Not Throwing Away Their Shot: Hungry Performing Arts Students Scramble to Make it Big

A reference to the illustration for the American musical, “Hamilton,” by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Performing arts students continue to persevere despite challenges they face in the competitive arts industry. Illustration by Ava McLean.

Every theatre kid has memorized the classic line from Broadway musical “Hamilton,” “I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry, and I’m not throwin’ away my shot.”

In 2021, what if being young, scrappy, and hungry isn’t enough?

Daniel Serville, a junior piano performance major, is working twice as hard to make that shot happen.

“I gotta prep for after, because once I get the diploma, I mean, now what?” he said.

Pandemic lockdowns and the move to virtual interactions have intensified the already fierce competition in the performing arts, making jobs even harder to come by.

Daniel Serville, a junior piano performance major, playing a show with his band, “Spin Cycle Dance Band.” Photo courtesy of Serville.

According to a study conducted by the Brookings Institution, about half of all jobs in the fine and performing arts have been lost due to the pandemic, including 1.4 million jobs and $42.5 billion in sales.

Because of COVID-19, the creative economy has plummeted, leading to federal intervention. In March, President Biden approved the American Rescue Plan, providing funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, which supports organizations and jobs in the arts industry.

Although Chapman students are sweating, they’re not letting the pandemic interrupt their dreams. They’re pursuing creative opportunities with no time to lose.

Students are finding they need more than their own determination after the ramifications of the pandemic and are looking to Chapman for help.

Tamiko Washington, interim chair for the department of theatre. Photo courtesy of Washington.

Tamiko Washington, interim chair for the department of theatre, recognizes that only the best students possess the ability to be competitive in the professional world. Out of 650 applicants, only 28 are accepted into the theatre performance and screen acting programs.

“You don’t want to throw this little tiny person, who just came out of nowhere, and is absolutely fearful, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ into this pool of sharks and then say, ‘now go do it, go fly!’” Washington said.

To prepare students, the department urges them to find internships.

“We get many opportunities for casting from the outside, and those casting opportunities we give to our students to help them to gain jobs,” Washington said.

Some students, like Leven Edgar, have focused on taking advantage of Chapman’s resources. Edgar, a junior screen acting major, has starred in Dodge College of Film and Media Arts films but hopes to find her big break outside of Chapman.

The hardest part is, she doesn’t have an agent.

Leven Edgar, a junior screen acting major, on the set of a Dodge film. Photo courtesy of Edgar.

“It’s kind of a chicken in the egg situation, where you have to have an agent to book things, but you have to have booked things to get an agent,” Edgar said.

Getting an agent can be beneficial, but it’s not easy to come by. Some have found success despite what they felt was a lack of support from their program.

A few years ago, Rachel Redleaf faced this same obstacle, but eventually found an agent to give her a fighting chance in the film industry.

Rachel Redleaf, Chapman alumni pictured on the right, on the set of “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.” Photo courtesy of Redleaf.

Redleaf, a screen acting alumna, most famously stars in the Netflix series “Atypical” and film “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.”

“I never got cast in a Dodge film. And it sucked because then I came out of senior year, luckily I had booked stuff, but if I hadn’t, what would I have to give?” she said.

During her four years at Chapman, Redleaf knew she needed to work diligently in order to shine.

“I did it all by myself,” she said. “When I got here [Chapman] and realized I had to do it on my own, I just did a lot of research.”

Ally Hwu, a junior dance performance major, is optimistic about her preparedness.

Ally Hwu, a junior dance performance major. Photo courtesy of Hwu.

At first, Hwu was afraid of getting lost in a sea of black leotards. Thankfully, the department preaches the complete opposite.

“They don’t want everyone to look the same, they want you to find yourself,” Hwu said.

Individuality is a critical marketing element that these students can use to achieve their ideal jobs.

To make his own way during the pandemic, Serville played in his band “Spin Cycle Dance Band,” and took up piano tuning.

“That meant me, actively going out and contacting people, looking for jobs, because I really didn’t want that year to pass me by,” he said.

Serville has a point the competition is so stiff that a year wasted would be a significant setback.

Washington noted that because of the ruthlessness of these creative industries, some students transition to managerial or teaching positions after graduation.

David Anderson, a junior violin performance major. Photo courtesy of Anderson.

David Anderson, a junior violin performance major, thinks adding business classes to performance major requirements could give students a leg up in the competition.

As a music business minor, Anderson has a practical point of view, and is looking for ways that he could be a working musician.

“A symphony is kind of more of a stable job and I don’t think I’m good enough for a soloist,” he said.

The pragmatic approach taken by Anderson and his peers will serve them well during this challenging time.

As these students are learning, being young, scrappy and hungry isn’t enough.

To find success, they have to pull out all the stops to promote themselves and consider the possibility of a less flashy but more reliable career path.

Either way, they’re not throwing away their shot.

 

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Alexandra Davenport is a junior majoring in journalism. Her appreciation for storytelling began early in her life and she has developed her passion for journalism in college.