November 2015

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November 2015

News From Mark Shanda, USITT President

How to? Just Do!

Mark Shanda USITT President

With the power of the Internet, anyone can find a “How-to...” video providing instruction on ways to do almost anything. Whether it’s rewiring a household lamp or getting rid of woodchucks, answers can be found.

The same can be said for those seeking career advice. Thousands of websites offer critical information about how to succeed in an interview, how to write the perfect cover letter, and even how to negotiate the very best salary.

In my years of working with students, I have been known to default to the wisdom of others when asked two common “how to” questions about careers. My replies come from two great but very different men, the Pulitzer Prize winning author Truman Capote, and the remarkable Steve Martin.

The story goes that a student journalist was given the chance to meet with Capote while Capote was attending a campus writing conference. The student, having volunteered to assist with conference logistics, had been invited over to the president’s house as a thank you following Capote’s keynote address. As the crowd was gathering in the living room of the home, the student spotted the acclaimed author standing alone in the den.

Seizing this unusual moment of private time, she cornered Capote with a question: “Mr. Capote, how do you become a writer?”

Without missing a beat or uttering a wasted word, Capote simply responded, “You write.”

Many a student who has come by my office asking how to become an actor, stage manager, technical director, or designer has been given an answer inspired by this exchange with the great author. That is, “You act, or you stage manage, or you TD, or you design.”

Early in a career, seek every opportunity to explore the work involved with the role. In fact, I believe the only way anyone can become good at any of these tasks is to do the work, make mistakes, and learn along the way.

I do encourage students to learn something about their chosen field by research and reading, but for all practical purposes, learning by doing is an outstanding educational method used extensively in teaching theatre design and technology.

Often, after a few years of experience -- including more than a handful of failures -- students will return to my office and ask, “How can I be successful in the industry?” At this point I immediately refer the student to Steve Martin’s answer to this question: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

When we reflect back on that handful of designers and technicians we would intentionally choose to work with given the chance, we would no doubt select only those we know are good at what they do.

So I challenge every member of USITT to “Keep doing your job and be so good you can’t be ignored.” With the help of the Institute and our shared resources, I know that everyone is up to the challenge.

Mark Shanda

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