Janea Dahl obtained a BA in Theatre from Portland State University, then spent twelve years working in professional theatre. In 2003, she founded “The Young Players,” which is now the largest drama program in her state, serving over a hundred schools. In 2010, she published “Drama Notebook,” a website containing nearly a thousand pages of drama curriculum that she had developed with her teaching artists over the years. Drama Notebook is designed to help anyone teach drama to kids in an informed, inspiring way. Her mission is to bring people together through stories, music and dance; all of her endeavors reflect her commitment to helping to heal our culture and bring joy to children.
Describe yourself in 3 words: Enthusiastic, Imaginative, Energetic.
What is your life motto? We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams.
–Willy Wonka, via Roald Dahl
When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful? I started doing theatre in 1980. I became successful as a theatre artist in the mid-nineties, and then returned to teaching theatre in 2003. It took another six years to become skilled as a teaching artist, and I believe it may have taken longer if I did not have an extensive theatre background.
How many hours did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? Countless! Even in college, sometimes people think that a theatre degree is more for “fun.” However, the extra time involved in pursuing a theatre degree can be overwhelming. In addition to a regular course load and work-study, drama students often spend three hours a night in rehearsal or performance. Later, when I built my business, I probably worked sixty hours a week for the first four years to make this program a success. I only recently was able to hire an assistant. She immediately remarked that I had been doing the jobs of three people! Now, my life is significantly easier, and sometimes people remark about how lucky I am to set my own schedule. I laugh a little when I hear that, because I do not consider it luck, I consider it delayed gratification.
Describe how difficult the business really is? Making a living in the arts, especially in this economy is extremely difficult. It took years of dedication to make my organization a success.
What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? When I started this organization, I chose not to set it up as a non-profit initially. In retrospect, I would have chosen to form as a non-profit because we are an arts organization serving public schools. I acted on advice from my accountant, rather than seeking guidance from my peers who were running similar programs.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? Do what comes naturally to you, and focus on helping others. This seems to be a pathway to success for many great people who wish to live a life of meaning and fulfilment. Interestingly, financial abundance often comes easier when it is not your initial focus.
In your mind, is formal training essential? No, in fact, it can be counter-productive. I did receive formal training in theatre and music. But I did not receive formal training as a teacher. This is a gift that comes naturally to me, and I believe that my enthusiasm level may have been hindered by rigid teaching courses. Children learn best when the teacher is excited about the material, and my focus has always been on inspiring my teaching staff to select projects which are fulfilling to them!
Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? I do believe that a mentor is important. There will be dark and lonely times during which you will need inspiration or encouragement. Find someone whom you greatly admire and reach out. People are usually very touched by this, and are willing to help!
What are some steps emerging talent can take to start/further their career? Do something every day toward pursuing your dream, and start to think of yourself as a “writer,” or a “dancer,” or whatever your heart desires.
What kept you going when you felt like giving up? Interestingly, every time I would think about quitting, I would receive a phone call from a parent who was deeply grateful for the profound impact our program had on their child. One man called, all choked up, and said that his son had a speech impediment and because of it, rarely spoke in school. After taking our drama courses, not only did his speech improve, but he started making friends and answering questions in class. I have heard many stories like this over the years, and when times got really tough, thinking about them, kept me going!
Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? No! For the most part, every successful person has likely spent years honing his/her craft and making significant sacrifices to pursue a dream. When people remark about how “lucky” I am, I reply, “Yes, I’ve noticed that the harder I work, the luckier I get!”
Check out Janea’s fantastic site: http://www.dramanotebook.com/