McLean Executives from the television show "Smash" visited McLean High School Monday afternoon, showing theater students clips from the show and hosting a discussions about the realities of life in show business. Alan Paul, associate director at the Shakespeare Theater in Washington, D.C. spoke to students about what they could expect if they hoped to work onstage or onscreen for a living.
The show tells the story of a musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, with fresh-off-the-bus-from-Iowa newcomer Katherine McPhee and veteran singer and actress Megan Hilty among the characters trying to put on a successful show. Early on, McPhee impresses the producers with her voice and passion, and earns a spot in the show.
After the students watched about 15 minutes of the show (with the TV-14 rated material edited out), Paul answered questions about how realistic the show was.
"What happens in the show is what’s called a lucky break. Because unlike in a school play, which is probably over a weekend or two, Broadway shows go on for at least a year," he said. "And if you think about how many people are sick at least one day in a year’s time, that’s a great opportunity."
Freshman Rachel Lawhead said it was nice to hear from a professional that getting a big break isn’t a wild fantasy.
"It was definitely inspiring, but probably make our parents upset, because it means we’re less likely to go for a real job," she said with a laugh.
"I like how he talked about the importance of fostering relationships and networking," said sophomore Nancy Pruett. "I think the advice will pay off in the future for those of us hoping to do this for a living."
While Paul’s advice made an impression on some of the underclassmen, many of the seniors, who are in the midst of planning their next step, also appreciated the advice.
"It’s interesting that he talked about how it doesn’t matter what school you get experience, because as seniors it’s always said how important the location is," said Terry Mittelman.
Senior Nick Stone said the advice from someone who was in the business was valuable.
"You hear something like ‘don’t burn any bridges’ and you might think that’s just something that people say, but I was talking to a friend of mine who’s an actress in New York, just last week, and she said those exact words to me," he said. "So I know it’s not just a cliché, but something you have to do in order to be successful."
Paul also said that while many students dream of being onstage as an actor, they shouldn’t discount the idea of working behind the scenes as well.
"Almost every producer, stage manager or director started out acting," he said. "I wanted to be an actor, I didn’t direct a single thing until my senior year in college, and I graduated with only one directing credit. But I fell in love with directing and got some internships, tried to take in as many different experiences as I could."
He also spoke about how technology has changed the face-to-face parts of the business, telling about auditions he’s held using Skype or even YouTube videos. He also stressed the importance of being civil, unlike the director in the show, because even the smallest instance of being polite can lead to an opportunity, as well as some of the business aspects about unions.
"The information about equity and being in a union was interesting, because I feel like that’s something I would have to explore," said freshman Lily Lord.
Senior Max Johnson also said the business information was interesting.
"When you go to workshops and things like that, they’re all about acting, they don’t really get into the business aspects, so it was nice to hear about that too," he said. "
"I was impressed with the kinds of questions they had about the process," Paul said. "They certainly know a lot about plays and productions that I had no idea about until I was in college."