If you watch NBC’s This Is Us, you might recognize the phrase, “You’re Pittsburgh good.” The words sum up a record producer’s take on Rebecca Pearson’s singing talent. Like most viewers, I lamented into my TV, “Come on, she’s way better than that! I’m a fan. I’d buy her record!”
Of course, no matter how beautifully Rebecca sings, this is her fate. If the record producer gushes and gets Rebecca a gig at the Troubadour… Well, that’s an entirely different show. To avoid the plot twist, she’s dubbed “Pittsburgh good.”
Criticism is a Hot Flame, even in Pittsburgh
The mediocre stamp made me cringe. I know exactly how Rebecca felt. No matter the art form, criticism can be devastating. Depending on the source, it’s how we learn. But I don’t think criticism negates, even if the pain is temporary, the feeling of failure. People who are bold enough to put their talents on display, through auditions, visual art, written word, or other mediums, grasp how stunning the sting can be.
The widely revered concept of “Don’t take it personally. It’s just business,” flummoxes me. I’m far enough into this business to know that’s the stupidest advice ever offered. Of course it’s personal. If it wasn’t, I’d be writing troubleshooting guides for lawn mower manuals.
How the Episode Hit Home
The “Pittsburgh good,” episode of This Is Us has been on my mind—not for me, but for my son. He’s a college senior, musical theatre major. This past week, Grant and his fellow castmates performed Footloose, the musical. Was he good? OMG, he was fantastic, just brilliant! Surely Broadway is set to roll a red carpet out from 45th Street to his street!
While he’s plenty talented, that review may be slightly bias.
Come May, the Real World Arrives
And I don’t think the world is arriving with a red carpet. It may not even be a low-grade Berber. Talent is one part of a tricky formula. Timing and luck play roles in which he may never get cast. To that end, what advice do I offer? Grant is a standout in a pond of performers. I know what lurks beyond those safe waters. I’ve swum in that ocean; I’ve been knocked down by its unruly waves. Book publishing isn’t so different from Broadway. We’re all waiting for our agent to call.
Conversely, I see how badly he wants this.
Conversely again, Grant is young, not so leathery. Instead of leaving his mark, the mark could be left on him. I’d trade a bestseller in a heartbeat to avoid this. And should I encourage him, count on it. A line of people will be waiting to tell him he’s “Pittsburgh good.”
It’s just business.
Broadway & Bullheadedness
Maybe… just maybe he has the talent to turn a deaf ear to “You didn’t get the part.” It’s the complementary phrase to “Your book doesn’t fit our list.” Even if Grant makes it out of Pittsburgh, rejection will follow; it never leaves the room. Years ago, when I said, “I’m going to write a book,” the odds that I’d publish one were lottery ticket high. I imagine Grant’s odds are about the same.
But here’s the thing: Success is a ladder with a thousand steps. He may never get to the top or find himself in the one-percent of the small percentage who make it out of Pittsburgh. I can’t promise him theatre won’t be two steps up, three steps down. The only thing I can positively tell Grant—so consumed by desire and enthusiasm and youth—is what happens if he doesn’t try.
Speaking of the arts…
One violinist’s talent and troubles make for a perfect long weekend read!
“In Spinella’s wrenching tale of love and loss, one woman must come to terms with her past and the decisions that have shaped her life. Spinella has filled her incredibly emotional novel with multifaceted characters, and nothing is as simple as it seems in this true page-turner.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review, a top pick for spring Read the review