Pursuing your Passion in the Arts

Written by Lisa Bleich

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing the play Outside Mullingar with Debra Messing and Brian O’Byrne.  The Brandeis alumni association organized the event since Messing attended Brandeis for her undergraduate degree.  (Brandeis is also my alma mater.)

The acting was excellent and while the tone of the play was somewhat dark in the beginning, the underlying theme of holding out for your dreams, in this case “love” was positive.

After the play, we got to participate in a “talk back” with Debra Messing.  She greeted us warmly and was delightfully candid in her answers during the Q & A session.  Someone asked her how much she identified with Rosemary, the character she played.

She responded that since she herself was going through a divorce in real life, Rosemary’s undying belief that she would find love was incredibly therapeutic.  And then likened Rosemary’s unwavering faith in her ability to find love, with Messing’s own unwavering faith that she would be a successful actress.

She related the story about when she was a senior at Brandeis home for Thanksgiving and her father told everyone at the table that Debra was going to Harvard Law School (where her older brother had gone).  She looked at her father with disbelief and said,

“Dad, I am not going to Harvard Law School, I’m going to NYU Tisch to get a MFA in acting!”

To appease her father she promised him that if she could not earn a living as an actor by the time she was 40, she would go to law school.  She laughed in the retelling of the story because while she fully believed that she would be able to earn a living as an actor, she wanted to allow for plenty of time to let it happen. Thankfully for her (and us), she more than made a living, well before she turned 40!

Here are some tips gleaned from her talk on how to follow your passions with conviction.

Understand what makes you happy.  Messing knew that being in the arts made her happy and she was prepared to do whatever it took to allow for her to remain a part of it. Think about the things you do that make you most alive and see if you can incorporate those into your career plans.  Some actors enjoy performing and speaking in front of an audience, but they realize that they can do that as an attorney in court or motivating a sales team.

Be prepared to work hard.  Many of Messing’s former suite mates were in the audience and often commented on how she was always in the theater.  She had a single-minded focus on pursuing what she loved and spent all her free time honing her craft.  What more can you do to reach your goals? Are you prepared to put the blood and sweat into making them happen?

Know your limitations and be flexible.  At first Messing thought she would do regional theater and play big roles for touring companies. But after the first run of a show in a regional theater, she realized how much of a homebody she was.  She then changed her focus to find roles that did not require her to live out of a suitcase.  What are some deal breakers for you as you start our your career?

Continue to learn.   For this role, Messing had to master an Irish Brogue.  She spent a month working 2-3 hours a day several times a week with a dialect coach to perfect her accent.  What skills do you need to learn to take you to the next level or make you competitive?  See how you can fill in your gaps.

Have a backup plan. Thankfully Messing never had to go to law school, but she got her MFA so she could teach if she didn’t make it as an actor.  What could you do if that is related and still gives you satisfaction if you don’t reach your ultimate goal?

Happy Valentine’s Day and good luck pursuing what you love! 

Here is a link to the event.  http://alumni.brandeis.edu/news-publications/news-archive/messing_debra.html

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