Unlike the dapper gentleman above, this post isn’t pretty. So if you’re looking for an article that leaves warm fuzzies, shuffle away. But if you can handle some truth sprinkled with sarcasm…
One of the most iconic directors, choreographers and entertainers of our time, Gene Kelly, had to WORK his way up the ranks. Imagine that! And if that word WORK made you shudder, you definitely need to read the rest.
This quick story may resonate with you:
Before even making it to Hollywood, Gene Kelly did what other parental pleasing kids did. What’s that, you ask? Answer: He went to university. For something OTHER than dance.
But wait- wasn’t he a child star? Hell no. Sure, today you know him as “GENE KELLY, OMG he’s so freaking famous and successful! I love Singing In The Rain!”
But guess what? He didn’t start all Hollywood. Far from it. In fact, Pittsburgh-born Kelly went to university and got a BA in Economics in his town.
Boring? Yes. Fact? Yes.
Wait, You Think YOUR Life Sucks? His Gets Even More Uninteresting
Then! Wait for it… he went to Law School for a bit.
Even more yawnage.
So guess what did he did while in post secondary? C’mon guess! You’ll never guess… He taught dance at his family’s dance studio. Like who does that? Oh wait- pretty much every dance studio kid with no idea of what to do in life once they hit 18.
And… that’s it.
No really, that’s it.
Sure, he had ambitions, and was passionately talented. That’s what made him so remarkable to watch. So in 1937 after getting his BA in Economics, he quit law school after 2 months (because that’s what lost youth do, “I think I’ll get ANOTHER degree in something I don’t like”) left his teaching gig at the studio and off he went to big ‘ol New York for a couple years to be a choreographer.
And guess how that turned out? Wikipedia: “After a fruitless search, Kelly returned to Pittsburgh…”
No surprise there. Cue movie man voice:
A heartwarming story of courageous small town cutie. Despite having [deceased parents] [disgruntled step dad] [no support whatsoever], cutie uses her burning passion for dance, a dry turkey sandwich and sells all her sh#t to scrape together enough pesos to live in Big City USA for two gruelling, roller-coaster weeks on her quest to make it.
Pretty much sums up every dance movie EVER, right?
Anyway. So a year later, Kelly went back home. Defeated. Whomp whomp. Hey, Broadway happens.
=== FUN FACT: If you haven’t seen Gene’s “Gotta Dance” scene then find it. It’s a montage of what he went through during this time. ===
Of course, he was always a star to his parents. Awww. His friends most likely enjoyed his Playhouse theatre performances.
Speaking of performances, visit my Toronto dance studio if you want to tap dance like he did.
So Did He Nail The LSAT? Is District Attorney Gene Kelly Finally Born?
He said “eff that, I’m gonna dance!” (or something like that.)
Kelly never returned to law school and FOCUSED his time instead on choreography for the local Pittsburgh Playhouse Theatre.
=== FUN FACT: one of the numbers he choreographed at the local theatre ended up being re-worked for a major movie EIGHT YEARS LATER. ===
His first taste of Broadway came because a choreographer at the time (Robert Alton) saw Kelly teaching at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and was impressed.
Pretty boring story huh?
Slow down, grasshopper, there’s more…
It was only from working his way up as a performer for three more YEARS did Gene Kelly finally get noticed and represented by Hollywood execs. Once there, his first movie was with, get this- Judy Garland, who was a mega film star- in her teens.
Yeah, no pressure… working with the seasoned singer/actress who already made ruby slippers and terriers famous. Fast forward to a few years of success… and you’d be singing in the rain too.
Ok Shawn… I Don’t Get It. But What Should I Do?
So what’s the moral of this story? If you’ve read this far, you most likely take yourself seriously and you’re passionate about what you can offer.
So here’s an easy to follow, bubble-bursting, reality based checklist every aspiring Coyote Ugly bartender or Julliard bound ballerina should magnetize to your fridge and read daily:
1) SHUT UP, Listen To Your Parents And Get An EDUCATION.
At the very least, find other passions in a different field of study. Because if your “thing” doesn’t work out then you can always fall back on Law School, Economics or some other sh#tty program. It’s hard work either way.
And when you graduate, you’ll hopefully get paid in your field, which will make you AND the ‘rentals happy. Plus, being smart is sexy. Especially in big cities. And ready for the Win-Win? Smart people can drop out of school and be wildly successful on their creative ideas. (Sergey Brin and Larry Page for example.)
2) Teach At And SUPPORT Community Theatre, Local Shows And Events.
That’s where you build your chops. Or props, tee hee. You’ll meet who you’ll meet. Some will be not as talented as you, most will burn circles around you.
But guaranteed, years later, some jerk you worked with then lands a BIG break. If you were a no-drama, no-attitude, humble to work with kind of person back then, you’ll be remembered and rewarded with a bigger role in the future.
3) Put Your Big-headed Ego Aside And EARN YOUR STRIPES.
You won’t be handed the top paying, most important role right away. “Oh, I’m sorry? You just graduated from theatre school and think you should be artistic director of the whole place? Yeah… NO. You’ll start as an usher, hand out f#ckin programs and sweep popcorn. Here’s your hairnet.”
THAT’S how this biz works. Do the sh#tty gigs before you earn the big ones.
4) Be Patient And WAIT YOUR DAMN TURN.
There’s already a seasoned director/choreographer/actor who has a track record for success. If you’re some fresh-off-the-Greyhound keener from Moose Jaw, then guess what?
Exactly. We don’t have time to guess. I don’t know you. And neither does anyone else. We’re Canadian. Which means we don’t handle risks well, so DO SOMETHING that might get you noticed over a long period of time and eventually, someone will catch on. When they do, you’ll be ready with a ton of experience.
5) Lastly, Learn About The Experts That Are ALREADY DOING IT.
More importantly: Learn about the people that DID IT BEFORE. In every school on Earth there’s a subject called History. Whatever industry you’re trying to get into, research it’s past and who created the present. There’s a big chance whatever your brilliant mind though of, somebody else already beat you to it.
Take time to Respect the work that others have done before your arrogant self showed up. If it weren’t for leaders busting their butts in the past, you might not even HAVE an opportunity today. With the FREE tools available to you to learn, improve your craft and even GASP- contact the person who has the job you want and ask for apprenticeship, you have no excuse.
Hey, this is what worked for Gene Kelly. I’d say he did quite well for himself. No handouts, no horse shoes up his butt, no silver spoon. Just hard work, patience and more hard work.
There is no shortcut to success in entertainment. If you aspire to do great things and leave your mark on this stage, there’s your exact process to follow. Use the tips to your advantage, and you’ll find your name in lights with the rest of them.
Merde! And Share your comments below if you found this useful- or know somebody who needs this wake up call,
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Shawn Byfield is a sought-after dance choreographer, performer, presenter, coach and entrepreneur. His unique perspective is enjoyed by thousands who dance, train and mentor with him every year. Visit www.ShawnByfield.com to discover what you’ve been missing.