Putting my theatre degree to good use

I moved to New York City nine years ago for college. What was my major? Musical Theatre. That’s right. I work as an editor in the publishing industry and don’t have an English degree. I did take several literature classes in college, but the majority of my course work involved dance class, voice lessons, and a lot of dressing up in costumes and playing characters. I even worked for several years as an actor in the city and on tour. This post isn’t about how you don’t need an English degree to be an editor. Plenty of editors don’t have English degrees (although many do). This post is about how I use the skills I learned in the theatre school on a regular basis in my job as an editor.

The most obvious skill I use is public speaking. Editors really are the face of a book in-house. We have to stand up and speak to sales, marketing, and publicity teams numerous times over the course of a book’s life. When I launch a book to sales, I have to speak clearly and with confidence. I have to convince the sales team to love my books in the same way I had to convince an audience to care about my character. I’ve even been known to wear a costume to launch to really make my books stand out to the sales team. The confidence I gained from theatre school and my years working professionally comes in handy every time I speak in front of a large group about my books.

I like to think of launch meeting as one big audition room. I LOVED the audition room when I was a performer. It may be strange, but I honestly miss the audition room more than anything else from performing. You have 30 seconds to a few minutes to give it all you’ve got and make a casting director/director look up and pay attention to you. I’ll be honest, there were some auditions where the people behind the table never looked up from their lunch or phones for more than five seconds during my entire audition. That certainly prepared me for a room full of librarians who are reading the catalog while listening to my pitch or a group of sales reps writing notes and not looking at me.

Let’s talk about rejection. I experienced rejection from both sides of the table as a performer. So much time as a performer was spent not getting the job. I learned to go into each audition optimistic and positive. After years of auditioning and helping out casting directors with casting, I learned that casting directors and directors wanted actors to do well in the audition room. No one wants to listen to a bunch of awful girls sing. The job is much more fun when you have a large group of great performers to pick from. Sounds familiar? Editors read submissions wanting the manuscript to be great. We want to fall in love. I don’t read submissions hoping that they are bad.

I still feel like I have to audition as an editor with manuscripts. I may love a manuscript, but I may lose out to another house. That feels like making it to the final callback for a show and finding out that the part went to the other 5’4″ brunette who can tap dance who looked exactly like me. Rejection. But like auditioning, I pick myself up and find the next role (or manuscript) to play! Then there’s the rejection that happens when I can’t convince my team in-house to fall in love with a manuscript. I can handle that rejection because I had plenty of near misses where I just “wasn’t the right type” for the director. In this case, director=publisher.

The biggest thing I learned from my past as a performer is how to take criticism. Obviously, there is the “criticism” actors receive from their directors when working on a show. Think of those comments as a never ending edit letter. I loved getting notes from directors because it made me a better performer. The criticism that I actually learned the most from came from children. I spent several years performing children’s theatre across the country. Let’s take a look at a photo of me from my time touring in a production of Cinderella.

Jordan Cinderella

This photo was taken after a performance. Let’s analyze briefly. See the girl on the left giving me some serious side eye? I’m pretty sure she had just walked up and told me “You don’t look like Cinderella! She’s blond! Also, Cinderella doesn’t have braces!” Oh yeah, I had braces in my 20s. As if I wasn’t self-conscious enough, right? Let’s not even talk about that wig! SO! After having a bunch of 6 year olds tell you that you don’t look like Cinderella from the movie, I can handle marketing not loving my covers. Kids. They speak it like they see it. Working in children’s books, I am very aware of how honest kids can be. My time on tour gave me quite the back bone.

Finally, auditioning and performing taught me to smile and be nice to everyone. You never know if the person playing the piano or signing you in for the audition is an assistant, the music director, or a producer. No matter what, those people are trusted by the people in charge. If you upset the assistants, you can bet they will say something to the director. Hey, that also sounds familiar! Be nice to the assistants. You never know who you’re really talking to.

I loved my time as a performer and I’m grateful that I still get to use the skills I learned performing every day. I love my job and all of the books I work on. That said, show tunes still get me through the day. There is a good chance that if you walk by me in the office, I’m working AND dancing the frug in my mind.

5 Responses to Putting my theatre degree to good use

  1. Alexa Y. May 6 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    This is such a wonderful post! I’m a musical theatre fan, so it’s interesting to see how you took the skills you learned from being a part of it and applied them to your life as an editor. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jordan Hamessley
      Jordan Hamessley May 6 2013 at 3:10 pm #

      Thanks, Alexa! Publishing is full of musical theatre fans. I never would’ve expected that when I started.

  2. Michelle Schusterman May 6 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    What an awesome post! And that video just made my day.

    • Jordan Hamessley
      Jordan Hamessley May 6 2013 at 3:11 pm #

      Thanks, Michelle! I listen to The Frug all the time… when I’m not listening to French Horn concertos. ; )

  3. Kim May 6 2013 at 6:49 pm #

    I love seeing how different majors/backgrounds can apply to writing and the publishing role. Rejections are hard in any circumstance, but they help us grow a thicker skin. Which is really important. Great post and I love the picture 🙂

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