in the ticket office at the Krannert Center for two years. This gave me an opportunity to hone my customer service skills, learn ticketing software and handle money. These skills set me up to get my foot in the door at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. I worked in their ticket office on Navy Pier for nine months and that helped me meet a ton of awesome people who work in the storefront scene and make money to support myself while I worked on broadening my theatre career. I have great friends from that first job and I have worked for Chicago Shakespeare's Props and Scenic departments as a Scenic Artist, and that all stems from that first job in the ticket office.
After the pizza lunch was over it was time to take a look and talk to the other BFA and MFA candidates about their portfolios and resumes.
My claim to fame at these reviews is marking up resumes with edits and notes. In working at Means of Production, I interviewed a ton of people and I've seen a ton of resumes. Many people were straight out of college and didn't know how to market themselves very well. I emphasized that your resume is a document that expresses you and gives the reader clear and easy access to the information, especially your contact information. You don't want your reader to mine for the information they are looking for. It's frustrating and easy to pass over your resume if it is too much work to read. I didn't talk a lot about interviewing this time around as my time was limited but I plan on going down to U of I later in the spring to chat a little further on that topic and others.
I always love helping these students pursue their dreams. If I can give them some of my wisdom to possibly ease their transition into the working world and inspire them to take advantage of the opportunities in front of them, I call that an amazing use of an afternoon. I can't wait until next year!
Thanks for reading!