Words from Graduated Students with Rachel Page ‘10
By Madison Kobe ’18
It is also helpful to talk to professors and faculty, friends, and family about life after college, but very rarely do we get to talk to someone who has been in the exact same spot at the exact same university as we are now. Alums are one of the most useful resources that constantly get overlooked. That’s why, when I was given the opportunity to contact a Carthage alumna and ask about her experience, I did not hesitate to take the chance. Rachel Page graduated from Carthage with a degree in Music Theatre in 2010. She had a lot of great advice to give those pursuing a career in the arts, and students in general.
How did you get involved in music theatre?
My mom is a music teacher, and when I was in first grade, the college she taught at was casting a child to play the character Mustardseed in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I had performed in piano and dance recitals, so Mom asked if I wanted to audition. For some reason, I decided I was too shy and refused. I quickly regretted turning it down, so next year when the program needed a youth ensemble for Carousel, I brought my little purple cd player to the school’s theatre and sang for my mom and the show’s director. I got cast as a baby Angel, and discovered I LOVED getting to play pretend onstage. I still feel that way. Full disclosure though, I’m sure the connection, not the actual audition, was the reason I got the job.
Did you always want to pursue music theatre?
I knew I never wanted to stop performing and making music, but after splicing open a lot of animals in biology, I was pretty sure I also wanted to be a surgeon. During a college visit, I realized I wouldn’t be able to realistically make simultaneous, full time careers out of both fields. What if I was on stage during a show but was unexpectedly called to perform open heart surgery!? No one wins! I chose music theatre.
Did anyone in particular encourage you in your decision to study music theatre?
I’ve been pretty lucky in the fact that my family has always been supportive, even though I think my parents were (and possibly still are) secretly stressed about me not having a teaching certificate as a “back up plan.” However, the importance of music has always been a tenet in our household and my parents were both there to see my shows, drive me to rehearsals, and hold my hand while I cried because I was too tall to play Louisa in our community theatre’s Sound of Music. The other shout out in my pre-college musical development goes to my school music teacher Mr. Stanley. He was the only music teacher in the school district, and I had him from second grade to senior year. My high school was tiny and the drama department was practically nothing, but Mr. Stanley took us on long hauls to District and All State Choir auditions (and later to IMEA when I made it to All State), worked with us after school, made time to accompany solos, and was such a role model for me. I got to sing with Mr. Stanley in choir every day, and he believed in my potential. I never wanted to disappoint Mr. Stanley, and that helped shape my musical work ethic today.
What is your favorite part of working in music theatre?
This is like asking me what my favorite musical note is. The glorious thing about music theatre is that it’s such an integrated art. There isn’t just one thing that makes the experience so magical; it should be all encompassing. But, what I love about music theatre is the ability to feel and connect to the world; from the drama that might be secretly unfolding in the life of the girl sitting next to you on the bus, or the exotic places that you might never encounter otherwise. Movies also offer this, but theatre is so much more personable. You get to be in the room where it happens. Real people, right there; so close you could touch them. They can see you, and talk to you. They are living their most emotional moments right in front of you; how can you resist that passion? And because they are real people, not shots preserved on a screen, the shows change day to day, even if the dialogue doesn’t. And the music! To me, music is the vehicle for that connection. It is what brings all those crucial pieces together. People viscerally react to music, and it makes them feel something even when they can’t consciously place why they feel that way. Even your pulse has a beat, you know? I guess I did choose my favorite part about music theatre after all. It’s the music. And my favorite note is D♭.
What are some of the challenges you have faced with your career path?
Oh man. The big ones are quite unfortunately cliché and true. Here, I will handily list them for you:
In this business, you have to like yourself. You have to know that you are going to get rejected for the most asinine reasons. You have to learn that talent is, quite frankly, not enough. You have to pull yourself up and go to one more audition, take one more class or voice lesson, and figure out what you have that no one else has. Market the hell out of that and be ok when that’s not exactly what the casting director is looking for. And for goodness sake, don’t cry about your rejection on Facebook, or measure your worth by another’s success. That does not build confidence.
You will be poor. Not forever, just until you figure it out. It took me about four years to settle into my current Whole Foods lifestyle, and even now I know it could go at any moment. Learn how to budget and learn how to make your art without sacrificing your worth. By the time you have been out of college a year, have built up a network and done some shows, stop doing stuff for free.
YOU WILL WORK WITH DEADBEATS
You will definitely work with directors, actors, and theatre companies who have too many projects, procrastinate, expect you to pick up the slack, or don’t do any of the work they promised you they would. Put your head down, finish the project, make sure your work is pristine, and don’t work with them again. Most importantly, don’t become a deadbeat yourself. We will know.
