The Dramat did a production of the “The Full Monty” where I got naked. I was a FroCo at the time, and I remember waking up the Friday after our opening, and one of my freshmen came up to me in the dining hall and told me I had a nice butt. She hadn’t seen the show. There was a huge picture of my bare butt in the News. And it didn’t look that good. Thanks, News.
Trying to get into professional theater is kind of like being naked in a newspaper: a lot of people want to do it, there’s no money in it and it’s easy to look bad. But do it. It’s fun.
In school I acted, danced, wrote and directed, and I graduated not knowing which path to take. All I knew was a) I was going to New York, and b) I didn’t want to count on theater to make money. If I could make money doing something else, I wouldn’t be forced to take crap jobs in theater. Theater’s hard enough as it is; I wanted the financial freedom to do what I wanted. Business 101 — own the means of production.
As soon as I graduated, I started an SAT tutoring business. Since I was the owner and not an employee, I didn’t need a large client base to support myself, and after the first client, I got a few more through word of mouth.
At the same time, I got my first professional directing job at the NY Fringe after a producer friend and Yale alum, Jack Thomas ’80, saw a show I directed at Yale called “Thursday.” That Fringe show begat two other directing jobs, and I was feeling awesome. In between the directing jobs, I had a nine-week acting job in Florida that gave me Equity Health Insurance for the year, and I was still feeling awesome. Why did I need a backup plan when I was kicking ass? Then the tutoring started to slip …
The peculiar thing about this business is that the words “I got a job!” don’t mean all that much. When your banker and consultant friends say “I got a job!” they’re set for the next few years, possibly their entire careers. When you say it, you’re set for a month.
I was very lucky in that I got to say “I got a job!” a lot my first six months out of school, but after half a year of steady work, I found myself unemployed, with nothing on the horizon. In one week, I went from the guy who couldn’t stop working to the guy who was bombing auditions and leaking money faster than BP. I started taking work I wasn’t proud of: I spent two days on the set of “One Life to Live” as a glorified extra; I didn’t even make it onto camera.
After a few months of being an employee, I decided to go back to my original plan of owning the means of production. I stopped auditioning, beefed up the tutoring company, and got to work on two writing projects, “Super Claudio Bros.” and “Jurassic Parq: The Broadway Musical.” Both were performed this summer and each won Best Musical at its respective Fringe Festival. Those shows have led to new opportunities, which may or may not lead to more opportunities — who knows, I’ve learned to expect ups and downs.
As far as my advice goes, I don’t know how much I have. I got lucky right out of the gate, but after a year, I learned that being in control of my theater projects is more important to me than making money in theater.
Marshall Pailet is a 2009 graduate of Silliman College.