For six college students, theater is the only option
Excitement of being onstage outweighs anything a "real job" could offer
Ever since high school, Tiffany Schultz knew what she was put on this planet to do: act, sing, and dance onstage as a musical theater triple threat.
But for the 20-year-old college freshman, the road to fulfilling her dream has not come easy. Schultz, who will begin as a theater major at the University of South Florida this fall, has bounced around three different colleges in three years.
This spring marked the first time since high school she has formally studied acting.
"At first, I chased money, instead of dreams," Schultz said. "Then I woke up from that nightmare and realized the only time I am ever happy is onstage. I decided to measure my wealth and success in my happiness rather than my bank statement."
By "nightmare," Schultz is referring to her college career thus far, in which she's studied mass communications, a subject she chose moreso for its promise of a stable career rather than for her own interest.
Being able to attend college steadily has also been a problem in itself for Schultz. Since graduating high school in 2009, she has moved from Miami, Fla to Ontario, Canada and then back down to Tampa, Fla. She acknowledges the level of effort required to stay afloat as a theater major.
"I would say 90 percent of it is hard work, but 100 percent of it is fun," Schultz said. "Call me a creeper, but I consider even a 10 page paper on character analysis fun, despite the fact that it is hard work."
Someone who knows the value of hard work especially well is Amanda Mallo, 21, a BFA acting junior at Miami-Dade College in Miami. For three years, Mallo has balanced her college career with a full-time job.
"I started doing theater as a fluke and it turned out to be one of my passions— something that I'm actually good at doing," Mallo said. "I dedicated seven years of my life to theater, so for me, theater's the only world I know."
Mallo acknowledges the chances of being able to support herself through acting jobs alone are slim. She's not deterred in the least.
"We know about the slim chances of us actually "making it," but that's not why we perform," she said. "We're okay with the fact that we will not be able to survive off theater alone. We do it because it's what we love to do, and isn't that the goal in life?"
Erynn Chapman, 21, also studying acting at Miami-Dade, agrees. Like Mallo, she has supported her college endeavors with a full-time job.
"I love theatre and I love the thrill of being onstage," Chapman said. "I have the talent and ability to make everybody feel the same things. No matter where they're from, where they're going, the beliefs they have. . . At that one moment in time, they are all feeling the same emotions. That's what motivates me. For just a moment, I can help somebody else. It's therapeutic; it's fun."
Being onstage in a scene for class is one thing, but taking the ability out into the real world is quite another. For one thing, there is more competition. Much more.
"Sometimes, the places you want to perform at already have people they [consistently] pick for most of their shows because they know them so well," said Josh Martinez, a Miami-Dade College student. "So it's much harder to get a part."
Martinez, 20, studied acting at Miami-Dade before switching his focus to English. He understands this to be the best path for him personally, but still believes there is a place for theater majors in college.
"I can understand what they mean. . . theatre probably is not the easiest route to take when you want to start your career, but I honestly believe you should do what you love and see where it takes you," Martinez said. "Most of the people who say that theatre isn't a good career are usually the ones upset and bored with the things they are doing in their [lives]. They're usually envious. . . you're doing something you really want to do with your life regardless of the outcome."
Despite the good feelings, not every theater student has such optimistic views of the future. Just ask Leticia Mora, 21, of Florida State University. She devotes her life to theater, but tries to stay realistic.
"Theater is my passion and I embrace every [opportunity] I am given to do it," Mora said. "However, I am not naive. I know things out there are tough. I know there's no money or work, and it's hard to support yourself and a family on [a theater job's] income. That's why I have a backup. . . it's because I must have it.
Backup, it seems, is an understatement. Mora is double majoring in theater and neuropsychology. She is also double minoring in crimonology and international affairs. Mora plans to go to law school after graduation.
Many aspiring actors resort to waiting tables or occupying other high-turnover jobs to make ends meet between acting jobs. There's no way to tell how long the wait between castings can last, and for Mora, it's just not the life for her.
One actor who has never had a shade of doubt in his pursuits is Drew Arisco, 19, a freshman at Boston Conservatory in Massachusetts. Boston Conservatory boasts one of the most competitive musical theater programs in the country.
The son of a theater director, Arisco was "born into" the business. He's been in shows since childhood, attended middle and high school for theater and has been in a multitude of shows along the way. At first, Arisco did not know what to expect from college.
"Freshman year has kind of been like summer camp," Arisco said. "Meeting all these new people, having lots of freedom. . . college is a lot of fun. But at the same time, being at such a rigorous program is very intense. . . lots of times I won't get out of rehearsal till 11 pm, and I'll have early class the next day. There is a lot expected of the student. And yes, we're doing stuff we love to do: sing, dance, act. But it's very intense."
Though they came into their majors from different paths, the goal of these six college students is the same: succeed. Keep going despite the odds. Ignore those that say what they're doing isn't a "legitimate" career.
As for those naysayers, "they will be stuck in a dreadful 9-5," said Schultz, "while I will be waking up excited to go to work."
Clearly, the excitement and satisfaction of striving for what they love trumps all, even the prospect of a steady career and income.
Adds Martinez: "I think people should do what they want to do with their lives, regardless of what the outcome might actually be. You never know where something will take you until you try. I enjoy, and am very honored and privileged, to be able to do what I love every day."