Dear First Years: Advice from Senior Theatre Majors to the Incoming Class | Playbill

Back to School Dear First Years: Advice from Senior Theatre Majors to the Incoming Class Students from some of the best-known college theatre programs offer their tips for a successful first year.

With the school year underway, Playbill wants to make your first year a bit easier! We recently interviewed seven senior musical theatre and acting majors to give advice on what they have learned during their time in college. Students from Elon University, University of Michigan, New York University, University of Northern Colorado, University of Miami University of Hartford and Baldwin-Wallace University all weighed in.

Lillian Buonocore
College: University of Northern Colorado
Major: Musical Theatre
Hometown: Huntington Beach, CA

What advice do you wish you had received before starting your first year of college?
The best advice I could have received before starting my freshman year of college would have been to be more open to the process of becoming a better performer and person. When I was a Freshman, I was so afraid of making mistakes or not being cast in a show that I missed out on the whole point of college: Learning! I have done so much growing as a performer and as a person since my Freshman year, and I wish I would have trusted the journey when I first began the year. —Lillian Buonocore, University of Northern Colorado

College is the safest environment you will ever be in to fall flat on your face over and over again. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough. —Benjamin Ahlers, University of Michigan

Amy Miyun Keum
College: Baldwin Wallace University
Major: Music Theatre
Hometown: Westford, MA

You don’t need to be the best at everything (or anything!). I struggled so much in my freshman year because I felt like I couldn’t sing, act, or dance—especially in comparison to all my new uber-talented classmates. Instead of being so hard on myself, I wish I had embraced the fact that I still had so much to learn. Save yourself the stress and go into college fully accepting “I am not the best, but that is precisely why I am here.” I had never even stepped foot in a dance studio before attending Baldwin Wallace, so I made the commitment to attend Ballet Bootcamp every day in my freshman year even though we were only required to go once a week. Was it embarrassing to attend the advanced level and literally bumble my way across the floor in front of experienced dancers? Absolutely! But my growth from that decision alone was exponential. Not only did I get better at dancing, but I also grew a thicker skin. As performers, we tend to be perfectionists - only wanting to showcase what we’re best at. College isn’t the place for that. Think of these four years as less of a performance and more of a rehearsal space to take risks and learn as much as possible. —Amy Keum, Balwin Wallace University

Trés McMichael
College: Elon University
Major: Musical Theatre
Hometown: Baltimore, MD

Before going to college, I wish someone would have to told me how difficult it would be to manage my time. Between rehearsals, classwork, friendships, and self-care, your 24-hour days can start to feel more like 30 minutes. Many aspects of pursuing a performance degree are not traditional; this means meetings, rehearsals, and events may happen at unconventional times. You will be best prepared for this if you are keeping your calendar tight and up to date. Also, there is nothing wrong or strange about scheduling time to take care of yourself. With all the hustle and bustle that comes along with getting a performance degree, it is vitally important that you are making time to care for you. Whether it's reading a book, playing ping pong, or going for a walk, find something that will fill you back up when the days seem to drain you out. You can't pour from an empty cup. —Tres McMichael, Elon University

I was very fortunate to have the best mentor out there when I got to University of Miami so there isn’t much that she didn’t tell me. The most important advice that I got from her was to get to know the upperclassmen. They have been through everything you are going through, and they will be working in the industry when you graduate. —Christopher Brian, University of Miami

Christopher Brian
College: University of Miami
Major: Musical Theatre
Hometown: Hershey, PA

I wish I had known that college is an individual experience and every class is what you make it. It’s easy to look at other people and see how they’re growing, but if your focus is on other people then how will YOU grow? If you put your all into a dance class for example, you WILL come out a better dancer. If you just show up to class, you won’t get as much out of it. Each class is so valuable to your individual growth as a performer and we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. —Emily Qualmann, University of Hartford

Before starting my freshman year, I wish I would have received advice regarding the importance of sitting back and taking a look at the total experience of what the program has to offer. You not only learn from your classes and musical experiences, but you can learn a lot from the experiences of your peers. As a freshman I was nervous about what everyone thought about my talent level, when in reality no one is here to judge you. People are here to help you get stronger and build your craft as a performer. We are all going through the same process and we are all just trying to present the best version of ourselves at every audition, at every performance and every single day. —Mara Friedman, New York University

Best Words of Wisdom

Benjamin Ahlers
College: University of Michigan
Major: Musical Theatre
Hometown: Fort Dodge, IA

Put your blinders on. These words of wisdom have changed my life completely ever since I heard them. We all compare ourselves to others, but if you can get rid of those self-sabotaging thoughts and focus on yourself, you will be a much happier human and actor. Everyone is running their own race and will have their own journey throughout college and life. No matter how hard things seem, know your worth and never ever stop believing in yourself. —Lillian Buonocore, University of Northern Colorado

Make a conscious effort to get to know people from around the university. Your class can be a tight-knit family, but you’ll be around them all the time. There’s a lot of amazing people right nearby, and it’d be a waste not to seize that opportunity to form friendships and relationships. —Benjamin Ahlers, University of Michigan

The time flies by. Take in as much as you can and enjoy it. —Christopher Brian, University of Miami

Emily Qualmann
College: University of Hartford
Major: Musical Theatre
Hometown: Orlando, FL

Don’t judge yourself! I know people say this so much, but it is truly okay to make mistakes. The only way to grow as a performer and a person is to “fail”. You’ll try a lot of different acting techniques and you might click with one and not connect with another. Acting is a beautiful craft where you become a better person and find yourself in it through these various techniques. So, have the MOST fun! —Emily Qualmann, University of Hartford

The longer you stay in your comfort zone, the longer you sabotage your own learning. Never get complacent with where you are on your journey or with who you know. You will meet people from all over the county and the world in college; many of whom will have very different life experiences from your own. Run towards people who look, think, and believe differently than you do. It can be scary but the reward of seeing the world from a view-point different than the one you are accustomed to is worth it. By broadening your perspective and participating in brave and courageous conversations with others, you add depth not only to your craft but to the way you engage with all people everywhere, from college campuses to cattle calls. —Tres McMichael, Elon University

Mara Friedman
College: New York University, Steinhardt
Major: Vocal Performance
Hometown: Merrick, NY

Do other things. It’s weird to transition from acting as a hobby to acting for a paycheck. It starts to feel like you’re running this one-track race with everyone else in your major and it’s easy to lose a sense of individuality. It begs the question, “What makes me special?” College is the perfect time to start a new hobby or project. I picked up photography in my junior year and not only did it connect me to awesome people, but it actually helped in my performance as well. Now that performing was no longer my sole creative outlet, I felt much freer onstage and had new life experiences to draw into my acting! Be a multi-dimensional human – pick up an instrument, start a YouTube channel, or do something kind for another human. The more well-rounded you are as a person, the more prepared you will feel as an actor. —Amy Keum, Balwin Wallace University

Don’t forget to have a bit of fun along the way because your college experience will be gone in the blink of an eye! —Mara Friedman, New York University

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