Posted by: nancykenny | May 11, 2010

Fortune Favours Fools

There’s something really interesting about performing a show for young audiences inside a high school.

Standing around the girls bathroom while Catholic teens with truckers’ vocabulary and skirts so short a stripper might ask you where you got it gossip and bitch, well, I couldn’t help but feel the slightest bit uncool… it might have had something to do with the pantaloons and pigtails.

Admit it, we are so cool! - Fools in Schools - Photo by Andrew Alexander

The show itself was a blast to do. People in attendance usually took a little bit of time to warm up to us (especially if we happened to be performing at 8:30 a.m.), but that was mostly because they didn’t know what to expect. It’s Shakespeare right? Then why is there a guy in a beard running around in a dress with his boobs drooping all the way down to his knees? I giggle as I picture the visual in my head. Hee.

After most performances, we would have a brief talk-back with the kids. Questions would range from “How did you come up with the concept for the show?” to “Did you get any tongue with that kiss?”

But since a lot of these kids were drama students, almost every single time we were asked: “Where did you go to school for acting?”

You could see it on their eager faces: “I want to go there too so I can do what you just did.” And that, I found quite dangerous.

Though I was happy to tell them I went to the University of Ottawa, I wish I could have told them what I recently found so eloquently presented on The Mission Paradox blog on The miseducation of the artist:

School doesn’t teach anybody to be an artist. They teach skills. What separates (you) from the pack is (your) willingness to mix (your) considerable skill with the art/love/generosity that lies within. It takes a lot of courage to do that. When (you) or any passionate artist is really trying to connect with people, they open themselves up for ridicule. They risk being laughed at. They risk having their ideas challenged. In many ways it’s easier to be that second violinist. It’s easier to just blend in and do your part. Sure, the wage sucks, but that’s the price you pay for being invisible.

I recommend everyone reads the full post by clicking the link above.

I truly believe it does not matter where you go to school if you want to make art. It’s about what you do when you are there – the people you meet, the activities you participate in – and knowing that your learning experience does not end when your official education does. You can gain skills anywhere, but what’s really going to help you succeed is your passion, your drive, your dedication, and your love of what you do. And you have to love it, every part of it, even especially the rejections because they are only going to make you stronger.

It would have been easy for me to stop auditioning for the Fools after not getting cast the first time, but I kept at it. Maybe 5 or 6 auditions later, after wearing them down enough that they probably went “Well, she keeps coming back even though we made her dance on roller skates to Single Ladies while reciting verse with a mouth-guard on her teeth… maybe we should put her in a show,” I FINALLY got to wear yellow tights. It’s about persistence. And love.

That’s what’s going to help you stand out.

And that’s what I wish I could have told those kids.



  1. I used to think it doesn’t matter where you go to school, and that it was all about talent. Now I think it’s all about where you go to school.

    True, you don’t learn everything you need to know at school. But you learn some skills, you learn a language that’s common to everyone else that went to that school, and you make your network. And that’s the most important part – the network.

    If you’d studied at Del’arte, I’d have hired you on the first audition. ‘Cause I’d have known we spoke the same language, had been through the same training, and I’d be far more willing to take a chance on you. Ditto if you’d studied with Gaulier.

    The reason the Fools finally hired you is partly persistence. But it’s mostly where you’ve subsequently been to school since leaving school. To whit: all those clown workshops with me and Di Gaetano, and that big long audition where we made you dance on rolling skates. (That had nothing to do with the part. That was just for us.)

    So it was your school – workshops with me and Nick – that got you the part. Oh, and all that love and passion stuff you’ve been carrying for years. That counted too. But you’ve been carrying it for years – what changed, was the schooling.

    So to all those students who have stalked NK to this blog: if you want to work with the Fools, study at Del’arte, or with Gaulier, or just with us. Then we’ll put you in our show. (Assuming you’ve got even a quarter as much heart, soul, passion and willingness to fail beautifully as Nancy Kenny.)

    • But then the next producer went to the National Theatre School or Studio 58 or Ryerson or wherever and then what? There are other ways to build networks.

      Let’s be clear, I’m not advocating not learning. Far from it. You absolutely have to keep learning and building and knowing where your weaknesses lie so you can go “I’m not that great at this clown thing, but I still really want to do it. I’m going to find somewhere to work on that.” But that is also what makes up persistence. Not giving up on the first let down. Working harder. Failing harder. Doing it all over again.

      What I’m saying is that a public education is not the be all and end all of your acting career and no one institution is going to get you where you want to go.

  2. I think theatre school is/was important. You can take what you need, and discard what you don’t as you go forward in the real world, but it helps you get away from bad habits.

    I also agree with Scott. For instance, I knew nothing about voice (PROPER VOICE training that is – Ottawa U doesn’t really teach it) before I went to Studio 58 – there they taught me techniques so i can find my characters voice, and SAVE my voice from unwanted forcing. I can tell now (as a director/actor) if an actor is forcing, I know when I am forcing. They also taught things you’d need to know for different types fo theatre – like a full semester with neutral mask, then Character masks, tap dancing (for those musical auditions you might have), singing, stuff to just get your foot in the door!

    Working outside of school is the best school but workshops like Fools, Clown, Voice and regular conservatory schools I think do work – CONNECTIONS for example!!!! And a big respected school name on your resume (because most often in T.O. the big theatre’s won’t see you if you haven’t been to theatre school because you don’t know so and so..) See what I mean?

  3. I think Scott and Chantale make valid points. I completely agree.

    But if I understand Nancy, she isn’t saying that artist training/education isn’t valuable. She’s saying that school doesn’t transform someone from Not An Artist into An Artist.

    Arts education absolutely hones an artists skills, gives them opportunities to make important career connections and much more. But there are so many options and learning streams available. Theatre school and similar post-secondary programs are one of many options available to someone who wants to be transformed from An Artist into More Of An Artist.

  4. That’s EXACTLY it, Nadine.

  5. […] where I got to work alongside people like Adam Beach, Elisabeth Shue and Jennifer Lawrence; a school tour with A Company of Fools (which I may very well be reprising in 2011) that lead to a one-off in […]

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