Screw the odds
December 6, 2017
I have a friend who’s an actress (actor, thespian – whatever the appropriate term is these days). Over the past few years she’s put herself out there and done really well in community theatre. She has talent, and like me with music, she’s earned some stripes and is interested in trying to move to another level.
She definitely has it in her.
We were talking about her aspirations recently and she said something that twigged with me. She said, “Well, the odds are pretty long that I’ll be able to get anywhere in theatre, so ….”
I understand that sort of thinking. The odds definitely are long for anyone who aspires to anything difficult. But guess what? People are doing it. Whatever you’re hoping to do, someone is doing it right now. Someone maybe not as good as you. Someone maybe not as talented. Someone who might not bring what you bring to the table.
Someone who sees the odds and doesn’t care.
I just came back from a month-long tour playing music in Europe. Do you know what the odds were seven years ago of me doing that? Zero, because I wasn’t playing at the time. I wasn’t in the game, and as the saying goes, you miss all of the shots you don’t take. Eventually I got in the game - a simple act of courage that led me to places I never imagined I would go and taught me the best lesson: If you sit on the sidelines because of the odds, you’ll get exactly what the odds predict.
If the first key is to take action, the second is to take things in stages. My friend might define “getting anywhere” as having a leading role in a professional production at the Stratford Festival. If you’re a community theatre actor, yeah, that sort of goal can seem pretty far away. It’s like me trying to go from my basement to playing for Sarah Harmer (still the dream!) in one step. It doesn’t work that way and it can be overwhelming to approach it in those terms.
Your focus should simply be on the next level, whatever it is. For my friend, who has worked her way up from supporting roles to acclaimed leads in community theatre, that might mean smaller roles in professional productions. There are steps she needs to take to get there. She might need voice lessons. She might need a professional portfolio. She might need acting courses. I don’t know what she needs, but part of reaching the next level means becoming the sort of performer and person who is ready for that level.
My first show with Hiroshima Hearts was a tiny room in a small club for 30 people. I hadn’t played for an audience in years and it was scary for me, believe it or not. But I became the sort of person who could play that show. And then a bigger show. And then an outdoor festival. And then an opening slot in front of a thousand people. And then indie tours. I learned along the way how to get those gigs, how to thrive on them, how to be a better player, how to be a good bandmate, how to record in the studio, etc., etc.
It takes work and courage, but the long odds you’re thinking about become a lot shorter when you apply those things. I’m still taking drum lessons. I’m still learning how to be a pro. I still have a lot of developing to do, but after going up a few levels, playing for nationally touring acts in front of ten thousand people seems a lot more possible to me. There are steps between here and there, but when the opportunity comes - whether I get an offer or work my way there with another growing artist - I’ll be ready.
And after my friend finally breaks through into a professional production, her odds of “getting anywhere” will also seem much improved.
So take action. Do the work. Become who you need to be to get to the next level if that’s what you want. And then the level after that. The Beatles didn’t start off headlining Shea Stadium. They started off in greasy clubs in Liverpool. Then they grew as songwriters, performers, and people. They weren’t born The Beatles. They became The Beatles.
You can become who and what you want too.
Don't let the odds stop you from starting.