Confused about where your life is headed after CYT? CYT Chicago Executive Director, Justin Parks, contributes our latest blog and offers words to the wise:
Recently I have had numerous conversations with parents and students about whether or not they should pursue a career in theater and which college I suggest they attend. It has created a lot of soul-searching in me about why CYT exists and has caused me to reflect more on my journey from CYT kid to CYT staff member.
There are some sobering numbers that I feel should be shared: roughly 90% of all SAG union actors are unemployed at any given time and 72% of professional actors make less than $5000 per year. What that means is that if even if you are an elite CYT performer (ie you get all the leads, triple threat, etc) odds are still stacked against you to successfully make a living as a performer.
It is my belief that the CYT experience can help a small percentage of our students get into great theater schools and pursue performing careers. We have had success stories for sure. However, for 99% of our students who will not pursue theater careers, CYT is a great place to build skills, character, gain confidence, make life-long friends and use as a launching pad into life as an adult.
The good news is that all CYT students can enjoy theater into their adult years through community theaters and you can continue to use your gifts in the business world as well. Public speaking skills and relational skills are still among the highest traits sought after in most business, educational fields and certainly for ministry careers.
A wise person in my life once said, “if you are an actor and you can imagine doing anything other than acting, do that.” Another said “if you can’t imagine doing anything else other than acting (and if you are ready to be constantly rejected and have a rough life) pursue it.” I would add, if you feel 100% called by God to pursue a career as a performer, then pursue it. But if you don’t feel that specific calling, I would advise you to pursue another field/ interest.
For me, my story was similar to a lot of CYT kids. I acted throughout high school and college, had lead roles, got decent theater scholarships to several outstanding schools. However, as I dug deeper into the theater scene at the collegiate level I found out quickly it was full of a lot of empty promises. Those institutions were asking for a lot more from me than they were willing to give in return. I got convicted when one of the institutions, where I had a full scholarship waiting for me, made it clear that Sundays were for theater and that church-going wasn’t going to be accommodated.
It was when I heard those words from that administrator that I felt like God pulled me out of that arena. It was pride-swallowing for sure…I had to tell all my high school friends (who voted me “Most likely to win an Oscar”…yeah right) that I was going to community college instead of the other prestigious schools I was considering. It was rough I admit. When you are a junior/senior you tie your identity so closely to the school you select. I think we can admit that vanity can creep in.
Within a few months of this life altering decision to stay (gulp) home and attend community college…God showed me another path. He brought me two significant opportunities: one was to choreograph a CYT show and another was to be a junior high pastor at my church part-time. In the course of pursuing those jobs, I found out that I actually had a greater passion for ministry and directing than I did for acting/performing. Because I attended junior college my first two years and then only had to pay for two years at a regular university after that, I graduated virtually debt-free (Praise God!). In retrospect, I know that if I had accumulated a lot of college debt, I would have been forced to decline the offer to venture out to help begin CYT Chicago because no compensation was available. However, because I had such little financial need, I could volunteer and pursue what God had called me to do unfettered. Fast forward two years into that, I was still making peanuts but it was enough to live on my own and I got to work in my top passion area.
My prayer is for all of you to have those type of opportunities where your passion and career meet up. God certainly wants that for you. He promises that “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11)
The caution I have for all of you is to make sure you don’t sign on for a college education, you can’t afford to pay back. School is a LOT more expensive than when your parents and I attended school. If a school is $25,000 per year and you are “awarded” a $1000-3000 scholarship from the institution I wouldn’t automatically assume that is a sign that you have a green light as a theater major.
For those of you planning or enrolled in expensive schools, I suggest you choose a major that is desirable in the marketplace. College loans are debts that follow you around the rest of your life. If you are going to be an actor, I encourage you to get your education as inexpensively as you can because theater degrees have limited worth in the real world. But the good news is that people who want to hire you to join their shows/theater companies, are not often concerned about where you got your degree. They are looking for visible talent and professionalism. Lastly, to become a professional actor it’s possible that you don’t even need to attend college. If you are serious performer, you can take adult acting, voice, film, improv, dance studio classes in Chicago. In most cases, you will get better preparation there then you will for most high-priced colleges and for a lot less.
My overall encouragement to you is that God has a plan uniquely set up for you. However, realize that road still comes with lots of pride-swallowing, hard-work and sacrifice. The Bible also teaches us that God is concerned about us going into debt. It hinders our ability to follow His voice. For example, you can’t go out and buy an expensive car you can’t afford and ask God to bless you…that car becomes the elephant in the room. The same has to be true with your college education. You can’t ask for God’s blessing without seek His calling and blessing on those initial decisions of “where do I go to school?” and “which school can I afford?” It doesn’t work that way, we reap what we sow. So be wise, seek His counsel and guidance in His Word, and ask wise adults in your life to give you advice as well. Do the math too. If you can’t afford the school, you should have serious doubts that that is God’s best for you.
Co-founder CYT Chicago