Have You Got What it Takes for Your Big Break?

Big break
Broadway understudy Kathy Voytko got her big break – and a huge ovation – when the leading lady for hit musical The Music Man came down with Covid-19 Christmas Eve 2021 and couldn’t perform.

Every cloud has a silver lining. As stressful and problematic as the pandemic has been the past two years, it also contained golden opportunities for people. Not just any people. I’m talking about people who are disciplined in learning their craft. I’m talking about people willing to sweat it out to continually improve their skill level. I’m talking about people who are totally prepared and ready to kill it when they get their big shot at stardom.

I’m talking about people like professional basketball player Caleb Martin of the Miami Heat, Broadway musical theater actor Kathy Voytko, and insurance professional Rick Hartmann, a member of my Millennial Advisory Board.

As dissimilar as they appear from those descriptions, they have at least one thing in common: When given the rare chance to stand out from the crowd, they were ready to kill it, and they did.

We know that the pandemic changed a lot of things about the lives of everyday people. It also upended the status quo for people who star on Broadway, or who star for an elite basketball team, or for office workers who decided they’d rather work from home.

Whether the reason is contracting the virus, as with actors and athletes, or choosing to work from home, the disappearance of first-string performers from center stage opened the door wide for the second-stringers (or understudies, as they’re known in show business) to strut their stuff.

The three people I named earlier took full advantage of that opening to elevate themselves, and to inspire others who realize that there’s no reason they can’t do the same.

 

BRINGING THE HEAT

A great example of taking advantage of your big break after being unsung in lesser roles on lesser teams is Caleb Martin of the Miami Heat, one of the National Basketball Association’s elite teams.

During the pandemic, the NBA made allowances for players who were stricken by the virus with 10-day hardship contracts to temporarily activate players not currently in the league. A lot of non-playing hoopsters lived out a fairy tale by getting phone calls out of nowhere asking them to suit up for an NBA team!

They put themselves in that position by staying in professional-caliber playing shape, and not giving up! You never know when that one big break will break through for you.

Just ask Caleb Martin.

Martin started the 2021-22 season as the last player on the squad. He’s what is known as a two-way player because he was picked up by the Heat on the condition that he would split his playing time with a team in the NBA’s G League, comparable to Major League Baseball’s minor league system.

 

‘A CAN OF RED BULL’

By averaging 15 points a game while Heat star Jimmy Butler was sidelined with Covid-19, Martin made the most of being on the court as an understudy. The result is that Martin was poised to be switched by the Heat to a standard contract to play full time for them by the time the playoffs roll around. That’s how valuable he became to the team.

Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra calls Martin “a can of Red Bull. He does everything intense.”

I couldn’t say it any better myself! Doing everything “intense” is how you make yourself ready for your big break, whether you’re an athlete or a musical theater understudy who’s waiting in the wings of a big Broadway show.

That’s what happened to Kathy Voytko, a so-called “swing” in the Broadway production of The Music Man, starring Hugh Jackman in the title role and Sutton Foster as his love interest, Marian the Librarian.

A swing is a cast member who is trained to step in to any of multiple roles in a show if the principal performer cannot go on. Most of the roles are fairly small, with not many lines to memorize.

 

STEPPING IN FOR THE STAR

However, before The Music Man performance of Christmas eve 2021, leading lady Sutton Foster tested positive for Covid-19, so she could not perform that night.

Voytko, who was a swing for eight different roles in the show, was notified at noon that day that she’d be playing opposite Jackman. Amazingly, by 1 p.m., she was in full rehearsal mode to prepare to play Marian a few hours later.

She got her big break that day – and who knows where that will lead, with all the positive press it generated for her. Something else priceless happened to her. At curtain call, Hugh Jackman made a two-minute speech to the audience in praise of Voytko and calling forward other swings.

“This is a time we’ve never known,” said the film and stage superstar, adding, “We’re in our fourth preview, we’re all just sort of learning, so swings and understudies have not had a chance to learn. They get to watch and write notes as we rehearse over and over again, and then five hours before performance, you’re on. It humbles me … the courage, the brilliance, the dedication, the talent. The swings, the understudies, they are the bedrock of Broadway.”

Even if your performance space is an office cubicle instead of a basketball court or a Broadway stage, you should be preparing for a possible star turn.

That’s right, even people in the business world can benefit from working as hard as possible every day, without a spotlight on them, and finding ways to shine when the moment comes for their close-up.

 

NO-NONSENSE WORKER

Millennial Advisory Board member Rick Hartmann, who works for a reinsurance broker, personifies the kind of no-nonsense worker who knows you don’t need to be flamboyant to stand out. In fact, he was smart enough during the pandemic to stand out by doing the same thing he had been doing up to that point – going to the office.

Rick says working from the office offered him such key benefits as “collegiality, camaraderie, exposure to senior business leaders, and the opportunity for mentoring.” At the height of the pandemic, he says, 90% of the 200-person office simply didn’t show up – at least not in person.

Being one of the handful of people who sucked it up and continued going to the office enabled Rick to bond with one of his company’s presidents. “Normally, you’re competing for their time and attention” Rick says, “but when almost nobody is going in, you have the opportunity for conversations about your job and your career.”

The result? When a senior VP slot opened, Rick was tapped to fill it. When the President and CEO Award was handed out, Rick was on the receiving end – two years in a row.

As Hugh Jackman told that Music Man audience, which went wild with appreciation when he revealed that Kathy Voytko, like all swings, only had about five hours to prepare for her starring role, “Take it from me, the real superheroes do not wear capes.”

Because, after all,  the show must go on. When you get the call, are you ready to be a star?

Fisch Tales: The Making of a Millennial Baby Boomer