DISCOVER YOUR OWN SUCCESS
Do what makes you happiest, not what you think you should be doing, or your peers are doing on Facebook. And don’t begrudge others their happiness either. It will only stand in your way.
What has been a highlight of working in music theatre?
This is a two part answer. My favorite actual experiences post college have been performing on cruise ships for Second City, and traveling around the world doing shows, teaching workshops, and making music. Another tangible highlight of working in music theatre is working with people who see the world in the same enthusiastically passionate way you do. But the real, deeper answer is that the highlight of working in musical theatre is that I never “work” per se. I know, I know, it’s another dang cliché- “Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in yourblahblahgross”. In terms of hours spent in rehearsals attended, lessons taught, music practiced, classes paid for, auditions prepped, stresses managed, songs written, schedules arranged, mental health configured, and cat (barely) fed, I work my butt off. But it’s not a chore. It’s everything I strive for. It’s the fact that I don’t sit in a cubicle, and I never have. It’s the fact that I completely sustain myself through my passions. It’s the fact that I get to express myself through music and can articulate a mood with four notes. It’s the fact that what I’m doing is exactly what is right for me. I’m fiercely proud that I get to live the dream that others wish they were brave enough to pursue. And I get to feel like this is what life is all about. Every. Single. Day.
How do you feel Carthage prepared you for life after college?
I never had a voice lesson before I stepped into Dr. Corinne Ness’s office at age 18. I was patchy in my piano skills. Every other freshman (and it seemed, every freshman class after me) had come from bigger schools, bigger programs, better budgets, etc. I was a very small fish. I rarely got casted in juicy roles. It was very tempting to wallow in my failures, which is not a habit you want following you into the workforce. But I had professors who believed in me, and they taught me how to push myself, especially when I didn’t want to be pushed. I remember very little about the actual material that I absorbed in my classes. I’m sure it’s all incredibly crucial, and I use it every day, and it has sustained me since 2010, yada yada. But more importantly, I remember life skills that I learned through my personal meetings with professors. Some of these lessons become more and more relevant as I grow more and more into the professional I want to be. These life lessons have made my career possible. Some of them were harsh.
1) If you want it, you have to work for it. If you’re lucky enough to have something handed to you, recognize that will not always be the case. Don’t get lazy, because in the real world, no one owes you anything, and no one cares that you had all the leads in college.
2) Some people will be better than you. Don’t worry; you will be better than others.
3) Calm, critical thinking is the key to diplomacy. Sleep on an email before you send it.
4) If there is an obstacle in your way, figure out how to get around it or remove it.
5) Stop holding on to ideas of what you think is expected, and start accepting what you want and who you are. This one was, and sometimes still is, hard for me.
6) If you don’t motivate yourself, you won’t make it. Talent. Isn’t. Enough.
Here is where I have to give credit to some very important professors. Corinne Ness, Lorian Schwaber, Dr. Dennee, Dimitri Shapovalov, Martin McClendon, and Neil Scharnick instilled in me a passion for music theatre and human connection through art. They continue to teach me and consistently remind me why I do what I do.
What do you miss the most about Carthage or college in general?
The constant, consistent education. College is not where you finish your education, it’s where you start it. Take advantage of the classes where the focus is literally to learn. You are supposed to make mistakes, forget the words, crack on your belt during a performance. You won’t lose your job and you won’t get kicked out of school just because you make a mistake, or “aren’t perfect yet.” The safe space to mess up and keep moving is a luxury. Classes are not the only places to pick up an important lesson or two. And for the record, use those departmental recitals. Perform in as many of them as you can.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in the arts?
Hasn’t this entire interview been full of advice? I appreciate that you all have read this far.
Two things that I adhere to:
1) MAKE. YOUR. OWN. WORK. Seriously. If you feel stuck, stop waiting for someone else to give you a role, a job, or a responsibility. MAKE. YOUR. OWN. WORK.
2) Please, please, please, be kind. Even if it kills you. Theatre communities are small, and you never want to be the one in a cast who is hurtful. Artists live in a delicate balance, and it is easy to be torn down. Accept where others are at, and don’t be part of your own community’s destruction.
AND-this is the most important part- know that more than one individual will take time out of their lives to help you succeed. Be gracious and anxious to return the favor. That is an incredible gift and a debt you can only repay by doing that for someone else who will need that kind of attention from you.
Now go practice. And then treat yourself to a cookie.