Greetings friends! I haven't updated this blog in quite a while, but to be fair, I've been a little bit busy. The show I've been working on, "Nice Work If You Can Get It", opened at the Imperial Theater in NYC this past Tuesday, and the whole event was utterly fantastic (check out my multimedia page for some photographic evidence). Now that my official involvement with the show is over, I figured this would be a good time to reflect upon some of the lessons I've inferred from my first Broadway gig.
#5: Skill and knowledge are infinitely more valuable than "Talent"
Our culture has a fascination with the concept of "talent", and we have it in our heads that, as Mama Rose once sang, "Ya either got it, or ya ain't". We believe that talented people are simply born with some mysterious, unquantifiable gift that will inevitably lead them to fame and fortune. But NYC has an incredible number of attractive people who can sing and dance and want to make it as performers - so how do you seperate the great from the merely good? What distinguishes the people who work at this level is that, not only are they tremendously talented (and they are), but they are extremely knowledgeable about their craft, possess the skills needed to do whatever they are called upon to do, and have the work ethic to pull it all off. Talent may be innate, but knowledge and skill must be taught, and take an incredible amount of discipline to foster. Many people out there are able to coast by for a while on talent, perhaps even a great deal of talent, but that by itself is not enough to make it. In the grand scheme of things, "talent" is relatively common, but skill and knowledge are absolutely fundamental for succcess.
#4: The details make all the difference
Many people have asked me "What's something that you found surprising about this whole experience?", and the first thing I would say is that I was surprised how many changes the show went through since day one. I remember doing my original musical in college, and by the time I finally had the whole thing finished and all the materials (score, script, etc.) turned in, I was so mentally exhausted that the thought of doing major rewrites never really occured to me. Of course, some changes were made, but all relatively minor enough that they could be marked into scripts and music with a pencil. In this show, every line, every note, every lyric was gone over several times with a fine-tooth comb. We would constantly ask ourselves "Is this really right for the character?", "Is this line really going to get a laugh?", "Is this really the best key for this person?" Make no mistake, none of the constant examining, rewriting, or changing was whiney, bitchy, or ego-driven - everyone involved was committed to making the show as good as it could possibly be, and we would do whatever was necessary to make it happen. We could have gone out and performed the whole show the way it was on the first day, with not a single change whatsoever, and it would still have been an incredibly enjoyable show. But the question we would constantly ask ourselves is: "Yes, it's good, but how can we make it great?"
#3: Yes, it's a job, and yes, you will get tired
I remember my sister once talking about how, while studying abroad, there's sort of an expectation from back home they're only supposed to feel "blinding excitement, every minute of every day". In some ways that's no different from this job - because it's a really cool job in a really cool place, people have this expectation that every day is like a vacation. As cool as it is, it's a job, not "sitting and looking at celebrities all day", and you need to go in prepared to work. And not only is it a job, but a very demanding one with long hours, so at the end of the day, you will be tired. However, lest I come off like I'm complaining, I'm referring here to physical exhaustion. It's a sign that you're in the right business when you can go home after a long week, absolutely whipped, and still get a kick out of listening to all the songs from the show when they pop up on your iTunes.
#2: On a fundamental level, it's still like putting on a show anywhere else
When you start working on your first professional production, there's sort of an expectation that you'll learn certain "tricks", and see how different it is working on a Broadway show than working on a regional show, college show, high school show, or what have you. What struck me is actually how many things are incredibly similar, if not basically the same, to my previous experiences in the theater. Sure, there are differences - everyone involved is a hired professional, it's a full-time job, union rules, the people you eat lunch with have Tony Awards, the guy you're watching dumb YouTube videos with on your break starred in the greatest movie of the 80's, etc. - but you're still doing all the same fundamental things you do to put on a show anywhere else. So if you're currently enrolled in a solid high school or college theater program, or you're doing regional theater, know that the skills you're learning right now about the rehearsal process will be valuable to you however far you decide to go in this business. The scale may become grander, but the fundamentals of putting on a great show never change.
#1: Keep M&M's handy, and everyone will be happy
I think this one is pretty self-explanatory.
Tomorrow I head back to VA on the train to see my lovely girlfriend graduate from JMU, and in just two weeks I'll be off to Paris! Now that I'll have a little more free time here and there I'll try to update this blog a bit more often, assuming I have worthwhile things about which to blog. Cheers everyone!
James K. Ballard
A sometimes insightful, hopefully entertaining look into my career and everyday life.