Hunger Games Director Gary Ross Gives Advice To USC Theater Grads

Hunger Games director Gary Ross was chosen to speak at the May 11 graduation ceremony for the University of Southern California  School of Theater.

Here’s an excerpt from Ross’ speech:

And so, to the graduating class of 2012, I want to say: Congratulations. For so many things. For having the bravery to follow your heart. For having the self-discipline and dedication to know that all dreams are made real through hard work. For understanding that a life in the theater is a process and you have spent these years and this time learning what you do, in a profession where not everyone does.

You have been good, but maybe more importantly you have dared to be bad. At various times you probably butchered The Cherry Orchard, murdered Stanley Kowalski, embarrassed yourself with Willy Loman and made Sam Shepherd cringe all the way off on his ranch somewhere. But you did it within the safety and the nurturing environment of a school that allowed you to reach, and to grow, and to work. And the more you worked, the better you got. And then finally, there was that one moment where you paused and said: “My God, I know what I’m doing.” And when you left the theater that day, and walked away in a gorgeous daze, and floated across the street to Starbucks, and got that chai venti latte that you don’t even remember ordering, you were still bathed in that knowledge that you owned this. You were this now. And no one could take it away from you.

Now I don’t want to sugar coat what the future looks like. You will spend years auditioning for car commercials, or Thug Number Two, or if you’re lucky Thug with Gun. You will spend days pretending that a green-screen is actually Hong Kong, or holding up hand cream, or screaming in horror when a CG monster crashes through the plate glass window of your office building. And it’s a little ludicrous to pretend that years of doing Checkov will prepare you for that moment, but not as ludicrous as you think. I can’t tell you the feeling of gratitude I have when someone with a small part shows up in the morning with a huge amount of craft and thorough preparation.

And of course this will lead to bigger parts and even bigger parts and then one day—when you have to play a parent who has lost a child, or a woman in the midst of a nervous breakdown, you will be ready.

And when success does come, when the churning industry of global media makes you “famous,” and you are granted your first fifteen minutes—please don’t let success confuse that moment. You will still be doing what you do here. Being honest. Being
truthfully in the moment. Being generous with your other actors. Building a back-story for your character. Listening. Making sound choices and committing to them. Digging to find the deepest meaning in the text that you possibly can. Employing your own imagination and making the play (or the movie) your own in the moment that you hold the stage.


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